Ancient settlements discovery in Peruvian Andes


Stone tools found at Cuncaicha and Pucuncho sites in Peru. Image credit: Kurt Rademaker et al.

From Sci-News:

Archaeologists Discover Two 12,000-Year-Old High-Altitude Settlements in Peru

Oct 24, 2014

Archaeologists from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Peru, have discovered two ancient settlements in the Pucuncho Basin in the southern Peruvian Andes – named Cuncaicha and Pucuncho – which they say are the highest-altitude Pleistocene archaeological sites yet identified in the world.

One scientific theory about high altitude colonization suggests that people cannot live in high altitudes until genetic adaptation occurs, like the sort we find in Andean people today.

Andeans have genetically adapted to their high altitude environment.

Key differences in the Andean people include a higher metabolic rate, larger lung capacity and higher hemoglobin concentrations then the average person, all of which allow them to overcome a lack of oxygen.

“Was this adaptation present 12,000 years ago? We don’t know for certain,” said Dr Sonia Zarrillo of the University of Calgary, who is a co-author of the paper published in the journal Science.

The first site Dr Zarrillo and her colleagues discovered, Cuncaicha, is a rock shelter at 4.5 km above sea level, with a stone-tool workshop below it.

According to the archaeologists, it was occupied about 12,400-11,500 years ago.

The second site, Pucuncho, is an ancient workshop where stone tools were made at 4.4 km above sea level. It dates to around 12,800-11,500 years ago.

“We don’t know if people were living there year round, but we strongly suspect they were not just going there to hunt for a few days, then leaving. There were possibly even families living at these sites, because we’ve found evidence of a whole range of activities,” Dr Zarrillo said.

“Climatic conditions in both sites are harsh, with factors including low-oxygen, extreme cold and high levels of solar radiation making life in the region a challenge for any humans.”

She added: “our team hiked up to three or four hours to get to these sites. That was a climb, carrying all of our gear, camp equipment and food. And it freezes every night. Sometimes it snows. These are incredibly hard sites to access.”

Archaeological evidence found at the sites includes signs of habitation such as human skull fragments, animal remains and stone tools.

The Pucuncho site yielded 260 stone tools, such as projectile points, bifaces and unifacial scrapers. The Cuncaicha rock shelter contains a “robust, well-preserved and well-dated occupation sequence.”

“Most of the stone tools at Cuncaicha were made from locally available obsidian, andesite and jasper, and are indicative of hunting and butchering consistent with limited subsistence options on the plateau. In addition to plant remains, bones at the site indicate hunting of vicuña and guanaco camelids and the taruca deer,” the scientists said.

“At Cuncaicha we found remains representing whole animals. The types of stone tools we’ve found are not only hunting tools but also scraping tools used for processing hides to make things like clothing, bags or blankets,” Dr Zarrillo said.

Extinct giant kangaroos, new research


This music video is called Saint Saens: Carnival of the Animals~Kangourous (Kangaroos).

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The mystery of the extinct giant kangaroo is solved – it didn’t hop

The giant Sthenurus – dead for 30,000 years – was three times the size of the modern-day kangaroo

Steve Connor, science editor

Wednesday 15 October 2014

It looked like something out of the pages of Alice in Wonderland but this giant, short-faced kangaroo hid another peculiar characteristic down its pouch – it walked rather than hopped on its hind legs.

The extinct marsupial, which was nearly three times bigger than the largest living kangaroos, died out 30,000 years ago, but only now have scientists been able to tie its locomotion down.

With a leap of the imagination, the researchers were able to visualise how the giant Sthenurus kangaroo, which weighed up to 240kg, moved around by putting one foot in front of another rather than hopping on both legs.

Bipedal hopping is a quintessential feature of kangaroo locomotion, but the Sthenurine group of extinct ‘roos was clearly made for walking, according to Christine Janis of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who led the study published in the on-line journal PlosOne.

“When I first saw a mounted skeleton of a Sthenurine I was struck by how different it was in the back end to modern kangaroos, despite the superficial similarity of long hind legs,” Dr Janis said.

“My work emphasises that the large modern kangaroos are highly specialized in their anatomy for hopping in comparison with other large extinct kangaroos,” she said.

“Sthenurines almost certainly did hop, except perhaps for the very largest ones. The issue is that their anatomy is also suggestive of bipedal walking, which is the unexpected issue here,” she added.

Modern kangaroos use hopping to move around at speed but when moving slowly they walk mostly on all fours, using their massive tails as support – so-called “pentapedal” locomotion.

The extinct Sthenurus, however, must have walked on its hind legs because its anatomy does not fit with the notion of hopping or pentapedal locomotion, Dr Janis said. For a start, it had “robust”, heavier bones compared with the more slender anatomy of modern kangaroos, which would have made hopping hazardous.

“If it is not possible in terms of biomechanics to hop at very slow speeds, particularly if you are a big animal, and you cannot easily do pentapedal locomotion, then what do you have left? You’ve got to move somehow,” Dr Janis said.

An analysis of the giant kangaroo’s anatomy suggests it was well suited to bearing the animal’s entire weight on one leg, which is crucial for bipedal walking. Its ankle bone, for instance, had a flange over the back joint to provide extra support – something missing in modern kangaroos.

Sthenurus has proportionately bigger hip and knee joints than today’s kangaroos and the shape of its pelvis – broad and flared – suggested that it had large gluteal muscles in is backside, which would have allowed it to balance on one leg as it moved the other leg forward, Dr Janis said.

“I think that they originally took this up as an alternative slow gait to the way that other kangaroos move slowly on all fours using their tail to propel their hind legs past their front legs [because] hopping is biomechanically impossible at very slow speeds,” Dr Janis said.

“This requires a flexible back and supporting their weight on their hands, whereas sthenurines had a stiff back and specialized hands for feeding. So they had this unique walking gait,” she said.

Sthenurine kangaroos died out around the same time that modern humans arrived in Australia and began to spread across the continent, suggesting that their demise may have had something to do with human hunting.

Walking rather than hopping would have been a slower and less efficient means of moving fast, which may have been one of the reasons by the giant, walking kangaroo went extinct, leaving their hopping cousins to fill the void, Dr Janis explained.

Columbian mammoths’ red hair discovery


This video is called BBC: Columbian Mammoth, Death by Tar – Ice Age Death Trap.

From Smithsoniam.com in the USA:

Rare, Red Mammoth Hair Found on Californian Artichoke Farm

Columbian mammoths roamed Western North America thousands of years ago, and now we have a better idea of what they looked like

By Mary Beth Griggs

September 5, 2014

Columbian mammoths were redheads. Well, at least one Columbian mammoth was. Back in 2010, two brothers on an artichoke farm in California came across the bones of many prehistoric animals, including the remains of a 46-year-old mammoth with a small tuft of its hair still intact.

Archaeologist Mark Hylkema spoke to Western Digs about the find.

“What was particularly significant is that the hair was red,” Hylkema said. “It was the same color of my golden retriever.” “We can envision cattle on the landscape today,” he added. “Picture herds of red-colored mammoths.”

Hair from other mammoth species has been recovered, particularly from wooly mammoth remains, which have been found preserved in ice (also with a reddish-hued coat in some cases). But finding the hair of a Columbian Mammoth is a very rare occurrence, as they tended to live in more temperate climates, which don’t tend to preserve hair or tissue as well as more icy climates. A fact sheet about the Columbian mammoth published just a few years ago by the San Diego Zoo lists its pelage (fur) as unknown, because there just weren’t enough samples of hair to figure out what it would have looked like. Now, with this find, we have a better idea.

Researchers have recovered about 40 percent of the mammoth and many other creatures from the site, but many of the remains weren’t in good condition, unlike the remains found at the La Brea Tar Pits. Excavation of the site has stopped, but researchers are still working on the remains already recovered, and the mammoth discovery has obviously left an impression on the farmers, who began selling “Mammoth” brand artichokes after the big find.

North American mastodons and mammoths, new study


This video from the USA is about mastodons and mammoths.

From LiveScience:

Mammoths and Mastodons of the Ohio Valley Were Homebodies

By Laura Geggel, Staff Writer | July 28, 2014 01:55pm ET

People may imagine mammoths and mastodons as enormous beasts that roamed the vast North American continent more than 10,000 years ago. But the mammoths and mastodons of present-day southwestern Ohio and northwestern Kentucky were homebodies that tended to stay in one area, a new study finds.

The enamel on the animals’ molars gave researchers clues as to where the mammoths and mastodons lived throughout their lives and what they ate. They discovered that mammoths ate grasses and sedges, whereas mastodons preferred leaves from trees or shrubs. Mammoths favored areas near retreating ice sheets, where grasses were plentiful, and mastodons fed near forested spaces, the researchers said.

“I suspect that this was a pretty nice place to live, relatively speaking,” lead researcher Brooke Crowley, an assistant professor of geology and anthropology at the University of Cincinnati, said in a statement. “Our data suggest that animals probably had what they needed to survive here year-round.” [Image Gallery: Stunning Mammoth Unearthed]

Both animals, now extinct, likely came to North America across the Bering Strait land bridge that connected Alaska to Russia when sea levels were lower than they are today, Crowley told Live Science in an email.

Mammoths — which had teeth ideal for grinding grasses, as well as curved tusks and humped heads — are more closely related to elephants than mastodons are, Crowley said. Mammoths came to North America during the mid-Pleistocene Epoch, about 1 million years ago, she added.

Mastodons arrived much earlier. They had spread across America by the Pliocene Epoch, around 5 million years ago. Their molars were shaped to crush plants, such as leaves and woody stems, and they had long, straight tusks that could grow up to 16 feet (4.9 meters) long, Crowley said.

In the study, the researchers looked at the remnants of carbon, oxygen and strontium, a naturally occurring metal, in the enamel of molars from eight mammoths and four mastodons that lived in Ohio and Kentucky about 20,000 years ago.

The carbon analysis helped researchers learn about the animals’ diet, whereas the traces of oxygen told them about the general climate at the time. Strontium provides insights into how much the animal traveled as their molars developed. Researchers can look at the type of strontium within the enamel and determine where it came from by comparing it to local samples of strontium in the environment.

“Strontium reflects the bedrock geology of a location,” Crowley said. This means that if a local animal has traces of strontium in its tooth, researchers can deduce where that type of strontium came from in the area. “If an animal grows its tooth in one place and then moves elsewhere, the strontium in its tooth is going to reflect where it came from, not where it died,” she said.

Surprisingly, the researchers said, the strontium in the mammoth and mastodon teeth matched local water samples in 11 of the 12 mammals. Only one mastodon appeared to have traveled from another area before settling in the Ohio Valley.

The findings, however, only apply to the animals that lived in that region. “A mammoth in Florida did not behave the same as one in New York, Wyoming, California, Mexico or Ohio,” Crowley said.

The study was published July 16 in the journal Boreas.

Neanderthals ate vegetables, new research says


This video is called Neanderthals Decoded (full documentary).

From PLOS One:

The Neanderthal Meal: A New Perspective Using Faecal Biomarkers

Ainara Sistiaga, Carolina Mallol, Bertila Galván, Roger Everett Summons

Published: June 25, 2014

Abstract

Neanderthal dietary reconstructions have, to date, been based on indirect evidence and may underestimate the significance of plants as a food source. While zooarchaeological and stable isotope data have conveyed an image of Neanderthals as largely carnivorous, studies on dental calculus and scattered palaeobotanical evidence suggest some degree of contribution of plants to their diet.

However, both views remain plausible and there is no categorical indication of an omnivorous diet.

Here we present direct evidence of Neanderthal diet using faecal biomarkers, a valuable analytical tool for identifying dietary provenance. Our gas chromatography-mass spectrometry results from El Salt (Spain), a Middle Palaeolithic site dating to ca. 50,000 yr. BP, represents the oldest positive identification of human faecal matter. We show that Neanderthals, like anatomically modern humans, have a high rate of conversion of cholesterol to coprostanol related to the presence of required bacteria in their guts.

Analysis of five sediment samples from different occupation floors suggests that Neanderthals predominantly consumed meat, as indicated by high coprostanol proportions, but also had significant plant intake, as shown by the presence of 5β-stigmastanol. This study highlights the applicability of the biomarker approach in Pleistocene contexts as a provider of direct palaeodietary information and supports the opportunity for further research into cholesterol metabolism throughout human evolution.

Neanderthals ate barbecued pigeon. Charred bones suggest our ancient relatives cooked the ancestors of feral pigeons on the embers of their fires: here.

Oldest human genome offers clues about humans’ journey across the globe, & their sexual encounters with Neanderthals: here.

Ice age vole teeth discovery on Texel island


Ice age vole teeth discovered on Texel

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

08-06-14

Midas found this special teeth on the Texel beach

A water vole molar from perhaps more than half a million years old and a younger one, possibly two hundred thousand years old! These are the main components of the extraordinary discovery which the 13-year-old Midas Verbeek made last month, going to Ecomare with it. Just above the tide line at beach post 17 he found some small molars and teeth. Because such small molars are difficult to name mouse molar specialist Francine Dieleman was told about it. She had her first research results last week.

Oldest mice

The discovery by Midas, she discovered, included vole molars from the last ice age, incisors of voles, a tail vertebra of a water vole, a strange skull fragment, fish vertebrae and teeth. Francine Dieleman has named them provisionally and will continue to investigate them further still. She will publish about the molars in a specialist magazine. Such old rodents had in fact never before been found in the Wadden Sea area. The mice molar specialist works at Naturalis museum in Leiden.

Steppe bison discovery on Texel island


This video says about itself:

BBC Monsters We Met – 1 of 3 – The Eternal Frontier

Episode 1: Eternal Frontier (Alaska, United States, North America, 14,000 years ago) Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) American Lion (Panthera leo atrox) (live-acted by a African Lioness) Homotherium (Scimitar-tooth Cat) Smilodon (Saber-tooth Cat) Megalonyx (Jefferson’s Ground Sloth) Camelops (Giant Camel) (live-acted by a Dromedary Camel) Arctodus (Short-Faced Bear) American mastodon (Mammut americanum) Steppe Bison (live-acted by an American Bison) Hagerman Horse (live-acted by a Grevy’s Zebra) American Cheetah (live-acted by a Snow Leopard) Wild horse (live-acted by a Przewalski’s Horse) Grey Wolf (live-acted) American Bison (live-acted) Andean Condor (live-acted) Brown Bear (live-acted) Muskox (live-acted) Caribou (live-acted) Saiga (live-acted) California Condor (live-acted) Dall Sheep (live-acted) … Wolverine (live-acted).

Steppe bison are an extinct species, ancestral to both today’s American bison and European bison.

Recently, a former employee of Ecomare museum found a steppe bison astralagus bone in the dunes of Texel island. Probably, it had landed there from the North Sea; which was land when steppe bison were still alive.

The discoverer gave the bone to Ecomare.

Wildlife biologists recently scanning photographs taken by a trail camera in the Uinta Mountains last winter, saw something never before captured in Utah: the first official photographs of a wolverine: here.

Leaked Document: Scientists Ordered to Scrap Plan to Protect Wolverines: here.