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Mon, 29 Nov 2021
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Secret History


Earliest evidence of human activity found in the Americas

Footprints at White Sands National Park in New Mexico confirm human presence over at least two millennia, with the oldest tracks dating back 23,000 years.
Ancient Human Footprints
© Courtesy of David Bustos/White Sands National Park
Human footprints at White Sands National Park in New Mexico show that human activity occurred in the Americas long as 23,000 years ago – about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Footprints found at White Sands National Park in New Mexico provide the earliest unequivocal evidence of human activity in the Americas and provide insight into life over 23,000 years ago.

The findings are described in a Science journal article co-authored by University of Arizona archaeologist Vance Holliday.

"For decades, archaeologists have debated when people first arrived in the Americas," said Holliday, a professor in the UArizona School of Anthropology and Department of Geosciences. "Few archaeologists see reliable evidence for sites older than about 16,000 years. Some think the arrival was later, no more than 13,000 years ago by makers of artifacts called Clovis points. The White Sands tracks provide a much earlier date. There are multiple layers of well-dated human tracks in streambeds where water flowed into an ancient lake. This was 10,000 years before Clovis people."

Researchers Jeff Pigati and Kathleen Springer, with the U.S. Geological Survey, used radiocarbon dating of seed layers above and below the footprints to determine their age. The dates range in age and confirm human presence over at least two millennia, with the oldest tracks dating back 23,000 years.

This corresponds to the height of the last glacial cycle, during something known as the Last Glacial Maximum, and makes them the oldest known human footprints in the Americas.


Stone Age humans used personal ornaments to communicate about themselves

Shell beads found in a cave in Morocco are at least 142,000 years old. The archaeologists who found them say they're the earliest known evidence of a widespread form of human communication.

Shell Beads
© A. Bouzouggar, INSAP, Morocco

The necklace, nametag, earrings or uniform you chose to put on this morning might say more than you realize about your social status, job or some other aspect of your identity.

Anthropologists say humans have been doing this - finding ways to communicate about themselves without the fuss of conversation - for millennia.

Steven L. Kuhn
© University of Arizona
Steven L. Kuhn
But shell beads recovered from a cave in western Morocco, determined to be between 142,000 and 150,000 years old, suggest that this behavior may go back much farther than previously thought. The finding, detailed Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, was made by a team of archaeologists that includes Steven L. Kuhn, a professor of anthropology in the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The beads, Kuhn and his colleagues say, are the earliest known evidence of a widespread form of nonverbal human communication, and they shed new light on how humans' cognitive abilities and social interactions evolved.

"They were probably part of the way people expressed their identity with their clothing," Kuhn said. "They're the tip of the iceberg for that kind of human trait. They show that it was present even hundreds of thousands of years ago, and that humans were interested in communicating to bigger groups of people than their immediate friends and family."

How does this ancient form of communication show up today? It happens often, Kuhn said.

"You think about how society works - somebody's tailgating you in traffic, honking their horn and flashing their lights, and you think, 'What's your problem?'" Kuhn said. "But if you see they're wearing a blue uniform and a peaked cap, you realize it's a police officer pulling you over."

Kuhn and an international team of archaeologists recovered the 33 beads between 2014 and 2018 near the mouth of Bizmoune Cave, about 10 miles inland from Essaouira, a city on Morocco's Atlantic coast.

Blue Planet

Earliest modern humans in Europe may have experienced much colder climates than previously thought

Bacho Kiro Cave
© Sarah Pederzani, MPI-EVA Leipzig, License: CC-BY-SA 2.0
Bacho Kiro Cave is located in a karst valley in north central Bulgaria, with small streams passing close to the cave entrance.
As early Homo sapiens spread across Eurasia about 45,000 years ago, they may have experienced much colder climate conditions than previously thought, according to isotope analyses of animal remains from a Bulgarian cave, which also contains some of Europe's earliest H. sapiens remains.

Comment: And there's reason to believe that humans were around much earlier than that: Previously unknown "proto-hominin" species suggests ancestor of humans evolved in Europe not Africa

The findings* contradict models that suggest warm climates were necessary for human expansion in the region, providing direct evidence that at least some dispersals occurred when air temperatures in the cave were 10°Celsius to 15°C lower than temperatures today.

Current models based on age correlations between archaeological and climatic records propose that H. sapiens spread across Eurasia only during episodes of warm climate. However, these studies tend not to use direct paleoclimate evidence, instead generating models that correlate the ages of archaeological finds with climatic phases documented in ice cores or cave deposits.

Comment: For further insight into the glaring problems posed by the accepted theory of human evolution, check out: Most human origins theories are not compatible with known fossils

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Better Earth

Thousands of years of long-distance trade links shaped Siberian dogs


Samoyed takes its name from the Samoyedic peoples of Siberia. These nomadic reindeer herders bred the fluffy white dogs to help with herding.
Analysis of ancient canine DNAs reveals that the inhabitants of Arctic Siberia began importing dogs from Eurasia some 2000 years ago.

Archaeological finds show that people in the Arctic regions of Northwestern Siberia had already established long-range trading links with Eurasian populations some 2000 years ago. The initiation of trading relationships was one of a series of significant social changes that took place during this period. Moreover, these changes even had an impact on the genomes of Siberian dogs, as an international team of researchers led by LMU palaeogeneticist Laurent Frantz has now demonstrated. Based on extensive genetic analyses, the team concludes that dogs were imported into the Siberian Arctic, and that this process ultimately led to the establishment of Siberian breeds such as the samoyed.

Genomes dating from the Stone Age to the Holocene

Comment: See also:


Human species you may not know about

Fosil Skulls
© Gunnar Creutz/Wikimedia Commons
Casts of Homo rudolfensis (left) and Homo habilis (right), both found in Kenya, showcase some variation in hominin skull shape and size.
We're so used to the idea of being the only people around that it seems outlandish to think that not so long ago in our evolutionary history, multiple types of humans occupied various landscapes. The environments of the Paleolithic, or Stone Age, were dynamic. Populations moved, interacted, and sometimes even interbred. As archaeological methodologies and available technologies become more sophisticated, we're able to "see" the lives of these human populations with more and more nuance, making the world of the Paleolithic more like a living tableau than a frozen museum diorama.

So, how many different types of humans have there been? It's a big question, and anthropologists have yet to agree on an answer.

A big part of the debate is that there are very few specimens for anthropologists to work from. Take a moment to picture the whole spectrum of modern humans' body sizes and shapes, and imagine trying to re-create that using the skeletons of just a handful of random individuals. Researchers have unearthed fossils from about 6,000 hominins in total. Only a handful have yielded any genetic evidence.

Researchers try to work out which ones represent novel species, sometimes from a single skull or just a finger bone. The work is hard and can be contentious.

Each scientific name bears a genus term followed by a species term. In the human family tree, the genus Homo goes back about 3 million years and includes more than a dozen named hominin species (including modern humans, H. sapiens). The extended hominin family, including the genus Ardipithecus, goes back some 6 million years.

Here are five hominins who contributed to the story of human evolution that you may be less familiar with, showing just how diverse the ancient human landscape has been.


Ancient Tunguska sized airburst demolished city in Jordan Valley

Researchers present evidence that a cosmic impact destroyed a biblical city in the Jordan Valley
Ancient Airburst
© Allen West and Jennifer Rice, CC BY-ND
In the Middle Bronze Age (about 3,600 years ago or roughly 1650 BCE), the city of Tall el-Hammam was ascendant. Located on high ground in the southern Jordan Valley, northeast of the Dead Sea, the settlement in its time had become the largest continuously occupied Bronze Age city in the southern Levant, having hosted early civilization for a few thousand years. At that time, it was 10 times larger than Jerusalem and 5 times larger than Jericho.

"It's an incredibly culturally important area," said James Kennett (link is external), emeritus professor of earth science at UC Santa Barbara. "Much of where the early cultural complexity of humans developed is in this general area."

A favorite site for archaeologists and biblical scholars, the mound hosts evidence of culture all the way from the Chalcolithic, or Copper Age, all compacted into layers as the highly strategic settlement was built, destroyed and rebuilt over millennia.

But there is a 1.5-meter interval in the Middle Bronze Age II stratum that caught the interest of some researchers for its "highly unusual" materials. In addition to the debris one would expect from destruction via warfare and earthquakes, they found pottery shards with outer surfaces melted into glass, "bubbled" mudbrick and partially melted building material, all indications of an anomalously high-temperature event, much hotter than anything the technology of the time could produce.

"We saw evidence for temperatures greater than 2,000 degrees Celsius," said Kennett, whose research group at the time happened to have been building the case for an older cosmic airburst about 12,800 years ago that triggered major widespread burning, climatic changes and animal extinctions. The charred and melted materials at Tall el-Hammam looked familiar, and a group of researchers including impact scientist Allen West and Kennett joined Trinity Southwest University biblical scholar Philip J. Silvia's research effort to determine what happened at this city 3,650 years ago.

Their results (link is external) are published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.


Ancient sculptures in Saudi Arabia are older than the pyramids and Stonehenge

Camel Carving
© The National
Previously, it was thought that the ancient camel sculptures found in the northern province of Al Jouf were around 2,000 years old.
Stunning relief carvings of camels in Saudi Arabia are now thought to date back more than 7,000 years - making them more than three times as old as was first suggested. Previously, it was thought the ancient camel sculptures found in the northern province of Al Jouf were about 2,000 years old.

However, chemical analysis and the examination of tool marks helped to show that the carvings at the site were made in the sixth millennium BCE.
It means the remarkable life-size sandstone carvings of camels and other animals, including a donkey, are the world's oldest surviving large-scale reliefs.

"They are absolutely stunning and, bearing in mind we see them now in a heavily eroded state with many panels fallen, the original site must've been absolutely mind blowing," said Dr Maria Guagnin, from the department of archaeology at Germany's Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the lead author of a new study on the late Stone Age carvings.

"There were life-sized camels and equids two or three layers on top of each other. It must have been an absolutely stunning site in the Neolithic."

Researchers heard about the site about five years ago and before the coronavirus pandemic, Dr Guagnin and other specialists made two visits of about 10 days each to examine the carvings.

The presence of camel reliefs at Petra in Jordan, produced by Nabataeans about 2,000 years ago, had suggested the Saudi carvings may be about two millennia old. However, a stone mason analysing the camel site carvings did not find evidence that metal tools had been used and there was no sign of pottery.

Weathering and erosion patterns, high-tech analysis involving fluorescence and luminescence and radiocarbon dating of remains also indicated an early origin.

"Every day the Neolithic was more likely [as the time when the carvings were made] until we realised it was absolutely a Neolithic site we were looking at," Dr Guagnin said.

Researchers also came from the Saudi Ministry of Culture, King Saud University and France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.


Ancient DNA rewrites early Japanese history

Ancient DNA extracted from human bones has rewritten early Japanese history by underlining that modern day populations in Japan have a tripartite genetic origin - a finding that refines previously accepted views of a dual genomic ancestry.
Jomon Pottery and Skull
© Shigeki Nakagome, Lead researcher, Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.
Jomon pottery from the Hirajo shell midden (Late Jomon) and a skull from which ancient DNA was extracted.
Twelve newly sequenced ancient Japanese genomes show that modern day populations do indeed show the genetic signatures of early indigenous Jomon hunter-gatherer-fishers and immigrant Yayoi farmers - but also add a third genetic component that is linked to the Kofun peoples, whose culture spread in Japan between the 3rd and 7th centuries.

The eye-opening research has just been published in leading international journal Science Advances .

Blue Planet

Whale hunting and 'magic mushroom people' seen on 2,000 year old, northernmost petroglyphs in Eurasia

Chukotka petroglyphs
© Institute of Archaeology RAS
Archaeologists are rushing to preserve rock images of ancient ‘magic mushroom whale-hunting’ people, and other stunning petroglyphs in Eurasia’s most northerly art gallery at Pegtymel, Chukotka, dating to 2,000 years ago.
Whale hunting, reindeers crossing rivers, dogs chasing a brown bear for an ancient hunter, dancing men and women with huge 'fly agaric' mushrooms on their heads - these stunning, dynamic and expressive petroglyphs are one of the least studied on Earth. They are also the only rock art in Russia discovered above the Arctic Circle.

The spectacular art gallery - scientists found 350 stone planes, each with dozens of drawings - was 'opened' at least two thousand years ago, when ancient artists embossed petroglyphs on rocks of what is now Chukotka, Russia's easternmost corner.

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China's mysterious Sanxingdui ruins reveal more stunning relics

© Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute
A gold mask unearthed from Sanxingdui Ruins: Chinese cultural relic authorities on Thursday revealed some new discoveries from the mysterious Sanxingdui Ruins in Sichuan Province, including a gold mask, a huge bronze mask, bronze statues and ivory carvings.
A complete gold mask 37.2 centimeters wide, 16.5 centimeters high and about 100 grams in weight was unearthed from No.3 Pit of the Sanxingdui Ruins, the local cultural relic authority announced on Thursday.

The golden mask shares a similar size and the same facial features as one of the bronze heads unearthed at the Sanxingdui Ruins.

"We speculate that this golden mask was a part of the face of the bronze head instead of a separate object," Ran Hongling, head of the Sanxingdui Institute of Archaeology, told the Global Times.

Comment: Wikpedia has some excellent images of some of the other previously excavated, bizarre and fascinating finds from Sanxingdui:

© Tyg728/Wikipedia
A large bronze head with protruding eyes believed to be a depiction of Cancong, the semi-legendary first king of Shu[8]

Bronze Tree
© Wikipedia/momo
The figure is hollow inside with a total height of 2.62 m and the height of the human part measures 1.72 m.

The figure wore three layers of clothing with a ribbon, and bracelets on both hands and feet. It is generally believed that this figure was a king and shaman leader, that is, the highest authority assumed the triple status of god, shaman and king.
The figure has oversize hands and was clearly intended to hold some large object, now lost. Possibilities include a jade cong or an elephant tusk, both found in the pits.
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