Monday, May 18, 2009


Neandertal Geome Project

Draft Version Of The Neanderthal Genome Completed

ScienceDaily (Feb. 16, 2009) — Scientists they have completed a first draft version of the Neandertal genome.
See also:
Fossils & Ruins

* Early Humans
* Human Evolution
* Fossils
* Anthropology
* Cultures
* Evolution


* Neandertal interaction with Cro-Magnons

Neandertal interaction with Cro-Magnons

Neanderthals apparently co-existed with anatomically modern humans beginning some 100,000 years ago.

However, about 45,000 years ago, at about the time that stoneworking techniques similar to those of Cro-Magnon people appeared in Europe, Neanderthals began to be displaced..

For more information about the topic Neandertal interaction with Cro-Magnons, read the full article at, or see the following related articles:

Neanderthal — The Neanderthal or Neandertal was a species of Homo (Homo (sapiens) neanderthalensis) that inhabited Europe and parts of western Asia from about ... > read more

* The Genographic Project
* Neanderthal
* Homo (genus)

The project, made possible by financing from the Max Planck Society, is directed by Prof. Svante Pääbo, Director of the Institute’s Department of Evolutionary Genetics and Anthropology. Pääbo and his colleagues have sequenced more than one billion DNA fragments extracted from three Croatian Neandertal fossils, using novel methods developed for this project. The Neandertal genome sequence will clarify the evolutionary relationship between humans and Neandertals as well as help identify those genetic changes that enabled modern humans to leave Africa and rapidly spread around the world, starting around 100,000 years ago.

Neandertals were the closest relatives of currently living humans. They lived in Europe and parts of Asia until they became extinct about 30,000 years ago. For more than a hundred years, paleontologists and anthropologists have been striving to uncover their evolutionary relationship to modern humans.

Pääbo, a pioneer in the field of ancient DNA research, made the first contribution to the understanding of our genetic relationship to Neandertals when he sequenced Neandertal mitochondrial DNA in 1997. Together with the company 454 Life Sciences, Pääbo has now announced a new milestone in Neandertal research. The two groups have sequenced a total of more than 3 billion bases of Neandertal DNA, generating a first draft sequence of the entire Neandertal genome. Altogether, these fragments make up more than 60% of the entire Neandertal genome. These DNA sequences can now be compared to the previously sequenced human and chimpanzee genomes in order to arrive at some initial insights into how the genome of this extinct form differed from that of modern humans.

In 2006, Pääbo’s group published papers together with 454 Life Sciences that showed that it was possible to use the 454 technology to determine large amounts of nuclear DNA sequences from late Pleistocene animals such as mammoths as well as the Neandertal. Building on these results, Pääbo and Dr. Michael Egholm, Vice President of Research and Technology of 454 Life Sciences, a Roche Company, initiated an ambitious project to sequence the Neandertal genome. Together, the groups have overcome a number of technical obstacles in order to arrive at this first view of the entire genome of an extinct form of human.

One essential element developed by Pääbo’s group was the production of sequencing libraries under “clean-room” conditions to avoid contamination of experiments by human DNA. They also designed DNA sequence tags that carry unique identifiers and are attached to the ancient DNA molecules in the clean room. This makes it possible to avoid contamination from other sources of DNA during the sequencing procedure, which was a problem in the initial proof-of-principle experiments in 2006. They also used minute amounts of radioactively labeled DNA to identify and modify those steps in the sequencing procedure where losses occur. Together with other advances implemented during the project, these innovations drastically reduced the need for precious fossil material so that less than half a gram of bone was used to produce the draft sequence of 3 billion base pairs.

In order to reliably compare the Neandertal DNA sequences to those of humans and chimpanzees, the Leipzig group has performed detailed studies of where chemical damage tends to occur in the ancient DNA and how it causes errors in the DNA sequences. The researchers found that such errors occur most frequently towards the ends of molecules and that the vast majority of them are due to a particular modification of one of the bases in the DNA that occurs over time in fossil remains. They then applied this knowledge to identify which of the DNA fragments from the fossils come from the Neandertal genome and which from microorganisms that have colonized the bones during the thousands of years they lay buried in the caves. They have also developed novel and more sensitive computer algorithms to put the Neandertal DNA fragments in order and compare them to the human genome.

In total, the group has determined over 100 million DNA sequence fragments from fossils by the 454 technology and over a billion DNA sequences with the Solexa technology, another sequencing technology which is particularly efficient in reading many short sequences. The majority of the sequence comes from Neandertal bones from Vindija Cave in Croatia, which the group studies as a part of a long-term collaboration between the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy.

In order to test if the findings from this Neandertal are typical of those of other Neandertals, the researchers have also sequenced several million base pairs from Neandertals from other sites. Professor Javier Fortea and colleagues from Oviedo, Spain, have excavated 43,000-year-old Neandertal bones under sterile conditions at El Sidron, Spain, that have yielded DNA sequences, while Dr. Lubov Golovanova and Dr. Vladimir Doronichev from St. Petersburg, Russia, have contributed a 60-70,000-year-old bone from Mezmaiskaya Cave in the Caucasus.

In addition, Dr. Ralf Schmitz from the LVR-Landesmuseum in Bonn, Germany has allowed a sample to be removed from the 40,000-year-old Neandertal type specimen, which was found in 1856 in the Neander Valley, the source of the name, Neandertal. This will allow crucial findings from the Croatian Neandertal to be verified in several Neandertals including the specimen that defines the Neandertals as a distinct group.

In order to aid in the analysis of the Neandertal genome, Dr. Pääbo has organized a consortium of researchers from around the world that plans to publish their results later this year. They will look at many genes of special interest in recent human evolution, such as FOXP2, which is involved in speech and language in modern humans, as well as genes such as the Tau locus and the microcephalin-1, implicated in brain aging and development, respectively. Variants of the latter genes found among present-day humans have been suggested to have come from Neandertals. The preliminary results suggest that Neandertals have contributed, at most, a very small fraction of the variation found in contemporary human populations.

Other Resources:
Neanderthals Speak Again After 30,000 Years (Apr. 21, 2008) — An anthropologist has reconstructed vocal tracts that simulate the sound of the Neanderthal voice. Using 50,000-year-old fossils from France and a computer synthesizer, the researcher has generated a ... > read more
Synchrotron Reveals How Neanderthal Teeth Grew (Nov. 27, 2006) — Scientists from the United Kingdom, France and Italy have studied teeth from Neanderthals with X-rays from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF). They found that the dental development ... > read more

Inconsistencies With Neanderthal Genomic DNA Sequences (Oct. 14, 2007) — The sequencing of Neanderthal nuclear DNA from fossil bone held promise for finally answering the question of whether the Neanderthals are ancestors of ours. However, two recent studies came to very ... > read more
Skulls Of Modern Humans And Ancient Neanderthals Evolved Differently Because Of Chance, Not Natural Selection (Mar. 20, 2008) — New research adds to the evidence that chance, rather than natural selection, best explains why the skulls of modern humans and ancient Neanderthals evolved differently. The findings may alter how ... > read more

Early Modern Human Skull Includes Surprising Neanderthal Feature (Aug. 10, 2007) — In 1942, a human braincase was found in Romania during phosphate mining. The skull's geological age has remained uncertain. Now, new radiocarbon analysis directly dates the skull to approximately ... > read more



40,000 yr.old Venus Figurine of Hohle Fels

Science News

Ivory Venus Figurine From The Swabian Jura Rewrites Prehistory

ScienceDaily (May 14, 2009) — The 2008 excavations at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany recovered a female figurine carved from mammoth ivory from the basal Aurignacian deposit. This figurine, which is the earliest depiction of a human, and one of the oldest known examples of figurative art worldwide, was made at least 35,000 years ago. This discovery radically changes our views of the context and meaning of the earliest Paleolithic art.

Between September 5 and 15, 2008 excavators at Hohle Fels near the town of Schelklingen recovered the six fragments of carved ivory that form the Venus. The importance of the discovery became apparent on September 9 when an excavator recovered the main piece of the sculpture that represents the majority of the torso. The figurine lay about 3 meters below the current surface of the cave in an area about 20 meters from the cave’s entrance. The finds come from a single quarter meter and were recovered from within 8 cm in the vertical dimension. The Venus from Hohle Fels is nearly complete with only the left arm and shoulder missing. The excellent preservation and the close stratigraphic association of the pieces of the figurine indicate that the Venus experienced little disturbance after deposition.

The figurine originates from a red-brown, clayey silt at the base of about one meter of Aurignacian deposits.The Venus lay in pieces next to a number of limestone blocks with dimension of several decimeters. The find density in the area of the Venus is moderately high with much flint knapping debris, worked bone and ivory, bones of horse, reindeer, cave bear, mammoth, ibex, as well as burnt bone.

Radiocarbon dates from this horizon span the entire range from 31,000 – 40,000 years ago. The fact that the venus is overlain by five Aurignacian horizons that contain a dozen stratigraphically intact anthropogenic features with a total thickness of 70 – 120 cm, suggests that figurine is indeed of an age corresponding to the start of the Aurignacian around 40,000 years ago.

Although much ivory working debris has been recovered from the basal Aurignacian deposits at Hohle Fels and the nearby site of Geißenklösterle, this sculpture is the first example of figurative art recovered from the basal Aurignacian in Swabia. The discovery of the Venus of Hohle Fels refutes claims that figurative representations and other symbolic artifacts first appear the later phases of the Swabian Aurignacian.

The Venus shows a range of entirely unique features as well as a number of characteristics present in later female figurines. The Venus of Hohle Fels lacks a head. Instead an off-centered, but carefully carved ring is located above the broad shoulders of the figurine. This ring, despite being weathered, preserves polish suggesting that the figurine was worn as a pendant. Beneath the shoulders, which are roughly as thick as they are wide, large breasts project forward. The figurine has two short arms with two carefully carved hands with visible fingers resting on the upper part of the stomach below the breasts.

The Venus has a short and squat form with a waist that is slightly narrower than the broad shoulders and wide hips. Multiple deeply incised horizontal lines cover the abdomen from the area below the breast to the pubic triangle. Several of these horizontal lines extend to the back of the figurine and are suggestive of clothing or a wrap of some sort. Microscopic images show that these incisions were created by repeatedly cutting along the same lines with sharp stone tools.

The legs of the Venus are short and pointy. The buttocks and genitals are depicted in more details. The split between the two halves of the buttocks is deep and continues without interruption to the front of the figurine where the vulva is visible between the open legs. There can be no doubt that the depiction of oversized breast, exentuated buttocks and genitalia result from the deliberate exaggeration of the sexual features of the figurine. In addition to the many carefully depicted anatomical features, the surface of the Venus preserves numerous lines and deliberate markings.

Many of the features, including the emphasis on sexual attributes and lack of emphasis on the head, face and arms and legs, call to mind aspects of the numerous Venus figurines well known from the European Gravettien, which typically date between 22 and 27 ka BP. The careful depiction of the hands is reminiscent of those of Venuses including that of archetypal Venus of Willendorf, which was discovered 100 years earlier in summer of 1908. Despite the far greater age of the Venus of Hohle Fels, many of its attributes occur in various forms throughout the rich tradition of Paleolithic female representations.

The new figurine from Hohle Fels radically changes our view of origins of Paleolithic art. Prior to this discovery, animals and therianthropic imagry dominated the over two dozen figurines from the Swabian Aurignacian. Female imagry was entirely unknown. With this discovery, the notion that three dimensional female imagry developed in the Gravettian can be rejected. Also the interpretations suggesting that strong, aggressive animals or shamanic depictions dominate the Aurignacian art of Swabia, or even Europe as a whole, need to be reconsidered. Although there is a long history of debate over the meaning of Paleolithic Venuses, their clear sexual attributes suggest that they are a direct or indirect expression of fertility. The Venus of Hohle Fels provides an entirely new view of the art from the early Upper Paleolithic and reinforces the arguments that have been made for innovative cultural manifestations accompanying the rise of the Swabian Aurignacian.

While many researchers, including Nicholas Conard, assume that the Aurignacian artworks were made by early modern humans shortly after their migration into Europe, this assumption can neither be confirmed or refuted based on the available skeletal data from the Swabian caves.

The Venus of Hohle Fels forms a center piece for a major exhibit in Stuttgart entitled Ice Age Art and Culture, which will run from September 18, 2009 – January 10, 2010.

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Aurignacian Period- 40,000 to 28,000 yrs Ago

Aurignacian Period

By K. Kris Hirst,

Definition: The Aurignacian period (40,000 to 28,000 years ago) is an Upper Paleolithic stone tool tradition, usually considered associated with both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals throughout Europe and parts of Africa. The Aurignacian's big leap forward is the production of blade tools by flaking pieces of stone off a larger piece of stone, thought to be an indication of more refined tool making.

Some Recent Studies

Balter, Michael 2006 First Jewelry? Old Shell Beads Suggest Early Use of Symbols. Science 312(1731).

Higham, Tom, et al. 2006 Revised direct radiocarbon dating of the Vindija G1 Upper Paleolithic Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10(1073):1-5 (early edition).

Straus, Lawrence G. 2005 The Upper Paleolithic of Cantabrian Spain. Evolutionary Anthropology 14(4):145-158.

Street, Martin, Thomas Terberger, and J&oumlrg Orschiedt 2006 A critical review of the German Paleolithic hominin record. Journal of Human Evolution 51:551-579.

Verpoorte, A. 2005 The first modern humans in Europe? A closer look at the dating evidence from the Swabian Jura (Germany). Antiquity 79(304):269-279.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology. Any mistakes are the responsibility of Kris Hirst.

Examples: St. Césaire (France), Chauvet Cave (France), L'Arbreda Cave (Spain)


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