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Do Dead People Outnumber Living, Or Vice Versa?

Do Dead People Outnumber Living, Or Vice Versa? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

There sure are a lot of people on planet Earth—a whopping 7 billion and counting. But how does this number, which of course represents the number of people now alive, compare to the number of people who have ever lived? Is it really true, as some folks maintain, that the number of people now alive is greater than the number of people who have lived and died since the dawn of Homo sapiens?

 

Not so, demographers say. “Back around 1980, and I think before then, there was this thing going around that 75 percent of people ever born were alive at the time,” Carl Haub, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, told The Huffington Post. “Occasionally I’ll still have someone call and they want to do a story on that particular number... It’s not true.”

 

Haub calculates that of all humans who have ever lived, only about 6.5 percent are now alive—which means that the number of people who have ever lived is larger than the world’s current population. Alas, the dead outnumber the living.

 

“You know, for much of early history there’s just slim evidence of how long people lived,” Haub said, “but it’s really how many were born is the important thing. There are really only two elements in it: what was the size of the population in 50,000 B.C. and in later periods, and how many births were there over the history from then to now?”

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Collapse of Aztec society linked to catastrophic salmonella outbreak based on DNA evidence

Collapse of Aztec society linked to catastrophic salmonella outbreak based on DNA evidence | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
DNA of 500-year-old bacteria is first direct evidence of an epidemic — one of humanity's deadliest — that occurred after Spanish conquest.

 

One of the worst epidemics in human history, a sixteenth-century pestilence that devastated Mexico’s native population, may have been caused by a deadly form of salmonella from Europe, a pair of studies suggest.

 

In one study, researchers say they have recovered DNA of the stomach bacterium from burials in Mexico linked to a 1540s epidemic that killed up to 80% of the country's native inhabitants. The team reports its findings in a preprint posted on the bioRxiv server on 8 February1.

 

This is potentially the first genetic evidence of the pathogen that caused the massive decline in native populations after European colonization, says Hannes Schroeder, an ancient-DNA researcher at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen who was not involved in the work. “It’s a super-cool study.”

 

In 1519, when forces led by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés arrived in Mexico, the native population was estimated at about 25 million. A century later, after a Spanish victory and a series of epidemics, numbers had plunged to around 1 million.

 

The largest of these disease outbreaks were known as cocoliztli (from the word for ‘pestilence’ in Nahuatl, the Aztec language). Two major cocoliztli, beginning in 1545 and 1576, killed an estimated 7 million to 18 million people living in Mexico’s highland regions. “In the cities and large towns, big ditches were dug, and from morning to sunset the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches,” noted a Franciscan historian who witnessed the 1576 outbreak.

 

There has been little consensus on the cause of cocoliztli — although measles, smallpox and typhus have all been mooted. In 2002, researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City proposed that a viral haemorrhagic fever, exacerbated by a catastrophic drought, was behind the carnage2. They compared the magnitude of the 1545 outbreak to that of the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe. 

 
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Modern humans were in Southeast Asia 20,000 years earlier than thought, ancient teeth reveal

Modern humans were in Southeast Asia 20,000 years earlier than thought, ancient teeth reveal | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

When Dutch archaeologist D. A. Hooijer first saw a pair of weathered teeth recovered from a remote cave on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, he noted that they were about the right size and shape to belong to modern humans. But in 1948, he couldn’t be sure of their identity or their age. Now, harnessing cutting-edge science, a group of researchers has confirmed what Hooijer had suspected: Modern humans lived in Southeast Asia as far back as 73,000 years ago—about 20,000 years earlier than previously thought. The earlier timeline helps fill in the blanks on the migration routes of our early ancestors and bolsters an emerging theory that humans may have dwelled in rain forests much sooner than researchers had assumed.

 

Previous studies suggested that after evolving in Africa, modern humans eventually made their way to Southeast Asia, but researchers have argued whether they arrived about 50,000 years ago or earlier. Recent studies put modern humans in Australia by about 65,000 years ago, but there has been little direct evidence of an early presence in Southeast Asia.

 

To unravel the mystery, researchers led by geochronologist Kira Westaway of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, decided in 2008 to give the Sumatran teeth another look. She and her team used new techniques, including micro–computed tomography scanning to precisely measure the thickness of the enamel, and luminescence dating to determine when minerals in the rock surrounding the teeth were last exposed to sunlight. They found thick enamel, confirming that the teeth are from modern humans, and pegged the date to between 63,000 and 73,000 years ago, they report today in Nature.

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Humans speak 7,000 languages, but why?

Humans speak 7,000 languages, but why? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The thatched roof held back the sun’s rays, but it could not keep the tropical heat at bay. As everyone at the research workshop headed outside for a break, small groups splintered off to gather in the shade of coconut trees and enjoy a breeze. I wandered from group to group, joining in the discussions. Each time, I noticed that the language of the conversation would change from an indigenous language to something they knew I could understand, Bislama or English. I was amazed by the ease with which the meeting’s participants switched between languages, but I was even more astonished by the number of different indigenous languages.

 

Thirty people had gathered for the workshop on this island in the South Pacific, and all except for me came from the island, called Makelua, in the nation of Vanuatu. They lived in 16 different communities and spoke 16 distinct languages. In many cases, you could stand at the edge of one village and see the outskirts of the next community. Yet the residents of each village spoke completely different languages. According to recent work by my colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, this island, just 100 kilometers long and 20 kilometers wide, is home to speakers of perhaps 40 different indigenous languages. Why so many?

 

We could ask this same question of the entire globe. People don’t speak one universal language, or even a handful. Instead, today our species collectively speaks over 7,000 distinct languagesAnd these languages are not spread randomly across the planet. For example, far more languages are found in tropical regions than in the temperate zones. The tropical island of New Guinea is home to over 900 languages. Russia, 20 times larger, has 105 indigenous languages. Even within the tropics, language diversity varies widely. For example, the 250,000 people who live on Vanuatu’s 80 islands speak 110 different languages, but in Bangladesh, a population 600 times greater speaks only 41 languages.

 

Why is it that humans speak so many languages? And why are they so unevenly spread across the planet? As it turns out, we have few clear answers to these fundamental questions about how humanity communicates.


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Oldest Homo sapiens fossil claim rewrites our species' history

Oldest Homo sapiens fossil claim rewrites our species' history | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
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 | Scoop.it
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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it
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 | Scoop.it
“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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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.


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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 | Scoop.it

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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Newfoundland populated multiple times by distinct groups, DNA evidence shows

Newfoundland populated multiple times by distinct groups, DNA evidence shows | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Indigenous people have been on the far northeastern edge of Canada for most of the last 10,000 years, moving in shortly after the ice retreated from the Last Glacial Maximum. Archaeological evidence suggests that people with distinct cultural traditions inhabited the region at least three different times with a possible hiatus for a period between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago.

 

Now, researchers who've examined genetic evidence from mitochondrial DNA provide evidence that two of those groups, known as the Maritime Archaic and Beothuk, brought different matrilines to the island, adding further support to the notion that those groups had distinct population histories. The findings are published in Current Biology on October 12.

 

"Our paper suggests, based purely on mitochondrial DNA, that the Maritime Archaic were not the direct ancestors of the Beothuk and that the two groups did not share a very recent common ancestor," says Ana Duggan of McMaster University. "This in turn implies that the island of Newfoundland was populated multiple times by distinct groups."

 

The relationship between the older Maritime Archaic population and Beothuk hadn't been clear from the archaeological record. With permission from the current-day indigenous community, Duggan and her colleagues, led by Hendrik Poinar, examined the mitochondrial genome diversity of 74 ancient remains from the island together with the archaeological record and dietary isotope profiles. All samples were collected from tiny amounts of bone or teeth.

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Scientists discover the oldest human fossil in Morocco

Scientists discover the oldest human fossil in Morocco | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Scientists discover the oldest homo sapiens fossils at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco

 

An international research team led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany) and Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer of the National Institute for Archaeology and Heritage (INSAP, Rabat, Morocco) uncovered fossil bones of Homo sapiens along with stone tools and animal bones at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. The finds are dated to about 300 thousand years ago and represent the oldest securely dated fossil evidence of our own species. This date is 100 thousand years earlier than the previous oldest Homo sapiens fossils. The discoveries reported in two papers in the June 8th issue of the journal Nature by Hublin et al. and by Richter et al. reveal a complex evolutionary history of mankind that likely involved the entire African continent.

 

Both genetic data of present day humans and fossil remains point to an African origin of our own species, Homo sapiens. Previously, the oldest securely datedHomo sapiens fossils were known from the site of Omo Kibish in Ethiopia, dated to 195 thousand years ago. At Herto, also in Ethiopia, a Homo sapiens fossil is dated to 160 thousand years ago. Until now, most researchers believed that all humans living today descended from a population that lived in East Africa around 200 thousand years ago. "We used to think that there was a cradle of mankind 200 thousand years ago in east Africa, but our new data reveal that Homo sapiensspread across the entire African continent around 300 thousand years ago. Long before the out-of-Africa dispersal of Homo sapiens, there was dispersal within Africa," says palaeoanthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin.

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Mummy Has Oldest Case of Prostate Cancer in Ancient Egypt

Mummy Has Oldest Case of Prostate Cancer in Ancient Egypt | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Study suggests disease was more prevalent than previously believed.

 

 Some 2,250 years ago in Egypt, a man known today only as M1 struggled with a long, painful, progressive illness. A dull pain throbbed in his lower back, then spread to other parts of his body, making most movements a misery. When M1 finally succumbed to the mysterious ailment between the ages of 51 and 60, his family paid for him to be mummified so that he could be reborn and relish the pleasures of the afterworld.

 

A few years ago, an international research team has diagnozed what ailed M1: The oldest known case of prostate cancer in ancient Egypt and the second oldest case in the world. The earliest diagnosis of prostate cancer came from the 2700-year-old skeleton of a Scythian king in Russia. Moreover, this study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology, suggests that earlier investigators may have underestimated the prevalence of cancer in ancient populations because high-resolution computerized tomography (CT) scanners capable of finding tumors measuring just 1 to 2 millimeters in diameter only became available in 2005. "I think earlier researchers probably missed a lot without this technology," says team leader Carlos Prates, a radiologist in private practice at Imagens Médicas Integradas in Lisbon.

 

Prostate cancer begins in the walnut-sized prostate gland, an integral part of the male reproductive system. The gland produces a milky fluid that is part of semen and it sits underneath a man's bladder. In aggressive cases of the disease, prostate cancer cells can metastasize, or spread, entering the bloodstream and invading the bones. After performing high-resolution scans on three Egyptian mummies in the collection of the National Archaeological Museum in Lisbon, Prates and colleagues detected many small, round, dense tumors in M1's pelvis and lumbar spine, as well as in his upper arm and leg bones. These are the areas most commonly affected by metastatic prostate cancer. "We could not find any evidence to challenge this diagnosis," Prates says.

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In a Lost Baby Tooth, Scientists Find Ancient Denisovan DNA

In a Lost Baby Tooth, Scientists Find Ancient Denisovan DNA | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

More than 100,000 years ago in a Siberian cave there lived a child with a loose tooth. One day her molar fell out, and fossilized over many millenniums, keeping it safe from the elements and the tooth fairy.

 

But she wasn’t just any child. Scientists say she belonged to a species of extinct cousins of Neanderthals and modern humans known today as the Denisovans. And in a paper published Friday in the journal Science Advances, a team of paleoanthropologists reported that she is only the fourth individual of this species ever discovered.

 

“We only have relatively little data from this archaic group, so having any additional individuals is something we’re very excited about,” saidViviane Slon, a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and lead author of the study.

 

The scant fossil record for these ancient hominins previously included only two adult molars and a finger bone. The Denisovans were only correctly identified in 2010 by a team of researchers led by Svante Paabo, who used the finger bone to sequence the species’ genome.

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The Genomic History Of Europe (100+ authors)

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

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 | Scoop.it
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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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 | Scoop.it

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.


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DNA data offer evidence of unknown extinct human relative

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

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 | Scoop.it

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 Smithsonian.com 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 | Scoop.it

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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