Saturday, February 21, 2015

Did humans migrate from Africa all-at-once or in phases based on weather?



Map showing location of the study site and extent of bajada system in southeast Arabia, including other identified sections of the Al Ain fan (UAE—United Arab Emirates).
Credit: Parton et al.


Considerable debate surrounds the migration of human populations out of Africa. Two predominant hypotheses concerning the timing contrast in their emphasis on the role of the Arabian interior and its changing climate. In one scenario, human populations expanded rapidly from Africa to southern Asia via the coastlines of Arabia approx. 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Another model suggests that dispersal into the Arabian interior began much earlier (approx. 75,000 to 130,000 years ago) during multiple phases, when increased rainfall provided sufficient freshwater to support expanding populations.


Ash Parton and colleagues fall into the second camp, writing, "The dispersal of early human populations out of Africa is dynamically linked with the changing climate and environmental conditions of Arabia. 

Although now arid, at times the vast Arabian deserts were transformed into landscapes littered with freshwater lakes and active river systems. 

 Such episodes of dramatically increased rainfall were the result of the intensification and northward displacement of the Indian Ocean Monsoon, which caused rainfall to reach across much of the Arabian Peninsula."

Parton and colleagues present a unique alluvial fan aggradation record from southeast Arabia spanning the past approx. 160,000 years. Situated along the proposed southern dispersal route, the Al Sibetah alluvial fan sequence provides a unique and sensitive record of landscape change in southeast Arabia. This record is to date the most comprehensive terrestrial archive from the Arabian Peninsula, and provides evidence for multiple humid episodes during both glacial and interglacial periods.

Evidence from the Al Sibetah alluvial fan sequence indicates that during insolation maxima, increased monsoon rainfall led to the widespread activation of drainage systems and grassland development throughout regions that were important for the dispersal of early human populations.

Previously, the timing of episodes of increased humidity was largely linked to global interglacials, with the climate of Arabia during the intervening glacial periods believed to be too arid to support human populations. Parton and colleagues suggest, however, that periods of increased rainfall were not driven by mid-high latitude deglaciations every ~100,000 years, but by periods of maximum incoming solar radiation every ~23,000 years.

They write, "The occurrence of humid periods previously identified in lacustrine or speleothem records highlights the complexity and heterogeneity of the Arabian paleoclimate, and suggests that interior migration pathways through the Arabian Peninsula may have been viable approximately every 23,000 years since at least marine isotope state (MIS) 6," about 191 thousand years ago.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Neanderthal groups based part of the their lifestyle on the sexual division of labor



Neanderthal communities divided some of their tasks according to their sex. This is one of the main conclusions reached by a study performed by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), published in the Journal of Human Evolution. This study, which analyzed 99 incisors and canine teeth of 19 individuals from three different sites (El Sidron, in Asturias - Spain, L'Hortus in France, and Spy in Belgium), reveals that the dental grooves present in the female fossils follow the same pattern, which is different to that found in male individuals.

Analyses show that all Neanderthal individuals, regardless of age, had dental grooves. According to Antonio Rosas, CSIC researcher at the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences: "This is due to the custom of these societies to use the mouth as a third hand, as in some current populations, for tasks such as preparing the furs or chopping meat, for instance".

Rosas specifies that "what we have now discovered is that the grooves detected in the teeth of adult women are longer than those found in adult men. Therefore we assume that the tasks performed were different".

Other variables analyzed are the tiny spalls of the teeth enamel. Male individuals show a greater number of nicks in the enamel and dentin of the upper parts, while in female individuals these imperfections appear in the lower parts.

It is still unclear which activities corresponded to women and which ones to men. However, the authors of the study note that, as in modern hunter-gatherer societies, women may have been responsible for the preparation of furs and the elaboration of garments. Researchers state that the retouching of the edges of stone tools seems to have been a male task.

Almudena Estalrrich, CSIC researcher at the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences, adds: "Nevertheless, we believe that the specialization of labor by sex of the individuals was probably limited to a few tasks, as it is possible that both men and women participated equally in the hunting of big animals".

Rosas concludes: "The study of Neanderthals has provided numerous discoveries in recent years. We have moved from thinking of them as little evolved beings, to know that they took care of the sick persons, buried their deceased, ate seafood, and even had different physical features than expected: there were redhead individuals, and with light skin and eyes. So far, we thought that the sexual division of labor was typical of sapiens societies, but apparently that's not true".

'Indo-European' languages first emerged ca. 6500 years ago


Linguists have long agreed that languages from English to Greek to Hindi, known as 'Indo-European languages', are the modern descendants of a language family which first emerged from a common ancestor spoken thousands of years ago. Now, a new study gives us more information on when and where it was most likely used. Using data from over 150 languages, linguists at the University of California, Berkeley provide evidence that this ancestor language originated 5,500 - 6,500 years ago, on the Pontic-Caspian steppe stretching from Moldova and Ukraine to Russia and western Kazakhstan.

"Ancestry-constrained phylogenetic analysis supports the Indo-European steppe hypothesis", by Will Chang, Chundra Cathcart, David Hall and Andrew Garrett, will appear in the March issue of the academic journal Language. A pre-print version of the article is freely available from the Linguistic Society of America, the publishers of Language:

http://www.linguisticsociety.org/files/news/ChangEtAlPreprint.pdf

This article provides new support for the "steppe hypothesis" or "Kurgan hypothesis", which proposes that Indo-European languages first spread with cultural developments in animal husbandry around 4500 - 3500 BCE. (An alternate theory proposes that they diffused much earlier, around 7500 - 6000 BCE, in Anatolia in modern-day Turkey.)

Chang et al. examined over 200 sets of words from living and dead Indo-European languages; after determining how quickly these words changed over time through statistical modeling, they concluded that the rate of change indicated that the languages which first used these words began to diverge approximately 6,500 years ago, in accordance with the steppe hypothesis.

This is one of the first quantitatively-based academic papers in support of the steppe hypothesis, and the first to use a model with "ancestry constraints" which more directly incorporate previously discovered relationships between languages. In future research, methods from this study could be used to study the origins of other language families, such as Afro-Asiatic and Sino-Tibetan.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

1,500 year-old grape seeds may answer the question: Why was the wine of the Negev so renowned in the Byzantine Empire



For the first time, grape seeds from the Byzantine era have been found. These grapes were used to produce “the Wine of the Negev” — one of the finest and most renowned wines in the whole of the Byzantine Empire. The charred seeds, over 1,500 years-old, were found at the Halutza excavation site in the Negev during a joint dig by the University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The vines growing in the Negev today are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world. Our next job is to recreate the ancient wine, and perhaps in that way we will be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the Negev wine so fine,” said Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa, director of the excavation.

The archeologists know of “the Wine of the Negev” or “Gaza Wine” — named for the port it was sent from to all corners of the empire — from historical sources from the Byzantine period. This wine was considered to be of very high quality and was very expensive, but unfortunately, it did not survive to our day, so we do not know what it was that made it so fine. In earlier excavations in the Negev, archeologists found the terraces where the vines were cultivated, the wineries where wine was produced, and the jugs in which the wine was stored and exported, but the grape seeds themselves were not found.

All this, as we said, until the current excavation at the Halutza National Park, which is part of a bio-archaeological study examining the causes of the rise and fall of the Byzantines in the Negev. The study is directed by Prof. Guy Bar-Oz and Dr. Lior Weisbrod of the Zinman Institute at the University of Haifa, in collaboration with Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini from the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

Like elsewhere in the Negev, the stone buildings at Halutza— which in its heyday was the most important Byzantine city in the Negev — did not survive due to stone theft over the ages. But, as often happens in archaeological excavations, the archeologists actually found their rare finding in the refuse dump. According to Prof. Bar-Oz, the city's refuse dumps, or middens, were preserved almost completely intact and now mark the boundaries of the ancient city. They are so conspicuous they can be detected on satellite images, such as those of Google Earth. Pottery and coins discovered in the refuse indicated that they accumulated mainly during the sixth to seventh centuries AD, a time when the city was at the peak of its economic success. With the urban collapse of Halutza in the mid-seventh century, for reasons not yet completely known, organized waste disposal was stopped and it appears that both the city itself and the middens surrounding it were abandoned.

In the ancient piles of refuse, the researchers found a particularly high concentration of fragments of pottery vessels used for storage, cooking and serving, which included a significant number of Gaza jugs used for storing the ancient Negev wine. The archeologists also found a wealth of biological remains, including animal bones: bones of Red Sea fish and shellfish from the Mediterranean that were imported to the site, which indicated the vast wealth of the Byzantine city residents.
The highlight, however, were the hundreds of tiny charred grape seeds. According to the archeologists, this is the first time “Negev” grape seeds have been found, something that will provide first-of-its-kind direct evidence of the wine cultivated in the western Negev in ancient times.

Exposing the tiny seeds in the piles of refuse was not easy: For the first time strict and fine excavation methods were used during the dig that included fine sifting and flotation of botanical remains, which float after the soil settles. These methods made it possible to extract the botanical finding from the Byzantine material. “After washing the dirt and gently sifting the findings all that remained was to separate the botanical findings, which included seeds, pits and plants remains, from small animal bones, which included the remains of rodents that were drawn to the refuse,” explained Prof. Bar-Oz.

As mentioned above, the vines from which our ancestors produced the wine famous throughout the Byzantine Empire did not survive and researchers today do not know whether these were imported species from elsewhere — as is the case with the vines cultivated in the Negev today, which are originally French or Italian — or whether these were native varieties that had been lost to the world.

The next stage of the study is to join forces with biologists to sequence the DNA of the seeds and in this way to discover their origin. “European varieties require copious amounts of water. Today it is less of a problem thanks to technology, but it is unlikely that that was the case 1,500 years ago. It is more interesting to think of local grape varieties that were better suited to the Negev. Maybe the secret to the Negev wine’s international prestige lay in the method by which the vines were cultivated in the Negev’s arid conditions,” the archeologists are asking.

This discovery is exciting for local wine growers and for the archeologists, and they all hope to reveal the secret of the Negev vines in order to recreate the ancient wine, and by so doing, to finally understand why it was famous throughout the Byzantine Empire — in Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Spain.

The Byzantine city of Halutza, or Elusa in Greek, was founded by the Nabataeans but reached its prime during the Byzantine period between the fourth and seventh centuries, AD. The city then grew to become the largest and most important of all the Byzantine cities in the Negev/

The Largest Hoard of Gold Coins Ever Found in Israelwas Recovered from the Seabed in Caesarea National Park

The largest treasure of gold coins discovered in Israel was found in recent weeks on the seabed in the ancient harbor in Caesarea National Park.



The group of divers from the diving club in the harbor found the lost treasure. According to them, at first they thought they had spotted a toy coin from a game and it was only after they understood the coin was “the real thing” that they collected several coins and quickly returned to the shore in order to inform the director of the dive club about their find who in turn reported the discovery to the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority. After quickly organizing, divers of the Israel Antiquities Authority went together with the group of divers out to where the coins were found and using a metal detector discovered almost 2,000 gold coins in different denominations: a dinar, half dinar and quarter dinar, of various dimensions and weight.

According to Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority, this is fascinating and rare historical evidence of life in the past which was exposed during winter storms. “The discovery of such a large hoard of coins that had such tremendous economic power in antiquity raises several possibilities regarding its presence on the seabed. There is probably a shipwreck there of an official treasury boat which was on its way to the central government in Egypt with taxes that had been collected. Perhaps the treasure of coins was meant to pay the salaries of the Fatimid military garrison which was stationed in Caesarea and protected the city. Another theory is that the treasure was money belonging to a large merchant ship that traded with the coastal cities and the port on the Mediterranean Sea and sank there. In the Marine Archaeological Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority they are hoping that with the salvage excavations that will be conducted there, it will be possible to supplement our understanding of the entire archaeological context, and thus answer the many questions that still remain unanswered about the treasure.

According to Robert Cole, an expert numismaticist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The coins are in an excellent state of preservation, and despite the fact they were at the bottom of the sea for about a thousand years, they did not require any cleaning or conservation intervention from the metallurgical laboratory. This is because gold is a noble metal and is not affected by air or water. The coins that were exposed also remained in the monetary circulation after the Crusader conquest, particularly in the port cities through which international commerce was conducted. Several of the coins that were found in the assemblage were bent and exhibit teeth and bite marks, evidence they were “physically” inspected by their owners or the merchants. Other coins bear signs of wear and abrasion from use while others seem as though they were just minted.

Kobi Sharvit had this to say about the divers who found the treasure and reported it (Tzvika Feuer, Kobi Tweena, Avivit Fishler, Yoav Lavi and Yoel Miller). These divers are model citizens. They discovered the gold and have a heart of gold that loves the country and its history” Sharvit added, “The Law of Antiquities states that all antiquities belong to the state and that not reporting or removing antiquities from their location, or selling or trading them is an offense punishable by up to five years imprisonment. In this case the divers reported the find; but in many instances divers take the objects home and that way extremely important archaeological information is lost forever, which cannot be recovered. Therefore the discovery of the treasure underscores the need to combine the development of the place as a tourism and diving site with restrictions that will allow the public to dive there only when accompanied by inspectors or instructors from the diving club”.

The Caesarea Development Company and Nature and Parks Authority welcomed the discovery of the treasure. According to them, “There is no doubt that the discovery of the impressive treasure highlights the uniqueness of Caesarea as an ancient port city with rich history and cultural heritage. After 2,000 years it is still capable of captivating its many visitors, of continuing to innovate and surprise again when other parts of its mysterious past are revealed in the ground and in the sea”.

The Historical Background

The earliest coin exposed in the treasure is a quarter dinar minted in Palermo, Sicily in the second half of the ninth century CE. Most of the coins though belong to the Fatimid caliphs Al-Ḥākim (996–1021 CE) and his son Al-Ẓāhir (1021–1036), and were minted in Egypt and North Africa. The coin assemblage included no coins from the Eastern Islamic dynasties and it can therefore be stated with certainty this is a Fatimid treasure. The great value and significance of the treasure become apparent when viewed in light of the historical sources. For example, the description of the traveler and geographer Ibn Jubayr who writes that the Muslim residents of the settlements were required to pay the Fatimid government half their agricultural produce at harvest time, in addition to payment of a head tax of one dinar and five carats (twenty-four carats equal one dinar, hence the method used to measure gold according to carats).

Descriptions in the Cairo Geniza from the eleventh and twelfth century CE tell, among other things, of the redemption of prisoners, including Jewish captives from Ashkelon that were transferred to Egypt. According to the documents, the Jewish community paid a sum of about five hundred gold dinars to redeem and return them to Israel.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The killer blow that claimed the life of King Richard III

New film footage revealing for the first time details of the potential killer blow that claimed the life of King Richard III has been released by the University of Leicester.





The sequence -- showing the dramatic injury to the base of the skull as well as the inside of the top of the skull -- is part of a package of films charting the scientific and archaeological investigations led by the project team from the University of Leicester.

It is among 26 sequences taken by University video producer Carl Vivian who is chronicling the key events in the Discovery, Science and Reburial of the last Plantagenet king. 

Among the sequences there is one that has never been released before and shows the moment when Professor Guy Rutty of East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, based at the University of Leicester, found the potential killer blow.

Drawing on 19 years of experience as a Home Office Forensic Pathologist, Professor Rutty examined the skull and linked marks on the vertebra, the smaller of the two wounds to the base of the skull and a mark on the inside of the skull, suggesting that weapon had been thrust up from the base of Richard's neck and into his head.

Professor Rutty said: "I approached this examination as that of any patient -- just because he was a King did not make a difference. Everyone is treated the same with the same doctor/patient relationship, the same respect in death and the same level of professional investigation.

"The key to this sequence is that alongside my role at the University of Leicester, I am a Home office forensic pathologist. Thus I was able to look at the large injury in the base of the skull and, through experience, I was able to identify the key injury.

"Using the specialist lighting equipment we have in the forensic mortuary at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, which was key to the examination, I then was able to put the three injuries together on pathological grounds and we all realised I had identified the potential lethal injury to King Richard III.

"It was one of those eureka moments which Carl Vivian happened to capture on film which we will all remember."
The video shows the initial examination of the trauma to the skeleton by Professor Rutty working with Dr Jo Appleby of the University's School of Archaeology and Ancient History.

Osteologist Dr Jo Appleby, who led the exhumation of the skeleton from the Greyfriars car park where Richard was discovered in 2012, said: "Following the identification of a major sharp force trauma to the base of the skull, which was probably inflicted by a sword or the top spike of a bill or halberd, we were interested to determine the angle of the blow.
"During filming, Professor Rutty noted a small traumatic lesion on the interior surface of the cranium, directly opposite the sharp force trauma. Careful examination showed that the two injuries lined up with one another, and also with an injury to Richard's first cervical vertebra.

"The combination of all three injuries provided evidence for the direction of the injury and also the depth to which the weapon had penetrated the skull."

The researchers, who examined the remains in a clinical environment at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, have already published in The Lancet their research into the trauma inflicted on King Richard III's body at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August, 1485.

Using modern forensic analysis of the King's skeletal remains, they discovered that three of his injuries had the potential to cause death quickly- two to the skull and one to the pelvis.

The forensic imaging team, working with the Forensic Pathology Unit and our Department of Engineering, used whole body CT scans and micro-CT imaging of injured bones to analyse trauma to the 500-year-old skeleton carefully, and to determine which of the King's wounds might have proved fatal. They also analysed tool marks on bone to identify the medieval weapons potentially responsible for his injuries.

Professor Sarah Hainsworth, Professor of Material Engineering at the University, said: "Using modern forensic examination, we have discovered that Richard's skeleton sustained 11 wounds at or near the time of his death -- nine of them to the skull, which were clearly inflicted in battle. The injuries to the head suggest he had either removed or lost his helmet. The other two injuries that we found were to a rib and his pelvis."

You can see the sequence here: 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Neanderthals disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula before from the rest of Europe




Until a few months ago different scientific articles, including those published in 'Nature', dated the disappearance of the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) from Europe at around 40,000 years ago. However, a new study shows that these hominids could have disappeared before then in the Iberian Peninsula, closer to 45,000 years ago.

A scientific article published in 'Nature' in August 2014 revealed that the European Neanderthals could have disappeared between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, according to the fossil remains found at sites located from the Black Sea in Russia to the Atlantic coastline of Spain.

However, in the Iberian Peninsula the Neanderthals may have disappeared 45,000 years ago. This is what has now been revealed by data found at the El Salt site in the Valencian Community (Spain).
"Both conclusions are complementary and not contradictory," confirms Bertila Galván, lead author of the study published in the 'Journal of Human Evolution' and researcher at the Training and Research Unit of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of La Laguna (ULL) (Tenerife, Spain).

Until now, there was no direct dating in Spain on the Neanderthal human remains which produced recent dates. "The few that provided dates before 43,000 and 45,000 years ago in all cases," points out Galván, who says that there are more contextual datings. "Those which offer recent dates are usually labelled as dubious or have very small amounts of lithic material that can tell us little," he observes.

The study in 'Nature' proposes that the point of departure was 40,000 years as "there is almost no evidence of these human groups in the Eurasian region," but it also recognises that the process of disappearance is "complex and manifests itself in a regionalised manner with peculiarities in the different places," adds Galván, who also worked on the 'Nature' research.

In this context, the new study questions the existence of the Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula later than 43,000 years ago. In doing so the team of scientists provided data that referred specifically to the final occupations in El Salt, "a very robust archaeological context" in terms of the reliability of the remains, says the scientist.

The new timeline for the disappearance of the Neanderthals (which also includes "solid and evidence-based" information from other sites in the territory) allows for a regional reading, limited to the Iberian Peninsula; and which coincides with the remains found at other Spanish sites. "These new dates indicate a possible disappearance of the regional Neanderthal populations around 45,000 years ago," indicates the study's research team.

The gradual demise of the Iberian Neanderthals
The ample record of lithic objects and remains of fauna (mainly goats, horses and deer), as well as the extensive stratigraphic sequence of El Salt have allowed the disappearance of the Neanderthals to be dated at a site that covers their last 30,000 years of existence.

Together with this new dating is the discovery of six teeth that probably belonged to a young Homo neanderthalensis adult and that "could represent an individual of one of the last groups of Neanderthals which occupied the site and possibly the region," say the scientists.

Analysis with high resolution techniques, which combined palaeoenvironmental and archaeological data, point to "a progressive weakening of the population, or rather, not towards an abrupt end, but a gradual one, which must have been drawn out over several millennia, during which the human groups dwindled in number," as Cristo Hernández, another of the study's authors and researcher at ULL, told SINC.

This gradual disappearance coincided with a change in the climate creating colder and more arid environmental conditions, "which must have had an effect on the lives of these diminishing populations," adds Hernández. The anatomically modern humans had no role in this disappearance, unlike "the significant worsening of the climate, given that their presence in these lands was much later," reveals the researcher.

The new dating establishes depopulation in this region between the last Neanderthals and the first anatomically modern humans. This fact has been archaeologically proven in a sedimentary hiatus that was found not only in El Salt, "but also in other sites on the Iberian Peninsula," conclude the researchers.