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”.


A brilliant archaeologist from Tel Aviv University, Prof. Yuval Goren, has developed a new tool which let archaeologists examine the millenia old clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions and find out amazing details like “who wrote it”. Goren’s device uses X-ray to reveal hidden information about a tablet’s composition without damaging the precious ancient find itself.

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Unfortunately, when the Mesopotamian kings exchanged letters, written in cuneiform on small tablets made out of clay, their post offices didn’t record the sender’s return address. Yet, a more thorough look at the composition of the clay tablets can help today’s archaeologists to determine the origins of this correspondence — which can reveal a great deal about ancient rulers and civilizations.  It can offer information about the ancient trade networks, warfare, literature and political ties in the region.
Professor Yuval goren
Luckily, the medium the ancient rulers chose to correspond in, clay tablets, is composed of fine-grained materials, often less than two micrometres in size, and the exact composition differs depending on the clay’s geographical origin.  Examining chemical composition of the artefacts, rather than the texts, can tell archaeologists more about where the writings were created (or at least, where the clay was sourced) and which other tablets with similar composition they relate to.


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.


Now I suspect if it’s really pollution which killed the fish or if there’s something “geological” happening around the Assam riverbed. If the latter is true, then it means there is a serious trouble which can trigger a scary seismical event near Brahmaputra and Assam.
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Dead Brahmaputra fish

Pollution may be responsible (Pics: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee)

Thousands of dead fish have been washed ashore in a river in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam river since early this week.

They were discovered on the banks of the Brahmaputra river in the state capital, Guwahati.
An equal number of sick fish were found in the same place, officials said. They blamed rising pollution levels.
An investigation has been ordered by the Assam government, said C.K.Bhuiyan, senior district official in Guwahati.
Earlier in the year, the Assam Pollution Control Board (APCB) told all the oil refineries in the state to achieve “zero pollution” levels by 31 December, otherwise they would be threatened with closure.

Man holding dead Brahmaputra fish
The Guwahati refinery was found to be the worst polluting refinery and was perhaps the only one in Assam not to have yet complied, pollution control board officials said.
  blog it


Two interesting news stories on genetics: One, about creating artificial life and the other is a Nobel awarded, groundbreaking work, titled gene targeting. It’s almost certain that genetics will be the most important scientific discipline in upcoming decades, with the new possibilities and exciting new horizons appear for the humanity. Of course, bringing new “problems” and hot debates too.

Craig Venter, a U.S. scientist and researcher, claims he created an artificial chromosome in his laboratory and injected this to a living bacterial cell. The Guardian reports:

Controversial celebrity US scientist Craig Venter has announced he is on the verge of creating the first ever artificial life form which he hails as a potential remedy to illness and global warming.

Venter told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper Saturday that he has built a synthetic chromosome using chemicals made in a laboratory, and is set to announce the discovery within weeks, possibly as early as Monday.

Despite Venter’s sensational “media show”, the prospect of engineering artificial life forms is highly controversial and likely to trigger a heated debate over the ethics and potential ramifications of such an advance, think some. We’ll see what new discussions will begin in upcoming weeks. You know, scientists have an instinctive reflex to reject all the new and groundbreaking theories that come from their colleagues.