Saturday, July 26, 2008


Missing Links - Theories

Every few years scientists unearth the bones of humanity's forefathers. From Lucy to the Hobbits of Flores Island -- we are gradually seeing building the puzzle of mankind's evolution. - Ker Than

Image credit: Denis Finnin, American Museum of Natural History

Australopithecus afarensis

The most famous member of this species is Lucy, an adult female skeleton discovered in 1974 and nicknamed after a Beatles song. Lucy lived about 3.18 million years ago and was fully capable of walking and running on two legs.


Image credit: Two Guys Fossils

Australopithecus africanus

A. africanus was an early descendent of Lucy and lived in Southern Africa between 2 million and 3 million years ago. Its brain was larger than Lucy's and its facial features were more human-like.


Image credit: Two Guys Fossils

Paranthropus aethiopicus

This early ape-like hominid walked on two legs and lived between 2.8 million and 2.2 million years ago. Based on skull measurements, scientists concluded this species had the smallest adult hominid brain ever discovered.


Image credit: Two Guys Fossils

Paranthropus bosei

If P. bosei and its relatives weren't such picky eaters, we might not be here to wonder about them. They split from the line leading to modern human some 2 million years ago and lived alongside our ancestors for millions of years, but died out after failing to adapt their diets.


Image credit: Two Guys Fossils

Homo habilis

Many scientists believe H. habilis is the missing link between the ape-like hominids like Lucy and the more human-like ones that came after. It had long ape-like arms but walked on two feet and was capable of creating crude tools.


Image credit: Two Guys Fossils

Homo ergaster

Scientists can't decide whether this African hominid is just a failed predecessor of H. erectus or the rightful ancestor of modern humans. It had a thinner skull than H. erectus and was more proficient at making tools and using fire.


Image credit: Russell L. Ciochon, University of Iowa

Homo erectus

For H. erectus, it may have paid to be dense. According to one theory, males rammed each other with their thick skulls in order to win females. H. erectus is generally believed to be the direct ancestor of modern humans and also the first hominid to live in caves and tame fire.


Image credit: Peter Schouten and the National Geographic Society

Homo floresiensis

It turns out those Floresians were actually on to something. For centuries, their mythology described a race of very small human-like creatures called the Ebu Gogo. Hardly anyone took them seriously, however, until 2003, when word broke that a new species of diminutive hominids was discovered on the Indonesian island.


Image credit: Two Guys Fossils


These people looked identical to modern humans and lived in Europe between 35,000 and 10,000 years ago. Their cave paintings and sculptures are the earliest known examples of art by a prehistoric people.


Image credit: Thomas Ihle, Mettmann Neanderthal Museum


Stocky and squat and well suited for the cold, Neanderthals looked distinctly different from modern humans. But they were like us in other ways: they buried their dead, cared for their sick and injured and may have been capable of language and music. Scientists recently put together a complete Neanderthal skeleton and are working on the genome.


Thursday, July 24, 2008


Mankind' Cradle - video

Related Video


Sunday, July 20, 2008


Iron Age Bog Man - Hair Gel

Photo in the News: Iron Age "Bog Man" Used Imported Hair Gel

Photo: Head of a preserved Irish bog man
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January 17, 2006—Fancy imported hair gel is, unfortunately, no guard against a good solid axe blow to the skull.

This sad fact is illuminated by Clonycavan man (pictured above) who suffered three blows from an axe to his head, one to his chest, and was also disemboweled before being mummified in an Irish peat bog.

Experts studying the remains of the murder victim say he likely lived between 392 B.C. and 201 B.C. The man's hair contains a substance made from vegetable oil mixed with resin from pine trees found in Spain and southwest France. The man might have used the product, researchers say, to make himself appear taller.

The team is also studying the remains of another ancient "bog man" discovered nearby, Oldcroghan man, whose lifelike hands display finely manicured nails. For more about the two well-groomed bog bodies, read "Murdered 'Bog Men' Found With Hair Gel, Manicured Nails."

Details about the bog men will be revealed in a television documentary to air on the BBC in Britain this Friday.

—Victoria Gilman


Murdered "Bog Men" Found With Hair Gel, Manicured Nails

James Owen in London
for National Geographic News
January 17, 2006

Male grooming has an ancient history in Ireland, if the savagely murdered bodies of two ancient "bog men" are anything to go by.

One shows the first known example of Iron Age hair gel (see photo), experts say. The other wore manicured nails and stood 6 feet 6 inches (198 centimeters) tall.

Discovered in peat bogs in central Ireland, the well-preserved human remains were unveiled this month in Dublin.

Researchers say the men were probably wealthy, well-connected individuals. Living well over 2,000 years ago, both were tortured and killed while in their early 20s, possibly as ritual sacrifices.

The bodies were uncovered by accident in 2003 at separate commercial peat workings just 25 miles (40 kilometers) apart.

Peat wetlands in northwest Europe are well-known for their bog bodies. The wetlands provide cold, acidic, oxygen-free conditions, which prevent decay and mummify human flesh.

The two new Irish bog men were named after the places where they were found: Croghan Hill and Clonycavan.

Oldcroghan man was preserved so perfectly that his discovery sparked a police murder investigation before archaeologists were called in.

Radiocarbon dating showed that he lived between 362 B.C and 175 B.C., while Clonycavan man dates from 392 B.C. to 201 B.C.

A team lead by researchers at the National Museum of Ireland studied the two bodies. The scientists say the fingerprint whorls of Oldcroghan man are as clear as any living person's.

"He had very well manicured nails, and his fingertips and hands were indicative of somebody who didn't carry out any manual labor. So we presume he came from the upper echelons of society," said Isabella Mulhall, the museum's Bog Bodies Project coordinator.

"He had no scars on his body, either—just the equivalent of two small paper cuts to one of his hands," she added.

Headless Corpse

Although Oldcroghan man is missing his head and lower limbs, the team estimates his height at six feet six inches (198 centimeters), based on his arm span.

"That was a shock to us," Mulhall said. "He's probably the tallest bog body known from Europe."

Had the two bog men met, Oldcroghan man would have towered over Clonycavan man, who measured just 5 feet, 2 inches (157 centimeters) tall.

Perhaps to compensate for his short stature, Clonycavan man coiffed up his hair using an early hair gel.

"Naturally enough, he wanted to make himself look grander," Mulhall said. "It's a bit like someone wearing platform shoes."

Analysis of the substance by archaeologist Stephen Buckley from the University of York in England showed the gel was made of vegetable plant oil mixed with resin from pine trees found in Spain and southwest France.

The study team says the hair product is evidence of Iron Age trade across Western Europe.

While both bog men appeared to be aristocratic dandies of their day, they still met horrible deaths.

Oldcroghan man shows signs of cruel torture before he was beheaded.

"He was stabbed, his nipples were sliced, and he had holes cut in his upper arms through which a rope was threaded in order to restrain him," Mulhall said. He was also cut in half across the torso.

Meanwhile, Clonycavan man suffered three axe blows to the head, plus one to his chest and was also disemboweled.

"There was definitely an attempt to use several different methods to traumatize and torture the men," Mulhall added.

Grisly Finds

Similar evidence of grisly murders has been seen in other bog bodies found in Britain, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands.

For instance, Lindow man, displayed at London's British Museum, was struck twice on the head, garroted, and had his throat slit from ear to ear.

Various explanations have put forward for such bogland killings. These include punishment for breaking ancient codes of honor.

In the case of the two Irish bog men, the study team says they were probably used as sacrifices to pagan gods.

Ned Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, suggests the bodies were offered to fertility gods by kings to ensure a successful reign. The victims were possibly political hostages.

Kelly says the bodies were placed on the borders of tribal boundaries "to ensure a good yield of corn and milk throughout the reign of the king."

More than 35 scientists worked on the Bog Bodies Project, which also revealed that Oldcroghan man's last meal consisted of buttermilk and cereals.

"We got a good overall account of these people both during their lives and at their deaths," Mulhall said.

The bog bodies will go on display at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin in May this year.

Details of the finds are outlined in a television documentary to air on the BBC in Britain this Friday.



Iron Age Arab in Danish Grave

"Arab" Found in Danish Iron-Age Grave

June 24, 2008

An ancient Dane with Arabian genes is part of a DNA study that suggests Scandinavians of 2,000 years ago were more genetically diverse than today.

Researchers say the Iron Age man may have been a soldier serving on the Roman Empire's northern frontier or a descendant of female slaves transported from the Middle East.

The Roman Empire at the time stretched as far as the Middle East, while Roman legions were based as far north as the River Elbe in northern Germany.

The study analyzed 18 well-preserved bodies from two burial sites dating from 0 to A.D. 400 in eastern Denmark. The sites were originally excavated some 20 years ago.

Mitochondrial DNA, which provides a genetic record of an individual's maternal ancestry, was taken from teeth by a team led by Linea Melchior of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Copenhagen.

One skeleton had a type of DNA signature—known as a haplogroup—closely associated with the Arabian Peninsula, according to Melchior.

"It's especially found among some Bedouin tribes, but it has also been found in the southern part of Europe," the researcher said.

Iron Age Grave

The skeleton came from Bøgebjerggård, an Iron Age site on the southern part of the island of Sjælland (Zealand).

(See a map of Denmark.)

The bodies likely belonged to poor farmers, the team said.

Other unusual haplogroups were identified, including one representing a prehistoric European lineage which today is found in only about 2 percent of Danes, Melchior said.

"It may have been one of the ancient Nordic types which has been diluted by later immigrations from Scandinavia and Germany," she said.

In contrast, the other burial site, at nearby Skovgaarde, contained bodies with a genetic signature common to modern Scandinavians, the study found.

"They were typically of a Nordic type and the diversity is lower," Melchior said.

This group consisted mainly of women and was distinguished by rich grave goods, including finely made rings, necklaces, and ornate hairpins.

"You can see they were dressed up very nicely with beautiful jewelry before being buried," Melchior said.

The Skovgaarde burials are thought to represent the elite of society—people the researchers think arrived from elsewhere in Scandinavia.

The findings, published in November in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, are part of a wider study that suggests Denmark's ancient populations were much more diverse genetically than they are today.

DNA Findings

Reliable DNA results have been obtained for 56 individuals from the late Stone Age through medieval times, Melchior said.

(Read a DNA primer.)

"At all the sites we have investigated in Demark we have found rare [genetic] types and types that are not common or present in Europe today," she said.

"When we go back in time we find much higher diversity," the Melchior added. "It was quite surprising that the lowest diversity was found among Danes of the present day."

One possible explanation put forward by the team is that certain groups were more vulnerable than others to medieval outbreaks of bubonic plague, most notably the Black Death, which alone wiped out around a third of the European population between 1347 and 1351.

Such a theory has been proposed by another recent study, which recorded a similar loss of genetic diversity in English people.

Researchers, including Rus Hoelzel of the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Durham University, U.K, found that during the medieval period one particular haplogroup in England became much more widespread.

This may reflect the fact that families who shared certain genes survived the plague much better than others, said Hoelzel , who was not involved in the Danish study.

"Plague, given the timing, seems a strong candidate, though it isn't the only one," he said.


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