Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Researchers discover earliest recorded lead exposure in 250,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth

This study is the first to report lead exposure in Neanderthal and is the first to use teeth to reconstruct climate during and timing of key developmental events including weaning and nursing duration-- key determinants of population growth.
Results of the study will be published online in Science Advances, a journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at 2PM EST on October 31st.
The international research team of biological anthropologists, archaeologists, earth scientists, and environmental exposure experts measured barium, lead and oxygen in the teeth for evidence of nursing, weaning, chemical exposure, and climate variations across the growth rings in the teeth. Elemental analysis of the teeth revealed short-term exposure to lead during cooler seasons, possibly from ingestion of contaminated food or water, or inhalation from fires containing lead.
During fetal and childhood development, a new tooth layer is formed every day. As each of these 'growth rings' forms, some of the many chemicals circulating in the body are captured in each layer, which provides a chronological record of exposure. The research team used lasers to sample these layers and reconstruct the past exposures along incremental markings, similar to using growth rings on a tree to determine the tree's growth history.
This evidence allowed the team to relate the individuals' development to ancient seasons, revealing that one Neanderthal was born in the spring, and that both Neanderthal children were more likely to be sick during colder periods. The findings are consistent with mammals' pattern of bearing offspring during periods of increased food availability. The nursing duration of 2.5 years in one individual is similar to the average age of weaning in preindustrial human populations. The researchers note they can't make broad generalizations about Neanderthals due to the small study size, but that their research methods offer a new approach to answering questions about long extinct species.
"Traditionally, people thought lead exposure occurred in populations only after industrialization, but these results show it happened prehistorically, before lead had been widely released into the environment," said one of the study's lead authors, Christine Austin, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "Our team plans to analyze more teeth from our ancestors and investigate how lead exposures may have affected their health and how that may relate to how our bodies respond to lead today."
"Dietary patterns in our early life have far reaching consequences for our health, and by understanding how breastfeeding evolved we can help guide the current population on what is good breastfeeding practice," said Manish Arora PhD, BDS, MPH, Professor and Vice Chairman Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine. "Our research team is working on applying these techniques in contemporary populations to study how breastfeeding alters health trajectories including those of neurodevelopment, cardiac health and other high priority health outcomes."
"This study reports a major breakthrough in the reconstruction of ancient climates, a significant factor in human evolution, as temperature and precipitation cycles influenced the landscapes and food resources our ancestors relied on," said the study's lead author Tanya Smith, PhD, Associate Professor at Griffith University.

Major corridor of Silk Road already home to high-mountain herders over 4,000 years ago

Using ancient proteins and DNA recovered from tiny pieces of animal bone, archaeologists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) and the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography (IAET) at the Russian Academy of Sciences-Siberia have discovered evidence that domestic animals -cattle, sheep, and goat - made their way into the high mountain corridors of southern Kyrgyzstan more than four millennia ago, as published in a study in PLOS ONE.

Long before the formal creation of the Silk Road - a complex system of trade routes linking East and West Eurasia through its arid continental interior- pastoral herders living in the mountains of Central Asia helped form new cultural and biological links across this region. However, in many of the most important channels of the Silk Road itself, including Kyrgyzstan's Alay Valley (a large mountain corridor linking northwest China with the oases cities of Bukhara and Samarkand), very little is known about the lifeways of early people who lived there in the centuries and millennia preceding the Silk Road era.

In 2017, an international team of researchers, led by Dr. Svetlana Shnaider (IAET), Dr. Aida Abdykanova (American University of Central Asia), and Dr. William Taylor (MPI-SHH), identified a series of never-before-seen habitation sites along the mountain margins that form Kyrgzstan's southern border with Tajikistan. Test excavations and survey at these sites produced archaeological animal bones that promised to shed light on how people used the Alay region in the past. When Taylor and colleagues analyzed the bones that had been recovered, however, they were so small and badly broken that researchers could no longer use their size and shape to identify which species they originally belonged to. "We were crushed," says Shnaider. "To get so close to understanding the early economy of one of the most important channels of the Silk Road -and come up empty-handed - was incredibly disheartening."
However, Taylor and his colleagues then applied a technique known as Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry, or ZooMS. This method uses laser-based, mass spectrometry to identify the peptide building blocks that make up collagen inside the bone itself - peptides that differ across animal taxa, and produce unique "fingerprints" that can be used to identify otherwise unrecognizable pieces of bone. With this technique, Dr. Taylor and his colleagues discovered that people living in the Alay Valley began herding sheep, goat, and cattle by at least 4300 years ago. Combining their work with ancient DNA research at France's University of Toulouse, they also found that in later centuries, as Silk Road trade flourished across the region, transport animals like domestic horses and Bactrian camel became increasingly significant in Alay. Their results are published in PLOS ONE.
For Taylor, this research is especially exciting because of the range of possibilities it points to for archaeological research across the high mountains of Inner Asia. In many parts of the region, fragmented assemblages like the ones analyzed in this study are commonplace in the archaeological record. "This study shows us that biomolecular methods like ZooMS and ancient DNA can take the fragmented piles of bone that have been almost worthless to archaeologists," he says, "and open up a whole new world of insights into the human story across Central Asia."

What happened in the past when the climate changed?

Once again, humanity might be well served to take heed from a history lesson. When the climate changed, when crops failed and famine threatened, the peoples of ancient Asia responded. They moved. They started growing different crops. They created new trade networks and innovated their way to solutions in other ways too.
So suggests new research by Jade d'Alpoim Guedes of the University of California San Diego and Kyle Bocinsky of the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Colorado, Washington State University and the University of Montana.
Their paper, published in the journal Science Advances, describes a computer model they developed that shows for the first time when and where in Asia staple crops would have thrived or fared poorly between 5,000 and 1,000 years ago.
When the climate cooled, people moved away or turned to pastoralism - herds can thrive in grassland where food grains can't. And they turned to trade. These strategies eventually coalesced into the development of the Silk Road, d'Alpoim Guedes and Bocinsky argue. In some areas they also diversified the types of crops they planted.
With their new computer model, the researchers were able to examine in detail how changing climate transformed people's ability to produce food in particular places, and that enabled them to get at the causes of cultural shift.
"There's been a large body of literature in archaeology on past climates, but earlier studies were mostly only able to draw correlations between changes in climate and civilization," said lead author d'Alpoim Guedes, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. "What we're showing in this work is exactly how changes in temperature and precipitation, over space and time, would have actually impacted people - by affecting what they could and couldn't grow."
D'Alpoim Guedes is an archaeologist who specializes in paleoethnobotany - analyzing ancient plant remains - to understand how human subsistence strategies changed over time. Bocinsky is a computational archaeologist. The duo developed their model by combining contemporary weather station data from across Asia with a hemisphere-wide paleoclimate reconstruction to create a simulation across space and time of how temperature in Asia changed. They also added data on archaeological sites and the record of seeds found there.
One major transition in climate - global cooling at the time - happened around 3,700 to 3,000 years ago. And what is true now was true then: changing temperatures don't affect all regions of the globe equally. The effects are most pronounced in high latitude and high-altitude areas, and d'Alpoim Guedes and Bocinsky show how dramatic the changes were, for example, in Mongolia and the Tibetan Plateau. There, around 3,500 years before the present, broomcorn and foxtail millet would have failed to come to harvest about half of the time. People had to abandon the crop in favor of more cold-tolerant ones like wheat and barley.
They also argue that cooling temperatures made it increasingly difficult to grow key grain crops across Northern China between AD 291 and 360, something that may have ended up playing a key role in the relocation of the Chinese capital to from Xi'an to what is now Nanjing, in the south of the country.
This was not a painless move - not like finding a better apartment across town. Historical records report on catastrophic harvests (read: famines). And there were major migrations of people, accompanied, the researchers say, by the myriad little conflicts these migrations often bring, as well as bloody struggles.
Climate change also stimulated the development of transportation infrastructure across Asia, the co-authors say, including the later Sui Dynasty's decision to invest in a major capital public project and create China's Grand Canal. The Grand Canal, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the world's longest and oldest canal, linking the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. It was a major facilitator for the movement of people and their trade goods.
D'Alpoim Guedes and Bocinsky's paper in Science Advances [DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar4491] carries a positive title - "Climate change stimulated agricultural innovation and exchange across Asia" - but the co-authors also warn against a completely Pollyanna view.
"Crises are opportunities for culture change and innovation," Bocinsky said. "But the speed and scale of our current climate change predicament are different."
The impacts of warming going forward are going to be quicker and greater, and humanity has had 4000 years to adjust to a cooler world, d'Alpoim Guedes said. "With global warming these long-lasting patterns of adaptation will begin to change in ways that are unpredictable," she said. "And there might not be the behavioral flexibility for this, given current politics around the world."
Also mechanized, industrialized agriculture and global agricultural policy are pushing us toward mono-culture of crops, said d'Alpoim Guedes. We need to move in the opposite direction instead. "Studies like ours show that bet-hedging and investing in diversity have been our best bets for adapting to climate change," she said. "That is what allowed us to adapt in past, and we need to be mindful of that for our future, too."
For those wishing to reproduce the paper's findings: The code is open source and any user of the free statistical software R can download the package the authors are making available and run the analysis themselves. Researchers can also extend d'Alpoim Guedes and Bocinsky's findings by running analysis on other crops and other locations in different parts of the world. It is even possible, the co-authors say, to modify their code and then, potentially, to project for future crop failures.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Interior Northwest Indians used tobacco long before European contact

Washington State University
IMAGE: In this image from around 1861 Nez Perce Chief Lawyer holds an elbow pipe that was commonly used after trade tobacco spread across the Pacific Northwest. Washington State University researchers... view more 
Credit: University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, NA 627
PULLMAN, Wash. - Washington State University researchers have determined that Nez Perce Indians grew and smoked tobacco at least 1,200 years ago, long before the arrival of traders and settlers from the eastern United States. Their finding upends a long-held view that indigenous people in this area of the interior Pacific Northwest smoked only kinnikinnick or bearberry before traders brought tobacco starting around 1790.
Shannon Tushingham, a WSU assistant professor and director of its Museum of Anthropology, made the discovery after teaming up with David Gang, a professor in the Institute of Biological Chemistry, to analyze pipes and pipe fragments in the museum's collection.
"Usually in archaeology we just find little pieces of artifacts, things that you might not think much of," she said. "But the information that we can extract from them on a molecular level is phenomenal."
Indeed, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers say their dating of various materials reveals "the longest continuous biomolecular record of ancient tobacco smoking from a single region anywhere in the world."
Tushingham first became interested in the subject when, while excavating plank houses in far northern California for her dissertation, she came across two soapstone pipes.
"I just thought, 'Wouldn't it be interesting to know what people were smoking?'" she said. "Then I started looking at the different plants and it wasn't just tobacco. People smoked lots of different plants. I realized it was an open question whether people had smoked tobacco in many places in North America."
Indigenous tobacco is scarce in the cool climate of the northwest. Coyote tobacco, or Nicotiana attenuata, is found mostly on sandy river bars, while the natural range of N. quadrivalvus lies south of southwestern Oregon.
Meanwhile, the more potent dried trade tobacco was easy to transport in bundles, or "twists," and Hudson's Bay Company explorers, fur traders and the Lewis and Clark expedition found an eager audience for it as they came through the region in the 1700 and 1800s.
"This occurred so rapidly and so early in the historic record that a complete understanding of in situ pre-contact smoking practices has been obscured," Tushingham and Gang write in their paper.
In the 1930s, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber oversaw a survey of more than 200 tribes and bands west of the Rocky Mountains. In one of the ensuing monographs, "Salt, Dogs, Tobacco," he reported that the smoking of non-tobacco products was "more universal," with planting confined to a "long irregular area" from the Oregon coast into south-central California. An accompanying map, however, shows three spots in the Columbia River basin where tobacco could have been mixed with kinnikinnick.
Working with Nez Perce tribal leaders, Tushingham and Gang analyzed a dozen pipes and fragments from three sites on the Snake River. Gang said he could use a solvent to get the substance from a pipe and analyze it using mass spectrometry. That left the pipes intact.
The technique extracts molecular amounts of residue on the surface and inside of the pipes, Gang said. "We don't want to destroy them. We don't want to damage them. We had one pipe that was 5,000 years old that we were really worried about that was sandstone."
Results were inconclusive, but the pipe was fine.
The researchers did detect nicotine in pipes from both after and well before Euro-American contact. None appeared to contain arbutin, a compound associated with kinnikinnick.
Because tobacco in the interior northwest needed to be planted, Tushingham said their finding offers a new view of native interactions with the landscape. Indigenous people have often been thought of as "passive consumers of the environment," yet they managed camas and even grew clams on the coast, she said.
"I think it's a very reasonable proposition that people were cultivating tobacco," Tushingham said. "This is just another sign of the sophistication of cultures in this area and how they managed plants and animals."
The researchers hope that their findings will inform native smoking-cessation programs, acknowledging the deep cultural role of tobacco while addressing health problems.
"If we know there's this eons-long use of psychoactive plants, doesn't that tell you something about human physiology, human health?" asked Tushingham. "Isn't that important information to know in terms of what we would do for treating people today, if we knowmore about the evolutionary history of this powerful plant and its long history of use by people?"

Earliest hominin migrations into the Arabian Peninsula required no novel adaptations

New study provides earliest evidence for hominins in 'Green Arabia' between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago alongside direct environmental data indicating productive, relatively humid grasslands
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
IMAGE: This is a sand dune in the Nefud Desert, Saudi Arabia. view more 
Credit: Palaeodeserts Project (Klint Janulis)
A new study, led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, suggests that early hominin dispersals beyond Africa did not involve adaptations to environmental extremes, such as to arid and harsh deserts. The discovery of stone tools and cut-marks on fossil animal remains at the site of Ti's al Ghadah provides definitive evidence for hominins in Saudi Arabia at least 100,000 years earlier than previously known. Stable isotope analysis of the fossil fauna indicates a dominance of grassland vegetation, with aridity levels similar to those found in open savanna settings in eastern Africa today. The stable isotope data indicates that early dispersals of our archaic ancestors were part of a range expansion rather than a result of novel adaptations to new environmental contexts outside Africa.
Studies of early and late dispersals of hominin populations beyond Africa are important for understanding the course of global human evolution and what it means to be human. Although the species that make up the genus Homo are often termed 'human' in academic and public discourse, this evolutionary group (or genus), which emerged in Africa around 3 million years ago, is highly diverse. Indeed, there is continuing debate as to what extent our own species Homo sapiens, which emerged in Africa around 300,000 years ago, showed unique ecological plasticity in adapting to novel environments compared to other hominin members in the genus Homo.
Distinguishing ecological settings for members of the genus Homo outside Africa It has recently been argued that early Homo sapiens occupied a diversity of extreme environments, including deserts, tropical rainforests, arctic, and high-altitude settings, around the world. By contrast, the dispersals of other earlier and contemporaneous species of Homo, such as Neanderthals, appear to be associated with generalized use of different forest and grassland mosaics in and among river and lake settings. A lack of palaeoenvironmental information has made it difficult to systematically test this idea and indeed a number of researchers maintain that non-Homo sapiens species demonstrate cultural and ecological adaptive flexibility.
'Green Arabia' and early human migrations In spite of its crucial geographic position at the crossroads between Africa and Eurasia, the Arabian Peninsula has been astoundingly absent from discussions about early human expansions until recently. However, recent analysis of climate models, cave records, lake records, and animal fossils have shown that at certain points in the past, the harsh, hyper-arid deserts that cover much of Arabia today were replaced by 'greener' conditions that would have represented an attractive setting for various hominin populations.
Following the 'savanna'? Direct environmental evidence for first steps 'Out of Africa'
In the current paper, the researchers undertook renewed archaeological excavations and analysis of fossil fauna found at the site of Ti's al Ghadah, in the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia. As one of the lead authors, Mathew Stewart says, "Ti's al Ghadah is one of the most important palaeontological sites in the Arabian Peninsula and it currently represents the only dated collection of middle Pleistocene fossil animals in this part of the world, and includes animals such as elephant, jaguar and water birds." Until now, however, the absence of stone tools has made linking these animals with early hominin presence uncertain.
Significantly, the research team found stone tools alongside evidence for the butchery of animals on bones, confirming a hominin presence in association with these animals 500,000 to 300,000 years ago. Michael Petraglia, the principal archaeologist of the project and a co-author on the paper says, "This makes Ti's al Ghadah the first, early hominin-associated fossil assemblage from the Arabian Peninsula, demonstrating that our ancestors were exploiting a variety of animals as they wandered into the green interior."
The authors were also able to innovatively apply geochemical methods to fossil animal tooth enamel to determine vegetation and aridity conditions associated with the movements of our ancestors into this region. The stable isotope findings highlight the presence of an abundance of grass in all animal diets, as well aridity levels somewhat similar to those found in East Africa 'savanna' settings today. This information fits with analysis of the types of animals found on site, and indicates the availability of significant amounts of water at certain points in time.
Implications for our understanding of changing human adaptive capacities "While these early hominin populations may have possessed significant cultural capacities, their movement into this part of the world would not have required adaptations to harsh and arid deserts," Dr. Patrick Roberts, the lead author of the paper, explains. "Indeed, the isotope evidence suggests that this expansion is more characteristic of a range expansion similar to that seen among other mammals moving between Africa, the Levant, and Eurasia at this time." More detailed study of past environments, closely associated with different forms of hominin species in the Arabian Peninsula and elsewhere should enable more refined testing as to whether our species is uniquely flexible in terms of its adaptations to varying environments.

Study reconstructs Neandertal ribcage, offers new clues to ancient human anatomy

An international team of scientists has completed the first 3D virtual reconstruction of the ribcage of the most complete Neandertal skeleton unearthed to date, potentially shedding new light on how this ancient human moved and breathed.
The team, which included researchers from universities in Spain, Israel, and the United States, including the University of Washington, focused on the thorax -- the area of the body containing the rib cage and upper spine, which forms a cavity to house the heart and lungs. Using CT scans of fossils from an approximately 60,000-year-old male skeleton known as Kebara 2, researchers were able to create a 3D model of the chest -- one that is different from the longstanding image of the barrel-chested, hunched-over "caveman." The conclusions point to what may have been an upright individual with greater lung capacity and a straighter spine than today's modern human.
The study is published Oct. 30 in Nature Communications.
"The shape of the thorax is key to understanding how Neandertals moved in their environment because it informs us about their breathing and balance," said Asier Gomez-Olivencia, an Ikerbasque Fellow at the University of the Basque Country and the study's lead author.
And how Neandertals moved would have had a direct impact on their ability to survive on the resources available to them, said Patricia Kramer, professor in the UW Department of Anthropology and corresponding author on the paper.
"Neandertals are closely related to us with complex cultural adaptations much like those of modern humans, but their physical form is different from us in important ways," she said. "Understanding their adaptations allows us to understand our own evolutionary path better."
Neandertals are a type of human that emerged about 400,000 years ago, living mostly from what is today Western Europe to Central Asia. They were hunter-gatherers who, in some areas, lived in caves and who weathered several glacial periods before going extinct about 40,000 years ago. Studies in recent years have suggested that Neandertals and early Homo sapiens interbred, because evidence of Neandertal DNA has turned up in many populations.
Over the past 150 years, Neandertal remains have been found at many sites in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. This team worked with a skeleton labeled Kebara 2, also known as "Moshe," which was found in Kebara Cave in Northern Israel's Carmel mountain range in 1983. Though the cranium is missing, the remains of the young adult male are considered one of the most complete Neandertal skeleton ever found. Two different forms of dating of the surrounding soil, thermoluminescence and electron spin resonance, put the age at somewhere between 59,000 and 64,000 years.
Discoveries and studies of other Neandertal remains in the 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to theories and images of a stereotypical, hunched-over caveman. Over time, further research clarified scientific understanding of many Neandertal traits, but some debate has lingered over the structure of the thorax, the capacity of the lungs and what conditions Neandertals might have been able to adapt to, or not.
Over the past decade, virtual reconstruction has become more commonplace in biological anthropology, Kramer explained. The approach is useful with fossils such as the thorax, where fragile bones make physical reconstruction difficult and risky.
Nearly two years ago, the same research team created a virtual reconstruction of the Kebara 2 spine, the first step in updating theories of Neandertal biomechanics. The team's paper, published in the book "Human Paleontology and Prehistory," reaffirmed the likelihood of upright posture but pointed to a straighter spine than that of modern humans.
For this model of the thorax, researchers used both direct observations of the Kebara 2 skeleton, currently housed at Tel Aviv University, and medical CT scans of vertebrae, ribs and pelvic bones, along with 3D software designed for scientific use. "This was meticulous work," said Alon Barash, a lecturer at Bar Ilan University in Israel. "We had to CT scan each vertebra and all of the ribs fragments individually and then reassemble them in 3D."
They then used a technique called morphometric analysis to compare the images of Neandertal bones with medical scans of bones from present-day adult men. "In the reconstruction process, it was necessary to virtually 'cut' and realign some of the parts that showed deformation, and mirror-image some of those that were not so well-preserved in order to get a complete thorax," said Gomez-Olivencia.
The reconstruction of the thorax, coupled with the team's earlier finding, shows ribs that connect to the spine in an inward direction, forcing the chest cavity outward and allowing the spine to tilt slightly back, with little of the lumbar curve that is part of the modern human skeletal structure. "The differences between a Neandertal and modern human thorax are striking," said Markus Bastir, senior research scientist at the Laboratory of Virtual Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History in Spain.
"The Neandertal spine is located more inside the thorax, which provides more stability," said Gomez-Olivencia. "Also, the thorax is wider in its lower part." This shape of the rib cage suggests a larger diaphragm and thus, greater lung capacity.
"The wide lower thorax of Neandertals and the horizontal orientation of the ribs suggest that Neandertals relied more on their diaphragm for breathing," said senior author Ella Been of Ono Academic College. "Modern humans, on the other hand, rely both on the diaphragm and on the expansion of the rib cage for breathing. Here we see how new technologies in the study of fossil remains is providing new information to understand extinct species."
What that means for how Kebara 2 lived is ripe for further research, Kramer said. How did Neandertals breathe, and for what physical demands might they have needed powerful lungs? What does that tell us about how they moved, and the environment in which they lived? Did any of these physical traits make them more or less adaptive to climate change?
Reconstructing the thorax was an exercise in starting from scratch, deliberately trying to avoid being influenced by past theories of how Neandertals looked or lived, Kramer said.
"Thinking through all the permutations of the different fragments, it was like a jigsaw without all the pieces. What do the pieces tell us?" she said. "People have told you it should be a certain way, but you want to make sure you're not over-reconstructing, or reconstructing it the way you think it should be. You're trying to maintain a neutral approach."
Other authors of the study were Daniel Garcia-Martinez of the National Museum of Natural History and Mikel Arlegi, of the University of the Basque Country.

When the Syrians bathed like the Romans

Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics"
Classical scholars from the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics" at the WWU have explored a rare bathing facility in southeastern Turkey from the time of the Roman Empire, and a magnificent basilica from Christian late antiquity. "Our excavations in the ancient town of Doliche clearly show how a town flourished across epochs and religions in what was then northern Syria - from the Hellenistic period through Christian late antiquity to the early Islamic epoch", says classical scholar and excavation director Engelbert Winter from the Cluster of Excellence, who was speaking at the end of the excavation season. "The bath, decorated with splendid mosaics, was built in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, when public baths in Syria, unlike in the Latin West, were exceedingly rare. However, the bath was no longer in operation from as early as the 4th century AD". People left the town as a result of wars and economic crises. "A new heyday began under Christian auspices: the basilica was built, and the town, which had originally gained attention and become rich on account of the sanctuary of the Roman god Jupiter Dolichenus, became a bishopric".
The excavation team has been conducting research since 2001 in ancient Doliche, which in the time of the Roman Empire housed the sanctuary of the prominent city god Jupiter Dolichenus. Up until 2016, the researchers published findings from all epochs of the 2,000-year history of the place of worship. Since last year, they have concentrated on the neighbouring urban area. "Doliche is an ideal case study for the cultural, political and religious development of a town in ancient Syria", says Winter. At first, Doliche changed dramatically through its integration into the Roman Empire. "The bathing facility shows how Roman customs were adopted and shaped the townscape". Comprising around 2,000 square metres, the bathing facility was of considerable size. "It has the sequence typical of Roman times: cold, warm and hot baths". An approximately 150-square-metre room with swimming pool has now been partially uncovered, along with parts of the heating system under the floor. The finds, as well as mosaics, date the facility to the 2nd to 3rd century AD. When the bath fell into disuse in the course of Christianization, the lime and marble building material was processed in a large lime kiln, and then used for new constructions.
Destruction by earthquake
It was during this stage in the late 4th century AD that the newly discovered three-nave basilica was built, as Winter points out. "The onset of Christianization changed the internal structure of the town. The changing townscape reveals a new Christian identity". The discovery of the church represents a special opportunity, as very few church buildings within a city have thus far been archaeologically investigated in this region, which is of great importance for early Christianity. What test trenches dug south of the church this year mainly brought to light were rooms that researchers interpret as being ancillary rooms and extensions of the church complex. "This makes the church facility much more spacious than expected. Its further excavation promises to make a significant contribution to our understanding of religious life and sacral architecture in the northern Syria of late antiquity". Further finds from the area around the church indicate that it was probably destroyed by an earthquake in the 7th century. The town itself was finally abandoned in the 12th century.
According to Winter, the aim of further research is to obtain "a high-resolution picture of the city and how it developed". "We are faced here with a monumental task that we are tackling systematically with the help of state-of-the-art methods and research questions. It is not so much about exposing magnificent buildings as it is about generating the most precise information possible on how people lived their lives through the ages", adds assistant professor Michael Blömer from the University of Aarhus. "What did the inhabitants consume, what did their everyday lives look like, how did the economy function? And how did the town react to crises like wars, natural disasters, but also political and religious changes?"

The Indians of the Ecuadorian Amazon were using cocoa 5,300 years ago

IMAGE: This is a ceremonial site of Santa Ana La Florida archaeological site near Palanda, Ecuyador. view more 
Credit: © C. Lanaud, CIRAD
Traces of cocoa dating back 5300 years have been found in ancient pots in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This is the oldest proof of cocoa use ever found. It predates the domestication of cocoa by the Olmec and the Maya in Central America by some 1500 years.
This evidence was collected in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon, at the Santa Ana La Florida (SALF) archaeological site near Palanda, discovered 16 years ago by the archaeologist Francisco Valdez and his Franco-Ecuadorian team (IRD/INPC) (2). The Mayo Chinchipe, the oldest known Amerindian civilization in the upper Amazon, had consumed cocoa almost continuously from at least 5300 years to 2100 years before present. Traces of houses and of a ceremonial site remain.
"Evidence of cocoa use was found by analysing the starch grains characteristic of the genus Theobroma, traces of theobromine, a biochemical compound specific to mature cocoa beans, and ancient cocoa DNA found in ceramic vessels, some of which dated back more than 5300 years" , says Claire Lanaud, a geneticist from CIRAD specializing in cocoa, who is one of the lead authors of the study. "The vessels came from tombs or domestic settings; they clearly showed that cocoa was used both as a funerary offering and for daily consumption."
The ancient DNA analyses were conducted by a team of geneticists from CIRAD (1), in collaboration with the INPC, the IRD (2), and INRA (3), as part of a project on the past and present domestication of cocoa funded by Agropolis Fondation. After sequencing, the team demonstrated the presence of DNA fragments specific to the species Theobroma cacao, despite their severe degradation due to the humid tropical environment in which they were found.
The Santa Ana-La Florida archaeological site in Ecuador
The Santa Ana-La Florida archaeological site is located within the area of origin of the Nacional cocoa variety grown on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, from which all the fine cocoa produced in the country originated. The presence of seashells, such as spondylus and strombus, from the Pacific coast, at the archaeological site demonstrates that there were communication links between the peoples of the Pacific coast and those of the Amazon, such as the Mayo Chinchipe. "This latter group may therefore have played a major role in domesticating cocoa in general and the Nacional variety in particular."

Thursday, October 25, 2018

More on Oldest weapons ever discovered in North America pre-date Clovis

A 15,000 year old stemmed point.
Credit: Image courtesy of Texas A & M University
Texas A&M University researchers have discovered what are believed to be the oldest weapons ever found in North America: ancient spear points that are 15,500 years old. The findings raise new questions about the settlement of early peoples on the continent.
Michael Waters, distinguished professor of anthropology and director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M, and colleagues from Baylor University and the University of Texas have had their work published in the current issue of Science Advances.
The team found the numerous weapons -- about 3-4 inches long -- while digging at what has been termed the Debra L. Friedkin site, named for the family who owns the land about 40 miles northwest of Austin in Central Texas. The site has undergone extensive archaeological work for the past 12 years.
Spear points made of chert and other tools were discovered under several feet of sediment that dating revealed to be 15,500 years old, and pre-date Clovis, who for decades were believed to be the first people to enter the Americas.
"There is no doubt these weapons were used for hunting game in the area at that time," Waters said. "The discovery is significant because almost all pre-Clovis sites have stone tools, but spear points have yet to be found. These points were found under a layer with Clovis and Folsom projectile points. Clovis is dated to 13,000 to 12,700 years ago and Folsom after that. The dream has always been to find diagnostic artifacts -- such as projectile points -- that can be recognized as older than Clovis and this is what we have at the Friedkin site."
Clovis is the name given to the distinctive tools made by people starting around 13,000 years ago. The Clovis people invented the "Clovis point," a spear-shaped weapon made of stone that is found in Texas and parts of the United States and northern Mexico and the weapons were made to hunt animals, including mammoths and mastodons, from 13,000 to 12,700 years ago.
"The findings expand our understanding of the earliest people to explore and settle North America," Waters said. "The peopling of the Americas during the end of the last Ice Age was a complex process and this complexity is seen in their genetic record. Now we are starting to see this complexity mirrored in the archaeological record."

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

New projectile point style could suggest two separate migrations into North America

IMAGE: Excavations at the Debra L. Friedkin site 2016. view more 
Credit: Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University
Through excavation of a site in Texas, researchers have identified a particular style of projectile point - or triangular blade often attached to a weapon that would be thrown- dated between 13,500 and 15,500 years ago, they say. This is earlier than typical Clovis-style technologies dated to 13,000 years ago. The finding suggests that projectile points changed over time from the stemmed form found here into the more widespread, Clovis-style lanceolate fluted projectile point. It's also possible, say the study's authors, that the projectile point style they found in Texas is a distinct style created by people of an earlier, separate migration into the Americas.

Clovis points - thought to date as early as 13,000 years ago - were once thought to reflect the earliest occupation of North America. However, more recent excavations in western North America have identified a different style of point technology- the Western Stemmed Tradition. The connections between the artifact assemblages of Clovis and Western Stemmed Traditions, however, remain unknown.

Here, Michael R. Waters and his colleagues report more than 100,000 artifacts, including 328 tools and 12 complete and fragmented projectile points, excavated from the Buttermilk Creek Complex horizon of the Debra L. Friedkin site, which dates earlier than the Clovis history. From 19 optically stimulated luminescence dates of sediments, they determined the artifacts were between 13,500- and 15,500- years-old. The Buttermilk Creek Complex featured bladed projectile points that exhibited similarities to artifact assemblages of the Clovis, with lanceolate features. Waters and colleagues suggest that once developed, the lanceolate fluted point technology (associated with Clovis) could have spread over much of North America into northern Mexico, or alternatively, the stemmed and lanceolate point traditions may be evidence of two separate human migrations into North America.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ancient Andean genomes show distinct adaptations to farming and altitude

Ancient populations in the Andes of Peru adapted to their high-altitude environment and the introduction of agriculture in ways distinct from other global populations that faced similar circumstances, according to findings presented at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) 2018 Annual Meeting in San Diego, Calif.

John Lindo, PhD, JD, assistant professor of anthropology at Emory University, and a group of international collaborators headed by Anna Di Rienzo, PhD, at the University of Chicago and Mark Aldenderfer, PhD, at the University of California, Merced, set out to use newly available samples of 7,000-year-old DNA from seven whole genomes to study how ancient people in the Andes adapted to their environment. They compared these genomes with 64 modern-day genomes from both highland Andean populations and lowland populations in Chile, in order to identify the genetic adaptations that took place before the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s.

"Contact with Europeans had a devastating impact on South American populations, such as the introduction of disease, war, and social disruption," explained Dr. Lindo. "By focusing on the period before that, we were able to distinguish environmental adaptations from adaptations that stemmed from historical events."

They found that Andean populations' genomes adapted to the introduction of agriculture and resulting increase in starch consumption differently from other populations. For example, the genomes of European farming populations show an increased number of copies of the gene coding for amylase, an enzyme in saliva that helps break down starch. While Andeans also followed a high-starch diet after they started to farm, their genomes did not have additional copies of the amylase gene, prompting questions about how they may have adapted to this change.
Similarly, Tibetan genomes, which have been studied extensively for their adaptations to high altitude, show many genetic changes related to the hypoxia response -- how the body responds to low levels of oxygen. The Andean genomes did not show such changes, suggesting that this group adapted to high altitude in another way.
The researchers also found that after contact with Europeans, highland Andeans experienced an effective population reduction of 27 percent, far below the estimated 96 percent experienced by lowland populations. Previous archaeological findings showed some uncertainty to this point, and the genetic results suggested that by living in a harsher environment, highland populations may have been somewhat buffered from the reach and resulting effects of European contact. The findings also showed some selection for immune-related genes after the arrival of Europeans, suggesting that Andeans who survived were better able to respond to newly introduced diseases like smallpox.
Building on these findings, Dr. Lindo and his colleagues are currently exploring a new set of ancient DNA samples from the Incan capital Cusco, as well as a nearby lowland group. They are also interested in gene flow and genetic exchange resulting from the wide-ranging trade routes of ancient Andeans.
"Our findings thus far are a great start to an interesting body of research," said Dr. Lindo. "We would like to see future studies involving larger numbers of genomes in order to achieve a better resolution of genetic adaptations throughout history," he sai

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Dry conditions in East Africa half a million years ago possibly shaped human evolution, study finds

Samples of ancient sediments from a lake basin in East Africa have revealed that arid conditions developed in the area around half a million years ago, an environmental change that could have played a major role in human evolution and influenced advances in stone technology, according to an international research team that includes geologists from Georgia State University.

The team of geologists and anthropologists drilled deep cores in Lake Magadi in Kenya to obtain ancient sediment samples that date back a million years ago to the present. Georgia State researchers conducted mineral analysis on thousands of samples, and their collaborators performed other types of analyses.

Lake Magadi is one of five sites across the East African Rift that is being studied as part of the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project. Two additional sites are also being studied in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution and Indiana University.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide clues into how environmental and climate change may have played a role in human evolution and how early humans developed early stone technologies.

"The sediments that accumulated over the last million years show us that Lake Magadi used to be fresh water and gradually over the last million years has gotten more and more saline. That tells us that arid conditions developed in East Africa about half a million years ago," said Dr. Daniel Deocampo, collaborating author of the study and professor of geosciences at Georgia State. "On top of that long-term increase in aridity in East Africa, there were also higher frequency environmental changes. There were shorter-term fluctuations where you might have some wet centuries and some dry centuries.
"The reason why this is important is that when you see these fluctuations really kicking in, that's right about the time when the Middle Stone Age technologies were being developed by early human ancestors, about a half million years ago. These are really more meticulously made artifacts, not the crude, stone tools of a million years ago."
While the researchers can't directly link climate change to human evolution and advanced technology with evidence at this point, they're using geological data to understand the details of how the environment changed.
"I think everyone in the community agrees that environmental change plays a role in evolution, including human evolution and the development of technology," Deocampo said. "The problem that we're trying to address is the details. In some ways, this is kind of the first step because by drilling these sediments we can better understand how the environment changed, and that's the first step to understanding how that environmental change affected human evolution. Those are questions that will be addressed by evolutionary biologists and anthropologists. As geologists, we're providing data on how the environment itself changed."

Monday, October 15, 2018

2,000-year-old inscription spells Jerusalem as Israel does today

2,000-year-old inscription spells Jerusalem as Israel does today


This picture taken on October 9, 2018, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem shows a unique stone inscription dating to the Second Temple Period (1st Century CE), mentioning Jerusalem, written in Hebrew letters, and using the spelling as we know it today. The inscription was found this last winter in Jerusalem during an IAA excavation prior to the construction of a new road, during the excavations, the foundations of a Roman structure were exposed, which were supported by columns. The most important discovery was a stone column drum, reused in the Roman structure, upon which the Aramaic inscription appears, written in Hebrew letters typical of the Second Temple Period, around the time of Herod the Great's reign. The inscription reads: Hananiah son of Dodalos of Jerusalem. The Inscription will be displayed to the public, starting tomorrow, at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, as part of a new exhibit presenting unique artifacts from the capital.

Extensive trade in fish between Egypt and Canaan already 3,500 years ago

IMAGE: Jaw with a durophagous dentition consisting of teeth with thick enamel of the gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata): The large molariform tooth was used for oxygen isotope analysis and to... view more 
Credit: photo/©: Guy Sisma-Ventura, Israel
Some 3,500 years ago, there was already a brisk trade in fish on the shores of the southeastern Mediterranean Sea. This conclusion follows from the analysis of 100 fish teeth that were found at various archeological sites in what is now Israel. The saltwater fish from which these teeth originated is the gilthead sea bream, which is also known as the dorade. It was caught in the Bardawil lagoon on the northern Sinai coast and then transported from Egypt to sites in the southern Levant. This fish transport persisted for about 2,000 years, beginning in the Late Bronze Age and continuing into the early Byzantine Period, roughly 300 to 600 AD.

"Our examination of the teeth revealed that the sea bream must have come from a very saline waterbody, containing much more salt than the water in the Mediterranean Sea," said Professor Thomas Tütken of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). The geoscientist participated in the study together with colleagues from Israel and Göttingen. The Bardawil lagoon formed 4,000 years ago, when the sea level finally stabilized after the end of the last Ice Age. The lagoon was fished intensively and was the point of origin of an extensive fish trade.

As demonstrated by archeological finds, fishing was an important economic factor for many ancient cultures. In the southern Levant, the gilthead sea bream with the scientific name of Sparus aurata was already being fished by local costal fishermen 50,000 years ago. More exotic fish, such as the Nile perch, were already being traded between Egypt and Canaan over 5,000 years ago. However, the current study shows the extent to which the trade between the neighbors increased in the Late Bronze Age and continued for 2,000 years into the Byzantine Period. "

The Bardawil lagoon was apparently a major source of fish and the starting point for the fish deliveries to Canaan, today's Israel, even though the sea bream could have been caught there locally," stated co-author Professor Andreas Pack from the University of Göttingen.

Fish teeth document over 2,000 years of trade

Gilthead sea bream are a food fish that primarily feed on crabs and mussels. They have a durophagous dentition with button-shaped teeth that enable them to crush the shells to get at the flesh. For the purposes of the study, 100 large shell-cracking teeth of gilthead sea bream were examined. The teeth originate from 12 archeological sites in the southern Levant, some of which lie inland, some on the coast, and cover a time period from the Neolithic to the Byzantine Period. One approach of the researchers was to analyze the content of the oxygen isotopes ^18O and ^16O in the tooth enamel of the sea bream. The ratio of ^18O to ^16O provides information on the evaporation rate and thus on the salt content of the surrounding water in which the fish lived. In addition, the researchers were able to estimate the body size of the fish on the basis of the size of the shell-cracking teeth.

 The analyses showed that some of the gilthead sea bream originated from the southeastern Mediterranean but that roughly three out of every four must have lived in a very saline body of water. The only water that comes into question in the locality is that of the Bardawil lagoon, the hypersaline water of which has a salt content of 3.9 to 7.4 percent, providing the perfect environment for the growth of sea bream. The Bardawil lagoon on the Sinai coast is approximately 30 kilometers long, 14 kilometers wide, and has a maximum depth of 3 meters. It is separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow sand bar.

"There was a mainland route from there to Canaan, but the fish were probably first dried and then transported by sea," added Tütken. Even back then, sea bream were probably a very popular food fish, although it is impossible to estimate actual quantities consumed. However, it became apparent that the fish traded from the period of the Late Bronze Age were significantly smaller than in the previous era.

According to the researchers, this reduction in body size is a sign of an increase in the intensity of fishing that led to a depletion of stocks, which is to be witnessed also in modern times. "It would seem that fishing and the trade of fish expanded significantly, in fact to such a degree that the fish did not have the chance to grow as large," continued Tütken, pointing out that this was an early form of the systematic commercial exploitation of fish, a type of proto-aquaculture, which persisted for some 2,000 years.

Common genes in different peoples of the Ural language family

IMAGE: Geographical location of the Ural-speaking populations. A variety of Uralic languages and linguistic tree of their relationship. The color on the map corresponds to the color of the language group.... view more 
Credit: Kristiina Tambets et al.
The genetic diversity of peoples of the Ural language family living in Europe and Siberia are strongly influenced by a geography. However, the genetics from Estonia and Russia found common genetic component in Ural-speaking populations. Presumably, it originated from West Siberia. This means that the Ural family languages have spread over a wide area due to population migrations.

The Ural family languages are the third after Indo-European and Turkic most common in Northern Eurasia. According to linguists, the Ural family languages were built from a single proto-language 6000-4000 years old, which was divided into two large branches: Finno-Ugric and Samoyed languages. Ural-speaking peoples live on giant territories from Baltics to West Syberia and include Finns and Estonians, Karelians and Hungarians, Mordovian Erzya and Moksha, West Siberian Khanty and Mansi, Nenets and others. Do this different peoples share common roots and biological history? And how did these related languages spread over such a wide territory? This questions are addressed to genetics.

The authors of recent paper in BMC Genome Biology tried to answer them. The international research team was coordinated by the genetics from Estonian Biocenter of the Tartu University, working in long-term cooperation with Russian colleagues from Moscow, Novosibirsk, Ufa and Arkhangelsk. Researchers analyzed the geographical location of the Ural-speaking populations and constructed a map, showing where different languages of the Ural family were spoken.

The scientists for the first time created a database of genetic data for the entire or full genome. The base includes more than 500 thousand positions for representatives of 15 Ural-speaking populations: from Finns to Nenets. Scientists have mapped the position of the Ural-speaking populations in the genetic space of Eurasia. These positions stretched from left to right in accordance with their geography: from west to east. Therefore, the authors concluded that geography is the main factor behind the genetic diversity of Ural-speaking populations.

The researchers also applied another standard analysis method for decomposing the genome into components derived from ancestors. It showed that the majority of the Ural-speaking populations except for Hungarians have a small genetic component in common. Scientists associate its origin with Western Siberia. If such fragments are found in people from different populations, they are likely to have a common ancestor, and if two populations have many common fragments, the are relatives. This way it turned out that many Ural-speaking populations are closer to other Ural-speaking populations, even geographically distant, than to their geographical neighbors who speak other languages.

Thus, Mari and Udmurts were closer to the Khanty and Mansi, living on the other side of the Urals, than to the neighboring Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash. At the same time, Finns and Sámi showed greater commonality with the Volga Mari, Komi and Udmurts, and even with West Siberian Khanty and Mansi, than with geographically close Swedes, Latvians, Lithuanians and northern Russians. However, there are exceptions such as Hungarians and Mordovian peoples.
Since the researchers wanted to see if there were any correlations between linguistic, geographic, and genetic data for Ural-speaking populations, they took lexical distances between languages ??(calculated by linguists proportion of common words in a special list of stable vocabulary), geographical distances between populations and, finally, genetic distances between populations, which serve as a measure of genetic similarity. It turned out that all these data types have a positive correlation, which indicates their interdependence.
The common genetic component found in the Ural-speaking populations indicates that they share common history. Apparently, the spread of the Uralic languages ??was associated with the spread of genes or with migrations. Scientists consider the center where the migrating groups originated to be placed in Western Siberia. Thus, in their opinion, the peoples of the Ural linguistic family are linked by genetic roots of Western Siberian origin.
"This is the third joint article by Estonian Biocenter and Russian scientists," commented Dr. Oleg Balanovsky, the head of Genomic Geography Laboratory of the Institute of General Genetics. "The first was devoted to the Turkic-speaking peoples, the second to the Balto-Slavic peoples, and the third to the Ural-speaking ones. In all cases, it was shown that the geographic factor plays the main role in the formation of the gene pool, and linguistic kinship fades into the background. At the same time, the analysis of the Turks and the Ural-speaking populations revealed a common component in their gene pool. This small but real share can be connected with the people through whom these languages ??were spread initially."
"Yet, the article about the Ural-speaking peoples does not answer all questions," continues Oleg Balanovsky. "The thousand-year intrigue remains unresolved: the origin of the Hungarians, who historically and linguistically are descendants of the Magyars, relatives of the Ugrians who conquered the territory of present Hungary in the 9th century. However, genetically modern Hungarians are indistinguishable from their geographical neighbors and do not show similarities with other Ugric peoples (Khanty and Mansi). Perhaps the genetic trail of the Ugric origin of the Hungarians can be traced with the help of ancient DNA. Such a work is already in progress."

Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire

Phoenix Art Museum will present Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire , the first major U.S. exhibition on Teotihuacan in more than 20 years from October 6, 2018, through January 27, 2019 in Steele Gallery . This historic exhibition , organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) , will showcase more than 200 artifacts and artworks fr om the UNESCO World Heritage site. 

This exhibition presents a rare opportunity to experience both previously and recently excavated obje cts drawn from major collections in Mexico , many of which are on view in the United States for the first tim e and include mural fragments, religious offerings, reliefs, and more . A contemporary of ancient Rome , which reached its height in 400 CE, t he ancient metropolis of Teotihuacan is one of the largest and most important archaeological sites in the world and t he most - visited archaeological site in Mexico. On view in the United States for its final run at Phoenix Art Museum, Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire is a dynamic exploration of Teotihuacan as an urban environment , shedding new light on the striking parallels between urban life in the ancient Americas and life in contemporary cities . 

“ It’s a privilege for us to host Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire at Phoenix Art Museum ,” said Amada Cruz, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “ These objects have an important and timely cultura l significance for our visitors, as they show us that the project of building communities, and the opportunities that come along with it, have an extensive history in proximity to our p resent - day home in Phoenix . We look forward to sharing these never - before - seen archaeological treasures with our community. ” 

Located approximately 30 miles outside of modern - day Mexico City, Teotihuacan was founded in the first century BCE near a set of natural springs in an otherwise arid corner of the Valley of Mexico. At its height a few centuries later, the city covered nearly eight square miles and featured enormous pyramids, long aven ues, and residential compounds. 

Highlights of the exhibition will include monumental and ritual artifacts from both recent and historic excavations of the three largest pyramids at Teotihuacan — the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, the Moon Pyramid, and the Sun Pyramid. Ceramics and stone sculptures from the city’s apartment com pounds, which were inhabited by diverse pe oples from many parts of Mexico, will also be on view. 

“Teotihuacan was an unrivaled civilization in its time and presents many parallels to our contemporary culture that help us re - imagine the nearly universal phenomenon of human s making ci ties , ” said Matthew H. Robb , curator of the exhibition and chief curator of the Fowler Museum at UCLA . “Teotihuacan was a city in the modern sense of the word — a place where a multiethnic population was drawn together by many of the same social, religious, and economic ideas and forces that have long compelled people to create the clustering of monumental architecture and large - scale housing that we call cities .” 

“ We know from these artifacts that features of life in Teotihuacan, including agriculture, a relatively high standard of living, and better economic opportunities , relate to the same phenomena that we experience in any large city today, from Phoenix to Beijing to Paris,” said Robb. “ These objects show us how a successful civilization like Teotihuacan dealt with the challenges and opportunities that come with long - distance migration; how it used art to create a unifying identity for a diverse population is remarkable. Teotihuacan was a city far ahead of its time, and some of the lessons we’ve learn ed from these objects could apply to our own contemporary situation .” 

The Mexican - led team of archaeologists who worked at the main pyramids includes specialists from around the world, including faculty from ASU’s Teotihuacan Research Laboratory (School of Human Evolution and Social Change) . Together, they have made significant discoveries since the last major exhibition of Teotihuacan artifacts in the early 1990s. 

By bringing objects from various excavations together and encouraging visitors to understand the context of specific sites within the city, Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire will provide visitors with a special chance to learn more abo ut a significant place in the Americas’ historical and cultural landscape. Over the course of the exhibition in Phoenix, the Museum will partner with ASU and its world - class archaeology faculty to create community - wide, all - ages programming to enhance visi tors’ experiences of these World Heritage archaeological treasures, on view for the first time in the state of Arizona.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Humans may have colonized Madagascar later than previously thought

This is a Taolambiby cut-marked bone dated to 1200 years ago.
Credit: Anderson et al., 2018 CC-BY
New archaeological evidence from southwest Madagascar reveals that modern humans colonized the island thousands of years later than previously thought, according to a study published October 10, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Atholl Anderson from the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, and colleagues.

Madagascar's colonization is key for tracing prehistoric human dispersal across the Indian Ocean, but exactly when human settlement began in the island remains unclear. Several pieces of evidence, including archaeological findings such as chert tools and charcoal, provide a direct indication of human occupation in Madagascar from about 1500 years before present (BP). However, recent studies have suggested that the island's early settlers made first landfall as early as 5000 years BP, based on indirect evidence from animal bones with damage (cutmarks) presumably resulting from human activity. Anderson and colleagues revisited these bone collections and excavated three new sites in southwest Madagascar to collect a larger sample of animal bone material.

They recovered 1787 bones belonging to extinct megafauna, such as hippos, crocodiles, giant lemurs, giant tortoise and elephant birds, dated between 1900 BP and 1100 years BP. Microscopic analyses revealed that potential cutmarks in bones dated before 1200 years BP were in fact animal biting and gnawing marks, root etching, or chop marks from the excavation, suggesting that cutmarking (and human activity) only appeared after that time point. Similar results were obtained upon re-examination of bone damage previously interpreted as cutmarks in samples from old collections. The study also confirmed previous evidence of megafaunal extinction starting around 1200 years BP.

These findings add to the evidence showing that prehistoric human colonization of Madagascar began between 1350 and 1100 years BP, and suggest that hunting gradually led to the extinction of the island's megafauna.

The authors add: "Recent estimates indicate human arrival in Madagascar as early as ~10,000 years ago. Diverse evidence (from bone damage, palaeoecology, genomic and linguistic history, archaeology, introduced biota and seafaring capability) indicate initial human colonization of Madagascar was later at 1350-1100 y B.P. Results have implications for decline and extinction of megafauna, a proposed early African hunter-gatherer phase, and transoceanic voyaging from Southeast Asia."

City of Koh Ker was occupied for centuries longer than previously thought

Ancient ecological data reveals urban populations lasted long after royal abandonment of the Khmer city

These are coring locations across Koh Ker and its surrounds.
Credit: Hall et al., 2018, Background image supplied by Google Earth. CC-BY
The classic account of the ancient city of Koh Ker is one of a briefly-occupied and abruptly-abandoned region, but in reality, the area may have been occupied for several centuries beyond what is traditionally acknowledged, according to a study published October 10, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Tegan Hall of the University of Sydney, Australia and colleagues.

Koh Ker was part of the Khmer kingdom during the Angkor period in what is now Cambodia. For a mere two decades in the tenth century CE, the city served as royal capital, and it has long been proposed that after the royal seat moved back to Angkor, the city and its surroundings were abandoned.

In this study, Hall and colleagues tested this theory by analyzing charcoal and pollen remains in sediment cores spanning several centuries in three Koh Ker localities, including the moat of the main central temple. From these data, they inferred a long history of fluctuations in fire regimes and vegetation which are highly indicative of patterns of human occupation and land use over time.

The newly-painted picture is of a region that was occupied well before the Angkor period, at least as far back as the late 7th century CE, and continuing seven centuries or more after the royal seat's departure. The authors suggest that the mobility of royal houses may have had less of an impact on regional populations in the Khmer kingdom than previously thought. This study also highlights the utility of palaeoecological tools to reconstruct the occupational history of ancient urban settlements.

Hall adds: "When the environmental record is analyzed, it becomes clear that Koh Ker was much more than a temporary 10th century capital of the Khmer kingdom. The settlement history of the site is extensive and complex, beginning in the pre-Angkor period and lasting for centuries beyond the decline of Angkor."

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Salt: Mover and shaker in ancient Maya society

Salt is essential for life. As ancient civilizations evolved from hunters and gatherers to agrarian societies, it has not been clear how people acquired this mineral that is a biological necessity.

However, an anthropologist at LSU discovered remnants of an ancient salt works in Belize that provide clues on how the ancient Maya at the peak of their civilization more than 1,000 years ago produced, stored and traded this valuable mineral. New analyses of stone tools found at this site, called the Paynes Creek Salt Works, reveal that not only were the Maya making salt in large quantities, but they were salting fish and meat to meet dietary needs and producing a commodity that could be stored and traded.

"Since we found virtually no fish or other animal bones during our sea-floor survey or excavations, I was surprised that the microscopic markings on the stone tools, which we call 'use-wear,' showed that most of the tools were used to cut or scrape fish or meat," said Heather McKillop, the study's lead author and the Thomas & Lillian Landrum Alumni Professor in the LSU Department of Geography & Anthropology.

McKillop worked on this study with co-author Professor Kazuo Aoyama from Ibaraki University in Japan who is an expert on the use-wear damage on stone tools. McKillop's study site is a 3-square-mile area surrounded by mangrove forest that had been buried beneath a saltwater lagoon due to sea level rise.

"Sea level rise completely submerged these sites underwater," she said.

The soggy mangrove soil, or peat, is acidic and disintegrates bone, shells and microfossils made from calcium carbonate. Therefore, no remnants of fish or animal bones were found. However, the mangrove peat preserves wood, which normally decays in the rainforest of Central America. After finding the preserved wood in 2004, McKillop and her students mapped and excavated the
underwater sites with funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society. They discovered more than 4,000 wooden posts that outline a series of buildings used as salt kitchens where brine was boiled in pots over fires to make salt. The pottery is also used in modern and historic salt-making and is called briquetage.

The salt was hardened in pots to form salt cakes and used to salt fish and meat, which were storable commodities that could be transported to marketplaces by canoe within the region. The Classic Maya from 300-900 A.D. may have traveled by boat along the coast and up rivers to cities about 15 miles inland to trade and barter.

"These discoveries substantiate the model of regional production and distribution of salt to meet the biological needs of the Classic Maya," McKillop said.

This paper will be published the week of Oct. 8 in PNAS.

Drier, less predictable environment may have spurred human evolution

A progressively drying climate punctuated by variable wetter episodes may have precipitated the transition from our hominin ancestors to anatomically modern humans, according to research published on Oct. 8 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

Since the discovery of a rich assemblage of human fossils as well as stone tools and other archeological evidence in the rift valley of East Africa, a region often referred to as the cradle of humanity, scientists have attempted to piece together the complex puzzle that is the history of our human origins, including the environmental context of that history.

The study, based on lake sediment cores, is the first to provide a continuous environmental context for the diverse archeological evidence recovered from nearby localities in the rift valley basins of southern Kenya. The cores were sampled from Lake Magadi as part of the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project, or HSPDP, which is directed by University of Arizona professor Andrew Cohen.

Lake Magadi, a shallow, periodically dry lake, is close to the Olorgesailie basin in Kenya, one of the most productive sites for archaeological evidence of human evolution in Africa. The authors suggest that the profound climatic changes may have been driving forces behind hominin evolution, the origins of modern Homo sapiens and the onset of the Middle Stone Age.

While previous hypotheses have related hominin evolution to climate change, most prior studies lack regional-scale evidence for a link between environment and hominin evolution, the authors write in the paper, "Progressive aridification in East Africa over the last half million years and implications for human evolution." According to the study, a trend toward intense aridification in the area began 575,000 years ago. The change, not previously documented in continuous continental cores from East Africa, corresponds with faunal extinctions and a major transformation in stone tool technology documented in the Olorgesailie region.

"Much evidence for human evolution has been gathered from the area, but linking those records to detailed environmental records was missing until now," said the study's lead author, Richard Owen, of Hong Kong Baptist University. "There is a big gap in the records between the last Early Stone Age tools 500,000 years ago and the appearance of Middle Stone Age tools about 320,000 years ago. Our results plugged that gap with a continuous environmental record."

A critical transition occurred sometime during this gap, a period for which archeologists have unearthed evidence of a leap in early humans' abilities to make, use and trade stone tools.

The cores from Lake Magadi provide the first detailed link between climate change and events known from the region's archeological record.

"We have known for a while that the climate at the time was very varied, but the key here is that the records are in proximity to the archeological evidence for this transition," says Cohen, a professor in the University of Arizona's Department of Geosciences. "The older stone tools found at Olorgesailie did not change much between 1.2 million and a half-million years ago. And suddenly, after 500,000 and before 320,000 years ago - we don't know exactly when, but in that timespan - there was a critical transition in archeology when tools became more sophisticated and were transported over longer distances."
At the same time the lake core records point to the climate becoming drier and more variable, there is evidence elsewhere in Africa of the appearance of modern Homo sapiens, prompting much speculation whether the two are connected, Cohen said.

"Whether the evolution of bigger brains goes hand in hand with new toolkits is not entirely clear," he said. "But the earliest modern Homo sapiens fossils from Morocco date back 325,000 years, the same time we see this transition of tools. And both happened around the same time that our core record indicates severe drying very close to the archeological sites."

The deepest core drilled at Lake Magadi reached 200 meters (650 feet), penetrating all sedimentary layers down to the volcanic bedrock of the lake. The core samples, each about 10 feet long and 2 1/2 inches in diameter, are cut into manageable 5-foot segments, packaged and air-freighted to the National Lake Core Facility at the University of Minnesota for curation, analysis and storage.

According to the hypothesis of variability selection, a rapidly changing environment creates selective pressure that forces species to adapt to rapid change, Owen said. Under that scenario, the larger brains of anatomically modern humans would have allowed our ancestors to adapt quickly to an increasingly less predictable world.

"Now we have evidence that at the same time the toolkits were changing, the mammal fauna changed and the climate became more arid," Owen said. "So you have a series of coincidences that makes you think, 'This could be real.' Now we can say when the environment changed and then compare that to the archeological evidence of the region."

Drilling at other nearby sites by HSPDP has been completed as researchers gather more of the region's climate data to continue studying the importance of environmental variability in the course of human evolution.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Bone knife from Morocco is oldest specialized tool associated with Aterian culture

A single bone artefact found in a Moroccan cave is the oldest well-dated specialized bone tool associated with the Aterian culture of the Middle Stone Age, according to a study released October 3, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Abdeljalil Bouzouggar of the Institut National des Sciences de l'Archéologie et du Patrimoine in Morocco and colleagues. The make and manufacture of the tool are distinct from similarly-aged sub-Saharan artefacts, suggesting a unique technological industry in North Africa.

The tool was recovered in 2012 from Dar-es Soltan 1 cave, located about 260km inland from the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Upon close examination, Bouzouggar and colleagues were able to identify the origins of the bone as a large mammal rib with evidence of having been shaped and sharpened into a 122mm-long knife through a complex series of modifications. The layer containing the bone knife has been dated to approximately 90,000 years ago, approximately 55,000 years after the first appearance of the Aterian culture.

This tool and the technology used to create it are distinct from bone tools of similar age in southern Africa but similar to two tools known from the El Mnasra cave site in Morocco which is also of similar age, suggesting a unique North African Aterian bone technology. Specialized bone tools are considered a sign of cognitive complexity but have been poorly-understood with the Aterian technological complex, so this finding represents a new insight into the development of modern human cognition. The authors also suggest that this new technology may have come about in response to changing resources around 90,000 years ago but note that more study will be required to support this.

Silvia Bello, a co-author, adds: "Aterians were capable of a complex and controlled sequence of actions involved in the manufacture of specialised bone knives. Such distinctive bone technology implies the emergence of an independent modern techno-complex unique to the north Africa around 100,000 years ago."

Neanderthal-like features in 450,000-year-old fossil teeth from the Italian Peninsula

These teeth add to an emerging picture of complex human evolution in Middle Pleistocene Eurasia

IMAGE: This is a virtual rendering of the Visogliano and Fontana Ranuccio teeth.
Credit: Zanolli et al., 2018
Fossil teeth from Italy, among the oldest human remains on the Italian Peninsula, show that Neanderthal dental features had evolved by around 450,000 years ago, according to a study published October 3, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Clément Zanolli of the Université Toulouse III Paul Sabatier in France and colleagues. These teeth also add to a growing picture of a period of complex human evolution that we are only beginning to understand.

Zanolli and colleagues examined dental remains from the sites of Fontana Fanuccio, located 50km southeast of Rome, and Visogliano, located 18km northwest of Trieste. At around 450,000 years old, these teeth join a very short list of fossil human remains from Middle Pleistocene Europe. Using micro-CT scanning and detailed morphological analyses, the authors examined the shape and arrangement of tooth tissues and compared them with teeth of other human species. They found that the teeth of both sites share similarities with Neanderthals and are distinct from modern humans.
There has been much debate over the identities and relationships of Middle Pleistocene ancient humans in Eurasia. The discovery of Neanderthal-like teeth so early in the record adds support to the suggestion of an early divergence of the Neanderthal lineage from our own, around the Early-Middle Pleistocene transition. The teeth are also notably different from other teeth known from this time in Eurasia, suggesting that there may have been multiple human lineages populating the region at this time, adding to a growing list of evidence that the Middle Pleistocene was a time of more complex human evolution than previously recognized.
Zanolli adds: "The remains from Fontana Ranuccio and Visogliano represent among the oldest human fossil remains testifying to a peopling phase of the Italian Peninsula. Our analyses of the tooth internal structural organization reveal a Neanderthal-like signature, also resembling the condition shown by the contemporary assemblage from Atapuerca Sima de los Huesos, indicating that an overall Neanderthal morphological dental template was preconfigured in Western Europe at least 430 to 450 ka ago."