In an exciting development, an international team of researchers have, for the first time, pieced together the human genome from an Aboriginal Australian. The results, now to be published in the international journal Science, re-interpret the prehistory of our species.
By sequencing the genome, the researchers demonstrate that Aboriginal Australians descend directly from an early human expansion into Asia that took place some 70,000 years ago, at least 24,000 years before the population movements that gave rise to present-day Europeans and Asians. The results imply that modern day Aboriginal Australians are in fact the direct descendents of the first people who arrived in Australia as early as 50,000 years ago.
The study derived from a lock of hair donated to a British anthropologist by an Aboriginal man from the Goldfields region of Western Australia in the early 20th century. One hundred years later, researchers have isolated DNA from this same hair, using it to explore the genetics of the first Australians and to provide insights into how humans first dispersed across the globe. The genome, shown to have no genetic input from modern European Australians, reveals that the ancestors of the Aboriginal man separated from the ancestors of other human populations some 64-75 thousand years ago. Aboriginal Australians therefore descend directly from the earliest modern explorers, people who migrated into Asia before finally reaching Australia about 50,000 years ago. In showing this, the study establishes Aboriginal Australians as the population with the longest association with the land on which they live today. This research is presented with the full endorsement of the Goldfields Land and Sea Council, the organization that represents the Aboriginal traditional owners for the region. Read more.
A new ancestor emerges from the richest collection of fossil skeletons ever found.
Lee Berger is standing in a death trap, smiling. It is a hole in the ground about 25 miles northwest of Johannesburg, in a ridged brown valley where herds of giraffes occasionally parade between stands of trees. The red-rock walls of the pit are higher than Berger’s head, and steep enough in spots to make a scramble up, or down, rather daunting. Some two million years ago, the hole was a great deal deeper, with no possibility of escape for any creature that fell in. This accounts for the trove of fossils Berger is finding, which in turn accounts for his upbeat mood. He leans over a red boulder near the pit bottom, tracing a white-colored protrusion with his fingers. “It looks like part of an arm,” he says. “That means we’ve found another individual.” Read more.
Grandparents are a relatively new phenomenon, researchers said today.
Until around 30,000 years ago, mankind’s ancestors had lifespans that were too short for three generations to live side-by-side, according to a study.
Simply, most people died before they were old enough to have grandchildren.
Scientists said their findings show that once life expectancy began to grow, populations expanded and societies started to thrive.
A long-running research project, studying the fossils of proto-humans stretching back three million years, reported some of its findings in the magazine Scientific American.
Anthropologist Rachel Caspari said that by examining Neanderthal dental records, her team established that 130,000 years ago, ‘no-one survived past 30’, which was the age at which they would have become grandparents.
The study, which involves fossil remains from 768 individuals, has been calculating the ratio of older to younger adults in ancient human societies down the millennia.
In the Neanderthal culture there were just four adults past the age of 30 for every 10 young adults. The average life expectancy was between 15 and 30. Read more.
A Triceratops may have been the last dinosaur standing, according to a new study that determined a fossil from Montana’s Hell Creek Formation is “the youngest dinosaur known to science.”
The Triceratops, described in the latest Royal Society Biology Letters, dates to 65 million years ago, the critical period of time associated with the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) extinction event that wiped out all non-avian dinosaurs and many other animals and plants.
Since this rhinoceros-looking, three-horned dinosaur lived so close to the mass extinction moment, it could negate an earlier theory that dinosaurs gradually died out before 65 million years ago. Read more.
Scientists say fossilized eyes found on Kangaroo Island in South Australia show some early creatures had much better vision than previously thought.
The eyes are thought to be more than 500 million years old.
The scientists say no others from the same era have been found elsewhere in the world.
Palaeontologist Dr Jim Gehling from the South Australian Museum says the first eye was discovered by accident.
"We didn’t actually find the eye in the field," he explained.
"My colleague Jim Jago came to me one day with a piece of rock that he’d just been looking at which had been collected … and he said to me ‘Have a look at this thing here’.
"It was around about 5-10 millimetres in diameter and there was this cluster of little lenses all over it and we both agreed this just had to be an eye." Read more.
Christopher Stojanowski “reads” bones to understand the past and its peoples and the Arizona State University bioarchaeologist, who specializes in dental anthropology, is able to extract information from human remains that tell a great deal about that person’s life, as well as his or her cause of death. Inherited physical features, injuries, disease and nutrition are among the facets Stojanowski deciphers when examining a skeleton.
Expanding that approach to a collection of remains, he is able to piece together the origin and “life-path” of an entire people.
“Ethnogenesis – the emergence of a people – is a complex topic and not typically considered in bioarchaeology,” said Stojanowski, who is an associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Stojanowski focused his work in two areas: North Africa and the Southeast United States. He promotes the fact that evolutionary research does not have to be historical and descriptive. He explained,“You can use evolutionary analyses to say something a bit more humanistic about the human past” Read more.
For first time, genetics finds tales of gruesome battlefield practice probably true
A remarkably well-preserved shrunken head has just been authenticated by DNA analysis, which provides strong evidence that anecdotal accounts of violent head-hunting in South America were true.
The study, published in the latest issue of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, marks the first successful effort to unveil the genetic make-up of a shrunken head.
"The shrunken heads were made from enemies’ heads cut on the battlefield," co-author Gila Kahila Bar-Gal told Discovery News. "Then, during spiritual ceremonies, enemies’ heads were carefully reduced through boiling and heating, in the attempt to lock the enemy’s spirit and protect the killers from spiritual revenge." Read more.
HOUSTON — DNA testing has failed to confirm that human remains uncovered near a Central Texas cemetery belong to a legendary Texas Ranger killed in an Indian attack almost two centuries ago, the Texas Historical Commission said Monday.
DNA samples collected this year from a Falls County gravesite could not conclusively be matched to pioneer lawman James Coryell, although evidence unearthed suggests it is him, said James Bruseth, the commission’s archaeology division director and leader of the project.
"We are disappointed that we could not conclusively confirm that this is James Coryell through DNA analysis, but I am convinced from all the other archival clues yielded during this research that this is indeed the famed Texas Ranger," he said. Read more.