Sunday, November 28, 2010

Antarctic ice reveals trapped secrets of climate change

Cores drilled from the icecap are going on show at London's Science Museum. The centuries-old information they contain could help scientists predict Earth's future weather

They were found deep below Earth's surface, provide vital information about our climate's history and, for the first time, will be publicly displayed in their full freezing glory. Three pieces of ice core, drilled from the Antarctic icecap, one containing bubbles of air from the year 1410, will this week be installed in a glass-fronted freezer cabinet in the Science Museum in London's new Atmosphere gallery.

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Britain's Oldest Brain

The oldest surviving human brain in Britain, dating back at least 2000 years to the Iron Age, was unearthed during excavations on the site of the University of York’s campus expansion at Heslington East in 2008.

Archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust, commissioned by the University to carry out the exploratory dig, made the discovery in an area of extensive prehistoric farming landscape of fields, trackways and buildings dating back to at least 300 BC, and they believe the skull, which was found on its own in a muddy pit, may have been a ritual offering.

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A prehistoric star map carved on a Welsh capstone?

A recent excavation programme at a standing stone known as Trefael, near Newport (south-west Wales) has revealed that what originally was a portal dolmen in later times was transformed in a standing stone, probably used as a ritual marker to guide communities through a scared landscape.

This solitary stone has over 75 cupmarks gouged onto its upper surface. Following the complete exposure of the capstone through excavation, it is now considered by several astronomers that the distribution of the cupmarks may represent a section of the night sky that includes the star constellations of Cassiopeia, Orion, Sirius and of course the North Star.

Until recently, little was known about this stone. About 40 years ago archaeologists had speculated that it may have once formed a capstone which would have covered a small burial chamber. In order to prove or disprove this, a geophysical survey was undertaken, the results of which revealed the remains of a kidney-shaped anomaly, possibly the remnants of the cairn that would have once surrounded the chamber, with an entrance to the east.

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Face it, guys: We’re cubs compared with our forebears

I’m afraid there’s more bad news, boys.

A new book on men is out, and — guess what? — it isn’t flattering to our gender. That’s hardly surprising, given that scientists studying human males invariably conclude that we’re oversexed brutes ruled by the primitive parts of our brains.

Now you can add this: We’re also weaklings. All of us. Even the football “warriors” colliding on our TV screens this holiday weekend.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

'Ancient farm' found at site of new Forth Crossing

Archaeologists believe they may have unearthed the remains of a Neolithic farm on the site where the new Forth road bridge is to be built.

Trial trenches have been dug in a field on the outskirts of South Queensferry on land reserved for the planned Forth Replacement Crossing (FRC).

Archaeologists plan further excavations to confirm what they believe is an early version of a croft or small farm.

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Archaeologists bridge the gap between old and new

ARCHAEOLOGISTS believe they may have unearthed the remains of a neolithic farm on the site where the new Forth bridge is to be built.
The rare find offers a glimpse of how the land was used 4000 years ago.

Trial trenches have been dug across a field on the outskirts of South Queensferry on land reserved for the new crossing.

Among items dug up so far are bits of neolithic pottery, clearly decorated with patterns, as well as a flint arrowhead.

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Exeter university student sparks new Stonehenge theory

A REVOLUTIONARY new idea on the movement of big monument stones like those at Stonehenge has been put forward by an archaeology student at the University of Exeter.

While an undergraduate, Andrew Young saw a correlation between standing stone circles in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and a concentration of carved stone balls, which may have been used to help transport the big stones by functioning like ball bearings.

Young discovered that many of the late Neolithic stone balls had a diameter within a millimetre of each other, which he felt indicated they would have been used together in some way rather than individually.

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Researchers Kick-Start Ancient DNA

Binghamton University researchers recently revived ancient bacteria trapped for thousands of years in water droplets embedded in salt crystals.

For decades, geologists have looked at these water droplets -- called fluid inclusions -- and wondered whether microbes could be extracted from them. Fluid inclusions have been found inside salt crystals ranging in age from thousands to hundreds of millions years old.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stone age skull found in Orkney

AN ALMOST intact human skull which may date back 5,000 years has been exhumed from a tomb in South Ronaldsay in Orkney.
The burial chamber containing a collection of bones was discovered by boat owner Hamish Mowatt, who caught a glimpse inside the tomb in September, when he was tidying the garden of a bistro owned by his fiancée, Carole Fletcher.

Archeologists believe the layout of the newly uncovered tomb may shed light on the rituals and beliefs of our neolithic ancestors. Dan Lee, project officer with the Orkney Research Centre for Archeology, said: "It's an important site because it gives us the chance to investigate a tomb using modern archaeological techniques.

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Modern man outlived Neanderthals due to 'live slow and grow old' strategy

Modern man developed a better brain than Neanderthals because of our "live slow and grow old" strategy, a study claimed.

Humans became more sophisticated than other species because of our uniquely slow physical development and long childhood, it was claimed.

Other primates have shorter gestation, mature faster in childhood, reproduce at a younger age and have shorter lifespans, even when compared with early humans.

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Synchrotron reveals human children outpaced Neanderthals by slowing down

Human childhood is considerably longer than chimpanzees, our closest-living ape relatives. A multinational team of specialists, led by researchers from Harvard University, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) and the ESRF, applied cutting-edge synchrotron X-ray imaging to resolve microscopic growth in 10 young Neanderthal and Homo sapiens fossils. They found that despite some overlap, which is common in closely-related species, significant developmental differences exist. Modern humans are the slowest to the finish line, stretching out their maturation, which may have given them a unique evolutionary advantage.

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Neandertal Children Developed on the Fast Track

Parents who think their kids are growing up too fast should be glad they're not Neandertals. A new study of the fossilized teeth of eight Neandertal children finds that their permanent teeth grew significantly faster and erupted earlier than those of our own species, Homo sapiens. Taken with recent studies showing subtle differences in the brain maturation and developmental genes in Neandertals and H. sapiens, the new data suggest Neandertal kids may have reached adulthood a few years faster than modern human children do.

Researchers have long known that humans grow up slowly. We take almost twice as long as chimpanzees to reach adulthood. Our distant ancestors were more like chimps; Lucy and other australopithecines, for example, matured quickly and died young. When—and why—did we evolve the ability to prolong childhood?

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Flint tools found in 5,500-year-old tomb

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have uncovered flint tools while excavating a portal tomb dating back 5,500 years in Co

Cormac McSparron, from the Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork at Queen's University, said they had expected to find human burial, but the nature of the soil at Tirnony dolmen, near Maghera, had caused any bones to decay completely.

"We have found several different types of flint tools – a couple of really fne fint knives and scrapers placed into the tomb with the personal possessions of the deceased, presumably for them to take with them into the afterlife," he said.

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Prehistoric Ilkley Moor carvings to be preserved in 3D

Prehistoric carvings on Ilkley Moor are to be preserved with help from the latest technology so future generations will be able to enjoy and study them.

Archaeologists hope to create digital 3D models of the carvings amid fears the originals could be eroded away.

Community archaeologist Gavin Edwards said this was an important development.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ancient DNA Reveals Origins Of First European Farmers

A team of international researchers led by ancient DNA experts from the University of Adelaide has helped resolve the longstanding issue of the origins of the people who introduced farming to Europe some 8000 years ago. A detailed genetic study of one of the first farming communities in Europe, from central Germany, reveals marked similarities with populations living in the Ancient Near East (modern-day Turkey, Iraq and other countries) rather than those from Europe. The results of the study will today in the online peer-reviewed science journal PLoS Biology.

Lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak, of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide, says "We have shown that the first farmers in Europe had a much greater genetic input from the Near East and Anatolia, than from populations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers who already existed in the area."

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Early Cities Spurred Evolution of Immune System?

"Amazing" DNA results show benefits of ancient urbanization, study says.

As in cities today, the earliest towns helped expose their inhabitants to inordinate opportunities for infection—and today their descendants are stronger for it, a new study says.

"If cities increase the amount of disease people are exposed to, shouldn't they also, over time, make them natural places for disease resistance to evolve?" asked study co-author Mark Thomas, a biologist at University College London.

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The brains of Neanderthals and modern humans developed differently

Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have documented species differences in the pattern of brain development after birth that are likely to contribute to cognitive differences between modern humans and Neanderthals.

Whether cognitive differences exist between modern humans and Neanderthals is the subject of contentious disputes in anthropology and archaeology. Because the brain size range of modern humans and Neanderthals overlap, many researchers previously assumed that the cognitive capabilities of these two species were similar. Among humans, however, the internal organization of the brain is more important for cognitive abilities than its absolute size is. The brain’s internal organization depends on the tempo and mode of brain development.

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Ancient DNA from European Early Neolithic Farmers Reveals Their Near Eastern Affinities

In Europe, the Neolithic transition (8,000–4,000 B.C.) from hunting and gathering to agricultural communities was one of the most important demographic events since the initial peopling of Europe by anatomically modern humans in the Upper Paleolithic (40,000 B.C.). However, the nature and speed of this transition is a matter of continuing scientific debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics. To date, inferences about the genetic make up of past populations have mostly been drawn from studies of modern-day Eurasian populations, but increasingly ancient DNA studies offer a direct view of the genetic past. We genetically characterized a population of the earliest farming culture in Central Europe, the Linear Pottery Culture (LBK; 5,500–4,900 calibrated B.C.) and used comprehensive phylogeographic and population genetic analyses to locate its origins within the broader Eurasian region, and to trace potential dispersal routes into Europe.

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Fertile Crescent farmers took DNA to Germany

DNA evidence suggests that immigrants from the Ancient Near East brought farming to Europe, and spread the practice to the region's hunter-gatherer communities, according to Australian-led research.

A genetic study of ancient DNA, published in PLoS Biology today, adds crucial information to the long-running debate about how farming was introduced to Europe's nomadic hunter-gatherer societies almost 8000 years ago.

An international research team, led by University of Adelaide experts, compared ancient DNA from the remains of Early Neolithic farmers at a burial site in central Germany with a large genetic database of European and Eurasian populations.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Babies' brains 'resemble those of Neanderthals'

New-born humans' brains are about the same size and of similar appearance to those of Neanderthals, but alter in the first year of life, a new scientific study suggested.

The differences between our brains and those of our extinct relatives take shape mainly after birth and in the initial 12 months, a report in Current Biology said.

The findings are based on comparisons of virtual imprints of the developing brain and surrounding structures, called endocasts, derived from the skulls of modern and fossilised humans, including that of a newborn Neanderthal.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Dig uncovers prehistoric burials

ARCHAEOLOGISTS are unearthing another fascinating glimpse of the island’s prehistoric past.

A dig currently being carried out near the Balthane industrial estate in Ballasalla has uncovered remains of Neolithic urns dating back 4,000 years together with later Bronze Age burial cists.

Another excavation nearby has unearthed more cremation urns.

Both digs are being carried out by teams from Oxford Archaeology.

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CSI Iron Age

Next week, a forensic anthropologist will explain how scientists reopened the oldest cold case in Irish history. Clodagh Finn on the investigation into the brutal slaying of two important aristocrats

The first thing that strikes you about one of Ireland's oldest murder victims is his beautifully manicured hands. This man, who once stood an impressive 6ft 6in tall, never did a day's manual labour in his life.

In fact, his fingerprint whorls were so perfectly preserved when his remains came out of the bog near Croghan Hill in Co Meath in May 2003 that gardai were called in to investigate a possible murder.

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Items found in Monmouth shed light on Mesolithic man

The discovery of artefacts during gas mains excavations in Monmouth has helped illustrate how the River Wye supported a Stone Age camp.

Archaeologists found flint tools and bone fragments at St James's Square and Wyebridge Street.

They indicate hunter-gatherers used the River Wye for food and transport some 6,500 to 7,500 years ago.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Megalithic tomb’s secrets revealed after 5,500 years

Flint tools from the dawn of time and an ancient blue glass bead have been uncovered by archaeologists excavating a portal tomb in Northern Ireland for the first time in 50 years.

The team are thrilled with the discoveries yielded by Tirnony dolmen near Maghera.

Portal tombs, which are among the oldest built structures still surviving in the province, are usually off limits to archaeologists as preservation orders protect them from intrusive processes such as excavations.

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World's oldest axe found in Australia

Archaeologists have discovered a piece of a stone axe in far northern Australia, which they believe is the oldest of its kind to have been found.

The 35,500-year-old piece was found in a remote part of the Northern Territory among traditional Aboriginal rock art paintings dating back to thousands of years ago.

The shard bears some marks which show that it was once part of a ground-edge stone axe.

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Beer Lubricated the Rise of Civilization, Study Suggests

May beer have helped lead to the rise of civilization? It's a possibility, some archaeologists say.

Their argument is that Stone Age farmers were domesticating cereals not so much to fill their stomachs but to lighten their heads, by turning the grains into beer. That has been their take for more than 50 years, and now one archaeologist says the evidence is getting stronger.

Signs that people went to great lengths to obtain grains despite the hard work needed to make them edible, plus the knowledge that feasts were important community-building gatherings, support the idea that cereal grains were being turned into beer, said archaeologist Brian Hayden at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

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Language and toolmaking evolved together, say researchers

Evolutionary advance saw stone-age humans master the art of hand-toolmaking and paved the way for language to develop

Stone-age humans mastered the art of elegant hand-toolmaking in an evolutionary advance that boosted their brain power and potentially paved the way for language, researchers say.

The design of stone tools changed dramatically in human pre-history, beginning more than two million years ago with sharp but primitive stone flakes, and culminating in exquisite, finely honed hand axes 500,000 years ago.

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