|Tuesday, December 20, 2005|| |
| 20 Dec 2005 @ 04:52|
Thick-skinned bottle gourds widely used as containers by prehistoric peoples were likely brought to the Americas some 10,000 years ago by individuals who arrived from Asia, according to a new genetic comparison of modern bottle gourds with gourds found at archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere. The finding solves a longstanding archaeological enigma by explaining how a domesticated variant of a species native to Africa ended up millennia ago in places as far removed as modern-day Florida, Kentucky, Mexico and Peru. The work, by a team of anthropologists and biologists from Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, Massey University in New Zealand and the University of Maine, appears this week on the web site of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Integrating genetics and archaeology, the researchers assembled a collection of ancient remnants of bottle gourds from across the Americas. They then identified key genetic markers from the DNA of both the ancient gourds and their modern counterparts in Asia and Africa before comparing the plants' genetic make-up to determine the origins of the New World gourds. "For 150 years, the dominant theory has been that bottle gourds, which are quite buoyant and have no known wild progenitors in the Americas, floated across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa and were picked up and used as containers by people here," says Noreen Tuross, the Landon T. Clay Professor of Scientific Archaeology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "Much to our surprise, we found that in every case the gourds found in the Americas were a genetic match with modern gourds found in Asia, not Africa. This suggests quite strongly that the gourds that were used as containers in the Americas for thousands of years before the advent of pottery were brought over from Asia." The researchers say it's possible the domesticated gourds were conveyed to North America by people who arrived from Asia in boats or who walked across an ancient land bridge between the continents, or that the gourds floated across the Bering Strait after being transported by humans from their native Africa to far northeastern Asia. "These people did not arrive here empty-handed; they brought a domesticated plant and dogs with them. They arrived with important tools necessary to survive and thrive on a new continent, including some knowledge of and experience with plant domestication," says co-author Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution. Thought to have originated in Africa, bottle gourds (Lagenaria sicereria) have been grown worldwide for thousands of years. The gourds have little food value but their strong, hard-shelled fruits were long prized as containers, musical instruments and fishing floats. This lightweight "container crop" would have been particularly useful to human societies before the advent of pottery and settled village life, and was apparently domesticated thousands of years before any plant was domesticated for food purposes. Radiocarbon dating indicates that bottle gourds were present in the Americas by 10,000 years ago and widespread by 8,000 years ago. Some of the specimens studied by the team were not only the oldest bottle gourds ever found but also quite possibly the oldest plant DNA ever analyzed. The newest of their archaeological samples, a specimen found in Kentucky, was just 1,000 years old - suggesting the gourds were used in the New World as containers for at least 9,000 years.
Source: EurekAlert! (13 December 2005)
|Friday, December 16, 2005|| |
| 16 Dec 2005 @ 01:05|
"New research shows early humans were living in Britain around 700,000 years ago, substantially earlier than previously thought. Using new dating techniques, scientists found that flint tools unearthed in Pakefield, Suffolk, were 200,000 years older than the previous oldest finds."*
The Latest issue of British Archaeology January-February 2006) has a well illustrated 10 page article on the discovery.
OK and this story is also in the January-February 2006 issue for Bunny Hotep:
Britain's first rabbit - and someone ate it
What did the Normans do for us? One traditional answer is bring rabbits. New evidence suggests that Romans had already done it. The butchered bones of a small Mediterranean-type rabbit have been found at Lynford, Norfolk, in a pit dating to 50BC-100AD. Our wild rabbits are thought to have evolved from Mediterranean ancestors. It is likely Romans brought them to Britain to trade, breed and eat. Coincidentally, the dig was close to another ancient butchery site - where Neanderthals had eaten mammoths. Two rabbit bones have also been found at third century AD Beddingham Roman villa, East Sussex.
Back to the story at hand....
Nature had a press conference with for of the people involved in the site:
Interviews are streaming video here:
|Saturday, November 15, 2003|| |
| 15 Nov 2003 @ 08:40|
The discovery of 71 pieces of red ochre in the oldest section of a burial cave in Israel has prompted researchers to suggest that the symbolic thinking that marked the beginning of modern-day human thought arose deep in the Stone Age. The received wisdom has been that the assignment of symbolic meaning to specific items and colours emerged no earlier than 50,000 years ago. But the association of red ochre with skeletons found in the oldest section of the Qafzeh Cave has been taken to indicate that symbolic burial rites were being performed more than 90,000 years ago.
The controversial theory that modern thought did not emerge with the appearance of Upper Paleolithic cultures has been put forward by Erella Hovers of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who directed the Qafzeh project. She argues that in the Middle East and Eurasia "many symbolic behaviours that are considered modern existed for a time [before the Upper Paleolithic] and then disappeared, to be reinvented time and again". The 'continual reinvention' proposal stems from the fact that similar ochre use does not appear again in the Qafzeh Cave until 12,700 years ago.
Red ochre is a form of iron oxide which yields a pigment when heated. The precise meaning of the use of ochre is unknown, but it was widely used in primitive societies and even today the colour red is used in non-industrial cultures as a symbol of fertility or vitality. The ochre at Qafzeh was brought to the cave from nearby sources. Large hearths and ochre-stained tools in the same sediment levels that contain the oldest human remains show that the ochre was worked on-site. Hovers and her co-workers say that the pigment was used with the shells of inedible molluscs found in the cave, possibly in symbolic activities related to burying the dead. Prehistoric symbolic expressions most commonly occurred in large populations that stayed for extended periods in resource-rich locations, says Hovers. But in the small nomadic groups typical of Stone Age Middle East symbolic behaviour would have surfaced for special activities at special sites, such as interment of the dead at Qafzeh Cave.
A report published in the August-October Current Anthropology has had a mixed reception. Sally McBrearty of the University of Connecticut believes that Qafzeh adds to the evidence of the great antiquity of the colour red as a symbolic category, pointing out that engraved ochre dates to 77,000 years ago in South Africa. On the other hand, Richard G. Klein of Stanford University holds that ochre use was merely a step towards advanced symbolic culture, which he places at around 50,000 years ago.
Source: Science News (1 November 2003)
NOTE: If you want to follow the Scarlet Thread, take a look a Julie's blog where she posts another exerpt from her book in progress.
|Wednesday, November 12, 2003|| |
| 12 Nov 2003 @ 15:04|
By John Noble Wilford New York Times November 11, 2003
Somewhere in the imagination, at an intersection of the idealized Golden Age and mankind's descent into manifest imperfection, existed the island civilization of Atlantis. This realm of divine origin was ruled from a splendid metropolis in the distant ocean. Its empire, described by a philosopher as "larger than Libya and Asia combined," enjoyed prosperity and great power.
In time, driven by overweening ambition, a common theme in antiquity and not unheard of today, Atlantis set out to conquer lands of the Mediterranean. But in a terrible day and night of floods and earthquakes, Atlantis was swallowed by the sea, sinking into legend.
The story endures as a classic in the genre of lost worlds long vanished, the ruins and treasures of which are surely somewhere out there yet to be found. Legends, though, are often mirages, forever shimmering out of reach, yet exerting an attractive power beyond reason.
Sometimes the pursuit of legends leads to unforeseen knowledge.
In the 12th century A.D., the legend of Prester John, a rich and powerful Christian monarch somewhere in Asia, drew intrepid seekers, eventually including Marco Polo, who opened Western eyes to the wonders of the East. When no one found Prester John in Asia, the legend did not go away; its locale shifted to Africa.
The golden city of El Dorado eluded hellbent adventurers, whose frustrated quest nonetheless put much of South America on the map.
The fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, castles in the air that proved to be nothing more than humble Indian pueblos, drew Europeans across tortured miles and years of discovery in what is now the Southwestern United States.
The tale of the lost continent has sent respected classical scholars to their texts for corroboration that Atlantis was more than fantasy. Archaeologists, geologists and divers have plumbed ocean depths where the island supposedly sank out of sight thousands of years ago. Not a scrap of compelling evidence supporting the legend has ever turned up.
Such a negative discovery might be conclusive enough for most legends to pass from rock-hard belief to literary artifacts of prescientific cultures living in a world of limited horizons and boundless mystery. But true believers, complaining that scientists have got it all wrong, continue the search.
Generations of adventurers, writers, mystics and cranks have satisfied themselves of the legend's reality. Their "solutions" fill more than 2,000 books and countless articles. The lost continent also inspired works by authors as diverse as Francis Bacon and Arthur Conan Doyle, and Hollywood has weighed in with any number of forgettable movies.
Richard Ellis, author of "Imagining Atlantis," thinks the legend is fantasy. "Atlantis lives on in people's minds largely because you cannot prove it doesn't exist," he said recently. "You can't search every inch of the ocean bottom, and so the hope remains alive and the promise of finding treasures in sunken palaces."
The sole source of the Atlantis story is by no means obscure. In two dialogues, the "Critias" and the "Timaeus," Plato in the fourth century B.C. described a resplendent island empire in the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar). "This dynasty, gathering its whole power together," Plato wrote, "attempted to enslave, at a single stroke, your country and ours."
Even after disbelief in ancient gods undercut literal acceptance of the legend, medieval maps were sprinkled with imaginary islands in the Atlantic, including Antillia. Some experts suspect this preserves in garbled form the name of Atlantis and a lingering belief that its remnants may still exist. The maps encouraged navigators in their quests, among them Columbus.
The 20th century was hard on Atlantis dreams. Detailed mapping of the sea floor and the new theory of plate tectonics made it clear, geophysicists say, that land masses resembling Atlantis never existed in the Atlantic.
Undeterred, ardent believers went looking elsewhere: in Scandinavia, the Bahamas and the Aegean Sea. Huge blocks of stone submerged off Cuba were recently proclaimed possible ruins of the lost empire.
A more plausible hypothesis, some scholars think, places Atlantis at Crete. The accomplished Minoan civilization there collapsed in the middle of the second millennium B.C., presumably destroyed by a volcanic eruption on nearby Thera, modern Santorini.
Was this in Plato's mind? Or he might have been inspired by an event in his own time, the earthquake in 373 B.C. that brought the Greek city of Helike, as ancient writers said, crashing into the sea.
The unknown fires the imagination. Whether the starry night or extraterrestrial beings, the mystery of life itself or life after death or any of the uncertain boundaries between reality and resolute yearning, it is unknowns that populate history with gods and heroes, monsters of the deep and chimeric islands, lost paradises and the elusive El Dorado at the end of greed's rainbow, not to mention Martians.
Some mysteries will be solved, but never all of them. As for Atlantis, another Greek philosopher delivered the verdict that has yet to be contradicted.
As noted by the British classicist J. V. Luce, Aristotle considered Atlantis a poetic fiction invented by Plato as a warning of the fate that befalls the arrogant and decadent. Plato placed Atlantis beyond the then known world and sank it to the ocean floor to preserve the power of the mystery.
"The man who dreamed it up made it vanish" was Aristotle's solution to the mystery of Atlantis.