Major exhibition chronicles Shackletons Antarctic adventure

A major photographic exhibition at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, will chart the extraordinary story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famous Antarctic expedition.
Running from the 16th July to the 3rd January 2011, Endurance: Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure will feature over 150 images taken by expedition photographer James Francis Hurley, charting the epic tale of survival after Shackleton’s ship Endurance was crushed by the ice.
This travelling exhibition, brought to the UK for the first time by New York’s American Museum of Natural History, will allow students to view images of Endurance trapped in the ice by day and night, studies of the expedition members, Endurance sinking beneath the ice, daily life while camped on the ice, and the crew marooned on Elephant Island. There will also be a full-size replica of the James Caird, the lifeboat sailed to South Georgia Island in search of rescue.
Merseyside Maritime Museum, part of National Museums Liverpool, offers an extensive education programme for visiting school groups of all ages.
For further information or to organise an educational trip, telephone: 0151-478 4441 or log onto

Ice and Silence: Extreme Working for the British Antarctic Survey

by Paul Torode and Rich Burt – BAS 31/Mar/2010

It’s not often you get to climb inside an iceberg. Held in the vice-like grip of the surrounding sea ice, the frozen colossus facing us was split by a deep crack. The bottom of the vertical cavern had at some stage flooded with seawater and refrozen. We jumped a sinister gash of open water and climbed inside the ‘berg.

Earlier, we’d left our skidoos and field camp and had to abseil the ice cliffs to reach the sea ice: now we were inside the iceberg itself, awestruck by the azure glassy hardness and the immensity of it all. Soft powder snow adorned the entrance of the cavern, and crystals festooned the ‘roof’ high above our heads. As we descended the wondrous symmetry of the two ice walls eventually met in a hairline crack. Outside it was -40°C – our breath frosted heavily on our clothing and our crampons bit aggressively into the ice. In a matter of weeks this ‘berg would break free of the ice and drift into immeasurable seas.

I’ve seen some pretty unusual sights, working as a Field Assistant for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Seals swimming under the ice you’re standing on. Powder snow so deep your skidoo leaves a trench behind you. Frozen landscapes of implausible tranquillity take your breath away. I’m one of a team whose job is to support scientists going ‘deep field’ to investigate big questions like climate change. Antarctica is arguably the Earth’s greatest natural laboratory and an early warning system for global change.

BAS operates five research stations, five planes and two ships. During the short summer months life is pretty hectic for everyone. As a Field Assistant, you spend a great deal of time off-station and get to experience the continent more than most.

In summer, before going deep field, I assist the pilot to load and fuel the Twin Otter aircraft before clambering on board. I often get to sit up front as ‘co-pilot’. Watching the plane take off and leave as we set up a remote field camp is a defining moment for any Field Assistant or scientist. For two months we might work from a static camp, or travel by paired skidoo and sledge, linked together by thick rope for safety in crevassed areas. It’s a heavyweight, ‘belt-and-braces’ expedition. Once the orange pyramid tent is firmly pitched, we brew up, crack a big bar of chocolate and enjoy the most comfortable camping imaginable.

In winter days when you’re confined to the station there’s all the maintenance work on field equipment. Servicing field kit takes time in the cold, dark and windy Antarctic winter. But when weather relents there’s great enthusiasm for recreational trips that give groups a chance to have a break from station life and learn valuable field skills. It’s often these trips that the most vivid memories of the Antarctic are formed. Which brings me back to that iceberg!

Paul Torode for the British Antarctic Survey

Original article with many more beautiful pictures and more information here

Man’s early ancestors are pictured together for the first time

By Daily Mail Reporter
26th March 2010
A mysterious species of ancient human has been discovered in a cave in southern Siberia. Nicknamed X-Woman, scientists say the human lived alongside our ancestors tens of thousands of years ago. The discovery, which could rewrite mankind’s family tree, was made after analysis of DNA from a fossilised finger bone.

human ancestors

Back in the beginning: Living 6.8million years ago this is Sahelanthropus tchadensis. Parts of its jaw bone and teeth were found nine years ago in the Djurab desert, Chad, and from this scientists created this model head

human ancestors

This young woman lived between 100,000 and 90,000 years ago. Her skull and mandible were found in a cave in Israel in 1969 along with the remains of 20 others. The size of their skulls was higher than that of the average person today

Experts believe the finger belonged to a child who died 48,000 to 30,000 years ago.

It was thought only two species of early humans lived at that time – the ancestors of modern man and the Neanderthals, who died out soon afterwards.

But the DNA evidence published in the journal Nature reveals a third species.

The latest study was based on an analysis of ‘mitochondrial’ DNA – a genetic code passed from mothers to children.

Researcher Dr Svante Pääbo said the code was different from that of Neanderthals and modern humans and was ‘a new creature that’s not been on our radar screens so far’.

The scientists are unable to say what X-Woman looked like and are even unsure if the finger belonged to a male of female, but Dr Pääbo said they named her X-Woman ‘because its mitochondrial and we want to take a feminist tack on this’.

The discovery of the ‘X-Woman’ comes as scientists revealed images of what man looked like millions of years ago.

Gathering bone fragments from across the globe, paleoanthropologists used sophisticated research methods to form the 27 model heads, which are on show at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany.

The exhibition goes back seven million years to sahelanthropus tchadensis and traces the numerous stages of man culminating with modern-day homo sapiens.

Each of the heads is used to tell its story: where they lived; what they ate; and what killed them.

It shows how researchers today use satellite image analysis and computer tomography.

There is little doubt that Africa is the cradle of humanity and this is where the most ancient of the remains were unearthed. But clues to other pre-human species have been found in the Middle East and Far East.

Only a few thousand fossils of pre-human species have ever been discovered and entire sub-species are sometimes known only from a single jaw or fragmentary skull.

human ancestors

This skull was fashioned from a skull and jaw found in the remains of 17 pre-humans (nine adults, three youths and five children) which were discovered in the Afar Region of Ethiopia in 1975. They are believed to have lived 3.2million years ago

human ancestors

Meet ‘Mrs Ples’ who was unearthed in Sterkfontein, South Africa in 1947. Her whole skull was found and it is believed she lived 2.5million years ago. Sediment traces found on the inside of her skull indicate to scientists that she died by falling into a chalk pit

human ancestors

The skull of this male adult was found on the western shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya in 1985. He is believed to have lived in 2.5million years ago. The shape of the mouth indicates that he had a strong bite and that he could chew sinewy plants

human ancestors

This species of sub-human – Homo rudolfensis – was found in Koobi Fora, Kenya, in 1972. The adult male is believed to have lived about 1.8million years ago. He used stone axes ate meat and plants and lived on the wooded edge of Lake Turkana in Eastern Africa

human ancestors

Researchers shaped this skull on the basis of this discovery of ‘Zinj’ in 1959. The adult male lived 1.8million years ago in the Olduvai Gorge of Tanzania. He would have fed himself on seeds, plants and roots which he dug out with bones

human ancestors

The near-complete skeleton of ‘Turkana Boy’, a male adolescent aged about 13, was found in Nariokotome, Kenya, in 1984. He lived 1.6million years ago. His teeth and skull bear a close resemblance to discoveries in Asia of homo erectus

Experts are often forced to resort to educated guesswork to fill in the gaps in research to come up with images of human ancestors.

Each new discovery means paleoanthropologists have to rethink the origins of man’s ancestors.

The previously held concept of primitive man – characterised by a large brain and the ability to manufacture tools – has had to be changed by researchers.

European natives of primitive man, homo heidelbergensis, are believed to have been able to make perfect javelins from wood 400,000 years ago and are also thought to have had the ability to plan for the future.

Neanderthals are also now thought to have had far more culture and craft skills than earlier research indicated.

human ancestors

Discovered in Java, Indonesea, this skull belonging to ‘Sangiran 17’ is believed to have belonged to an adult male who probably lived around 800,000 years ago. He was found by an Indonesian farmer hacking away in a field. Sangiran is believed to have used fire

human ancestors

The discovery of this adult male in Sima de los Huesos, Spain, in 1993 points to an early stage in the evolution of neanderthal man due to the shape of his face. ‘Miquelon’ was around 1.75m tall and lived about 500,000 to 350,000 years ago. His remains were found with that of 31 others which led researchers to believe this was a burial site

human ancestors

The skull and jaw of this female ‘hobbit’ was found in Liang Bua, Flores, Indonesia, in 2003. She was about 1m tall and lived about 18,000 years ago. The discovery brought into question the belief that Homo sapiens was the only form of mankind for the past 30,000 years. Homo sapiens are the primate species to which modern humans belong

human ancestors

The ‘Old man of La Chapelle’ was recreated from the skull and jaw of a male found near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in France in 1908. He lived 56,000 years ago. His skeleton indicated he suffered a number of illness including arthritis and had numerous broken bones. This was not noticed when he was first discovered and gave rise to the mistaken belief that neanderthal man was a hunched individual. His relatively old age of between 40 to 50 indicates he was looked after by a clan