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Primitive Human Ancestor Shared Lucy's World

Fossil Bones
© Yohannes Haile-Selassie, The Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Right foot. These fossil foot bones show there were at least two different ways to walk upright 3 million to 4 million years ago.

Lucy was not alone. The discovery of a remarkably rare partial foot from an ancient primate suggests that more than one kind of human ancestor walked upright in Africa when Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis, was alive. The primitive traits in this 3.4-million-year-old partial right foot also show that there was more than one way for early human ancestors to walk upright for at least a million years, according to a new study.

Ever since the discovery of Lucy's species in 1974, she has been considered a prime candidate for a direct human ancestor. Unlike earlier apes, Lucy walked fully upright, even though her brain and body weren't much bigger than a chimp's. This showed researchers that bipedal walking was a key trait of humans and our ancestors, the group called hominins - but not of living apes and their ancestors.

Researchers have long wondered if other upright walking species shared the Rift Valley of Africa with Lucy, particularly after they discovered that several types of hominins were alive at the same time after A. afarensis disappeared 3 million years ago. Paleoanthropologists have found the bones and teeth of hundreds of individuals of A. afarensis from between 3 million and 4 million years ago. But in that time period, only one other potential hominin, Kenyanthropus platyops, has turned up, and its skull was so badly crushed that researchers disagree whether it represents Lucy's kind or a new species.


4,000-Year-Old Stone Monolith Likely an Astronomical Marker

© D Brown/Nottingham Trent University
An ancient stone monolith in England was likely an astronomical marker, according to new archaeological evidence.
An ancient stone monolith in England was likely an astronomical marker, according to new archaeological evidence.

The 4,000-year-old stone is triangular in shape and angles up toward geographic south. Its orientation and slant angle are aligned with the altitude of the sun at midsummer, researchers said.

And new evidence shows that there are packing stones around the base of the 7.2-foot tall (2.2-meter) monolith, indicating that it was placed carefully in its location and position, they added.

"Given the sensitivity of the site, we can't probe under the surface of the soil," astronomer Daniel Brown of Nottingham Trent University in England said in a statement. "However, through our survey, we have found a higher density of packing stones on one side, supporting the case that the stone has been orientated intentionally." [Aerial Photos: Mysterious Stone Structures]


Ice Age Migration? New DNA study suggests people moved between continents before recorded history

© Unknown
Early man: A third of people in modern Europe show genetic traces of populations from sub-Saharan Africa, leading researchers to conclude that people migrated between the continents as early as 11,000 years ago.
People moved between Africa and Europe long before recorded history - and the migrations might have been driven by Europeans moving south to 'weather' ice ages.

The genetic traces of long-forgotten migrations from Africa to Europe live on in Europeans today.

A third of the genetic traces of sub-Saharan lineages in today's Europe come from prehistory.

Researchers think that Europeans 'pushed south' by glaciers might have met with populations from sub-Saharan Africa.

People moved between the continents as early as 11,000 years ago.

Geneticists used mitochondrial DNA to look for the traces of ancient migrations.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed directly from mother to child with no DNA from the father - and tiny changes in the sequence come to 'characterise' different populations, which can be used to trace movements and migrations of groups of humans in the past.

Large numbers of people moved between Africa and Europe during recent and well-documented time periods such as the Roman Empire, the Arab conquest, and the slave trade - but the researchers found that a third of sub-Saharan lineages came from before these movements.

'It was very surprising to find that more than 35 percent of the sub-Saharan lineages in Europe arrived during a period that ranged from more than 11,000 years ago to the Roman Empire times,' said Dr. Antonio Salas of the University of Santiago de Compostela and senior author of the study.


Japan's Jomon Older Than Sumerians

Jomon Pottery
© Wikimedia Commons
Incipient Jomon pottery between 10000 and 8000 BC.

Chuo University associate professor Kenichi Kobayashi reporting that dating of cooked plants and beans, found in ruins in southwestern Japan, are 13,000 years old. Dishes and grain grinders made of stone have also been found at the Ojiyama ruins in the city of Miyakonojo.

Anthropologists believe the Jomon people survived the last Great Ice Age, their civilization is older than the Bronze Age Sumerians. The latest findings of preserved cooked food shows the diet of the Jomon was changing due to global warming.

Some researchers believe the Jomon might have built a sacred mountain site, near the Island of Yonaguni Jima, during the Ice Age. That site is now underwater. During the Ice Age it would have been above sea level, because sea levels were much lower during the Ice Age. There is debate whether the site was built by Jomon, or that it was a natural formation used by the Jomon.

The Jomon, like many ancient societies, viewed rocks and mountains as sources of spiritual power.


Researchers Uncover 8,000 Years of Human History Hidden in the Middle East

Ancient Civilizations

How do you map the expansion of Earth's earliest civilizations? For years, researchers have tackled this daunting task on a settlement-by-settlement basis, searching for clues in mounds of earth throughout the Middle East.

But now, researchers have turned to satellite imagery to uncover a vast network of over 14,000 long-overlooked Mesopotamian settlements, spanning 8,000 years of ancient civilization. Their findings represent a monumental step forward for the fields of archeology and anthropology, and suggest that an aerial perspective may hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of humanity's first major settlements.

A significant body of archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest civilizations arose in Mesopotamia, the geographic region that today comprises Iraq, northeast Syria, southeast Turkey and southwest Iran. The size and distribution of these settlements throughout the Mesopotamian landscape, however, has long remained something of a mystery.

Traditional archeological techniques require researchers to search for evidence of these ancient civilizations up close, at the ground level. This is an excellent method for learning about individual settlements, but is a painstaking way to make sense of how these communities may have interacted with one another, or spread across the landscape over time.


Ancient Civilizations Reveal Ways To Manage Fisheries For Sustainability

Ancient Fisheries
© National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce
Historical fisheries in Florida were characterized by boom and bust, with serial depletions of highly valuable species for export markets, according to researchers at the Center for Ocean Solutions and Colby College.

In the search for sustainability of the ocean's fisheries, solutions can be found in a surprising place: the ancient past.

In a study published on March 23 in the journal Fish and Fisheries, a team of marine scientists reconstructed fisheries yields over seven centuries of human habitation in Hawaii and the Florida Keys, the largest coral reef ecosystems in the United States, and evaluated the management strategies associated with periods of sustainability. The results surprised them.

"Before European contact, Native Hawaiians were catching fish at rates that far exceed what reefs currently provide society," said John "Jack" N. Kittinger, co-author and an early career fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. "These results show us that fisheries can be both highly productive and sustainable, if they're managed effectively." In contrast, historical fisheries in Florida were characterized by boom and bust, with serial depletions of highly valuable species for export markets. Today many species that were the target of 19th and early 20th century fisheries in Florida - including green turtles, sawfish, conch and groupers - have severely reduced populations or are in danger of extinction.

"Seven hundred years of history clearly demonstrate that management matters," said Loren McClenachan, co-author and assistant professor of environmental studies at Colby College. "Ancient Hawaiian societies used sophisticated tools similar to innovative conservation strategies used today, like marine protected areas and restrictions on harvest of vulnerable species like sharks." The difference, the authors explained, was in the way fisheries governance systems were structured. Regulations were developed locally with the buy-in of community members, but they were also effectively enforced with methods that now would be considered draconian. "Today, no management system comes close to achieving this balance, and as a result, resource depletion and collapse is common," said McClenachan.


Egyptians, Greeks Came to New Zealand First - New Book

Jesus Watch
© Stuff.co.nz
Jesus Watch: Investigations into this unusual rock carving have uncovered that an ancient Greek celestial calendar had been carved into it. The rock carving dubbed Jesus Watch by those who found it was discovered on a Northland farm recently.

Captain James Cook and Abel Tasman could lose their place in history as the first Europeans to reach New Zealand.

A controversial book, To the End of the Earth, claims to contain evidence that Greeks, Spanish and Egyptians settled in New Zealand long before the Maori people. The 378-page book, to be released this weekend, was co-authored by researchers Maxwell C Hill, Gary Cook and Noel Hilliam.

It shows ancient maps drawn before the birth of Christ, which the authors said detail the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand.

Skeletons, rock carvings, stone buildings and monuments all attest to people of European origin living in New Zealand for centuries before the arrival of Polynesians, they said.

The artefacts include a rock carving of an ancient Greek ship found in Taupo, a stone pillar with an accurate coastal map of New Zealand showing Lake Taupo in its pre-232AD eruption shape, and carvings on rocks at Raglan.

Hill said a huge boulder weighing several tonnes, deeply cut into a huge circular star calendar and marked with what were believed to be figures and rebuses, was the most stunning find.


Did Belief in Gods Lead to Mayan Demise?

Mayan Temple
© Science/AAAS
Temple in the Kingdom of Tikal, one of the most prominent of the Classic Period.

A dread of malevolent spirits haunting forsaken areas could, along with environmental catastrophes, help to explain why some areas in the ancient Mayan world proved less resilient than others when their civilization disintegrated, researchers suggest.

The ancient Maya once claimed an area about the size of Texas, with cities and fields that occupied what is now southern Mexico and northern Central America, including the countries of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The height of the Mayan civilization, known as the Classic period, extended from approximately A.D. 250 to at least 900.

For unknown reasons, the Classic Mayan civilization then collapsed. The population declined catastrophically to a fraction of its former size, and many of their great cities were left mostly abandoned for the jungle to reclaim.

Scientists have long drawn connections between the decline of the ancient Maya and environmental catastrophes, especially drought. Deforestation linked with farming could also have triggered disaster - for instance, reduced tree cover of the ground would have led to loss of fertile topsoil by erosion, as well as greater evaporation of water by sunlight, exacerbating drought.


Indonesian Women (Accidentally) Founded Madagascar

Madagascar Founders
© Francois Ricaut
Women, like this one from Indonesia, played a major role in founding Madagascar.

The land of freaky animals and amazing biodiversity, Madagascar was also one of the last places to be settled by humans. And new research suggests that didn't happen until about 1,200 years ago.

The colonization might even have been an accident, the researchers say. A small group of Indonesian women settled the island in one fell swoop, possibly making their way there after their trading vessel capsized.

"The unusual thing about this island is Madagascar is a long way away from Indonesia. ... It was also settled very recently; by this time, most of the world had already been settled," study researcher Murray Cox, of Massey University in New Zealand, told LiveScience. "We are talking about an entire culture being trans-located across the Indian Ocean."

Mad about Madagascar

Previous genetic research showed that, surprisingly, instead of coming from Africa, the people living on the island off the east coast of Africa seem to have come from Indonesia, another island nation a quarter of the world, or some 3,500 miles (about 5,600 kilometers), away.

What we haven't known is exactly how that happened. When did those people arrive and how did they arrive?" Cox said.

To find out, Cox and his colleagues analyzed genes from the mitochondria of 300 native Madagascans and 3,000 Indonesians. Mitochondria are the cell's energy factories, but they are special because their genes are inherited only from our mothers.

These genes showed a clear similarity between the Indonesian and Madagascar genomes. To find out how long ago and how many Indonesian settlers there when the island's population was founded, the team ran various computer simulations that started out with different founding populations at different times until the results matched their real-life data. The researchers found that the island was most likely settled by a small population of about 30 women, who arrived in Madagascar around 1,200 years ago. Ninety-three percent (28) of these women were Indonesian, and the other 7 percent (two individuals) were African.

Almost all native Madagascans are related to these 30 women, they found.


Amelia Earhart mystery: New clue

© Associated Press
The fate of pioneering US pilot Ameila Earhart is still unknown
A new clue in one of flying's most enduring mysteries could uncover the fate of American pilot Amelia Earhart, who went missing without a trace over the South Pacific 75 years ago.

Enhanced analysis of a photograph taken just months after Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane vanished shows what experts think may be the landing gear of the aircraft protruding from the waters off the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati, experts said.

Armed with that analysis by the US State Department, historians, scientists and salvagers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, are returning to the island in July in the hope of finding the wreckage of Earhart's plane and perhaps even the remains of the pilot and her navigator Fred Noonan.

Ric Gillespie, executive director of the group, acknowledged that the evidence was "circumstantial" but "strong" but stopped short of predicting success. The new search is scheduled to last for 10 days in July and will use state-of-the-art underwater robotic submarines and mapping equipment.