Discovering my first Neanderthal skeleton in Iraq’s Shanidar Cave in the spring of 1957 took my breath away.
Archaeology is a time-consuming, labor-intensive science, so when you find remains in a former residential space dating back 40,000 years, you start to imagine what life must have been like then and how anyone could have survived for long.
In 1950, I was a graduate student at Columbia University. As part of my thesis, I began to explore caves in the Middle East in search of an ideal excavation site.
When I arrived in Iraq’s Greater Zab valley in 1950, locals suggested I hike an hour up to the Shanidar Cave. The interior was as spacious as a single-family house—roughly 3,000 square feet with a 20-foot ceiling. Read more.
The oldest human tumor ever found — by more than 100,000 years — has been discovered in the rib of a Neanderthal.
The bone, excavated more than 100 years ago in Croatia, has been hollowed out by a tumor still seen in humans today, known as fibrous dysplasia. These tumors are not cancerous (they don’t spread to other tissues), but they replace the weblike inner structure of a bone with a soft, fibrous mass.
"They range all the way from being totally benign, where you wouldn’t recognize them, to being extremely painful," said David Frayer, an anthropologist at the University of Kansas who reported the finding along with his colleagues today (June 5) in the journal PLOS ONE. "The size of this one, and the bulging of it, probably caused the individual pain." Read more.
A baby Neanderthal who lived in what is now Belgium about 100,000 years ago started eating solid food at 7 months old, revealing a new aspect of the evolution of breast-feeding.
The precision of this estimate is courtesy a new technique that uses elements in teeth to determine when breast-feeding started and stopped. Though researchers can’t be sure the young Neanderthal’s pattern was typical of its kind, such a breast-feeding pattern is not unlike that seen in many modern humans.
"Breast-feeding is such a major event in childhood, and it’s important for so many reasons," study researcher Manish Arora, a research associate at Harvard’s School of Public Health, told LiveScience. "It’s a major determinate of child health and immune protection, so breast-feeding is important both from the point of view of studying our evolution as well as studying health in modern humans." Read more.
The skeletal remains of an individual living in northern Italy 40,000-30,000 years ago are believed to be that of a human/Neanderthal hybrid, according to a paper in PLoS ONE.
If further analysis proves the theory correct, the remains belonged to the first known such hybrid, providing direct evidence that humans and Neanderthals interbred. Prior genetic research determined the DNA of people with European and Asian ancestry is 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal.
The present study focuses on the individual’s jaw, which was unearthed at a rock-shelter called Riparo di Mezzena in the Monti Lessini region of Italy. Both Neanderthals and modern humans inhabited Europe at the time. Read more.
The first complete mammoth skeleton to be found in France for more than a century has been uncovered in a gravel pit on the banks of the Marne 30 miles north-east of Paris.
The find, first made in July but kept secret until this week, has yielded a second, even more exciting, discovery. Two tiny fragments of flint blade have been found embedded in the mammoth’s skull close to one of its tusks.
Archaeologists speculated, when they first found “Helmut le Mammouth” that he had come to a sticky end between 130,000 and 190,000 years ago. They concluded that the animal, maybe 9ft high and weighing up to five tonnes, had foundered on soft mud or quicksand.
Now another possibility arises. The mammoth could have been attacked by one of the bands of Neanderthal men and women who wandered over the European tundra in the cold, dry period between two ice ages more than a thousand centuries ago. Read more.
Similarities between the DNA of modern people and Neanderthals are more likely to have arisen from shared ancestry than interbreeding, a study reports.
That is according to research carried out at the University of Cambridge and published this week in PNAS journal.
Previously, it had been suggested that shared parts of the genomes of these two populations were the result of interbreeding.
However, the newly published research proposes a different explanation.
The origin of modern humans is a hotly debated topic; four main theories have arisen to describe the evolution of Homo sapiens.
All argue for an African origin, but an important distinction in these competing theories is whether or not interbreeding - or “hybridisation” - occurred between Homo sapiens and other members of the genus Homo. Read more.
Of all the human ancestors represented in the fossil record, Neandertals are the best known. A significant proportion of what scientists have learned about the Neandertals is based on a set of remains that the Croatian paleontologist Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger recovered between 1899 and 1905 from a rock shelter in the town of Krapina, some 60 kilometers north of Zagreb. The Krapina sample dates to between 120,000 and 130,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch, and includes multiple representatives of nearly every bone and tooth of the body.
Early on, Gorjanović-Kramberger took an interest in the teeth from Krapina, noting anomalies such as taurodontism, in which the pulp chamber expands into the roots. First described from the Krapina remains, taurodontism turns out to be common in Neandertals, although not exclusive to them.Since Gorjanović’s time, studies of the more than 275 Neandertal teeth from Krapina have yielded key insights into Neandertal life history. Read more.
Cave paintings in Malaga, Spain, could be the oldest yet found – and the first to have been created by Neanderthals.
Looking oddly akin to the DNA double helix, the images in fact depict the seals that the locals would have eaten, says José Luis Sanchidrián at the University of Cordoba, Spain. They have “no parallel in Palaeolithic art”, he adds. His team say that charcoal remains found beside six of the paintings – preserved in Spain’s Nerja caves – have been radiocarbon dated to between 43,500 and 42,300 years old.
That suggests the paintings may be substantially older than the 30,000-year-old Chauvet cave paintings in south-east France, thought to be the earliest example of Palaeolithic cave art.
The next step is to date the paint pigments. If they are confirmed as being of similar age, this raises the real possibility that the paintings were the handiwork of Neanderthals – an “academic bombshell”, says Sanchidrián, because all other cave paintings are thought to have been produced by modern humans. Read more.