Neanderthal kids grew up faster than humans: study

Kerry Sheridan, Yahoo News – Mon Nov 15, 2010Original article here

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Facing untold pressures to survive, Neanderthal kids grew up much faster than modern human tots, whose lengthy childhoods may be a relatively new phenomenon that has helped boost longevity.

That’s according to a study by led researchers at Harvard University, the latest to highlight small but crucial differences in early development between humans and our closest cousins who became extinct about 28,000 years ago.

Researchers made the discovery after using a new “supermicroscrope” with an advanced X-ray technique to examine the teeth of previously discovered fossils of eight Neanderthal children.

“The Neanderthal children seemed to show a lot of stress,” said lead study author Tanya Smith, assistant professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, noting that teeth can offer plenty of clues about overall development.

“Inside and outside, the Neanderthal teeth show a lot of these developmental defects in high frequencies. It seems like childhood was tough for Neanderthals.”

The study, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said that young Neanderthals’ teeth growth “was significantly faster than in our own species.”

Even when compared to some of the earliest human teeth, taken from remains of humans who left Africa 90,000 to 100,00 years ago, the differences were clear. Human teeth grew more slowly, pointing to more leisurely periods of youth.

“This indicates that the elongation of childhood has been a relatively recent development,” the study said.

During the five-year study, scientists at Harvard, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility examined and compared the remains of Neanderthal and human children.

Using a highly developed “supermicroscope” that helped peer deeper into the dental fossils without damaging them, researchers found that the first hominin fossil ever discovered, that of a young Neanderthal girl found in Belgium, was actually about three years old when she died, not four to five as previously thought.

Scientists were even able to detect a “tiny ‘birth certificate'” inside molars that offered a precise way to calculate how old a juvenile was at death, Smith said.

“Teeth are remarkable time recorders, capturing each day of growth much like rings in trees reveal yearly progress,” she said.

Previous research has pointed to differences in how early humans and apes mature and grow.

For example, ape females have shorter pregnancies that result in offspring growing up faster and reproducing at younger ages than humans. Chimpanzees on average bear their first babies at age 13, compared to age 19 in humans.

“It doesn’t make any sense to lengthen your childhood if there is no guarantee you are going to make it to a ripe old age,” said Smith.

However, it is less clear when this evolutionary shift began to occur in the path of human development.

Smith described the change as a “costly yet advantageous shift from a primitive ‘live fast and die young’ strategy to the ‘live slow and grow old’ strategy that has helped to make us one of the most successful organisms on the planet.”

When the researchers examined tooth specimens from the earliest members of our own species, using one set of dental remains found in Morocco 160,000 years ago and one that dates back 90-100,000 years found in Israel, they found they were remarkably similar to modern humans.

“They look pretty much like us,” said Smith. “This longer period of growth and development is a condition that is unique to our own species.”

The advances in examining the age of the teeth were possible by using what the study called a “supermicroscope” that employs “extremely powerful X-ray beams” developed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.The synchotron at Grenoble is the largest in the world, and has been visited by museum curators and scientists bearing rare fossils from around the world so that they can be imaged and analyzed anew, the study said.

A study released last week showed that the brains of Neanderthals, believed to be modern humans’ closest ancestor, were similar to humans’ at birth but developed differently in the first year of life.

Mammoth bones as architectural building blocks!

Fascinating article about the origins of architecture found in the anatomy of animals.
More pictures in the original article, here, at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

Who was the Archigram of mammoth bones? … Geoff Manaugh

Cedric Price, Neanderthal: or, the Archigram of Mammoth Bones

In Steven Mithen’s fantastic book After the Ice, a natural history of human culture from 20,000–5,000 BC, we find a brief introduction to the earliest architectural structures.

Illustration depicting mammoth bone architecture; illustrator unknown.

“The world at 20,000 BC is inhospitable,” Mithen writes, “a cold, dry and windy planet with frequent storms and a dust-laden atmosphere… People survive wherever they can, struggling with freezing temperatures and persistent drought.” Their survival is assisted by the construction of shelters—architecture at its very Ice Age origins.

For instance, “five dwellings form a rough circle on the tundra,” Mithen writes, referring to an archaeological site in what is now Ukraine (and using the present tense that his book maintains throughout).

The dwellings are igloo-like but built from mammoth bone and hide rather than blocks of ice. Each has an imposing entrance formed by two tusks, up-ended to form an arch. The walls use massive leg bones as vertical supports, between which jawbones have been stacked chin-down to create a thick barrier to the cold and wind. Further tusks are used on the roof to weigh down hides and sods of turf that are supported on a framework of bones and branches.

Skulls are used as furniture, and animal hides line the floor and walls, in a kind of corporeal grotesque that would make Ed Gein proud. These structures formed what the Field Museum in Chicago calls “small villages of bone huts,” adding that, when a bone didn’t work as architecture, it could be repurposed as a musical instrument—as if predating David Byrne’s Playing the Building installation by more than twenty millennia.

Excavation of Dwelling 4, Mezhirich, Ukraine (1979); photo by O.Soffer, from "The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain," courtesy of Don's MapsIn his book The Archaeology of Animals, Simon J. M. Davis refers to these structures as a type of “osteo-architecture,” or “bone ruins.” He goes on to explain that an archaeologist named Ivan Pidoplichko “excavated some of the most spectacular bone ‘ruins’ so far found in the Ukraine. At Mezhirich, in the Cherkassy Region for example, he found a ‘ruin’ consisting of 385 mammoth bones covering a circular area 4-5m across. Beneath these bones Pidoplichko found 4600 artefacts and an ash-filled circular pit.” Davis’s ensuing description is worth quoting in full:

In Pidoplichko’s reconstruction the building was shaped like a beehive, similar to a Chukot Yaranga or ‘skin tent’ of today. The base of the structure consisted of a circle of some 25 mammoth skulls, each arranged so that its frontal bones faced inwards (this was how he found them). Other elements which made up the foundation were 20 mammoth pelvises and 10 long bones embedded vertically in the ground. On top of these and the skulls were 12 more skulls, 30 scapulae, 20 long bones, 15 pelvises and segments of seven vertebral columns. Still higher—and presumably for holding down skins over a wooden framework—there were 35 tusks. Ninety-five mammoth mandibles, piled up in columns around parts of the foundation, may have served as a peripheral retaining wall.

Excavation grids from Mezhirich, Ukraine; from O.Soffer, "The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain," courtesy of Don's Maps

Mithen speculates that these anatomical Ice Age building supplies did not come only from coordinated acts of hunting (in which slaughtering large animals would also have meant obtaining spare parts for your house, as if wooly mammoths were a kind of living Home Depot). Instead, he suggests, “the river supplies building materials: bones from animals that have died in the north and had their carcasses washed downstream.” These bones thus arrived by, and were harvested from, deltaic processes of the nearby watershed, just a particularly bulky form of sediment or debris for which it was easy to find a cultural use.

There are several architectural points to be made here. First, it seems substantially more interesting to me to locate the birth of architecture in actual paleolithic practices, not in the terminological vagaries of early Greek philosophy (which seems to the prevalent mode of searching for architecture’s theoretical origins today). But what if the knee-joints of extinct megafauna are more important for the origins of architecture than Daedalus or khôra?

In other words, why not perform forensic studies of mammoth bones and animal skins, and put down the Plato? As a side note, I was intrigued to see that the Wikipedia page for the history of architecture, as of June 2010, does not even go beyond 10,000 BC, starting instead with the Neolithic. But what of Steven Mithen, Davis’s osteo-architecture, and our bone-encircled Ukrainians?

At what point is an inhabitable pile of skulls considered a building?

Second, what was architectural “style” 22,000 years ago? Were there eccentric or personalized methods for tying sinew bone-to-bone, or virtuoso tactics for assembling antlers into windproof screens on difficult hillside sites? Who were the path-breakers for the time—who was the Cedric Price of animal architecture, or the Archigram of mammoth bones? By extension, what palaces of mastodon ribs have been lost to archaeology altogether? Multi-floored labyrinths of cartilage and bearskin rugs. An Early Holocene Plug-In City made from the jaws of saber-toothed tigers.

Third, surely a retrospective exhibition of late Pleistocene architecture is long overdue? Even a small gallery show exploring the state of architecture 22,000 years ago would be extraordinarily interesting. At the very least, imagine the weekend outreach programs for kids.

The border between natural history and architectural design deserves far more exploration, beyond the odd science museum diorama. We have been living in buildings for more than 20,000 years, if Mithen’s book is to be believed, but nearly half of that period has seemingly been thrown outside the pale of architectural history.

Buildings, however, did not suddenly appear at 10,000 BC with the first stonemasons, woodcutters, or certified Greek philosophers; they accumulated out of the corpse-filled debris of Ice Age rivers when neurologically modern humans began to interlock and assemble bones into structures of which we have almost no physical record.

So how do we bring these structures out of material anthropology and into architectural history, where they just as equally belong?

Perhaps it’s time for Pamphlet Architecture to take up the subject of paleolithic home design.

Geoff Manaugh is a 2010 Visiting Scholar and writes as part of the To CCA, From… series. Browse all of Geoff’s posts.

Starchy Wild Plants Added Carbs To Ancient Man’s Meaty Diet

Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria. Scientists discovered stones for grounding flour in Italy used 30,000 years ago by hunter gatherers.

by CHRIS JOYCE, National Public Radio

Here’s a 30,000-year-old recipe:

Dig up cattails.  Remove starchy roots and rhizomes.  Peel outer layer, dry, and grind into flour with two rocks.  Mix with water and cook. Bon appetit!

The Paleolithic diet, it turns out, may have consisted of more than just meat and berries.  At three sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic, scientists have discovered tools that would make a Stone Age Crate and Barrel manager burst with pride:Mortars and pestles for grinding grains.

The mortars are flat stones, while the pestles are pointed andshaped to fit the hand.  They all show wear from grinding, as well as microscopic bits of “flour” embedded in them.  The flour appears to have been ground from the starchiest, underground parts of cattails, ferns and other plants.

Anthropologists have assumed that early humans supplemented their meaty, protein-heavy diet with nutrients from plants.  Plant starches are energy-rich carbohydrates, but aren’t exactly “ready-to-eat.”  The latest discovery confirms that humans as far back as 30,000 years had figured out how to “process” some of those starches before consuming them.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists suggest that the flour ground in the mortar and pestle would eventually have been cooked.  Raw starch is pretty hard to stomach and doesn’t offer much nutrition until the tough grains are broken down by heat. (See Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham’s book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human for more on this.)

In terms of the energy it provided, the cattail flour is pretty similar to Emmer wheat (known as farro in Italy). It’s been a staple of European cooking for millennia that’s believed to have fed the marching Roman legions.

As for taste, the researchers didn’t report results.  But without yeast or sugar or even salt, chances are cattail bread wasn’t terribly tasty.

But memorable?  Well, we’re still writing about it.

Original article here

NRK does it again: Fake nudity and conflict in reality series with indigenous tribes

NRK, the norwegian state channel does it again: They send redneck norwegian families to live with tribes in Africa and South America to make a reality TV show. The tribes are instructed to wear penis sheaths and be topless, contrary to how they would normally dress, to make the TV images more exciting.

The norwegian participants are hand-picked for ignorance of foreign cultures and contrast in lifestyle. They are not allowed to have translators, which makes for a lot of confusing situations with the visited tribes.

Edited together back in the west, with plenty of breast and penis shots, Norwegian viewers can view with horror the “primitive” lifestyles of indegineous tribes.

This is not a culture exhange, it is pure exploitation. How about making a TV show about how these tribes actually live, and what we might learn from them? Don’t send the most ignorant norwegians there to complain about lack of makeup and fitness centers and Ipods, please!

NRK, we expect better from you – and the people of Norway pay for you to make this crap!

That said, the NRK channels are commercial-free, and they do produce some very good programs. The state-run Norwegian TV and Radio institution has mainly followed the great educational tradition of the BBC. This year the NRK celebrate it’s 50-year jubilee -to bad it has to taint their mostly excellent legacy with this crap!

Jonas Qvale/Hornorkesteret

Today’s NRK article on the current season of the series that start this fall:

My old post about this abomination from last season of the show:

Neanderthal bedroom

  • An apparent Neanderthal sleeping chamber has just been unearthed within Esquilleu Cave in Cantabria, Spain.
  • The room likely contained grass beds, which served double duty as seats, near a hearth.
  • Other research supports that Neanderthals constructed such functional living spaces within caves and rock shelters.

Anthropologists have unearthed the remains of an apparent Neanderthal cave sleeping chamber, complete with a hearth and nearby grass beds that might have once been covered with animal fur.

Neanderthals inhabited the cozy Late Pleistocene room, located within Esquilleu Cave in Cantabria, Spain, anywhere between 53,000 to 39,000 years ago, according to a Journal of Archaeological Science paper concerning the discovery.

Living the ultimate clean and literally green lifestyle, the Neanderthals appear to have constructed new beds out of grass every so often, using the old bedding material to help fuel the hearth.

“It is possible that the Neanderthals renewed the bedding each time they visited the cave,” lead author Dan Cabanes told Discovery News.

Cabanes, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Kimmel Center for Archaeological Research, added that these hearth-side beds also likely served as sitting areas during waking hours for the Neanderthals.

“In some way, they were used to make the area near the hearths more comfortable,” he said, mentioning that artifacts collected from various other Neanderthal sites suggest the inhabitants prepared stone tools, cooked, ate and snoozed near warming fires.

For this study, Cabanes and his team collected sediment samples from the Spanish cave. Detailed analysis of the samples allowed the scientists to reconstruct what materials were once present in certain parts of the cave at particular times.

The bedding material was identified based on the presence and arrangement of multiple phytoliths from grasses near the hearth area. Phytoliths are tiny fossilized particles formed of mineral matter by a once-living plant.

There was no evidence of plants growing, soil developing or animal transport of phytoliths via dung, so the scientists believe the only plausible explanation is that Neanderthals gathered the grass and placed it in this room of the cave.

While the hearth contained some grass phytoliths, most belonged to wood and bark, “indicating that this material was the main type of fuel used,” according to the researchers. Some animal bones were also tossed into the hearth, perhaps to dispose of them after dinner and/or for use as extra fire fuel.

Evidence is building that Neanderthals in other locations constructed such functional living spaces within caves and rock shelters.

Earlier this year, Josep Vallverdu of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution and his team identified a “sleeping activity area” at Spain’s Abric Romani rock shelter.

Similar to the Esquilleu Cave finds, Vallverdu and his colleagues discovered the remains of hearths spaced enough for seating and sleeping areas.

“This set of combustion activity areas suggests analogy with sleeping and resting activity areas of modern foragers,” Vallverdu and his team wrote. They added that such information can allow anthropologists to estimate the size of Neanderthal populations, in addition to learning more about how they lived.

The big question, according to Cabanes, is how such a resourceful species went extinct.

“In my opinion, Neanderthal extinction may have been caused by several factors working at the same time,” he said. “Environmental changes, a slightly different social organization, a different rate of reproduction, spread of diseases, direct competition for resources and many other factors may have played an important role in the fate of Neanderthals.”

He and other researchers have also not ruled out that Neanderthals were simply absorbed into the modern human population.

Cabanes is hopeful that future analysis of phytoliths, as well as other less obvious clues that have often been overlooked by scientists in the past, may shed additional light on the still-mysterious Neanderthals.

Original article here

Motala, Sweden early stoneage find: Tent peg or sex toy -you decide!

An artifact found at a dig at Motala river in Sweden could be an ancient sex toy says this archaeology blog. The Motala find is made from antler and clearly fashioned with a rounded knob at one end. Seeing is believing, some say, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the artifact could just as well be interpreted as a tent peg or something else. Surely they masturbated 6000 years ago too, but perhaps not with antlers and stones? If it was sexual, it could just as well have been symbolic, perhaps used in ritual, or maybe even more like a teenage prank.

Oh yeah, and the length? About 12 cm.

No matter what you believe, this interesting find is but part of an important state funded project The Swedish National Heritage Board are conducting at an early stone age site along the Motala river which exits the large lake Vättern in southern Sweden. Here, an advanced community lived 8-6000 years ago, imported their flint from other regions and probably used the waterways to access different geographical areas for food. They have even found a shark tooth at the site (Motala was 35 km inland at that time), perhaps once used like a Cali beach bum or surfer would wear a sharks tooth around their neck in a leather string today.

The site is now in the middle of a town and heavy roads. It is only being investigated because of pending railroad expansions. More about the whole project here.

Another possible ancient phallus was recently found at the much older Hohle Fels Cave outside of Ulm in southern Germany.


Original article here (swedish only)

Dildo från äldre stenålder?

Nyligen rapporterades det att världens äldsta dildo hade påträffats i en grotta, Hohle Fels Cave utanför Ulm i södra Tyskland. Ett forskarteam som undersökte platsen under ledning av Professor Nicholas Conard tolkade ett av stenföremålen, 20 cm långt och 3 cm tjockt, som ”ett möjligt sexverktyg”. Föremålet bär emellertid även spår efter att ha använts för flinthantverk.

Undersökningen vid Strandvägen utmanar med att ställa frågan om vi har hittat Skandinaviens äldsta dildo? Föremålet är ett bearbetat horn som utan omsvep för tankarna till en fallos. Vad tycker Du?

Fallosar påträffas vanligtvis i sammanhang som hör till yngre perioder, framförallt järnålder, där vissa hällristningar och statyer avbildar guden Frej med erigerad penis. Symbolen kopplas till fruktbarhet. Från stenålderslokaler i Europa är det vanligt att finna kvinnliga fruktbarhetssymboler liknande Venus från Willendorf. Däremot är manliga fruktbarhetssymboler ovanliga.

Fyndet vi gjort är ett bearbetat och slipat horn, ca tolv centimeter långt och två centimeter i diameter. Formen är avsiktligt framarbetad. Föremålet stack fram ur blålera i ett skottkärrelass. Fynden knyts till de stratigrafiskt äldsta skeendena på platsen, det vill säga äldre stenålder. I samma lager har vi även hittat ytterligare ett snidat horn, flera ristade horn, ett stort antal ljusterspetsar samt ett tiotal mindre depositioner av människoben. Detta ger nya inblickar i äldre stenålderns föreställningsvärld.

– Först trodde jag (Sara) att det bara var ett bearbetat horn och skulle titta lite närmare på det. Men när jag höll upp den kunde jag inte hålla skrattet tillbaka. Och snart utbröt ett allmänt fnitter i hela sålltältet.

Dagen avslutades storstilat med besök av fem yngre, atletiska män som utan större bekymmer slängde av sig kläderna och badade från en avstängd järnvägsbro 50 meter från våra såll. Vi hoppas på kärt återseende.

Sara Gummesson & Kim von Hackwitz

Neanderthal man had giant arms and a body brimming with steroids, new research suggests

Neanderthal guys were no girlie-men.

Prehistoric man apparently boasted a rock-hard body, including an overdeveloped right arm that would make Popeye jealous, according to a new scientific report.

The Neanderthals hunted in the “extreme,” Russian Prof. Maria Mednikova told Discovery News. She said instead of shooting prey with a bow and arrow, the Neanderthal man used “direct contact” with his victim, stabbing animals with a spear and giving his dominant arm, usually the right one, an intense workout. The professor said female Neanderthals were strong, but more evenly muscular in both arms.

Either way, Neanderthals make modern-day humans look wimpy. Of course, they had some chemical help, it seems. Mednikova says their strong, thick bone structure was aided by a “markedly androgenic constitution.” Simply put, the Neanderthal body was brimming with natural steroids.

Genes, a cold climate and an all-meat diet helped contribute to the Neanderthal’s buff body, the scientists believe. Neanderthal’s dined on mammoths and deer, among other plant-eating animals. The scientists based their research on an analysis of Neanderthal arm bone, dating roughly from 100,000 years ago and found in what is now Russia.

Their findings were published in the journal Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia.

Original article here