Bits of In the News

8 June 2011

At … a paper published by PNAS by two Japanese scientists has traced back the domestication of rice to around 10,000 years ago – but in 2003 rice grains were discovered in Korea and dated 15,000 years ago. This seems to indicate purposeful breeding and the selective saving of seeds  may actually have predated major genetic change (in this instance a preference for shorter stems). The semi dwarf phenotype has been extensively selected during modern crop breeding as a desirable trait.

At… is a report on the discovery that Homo erectus was living in the Caucasus almost 2 million years ago – somewhat earlier than when they were supposed to have migrated out of Africa (see also… ). So where did they originate – in Africa or Asia? (or how reliable is the dating?). Once again, the hype is based not on bones but on stone tools – is somebody overexcited?

At… there is a piece about genetics that seem to show Easter Island's aboriginal population was derived principally from Polynesians – but a substratum seems to show an affinity with Native Americans. While this may seem to validate Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki expedition (and books) the author is at pains to say that the link is not too distant and may only reflect Polynesians washing up in South America (taking the chicken there and picking up various crop plants in exchange) with the implication Easter Island was colonised as part of the process.

At… …. there is a report on a Fayoum site dating back to around 4000BC where an early farming community has been preserved in the sand of what is now the desert. Zahi Hawass wants the site re-evaluated by archaeologiss as the Mubarak regime had designated the area as a prime tourist development zone. The site is expected to be highly valuable to archaeologists as the Fayoum was occupied by hunter gatherers as long ago as 200,000 years, continuously until the pharaonic era. The remains of 24 whales at the site are said to date back 42 million years ago which is interesting in so far as it is very near the Eocene boundary event which appears to have involved geological upheaval. As far as 4000BC is concerned – it precedes the era of irrigation farming and any evidence of agriculture was rain fed (in what is now a desert).

At… is a typical piece of MSM journalism on what is perhaps an important archaeological discovery, a corralling of C14 dates for building activities in Britain – at around 3700BC. It is of course an artifact of modern Bayesian C14 methodology so quite how realistic it might be is a matter of opinion. It seems to show that 'causewayed camps' of the Middle Neolithic, which are known to have precedents on the continent at a somewhat earlier point in time, seem to have spread from Kent to Cornwhall in just 50 years. The bigger problem is although some sites were used by countless generations other sites had a very brief lifetime – but required enormous effort to construct. Why? The use of the Bayesian methodology may ring fence C14 dates more precisely but it does not preclude the possibility some sites were earlier than others, which the old system recognised but the new system fades out. Bayesian C14 is currently fashionable – it may not be in years to come.

At there is a report on a core from an Ontario lake bed (NE of Toronto) that has revealed an ancient shoreline, now submerged, dating to the early Holocene – with evidence of human activity.

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