Monday, March 23, 2015

Woolly mammoth could roam again as extinct DNA merged with elephant

Harvard University spliced recreated genes from a woolly mammoth into the DNA of an elephant and found they functioned normally

A major step forward in bringing back the woolly mammoth has been taken by scientists at Harvard University who have inserted DNA from the extinct mammal into the genetic code of an elephant.
Geneticists have studied DNA from mammoths which were preserved in Arctic permafrost looking for genes which separated them from elephants, such as hairiness and ear size.
They then replicated the genes and spliced them into the genetic code of an elephant where they functioned normally.
It is the first time that mammoth genes have been alive for more than 3,300 years - although so far it has only been done in the lab.
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Did a volcanic cataclysm 40,000 years ago trigger the final demise of the Neanderthals?

The Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption in Italy 40,000 years ago was one of the largest volcanic cataclysms in Europe and injected a significant amount of sulfur-dioxide (SO2) into the stratosphere. Scientists have long debated whether this eruption contributed to the final extinction of the Neanderthals. This new study by Benjamin A. Black and colleagues tests this hypothesis with a sophisticated climate model. 

Figure 4 in B.A. Black et al.: This image shows annually averaged temperature  anomalies in excess of 3°C for the first year after the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI)  eruption compared with spatial distribution of hominin sites with radiocarbon ages  close to that of the eruption [Credit: B.A. Black et al. and the journal Geology] 

Black and colleagues write that the CI eruption approximately coincided with the final decline of Neanderthals as well as with dramatic territorial and cultural advances among anatomically modern humans. Because of this, the roles of climate, hominin competition, and volcanic sulfur cooling and acid deposition have been vigorously debated as causes of Neanderthal extinction.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

DNA study shows Celts are not a unique genetic group

A depiction of the Celtic Queen Boudicca from AD 1. Why are Celts' descendents not a single genetic grouping?

A DNA study of Britons has shown that genetically there is not a unique Celtic group of people in the UK.
According to the data, those of Celtic ancestry in Scotland and Cornwall are more similar to the English than they are to other Celtic groups.
The study also describes distinct genetic differences across the UK, which reflect regional identities.
And it shows that the invading Anglo Saxons did not wipe out the Britons of 1,500 years ago, but mixed with them.
Published in the Journal Nature, the findings emerge from a detailed DNA analysis of 2,000 mostly middle-aged Caucasian people living across the UK.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Wealth and power may have played a stronger role than 'survival of the fittest'

The DNA you inherit from your parents contributes to the physical make-up of your body -- whether you have blue eyes or brown, black hair or red, or are male or female. Your DNA can also influence whether you might develop certain diseases or disorders such as Crohn's Disease, cystic fibrosis, hemophilia or neurofibromatosis, to name a few.

In a study led by scientists from Arizona State University, the University of Cambridge, University of Tartu and Estonian Biocentre, and published March 13 in an online issue of the journal Genome Research, researchers discovered a dramatic decline in genetic diversity in male lineages four to eight thousand years ago -- likely the result of the accumulation of material wealth, while in contrast, female genetic diversity was on the rise. This male-specific decline occurred during the mid- to late-Neolithic period.
Melissa Wilson Sayres, a leading author and assistant professor with ASU's School of Life Sciences, said, "Instead of 'survival of the fittest' in biological sense, the accumulation of wealth and power may have increased the reproductive success of a limited number of 'socially fit' males and their sons."

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Dan Snow attacks Stonehenge road and tunnel plans

Historian and broadcaster says proposals to remodel A303 would harm neolithic structure, but heritage groups say they could actually help preserve monument

The historian Dan Snow has likened government plans to build a tunnel and widen the road at Stonehenge to vandals and zealots who destroy artefacts of ancient civilisations.
Snow, who is president of the Council for British Archaeology, said: “Of all our many treasures on these islands, none is more internationally revered than Stonehenge.
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Friday, March 13, 2015

Caver finds 20,000 year-old drawings

Prehistoric cave drawings have been discovered in the northern region of Cantabria, dating back about 20,000 years, making the area "the European capital of rock art".

The discovery is the first time that Paleolithic art had been found in the immediate area, the government of Cantabria said in a statement on Thursday.
Culture minister Miguel Angel Serna said the findings make the region a "museum of the Paleolithic period."
"A finding of these characteristics is not found every day, and represents a significant contribution to our heritage, making Cantabria the European capital of rock art," said Serna in a statement.
The art was discovered in the cave 'Aurea', located 50 metres above the river Deva, by the president of a caving club and his wife, La Razón reported.
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Neanderthals modified eagle claws 130,000 years ago

Krapina Neanderthals may have manipulated white-tailed eagle talons to make jewelry 130,000 years ago, before the appearance of modern human in Europe, according to a study* published March 11, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by David Frayer from the University of Kansas and colleagues from Croatia.

Researchers describe eight mostly complete white-tailed eagle talons from the Krapina Neanderthal site in present-day Croatia, dating to approximately 130,000 years ago. These white-tailed eagle bones, discovered more than 100 years ago, all derive from a single time period at Krapina. Four talons bear multiple edge-smoothed cut marks, and eight show polishing facets or abrasion. Three of the largest talons have small notches at roughly the same place along the plantar surface.
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Unique tooth reveals details of the Peking Man’s life

In 2011 a tooth from the Peking Man was found in a box at the Museum of Evolution at Uppsala University. In the latest issue of Acta Anthropologica Sinica, researchers at Uppsala University and a Chinese research institute have now published their analysis of the tooth. The discovery gives us new knowledge about one of the most mythical ancestors of the modern man.
When 40 old, forgotten boxes were found and unpacked by Per Ahlberg, Martin Kundrát and curator Jan Ove Ebbestad in 2011, the tooth was one of the most interesting finds. Two Chinese paleontologists, Liu Wu and Tong Haowen from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, were invited to study the tooth. They could quickly determine that it was a canine tooth from a Peking Man.
‘It is a spectacular find’, says Per Ahlberg. ‘We can see numerous details that tell us about this individual’s life. The crown of the tooth is relatively small, which indicates that it belonged to a woman. The tooth is quite worn, so the individual must have been quite old when she died. In addition, two large chips have been knocked out of the enamel, as if hit by something, or perhaps by biting into something really hard such as a bone or a hard nut. At least one of the chips was old when the individual died, since it is partly worn down.
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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ancient Fossils Reveal Diversity in the Body Structure of Human Ancestors

Recently released research on human evolution has revealed that species of early human ancestors had significant differences in facial features. Now, a University of Missouri researcher and her international team of colleagues have found that these early human species also differed throughout other parts of their skeletons and had distinct body forms. The research team found 1.9 million-year-old pelvis and femur fossils of an early human ancestor in Kenya, revealing greater diversity in the human family tree than scientists previously thought.
“What these new fossils are telling us is that the early species of our genus, Homo, were more distinctive than we thought. They differed not only in their faces and jaws, but in the rest of their bodies too,” said Carol Ward, a professor of pathology and anatomical sciences in the MU School of Medicine. “The old depiction of linear evolution from ape to human with single steps in between is proving to be inaccurate. We are finding that evolution seemed to be experimenting with different human physical traits in different species before ending up with Homo sapiens.”
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Call for Stonehenge access ban to prevent damage

Conservationists have called for the closing of Stonehenge, the popular tourist attraction and monument that is several thousand years old, on the Summer and Winter solstice due to the damage caused by visitors on these days. 

The heritage group claim the damage is "only the tip of a large pile of vandalism"  over the last few years [Credit: SWNS Group] 

A report reveals how during Winter Solstice celebrations at the site in December last year, chewing gum was stuck onto the ancient monument, graffiti was sprayed on the ancient stones, attempts were made to light fires on them, and lines of oil were dripped on several stones. 

Things were much worse during the Summer Solstice in June, when volunteers and staff were "left in tears" and had to clean up vomit and feces. The "appalling stench" and the "urine, vomit and feces" were left around the stones after 37,000 revelers descended on the site to watch the sunrise.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Archaeologists uncover royal Celtic burial site in small French town

France’s National Archaeological Research Institute (Inrap) on Wednesday revealed the discovery of an ancient grave site, probably that of a Celtic prince, which is helping shed light on trade between some of Europe’s earliest civilizations.

Archaeologists uncovered the tomb dating from the fifth century BC in an industrial zone in the small town of Lavau, in France’s Champagne region. Inrap, which routinely scours construction sites in order to find and preserve the country’s archaeological heritage, began excavating at Lavau site in October 2014.

A 40-metre-wide burial mound of the Celtic ruler crowns a larger funeral complex, which archaeologists said preceded the royal’s final resting place, and could have first been built during the Bronze Age.

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Isis attacks on ancient sites erasing history of humanity, says Iraq

The Iraqi antiquities ministry has acknowledged reports of a new attack by Islamic State militants on an ancient Assyrian city north-east of Mosul, reiterated calls for the international community to intervene and condemned the jihadi group for “erasing the history of humanity”.
There have been reports that Isis bulldozed landmarks in the ancient city of Dur Sharrukin, now called Khorsabad. The ministry said it was in keeping with the militant group’s “criminal ideology and persistence in destroying and stealing Iraq’s antiquities”.
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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Magnificent Iron Age cauldron discovered in France

Very interesting news from France where archaeologists working for INRAP have found the remains of a magnificent bronze cauldron. It was discovered inside a large burial mound, which dates from the 5th century BC. Most likely the final resting place of a local Iron Age aristocrat, the mound measures approximately 40m in diameter and is located near the small village of Lavau, in northwestern France. 

Although the excavation is still ongoing, the central burial chamber is starting reveal some of its treasures. The most impressive of these to date is a very large bronze cauldron, which is most likely of Greek or Etruscan manufacture. An item of great prestige, the cauldron reflects the very high status of the person interred inside the burial mound. 

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'First human' discovered in Ethiopia

Scientists have unearthed the jawbone of what they claim is one of the very first humans.
The 2.8 million-year-old specimen is 400,000 years older than researchers thought that our kind first emerged.
The discovery in Ethiopia suggests climate change spurred the transition from tree dweller to upright walker.
The head of the research team told BBC News that the find gives the first insight into "the most important transitions in human evolution".

Start Quote

This is the most important transition in human evolution”
Prof Brian VillmoareUniversity of Nevada
Prof Brian Villmoare of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas said the discovery makes a clear link between an iconic 3.2 million-year-old hominin (human-like primate) discovered in the same area in 1974, called "Lucy".
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Genomes document ancient mass migration to Europe

DNA analysis has revealed evidence for a massive migration into the heartland of Europe 4,500 years ago.
Data from the genomes of 69 ancient individuals suggest that herders moved en masse from the continent's eastern periphery into Central Europe.
These migrants may be responsible for the expansion of Indo-European languages, which make up the majority of spoken tongues in Europe today.
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