Posts Tagged ‘Archaeology’

Noted in Passing 12th January 2013

January 12, 2013

My hope is to make “Noted in Passing” a regular, weekly post but I am not sure if I will have the discipline to maintain it. I shall try to confine myself to 3 topic areas: “Science and Behaviour”, “Engineering and Technology” and “Bad Science”. I’m trying to avoid politics as a topic in its own right but politics may well creep in under “Behaviour”.

Science and Behaviour

Polar bear numbers world-wide are up and here’s  a marvellous image of a polar bear in winter.

polar bear aurora_borealis_3-t2 free

Polar bear and the aurora borealis (from polar bear science)

Some people apparently believe that  too much genetic information could be a bad thing. Virginia Hughes disagrees strongly and I am inclined to agree with her. Genetic sequencing is here to stay and even if interpretation may lead to new challenges and new dilemmas, this genie cannot be stuffed back into the bottle.

Why did our fingers eveolve wrinkles? Was it perhaps to better be able to grip smooth objects?

John Hawks begins his descent through Darwin’s Descent of Man and has posted his “introduction” which is fascinating and – especially for a layman like me – eminently readable. “Experts” in my opinion are those who explain and not those who try to mystify (usually to inflate their own egos).

David McNeil believes that a gesture-speech unity lies at the origins of language but I am not convinced. When speech began – and that is a story in itself – gestures may well have added to man’s vocabulary but I am skeptical as to the role of gesture in the development of language and the grammar associated with language. But what seems obvious to me is that for the origins of speech as well as the origins of language we have to look to the increasing need for communication as the driving force.

In the meantime miR-941 is now being slated as a specific gene that contributed to how early humans developed tool use and language (in contrast to the FoxP2 gene which is thought to be a more general enabler). A study by psychologists claims that language learning begins before birth but I think they jump far too quickly from sound recognition to language learning and the study does not convince.

Recent excavations at an Australian site provides evidence of inhabitation ” certainly” at 41,230 years ago with the dating of charcoal found at the site. However the earliest inhabitation was much older since stone tools were found in deeper layers than the charcoal, but these have yet to be dated. This seems more consistent with the main human expansion Out of Africarabia first happening before Toba.

Even bloggers on the right are questioning the US love affair with semi-automatic weapons but I don’t expect any significant change to the gun laws in the US anytime soon.

Good grief! Greg Laden believes that summer in the Southern Hemisphere must be a sign of global warming. It’s -6°C outside my window right now and its been snowing in Jerusalem and the Lebanon, so I suppose the Northern Hemisphere must be entering a Little Ice Age.

The luminosity of our Sun varies just 0.1% over the course of its 11-year solar cycle. There is, however, a dawning realization among researchers that even these apparently tiny variations can have a significant effect on terrestrial climate. Tony Phillips from NASA comments on  “The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth’s Climate”  issued by the National Research Council.

Engineering and Technology

The technology for drones that today are used to kill could have more peaceful purposes. A Dronenet for a human free package delivery service  is attractive and does not sound so absurd.

Livefist reports that Airbus has beaten out the Russians to win the Indian Air Force’s new generation of  mid-refuelling tankers while Boeing is still going through teething troubles with the 787 Dreamliner.

The pressures on the supply of neodymium, dysprosium, and other rare-earth metals for the manufacture of strong magnets is leading to a surge in the use of nanotechnology to find alternatives.

Bad Science:

  1. Another idiot study about how our fists evolved in response to fighting!  An excellent takedown by  T. Ryan Gregory. “The most impressive thing about this study is that it managed to gain so much attention with so little substance”. 
  2. ChemBark has this update on serial data fabricator Bengu Sezen who has been hired by the Gebze Institute of Technology.
  3. Simon Kuper has some sympathy for Diederik Stapel who now finds himself in an unforgiving Dutch society. His take on the Stapel affaire is in the FT.
  4. The American Psychiatric Association would seem to be in thrall to the pharmaceutical industry as DSM -5 is adjusted to sell more drugs.
  5. John Hawks has a scathing post about Mark Lynas as “someone who had never read a scientific study on the subject, purporting to be an advocate in the popular press, and having his ignorant statements printed widely by multimillion-dollar media organizations” and the shoe fits whether Lynas is pontificating about GMO or global warming.
  6. Further retractions of social psychology papers: “Fraud committed by any social psychologist diminishes all social psychologists” and reinforces the view that social psychology is mainly for headlines and is still a long way from being a science.
  7. Most junior scientists accept academic theft by their advisors as a way of life and only a very few decide to make any noise about it.

Out of Africarabia

November 9, 2012

There has been a gap of 50-65,000 years between the genetic time-line of the Out-of-Africa theory and archaeological indications of the earlier presence of anatomically modern humans outside of Africa. But the genetic evidence is now going back in time and approaching the archaeological time-line. “Out-of-Africa” is beginning to look much more like “Out-of-Africarabia”.

“Out-of-Africa” is morphing into “Out-of Africarabia” as genetic and archaeological time-lines converge

Out of Africarabia

DNA evidence shows farming was not indigenous but was imported into Europe from the East

November 10, 2010

A new paper published in PLoS Biology today uses “high precision ancient DNA methods” to  create a detailed genetic picture of one of the first farming communities in Europe (from central Germany) which reveals that this ancient farming population was radically different to the nomadic populations already present in Europe.

Haak W, Balanovsky O, Sanchez JJ, Koshel S, Zaporozhchenko V, et al. (2010) Ancient DNA from European Early Neolithic Farmers Reveals Their Near Eastern Affinities. PLoS Biol 8(11): e1000536. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000536

The hunter-gatherers of Europe it seems did not change rapidly to become farmers. The farmers moved in (invaded?) from the near east and some 8,000 years ago gradually dominated the scene. From Science Daily:

A team of international researchers led by ancient DNA experts from the University of Adelaide has resolved the longstanding issue of the origins of the people who introduced farming to Europe some 8000 years ago. A detailed genetic study of one of the first farming communities in Europe, from central Germany, reveals marked similarities with populations living in the Ancient Near East (modern-day Turkey, Iraq and other countries) rather than those from Europe.

Project leader Professor Alan Cooper, Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide, says: “This overturns current thinking, which accepts that the first European farming populations were constructed largely from existing populations of hunter-gatherers, who had either rapidly learned to farm or interbred with the invaders.”

“We have finally resolved the question of who the first farmers in Europe were — invaders with revolutionary new ideas, rather than populations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers who already existed in the area,” says lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak, Senior Research Associate with ACAD at the University of Adelaide. “We have also been able to use genetic signatures to identify a potential route from the Near East and Anatolia, where farming evolved around 11,000 years ago, via south-eastern Europe and the Carpathian Basin (today’s Hungary) into Central Europe,” Dr Haak says.

The Author summary:

The transition from a hunter–gatherer existence to a sedentary farming-based lifestyle has had key consequences for human groups around the world and has profoundly shaped human societies. Originating in the Near East around 11,000 y ago, an agricultural lifestyle subsequently spread across Europe during the New Stone Age (Neolithic). Whether it was mediated by incoming farmers or driven by the transmission of innovative ideas and techniques remains a subject of continuing debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics. Ancient DNA from the earliest farmers can provide a direct view of the genetic diversity of these populations in the earliest Neolithic. Here, we compare Neolithic haplogroups and their diversity to a large database of extant European and Eurasian populations. We identified Neolithic haplotypes that left clear traces in modern populations, and the data suggest a route for the migrating farmers that extends from the Near East and Anatolia into Central Europe. When compared to indigenous hunter–gatherer populations, the unique and characteristic genetic signature of the early farmers suggests a significant demographic input from the Near East during the onset of farming in Europe.


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