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Archaeologists catching up with the geneticists

30 October 2022
Ancient history, Archaeology, Uncategorised

At https://phys.org/news/2022-10-central-asia-key-region-human.html … archaeologists are catching up with the geneticists. After the latter discovered the Denisovans living close to Neanderthals in central Asia a new study is now suggesting central Asia was once an important place for human dispersal. The steppe zone now has large chunks of semi arid and desert areas but this was not always true in the past. In fact, during some phases of the Pleistocene, central Asia was much more agreeable as a place to live and thrive. The population appears to have relocated at the end of the Ice Age, eastwards and westwards, and possibly even southwards. The authors claim to have discovered a pattern, as computer modeling tends to do when playing around with the keyboard. They say that the Caspian Sea had a significant role in human occupation. In drier periods, throughout the Pleistocene, the sea shrank. However, when moisture increased, the sea expanded and the desert became steppe. Palaeolithic occupation of central Asia rose and fell with the increasing and decreasing levels of moisture. However, is it as simple as that? What caused the Caspian Sea to expand and contract? Is anything missing from their computer simulation?

At https://phys.org/news/2022-10-uk-oldest-human-dna-revealing.html … DNA of Late Palaeolithic skeletal material in Britain has revealed two separate groups migrated into NW Europe at the close of the last Ice Age.  A skull from Goughs Cave in Somerset, dated around 15,000 years ago, seems to be contiguous with immigration into NW Europe from the east, central Asia, or possibly, Siberia. The second skull came from Kendricks Cave in North Wales and has been dated slightly later, at 13,500 years ago. He came from what are known as Western hunter-gatherers – and came from western Asia, possibly by way of the Near East. In fact, the Near Eastern connection is long established by archaeologists. Both groups seem to fall between the end of the last Ice Age and the Younger Dryas event, a warm period separated by the Older Dryas event. The Oldest Dryas event coincided with the end of the last Ice advance. Did new groups arrive after the Younger Dryas?

The authors of the study note that the two groups were also culturally distinct, even in their diets and how they buried their dead.

At https://phys.org/news/2022-10-sinuses-evolution-ancient-humans.html … the changing shape of the frontal sinuses is seen as a window on human evolution. These small cavities, located just above the nose, are linked to the size of the frontal lobe. This is intriguing as the frontal lobe is thought to be responsible for our ability to be emotional, to calculate and plan, and even for speech. These traits are thought to have evolved over time, from early Hominins to Homo sapiens. Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London has specialised in this subject, being the author of Homo Britannicus, Allen Lane:2006. He comments, sinuses are interesting morphological features in fossil human skulls but they have, until now, largely been neglected. Early days then in this line of research. It seems there are distinct differences between early hominins, the size and shape of frontal sinuses, and those of later hominins, and modern humans.

Sinuses are air filled spaces within the bone of the skull. They are lined with a mucus membrane. It is unclear what their role is but they seem to produce mucus and nitrogen oxides to defend against infections, and they also seem to provide thermal and shock protection to the nervous system. Blocked sinuses are a common medical complaint. Excess mucus can cause headaches. The puzzle is why did they evolve? It may be that the sinuses will eventually be used to differentiate the various hominin and human groups. For example, sinus size is said o differ between Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and modern humans. The suggestion being made here is that they are related to brain size. On the other hand, ….. See https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abp9767 [Science Advances]


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