Anthropology news

Stone Age Aspirin

At ... this story has been around for a week or so (see also ) ... a microbiologist at the University of Adelaide and colleagues analysed hardened plaque from the teeth of five Neanderthal skulls from Belgium and Spain. They date from between 42,000 and 50,000 years ago. Chipping small bits of plaque off to sequence for DNA they found Neanderthals in Belgium ate a lot of meat, and mushrooms.


At ... DNA derived from hair samples taken early last century have been analysed for MtDNA and they are said to show they have been in occupation of Australia for 50,000 years. More importantly, they are said to show that individual tribes have been living in same locales for all that time, which is pretty incredible. None of them were driven out by neighbouring tribes, for example, and each recognised their boundaries.

Human Continuity

A study in the journal Science (see ) concerns two archaic skulls uncovered in Xuchang in central China which appear to contradict some embedded ideas on the pristine origin of modern humans (wherever they might be found). The two skulls are dated back to 100,000 years ago but present a mosaic of features that seem to support regional continuity. Similarities exist with early modern humans across the ancient world - such as large brains and lightly built cranial vaults with modest brow ridges.


At ... the study of ancient skulls in the Americas seems to suggest there were multiple migrations, which contrasts with what the study of genes has been telling us. Genetic research seems to show a remarkable conformity in the original settlers of the Americas - so is genetic research really at the cutting edge if skull shapes seem to weigh against it? It may be due to limited sampling of genetic material and the bigger the data base becomes the more variety will be found.


A hoary chestnut has reared its head once again - see ... the Aborigines are blamed when scientists come across evidence of landscape fire in the Holocene and Late Pleistocene. This is thought to represent evidence of Aborigines managing their environment, burning off unwelcome vegetation and allowing plants they favour to flourish in a non-forest environment.

Bottleneck Genes

The Neanderthal/Denisovan surviving genes in modern humans has been taken up at ... which again implies that the genetic inheritance from archaic humans such as the Neanderthals and Denisovans, has gradually been diluted as the modern human genome has evolved in the intervening years - over 30,000 years. However, little pieces of them live on in modern genes - but the inference is that they have grown smaller and smaller as time has progressed.

Reed Boat Voyages

At ... a reed boat, the Viracocha III, is being built by Aymara Indians in Bolivia. American explorer Phil Buck claims Thor Heyerdahl was his boyhood hero - and he aims to  take a leaf out of his book. Her wants to prove that ancient mariners were capable of long distance voyages across the world's oceans, specifically using reed boats. He thinks this will open up some of the current restrictions on human migration patterns in the past, mainly as a result of scholarly resistance rather than practical reality.

Sewing with Denisova

Stitching a hole in their shirts may have been a problem ovecome by the Denisova contemporaries of Neanderthals. These people lived in central Asia before the 40,000 year watershed when Europe was colonised by modern humans (and some of them came here by way of central Asia which adds another dimension). A bone needle has been plucked out of sediment on the floor of the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains, complete with a carefully drilled eye hole.

Human Origins Again

At ... fossil finds in China challenge the Out of Africa theory of the evolution of modern humans.    The Chinese have wondered if Peking Man (dated 780,000 years ago( and Homo erectus in general, evolved into more modern humans and contributed to the gene pool of people in East Asia. This is a bit like Europeans and Neanderthals - how much of the latter is inside the former (diluted over time).

Hobbits and Fire

At ... we return once again to the Hobbits. Anthropologists can't leave them alone. They were just three feet in height. Scientists have now discovered evidence of fire in the heart of the Liang Bua Cave on Flores Island in Indonesia after taking samples of sediments from between the Hobbit remains and the modern era. The suggestion is that modern humans, with camp fires, turned up around 41,000 years ago - but the date is elastic to a certain extent.