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Archive for November, 2009

Chinese paleontologists claim this 110,000-year-old jawbone is from a Homo sapiens (Image: Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences)

I will keep you updated on the report published in this month’s Chinese Science Bulletin once it is available online.

by Phil McKenna, New Scientist – The discovery of an early human fossil in southern China may challenge the commonly held idea that modern humans originated out of Africa.

Jin Changzhu and colleagues of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing, announced to Chinese media last week that they have uncovered a 110,000-year-old putative Homo sapiens jawbone from a cave in southern China’s Guangxi province.

The mandible has a protruding chin like that of Homo sapiens, but the thickness of the jaw is indicative of more primitive hominins, suggesting that the fossil could derive from interbreeding.

If confirmed, the finding would lend support to the “multiregional hypothesis”. This says that modern humans descend from Homo sapiens coming out of Africa who then interbred with more primitive humans on other continents. In contrast, the prevailing “out of Africa” hypothesis holds that modern humans are the direct descendants of people who spread out of Africa to other continents around 100,000 years ago.

The study will appear in Chinese Science Bulletin later this month.

Out of China?

“[This paper] acts to reject the theory that modern humans are of uniquely African origin and supports the notion that emerging African populations mixed with natives they encountered,” says Milford Wolpoff, a proponent of the multiregional hypothesis at the University of Michigan.

Others disagreed. Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, questioned whether the find was a true Homo sapiens.

“You need to keep in mind that ‘Homo sapiens’ for most Chinese scholars is not limited to anatomically modern humans,” he says. “For many of them, it is all ‘post Homo erectus,’ humans.”

Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum said that it was too early to make far-reaching conclusions. “From the parts preserved, this fossil could just as likely be related to preceding archaic humans, or even to the Neanderthals, who at times seem to have extended their range towards China.”

The present analysis of the mandible focused almost exclusively on determining the fossil’s age. The researchers said a follow-up study would give a more complete treatment on what exactly the find represents. (from:http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18093-chinese-challenge-to-out-of-africa-theory.html)

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Around the World in Search of Ireland

In a world that lives increasingly in the moment, it’s important to remember where we’ve come from, or we may wake up one morning unable to remember who we are (pg 4).

Pete McCarthy can be summed up in two words: fantastically witty. This book chronicles his travels to Morocco, Montserrat, Australia, New York City, Montana, Alaska, and Ireland in a hilarious journey to discover Irish dispersal around the world, and more importantly to him, the dispersal of the McCarthy clan.

Born in England to an English father and Irish mother, Pete grew up learning about both worlds. However, like many people of Irish decent living outside Ireland, he felt a strong urge to learn about his Irish roots.

Though I still live in England, where family and circumstance and work have kept me, the ties pulling me back across the Irish Sea have never loosened. Those childhood visits have meant that today, when I visit, I feel in many ways more at ease, more at home, than I do in my country of my birth. In recent years I found myself wondering whether there was such a thing as genetic memory. Was it possible truly to belong in a country where I had never lived but my ancestors had? Or am I just a nostalgic fool, wallowing in the sentimentality of childhood memory, seduced by the romance of irish music, literature and history, and wanting my own part in it? (pg 3-4)

Pete McCarthy was a broadcaster on the BBC and also several radio shows. I’ve never had a chance to watch/listen to any of these programs. I found this book at a huge book sale. I was drawn to the cover and the paragraph on the dust jacket sounded great. Unfortunately, like most books I own, it sat on my bookshelf for a few years before I got around to reading it.  I picked this book off the shelf as air plane reading on a recent trip I made to Florida.  I was pleasantly surprised.  A book on travels doesn’t get much more relevant then when the reader is traveling them self.

Pete McCarthy was an incredibly funny and clever man. This book seriously made me laugh out loud.  Tragically, Pete died in 2004 from cancer, he was only diagnosed a few months prior.  This was a rather sad ending for a really funny man. Such is life.

Here is Pete McCarthy’s official website.  In the future I hope to read his first book, McCarthy’s Bar, which is said to be just as funny.

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This very interesting find in Denmark has turned into somewhat of a controversy. A 2 inch tall silver figurine, of what everyone agrees depicts a god in Norse mythology, is called “totally unique” and “must be counted among the most outstanding finds from prehistoric Denmark” by the Roskilde Museum is now being debated as to who the actual character is.

Photo: Roskilde Museum

The options are Odin, Freya, Frigga, or my favorite Odin in a dress. Here are the arguments: (more…)

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The geometry of Hobbits

Yet again, the “hobbit” is making news.
Catchup with the detate:
Orang Pendek, the real Hobbit
Update: Orang Pendek, the real Hobbit
Hobbit species may not have been human

‘Hobbits’ are a new human species — according to the statistical analysis of fossils

Homo floresiensis not diseased sub-population of healthy humans

Researchers from Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York have confirmed that Homo floresiensis is a genuine ancient human species and not a descendant of healthy humans dwarfed by disease. Using statistical analysis on skeletal remains of a well-preserved female specimen, researchers determined the “hobbit” to be a distinct species and not a genetically flawed version of modern humans. Details of the study appear in the December issue of Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society, published by Wiley-Blackwell.

In 2003 Australian and Indonesian scientists discovered small-bodied, small-brained, hominin (human-like) fossils on the remote island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago. This discovery of a new human species called Homo floresiensis has spawned much debate with some researchers claiming that the small creatures are really modern humans whose tiny head and brain are the result of a medical condition called microcephaly.

Researchers William Jungers, Ph.D., and Karen Baab, Ph.D. studied the skeletal remains of a female (LB1), nicknamed “Little Lady of Flores” or “Flo” to confirm the evolutionary path of the hobbit species. The specimen was remarkably complete and included skull, jaw, arms, legs, hands, and feet that provided researchers with integrated information from an individual fossil.

The cranial capacity of LB1 was just over 400 cm, making it more similar to the brains of a chimpanzee or bipedal “ape-men” of East and South Africa. The skull and jawbone features are much more primitive looking than any normal modern human. Statistical analysis of skull shapes show modern humans cluster together in one group, microcephalic humans in another and the hobbit along with ancient hominins in a third.

Due to the relative completeness of fossil remains for LB1, the scientists were able to reconstruct a reliable body design that was unlike any modern human. The thigh bone and shin bone of LB1 are much shorter than modern humans including Central African pygmies, South African KhoeSan (formerly known as ‘bushmen”) and “negrito” pygmies from the Andaman Islands and the Philippines. Some researchers speculate this could represent an evolutionary reversal correlated with “island dwarfing.” “It is difficult to believe an evolutionary change would lead to less economical movement,” said Dr. Jungers. “It makes little sense that this species re-evolved shorter thighs and legs because long hind limbs improve bipedal walking. We suspect that these are primitive retentions instead.”
Further analysis of the remains using a regression equation developed by Dr. Jungers indicates that LB1 was approximately 106 cm tall (3 feet, 6 inches)—far smaller than the modern pygmies whose adults grow to less than 150 cm (4 feet, 11 inches). A scatterplot depicts LB1 far outside the range of Southeast Asian and African pygmies in both absolute height and body mass indices. “Attempts to dismiss the hobbits as pathological people have failed repeatedly because the medical diagnoses of dwarfing syndromes and microcephaly bear no resemblance to the unique anatomy of Homo floresiensis,” noted Dr. Baab. (from:http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-11/w-aa111709.php)

“The geometry of hobbits: Homo floresiensis and human evolution” is a very well put together article appearing in the newest issue of Significance magazine about the differences between “Hobbits” and Homo Sapiens and why it has been concluded that they are different species. It is available online here.

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Watteau’s Sweet Music

Written for an Art History class, this is a review of the Watteau exhibit currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is a phenomenal place to visit. At almost a quarter mile in length, it is without a doubt the largest museum I have ever been to. Not only is the size of the building overwhelming, but so are the enormous collections of all types of art. Along with this comes unbelievably large crowds. I visited several exhibits and felt rushed by the line behind me. That is until I discovered Watteau. Finding the small exhibit called “Watteau, Music, and Theater,” was like finding a diamond in the rough. (more…)

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Barbara Frale, a Vatican researcher, claims to have discovered Christ’s ‘death certificate’ on the Turin Shroud.

By Nick Squires in Rome – The historian and researcher at the secret Vatican archive said she has found the words “Jesus Nazarene” on the shroud, proving it was the linen cloth which was wrapped around Christ’s body.

Barbara Frale said computer analysis of photographs of the shroud revealed extremely faint words Photo: AP

She said computer analysis of photographs of the shroud revealed extremely faint words written in Greek, Aramaic and Latin which attested to its authenticity.

Her claim was immediately contested by scholars who said that radiocarbon dating tests in 1988 showed the shroud to be a medieval forgery.

Dr Frale asserts in a new book, The Shroud of Jesus the Nazarene, that computer enhancement enabled her to detect the archaic script, which appears on various parts of the material.

She suggested that it was written by low-ranking Roman officials or mortuary clerks on a scroll or piece of papyrus to identify Christ’s corpse. Such a document would have enabled the relatives of a dead person to retrieve a body from a communal morgue, she suggested.

It would have been attached to the corpse with a flour-based glue and the ink could have seeped through into the cloth below, leaving a faint imprint.

Scholars first noticed that there was writing on the shroud in 1978 but when the radiocarbon tests a decade later suggested that the shroud was a forgery, historians lost interest in the script, Dr Frale said.

She claimed she had been able to decipher a jumble of phrases written in three languages, including the Greek words (I)esou(s) Nnazarennos, or Jesus the Nazarene, and (T)iber(iou), which she interprets as Tiberius, the Roman emperor at the time of Christ’s crucifixion.

The text also mentions that the man who was wrapped in the shroud had been condemned to death, she believes. The hidden text was in effect the “burial certificate” for Jesus Christ, Dr Frale said.

“I tried to be objective and leave religious issues aside,” she said. “What I studied was an ancient document that certifies the execution of a man, in a specific time and place.”

But other experts were sceptical. “People work on grainy photos and think they see things,” said Antonio Lombatti, a church historian who has written books about the shroud. “It’s all the result of imagination and computer software.” (from:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/6617018/Jesus-Christs-death-certificate-found-on-Turin-Shroud.html)

Dr Frale said that the text could not have been written by a medieval Christian because it did not refer to Jesus as Christ but as “the Nazarene”. This would have been “heretical” in the Middle Ages since it defined Jesus as “only a man” rather than the Son of God. (From:http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6925371.ece)

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Tuesday at Penn State Harrisburg archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert gave a lecture on the “Archaeological Treasures of Afghanistan“. Over the past few years he spent a good bit of time in Afghanistan rediscovering the Bactrian gold, cataloging it, and eventually getting a portion of absolutely equisite peices ready for a traveling exhibit. It was a pleasure to attend this lecture, Hiebert has a great deal of passion for his field. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the exhibit while it was close to home, but I found many great pictures of the collection.

This is a good article I found which explains the find. It also is a good summary of what was discussed in the lecture by Fredrik Hiebert.

Afghanistan’s Hidden Treasures on Display in D.C.

by Susan Stamberg, June 10, 2008 – The history of Afghanistan is bloodied with wars, warlords, invasions and occupations, but as a vital stop along the ancient Silk Road, Afghanistan was also a place where traditions of the East and West met — a crossroads of cultural riches.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington is exhibiting some artifacts that have outlasted all the wars and conflicts. The show is a mix of breath-catching beauty, artistry, derring-do and heroism.

Hidden for Safety

Exhibit curator Fredrik Hiebert explains that in the midst of the political chaos in the early 1980s, the staff of the Kabul Museum sneaked boxloads of cultural objects away and hid them for more than 20 years. (more…)

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