Neanderthals’ complex tools discovery


This 2013 video says about itself:

Neanderthal Superglue

Neanderthals devised what is thought to be the world’s first known industrial process. In this video, watch as NOVA attempts to recreate the Neanderthal technique of pitch extraction through a complex process known as dry distillation.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Neanderthal glue from the North Sea

22 October 2019

A flint tool covered with a tar-like substance has turned out to be a top scientific find. Research by a Dutch team of scientists showed the find to be a piece of birch tar that was extracted 50,000 years ago by Neanderthals using complex techniques. The tar was used as an adhesive to make it easier to hold the piece of flint. Details of the find have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Knowledge of chemistry

Dating back 50,000 years means that the artefact is older than the period when modern man inhabited Europe and that it must have been used by a Neanderthal. Chemical analysis has shown that the substance is birch tar. There are different ways – some simple, some more complicated – of extracting tar from birch bark, all requiring a basic knowledge of ‘chemistry’ to be able to carry out the necessary steps in the right order. CT scans of the tar and chemical analysis show that a complex technique was used, including heating the material in a kind of oven.

Knowledge economy

Leiden archaeologists were involved in the research. Gerrit Dusseldorp explains the discovery: ‘This find shows that Neanderthals placed a lot of emphasis on “high-tech” methods, even on the periphery of their inhabited territory. When the North Sea dried up during the last Ice Age, they turned to the knowledge economy to survive the barren environment.’

Paul Kozowyk, whose PhD research is on prehistoric adhesives, is also enthusiastic. ‘What is so interesting about this find is the combination of a large amount of birch tar on a small and simple sliver of stone. It shows that Neanderthals were not only skilled in making tar, but that they also invested in materials that are all too easily to overlook in archaeological research.’

Importance to science

This artefact is of exceptional scientific importance. In the whole of Europe there are only two known sites where tools with birch tar have been found. Gerrit Dusseldorp is delighted with the find.

The other two sites are Königsaue in Germany and Campitello in Italy. The tar remnants from Campitello are 200,000 years old, making them the oldest known examples. The tar at all three sites seems to have been produced in a similar way, indicating that Neanderthals systematically invested a lot of time and energy in making composite tools.

The evolution of complex technologies is often associated with living in large groups at a fixed location. This is by no means typical of Neanderthal communities; Neanderthals generally lived in small, mobile groups. According to the researchers, during the Ice Age Neanderthals in Europe invested in technology to reduce the ecological risks, such as food shortages.

Annemieke Verbaas conducted microscopy research on the object: ‘Even using a microscope, the artefact was too far eroded to be able to identify traces of use, so the purpose of the tool remains a mystery.’

Sand Motor

The tool was found in 2016 on the Sand Motor, a stretch of artificial sandbank off the coast of The Hague, and originated from the North Sea. During the Ice Age this was an inhabited lowland area, where Neanderthals lived in what were often harsh conditions. By applying high-quality knowledge and complex techniques for making tools, they were able to cope better with hardships such as cold and food shortages.

National Museum of Antiquities

The flint tool with traces of birch tar can be seen in the central hall of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden until Sunday 12 January 2020.

Advertisements

Sick albino seal to Texel island rehab


This 11 October 2017 video from the Pieterburen seal rehabilitation centre in the Netherlands shows seals, including albino seal Sealas, being set free again after convalescence. Miss Earth was present.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Nature Center Ecomare on Texel has since today a new resident: an albino seal. And that is special, because according to Ecomare, albinism is a ‘rare phenomenon’ among seals.

The white male [harbour] seal lay this morning on the Wadden Sea dike of Texel. “A passer-by has called us and thought that the seal did not look fit. He was not relaxed”, says an Ecomare spokesperson.

The animal appears to suffer from a lungworm infection and has little to no eyesight. Eye problems often occur with albinism. It is not yet clear whether the seal is completely blind, or can at least see some things. …

The Ecomare albino seal

This photo shows the Ecomare albino seal, with its pale fur and red eyes.

“The good news is that he has already eaten himself today. That saves a lot of stress for the animal. We hope that the medication will works, that the animal will recover quickly and we will be able to release it back into nature.”

It is the first time that Ecomare has taken care of an albino seal. In the past, other shelters have cared for albino seals, but albinism remains a rare phenomenon among these animals. Seals that are completely black and have melanism – the opposite of albinism – are more common.

The seal is cared for in quarantine, but is visible to visitors through the windows.

The animal is three to four months old and weighs 16.8 kilograms. According to Ecomare, that is a reasonable weight for an animal that arrives so sick at the shelter. Because of the infection and the many wounds on his body, the seal has received a solution of salts and minerals to restore the moisture balance. The vet has also given an injection of antibiotics and worming agent.

American mountain lions, research and conservation


This September 2014 video from the USA is called Mountain lion encounter in Montana.

From the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the USA:

Whole genome sequencing could help save pumas from inbreeding

October 18, 2019

Summary: The first complete genetic sequences of individual mountain lions point the way to better conservation strategies for saving threatened populations of the wild animals.

When students at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) found a dead mule deer on campus, they figured it had been killed by coyotes. Wildlife biologist Chris Wilmers rigged up a video camera to spy on the carcass at night. But the animal that crept out of the shadows to dine on the deer was no coyote — it was a mountain lion.

Mountain lions, or pumas, stay close to their prey, “so it must have been hiding in a nearby gorge all day,” says Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Beth Shapiro, an evolutionary biologist at UCSC.

The persistent puma was already well-known by Wilmers, who had radio-collared and tagged him as part of a long-term study of California mountain lions. But now the animal, dubbed 36m, is becoming even more famous: he’s the first puma to have his complete genome deciphered by scientists.

The information in 36m’s genes may lead to better conservation strategies, Shapiro, Wilmers, and their colleagues report October 18, 2019, in the journal Nature Communications. Many puma populations across North America are becoming increasingly isolated, Wilmers says. That ups their chances of succumbing to inbreeding and its consequences — serious abnormalities such as damaged hearts and malformed sperm. But with whole genomic information, scientists can pinpoint populations that need an influx of new genes or identify the best pumas to move between populations.

Such work could stop inbreeding in its tracks and help keep local populations from going extinct, Shapiro says. “This is the first time that whole genomes have been used in this way.”

Pumas in peril

The team’s new sequencing work is not the first effort to unlock pumas’ genetic secrets. Years of painstaking research by geneticist Stephen O’Brien, molecular ecologist Warren Johnson, and others had previously shown that Florida’s tiny population of pumas (also known as cougars or panthers) had become dangerously inbred, resulting in health defects like holes in their hearts and missing testicles. These abnormalities threatened the animals’ ability to reproduce.

The research team also proved that the introduction of eight female cougars from west Texas in 1995 had added enough new genes to boost health and help the population grow from about 30 individuals to more than 120. But the team’s effort was limited by the genetic technology available at the time, which relied on analyzing just small snapshots of DNA, or markers, scattered throughout the genome. So the scientists didn’t have a complete picture of the pumas’ genes.

Animals get two versions of every gene — one from mom and, usually, a different one from dad. This means that offspring have the genetic diversity needed to keep populations healthy. But when populations become small and isolated, relatives breed with each other. As a result, genetic diversity plunges, and many genome locations end up with two identical versions of a gene. That’s when weird things happen to animals, like the kinked tails, damaged hearts, and malformed sperm found in the inbred Florida panthers before the infusion of Texas cougar genes.

Using DNA markers alone, scientists can estimate the average amount of genetic variation within a population and get a rough picture of the level of inbreeding. But this approach can’t say whether major stretches of DNA between those markers contain copies of genes that are the same. These runs of identical gene copies are crucial, says Johnson, who is at the Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit and affiliated with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Species Survival.

The number and length of these stretches provide a precise measure of both the extent of inbreeding and how recent it is — and, therefore, how close a population is to falling off a genetic cliff. Inbreeding is not a slow and progressive process, Shapiro explains. Instead, once enough long runs of DNA with identical copies accumulate, the effects of inbreeding kick in suddenly, like turning off a light switch, she says.

From mammoths to mountain lions

Shapiro is best known for recovering and sequencing tiny bits of DNA from ancient bones, charting the genetic changes in mammoths and other now-extinct animals as their numbers shrank. But she also has a keen interest in applying the same techniques to existing creatures, like the North American mountain lion. She wants to learn more about the genetic roads to extinction — and possibly prevent those creatures from suffering the same fate. While talking with Wilmers one day about the Santa Cruz lion population, the two scientists realized that a crucial piece of information was missing: the puma’s complete genetic sequence.

Using blood that Wilmers had already collected from puma 36m, Shapiro and her team, including graduate student Nedda Saremi and postdoc Megan Supple, read the lion’s entire genome to serve as a reference for the species. Then, for comparison, they sequenced the genomes of nine other mountain lions using stored samples — another from the Santa Cruz area, two from the Santa Monica mountains, one from Yellowstone, three from Florida, and one from Brazil.

The work let Shapiro see what had taken years to figure out in Florida — that the translocation of Texas cougars had boosted genetic diversity and health of the Florida panthers. The sequences also brought new insights: even after mixing in the Texas DNA, the Florida population remains closer to the genetic brink than previously thought. “The big takeaway is that translocation worked, but the lights are going to go off because they continue to inbreed,” Shapiro explains.

Similarly, the population in the Santa Cruz Mountains “is not doing as well as we expected,” she says. The 10 genomes also held controversial hints that mountain lions may have existed in North America far longer than previously thought — as many as 300,000 years, instead of fewer than 20,000 years. “What Beth and her students are able to learn from just 10 individuals greatly extends what could be inferred with traditionally used DNA markers,” Johnson says.

More insights will come as scientists ramp up whole genome sequencing. Sequencing the full genomes of many individuals across a species’ range is “tremendously valuable,” explains Brad Shaffer, director of the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science. “That can tell us a lot about the potential for climate adaptation and other critical conservation goals.” And with costs rapidly declining — Shapiro says reading 36m’s genome cost about $10,000, down from $30,000 a couple of years ago, with subsequent lions sequenced for just $400 each — O’Brien and others are pushing for a much larger effort. “Whole genome sequencing should be done for every critter we can catch,” says O’Brien, of Nova Southeastern University.

Already, Shapiro’s work is shining a powerful new spotlight on the genetic health of individual mountain lions and populations, pointing the way to more effective conservation strategies. Isolated populations, for example, may benefit from wildlife bridges across major highways, to allow animals to wander more widely. In other cases, scientists may need to move animals from one region to another. Overall, a more complete picture of the genome makes it possible to spot populations at greatest risk for inbreeding ¬- and the best candidates for translocation.

“Now we can make more informed decisions,” says Johnson. “In the past, we made decisions based on limited genetic information.” The new approach takes out much of the uncertainty about a population’s genetic heritage, he says. It also offers clues about how to preserve genetic variation and may help populations adapt to change.

Though puma 36m didn’t live to see any of these advances, his genetic legacy will remain. “While 36m was a badass puma by any measure, he might one day come to be the most recognized puma anywhere,” Wilmers wrote in a tribute.”[His] will be the puma genome against which other puma genomes can be compared and used to test all sorts of evolutionary and ecological questions.”

Spacecraft helps finding beached whales


This 10 February 2017 video says about itself:

New Zealand volunteers formed a human chain in the water at a remote beach on Friday as they raced to save dozens of whales after more than 400 of the creatures beached themselves.

From the British Antarctic Survey:

Stranded whales detected from space

October 17, 2019

A new technique for analysing satellite images may help scientists detect and count stranded whales from space. Researchers tested a new detection method using Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite images from Maxar Technologies of the biggest mass stranding of baleen whales yet recorded. It is hoped that in the future the technique will lead to real-time information as stranding events happen.

The study, published this week in the journal PLoS ONE by scientists from British Antarctic Survey and four Chilean research institutes, could revolutionise how stranded whales, that are dead in the water or beached, are detected in remote places.

In 2015, over 340 whales, most of them sei whales, were involved in a mass-stranding in a remote region of Chilean Patagonia. The stranding was not discovered for several weeks owing to the remoteness of the region. Aerial and boat surveys assessed the extent of the mortality several months after discovery.

The researchers studied satellite images covering thousands of kilometres of coastline, which provided an early insight into the extent of the mortality. They could identify the shape, size and colour of the whales, especially after several weeks when the animals turned pink and orange as they decomposed. A greater number of whales were counted in the images captured soon after the stranding event than from the local surveys.

Many coastal nations have mammal stranding networks recognising that this is a crucial means to monitor the health of the local environment, especially for providing first notice of potential marine contamination and harmful algal blooms.

Author and whale biologist Dr Jennifer Jackson at British Antarctic Survey says:

“The causes of marine mammal strandings are poorly understood and therefore information gathered helps understand how these events may be influenced by overall health, diet, environmental pollution, regional oceanography, social structures and climate change.

“As this new technology develops, we hope it will become a useful tool for obtaining real-time information. This will allow local authorities to intervene earlier and possibly help with conservation efforts.”

Lead author, remote sensing specialist Dr Peter Fretwell at British Antarctic Survey says:

“This is an exciting development in monitoring whales from space. Now we have a higher resolution ‘window’ on our planet, satellite imagery may be a fast and cost-effective alternative to aerial surveys allowing us to assess the extent of mass whale stranding events, especially in remote and inaccessible areas.”

Flying squirrel at Cornell USA bird feeder


This video from New York State in the USA says about itself:

Flying Squirrel Is Early Morning Visitor To Cornell Lab FeederWatch Cam – Oct. 15, 2019

Thanks the Cornell Lab FeederWatch cam’s new night vision feature, we can now see all the visitors who stop by the feeder after the sun goes down! Watch this flying squirrel zip onto the platform, where it would stay feasting for about 10 minutes before venturing out of view.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology writes:

Since 2012, the Cornell Lab FeederWatch cam has been known for its binge-worthy broadcast of our feathered friends from the Treman Bird Feeding Garden right outside our visitor center. We’re excited to announce that the cam you know and love has just received a 4K ultra high definition facelift! Tune in now for crisp, colorful views of your favorite Northeastern feeder birds in the highest resolution available. Thanks to the new cam’s night vision capabilities, you can stay up late and see all the action after the sun goes down (including late-nite visits from flying squirrels, see below). Watch cam here.

Neanderthal discovery on Naxos island, Greece


This 14 April 2018 video, in English with Greek subtitles, says about itself:

Carter’s Corner #6 – Neanderthals on Naxos!

From McMaster University in Canada:

Scientists find early humans moved through Mediterranean earlier than believed

October 16, 2019

An international research team led by scientists from McMaster University has unearthed new evidence in Greece proving that the island of Naxos was inhabited by Neanderthals and earlier humans at least 200,000 years ago, tens of thousands of years earlier than previously believed.

The findings, published today in the journal Science Advances, are based on years of excavations and challenge current thinking about human movement in the region — long thought to have been inaccessible and uninhabitable to anyone but modern humans. The new evidence is leading researchers to reconsider the routes our early ancestors took as they moved out of Africa into Europe and demonstrates their ability to adapt to new environmental challenges.

“Until recently, this part of the world was seen as irrelevant to early human studies but the results force us to completely rethink the history of the Mediterranean islands,” says Tristan Carter, an associate professor of anthropology at McMaster University and lead author on the study. He conducted the work with Dimitris Athanasoulis, head of archaeology at the Cycladic Ephorate of Antiquities within the Greek Ministry of Culture.

While Stone Age hunters are known to have been living on mainland Europe for over 1 million years, the Mediterranean islands were previously believed to be settled only 9,000 years ago, by farmers, the idea being that only modern humans — Homo sapiens — were sophisticated enough to build seafaring vessels.

Scholars had believed the Aegean Sea, separating western Anatolia (modern Turkey) from continental Greece, was therefore impassable to the Neanderthals and earlier hominins, with the only obvious route in and out of Europe was across the land bridge of Thrace (southeast Balkans).

The authors of this paper suggest that the Aegean basin was in fact accessible much earlier than believed. At certain times of the Ice Age the sea was much lower exposing a land route between the continents that would have allowed early prehistoric populations to walk to Stelida, and an alternative migration route connecting Europe and Africa. Researchers believe the area would have been attractive to early humans because of its abundance of raw materials ideal for toolmaking and for its fresh water.

At the same time however, “in entering this region the pre-Neanderthal populations would have been faced with a new and challenging environment, with different animals, plants and diseases, all requiring new adaptive strategies,” says Carter.

In this paper, the team details evidence of human activity spanning almost 200,000 years at Stelida, a prehistoric quarry on the northwest coast of Naxos. Here early Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and earlier humans used the local stone (chert) to make their tools and hunting weapons, of which the team has unearthed hundreds of thousands.

Reams of scientific data collected at the site add to the ongoing debate about the importance of coastal and marine routes to human movement. While present data suggests that the Aegean could be crossed by foot over 200,000 years ago, the authors also raise the possibility that Neanderthals may also have fashioned crude seafaring boats capable of crossing short distances.

This research is part of the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project, a larger collaboration involving scholars from all over the world. They have been working at the site since 2013.

For more on the project, visit the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project’s website.