Anthropology news

Hobbit again

It's only a few days but the claim the Hobbit was a remote human ancestor related to Homo habilus is being questioned already - at The Conversation (see https://phys.org/print412232632.html ). The author of the piece likens the Hobbit debate as an ongoing soap opera - never ending quarrels and claims. However, the author, an anthropologist, provides us with some useful information, and the first point to bear in mind is that there is a lack of bones to actually analyse.

Pleistocene Indonesia

The idea that modern humans in SE Asia, in the Holocene, were more advanced than Pleistocene predecessors, has taken a bit of a knocking - as a result of research by the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution (see https://phys.org/print410447018.html ). The discovery of cave art, said to go back up to 40,000 years ago, on the island of Sulawesi, and various tools etc, seems to show that Ice Age humans were as advanced as those in India and elsewhere.

DNA and Europeans

At https://phys.org/print410172163.html ... DNA research is said to map the migration route of early farmers 8000 years ago - courtesy of the University of Huddersfield's Archaeogenetic Research Group. However, the sample comes from just 1500 mitochondrial genome lineages spread over a large area. Is that enough? They think they have evidence of post-glacial expansion from western Asia (a so called refugia from the ice sheet).

Stone Age Aspirin

At https://anthropology.net/2017/03/09/neanderthals-used-penicillin-and-asp... ... this story has been around for a week or so (see also https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/dental-plaque-dna-... ) ... 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.

Aborigines

At https://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/aboriginal-hair-sh... ... 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 https://phys.org/print407677784.html ) 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.

skulls

At https://phys.org/print407057607.html ... 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.

Revivalism

A hoary chestnut has reared its head once again - see http://phys.org/print399808185.html ... 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 http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-2016/article/evolution-purged-... ... 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 http://phys.org/print396196467.html ... 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.