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Oldest Homo sapiens fossil claim rewrites our species' history

Oldest Homo sapiens fossil claim rewrites our species' history | Amazing Science |
Remains from Morocco dated to 315,000 years ago push back our species' origins by 100,000 years — and suggest we didn't evolve only in East Africa.


At an archaeological site near the Atlantic coast, finds of skull, face and jaw bones identified as being from early members of our species have been dated to about 315,000 years ago. That indicates H. sapiens appeared more than 100,000 years earlier than thought: most researchers have placed the origins of our species in East Africa about 200,000 years ago. The finds, which are published on 7 June in Nature1, 2, do not mean that H. sapiens originated in North Africa. Instead, they suggest that the species' earliest members evolved all across the continent, scientists say.


“Until now, the common wisdom was that our species emerged probably rather quickly somewhere in a ‘Garden of Eden’ that was located most likely in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, an author of the study and a director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Now, “I would say the Garden of Eden in Africa is probably Africa — and it’s a big, big garden.” Hublin was one of the leaders of the decade-long excavation at the Moroccan site, called Jebel Irhoud.


Hublin first became familiar with Jebel Irhoud in the early 1980s, when he was shown a puzzling specimen of a lower jawbone of a child from the site. Miners had discovered a nearly complete human skull there in 1961; later excavations had also found a braincase, as well as sophisticated stone tools and other signs of human presence.


The bones “looked far too primitive to be anything understandable, so people came up with some weird ideas”, Hublin says. Researchers guessed they were 40,000 years old and proposed that Neanderthals had lived in North Africa.


More recently, researchers have suggested that the Jebel Irhoud humans were an ‘archaic’ species that survived in North Africa until H. sapiens from south of the Sahara replaced them. East Africa is where most scientists place our species’ origins: two of the oldest known H. sapiens fossils — 196,000 and 160,000-year-old skulls3, 4 — come from Ethiopia, and DNA studies of present-day populations around the globe point to an African origin some 200,000 years ago5.

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First settlers may have reached Americas some 130,000 years ago, study claims

First settlers may have reached Americas some 130,000 years ago, study claims | Amazing Science |
Mastodon site suggests first Americans arrived unexpectedly early.


The New World was a surprisingly old destination for humans or our evolutionary relatives, say investigators of a controversial set of bones and stones. An unidentified Homo species used stone tools to crack apart mastodon bones, teeth and tusks approximately 130,700 years ago at a site near what’s now San Diego. This unsettling claim upending the scientific debate over the settling of the Americas comes from a team led by archaeologist Steven Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and paleontologist Thomas Deméré of the San Diego Natural History Museum. If true, it means the Cerutti Mastodon site contains the oldest known evidence, by more than 100,000 years, of human or humanlike colonists in the New World, the researchers report online April 26 in Nature.


Around 130,000 years ago, the researchers say, a relatively warm and wet climate would have submerged any land connection between northeastern Asia and what’s now Alaska. So ancient colonizers of North America must have reached the continent in canoes or other vessels and traveled down the Pacific coast, they propose.


Candidates for southern California’s mastodon bone breakers include Neandertals, Denisovans and Homo erectus, all of which inhabited northeastern Asia around 130,000 years ago. A less likely possibility, Holen says, is Homo sapiens, which reached southern China between 80,000 and 120,000 years ago (SN: 11/14/15, p. 15). No hominid fossils have turned up among the mastodon remains.


Whatever Homo species reached the Cerutti Mastodon site probably broke apart the huge beast’s bones to obtain nutritious marrow and claim limb fragments suitable for fashioning into tools, the scientists suspect. Hominids probably scavenged the mastodon’s carcass, since its bones contain no stone tool incisions produced when an animal is butchered, they add.

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European Neandertals were cannibals

European Neandertals were cannibals | Amazing Science |

Our close cousins definitely ate each other, but no one knows why.


Neandertals ate each other—at least once in a while—according to a new analysis of bones unearthed in a Belgian cave. The remains were excavated near Goyet beginning in the 19th century and now sit in museums in Brussels. The outdated excavation techniques make it impossible to reconstruct how these Neandertals lived, but when researchers examined the bones, it was unmistakably clear what happened to them after they died. Many of the bones were covered in cut marks and dents caused by pounding, indicating that the meat and marrow had been removed. The researchers also spotted what appear to be bite marks running up and down finger bones. The marks were identical to those found on reindeer and horse bones also uncovered at the site, suggesting all three species were prepared and eaten, the researchers report this week in Scientific Reports.


A few of the Neandertal bones also showed additional wear and tear, suggesting they were later used to shape stone tools. The bones are between 40,500 and 45,500 years old, which is before Homo sapiens arrived in the region, so the only possible culprits are the Neandertals themselves. Although scientists knew that Neandertals had practiced cannibalism in Croatia, this is the first evidence of it in northern Europe. No one yet knows if Neandertal cannibalism was a ritual practice, reserved for special occasions and imbued with special meaning, or if they were just really, really hungry.

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The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals

The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals | Amazing Science |
Deep in the caves of Goyet in Belgium researchers have found the grisly evidence that the Neanderthals did not just feast on horses or reindeer, but also on each other.


Human bones from a newborn, a child and four adults or teenagers who lived around 40,000 years ago show clear signs of cutting and of fractures to extract the marrow within, they say. "It is irrefutable, cannibalism was practised here," says Belgian archaeologist Christian Casseyas as he looks inside a cave halfway up a valley in this site in the Ardennes forest.


The bones in Goyet date from when Neanderthals were nearing the end of their time on earth before being replaced by Homo sapiens, with whom they also interbred.


Once regarded as primitive cavemen driven to extinction by smarter modern humans, studies have found that Neanderthals were actually sophisticated beings who took care of the bodies of the deceased and held burial rituals.


But there is a growing body of proof that they also ate their dead.

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Child Mummy Found With Oldest Known Smallpox Virus

Child Mummy Found With Oldest Known Smallpox Virus | Amazing Science |
“The most terrible of all the ministers of death” may have started afflicting humans in the 1500s, altering our understanding of the disease.


A multinational team of researchers, headed by a group at the DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Ontario, have retrieved and sequenced smallpox DNA from the mummified body of a child interred in Lithuania in the 17th century. (See pictures of mummies found in the Lithuanian crypt.)


Comparing that genetic material with modern smallpox samples, they found them to be surprisingly alike. And by constructing a “molecular clock” that traces the strains’ evolution back to a common ancestor, they dated the virus’s time line no further back than about 1588.


That date is centuries after the cases of smallpox that have been identified in historical descriptions from India and China and construed from the appearance of Egyptian mummies.

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Europeans, Africans have different immune systems, and Neanderthals are partly to thank

Europeans, Africans have different immune systems, and Neanderthals are partly to thank | Amazing Science |

It's long been clear that people from different parts of the world differ in their susceptibility to developing infections as well as chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Now, two studies reported inCell on October 20 show that those differences in disease susceptibility can be traced in large part to differences at the genetic level directing the way the immune systems of people with European and African ancestry are put together.


The researchers also found that differences between populations have been selected for over time because they conferred advantages to people facing distinct health challenges in the places where they lived. As a result, according to the new evidence, people of African ancestry generally show stronger immune responses than Europeans do.


The discovery suggests that European populations have been selected to display reduced immune responses since our ancestors first made their way out of Africa. Intriguingly, the immune systems of Europeans were partly shaped by the introduction of new genetic variants through interbreeding between some of our early European ancestors and Neanderthals.


"Our findings show that population differences in transcriptional responses to immune activation are widespread, and that they are mainly accounted for by genetic variants that differ in their frequencies between human populations," said Lluis Quintana-Murci of Institut Pasteur and CNRS in Paris, France, who led one of the two studies.


"I was expecting to see ancestry-associated differences in immune response but not such a clear trend towards an overall stronger response to infection among individuals of African descent," added Luis Barreiro of the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine in Canada, senior author of the other study.


Quintana-Murci and colleagues used RNA-sequencing to characterize the way that immune cells, known as primary monocytes, derived from 200 people of self-reported African or European ancestry would respond to attack by a bacteria or a virus. The researchers detected many differences in the activity of particular genes in those immune cells both within and between populations. They also discovered that changes in a single gene encoding an important immune receptor lead to decreased inflammation only in Europeans.

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World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians

World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians | Amazing Science |

The most comprehensive genomic study of Indigenous Australians to date has revealed modern humans are all descendants of a single wave of migrants who left Africa about 72,000 years ago.


It confirms modern Aboriginal Australians are the descendants of the first people to inhabit Australia — a claim that has previously been the subject of debate.


Aboriginal and Papuan ancestors left Africa around 72,000 years ago and arrived on supercontinent 'Sahul' around 50,000 years ago. By 31,000 years ago, most Aboriginal communities were genetically isolated from each other, giving rise to great genetic diversity


And the genetic information also shows Aboriginal people living in desert conditions may have developed unique biological adaptations to survive the arid conditions.


The findings are contained in one of three papers published today in Nature that look at the dispersal of modern humans from our evolutionary birthplace in Africa to Europe, Asia and Oceania.


To date, academics have debated whether we all share the same ancestors from a single mass migration event, or that the dispersal took place in distinct waves at different times.


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How did prehistoric humans occupy Northern Asia?

How did prehistoric humans occupy Northern Asia? | Amazing Science |

The Tibetan Plateau, as the Earth's third pole, has long been of interest to many, especially in relation to its human history. Over the last few decades our understanding of the history of human occupation of the Tibetan Plateau has significantly improved as a result of progress made in archaeological, genetic and earth science studies. However, arguments still remain as a result of the major discrepancies which exist between the findings of studies based on different materials and using different approaches. A recent study did a comprehensive review of previous studies of the human history of the Tibetan Plateau and the nature of human adaptation to the high elevation environment.


The present study is published in the latest issue of Science China: Earth Sciences, and is entitled "History and possible mechanisms of prehistoric human migration to the Tibetan Plateau". The research is led by Lanzhou University, the Gansu Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeological Research, the Qinghai Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeological Research and the Tibetan Cultural Relic Conservation Institute.


Prehistoric human history on the Tibetan Plateau is a hotly debated topic. Recent studies have not only yielded a large amount of archaeological material and genetic information about the Tibetan people, but they have also proposed divergent hypotheses. A comprehensive analysis of this diverse material, and of the resulting conclusions, is urgently required.


By reviewing all of the previous prehistoric archaeological work on the Tibetan Plateau, and reanalyzing the available data, this study reconstructs the history of human migration to the Tibetan Plateau and discusses the possible mechanisms involved. Humans first arrived in the relatively low elevation Northeastern Tibetan Plateau from the adjacent Western Loess Plateau via the He-Huang Valley, and then moved further south to the central plateau. This process consisted of four stages. (i) During the climatic amelioration of the Last Deglacial period (15-11.6 ka BP), Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers with a well-developed microlithic technology first spread into the Northeastern Tibetan Plateau. (ii) In the early-mid Holocene (11.6-6 ka BP), Epipaleolithic microlithic hunter-gatherers were widely distributed on the northeastern plateau and spread southwards to the interior plateau, possibly with millet agriculture developed in the neighboring low elevation regions. (iii) In the mid-late Holocene (6-4 ka BP), Neolithic millet farmers spread into low elevation river valleys in the northeastern and southeastern plateau areas. (iv) In the late Holocene (4-2.3 ka BP), Bronze Age barley and wheat farmers further settled on the high elevation regions of the Tibetan Plateau, especially after 3.6 ka BP. However, all the reported Paleolithic sites earlier than the LGM on the Tibetan Plateau need further examination.

Via Mariaschnee, CineversityTV
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Lucy died 3.18 million years ago by falling from a tree

Lucy died 3.18 million years ago by falling from a tree | Amazing Science |

She’s the most famous of our distant ancestral kin and, while it’s way too late to send flowers, we now know how Lucy died some 3.18 million years ago. The most famous Australopithecus afarensis appears to have died due to injuries sustained in a fall, according to new research. But it’s not quite case closed: The proposed scenario that led to her death is fanning the flames of an old debate about how the early members of our family tree lived.


When her remains were unearthed in Ethiopia’s Afar region in 1974, Lucy kicked off a new era in the understanding of human evolution. At the time she was the oldest hominin fossil ever found. And instead of the odd jawbone, tooth or partial skull typically found by paleoanthropologists, much of Lucy’s skeleton was recovered — including enough to see she had traits handy for tree-climbing as well as for walking upright. More than 40 years on, paleoanthropologists still argue over whether she and other members of A. afarensis spent most of their time above ground or on it, walking fully upright.


The new findings, published today in Nature, don’t settle the debate. But they do add an intriguing new piece of evidence to the discussion. According to the researchers, the plausible explanation for the severe injuries Lucy suffered shortly before death is that she fell out of a tree.

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Genome of 6,000-year-old barley grains sequenced for first time

Genome of 6,000-year-old barley grains sequenced for first time | Amazing Science |

An international team of researchers has succeeded for the first time in sequencing the genome of Chalcolithic barley grains. This is the oldest plant genome to be reconstructed to date. The 6,000-year-old seeds were retrieved from Yoram Cave in the southern cliff of Masada fortress in the Judean Desert in Israel, close to the Dead Sea. Genetically, the prehistoric barley is very similar to present-day barley grown in the Southern Levant, supporting the existing hypothesis of barley domestication having occurred in the Upper Jordan Valley.

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Humans started rice farming 9,000 years ago in China

Humans started rice farming 9,000 years ago in China | Amazing Science |
Chew on this: rice farming is a far older practice than we knew. In fact, the oldest evidence of domesticated rice has just been found in China, and it's about 9,000 years old.


The discovery, made by a team of archaeologists that includes University of Toronto Mississauga professor Gary Crawford, sheds new light on the origins of rice domestication and on the history of human agricultural practices.


Today, rice is one of most important grains in the world's economy, yet at one time, it was a wild did people bring rice into their world? This gives us another clue about how humans became farmers," says Crawford, an anthropological archaeologist who studies the relationships between people and plants in prehistory.


Working with three researchers from the Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Zhejiang Province, China, Crawford found the ancient domesticated rice fragments in a probable ditch in the lower Yangtze valley. They observed that about 30 per cent of the rice plant material - primarily bases, husks and leaf epidermis - were not wild, but showed signs of being purposely cultivated to produce rice plants that were durable and suitable for human consumption. Crawford says this finding indicates that the domestication of rice has been going on for much longer than originally thought. The rice plant remains also had characteristics of japonica rice, the short grain rice used in sushi that today is cultivated in Japan and Korea. Crawford says this finding clarifies the lineage of this specific rice crop, and confirms for the first time that it grew in this region of China.


Crawford and his colleagues spent about three years exploring the five-hectare archaeological dig site, called Huxi, which is situated in a flat basin about 100 meters above sea level. Their investigations were supported by other U of T Mississauga participants - anthropology professor David Smith and graduate students Danial Kwan and Nattha Cheunwattana. They worked primarily in early spring, fall and winter in order to avoid the late-spring wet season and excruciatingly hot summer months. Digging 1.5 meters below the ground, the team also unearthed artifacts such as sophisticated pottery and stone tools, as well as animal bones, charcoal and other plant seeds.

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5000-year-old beer-brewing kit found in China

5000-year-old beer-brewing kit found in China | Amazing Science |

Pottery from China has revealed the secrets of some of the oldest known beer makers, who may be linked to the rise of hierarchical societies in East Asia. We now have some idea of how the beer would have been made 5000 years ago, thanks to the residue left on an apparent beer-making toolkit uncovered in Shaanxi, northern China.


Jiajing Wang at the University of Stanford and colleagues found remnants of wide-mouthed pots, funnels and amphorae that would have been used for beer brewing, filtration and storage.

They analysed traces of the pottery’s former contents – microscopic starch fragments and phytoliths, silica structures found in cereal husks.


They identified these deposits as having come from broomcorn millet, Job’s tears, barley and tubers such as snake gourd root.

“Many of the starch grains were damaged, and the damage patterns precisely match the morphological changes developed during malting and mashing,” says Wang.


What’s more, the team found oxalates, organic compounds associated with the mashing and fermentation of cereals. The oldest chemically confirmed alcoholic beverage in the world, dating to 7000-6600 BC at nearby Jiahu in the Yellow River valley, was found by Pat McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Via Catherine Russell
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Animated map showing the dramatic spread of agriculture over the last 300 years

Animated map showing the dramatic spread of agriculture over the last 300 years | Amazing Science |

The map, produced by shows the amount of land given over to agriculture around the world over the three centuries leading up to the year 2000.


The map shows that in 1700, outside of Europe and Asia there was a very small proportion of land being farmed. The 18th century saw an increase in arable land for use and the beginnings of a vast improvement in agricultural yields. New farming methods, such as four-field crop rotation, the increased use of fertilizer and increasing mechanization, opened up additional swaths of land for agriculture.


Technology developed in the First and Second Industrial Revolutions saw farming rapidly expand into previously untapped areas, such as the American Great Plains in the late 19th century and Argentina in the early 20th century.


Expansion and intensification of existing farming continued into recent decades, with Brazil and central India becoming more intensely farmed since the late 20th century.


Historian and cartographer Bill Rankin argues that existing arable land has become "more and more agricultural". It is estimated that the productivity of wheat in England went up from about 19 bushels per acre in 1720 to around 30 bushels by 1840.


In recent years intensification has increased and land expansion has slowed in the developed world. This is largely down to the increased use of fertilizer, which has improved production yields.

Via Neelima Sinha
Lorraine Chaffer's curator insight, July 6, 2016 4:18 AM

NSW Syllabus
Sustainable Biomes

Content focus

- examine the correlation between the world’s climatic zones and spatial distributions of biomes and their capacity to support food and non-food agricultural production

-  analyse the impact humans have on biomes in an effort to produce food and increase agricultural yields


GeoWorld 9 NSW
Chapter 2 Biomes produce food and non food products

Chapter 3 factors affecting agricultural yields

Chapter 4 Challenges to food production and management 

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The Genomic History Of Europe (100+ authors)

The Genomic History Of Europe (100+ authors) | Amazing Science |

Full Paper is here (free)


Farming was first introduced to southeastern Europe in the mid-7th millennium BCE - brought by migrants from Anatolia who settled in the region before spreading throughout Europe. However, the dynamics of the interaction between the first farmers and the indigenous hunter-gatherers remain poorly understood because of the near absence of ancient DNA from the region. We report new genome-wide ancient DNA data from 204 individuals-65 Paleolithic and Mesolithic, 93 Neolithic, and 46 Copper, Bronze and Iron Age-who lived in southeastern Europe and surrounding regions between about 12,000 and 500 BCE.


A large group of researchers now document that the hunter-gatherer populations of southeastern Europe, the Baltic, and the North Pontic Steppe were distinctive from those of western Europe, with a West-East cline of ancestry. They show that the people who brought farming to Europe were not part of a single population, as early farmers from southern Greece are not descended from the Neolithic population of northwestern Anatolia that was ancestral to all other European farmers. The ancestors of the first farmers of northern and western Europe passed through southeastern Europe with limited admixture with local hunter-gatherers, but they show that some groups that remained in the region mixed extensively with local hunter-gatherers, with relatively sex-balanced admixture compared to the male-biased hunter-gatherer admixture that prevailed later in the North and West. After the spread of farming, southeastern Europe continued to be a nexus between East and West, with intermittent steppe ancestry, including in individuals from the Varna I cemetery and associated with the Cucuteni-Trypillian archaeological complex, up to 2,000 years before the Steppe migration that replaced much of northern Europe's population.

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The Fascinating Art of Whistled Speech: Over 70 Still Exist

The Fascinating Art of Whistled Speech: Over 70 Still Exist | Amazing Science |
From Amazonia to Siberia, some human populations the world over communicate by whistling. More complex than it sounds, whistled speech intrigues linguists and neuroscientists alike. Linguist and bio-acoustician Julien Meyer tells us about this astonishing method of communication.


Imagine you're working in your vegetable garden or looking after your animals—livelihood activities that humans have carried out for centuries in the countryside and in the mountains. Now suppose that for some reason, you need to talk to a friend on the hill opposite. Forget about your mobile: networks don't always work properly in the mountains. You could always go over to have a word, but that would be too much trouble: a waste of energy, let alone time. You could also shout, but that would only serve to attract attention: the greater the distance travelled by the human voice, the more incomprehensible it becomes. Not to mention the fact that you would soon strain your vocal chords. So why not try whistling?


A good whistle would easily reach its target. It carries much further than a shout, up to several kilometers in the mountains, in the right terrain and weather conditions. A whistle is concentrated sound energy in a narrow band of much higher frequencies than nature's usual background noise. This is only a short step from holding a full conversation at a distance—and one that was taken thousands of years ago by a number of populations around the world. 
Whistled speech is a fascinating phenomenon. Just like shouting, whispering, and singing, it is a form derived from the language spoken locally. It survives exclusively in environments where human communication is extremely difficult, such as dense tropical forest and steep mountain valleys. Today, linguists and neuroscientists are intrigued by whistled speech, which can convey words and complex sentences while using only a very limited range of vocal sounds. 

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Humans, not climate change, wiped out ancient megafauna

Humans, not climate change, wiped out ancient megafauna | Amazing Science |

New evidence involving the ancient poop of some of the huge and astonishing creatures that once roamed Australia indicates the primary cause of their extinction around 45,000 years ago was likely a result of humans, not climate change.

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Neanderthals lived in a coastal cave for around 120,000 years

Neanderthals lived in a coastal cave for around 120,000 years | Amazing Science |

New research led by the University of Southampton shows Neanderthals kept coming back to a coastal cave site in Jersey from at least 180,000 years ago until around 40,000 years ago.

As part of a re-examination of La Cotte de St Brelade and its surrounding landscape, archaeologists from Southampton, together with experts from two other universities and the British Museum, have taken a fresh look at artefacts and mammoth bones originally excavated from within the site’s granite cliffs in the 1970s. Their findings are published in the journal Antiquity.

The researchers matched types of stone raw material used to make tools to detailed mapping of the geology of the sea bed, and studied in detail how they were made, carried and modified. This helped reconstruct a picture of what resources were available to Neanderthals over tens of thousands of years – and where they were travelling from.

Lead author Dr Andy Shaw of the Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins (CAHO) at the University of Southampton said: “La Cotte seems to have been a special place for Neanderthals. They kept making deliberate journeys to reach the site over many, many generations. We can use the stone tools they left behind to map how they were moving through landscapes, which are now beneath the English Channel. 180,000 years ago, as ice caps expanded and temperatures plummeted, they would have been exploiting a huge offshore area, inaccessible to us today.”

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Blue Eyes Originated 10,000 Years Ago In The Black Sea Region

Blue Eyes Originated 10,000 Years Ago In The Black Sea Region | Amazing Science |

A team of researchers from Copenhagen University have located a single mutation that causes the mysterious phenomenon of blue eyes. And all blue eyed people are genetically related to a person who lived in the Black Sea region sometime between 6 – 10,000 years ago.


The research was published in the Journal of Human Genetics. A mutation in a gene called OCA2 came into being nearly 8,000 years ago. It can be definitively traced back to an ancestor from the Black Sea.


Dr. Hans Eiberg claims that before this time, every human being had brown eyes. “A genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a ‘switch,’ which literally ‘turned off’ the ability to produce brown eyes,” Eiberg said. When blue-eyed peoples from Jordan, Denmark and Turkey were examined, their genetic difference was traced back to the maternal lineage according to Eiberg’s team.


The brown melanin pigment is still dominant. However, following the last Ice Age, Europeans developed this rare mutation that differentiated them from the rest of the human race. Ninety-five percent of Europeans in Scandinavian countries have blue eyes.


They are also found to have a greater range of hair and skin color.

Comparatively, Europe has a wider variety of hair color and skin pigment than is found in any other continent in the world. These mutations are recent as Europe was colonized only a few thousand years ago, say mainstream scientists.

Via Levin Chin
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DNA data offer evidence of unknown extinct human relative

DNA data offer evidence of unknown extinct human relative | Amazing Science |

Traces of long-lost human cousins may be hiding in modern people’s DNA, a new computer analysis suggests. People from Papua New Guinea (shown) and Australia carry small amounts of DNA from extinct human relatives. New research suggests that the DNA may not come from Neandertals or Denisovans, but from a third, previously unknown extinct hominid.


People from Melanesia, a region in the South Pacific encompassing Papua New Guinea and surrounding islands, may carry genetic evidence of a previously unknown extinct hominid species, Ryan Bohlender reported October 20 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. That species is probably not Neandertal or Denisovan, but a different, related hominid group, said Bohlender, a statistical geneticist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “We’re missing a population or we’re misunderstanding something about the relationships,” he said.


This mysterious relative was probably from a third branch of the hominid family tree that produced Neandertals and Denisovans, an extinct distant cousin of Neandertals. While many Neandertal fossils have been found in Europe and Asia, Denisovans are known only from DNA from a finger bone and a couple of teeth found in a Siberian cave (SN: 12/12/15, p. 14).


Bohlender isn’t the first to suggest that remnants of archaic human relatives may have been preserved in human DNA even though no fossil remains have been found. In 2012, another group of researchers suggested that some people in Africa carry DNA heirlooms from an extinct hominid species (SN: 9/8/12, p. 9).


Less than a decade ago, scientists discovered that human ancestors mixed with Neandertals. People outside of Africa still carry a small amount of Neandertal DNA, some of which may cause health problems (SN: 3/5/16, p. 18). Bohlender and colleagues calculate that Europeans and Chinese people carry a similar amount of Neandertal ancestry: about 2.8 percent. Europeans have no hint of Denisovan ancestry, and people in China have a tiny amount — 0.1 percent, according to Bohlender’s calculations. But 2.74 percent of the DNA in people in Papua New Guinea comes from Neandertals, and another 3 to 6 percent stems from Denisovans, Bohlender calculated.

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Ancient jeans? World's oldest indigo-dyed cloth found in Peru

Ancient jeans? World's oldest indigo-dyed cloth found in Peru | Amazing Science |

A newly discovered piece of fabric discovered recently at the Huaca Prieta ceremonial mound in northern Peru features the oldest known use of indigo dyes, pushing the earliest known use of the coloring back by nearly 1,600 years, according to research published late last week.


According to and the Los Angeles Times, Jeffrey Splitstoser, an archaeologist and textile expert from George Washington University, and his colleagues reported in the latest edition of Science Advances that the recently discovered scraps of dyed cotton are thought to be about 6,200 years old, making them over 1,500 years older than the earliest-known dyed fabrics from Egypt and 3,000 years older than the first blue-dyed Chinese textiles.


The striped pieces of cloth were originally discovered during a 2007 expedition at Huaca Prieta, a ceremonial mound located on Peru’s north coast that was occupied between 4,000 and 14,500 years ago. Thousands of pieces have been discovered, 800 of which were directly examined by Splitstoser and confirmed to be far older than any dyed textiles discovered to date, including the indigo-dyed bands dating back to Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty  (approximately 2400 BC).


“It is possible it is the earliest known example of cloth dyeing in the world,” he told the Times last Friday. While not all of the one- to three-foot swatches of cloth used the same weave, each of them had been cut, torn or ripped from a larger piece of cloth, Splitstoser added.

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The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age

The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age | Amazing Science |

Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday.


The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.


The current epoch, the Holocene, is the 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age during which all human civilisation developed. But the striking acceleration since the mid-20th century of carbon dioxide emissions and sea level rise, the global mass extinction of species, and the transformation of land by deforestation and development mark the end of that slice of geological time, the experts argue.


The Earth is so profoundly changed that the Holocene must give way to the Anthropocene. “The significance of the Anthropocene is that it sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we of course are part,” said Prof Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA), which started work in 2009.


“If our recommendation is accepted, the Anthropocene will have started just a little before I was born,” he said. “We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realising the scale and permanence of the change.”


Prof Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and WGA secretary, said: “Being able to pinpoint an interval of time is saying something about how we have had an incredible impact on the environment of our planet. The concept of the Anthropocene manages to pull all these ideas of environmental change together.”

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How Europeans evolved white skin and other traits

How Europeans evolved white skin and other traits | Amazing Science |
Ancient DNA from skeletons shows dramatic natural selection on skin color and height in many Europeans


The origins of Europeans have come into sharp focus in the past year as researchers have sequenced the genomes of ancient populations, rather than only a few individuals. By comparing key parts of the DNA across the genomes of 83 ancient individuals from archaeological sites throughout Europe, the international team of researchers reported earlier this year that Europeans today are a mix of the blending of at least three ancient populations of hunter-gatherers and farmers who moved into Europe in separate migrations over the past 8000 years.


The study revealed that a massive migration of Yamnaya herders from the steppes north of the Black Sea may have brought Indo-European languages to Europeabout 4500 years ago.


Now, a new study from the same team drills down further into that remarkable data to search for genes that were under strong natural selection—including traits so favorable that they spread rapidly throughout Europe in the past 8000 years. By comparing the ancient European genomes with those of recent ones from the 1000 Genomes Project, population geneticist Iain Mathieson, a postdoc in the Harvard University lab of population geneticist David Reich, found five genes associated with changes in diet and skin pigmentation that underwent strong natural selection.


First, the scientists confirmed an earlier report that the hunter-gatherers in Europe could not digest the sugars in milk 8000 years ago, according to a poster. They also noted an interesting twist: The first farmers also couldn’t digest milk. The farmers who came from the Near East about 7800 years ago and the Yamnaya pastoralists who came from the steppes 4800 years ago lacked the version of the LCT gene that allows adults to digest sugars in milk. It wasn’t until about 4300 years ago that lactose tolerance swept through Europe.


When it comes to skin color, the team found a patchwork of evolution in different places, and three separate genes that produce light skin, telling a complex story for how European’s skin evolved to be much lighter during the past 8000 years. The modern humans who came out of Africa to originally settle Europe about 40,000 years are presumed to have had dark skin, which is advantageous in sunny latitudes. And the new data confirm that about 8500 years ago, early hunter-gatherers in Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary also had darker skin: They lacked versions of two genes—SLC24A5 and SLC45A2—that lead to depigmentation and, therefore, pale skin in Europeans today.


But in the far north—where low light levels would favor pale skin—the team found a different picture in hunter-gatherers: Seven people from the 7700-year-old Motala archaeological site in southern Sweden had both light skin gene variants, SLC24A5 and SLC45A2. They also had a third gene, HERC2/OCA2, which causes blue eyes and may also contribute to light skin and blond hair. Thus ancient hunter-gatherers of the far north were already pale and blue-eyed, but those of central and southern Europe had darker skin.


Then, the first farmers from the Near East arrived in Europe; they carried both genes for light skin. As they interbred with the indigenous hunter-gatherers, one of their light-skin genes swept through Europe, so that central and southern Europeans also began to have lighter skin. The other gene variant, SLC45A2, was at low levels until about 5800 years ago when it swept up to high frequency.


The team also tracked complex traits, such as height, which are the result of the interaction of many genes. They found that selection strongly favored several gene variants for tallness in northern and central Europeans, starting 8000 years ago, with a boost coming from the Yamnaya migration, starting 4800 years ago. The Yamnaya have the greatest genetic potential for being tall of any of the populations, which is consistent with measurements of their ancient skeletons. In contrast, selection favored shorter people in Italy and Spain starting 8000 years ago, according to the paper now posted on the bioRxiv preprint server. Spaniards, in particular, shrank in stature 6000 years ago, perhaps as a result of adapting to colder temperatures and a poor diet.

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Whistle Language of La Gomera: An Intangible Cultural Heritage

Whistle Language of La Gomera: An Intangible Cultural Heritage | Amazing Science |
In the Canary Islands, the language called Silbo Gomero is a unique whistled form of Castilian Spanish.


How do you communicate over large distances on a mountainous island full of deep ravines? On La Gomera in the Canaries, inhabitants developed a whistling language to save themselves long and arduous treks. Maybe we should all use it rather than reaching for our mobiles – especially as mountainous areas often have poor network coverage!


The whistling mimics the sounds of the local language, using variations in the notes to represent words. Indeed, brain scans show that listeners are exploiting the same parts of the brain used in normal language processing when interpretting the whistling.


Although other places in the world have whistling languages, this one is unusual because it is so sophisticated and practised by thousands of inhabitants. Indeed, the island habitants learn the language at school. It’s importance has been recognized by Unesco.

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How Neanderthal DNA Helps Humanity: A Map of Ancient Genes

How Neanderthal DNA Helps Humanity: A Map of Ancient Genes | Amazing Science |

Neanderthals and Denisovans would have been a good source of helpful DNA for our ancestors. They had lived in Europe and Asia for hundreds of thousands of years — enough time to adjust to the cold climate, weak sun and local microbes. “What better way to quickly adapt than to pick up a gene variant from a population that had probably already been there for 300,000 years?” Akey said. Indeed, the Neanderthal and Denisovan genes with the greatest signs of selection in the modern human genome “largely have to do with how humans interact with the environment,” he said.


To find these adaptive segments, scientists search the genomes of contemporary humans for regions of archaic DNA that are either more common or longer than expected. Over time, useless pieces of Neanderthal DNA — those that don’t help the carrier — are likely to be lost. And long sections of archaic DNA are likely to be split into smaller segments unless there is selective pressure to keep them intact.


In 2014, two groups, one led by Akey and the other by David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, independently published genetic maps that charted where in our genomes Neanderthal DNA is most likely to be found. To Akey’s surprise, both maps found that the most common adaptive Neanderthal-derived genes are those linked to skin and hair growth. One of the most striking examples is a gene called BNC2, which is linked to skin pigmentation and freckling in Europeans. Nearly 70 percent of Europeans carry the Neanderthal version.


Scientists surmise that BNC2 and other skin genes helped modern humans adapt to northern climates, but it’s not clear exactly how. Skin can have many functions, any one of which might have been helpful. “Maybe skin pigmentation, or wound healing, or pathogen defense, or how much water loss you have in an environment, making you more or less susceptible to dehydration,” Akey said. “So many potential things could be driving this — we don’t know what differences were most important.”

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King Tutankhamun buried with dagger made of space iron from meteorite

King Tutankhamun buried with dagger made of space iron from meteorite | Amazing Science |

King Tutankhamun, the boy king of Egypt, was buried with a dagger made of space from a meteorite, a new study has found.

The weapon, placed on the right thigh of the mummified body, came from iron of meteoric origins, a team of Italian and Egyptians researchers has confirmed. The team used a non-invasive X-ray technique to confirm the composition of the iron without damaging it, according to the study published in the journal of Meteoritics and Planetary Science.


"Meteoritic iron is clearly indicated by the presence of a high percentage of nickel," the study's main author Daniela Comelli told Discovery News.


Iron meteorites are mostly made of iron and nickel, with small quantities of cobalt, phosphorus, sulfur and carbon.


Artefacts produced with iron ore quarrying will show 4 per cent nickel at most, however the dagger found in the tomb was composed of nearly 11 per cent nickel.


The cobalt traces found in the iron dagger further confirmed the meteoric origin, Associate Professor Comelli said. "The nickel and cobalt ratio in the dagger blade is consistent with that of iron meteorites that have preserved the primitive chondritic ratio during planetary differentiation in the early solar system," she said.

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