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Anthropologists link human uniqueness to hunter-gatherer group structure

One of the most complex human mysteries involves how and why we became an outlier species in terms of biological success.

Research findings published in the March 11 edition of the journal Science by an international team of noted anthropologists, including several from Arizona State University, who study hunter-gatherer societies, are informing the issue by suggesting that human ancestral social structure may be the root of cumulative culture and cooperation and, ultimately, human uniqueness.

Because humans lived as hunter-gatherers for 95 percent of their species' history, current foraging societies provide the best window for viewing human social evolution, according to the authors. Given that, the researchers focused on co-residence patterns among more than 5,000 individuals from 32 present-day foraging societies around the globe, including the Gunwinggu, Labrador Inuit, Mbuti, Apache, Aka, Ache, Agta and Vedda. Their findings identify human hunter-gatherer group structure as unique among primates.

Info

Dinosaur Discovery: 'Thunder-Thighs' Dinosaur Found in Museum Basement

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© AP Photo
The new dinosaur named Brontomerus mcintoshi or 'thunder-thighs'
Dr Mike Taylor, a researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London, describes how stumbling upon a set of bones in a museum basement led to the discovery of an unusual new dinosaur.

Of all the work that palaeontologists do, perhaps nothing is as exciting as recognising and naming a new dinosaur.

I've now had the privilege of doing this twice - once in 2007, with Xenoposeidon, and now with Brontomerus. Both times, I've been the beneficiary of others' work: the Xenoposeidon fossil was found in 1893, but never properly studied until I happened across it in the basement of the Natural History Museum. Similarly, Brontomerus was excavated by the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in 1994, but museum staff were too busy on other projects to give it the attention it deserved until I and some colleagues visited in 2007.

Staff in both museums were gracious in allowing an outsider to come in and work on their fossils.

The new dinosaur is particularly exciting because although only about 10 per cent of the skeleton is preserved, the bones hint at unusual and exotic behaviour.

The hip bone has a huge area for attachment of thigh muscles - more than twice that of most other sauropods, suggesting twice as much thigh muscle. This gave us the name for our new dinosaur: Brontomerus means "thunder thighs". But because the expanded part of the bone is towards the front of the animal, it presents us with a puzzle.

Question

Thousand Year Old 'Irish Hamlet' Mystery: Solved?

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© unknown

Who is Hamlet? It's a centuries-old question, but now, a University of Aberdeen academic thinks she may have found a fresh answer.

In an article published today (March 3) in the Review of English Studies, Dr. Lisa Collinson argues that Hamlet's name originally came from a Gaelic word connected with grinding, and was linked at a much earlier date than previously believed to both a character in a play and dangerous waters.

Her theory builds on scholarly agreement that Shakespeare took the core of his Hamlet character from 'Amlethus', a legendary figure found in The History of the Danes, written around 1200. Historians have long accepted that the name 'Amlethus' must be related to 'Amlothi', mentioned by Snow Bear, a tenth or eleventh-century Icelandic poet.

However, Dr. Collinson, of the Centre for Scandinavian Studies at the University of Aberdeen, has uncovered evidence suggesting that Hamlet's name came first from medieval Gaelic, before being incorporated into the Old Norse tradition. There have been Gaelic claims for the name in the past, but Dr. Collinson makes a new link to a player in an overlooked tale about a doomed king.

She said: "Earlier scholars based theories about the Gaelic origins of Hamlet on an odd name - 'Amlaide' - embedded in a short verse found in Irish annals. They constructed interesting arguments which allowed for Celtic influence on 'Amlothi', but they struggled to explain the form of the annal name, which remains obscure."

Dr. Collinson proposes that a better Hamlet name can be found in a mysterious tale called The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel, which is thought to have been compiled in the eleventh century, based on eighth- or ninth-century materials.

Better Earth

Cave murals in Spain show man may have used magic mushrooms 6,000 years ago

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© Unknown
The Selva Pascuala mural has a bull in the centre, but researchers from America and Mexico are focusing on a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects
For all those who thought hallucinogenic drugs took off in the 1960s, think again: scientists believe they have found evidence of magic mushroom use 6,000 years ago.

Cave murals found in Spain appear to depict them in religious rituals - which would be the oldest evidence of their use in Europe.

The Selva Pascuala cave mural near the town of Villar del Humo has a bull in the centre, but researchers from America and Mexico are focussing on a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects.

Brian Akers at Pasco-Hernando Community College in Florida, and Gaston Guzman at the Ecological Institute of Xalapa in Mexico say they believe the objects are Psilocybe hispanica, a local funghi with hallucinogenic properties.

The mushroom has a bell-shaped cap with a dome and lacks a ring around the stalk, just like the objects in the 6,000 year-old mural, they say.

It also has stalks which vary from straight to sinuous - the same as those drawn thousands of years ago, they add in the latest issue of New Scientist.

But, even though it is several millennia old, it is not thought to be the oldest painting showing hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Sherlock

University of Hartford Researchers May Have Found the City of Atlantis

West Hartford - University of Hartford professor Richard Freund and his team are getting national attention for their research into the legendary island city of Atlantis, according to the Associated Press.

They will be featured on the National Geographic Channel's Finding Atlantis on March 13. The university is hosting an advance screening of the documentary on Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. in Wilde Auditorium.

Freund is the Director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies. He and his team of researchers employed satellite space photography, ground penetrating radar, underwater archaeology and historical sleuthing in an effort to find Atlantis near the coast of Spain.

Sherlock

US: Scientists Dig for Ice Age Fossils in Los Angeles

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© The Associated Press / Damian Dovarganes
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 8, 2011, Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits chief curator Dr. John Harris, left, and lead excavator Carrie Howard, look at fossil deposits at Box 14 of Project 23 at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.
With a dental pick in hand, Karin Rice delicately scraped off a clump of asphalt from a pelvic bone belonging to a horse that roamed Los Angeles tens of thousands of years ago.

Like many unsuspecting creatures of the last Ice Age, the horse probably stopped to take a sip of spring water only to be ensnared - and later preserved - in a pool of sticky asphalt that seeped from underground crude oil deposits.

"You're opening up this ancient world and getting to look back in time," Rice said during a recent dig at the La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles.

For the past three years, scientists have been sifting through a significant trove of bones and a nearly intact mammoth skeleton discovered in 2006 during the construction of an underground garage next to the tar pits.

It's been slow going. To make room for the parking structure, researchers at the George C. Page Museum built wooden crates to house the cache and trucked them to the tar pits complex where excavators use power and hand tools to break up the soil.

Careful to avoid the mistakes of early diggers who only prized large mammals bones and little else, a small army of museum employees and volunteers painstakingly chisels away seven days a week, recovering not only animal bones, but also saving the dirt for later inspection for microfossils.

Blackbox

Buried Soldiers May Be Victims of Ancient Chemical Weapon

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© Yale University Art Gallery, Dura-Europos Collection
The skeleton of a Persian soldier found in the siege tunnels of Dura. The man may have choked on toxic fumes from a fire he himself started. The man's armor is pulled up around his chest; archaeologists suspect he was trying to pull it off as he died.
Almost 2,000 years ago, 19 Roman soldiers rushed into a cramped underground tunnel, prepared to defend the Roman-held Syrian city of Dura-Europos from an army of Persians digging to undermine the city's mudbrick walls. But instead of Persian soldiers, the Romans met with a wall of noxious black smoke that turned to acid in their lungs. Their crystal-pommeled swords were no match for this weapon; the Romans choked and died in moments, many with their last pay of coins still slung in purses on their belts.

Nearby, a Persian soldier - perhaps the one who started the toxic underground fire - suffered his own death throes, grasping desperately at his chain mail shirt as he choked.

These 20 men, who died in A.D. 256, may be the first victims of chemical warfare to leave any archeological evidence of their passing, according to a new investigation. The case is a cold one, with little physical evidence left behind beyond drawings and archaeological excavation notes from the 1930s. But a new analysis of those materials published in January in the American Journal of Archaeology finds that the soldiers likely did not die by the sword as the original excavator believed. Instead, they were gassed.

Sherlock

Skulls point towards mass beheading: experts

Hubli: Archaeologists and historians, who have taken up excavation and study of skulls discovered in Annigeri near here have said that the manner in which the human skulls are neatly arranged indicates that it could be a case of mass beheading.

Director of the department of archaeology and museums R Gopal and historian M S Krisnamurthy, who paid a visit to the site along with Dharwad deputy commissioner Darpan Jain on Monday also termed it to be a rare find in the history of India's archaeology and ancient history.

Gopal said that Annigeri had a history of more than 1,000 years and there was a mention of a massacre at Annigeri in an inscription dating back to the 12th century. However, he said it is only after the carbon dating report that they can arrive at a conclusion.

Black Cat

17th Century Witch Chronicles Put Online

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© chiccmanchester.wordpress.com
The English Civil War diary of Nehemiah Wallington
A 350-year-old notebook which documents the trials of women convicted of witchcraft in England during the 17th century has been published online.

The notebook written by Nehemiah Wallington, an English Puritan, recounts the fate of women accused of having relationships with the devil at a time when England was embroiled in a bitter civil war.

The document reveals the details of a witchcraft trial held in Chelmsford in July 1645, when more than a hundred suspected witches were serving time in Essex and Suffolk according to his account.

"Divers (many) of them voluntarily and without any forcing or compulsion freely declare that they have made a covenant with the Devill," he wrote.

"Som Christians have been killed by their meanes," he added.

Of the 30 women on trial in Chelmsford, 14 were hanged.

Sherlock

California Islands Give Up Evidence of Early Seafaring: Numerous Artifacts Found at Late Pleistocene Sites on the Channel Islands

chert
© Courtesy of Jon Erlandson
A three-view look at a chert crescent dating to ancient seafarers on San Miguel Island.
Evidence for a diversified sea-based economy among North American inhabitants dating from 12,200 to 11,400 years ago is emerging from three sites on California's Channel Islands.

Reporting in the March 4 issue of Science, a 15-member team led by University of Oregon and Smithsonian Institution scholars describes the discovery of scores of stemmed projectile points and crescents dating to that time period. The artifacts are associated with the remains of shellfish, seals, geese, cormorants and fish.

Funded primarily by grants from the National Science Foundation, the team also found thousands of artifacts made from chert, a flint-like rock used to make projectile points and other stone tools.

Some of the intact projectiles are so delicate that their only practical use would have been for hunting on the water, said Jon Erlandson, professor of anthropology and director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. He has been conducting research on the islands for more than 30 years.