Reindeer teeth hold clues to Neanderthal hunting tactics

Stone Pages Archaeo News 19 May 2011
Original article here

Analysis of subtle chemical variations in reindeer teeth suggest the Neanderthal employed sophisticated hunting strategies similar to the tactics used much later by modern humans. Kate Britton, an archaeologist now at the University of Aberdeen, and her colleagues wanted to find out more about adult reindeer remains from a 70,000 year old layer at the Jonzac Neanderthal hunting camp site in France – a rock shelter believed to have been used over a long period of time – by looking at the teeth and their chemical composition.
Teeth are made of calcium, phosphorus, oxygen, strontium and other elements, but not all the atoms of each element are the same. Some atoms, or isotopes, are heavier than others and may have slightly different chemical properties. Says Britton, “Strontium in your bones and teeth is related to the food and water you consume… to the underlying soil and rocks of a particular area.” It’s possible to look at the strontium isotopes and find out if the animals ate and drank always in the same area, or if they moved around.
The reindeer have similar strontium isotope patterns, suggesting they moved from one area to another and back again while their teeth were developing. “The reindeer were probably travelling through the area during their annual migrations,” Britton says. The Neanderthal were probably aware of the reindeer migration patterns and planned their stays to make the most out of the moving herd. “This sophisticated hunting behaviour is something we see much later in the Upper Palaeolithic amongst modern human groups, and it’s really fascinating to see that Neanderthals were employing similar strategies,” concludes Britton.

Russian site could be late Neanderthal refuge

By MALCOLM RITTER, Associated Press 05/19/2011 Original article here

NEW YORK — Scientists have identified what may be one of the last northern refuges of Neanderthals, a spot near the Arctic Circle in Russia with artifacts dated to 31,000 to 34,000 years ago.

Stone tools and flakes found there look like the work of Neanderthals, the stocky, muscular hunters who lived in Europe and western Asia until they were replaced by modern humans, researchers reported today in the journal Science.

The site lies along the Pechora River west of the Ural Mountains, about 92 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Researchers dated it from animal bones and sand grains. Nobody has found any human bones or DNA that could provide stronger evidence that Neanderthals lived there, report the scientists, from Russia, France and Norway. The artifacts had been collected during various expeditions.

Richard Klein, a Stanford University professor of anthropology, said the artifacts do look like the work of Neanderthals, but that it’s also possible they were made by modern people instead.

Neanderthals were not previously known to be in that area, nor convincingly shown to be present anywhere at such a recent time, he said. Finding another site or human bones would help settle the question, he said.

Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City of New York, cited a 2006 study that suggests Neanderthals occupied a cave near the southern tip of Spain at about the same time as the new work puts them in Russia. Maybe the two locations show how Neanderthals retreated in opposite directions from the encroachment of the modern humans, he said.

Neanderthal burial ground suggests they practiced funeral rituals

NewKerala.com – original article here
Washington, Apr 21 : The discovery of a possible Neanderthal burial ground has suggested that they practiced funeral rituals and possessed symbolic thought long before modern humans.

According to a Quaternary International paper, evidence for a likely 50,000-year-old Neanderthal burial ground that includes the remains of at least three individuals has been unearthed in Spain.
The skeletons found in apparent burial poses at the site Sima de las Palomas, in Murcia, Southeast Spain, may be the first known Neanderthal burial ground of Mediterranean Europe. The remains of six to seven other Neanderthals, including an infant and two juveniles, as well as associated tools and food, have also been excavated. The deceased appear to have been intentionally buried, with each Neanderthal””s arms folded such that the hands were close to the head, suggesting that it held meaning.

“We cannot say much (about the skeletons) except that we surmise the site was regarded as somehow relevant in regard to the remains of deceased Neanderthals,” Discovery News quoted lead author Michael Walker as saying.

“Their tools and food remains, not to mention signs of fires having been lit, which we have excavated indicate they visited the site more than once,” he said.

Walker, a professor in the Department of Zoology and Physical Anthropology at the University of Murcia and his colleagues, have been working at the site for some time. So far they have found buried articulated skeletons for a young adult female, a juvenile or child, and an adult — possibly male — Neanderthal.

“We cannot say whether these three individuals were related, though it is likely,” he said, explaining that DNA has been denatured due to high ambient temperatures. “Surely the child was related to one of the others, though,” he explained.

The Neanderthals were found covered together with rocks burying their remains. The researchers believe it””s likely that other Neanderthals intentionally placed the rocks over the bodies from a height. While it cannot be ruled out that an accident killed the three individuals, the scientists believe that wasn””t the case. “I think there is just enough evidence at Sima de las Palomas to think that three articulated skeletons are unlikely to have been the result of a single random accident to three cadavers that somehow escaped the ravages of hyenas and leopards, which were present at the site,” Walker said.

Erik Trinkaus, a professor of physical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of the world’s leading experts on Neanderthals. He said that it is certainly possible that the Neanderthals at Sima de las Palomas were buried. He said a few dozen documented Neanderthal burials from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia have already been documented.

Trinkaus added that the Neanderthal remains from Spain will “provide us with our first glimpse of overall Neanderthal body form in Southern Europe, as well as additional specimens for a number of aspects of Neanderthal biology”.

ANI

Neanderthal life spans similar to modern humans

By Charles Q. Choi, msnbc.com 1/11/2011
Original article here

Those who investigate Neanderthal remains have long known of a puzzling gap — elderly individuals are rare. Scientists have thus suggested that these prehistoric humans might have had an inherently shorter life expectancy than us modern humans, with our lineage ultimately outnumbering theirs, and so contributing to their demise.

Not so, according to a new study. Our once closest living relatives likely had similar life spans as us.

Our species, Homo sapiens , is the only surviving lineage of the genus Homo. Still, there once were many others, all of whom could also be called human.

Anthropologist Erik Trinkaus at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed fossil records to gauge the adult life spans of Neanderthals and early modern humans, which coexisted in different regions for about 150,000 years. He found roughly the same number of 20- to 40-year-old adults and adults older than 40 in both Neanderthal and early modern human populations, suggesting life expectancy was probably the same for both.

“Arguments for longer survival among early modern humans causing the demise of the Neandertals have no basis in fact,” Trinkaus told LiveScience. (Neanderthals are also called Neandertals due to changes in the German spelling over the years.)

Trinkaus did caution that a number of factors might skew his life-expectancy calculations. For instance, all these archaic and modern humans apparently had very mobile lifestyles during the Pleistocene to search for their next meals. That likely means any older members who could not keep up were left behind to die, and their remains would have been scattered by scavengers and lost from the fossil record.

Still, “new fossil discoveries could change the pattern some, but it is unlikely to alter it very much,” Trinkaus said. Overall, he contends that longevity did not factor into the extinction of Neanderthals. If early modern humans did have a population advantage, he argued, it was probably more due to high fertility rates and lower infant mortality.

Trinkaus detailed his findings online Jan. 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How Neanderthals also enjoyed their greens: Meat-only diet was myth, teeth reveal

By COLIN FERNANDEZ 28th December 2010
dailymail.co.uk
Original article here

For years it was believed the Neanderthals were carnivores who devoured meat.

But new research has found that not only did our primitive ancestors eat a lot of greens, they were able to cook them as well.

It was widely believed that the limited meat-only diet of Neanderthals and their lack of cooking skills contributed to their extinction.

Vegetable kebab? A depiction of a Neanderthal woman working with fire

Their rivals Homo Sapiens, our direct ancestors, who lived alongside them were more adaptable as they had a wider variety of food sources to choose from.

But a microscopic analysis of the fossilised teeth of Neanderthals reveals their diet was more varied than previously thought – with their vegetable intake including beans, roots and tubers and palm dates.

The evidence, from cave sites in Iraq and Belgium, also suggests Neanderthals controlled fire in much the same way as Homo Sapiens.

Many of the plant remains had undergone physical changes that make scientists believe they were cooked before they were eaten.

Researchers are still trying to identify remains of other plants on the teeth.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers led by Dr Dolores Piperno, from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, said: ‘Our results indicate that Neanderthals made use of the diverse plant foods available in their local environment and transformed them into more easily digestible foodstuffs, in part through cooking them, suggesting an overall sophistication in Neanderthal dietary regimes.’

Dental data: A neanderthal's tooth has shown scientists that they ate a lot more vegetables than originally thoughtDental data: A neanderthal’s tooth has shown scientists that they ate a lot more vegetables than originally thought 

Neanderthals are thought to have migrated from Africa between 300,000 to 400,000 years ago. They were followed 70,000 years ago by Homo Sapiens, but around 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals died out – the exact reason for which remains a mystery.

Excavations carried out as part of the Gibraltar Caves Project had revealed that seafood figured in the Neanderthal diet.

Hearth embers, shells, animal bones and the remains of marine species were found in the Gorham and Vanguard caves, on Gibraltar’s eastern flank, by an international team of scientists led by Chris Stringer from London’s Natural History Museum and Clive Finlayson from the Gibraltar Museum.

An impression of the Neanderthals’ coastal foraging habits and diet was provided by the discovery of fossiled bones and shells from dolphins, monk seals and mussels alongside the more expected bear, ibex, red deer and wild boar.

Many of the bones showed signs of damage from cutting and peeling, and the mussels were apparently warmed on a fire to open them up.

Earlier this week, scientists revealed a new variety of humans called Denisovans lived alongside Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals.

The cavemen were identified from DNA taken from a tooth and finger bone found in a cave in Siberia.

It was found in the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia in 2008 alongside ornaments and jewellery.

Provisional tests published earlier this year suggested that the remains belonged to an entirely new species.

The Denisovans were physically different from the thickset Neanderthals and modern humans, although they also walked upright.

Did man come out of Israel? panel

Mammoth Calf, Ancient Art Work Displayed At Neanderthal Museum In Germany (PHOTOS)

The mammoth ivory carving of prehistoric man is 35,000 years old, and was found in southern Germany.

The Huffington Post, November 19. 2010
Original article here

A stunning new German exhibition is shedding new light onto the prehistoric era.

Displayed at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany, the exhibition includes never-before-seen artifacts and remains of one of the most mysterious creatures of the Ice Age, the mammoth. Among the most intriguing are an icon of one of the enormous animals cast in ivory, which is believed to be the oldest known artwork of mankind, as well as the completely preserved remains of an original mammoth calf, named Lyuba.

See photos of the new exhibit, courtesy of the Associated Press, here:

A man takes photos of the original mammoth calf Lyuba, at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann.

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.