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Author Topic: Neanderthal DNA: related to us?  (Read 3108 times)
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« Reply #15 on: October 31, 2006, 11:01:10 AM »

Cave fossils are early Europeans
Archaeologists have identified fossils belonging to some of the earliest modern humans to settle in Europe. The research team has dated six bones found in the Pestera Muierii cave, Romania, to 30,000 years ago. The finds also raise questions about the possible place of Neanderthals in modern human ancestry.

Details of the discoveries appear in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  The human bones were first identified at the Pestera Muierii (Cave of the Old Woman) cave in 1952, but have now been reassessed.

Interesting mix
Only a handful of modern human remains older than 28,000 years old are known from Europe.

Erik Trinkaus from Washington University in St Louis and colleagues obtained radiocarbon dates directly from the fossils and analysed their anatomical form. The results showed that the fossils were 30,000 years old and had the diagnostic features of modern humans (Homo sapiens). But Professor Trinkaus and his colleagues argue, controversially, that the bones also display features that were characteristic of our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis).

Neanderthals appear in the European fossil record around 400,000 years ago. At their peak, these squat, physically powerful hunters dominated a wide range, spanning Britain and Iberia in the west to Israel in the south and Uzbekistan in the east.

Modern humans are thought to have entered Europe around 40,000 years ago, and within 10,000 years, the Neanderthals had largely disappeared from the continent. By 24,000 years ago, the last survivors vanished from their refuge in the Iberian Peninsula.

Ice Age liaisons?
While many researchers think Neanderthals were simply driven to extinction - either by climate change or competition with the moderns - a handful of scientists believe they interbred with the incomers and contributed to the modern human gene pool.

Professor Trinkaus and his co-researchers point to several anatomical features of the Romanian bones that are either primitive-looking or characteristic of Neanderthals. These include a large "occipital bun", a bump or bulge at the back of the skull, as well as other features of the lower jaw and shoulder blade.

"These data reinforce the mosaic nature of these early modern Europeans and the complex dynamics of human reproductive patterns when modern humans dispersed westward across Europe," Professor Trinkaus and his colleagues wrote in PNAS.

"Strict population replacement of the Neanderthals is no longer tenable."


21 - 26 July, 2006 in Bonn
Wighart von Koenigswald
Thomas Litt
« Reply #16 on: November 01, 2006, 12:30:43 PM »

"Strict population replacement of the Neanderthals is no longer tenable."

I don't think it ever was, but much of academia has still to be convinced.
« Reply #17 on: November 16, 2006, 03:40:43 PM »

Our long lost relative
An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Thursday, November 16, 2006
The Neanderthals _ cave men, if you will _ are one of science's great mysteries.

What was their relation to mankind's ancestors when they both inhabited Europe? Did they intermarry? And why did they die out about 30,000 years ago, leaving us as the preeminent hominid?

Research teams in Germany and the United States have got at least a start on answering those questions by painstakingly recovering DNA from a Neanderthal bone fragment that for years lay nearly forgotten in a museum. They believe eventually they will be able to reconstruct the entire Neanderthal genome.

Somewhere, very roughly, around 700,000 years ago, humans and Neanderthals had a common ancestor but the species divided around 500,000 years ago. What little remains and artifacts of the Neanderthals survive tend to show that they were stocky, muscular and, to survive the ice ages, certainly tough.

What was stunning about the scientists' findings is that human DNA is 99.5 percent identical to Neanderthal DNA, differing by only about 3 million base pairs of genes out of a genetic code of 3 billion base pairs.

Perhaps that half a percent is why we're studying Neanderthal DNA and not vice versa.
« Reply #18 on: November 16, 2006, 03:43:02 PM »

Neanderthal Gene Studies Define Ties to Modern Humans
By David McAlary
15 November 2006

Most of what is known about the stocky, muscular Neanderthals has come from a few fossil remains and artifacts found since the first bones were discovered in Germany 150 years ago.  But scientists who have performed a detailed study of a 38,000-year-old piece of Neanderthal leg bone from Croatia say new genetic analysis techniques can help yield much richer insights into their place in the human lineage.

"Instead of being a data-poor field largely based on bones and associated artifacts, it will become a data-rich field associated with DNA and enormous amounts, billions of bits, of data that will be freely available on the Internet," said gene expert Edward Rubin of the U.S. Government's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

He and colleagues extracted a tiny amount of DNA from the Neanderthal bone and examined the structure of about two percent of its genome. The results are in the journal Nature.

Another team, led by geneticist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, used a different technique to analyze about one-third of the Neanderthal genetic sequence from the same bone. These findings appear in the journal Science.

Mr. Rubin says among the findings is that Neanderthals were genetically the closest relatives to modern humans.

"By comparing the entire Neanderthal sequence that we had to the human sequence, we saw that both were very, very close to each other, from 99.5 percent to almost 99.9 percent identical," he added.

Another major discovery is that the lines that led to Neanderthals and modern humans split from a common ancestor roughly 500,000 years ago. The researchers say the date might be refined as larger genetic sequences are analyzed.

But did the two species ever interbreed? That has been a key question among anthropologists, who have differing opinions. The new genetic studies show no evidence for it, but Svante Paabo says it will take further DNA analysis to rule it out. He says more Neanderthal bone discoveries from different regions would help clarify the issue.

"If we start seeing evidence for some interaction from modern humans into Neanderthals, that may be regionalized,? he said.  ?That may be different in the Balkans than it is in central Europe, for example. We are continuing to look for bones, but we don't have anything in hand yet."

Paabo says a complete Neanderthal genome should be available in two years for more detailed comparison to the human genome and to that of the chimpanzee, the closest living relative to humans.

Edward Rubin says such matching will help researchers better understand the biology and behavior of Neanderthals, who became extinct about 30,000 years ago.

"All the functional data will come from the human genome, and the more we know about the human genome, the more we will know about Neanderthals," he added.
« Reply #19 on: November 23, 2006, 10:39:28 AM »

This relates to a number of subjects here:
Neanderthal DNA: related to us?
Black American Roots Frauds
Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts
Chimp-Human relationship
The Palaeolithic Occupation of Europe

This thread is to correlate references.

I mentioned earlier that in my view, science is only just beginning to understand DNA and therefore many of the conclusions offered in history, that use DNA in their evidences, are likely to be premature.

Humans show major DNA differences

DNA comparisons: Gains (red), losses (yellow), the same (green

Scientists have shown that our genetic code varies between individuals far more than was previously thought.

A UK-led team made a detailed analysis of the DNA found in 270 people and identified vast stretches in their codes to be duplicated or even missing.

A great many of these variations are in areas of the genome that would not damage our health, Stephen Scherer and colleagues told the journal Nature.

But others are - and can be shown to play a role in a number of disorders.

To date, the investigation of the human genome has tended to focus on very small changes in DNA that can have deleterious effects - at the scale of just one or a few bases, or "letters", in the biochemical code that programs cellular activity.

And for many years, scientists have also been able to look through microscopes to see very large-scale abnormalities that arise when whole DNA bundles, or chromosomes, are truncated or duplicated.

But it is only recently that researchers have developed the molecular "tools" to focus on medium-scale variations of the code - at the scale of thousands of DNA letters.

Big factor
This analysis of so-called copy number variation (CNV) has now revealed some startling results.

It would seem the assumption that the DNA of any two humans is 99.9% similar in content and identity no longer holds.

The double-stranded DNA molecule is held together by chemical components called bases
Adenine (A) bonds with thymine (T); cytosine(C) bonds with guanine (G)
These "letters" form the "code of life"; there are about 2.9 billion base-pairs in the human genome wound into 24 distinct bundles, or chromosomes
Written in the DNA are about 20-25,000 genes which human cells use as starting templates to make proteins; these sophisticated molecules build and maintain our bodies

 The researchers were astonished to locate 1,447 CNVs in nearly 2,900 genes, the starting "templates" written in the code that are used by cells to make the proteins which drive our bodies.

This is a huge, hitherto unrecognised, level of variation between one individual and the next.

"Each one of us has a unique pattern of gains and losses of complete sections of DNA," said Matthew Hurles, of the UK's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and a co-researcher on the project.

"One of the real surprises of these results was just how much of our DNA varies in copy number. We estimate this to be at least 12% of the genome.

"The copy number variation that researchers had seen before was simply the tip of the iceberg, while the bulk lay submerged, undetected. We now appreciate the immense contribution of this phenomenon to genetic differences between individuals."

Evolving story
The new understanding will change the way in which scientists search for genes involved in disease.

"Many examples of diseases resulting from changes in copy number are emerging," commented Charles Lee, one of the project's leaders from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, US.

A microscope will show up the biggest code abnormalities

"A recent review lists 17 conditions of the nervous system alone - including Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease - that can result from such copy number changes."

Scientists are not sure why the copy variations emerge, but it probably has something to do with the shuffling of genetic material that occurs in the production of eggs and sperm; the process is prone to errors.

As well as aiding the investigation of disease and the development of new drugs, the research will also inform the study of human evolution, which probes genetic variation in modern populations for what it can say about their relationship to ancestral peoples.
« Reply #20 on: December 05, 2006, 08:31:22 PM »

Eight Neanderthal skeletons have been found at El Sidron since 2000

Starvation and cannibalism were part of everyday life for a population of Neanderthals living in northern Spain 43,000 years ago, a study suggests.

Bones and teeth from the underground cave system of El Sidron in Asturias bear the hallmarks of a tough struggle for survival, researchers say.

Analysis of teeth showed signs of starvation or malnutrition in childhood and human bones have cut marks on them.

Details appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some of the bones were cemented in sand and clay

Some bones appeared to have been dismembered and broken open, possibly to allow access to marrow and brains.

"Given the high level of developmental stress in the sample, some level of survival cannibalism would be reasonable," the scientists wrote in their research paper.

The team, led by Dr Antonio Rosas from the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, also found that the bones shared physical features with other European Neanderthals from the same period.

Dr Rosas and colleagues found a north-south variation in Neanderthal jaw bones, suggesting that populations from southern parts of Europe had wider, flatter faces.

The findings may help shed light on the life and death of the Neanderthals, which became extinct about 10,000 years after the arrival of modern humans in Europe around 40,000 years ago.

Many experts believe they were not able to compete with the moderns for food and shelter.

Eight Neanderthal skeletons have been found at El Sidron since 2000.

Neandertal Evolutionary Genetics: Mitochondrial DNA Data from the Iberian Peninsula
Carles Lalueza-Fox*,1, Mar?a Lourdes Sampietro*, David Caramelli{dagger}, Yvonne Puder*,2, Martina Lari{dagger}, Francesc Calafell*, Cayetana Mart?nez-Maza{ddagger}, Markus Bastir{ddagger}, Javier Fortea?, Marco de la Rasilla?, Jaume Bertranpetit* and Antonio Rosas{ddagger}

* Departament de Ci?ncies Experimentals i de la Salut, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain; {dagger} Laboratori di Antropologia, Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e Genetica, Universit? degli Studi di Firenze, Firenze, Italy; {ddagger} Departamento de Paleobiologia, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, Madrid, Spain; and ? ?rea de Prehistoria, Departamento de Historia, Universidad de Oviedo, Oviedo, Spain

E-mail: .

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was retrieved for the first time from a Neandertal from the Iberian Peninsula, excavated from the El Sidr?n Cave (Asturias, North of Spain), and dated to ca. 43,000 years ago. The sequence suggests that Iberian Neandertals were not genetically distinct from those of other regions. An estimate of effective population size indicates that the genetic history of the Neandertals was not shaped by an extreme population bottleneck associated with the glacial maximum of 130,000 years ago. A high level of polymorphism at sequence position 16258 reflects deeply rooted mtDNA lineages, with the time to the most recent common ancestor at ca. 250,000 years ago. This coincides with the full emergence of the "classical" Neandertal morphology and fits chronologically with a proposed speciation event of Homo neanderthalensis.

« Reply #21 on: December 11, 2006, 04:06:48 PM »

Neanderthal cannibalism a mystery:  Was it ritual, or were they just starving?
As a major ice age brought freezing cold down to much of southern Europe tens of thousands of years ago, starving Neanderthal families huddled in their caves may have resorted to cannibalism, fresh evidence suggests.

But whether hunger alone drove them to the practice or some kind of ritual act accompanied the eating of other Neanderthals remains a mystery.

The slashed and butchered bones of at least eight Neanderthal people who lived 43,000 years ago were excavated from a cave called El Sidron in the Asturias region of Spain by a research team led by Antonio Rosas, a paleoanthropologist.

The remains of four young adults, two teenagers, one youngster and an infant all bore deliberate cut marks made by the crude stone tools of the era, including saw-toothed knives, skin scrapers and a single hand ax, report Rosas and his colleagues.

There is also evidence that some of the skulls of the eight Neanderthals were skinned, their leg joints were dismembered, and other long bones were broken -- presumably to extract the fat and protein from the rich marrow, Rosas said.

Rosas' team has been excavating the huge cave near the town of Oviedo for nearly seven years and has discovered more than 1,300 hominid bones and scraps of bone there. But what struck Rosas most sharply was that the cave held no remains of animals that might have preyed on Neanderthals; the team found only seven animal bones there -- from one large browsing elk and a fox. He also pointed out there were no tooth marks on the Neanderthal bones that could have been made by a beast of prey.

A report on the new discoveries at the El Sidron cave was published online last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rosas said in an e-mail that the site adds new insights into the lives and evolution of Neanderthals, but "what is absolutely new" is that the remains of so many individuals were grouped closely together in a small space within the cave. "This is really strange," he said, as they apparently all died together and might have been a single family.

The growth patterns in the tooth enamel of the cave's inhabitants show clear signs of periodic "nutritional stress," meaning starvation, Rosas said. Those signs were particularly striking in the teeth of the infant just after it was weaned and in one of the adolescents whose teeth showed evidence of a condition called dental hypoplasia, which is known to result from, among other causes, severe malnutrition.

With the unusually cold winters of the time, Rosas said, "ecological conditions for their survival were really hard" and so the people must have eaten whatever was at hand to avoid starvation, including the flesh of their fellow hominids.

But starvation may have been only one explanation for cannibalism, he said, because it is also possible that the Neanderthals in the cave resorted to the practice just to complement their meager diets, and did so as part of some obscure and still unknown ritual. "Those signs of cannibalism could tell us something of the spiritual life of the Neanderthals," Rosas said, "but more research is needed."

Questions of cannibalism and whether rituals were involved have been raised at other Neanderthal caves, including the famed Moula-Guercy site in the Ardeche region of southeastern France. At the Krapina and Vindija caves in Croatia, UC Berkeley's Tim White, a noted paleoanthropologist and forensics expert, has examined bones and concluded that all show clear evidence that at times Neanderthals did resort to eating each other.

White is in the Afar Desert of Ethiopia this winter, leading his team in the hunt for fossils of hominids that lived millions of years before the Neanderthals emerged in Europe, and could not be reached for comment.

Fred Smith, a paleoanthropologist at Loyola University in Chicago, said he would "bet big bucks" that Rosas' team had indeed found very strong but very curious evidence of cannibalism.

"Just why so many Neanderthal groups did resort to it is the big question," Smith said in a telephone interview, "and while it's straightforward to read the physical evidence, we can only infer the cultural aspects of how they dealt with their dead. It's impossible for us to infer religious meaning, but it adds to the complexity of their behavior, and in many ways -- if we think that some form of symbolism is involved -- it makes them in some way much more human."

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« Reply #22 on: January 01, 2007, 10:03:22 PM »

Reunited at last! This is David, the brother I lost just 1,000 years ago

Gene study is throwing a new light on our nation's history - and our personal ancestry, reports science editor Robin McKie

Sunday December 31, 2006
The Observer

     A scientific revolution is taking place in the study of our ancient past. Once the preserve of academics who analysed prehistoric stones and crumbling parchment, the subject has been transformed by the study of our genes by scientists who are using the blood of the living to determine the actions of men and women centuries ago.

     In the process, a mass of fascinating information about our predecessors has been revealed, from the physical appearance of Britain's first Stone Age settlers to the impact that invading Romans, Saxons and Normans had on our bloodline.

     The approach can turn history into an extraordinary, personal business, as I found when I started researching a book on the subject. I have often been asked if I am related to the Guardian writer David McKie. The distinguished columnist and former deputy editor has my surname, though David comes from north London while I am Glaswegian. Little common ancestry there, it seemed.

     But now David has been revealed to be my long-lost 'brother'. Our DNA shows that, between AD1000 and 1400, either in Ireland or Scotland, our lineages shared a common ancestor, a grandfather of multiple 'greatness'. Even better, that ancestor turns out to have been a direct descendant of the Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages, who created a vast fifth-century dynasty around modern Strabane. David and I are related to a notorious Irish warlord. Not bad for a pair of old Fleet Street hacks.

     Such a revelation demonstrates the power of archaeogenetics, the subject of my book Face of Britain, written to accompany the forthcoming Channel 4 series, in which modern Britons explore their Celtic, Viking and Anglo-Saxon origins.

     DNA analysis turns out to be an immensely useful tool, as Dr Jim Wilson, the Edinburgh scientist whose company EthnoAncestry tested those McKie genes, puts it: 'Genetics is going to be the best thing that happened to archaeology since the trowel.'

     A key example is provided by the People of the British Isles study, led by Sir Walter Bodmer, which has found rich concentrations of genes of the British Isles' first hunter-gatherer settlers in men and women now living in Cornwall, Devon, Scotland and Ireland. One version of the gene MCR1 often confers red hair on its owners and explains those ancient Roman and Greek reports of widespread ginger locks among early Britons. Red hair was common until invasions by non-redheads - like the Anglo-Saxons - pushed these settlers to Britain's outer edges. Hence the red-haired Scots and Irish we see today.

     Bodmer has found signs of Anglo-Saxon genes in east England, the remnants of the invaders who established English as the language of the British Isles, while Wilson's research has discovered evidence that Vikings, who colonised Orkney, did so by eradicating nearly ever male member of its Pictish population. This latter discovery was made by analysing the Y-chromosome. Orkney men today tend to have Y-chromosomes like those of modern Scandinavians, the Vikings' direct descendants.

     And there are the personal stories. These have often emerged by combining DNA studies with the other scientific techniques, such as the use of computer databanks of surnames.

     One study, by Mark Jobling of Leicester University, has found that if you discount a few very common surnames - like Smith and Johnson - there is a 50 per cent chance that any two men with the same surname will have the same Y-chromosome. This unexpectedly tight correlation has led Jobling to propose to the Home Office that gene tests be used on crime scene samples to pinpoint names of suspects. Just pinpoint a Y-chromosome in a blood sample and you should get a candidate surname. 'It won't prove guilt, but it will help pinpoint likely suspects,' he says.

     And that takes us back to the McKies. Given the tight correspondence of name and Y-chromosome found by Jobling, it was perhaps not that shocking to find David and I are related. What is remarkable, however, has been the linking of our lineage to one man, Niall of the Nine Hostages, who lived 1,500 years ago. His descendants are known as the Ui Neill, from which we get the surname O'Neill, a family already known from genealogical studies to be connected to the Bradleys, Devlins, McKies and others.

     Knowing about this academic connection is one thing. To see it reflected tightly in the Y-chromosomes in all these families today is a different, very dramatic matter. As Jim Wilson showed me, at precisely the same points along each strand of DNA provided by me, David, and other Niall descendants, there are stutters in which a sequence of DNA sub-units is repeated the same number of times: 30 times at marker 449, 12 at marker 449 and so on.

     The Ui Neill Y-chromosome was originally discovered by scientists at Trinity College, Dublin, and was found in 23 per cent of all men in north-west Ireland. Intriguingly, 17 per cent of men in central and west Scotland have it, as do 2 per cent of US males. The Irish, and later the Scots, were great travellers, so that around three million men worldwide now possess this chromosome. Of course our progenitors gave us a great start. In the past, power meant fecundity: one 15th-century O'Neill chieftain had 18 sons.

     The Ui Neill link is important. Some genealogists had considered Niall to be a mythical figure imagined to explain past political links between dynasties. Genetics has now shown he was real, a discovery of some significance to academics and of considerable satisfaction to his descendants, David and I included.

     Face of Britain is published by Simon & Schuster. The TV series is scheduled for broadcast in February.


Learning is a treasure which accompanies its owner everywhere.
« Reply #23 on: January 02, 2007, 01:02:13 AM »

Another demonstration of how Pictland was invaded and occupied by Irish and Vikings and the modern Scotland was created. Ethnic cleansing is nothing new.

The same period, ca 500 CE, saw Irish attacks (for money and slaves), invasions and when possible, settlement, along the whole west coast of Britain. The defence of Celtic Britain against Anglo Saxon and later Viking trepidations is better known, though the Anglo Saxons came mainly as a defence against the Irish. Those of the Irish have been largely forgotten, though one might have expected a 30-year bombing campaign of mainland Britain during the late 20th century to have reminded some. I guess we were too enthralled by Riverdance.

1,500 years later, regional accents still betray the invaders. The terminology of farmers in East Anglia is redolent of that used in Frisia. That in the Pennines, the backbone of England, comes from Scandinavia. Even Somerset, the archetype merry olde England, has an Irish tang.

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« Reply #24 on: January 12, 2007, 04:43:16 PM »

Earliest Evidence Of Modern Humans In Europe Discovered By International Team
Jan. 11, 2007

 Modern humans who first arose in Africa had moved into Europe as far back as about 45,000 years ago, according to a new study by an international research team led by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The evidence consists of stone, bone and ivory tools discovered under a layer of ancient volcanic ash on the Don River in Russia some 250 miles south of Moscow, said John Hoffecker, a fellow of CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. Thought to contain the earliest evidence of modern humans in Europe, the site also has yielded perforated shell ornaments and a carved piece of mammoth ivory that appears to be the head of a small human figurine, which may represent the earliest piece of figurative art in the world, he said.

"The big surprise here is the very early presence of modern humans in one of the coldest, driest places in Europe," Hoffecker said. "It is one of the last places we would have expected people from Africa to occupy first."

A paper by Michael Anikovich and Andrei Sinitsyn of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Hoffecker, and 13 other researchers was published in the Jan. 12 issue of Science.

The excavation took place at Kostenki, a group of more than 20 sites along the Don River that have been under study for many decades. Kostenki previously has yielded anatomically modern human bones and artifacts dating between 30,000 and 40,000 years old, including the oldest firmly dated bone and ivory needles with eyelets that indicate the early inhabitants were tailoring animal furs to help them survive the harsh climate.

Most of the stone used for artifact construction was imported from between 60 miles and 100 miles away, while the perforated shell ornaments discovered at the lowest levels of the Kostenki dig were imported from the Black Sea more than 300 miles away, he said. "Although human skeletal remains in the earliest level of the excavation are confined to isolated teeth, which are notoriously difficult to assign to specific human types, the artifacts are unmistakably the work of modern humans," Hoffecker said.

The sediment overlying the artifacts was dated by several methods, including an analysis of an ash layer deposited by a monumental volcanic eruption in present-day Italy about 40,000 years ago, Hoffecker said. The researchers also used optically stimulated luminescence dating -- which helps them determine how long ago materials were last exposed to daylight -- as well as paleomagnetic dating based on known changes in the orientation and intensity of Earth's magnetic field and radiocarbon calibration.

Anatomically modern humans are thought to have arisen in sub-Saharan Africa around 200,000 years ago.

Kostenki also contains evidence that modern humans were rapidly broadening their diet to include small mammals and freshwater aquatic foods, an indication they were "remaking themselves technologically," he said. They may have used traps and snares to catch hares and arctic foxes, exploiting large areas of the environment with relatively little energy. "They probably set out their nets and traps and went home for lunch," he said.

While there is some evidence Neanderthals once occupied the plains of Eastern Europe, they seem to have been scarce or absent there during the last glacial period when modern humans arrived, he said. The lack of competitors like the Neanderthals might have been the chief attraction to the area and the reason why modern humans first entered this part of Europe, Hoffecker said.

"Unlike the Neanderthals, modern humans had the ability to devise new technologies for coping with cold climates and less than abundant food resources," he said. "The Neanderthals, who had occupied Europe for more than 200,000 years, seem to have left the back door open for modern humans. "

The ivory artifact believed to be the head of a small figurine, discovered during the 2001 field season, was broken and perhaps never was finished by the person who began crafting it more than 40,000 years ago, said Hoffecker. "This is a really interesting piece," he said. "If confirmed, it will be the oldest example of figurative art ever discovered."

Buried under 10 feet to 15 feet of silt, the artifacts at Kostenki include blades, scrapers, drills and awls, as well as sturdy antler digging tools known as mattocks that resemble crude pick-axes, he said. Mattocks have been found at other Old World sites and the arctic and were used to dig large pits for the storage of foods and fuel, although traces of such pits have yet to turn up at the lowest levels of Kostenki, he said.

Large animal remains at Kostenki include mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horses, moose and reindeer. A bone chemistry analysis from 30,000-year-old human remains indicates a high consumption of freshwater aquatic foods -- either water birds, fish, or both -- more evidence for efficient food gathering techniques, he said.

The study also included researchers from the University of Arizona, the Kostenki Museum-Preserve in Kostenki, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Boston University, the University College London and the Institute of Environmental Geology, Climate and Geoengineering in Rome. Research at Kostenki has been funded by the Leakey Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

Except for some early sites in the Near East, the oldest evidence modern humans outside of Africa comes from the Australian continent roughly 50,000 years ago, said Hoffecker, who was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2006. Several modern human sites in south-central Europe may be almost as old as Kostenki, he said.

Contact: John Hoffecker,

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« Reply #25 on: January 12, 2007, 04:48:31 PM »

Science 12 January 2007:
Vol. 315. no. 5809, p. 158
DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5809.158e

This week in science

Some evidence implies that modern humans spread out from Africa some 50,000 years ago and reached central and western Europe about 40,000 years ago. The colonization of northern Europe and Asia has been more difficult to date; northwestern Europe was covered in ice, but the land areas to the east were more open but still frigid (see the Perspective by Goebel). Anikovich et al. (p. 223) now show through a comparison of radiocarbon and luminescence dating and paleomagnetic data that a paleolithic archaeological site on the Don River, Russia (about 400 miles south of Moscow) dates to about 45,000 years ago.

Although there are many fossils from this time scattered throughout Europe and Asia, ones from Africa for comparison and to test this hypothesis are scarce.Grine et al. (p. 226) have dated a skull first discovered in 1952 from Hofmeyr, South Africa, to about 36,000 years ago based on luminescence data of attached quartz.

The skull displays several features that are more primitive than contemporaneous European skulls but is consistent with the emergence of modern humans from sub-Saharan Africa.

Science 12 January 2007:
Vol. 315. no. 5809, pp. 194 - 196
DOI: 10.1126/science.1137564

The Missing Years for Modern Humans
Ted Goebel

Fossil, archaelogical, and DNA evidence of three separate research teams provide insight into the period between the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa and their appearance in Europe.
The author is at the Center for the Study of the First Americans, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, USA. E-mail:

Science 12 January 2007:
Vol. 315. no. 5809, pp. 223 - 226
DOI: 10.1126/science.1133376

Early Upper Paleolithic in Eastern Europe and Implications for the Dispersal of Modern Humans

M. V. Anikovich,1 A. A. Sinitsyn,1 John F. Hoffecker,2* Vance T. Holliday,3 V. V. Popov,4 S. N. Lisitsyn,1 Steven L. Forman,5 G. M. Levkovskaya,1 G. A. Pospelova,6 I. E. Kuz'mina,7 N. D. Burova,1 Paul Goldberg,8 Richard I. Macphail,9 Biagio Giaccio,10 N. D. Praslov1

Radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence dating and magnetic stratigraphy indicate Upper Paleolithic occupation?probably representing modern humans?at archaeological sites on the Don River in Russia 45,000 to 42,000 years ago. The oldest levels at Kostenki underlie a volcanic ash horizon identified as the Campanian Ignimbrite Y5 tephra that is dated elsewhere to about 40,000 years ago. The occupation layers contain bone and ivory artifacts, including possible figurative art, and fossil shells imported more than 500 kilometers. Thus, modern humans appeared on the central plain of Eastern Europe as early as anywhere else in northern Eurasia.

1 Institute of the History of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences, 191186 St. Petersburg, Russia.
2 Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.
3 Departments of Anthropology and Geosciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.
4 Kostenki Museum-Preserve, 396355 Kostenki, Voronezh region, Voronezh, Russia.
5 Luminescence Dating Research Laboratory, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois, Chicago, IL 60607, USA.
6 Institute of Earth Physics, Russian Academy of Sciences, 123995 Moscow, Russia.
7 Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, 199034 St. Petersburg, Russia.
8 Department of Archaeology, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA.
9 Institute of Archaeology, University College London, London WC1H 0PY, UK.
10 Istituto di Geologia Ambientale e Geoingegneria?CNR, Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, 00133 Rome, Italy.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:

Science 12 January 2007:
Vol. 315. no. 5809, pp. 226 - 229
DOI: 10.1126/science.1136294

Late Pleistocene Human Skull from Hofmeyr, South Africa, and Modern Human Origins
F. E. Grine,1* R. M. Bailey,2 K. Harvati,3 R. P. Nathan,4 A. G. Morris,5 G. M. Henderson,6 I. Ribot,7 A. W. G. Pike8

The lack of Late Pleistocene human fossils from sub-Saharan Africa has limited paleontological testing of competing models of recent human evolution. We have dated a skull from Hofmeyr, South Africa, to 36.2 ? 3.3 thousand years ago through a combination of optically stimulated luminescence and uranium-series dating methods. The skull is morphologically modern overall but displays some archaic features. Its strongest morphometric affinities are with Upper Paleolithic (UP) Eurasians rather than recent, geographically proximate people. The Hofmeyr cranium is consistent with the hypothesis that UP Eurasians descended from a population that emigrated from sub-Saharan Africa in the Late Pleistocene.

1 Departments of Anthropology and Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794?4364, USA.
2 School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3QY, UK.
3 Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.
4 Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3QY, UK.
5 Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town, Observatory 7925, Cape Town, South Africa.
6 Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PR, UK.
7 D?partement d'Anthropologie, Universit? de Montr?al, CP 6128, Succursale Centre-Ville, Montr?al, Qu?bec H3C 3J7, Canada.
8 Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Bristol, 43 Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1UU, UK.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:

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« Reply #26 on: January 16, 2007, 04:25:12 AM »

Just a breaking news story that may add something to your article.


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 40,000-year-old skull found in a Romanian cave shows traits of both modern humans and Neanderthals and might prove the two interbred, researchers reported on Monday.

If the findings are confirmed, the skull would represent the oldest modern human remains yet found in Europe.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will add to the debate over whether modern Homo sapiens simply killed off their Neanderthal cousins, or had some intimate interactions with them first.

DNA samples taken from Neanderthal bones suggest there was no mixing, or at least that any Neanderthal genetic contribution did not make it to the modern DNA pool.
Reuters Pictures

But Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis has in the past found bones that he believes show both modern human and Neanderthal traits, and now he and colleagues have found a skull.

The skull, probably that of a teenager, has been dated to 40,000 years ago and shows many modern traits. But it also is a little flatter than most modern Homo sapiens, and exceptionally large upper molars more associated with Neanderthals.

"Such differences raise important questions about the evolutionary history of modern humans," said Joao Zilhao of the University of Bristol in Britain, who worked on the study.

It could be "evolutionary reversal" he said -- humans changing back into archaic forms.   Continued...

? Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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« Reply #27 on: February 21, 2007, 01:30:38 PM »

Freeze 'condemned Neanderthals'
A sharp freeze could have dealt the killer blow that finished off our evolutionary cousins the Neanderthals, according to a new study.

The ancient humans are thought to have died out in most parts of Europe by about 35,000 years ago.

And now new data from their last known refuge in southern Iberia indicates the final population was probably beaten by a cold spell some 24,000 years ago.

The research is reported by experts from the Gibraltar Museum and Spain.

They say a climate downturn may have caused a drought, placing pressure on the last surviving Neanderthals by reducing their supplies of fresh water and killing off the animals they hunted.

Sediment cores drilled from the sea bed near the Balearic Islands show the average sea-surface temperature plunged to 8C (46F). Modern-day sea surface temperatures in the same region vary from 14C (57F) to 20C (68F).

In addition, increased amounts of sand were deposited in the sea and the amount of river water running into the sea also plummeted.

Rare event
"It looks pretty severe and also quite short," Professor Finlayson told BBC News.

"Things like olive trees and oak trees that are still with us today managed to ride it out. But a very fragmented, stressed population of Neanderthals - and perhaps other elements of the fauna - did not."

The cause of this chill may have been cyclical changes in the Earth's position relative to the Sun - so-called Milankovitch cycles.

More details
But a rare combination of freezing polar air blowing down the Rhone valley and Saharan air blowing north seems to have helped cool this part of the Mediterranean Sea, contributing to the severe conditions.

Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar

Gorham's Cave on Gibraltar shows evidence of occupation by groups of Neanderthals until 24,000 years ago. But thereafter, researchers have found no signs of their presence.

Gorham's Cave

However, in an interesting new development, scientists are also now reporting another site, from south-east Spain, which has yielded evidence for the late survival of Neanderthals.

In a study published in the journal Geobios, Jose Carrion, from the University of Murcia, Spain, and colleagues analysed pollen from soil layers at Carihuela cave to determine how vegetation had changed in the area during the past 15,000 years.

During the course of this work, they also obtained ages for sediment samples from the cave, using radiocarbon dating and uranium-thorium dating.

Sediment layers containing Neanderthal tools were found to date from 45,000 years ago until 21,000 years ago.

The Holocene and Upper Pleistocene pollen sequence of Carihuela Cave, southern Spain

A new pollen sequence (ca. 15,700?1250 yr BP) is presented for three stratigraphical sections of Carihuela Cave (Granada, southeastern Spain), thus completing a record that covers from the last Interglacial to late Holocene. The Late Glacial is characterized by open landscapes with junipers and early colonisation of Quercus, while the Holocene is depicted by mixed oak forests, with a diversity of broad-leaf trees and scrub, which decrease after ca. 5470 yr BP synchronously with the expansion of xerophytes and occurrence of indicators of anthropogenic disturbance. The whole pollen record of Carihuela fits into the general trends described for reference pollen sites of southern Europe, including Padul in the province of Granada, and other sequences from Mediterranean Spain, through which the heterogeneity of environmental change increases from mid to late Holocene. We conclude that, in contrast with other regions of Spain, deciduous Quercus-dominated forests are very old in eastern Andalusia, thus conflicting with floristic phytosociological models of vegetation change that imply that monospecific Q. ilex/rotundifolia woodlands are the potential mature forest in the region. Dating results suggest that the last Neanderthals of Carihuela lived between ca. 28,440 and 21,430 yr BP, which agrees with the postulation that southern Spain was the latest refugium for this human species in Europe.

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« Reply #28 on: September 13, 2007, 10:53:07 AM »

Neanderthals not killed by the cold

By Claire Witham

"Abrupt climate change was not responsible for Neanderthal demise," said Dr Katerina Harvati who presented novel research at the BA Festival of Science on Wednesday.

One of the hot debates in science is whether Neanderthal man died out because of competition with modern humans or because of a colder climate.  Dr Harvati's result flies in the face of other research that says Neanderthals had to face the worst weather conditions of the last 250,000 years.

Harvati suggests that, instead of having a direct role in the extinction, colder temperatures in Northern Europe may have caused Neanderthals to migrate further south.  This would have increased population levels and intensified competition for land and food.

"Their extinction could have been due to competition with modern humans," said Dr Harvati from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

The study, published in this week's Nature, focuses on Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar.  This was the home of the last surviving Neanderthals.

Radiocarbon dates from archaeological remains in the cave were compared to those from environmental deposits dug up in the seas off Venezuela.  These deposits show what changes in climate were occurring at the time of the extinction.

"This new method enables us to assess the climatic background at the time of the Neanderthal extinction much more accurately than was previously possible," explained Dr Harvati.

Her method avoids problems with conventional radiocarbon dating of artefacts from this time that are experienced in other studies.

"Our approach goes straight from radiocarbon years to climate," she said.

Three possible dates for the extinction of Neanderthal man have been proposed.  These are 30,000 BC, 26,000 BC and 22,000 BC.  Climates at the earliest two dates were not particularly different from the rest of the last glacial period, which was generally climatically unstable.  This means that the climate wouldn�t have played a role in extinction at either of these times.

The 22,000 BC date is much more controversial and places the end of the Neanderthals just before a major environmental change.  Ice sheets expanded and cold conditions set in across much of northern Europe.  But Gibraltar's climate would have remained unaffected, due to warmer waters off the coast.

The study, led by Polychronis Tzedakis at the University of Leeds, eliminates sudden catastrophic climate change as the cause of the Neanderthal extinction, but does not provide the final explanation as to what caused their disappearance.

Other possibilities include direct or indirect competition with modern humans, disease, and demographic changes.

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« Reply #29 on: October 22, 2007, 01:04:29 AM »

 Neanderthal 'may have used language'

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent, Last Updated: 1:06am BST 21/10/2007

   They are typically portrayed as primitive brutes capable only of grunting, but new research now suggests Neanderthals may have whiled away the hours in their caves in conversation.

What sort of conversation would you like to have with this man?

   Scientists who have been trawling through the DNA found in Neanderthal bones have discovered that the now extinct species had a �language gene� that is only found in modern humans.

   Their controversial findings create the tantalising possibility that Neanderthals were in fact capable of speech much like humans and communicated with each other through their own language.

   As language is seen as one of the key cornerstones that has set humans apart from other animals and allowed sophisticated cultures to develop, many anthropologists now believe it may have allowed Neanderthals to have their own culture.

   It is a stark contrast to the traditional image of Neanderthals as simple-minded cavemen and the latest research has shed new light on how Neanderthals evolved from our common ancestor more than 400,000 years ago.

   Professor Svante Paabo, who has been leading the Neanderthal genome project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said the presence of the language gene would change the way people view Neanderthals.

   He said: �It is not a compliment to be called a Neanderthal, but we are finding that the Neanderthal DNA looks much more like contemporary humans than chimps.

   �The human variations of this gene involved in the use of language are not found in apes and for a long time there has been speculation Neanderthals would have a different gene and so a different linguistic ability.

   �By looking at their DNA, we have found that from the point of view of this gene, there is no reason they would not have spoken like we do. It is a very contentious area with a lot of different views.�

   His teams findings support previous work that has attempted to model the Neanderthals throat and larynx from their remains. While some scientists have insisted they would have spoken, others have dismissed the idea.

   Until recently common scientific opinion has painted a picture of Neanderthals as a slow and dim-witted species that was outwitted by its smarter cousins who went on to become modern humans while the Neanderthals died out.

   But there is now a growing consensus that Neanderthals were perhaps far more sophisticated than they have been given credit for capable of making stone tools and even cleaned their teeth.

   The discovery of the gene, called FOXP2, have provided the strongest evidence yet that these heavily built species were capable of speech, although the researchers are unable to say what extent their linguistic ability would have been.

   FOXP2 is thought to be crucial to the development of language as it governs the fine control of muscles that is needed to form words with the larynx, lips and tongue.

   Professor Paabo has been leading research to create the first ever profile of the Neanderthal genome from the remains of nine Neanderthal�s, thought to have been killed and eaten by cannibals 42,000 years ago, that were found in a cave in Northern Spain.

   The bones are carefully collected and frozen in the cave to avoid contamination before the DNA is extracted in the lab and profiled.

  But some scientists have warned that it is not possible draw any conclusions about the Neanderthals ability to speak from the research, which is published in the journal Current Biology.

   Dr Simon Fisher, one of the scientists at Oxford University who discovered FOXP2, said: �This is a really fascinating study, but analysis of a single gene is not enough to resolve the big question of whether or not Neanderthals were capable of speech or for us to estimate what level of complexity their vocal communication could achieve.�

   Dr Simon Underdown, an anthropologist at Oxford Brookes University, insists, however, that the new research will revolutionise the way people look at Neanderthals.

   He said: �This research should finally blow away the last vestiges of the Neanderthal as a dull-witted cave man.�


Lived 350,000 -24,000 years ago

Spread across Europe and as far east as southern Siberia and Uzbekistan

Last known refuge in caves in southern Iberia

Died off just 10,000 yeas after modern man arrived in Europe

Distinct species from modern humans although scientists debate if they interbred

Average male stood 5.4 feet tall while females were 5 feet tall but heavily built

Skulls had 10 per cent greater capacity than modern humans

Most Neanderthals died by the age of 30 years old

Named after Neander Valley near Dusseldorf, Germany, where first key fossils were found

Early Neanderthals scavenged for food but later used may have used spears to hunt

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