Image by hairymuseummatt via Flickr

This appears to be a very interesting new theory that comes with a bold (and controversial) study: 40,000 years ago the volcanoes in Europe blew the final whistle for our close relatives, the Neanderthals. The picture provided by the researchers seem consistent with the chronology, though some scholars remain unconvinced. Other theories suggest that modern humans played an important role in the demise of the Neanderthals in a variety of ways including warfare. This is, as far as I know, the first plausible theory on a “catastrophic explanation”. The study is published in the October issue of the journal “Current Anthropology”. Probably a wave of controversy will follow soon by the “orthodox academicians”.


Amazon Rainforest, the largest tropical forest...

Image via Wikipedia

Zahra Hirji of Discovery News, presents a brief analysis on the hot subject which has been discussed for some time. Is the “ancient civilization in Amazonian forests” story, an “incredible cover-up of Mother Nature” as Hirji herself stated on the title of the article, or rather an exaggerated speculation that grew in some archaeologists’ minds? Augusto Oyuela Caycedo from University of Florida believes a past existence of a complex society in the depths of the rain forests. Many anthropologists support this view after researching the environment and examining the evidence. On the other hand, conservatives seem reluctant to be convinced. As Hirji stated, it appears as a controversy between the “old way of thinking” and the “new wave of thought”. A good read.


Illustration of Mitochondrial Eve

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Mitochondria, the fundamental part of a cell which supplies the most of the chemical energy by generating ATP, also gives extremely valuable clues about the human genome. Since it is inherited maternally, all human beings on the earth could be traced back to an individual female lived in Africa who is called “Mitochondrial Eve” and  by the scientists. A recent study of scientists from Rice University suggests that our common “grandma” lived 200,000 years ago. Fascinating story.

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The most robust statistical examination to date of our species’ genetic links to “mitochondrial Eve” the maternal ancestor of all living humans confirms that she lived about 200,000 years ago.

Artist's cross section of a mitochondrion
The Rice University study was based on a side by side comparison of 10 human genetic models that each aim to determine when Eve lived using a very different set of assumptions about the way humans migrated, expanded and spread across Earth. (more…)

When genetics and anthropology walk hand-in-hand, the results can be amazing. Cross relations and cooperation between different scientific disciplines almost always have the potential of biringing exciting results; like the LiveScience story below: Scientists finished sequencing the Iceman’s genome, who’s mummified remains were discovered in the Eastern Alps nine years ago, and now they are comparing his mitochondrial DNA with samples from living people. Could he have any relatives, living today?

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Iceman, the Neolithic mummy found accidentally in the Eastern
Alps by German hikers in 1991, has offered researchers all sorts of clues to
life 5,200 years ago, from his goat-hide coat to the meat and unleavened bread
in his stomach to the arrow wound in his shoulder.

Researchers have sequenced the Iceman

Now, scientists stand poised to find out a whole lot more
about Iceman, who also goes by Ötzi, Frozen Fritz and Similaun Man.

They recently finished sequencing the Iceman’s genome,
which took about three months – a feat made possible by whole genome sequencing
technology. With that map of his genes in hand, researchers are moving onto to
a whole new array of questions, according to Albert Zink, head of the European
Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano
(EURAC) in Italy.

“Some are very simple, like so ‘What was really the eye color of
the Iceman? What was really his hair color?'” Zink said. There are more
complicated questions, too. Zink and others are curious about any genetic
evidence of disease in the Iceman and the composition of his immune system.

And there’s the big one, he told LiveScience: “Are
there any living relatives of the Iceman still around?”

Scientists have already taken a stab at this question when
they analyzed DNA from Iceman’s
– energy-producing centers of cells – and compared the results
with groups of living individuals. They did not find any matches, suggesting his
maternal lineage is either very rare or died out. (Mitochondrial DNA is passed
down from mothers to their children and so would only provide relatives on
Iceman’s mom’s side of the family.)

“We have to take into account this is only the maternal
lineage,” he said, referring to the mitochondrial study. “And not all
people are tested.”

Until now, scientists hadn’t mapped the DNA within the
nuclei of his cells. For humans, nuclear DNA contains 6 billion base pairs,
while mitochondrial DNA only includes 15,000 to 17,000, according to Zink.


The mystery surrounding Neanderthals continues. According to the latest studies, our relatives had reached as far as China in Asia, before being wiped off the earth. There is still controversy on how the Neanderthals disappeared. One opinion points at a sudden climate change, while another one claims (more confidently) that our ancestors destroyed them. Weather it was a “holocaust” or an “extinction” caused by climate change, one thing is becoming more and more certain with the latest studies and researches: Neanderthal race was far more wide-spread on our planet than we previously thought. The feature below was clipped from Discovery News:

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Go East, Old Man

Oct. 1, 2007 — European Neanderthals, modern man’s ill-fated cousins who died out mysteriously some 28,000 years ago, migrated much further east than previously thought, according to a study released Sunday.
Remains from the slope-browed hominid have previously been found over an area stretching from Spain to Uzbekistan, but the new study extends the eastern boundary of their wanderings another 1,250 miles deep into southern Siberia, just above the western tip of what is today China.
The fossils underpinning the study are not new, but the techniques used to analyze them are.
Geneticist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and colleagues compared mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences from bones found from two sites — one in Teshik Tash, Uzbekistan and the other from the Altai Mountains in Siberia — with those of specimens from different European sites.

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A very exciting discovery in Egypt: Human footprints that go back about 2 million years or even more. Some scholars said, the footprints could even go back more than 3 million years, which makes them the “oldest traces of humans” on the planet. The story below is from the BBC, clipped by JohnWaterman at Clipmarks web site.

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Archaeologists in Egypt say they have discovered what might be the oldest human footprint ever found
The outline was found imprinted in mud, which has since turned to stone, at Siwa oasis in the western desert.
“This could go back about two million years,” antiquities council chief Zahi Hawass was quoted by Reuters as saying. However Khaled Saad, director of pre-history at the council, said it could be older still, and pre-date Ethiopia’s 3m-year-old skeleton, Lucy.


Lucy, discovered in 1974 in Hadar, Ethiopia, is an extinct Australopithecus afarensis hominid estimated to be 3.2 million years old.
“It could be the most important discovery in Egypt,” Mr Hawass said.
Until now the earliest evidence of human activity found in Egypt, most famous for the era of the pharaohs, dates from about 200,000 years ago.

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