Secrets of sixty remarkable clay figurines - up to 1,400-years-old and excavated by archaeologists from The Universities of Ghana and Manchester, and the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB)– are to be revealed at an exhibition starting this week (October 25).
The beautiful objects - up to 31cm in height - will take pride of place at the Manchester Museum, part of the University, the first time they will be seen publicly outside Ghana.
The figurines, including two-headed humans, a chameleon, a crocodile and a man on horseback, are thought by the team to have been used to invoke the help of ancestors to cure illnesses. Read more.
The first humans left Africa some 200,000 years ago, dispersing to populate the rest of the world. But this was not a one-way trip: some people came back. Scientists say that they have traced a reverse migration that, in two steps, carried genes from the rest of the world back to southern Africa, long before European colonizers arrived.
The findings are part of a flurry of research enabled by better tools to survey African genomes. For the first time, population geneticists can examine the complex history of human migration in Africa effectively, a field long dominated by the analysis of bones, artefacts and languages.
“Up until now this was mostly done based on linguistics and archaeology, and now we can use genetics to test ideas,” says Carina Schlebusch, a geneticist at Uppsala University in Sweden. “It’s a really exciting time for African genetics.” Read more.
The earliest dispersal of modern humans out of Africa took a more northerly route, bypassing India, suggest study authors.
A recent study of microblade stone tool finds in India implies that modern humans entered the subcontinent of India from Africa later than some scholars have theorized, suggesting that more ancient modern humans journeyed north of India to get to East and Southeast Asia. The conclusions are central in the ongoing debate about how, where and when early modern humans left their African homeland and began inhabiting West and East Asia during the Late Pleistocene (126,000 - 11,700 years ago).
The study, led by Shiela Mishra of Deccan College, India, examined microblade assemblages excavated from the site of Mehtakheri in the Madhya Pradesh province of central India in 2007 and 2009, using optical dating techniques. Read more.
It has long been theorized by human evolutionists that the human diet, and how it may have changed over hundreds of thousands of years, was a central element in the successful emergence of modern humanity from the biological and behavioral backdrop of the animal world. Now, the results of a series of four newly completed studies by a team of two dozen researchers from several institutions have shed more light on the ‘what’ and ‘when’ of these changes.
The new studies analyzed carbon isotope results from the enamel of 173 teeth representing 11 different species of hominins and baboons in Africa ranging in time from 4 million to 10,000 years ago. (Hominins include humans, their ancestors and extinct relatives that are theorized to have split from other apes about 6 million years ago). Tiny amounts of tooth enamel were drilled from already broken fossil teeth, and the resulting powder was placed in a mass spectrometer to determine ratios of carbon isotopes incorporated into the enamel via diet. Read more.
A study suggests that rocky landscapes in East and South Africa could have pushed our apelike ancestors toward bipedalism.
Being four-legged has its perks. As a quadruped, your center of gravity is lower, there’s less wind resistance when you’re running, and, best of all, you can use your hind foot to scratch your ear.
All of this raises a big question: What were our apelike ancestors thinking when they started walking upright?
A prevailing hypothesis is that they were prompted by climate change. As African forests declined due to temperature fluctuations some 2.5 million years ago, the hypothesis goes, our australopithecine ancestors descended from the trees and ventured out into the open savanna, an environment thought to be friendlier for those standing on two feet.
The savanna hypothesis has its critics, however. Read more.
Archaeologists have long debated when early humans began hurling stone-tipped spears and darts at large prey. By throwing a spear, instead of thrusting it, humans could hunt buffalo and other dangerous game from a safe distance, with less risk of a goring or mauling. But direct evidence of this hunting technique in early sites has been lacking. A new study of impact marks on the bones of ancient prey shows that such sophisticated killing techniques go back at least 90,000 years ago in Africa and offers a new method of determining how prehistoric hunters made their kills.
Other researchers have used indirect methods to study the use of projectiles, such as analyzing impact fractures on ancient stone points or identifying traces left by hafting on the points. Such evidence suggests that early humans created throwing spears as early as 500,000 years ago in Africa. But that kind of evidence leaves room for doubt and is frequently disputed. Read more.
A lost continent off the coast of Brazil may have been found, scientists announced this week.
Granite boulders dredged from the seafloor off the coast of South America two years ago could be remnants of a long-vanished continent, according to Roberto Ventura Santos, the geology director of Brazil’s Geology Service.
"This could be the Brazilian Atlantis," Santos told reporters, adding that he was speaking metaphorically and not claiming to have found the legendary sunken world. "Obviously, we don’t expect to find a lost city in the middle of the Atlantic," he said.
Santos and his team speculated that the granite—a relatively low-density rock found in continental crust—belonged to a continent that was submerged when Africa and South America drifted apart and formed the Atlantic Ocean about 100 million years ago. Read more.
The idea that humans nearly became extinct 75,000 ago because of a super-volcano eruption is not supported by new data from Africa, scientists say.
In the past, it has been proposed that the so-called Toba event plunged the world into a volcanic winter, killing animal and plant life and squeezing our species to a few thousand individuals.
An Oxford University-led team examined ancient sediments in Lake Malawi for traces of this climate catastrophe.
It could find none.
"The eruption would certainly have triggered some short-term effects over perhaps a few seasons but it does not appear to have switched the climate into a new mode," said Dr Christine Lane from Oxford’s School of Archaeology.
"This puts a nail in the coffin of the disaster-catastrophe theory in my view; it’s just too simplistic," she told BBC News. Read more.