Friday, September 27, 2013

European Neanderthals Were On the Verge of Extinction Even Before the Arrival of Modern Humans

Posted on Science Digest

New findings from an international team of researchers show that most Neanderthals in Europe died off around 50,000 years ago. The previously held view of a Europe populated by a stable Neanderthal population for hundreds of thousands of years up until modern humans arrived must therefore be revised.
This new perspective on the Neanderthals comes from a study of ancient DNA published February 25 in Molecular Biology and Evolution.
The results indicate that most Neanderthals in Europe died off as early as 50,000 years ago. After that, a small group of Neanderthals recolonized central and western Europe, where they survived for another 10,000 years before modern humans entered the picture.
The study is the result of an international project led by Swedish and Spanish researchers in Uppsala, Stockholm and Madrid.
“The fact that Neanderthals in Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered, and that all this took place long before they came into contact with modern humans came as a complete surprise to us. This indicates that the Neanderthals may have been more sensitive to the dramatic climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age than was previously thought”, says Love Dalén, associate professor at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.
In connection with work on DNA from Neanderthal fossils in Northern Spain, the researchers noted that the genetic variation among European Neanderthals was extremely limited during the last ten thousand years before the Neanderthals disappeared.
Older European Neanderthal fossils, as well as fossils from Asia, had much greater genetic variation, on par with the amount of variation that might be expected from a species that had been abundant in an area for a long period of time. “The amount of genetic variation in geologically older Neanderthals as well as in Asian Neanderthals was just as great as in modern humans as a species, whereas the variation among later European Neanderthals was not even as high as that of modern humans in Iceland”, says Anders Götherström, associate professor at Uppsala University.
The results presented in the study are based entirely on severely degraded DNA, and the analyses have therefore required both advanced laboratory and computational methods. The research team has involved experts from a number of countries, including statisticians, experts on modern DNA sequencing and paleoanthropologists from Denmark, Spain and the US.

Only when all members of the international research team had reviewed the findings could they feel certain that the available genetic data actually reveals an important and previously unknown part of Neanderthal history. “This type of interdisciplinary study is extremely valuable in advancing research about our evolutionary history. DNA from prehistoric people has led to a number of unexpected findings in recent years, and it will be really exciting to see what further discoveries are made in the coming years”, says Juan Luis Arsuaga, professor of human paleontology at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid.

Learn More About the Paleo/Primal Diet in This Video

Saturday, August 17, 2013

How Throwing Influrenced the Evolution of the Caveman

June 26, 2013 — Little leaguers and professional baseball players alike have our extinct ancestors to thank for their success on the mound, shows a study by George Washington University researcher Neil Roach, which is featured on the cover of the June 27 edition of the journal Nature.
Of course, the ability to throw fast and accurately did not evolve so our ancestors could play ball. Instead, Dr. Roach's study proposes that this ability first evolved nearly 2 million years ago to aid in hunting. Humans are unique in their throwing ability, even when compared to our chimpanzee cousins.
"Chimpanzees are incredibly strong and athletic, yet adult male chimps can only throw about 20 miles per hour -- one-third the speed of a 12-year-old little league pitcher," said Dr. Roach, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral scientist in GW's Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Roach and colleagues from Harvard
University set out to discover how humans throw so well, and when and why this ability evolved.
Using a 3-D camera system, like those used to make video games and animated movies, they recorded the throwing motions of collegiate baseball players, finding that the human shoulder acts much like a slingshot during a throw, storing and releasing large amounts of energy.
"When humans throw, we first rotate our arms backwards away from the target. It is during this 'arm-cocking' phase that humans stretch the tendons and ligaments crossing their shoulder and store elastic energy," Dr. Roach said. "When this energy is released, it accelerates the arm forward, generating the fastest motion the human body produces, resulting in a very fast throw."
Dr. Roach and colleagues also found that certain anatomical features in the torso, shoulder and arm that evolved in our hominin ancestors made this energy storage possible. These features that allow humans to throw so well first appeared in the species Homo erectus approximately 2 million years ago.
"We think that throwing was probably most important early on in terms of hunting behavior, enabling our ancestors to effectively and safely kill big game," Dr. Roach said. "Eating more calorie-rich meat and fat would have allowed our ancestors to grow larger brains and bodies and expand into new regions of the world -- all of which helped make us who we are today."
Dr. Roach's study may also have important modern-day implications for some athletes. Baseball pitchers, for example, throw much more frequently than our ancestors probably did.
"At the end of the day, despite the fact that we evolved to throw, when we overuse this ability it can end up injuring us," Dr. Roach said.

The next step for Dr. Roach and his colleagues is researching what humans were throwing so long ago, especially since stone projectile points don't appear in the archaeological record until much more recently. The likely weapons of choice? Rocks and sharpened wooden spears.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Neanderthals Knew About Plants

 Guest Post

Neanderthals in Northern Spain Had Knowledge of Plants' Healing Qualities, Study Reveals

ScienceDaily (July 17, 2012) — An international team of researchers, led by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the University of York, has provided the first molecular evidence that Neanderthals not only ate a range of cooked plant foods, but also understood its nutritional and medicinal qualities.

Until recently Neanderthals, who disappeared between 30,000 and 24,000 years ago, were thought to be predominantly meat-eaters. However, evidence of dietary breadth is growing as more sophisticated analyses are undertaken.

Researchers from Spain, the UK and Australia combined pyrolysis gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry with morphological analysis of plant microfossils to identify material trapped in dental calculus (calcified dental plaque) from five Neanderthals from the north Spanish site of El Sidrón.

Their results, published in Naturwissenschaften - The Science of Nature this week, provide another twist to the story -- the first molecular evidence for medicinal plants being used by a Neanderthal individual.

The researchers say the starch granules and carbohydrate markers in the samples, plus evidence for plant compounds such as azulenes and coumarins, as well as possible evidence for nuts, grasses and even green vegetables, argue for a broader use of ingested plants than is often suggested by stable isotope analysis.

Lead author Karen Hardy, a Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) Research Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of York, UK, said: "The varied use of plants we identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidrón had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants for their nutritional value and for self-medication. While meat was clearly important, our research points to an even more complex diet than has previously been supposed."

Earlier research by members of this team had shown that the Neanderthals in El Sidrón had the bitter taste perception gene. Now trapped within dental calculus researchers found molecular evidence that one individual had eaten bitter tasting plants.     Learn more about Cro-Magnons

Dr Stephen Buckley, a Research Fellow at the University of York's BioArCh research facility, said: "The evidence indicating this individual was eating bitter-tasting plants such as yarrow and camomile with little nutritional value is surprising. We know that Neanderthals would find these plants bitter, so it is likely these plants must have been selected for reasons other than taste."

Ten samples of dental calculus from five Neanderthals were selected for this study. The researchers used thermal desorption and pyrolysis gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry to identify both free/unbound and bound/polymeric organic components in the dental calculus. By using this method in conjunction with the extraction and analysis of plant microfossils, they found chemical evidence consistent with wood-fire smoke, a range of cooked starchy foods, two plants known today for their medicinal qualities, and bitumen or oil shale trapped in the dental calculus.

Professor Matthew Collins, who heads the BioArCh research facility at York, said: "Using mass spectrometry, we were able to identify the building blocks of carbohydrates in the calculus of two adults, one individual in particular having apparently eaten several different carbohydrate-rich foods. Combined with the microscopic analysis it also demonstrates how dental calculus can provide a rich source of information."

The researchers say evidence for cooked carbohydrates is confirmed by both the cracked/roasted starch granules observed microscopically and the molecular evidence for cooking and exposure to wood smoke or smoked food in the form of a range of chemical markers including methyl esters, phenols, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons found in dental calculus.

Professor Les Copeland from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, University of Sydney, Australia, said: "Our research confirms the varied and selective use of plants by Neanderthals."

The study also provides evidence that the starch granules reported from El Sidrón represent the oldest granules ever to be confirmed using a biochemical test, while ancient bacteria found embedded in the calculus offers the potential for future studies in oral health.

The archaeological cave site of El Sidrón, located in the Asturias region of northern Spain, contains the best collection of Neanderthal remains found in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the most important active sites in the world. Discovered in 1994, it contains around 2,000 skeletal remains of at least 13 individuals dating back around 47,300 to 50,600 years.

Antonio Rosas, of the Museum of Natural History in Madrid -- CSIC (Spanish National Research Council), said: "El Sidrón has allowed us to banish many of the preconceptions we had of Neanderthals. Thanks to previous studies, we know that they looked after the sick, buried their dead and decorated their bodies. Now another dimension has been added relating to their diet and self-medication."

Fieldwork at El Sidrón, conducted by researchers from the University of Oviedo, is funded by the Department of Culture, Principality of Asturias. The dental calculus samples used in this study were provided by the laboratory leading the study of the human remains discovered in El Sidrón, which is located at the Museum of Natural History in Madrid -- CSIC.

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What Happened to All the Cro-Magnons

The Term Cro-Magnon is Now Referred to as Anatomically Modern Human
Recorded history tells us that a team of workmen from the French village of Les Eyzies discovered what was later identified as 5 skeletons including 3 adult males, an adult female and 1 child. The graves contained stone tools, ivory pendants, shells and carvings made from reindeer antlers. The find was made in a rock shelter (not a cave) called Cro-Magnon. The name stuck, but history doesn’t reveal specifically how the term “Caveman” came into being.
At first glance, researchers of that day believed that the remains were those of Neanderthal man—first discovered in the Neander Valley of Germany. The first Neanderthal’s appeared in Europe as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago. Current research indicates that Neanderthals virtually disappeared from the fossil record some 30,000 to 35,000 years ago. Popular theory was that Neanderthals interbred or were wiped out by the cro-magnons. Now some paleontologists believe that the two species never cohabitated with each other, and that Neanderthals simply died out like many human sub-species had before them—long before cro-magnons appeared on the scene.
The most distinguishing differences between cro-magnons and Neanderthals begin with the shape of the skull. Neanderthal has a smaller braincase and a low, sloping forehead. The cro-magnon skull closely resembles modern humans. Another outstanding feature is that Neanderthals had much longer arms with fingertips nearly touching the knees.
The cro-magnon skeletons were eventually subjected to radio-carbon dating methods that revealed their age to be about 30,000 years old. Subsequent finds and carbon dating gave paleontologists the premise to state that cro-magnons populated Europe for the period of 35,000 to 10,000 years ago.
The point of all this is simply cro-magnons were tall and muscular and certainly more robust than modern humans—thus the term cro-magnon is now falling into disuse. According to Yahoo Answers, “Cro-Magnon's are not sufficiently different enough from modern humans to warrant a separate designation. Scientists today use 'Anatomically Modern Human' (AMH) or 'Early Modern Human' (EMH) to designate the Upper Paleolithic human beings who looked a lot like us, but did not have the complete suite of modern human behaviors.”
These AMH are given credit for becoming the world’s first artists. Their intricately carved ivory and antler figurines and dramatic cave paintings offer silent testimony to the advanced thinking and creativity of our ancestors. Added to this is a toolkit of stone axes, cutting and scraping tools, spear points and arrow heads.
One example for perpetuating the use of the term “Caveman” is a series of humorous TV commercials regarding one’s ability to fill out an insurance application; and just as recently we see published research from nutritionists regarding the paleolithic (paleo diet) or caveman diet.
The term Paleolithic is derived from two Greek words: paleo (old or ancient) and lithic (stone). Freely translated this becomes Stone Age.
What is known through many years of research and the analysis of animal bones and pollen samples from caveman habitats is that these AMHs—hunter-gatherers—subsisted on a diet of meat (including fish), wild grasses. fruits (mostly berries) and certain plants.
The Stone Age. Paleo Diet is a modern version of a diet plan based on theories of what cavemen ate. The beginnings of agriculture began around 10,000 years ago, which resulted in significant changes in the daily diet. Our Stone Age ancestors began to cultivate grains like wheat, rye and barley. This also led to the discovery of fermentation of grains that resulted in alcoholic beverages like beer.
Over time, human-kind became less muscular and robust until the present-day fact that about 1/3 of the human population is overweight.
Is this the price we pay as a result of plant cultivation? No… other factors also enter into the obesity equation. The industrial revolution led to the manufacture of “processed” foods packaged in “tin cans.” Preservatives were introduced into our daily diets and processed, prepackaged foods were laced with sugar and high amounts of salt. In other words, I diets went to hell.
Nutritionists, over time, looked at where we are now with our current diets and where we were during the late Stone Age and decided our ancestors had a very good idea.
Paleontology is a very interesting subject of study and new discoveries are made often. A recent finding is that researchers analyzed dental plaque from cro-magnon teeth and discovered that our ancestors added certain bad-tasting (bitter) plants to their diet. Had they discovered some health benefit from this kind of vegetation? Perhaps they did!

If you would like to pursue your quest for more information regarding the cro-magnon people, please take a moment to visit <a href=>My Blog</a> where I have posted a number of articles about the Cro-Magnon, Paleo, Caveman Diet: I have also posted photographs of some skeletal discoveries.

The Paleolithic Age Explained

The Paleolithic Age is a prehistoric era distinguished by the development of the first stone tools, and covers roughly 99% of human technological history. It extends from the introduction of stone tools by hominids such as Australopithecines 2.5 or 2.6 million years ago, to the introduction of agriculture and the end of the Pleistocene around 12,000 BP. The Paleolithic era is followed by the Mesolithic period.

During the Paleolithic, humans grouped together in small societies such as bands or tribes, and subsisted by gathering plants and hunting or scavenging wild animals. The Paleolithic is characterized by the use of knapped stone tools, although at the time humans also used wood and bone tools. Other organic commodities were adapted for use as tools, including leather and vegetable fibers; however, due to their nature, these have not been preserved to any great degree. Surviving artifacts of the Paleolithic era are known as Paleoliths.

Humankind gradually evolved from early members of the genus Homo such as Homo habilis — who used simple stone tools — into fully behaviorally and anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) during the Paleolithic era. During the end of the Paleolithic, specifically the Middle and or Upper Paleolithic, humans began to produce the earliest works of art and they engaged in religious and spiritual behavior such as burial and ritual. The climate during the Paleolithic consisted of a set of glacial and interglacial periods in which the climate periodically fluctuated between warm and cold temperatures.

The term Paleolithic was coined by archaeologist John Lubbock in 1865. It derives from Greek: palaios, "old"; and lithos, "stone", literally meaning "old age of the stone" or "Old Stone Age."

Friday, December 14, 2012

First Discovery of Cro-Magnon Man

Cro-Magnon Skull
First Discovery of Cro-Magnon Man
The term Cro-Magnon comes from the name of the rock shelter (not actually a cave) in Southwestern France where the first early human remains were discovered.
In 1868, the north-west shelter, 17 m wide and 6 or 7 m deep, was completely filled. An initial disbursement of scree slopes and the removal of a large block of limestone and an overhang occurred during the construction of the Agen-Périgueux railway line opened in 1863.
The uncovering of human remains occurred at the end of March, by workers of the firm of Berthoumeyrou and L. Delmares in charge of the earth works in the embankment for the implementation of the road linking the village to the town of Les Eyzies de Tayac.

Double-Edged Scraper
Cro-Magnon Tools

To quote the Oxford Companion to Archaeology: Cro-magnons are, in informal usage, a group among the late Ice Age peoples of Europe. The Cro-Magnons are identified with Homo sapiens sapiens of modern form, in the time range ca. 35,000-10000 b.p. ...
The term 'Cro-Magnon' has no formal taxonomic status, since it refers neither to a species or subspecies nor to an archaeological phase or culture. The name is not commonly encountered in modern professional literature in English, since authors prefer to talk more generally of anatomically modern humans. They thus avoid a certain ambiguity in the label 'Cro-Magnon', which is sometimes used to refer to all early moderns in Europe (as opposed to the preceding Neanderthals), and sometimes to refer to a specific human group that can be distinguished from other Upper Paleolithic humans in the region. Nevertheless, the term 'Cro-Magnon' is still very commonly used in popular texts because it makes an obvious distinction with the Neanderthals, and also refers directly to people rather than to the complicated succession of archaeological phases that make up the Upper Paleolithic. This evident practical value has prevented archaeologists and human paleontologists - especially in continental Europe - from dispensing entirely with the idea of Cro-Magnons.
Cro-Magnon is the informal word once used by scientists to refer to the people who were living alongside Neanderthals at the end of the last ice age (ca. 35,000-10,000 years ago). They were given the name 'Cro-Magnon' because in 1868, parts of five skeletons were discovered in the rockshelter of that name, located in the famous Dordogne Valley of France.
Scientists compared these skeletons to Neanderthal skeletons which had earlier been found in similarly dated sites such as Paviland, Wales; and a little later at Combe Capelle and Laugerie-Basse in France, and decided they were different enough from the Neanderthals, to give them a different name.
Recent research over the past 20 years or so, however, has led scholars to believe that the physical dimensions of so-called 'Cro-Magnon' are not sufficiently different enough from modern humans to warrant a separate designation. Scientists today use 'Anatomically Modern Human' (AMH) or 'Early Modern Human' (EMH) to designate the Upper Paleolithic human beings who looked a lot like us, but did not have the complete suite of modern human behaviors.

Where Did EMH Come From?
In Africa, early modern humans appeared at least as long ago as 160,000 years BP at sites such as Bouri in Ethiopia, and perhaps as long ago as 195,000 years ago, if the dating of Omo Kibish, also in Ethiopia, is correct. The earliest sites outside of Africa with early modern humans are at Skhul and Qafzeh caves in what is now Israel about 100,000 years ago. There's a large gap in the record for Asia and Europe, between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago, a period in which the Middle East seems to have been occupied by Neanderthals; but around 50,000 years ago, the EMH appear again and flow back into Europe.
This is problematic, because there's very little data for these periods of time. In addition, the relationship between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens is hotly debated in some circles. Behaviorally, in Africa and the Middle East, the Neanderthals and EMH were pretty much the same; they were physically quite different and different scholars debate on our exact relationship with them.
Before the return of EMH to the Middle East and Europe, early technological glimmers of modern behavior are in evidence at several South African sites of the Still Bay/Howiesons Poort tradition, about 75,000-65,000 years ago. But it wasn't until about 50,000 years ago or so, that a difference in tools, in burial methods, in the presence of art and music, and probably some changes in social behaviors as well, became apparent. At the same time, early modern humans left Africa.

Monday, December 6, 2010

How Ancient People Survived. The Caveman (Paleo) Diet Plan

Some call it the Paleolithic diet or Mediterranean diet.
But Cro-Magnon diet has a nice ring to it-don't you think? Chances are you haven't thought much about these early humans, but there is much we can still learn from these creatures that populated Southern Europe to the Mid-East more than 35,000 years ago.

Cro-Magnons are credited with those mysterious cave paintings in France, and their first skeletons were discovered in 1868 in a rock shelter-not even a cave, but the term Caveman was adopted none the less.

A caveman's life was a tough one at best
A caveman's life was a hard-scrabble existence. He lived off the land. Research indicates that his diet was unusual in that it was varied, and he seldom ate the same foods two days in a row. Cro-Magnons were a hearty stock of beings. From their skeletons, paleontologists determined that they were very muscular-having very little body fat. During the summer months they ate grasses and fruits-mostly berries-and in winter they feasted on whatever animal they could find and subdue.
OK-so what's the point here?
So where are we going with this? Well the point is that although it was unintentional, these ancestors of ours regulated their food intake in such a way that they maintained a near-perfect body weight. Is there a lesson to be learned here? You bet there is. My wife and I are living examples of what a controlled eating plan can do for you. Notice that I don't call it a diet!

90 pounds lost between us! In the past year I have lost over 30 pounds and I have yet to count calories. Margie slimmed down from a size 16 to a size 6-so far nearly 60 pounds in all. We were motivated by the fact that Margie was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic. This tough old girl said NO to drugs and insulin therapy (she hates needles). We both are healthier now for making the effort-and in my case-the effort was unintentional (just like the Cro-Magnons), because we didn't fall for some "FAD" diet, since they mostly are doomed to fail.  

The "Hit or Miss" eating plan. We should write a book!
When we looked at what we had accomplished we discovered that this hit or miss plan for a way to eat was actually helping us.
I suggested that we write a book about our experiences but after searching the Internet I came across a plan that nearly paralleled what we are doing. It's called the "Primal Burn Diet". What a coincidence! Now when family and friends asked how we managed the weight-loss we just refer them to the Primal Burn Diet. Although the author insists on calling it a DIET, to me it is just a sensible EATING PLAN. It is working for thousands of people just like us, which includes you, and chances are it will work for you.
Lots more information can be found on this website: Primal Burn Diet\

Team Finds 1.8 million-year-old skulls in Eastern Europe