Unlike most modern humans, the prehistoric people of Europe did not use mind-altering substances simply for their hedonistic pleasure. The use of alcohol and plant drugs — such as opium poppies and hallucinogenic mushrooms — was highly regulated and went hand-in-hand with the belief system and sacred burial rituals of many preindustrial societies. Elisa Guerra-Doce of the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain contends that their use was an integral part of prehistoric beliefs, and that these substances were believed to aid in communication with the spiritual world. Guerra-Doce’s research appears in Springer’s Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.
Despite the fact that the consumption of these substances is as ancient as human society itself, it is only fairly recently that researchers have started to look into the historical and cultural contexts in which mind-altering products were used in Europe. Read more.
The Black Death, a plague that first devastated Europe in the 1300s, had a silver lining. After the ravages of the disease, surviving Europeans lived longer, a new study finds.
An analysis of bones in London cemeteries from before and after the plague reveals that people had a lower risk of dying at any age after the first plague outbreak compared with before. In the centuries before the Black Death, about 10 percent of people lived past age 70, said study researcher Sharon DeWitte, a biological anthropologist at the University of South Carolina. In the centuries after, more than 20 percent of people lived past that age. Read more.
Hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived side-by-side for more than 2,000 years in Central Europe, before the hunter-gatherer communities died out or were absorbed into the farming population.
In a paper published today in Science, researchers describe their analysis of DNA and isotopes from human bones found in the ‘Blätterhöhle’ cave near Hagen in Germany, where both hunter-gatherers and farmers were buried.
The team, led by anthropologist Professor Joachim Burger of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, used stable isotopes to determine their diet, DNA to investigate how they were related, and radiocarbon to establish how old the bones were. Read more.
Feast or famine was the rule for Europe’s first farmers, archaeologists report. A population bust followed boom times in early agriculture from France to Ireland, a catalog of radiocarbon dates reveals.
Farming first moved into Europe from Greece around 8,500 years ago, spreading to Ireland and northern Europe over the next several thousand years. The switch from hunting and gathering to farming was a giant step forward for humanity, but the results from early Europe point to tough times for early farmers.
"Likely it played out in stark terms of soil degradation, probably ending in disease and warfare," says anthropologist Sean Downey of the University of Maryland in College Park, a co-author of the new Nature Communications journal study. “It’s fairly depressing and Malthusian, what happened.” Read more.
Humans originated in Africa. But what route did they take as they began to disperse around the world 60,000 years ago? A new professor at the University of Huddersfield has played a key role in finding the answer to one of the most fundamental questions in the history of mankind.
Professor Richards, who moved to Huddersfield from the University of Leeds, is a pioneer in the field – one of just two professors of archaeogenetics in the world. He uses DNA evidence to study human origins, comparing data from modern samples across the world and occasionally to that which can be obtained from ancient sources such as skeletal remains and fossilised teeth. Read more.
The ancestors of people from across Europe and Asia may have spoken a common language about 15,000 years ago, new research suggests.
Now, researchers have reconstructed words, such as “mother,” “to pull” and “man,” which would have been spoken by ancient hunter-gatherers, possibly in an area such as the Caucuses or the modern-day country of Georgia. The word list, detailed today (May 6) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help researchers retrace the history of ancient migrations and contacts between prehistoric cultures.
"We can trace echoes of language back 15,000 years to a time that corresponds to about the end of the last ice age," said study co-author Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. Read more.
From prehistory to the present with many episodes in between, the region has a surprisingly meaty history of humans eating humans
In 2001, a lonely computer technician living in the countryside in Northern Germany advertised online for a well-built man willing to participate in a mutually satisfying sexual act. Armin Meiwes’ notice was similar to many others on the Internet except for a rather important detail: The requested man must be willing to be killed and eaten.
Meiwes didn’t have to look far. Two hundred and thirty miles away in Berlin, an engineer called Bernd Brandes agreed to travel to Meiwes’ farmhouse. There, a gory video later found by police documented Brandes’ consensual participation in the deadly dinner. The cannibalism was both a shock to the German public and a conundrum to German prosecutors wanting to charge Meiwes with a crime. Read more.
The genetic lineage of Europe mysteriously transformed about 4,500 years ago, new research suggests.
The findings, detailed today (April 23) in the journal Nature Communications, were drawn from several skeletons unearthed in central Europe that were up to 7,500 years old.
"What is intriguing is that the genetic markers of this first pan-European culture, which was clearly very successful, were then suddenly replaced around 4,500 years ago, and we don’t know why," said study co-author Alan Cooper, of the University of Adelaide Australian Center for Ancient DNA, in a statement. "Something major happened, and the hunt is now on to find out what that was." Read more.