Unknown Egyptian pharaoh discovered, Senebkay


This 9 January 2014 video is called US Diggers identify tomb of Pharoah Sobekhotep I.

From AFP news agency:

Ancient tomb of unknown Egyptian pharaoh ‘Senebkay’ found in Abydos

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 13:04 EST

US archaeologists have uncovered the tomb in southern Egypt of a previously unknown pharaoh who ruled 3,700 years ago, antiquities officials said on Wednesday.

The discovery by a team from the University of Pennsylvania provides new evidence that at least part of Egypt may have escaped the rule of the Hyksos, invaders from what is now Syria who dominated the Nile Delta between the 18th and 15th centuries BC, the officials said.

A royal cartouche bearing the full name of pharaoh Senebkay was found on the sarcophagus and on a wall of the tomb unearthed in the ancient city of Abydos, the head of the antiquities ministry’s pharaonic department, Ali El-Asfar, said.

The team also recovered the skeleton of the pharaoh, which suggested he stood 185 centimetres (just over six foot) tall.

They found canopic vases, traditionally used to preserve body organs, but no grave goods, suggesting the tomb was robbed in ancient times.

Asfar said the discovery suggested that the rule of the Hyksos did not extend to all of Egypt and that a native dynasty managed to preserve its independence in the south.

“The royal family in Abydos, which may have been founded by Senebkay, is of Egyptian origin and did not submit to the Hyksos’s rule,” he said.

The same US team announced last week that it had identified the pharaoh whose tomb they unearthed at Abydos last year.

Pharaoh Sobekhotep I is believed to have been the founder of the 13th dynasty 3,800 years ago. His identity was established after the team found fragments of a slab inscribed with his name.

See also here.

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Ancient Neanderthals, new research


This video says about itself:

Svante Pääbo: DNA clues to our inner Neanderthal

30 Aug 2011

Sharing the results of a massive, worldwide study, geneticist Svante Pääbo shows the DNA proof that early humans mated with Neanderthals after we moved out of Africa. (Yes, many of us have Neanderthal DNA.) He also shows how a tiny bone from a baby finger was enough to identify a whole new humanoid species.

By Matthew MacEgan:

The genetic legacy of the Neanderthals

6 January 2014

New research published in a recent issue of Nature presents the sequencing of the entire genome of a Neanderthal woman who lived in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia over 50,000 years ago. The data gathered from this study, along with another published study regarding the genome sequencing of a Denisovan hominin, a related group of humans who lived side by side with Neanderthals during this period, has much to say about prehistoric human development and the genetic makeup of modern humans, going far beyond any previous genetic research on archaic humans.

Genome sequencing is a relatively new process that enables researchers to map and examine DNA. The most famous example has been the Human Genome Project, an international effort to map the entire genetic sequence of modern humans all over the world, allowing for a detailed exploration of our biological history. The recent sequencing of Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes are the very first performed on extinct hominins (humans) and dramatically aid in our understanding of gene flow and drift between our archaic predecessors.

The Neanderthal type specimen fossil was discovered in a limestone quarry in the Neander Valley near Düsseldorf, Germany, in August 1856. Its discovery took place just three years prior to the publishing of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, launching the finding into a larger debate about biological evolution. The most commonly debated aspect of Neanderthal history in recent years has been whether Neanderthals interbred with Homo sapiens and whether such offspring were fertile.

Separating Neandertal DNA from modern human contamination: here.
Geographic dispersal of Neanderthals

There are currently known remains attributed to 400 different Neanderthals ranging geographically from Portugal to Siberia, including northern European finds in England and Germany as well as Middle Eastern counterparts in Israel and Iraq. These fossils range in date from 350,000 years ago to 35,000 years ago.

Earlier Neanderthal fossils share traits with the older hominin Homo heidelbergensis, which spread across Africa, Europe, and Asia at least 600,000 years ago. Both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens are believed to have evolved from Homo heidelbergensis, each group developing in isolation due to prolonged quaternary glacial periods. If this hypothesis is correct, Homo sapiens would have developed in Africa, while Neanderthals evolved throughout Eurasia.

Neanderthals share 99.7 percent of their DNA with modern humans but display very specific morphological differences. Neanderthals were considerably more “robust” than Homo sapiens, featuring thicker bones and a larger brain case. While modern humans have an average brain capacity of 1400cc, the average Neanderthal reached 1600cc in size. Neanderthals are also thought to have been much stronger than anatomically modern humans, especially having stronger arms and hands. It has even been suggested that the more robust Neanderthal teeth were used as cutting tools (the more “gracile” Homo sapiens teeth perhaps developed along with the increased use of fire to cook food, which made it softer). Neanderthals are also thought to have consumed a larger percentage of meat as part of their diet, including big game animals. One of the more popular explanations for the physical divergence between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens is climatic. Bodies with shorter limbs and thicker forms retain heat more efficiently in colder geographic areas while more lissome figures with longer limbs disperse heat better in warmer climates.

In 2008, an excavation performed in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, near the borders of Kazakhstan and Mongolia, yielded the fossil remains of both Neanderthals and those of a potentially new group of hominins that have since become known as “Denisovans.” These remains have enabled researchers to determine that both groups inhabited Eurasia during the period when modern humans emerged from Africa (around 50,000 years ago), leading some to believe that Denisovans similarly evolved from Homo heidelbergensis living in Asia.

According to the recent Nature article, the “Altai Neanderthal” genome was sequenced from DNA extracted from a toe phalanx discovered in Denisova Cave in 2010. The archaeological layer within which the toe was found is located in the east gallery of the cave and is thought to be at least 50,000 years old. While the bone features traits commonly found in both Neanderthals and modern humans, the DNA found within shares a common ancestor with six previously published Neanderthal DNA sequences, providing adequate evidence that it indeed belongs to a Neanderthal.

The main finding of the report, which has been focused on by most media outlets, is a high level of inbreeding in the Altai Neanderthal. According to the published research, her parents were closely related enough to be either half-siblings who shared the same mother or of another close relation such as double first cousins, uncle and niece, or grandmother and grandson. While there has been a high level of discussion about whether inbreeding was common amongst the Altai Neanderthal population, no scientific evidence has surfaced which supports this theory. Inbreeding is more typical of small, isolated populations.

The toe phalanx genome was compared to several other hominin genomes, including the Denisovan genome sequence that was previously recorded from DNA extracted from a finger phalanx. The Denisovan finger, excavated in 2008, was found within the same archaeological layer as the Neanderthal toe. Other genomes used for comparison include those of several other Neanderthals and 25 present-day humans. Researchers were thus able to provide new estimates of population split times.

Their estimates suggest that the ancestors of modern humans split from both Neanderthals and Denisovans between approximately 553,000 and 589,000 years ago, while the Neanderthal and Denisovan populations seem to have split apart later, about 381,000 years ago.

According to the authors of the Nature article and of potentially greater interest is the fact that the population of the ancestors of modern humans began to increase over time after the split, while Neanderthals and Denisovans saw subsequent decreases in population size. This supports previous speculations that Neanderthal populations were small and stable or even declining at the height of the last glacial period.

The new genome sequences also support admixture theories previously suggested by researchers. Much controversy has surrounded the suggestion that archaic humans such as Neanderthals and Denisovans interbred with the ancestors of modern humans, especially amongst those who theorize that other hominin groups were violently eradicated by “blood-thirsty” Homo sapiens. Other earlier writers on the subject placed Neanderthals as direct ancestors of modern humans while more recent scholarly work has suggested a smaller percentage of Neanderthal genetic material in the Homo sapiens genome sequence.

In recent years, new research has strongly indicated that modern humans emerged and dispersed from Africa approximately 50,000 years ago, mixing with Neanderthals in the Middle East before venturing into Europe and Asia, with those anatomically-modern humans who passed into Asia mixing further with Denisovans in Oceania. If these archaic groups intermingled genetically, a newer, clearer picture of our ancestors can be understood, a picture that is far less grim than the violent images of conquest propounded by some analysts.

The Altai Neanderthal genome sequence shows that Neanderthal-derived DNA in all non-Africans is 1.5 to 2.1 percent, while Denisovan-derived DNA found in human inhabitants of Papua New Guinea and Australia is 3 to 6 percent. There are also small traces (0.5 percent) of Denisovan DNA in mainland Asian and Native American populations. Such evidence of archaic human gene flow into modern populations suggests that decreasing populations of Neanderthals and perhaps also Denisovans never became “extinct” but were merely subsumed by increasing numbers of modern humans.

Ultimately this data supports the theory that Neanderthals and Denisovans did interbreed with Homo sapiens and did produce fertile offspring.

Absolutely integral to an understanding of archaic humanity is consciousness of the fact that very much is still unknown to us. In fact, if all of the excavated hominin remains from which we derive our knowledge of our ancestors were gathered together into one collection, it would easily fit into the bed of a single pickup truck.

Several other lineages and archaic human populations are for now beyond our knowledge. For example, 2.7 to 5.8 percent of the Denisovan genome comes from an unknown source, possibly an archaic hominin group which diverged from other hominins around 1 million years ago. Therefore, our current understanding of archaic humans must remain pliable and open to new findings and interpretations of raw data.

Humans appear to have inherited some traits related to skin, hair & autoimmune diseases from Neandertal ancestors: here.

DNA study shows why Neanderthals and modern humans are so different: here.

A newly discovered hearth full of ash and charred bone in a cave in modern-day Israel hints that early humans sat around fires as early as 300,000 years ago — before Homo sapiens arose in Africa: here. Already earlier, Peking Man is said to have used fire.

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Antarctic 100-year-old photo negatives discovery


This video about the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition is called Endurance, Shackleton and the Antarctic.

From Discovery News:

100-Year-Old Negatives Found in Antarctica: Photos

Dec 30, 2013 11:00 AM ET

Frozen Block

Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators recently made a stunning discovery: a box of 22 exposed but unprocessed negatives, frozen in a block of ice for nearly one hundred years.

The negatives were recovered from a corner of a supply hut that British explorer Robert Falcon Scott established to support his doomed expedition to the South Pole from 1910-1913. Scott and his men reached the South Pole but died on the trip home.

The hut was next used by the Ross Sea Party of Sir Ernest Shackleton‘s 1914-1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition after they were stranded on Ross Island when their ship, the Aurora, blew out to sea. This party is believed to have left behind the undeveloped negatives.

The cellulose nitrate negatives are seen here as they were found — frozen in ice.

Storm helps Belgian Roman age archaeologists


This video is called Secrets of Archaeology – Roman Imprint on the West – Part 1/2.

Translated from news agency Belga in Belgium today:

A positive effect of the Saint Nicholas storm which blew over our country on 5 December is that a lot of archaeological relics were washed up on the coast. That was the case between Ostend and Bredene on Oosteroever. These were finds and sherds from the Roman period.

Spears, already before humans?


The traditional theory used to be that Neanderthals, later than Homo heidelbergensis, did not have throwing spears, only spears for stabbing; and that Homo sapiens, the present human species, first used throwing spears. A more recent theory is that Homo heidelbergensis already had them about 400,000 years ago. And now …

From Student Science:

Human ancestors threw spears

Ancient spear tips suggest early humanlike species were throwing sharp spears long before people did

by Stephen Ornes

7:35am, December 12, 2013

The edge of this ancient obsidian stone point shows damage that suggests it was part of a spear thrown at animals from a short distance

Long before guns and arrows, spears were the tool of choice for ancient hunters. Topped with sharp, pointed rocks, spears at first made it possible to kill animals by stabbing them close-up. Later, spears were sturdy enough to be thrown at animals from a distance.

Until recently, the earliest known throwing spears dated back 80,000 years. But a recent discovery in East Africa now extends that type of spear hunting to a far earlier time, one that precedes humans. It suggests that at least 279,000 years ago, an earlier, humanlike species must have been hunting big game, like hippos and antelope.

Scientists dug up spear tips from that far back in time at a site in Ethiopia called Gademotta. Back then, during the Stone Age, tools were usually made from found materials like stone, wood or bone. Any early spear-throwers at that time weren’t people but early ancestors of humans called hominids. Hominids are a family of primates that includes humans and their extinct ancestors (known only from fossils).

The ancient hominid’s spears most likely were long wooden poles topped with sharp, hand-chipped (sharpened) tips made from glassy volcanic rock, explains Yonatan Sahle. He is an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been studying the ancient spear tips made from this rock, known as obsidian. Given the tips’ age, his team concludes that prehuman species must have spear-hunted too. His team reported its findings Nov. 13 in the journalPLOS ONE.

The new finding challenges previously held ideas about the earliest throwers of stone-tipped spears, says John Shea. An archeologist at Stony Brook University in New York, he did not work on the new study. Previous studies had suggested ancient peoples started attaching stones to spears capable of stabbing animals close-up no earlier than 100,000 years ago.

The new find shows that more complex throwing spears were made at Gademotta long before then. They probably belonged to a species “out of which the human species evolved in eastern Africa,” Shea told Science News. Which hominid left behind the points? No one knows. Scientists have unearthed no prehuman fossils at the site.

Sahle and his coworkers studied 141 stone spear tips from Gademotta. Viewed under a microscope, 12 tips showed damage to their edges. Previous experiments have shown this type of damage comes from throwing stone-tipped spears into an animal that’s a short distance away. The scientists also found tiny marks near the base of the points, where they had been tied onto their wooden spear shafts.

The scientists estimated the age of the spear tips by where they were found. Seven were discovered beneath a layer of volcanic ash that is 279,000 years old. The rest were found buried in upper layers that were at least 105,000 years old.

Power Words

archaeology  The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.

evolve  To change gradually over generations, or a long period of time. In living organisms, the evolution usually involves random changes to genes that will then be passed along to an individual’s offspring. These can lead to new traits, such as altered coloration, new susceptibility to disease or protection from it, or different shaped features (such as legs, antennae, toes or internal organs).

extinct  No longer in existence, as in a species or larger group of organisms.

hominid  A primate belonging to the family of animals that includes humans and their fossil ancestors.

obsidian  A hard, dark, glasslike volcanic rock.

primate  The order of mammals that includes humans, apes, monkeys and related animals (such as tarsiers, the Daubentonia and other lemurs).

Stone Age  A prehistoric period, lasting millions of years and ending thousands of years ago, when weapons and tools were made of stone or of materials such as bone, wood or horn.

Further Reading

B. Bower. “Human ancestors threw stone-tipped spears at prey.Science News. Nov. 19, 2013.

B. Bower. “Where do humans come from?Science News for Students. Nov. 5, 2013.

E. Sohn. “Ancient cave behavior.Science News for Students.

Buddhism and archaeology in Nepal


This video from Nepal says about itself:

Oldest Shrine Found Near Buddha’s Birthplace unearthed in Lumbini 26-11-2013

Earliest ever Buddhist Shrine unearthed in Lumbini

Archaeologists digging at Lord Buddha’s birthplace have uncovered remains of the earliest ever “Buddhist shrine”. They unearthed a 6th Century BC timber structure buried within the Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini in Nepal.

The shrine appears to have housed a tree. This links to accounts in Buddhist chronicles where his mother gave birth while holding on to a tree branch. This is the earliest evidence of a Buddhist shrine anywhere in the world. Tradition records that Queen Maha Maya gave birth to the Buddha while grasping the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden.

The narrative of Lumbini’s establishment as a pilgrimage site under Ashokan patronage must be modified since it is clear that the site had already undergone embellishment for centuries. The dig also detected signs of ancient tree roots in the wooden building’s central void — suggesting it was a tree shrine. It sheds light on a very long debate, which has led to differences in teachings and traditions of Buddhism.

By K. Kris Hirst in the USA:

Archaeology and the Buddha

December 8, 2013

December 8th is the traditional date for Bodhi Day, when the historical Buddha Siddartha Gautama is said to have reached enlightenment: when better to speak of the enlightening effects of archaeology?

Several recent archaeological studies associated with the life of the Buddha have been conducted, most recently excavations at Lumbini in Nepal, said to have been his birthplace. The oldest phase of the Maya Devi shrine at Lumbini is securely dated between 550-800 BC, making it the earliest shrine associated with the Buddha to date.

Coningham RAE, Acharya KP, Strickland KM, Davis CE, Manuel MJ, Simpson IA, Gilliland K, Tremblay J, Kinnaird TC, and Sanderson DCW. 2013. The earliest Buddhist shrine: excavating the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini (Nepal). Antiquity 87(338):1104-1123.

Ancient Roman women priests-controversy catacomb on the Internet


Fresco inside the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, said to depict woman priest. Photo credit: AP/Gregorio Borgia

From TheBlaze.com:

Do These Ancient Paintings Prove There Were Female Priests in the Early Church?

Nov. 20, 2013 11:46am, Billy Hallowell

New questions are emerging about the role of women in the early Christian church after the Vatican this week unveiled recently restored frescoes in the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome.

Some say the paintings depict women serving as priests during Christianity’s beginning centuries — a contention the Vatican is calling the stuff of “fairy tales.”

Two scenes inside the catacombs, in particular, are capturing attention.

In one, a group of women are seen celebrating what is believed to be the Eucharist. Another shows a woman in a garment that resembles a robe with her hands lifted up in a position that is generally used by priests during public worship, The Associated Press reported.

The paintings are being used as evidence by some individuals and groups that women once served as priests and that they should once again be allowed to do so within the confines of the Catholic Church.

While the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a group that ordains and argues for female priests, believes this is the case, others aren’t so certain. …

Reuters reported that the Catacombs of Priscilla – underground burial chambers that stretch eight miles – were built as burial grounds between the second and fifth centuries.

The catacombs have been reopened to the public after a five-year restoration project. For those who cannot make it to Rome to see the site can explore it from home using Google Maps.

Debate over the Catholic Church’s restrictions on female faith leaders continues as the Vatican’s policy of only allowing male priests remains in place.

Peccaries help to discover Brazilian prehistoric art


This video says about itself:

White-lipped Peccary in the Clay Lick of the Yasuni

1 Apr 2011

The White-lipped Peccary, Tayassu pecari, is a peccary species found in Central and South America, living in rainforest, dry forest and chaco scrub. It is monotypic within the genus Tayassu.

The white-lipped peccary is diurnal and lives in large herds of 50 to 300+ individuals, though there have been reported sightings of up to 2,000 individuals. It is an omnivorous animal, feeding on fruits, roots, tubers, palm nuts, grasses and invertebrates.

Like the collared peccary, it is a main prey species of the jaguar and, less frequently, of the cougar.

The white-lipped peccary is widely considered the most dangerous peccary; unlike the rather shy collared peccary, the white-lipped species will charge at any enemy if cornered, and when one of them is injured, the entire herd returns to defend it. There are reports of jaguars being killed by angered peccary herds and even some humans have been killed.

Distribution

The white-lipped peccary is found in Central America and South America. It ranges from southeast Mexico, throughout eastern Central America, to northern Argentina. The white-lipped peccary was introduced to Cuba in 1930, but possibly is no longer found there. According to the IUCN it’s already extirpated in El Salvador and its range has been reduced in Mexico and Central America during the last 20 years

From Wildlife Extra:

White-lipped peccary trails lead to archaeological discovery in Brazil

WCS researchers stumble upon 4,000-10,000 year-old cave drawings

November 2013: Ancient cave drawings of animals made by hunter-gatherer societies thousands of years ago were a surprise find in Brazil for a team of scientists on the trail of white-lipped peccaries, herd-forming pig-like animals that travel long distances. The team from the Wildlife Conservation Society and a local partner NGO, Instituto Quinta do Sol were gathering environmental data in forests that link Brazil’s Pantanal and Cerrado biomes.

The peccaries are vulnerable to human activities, such as deforestation and hunting, and are disappearing from large swaths of their former range from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. While following signals from radio-collared white-lipped peccaries and the foraging trails of peccary herds, the team encountered a series of prominent sandstone formations with caves containing drawings of animals and geometric figures.

Keuroghlian contacted Aguiar, a regional specialist in cave drawings. [Aguiar] determined that the drawings were made between 4,000–10,000 years ago by hunter-gatherer societies that either occupied the caves, or used them specifically for their artistic activities. The style of some drawings, Aguiar noted, was consistent with what archeologists call the Planalto (central Brazilian plateau) tradition, while others, surprisingly, were more similar to Nordeste (northeastern Brazil) or Agreste (forest to arid-land transition in NE Brazil) style drawings. The drawings depict an assemblage of animals including armadillos, deer, large cats, birds, and reptiles, as well as human-like figures and geometric symbols. Oddly, the subject of the WCS surveys in the area—peccaries—are absent from the illustrations. Aguiar hopes to conduct cave floor excavations and geological dating at the sites in order to fully interpret the drawings.

“These discoveries of cave drawings emphasize the importance of protecting the Cerrado and Pantanal ecosystems, both for their cultural and natural heritage” said Dr. Julie Kunen, Director of WCS’s Latin America and Caribbean Program and an expert on Mayan archeology. “We hope to partner with local landowners to protect these cave sites, as well as the forests that surround them, so that the cultural heritage and wildlife depicted in the drawings are preserved for future generations.”

The drawings are the subject of a recently published study by archeologists Rodrigo Luis Simas de Aguiar and Keny Marques Lima in the journal Revista Clio Arqueológica (see link). The diversity of the renderings, according to the authors, adds significantly to our knowledge of rock art from the Cerrado plateau region that borders the Pantanal.