Category Archives: anthropology

Dingos, lynxes, stone tools and the wilderness downtown

After almost two years, I’ll be visiting my hometown again soon. I live and work as an archaeologists in a country in Central Europe where I did not grow up. I was reading John Bradley’sWhen a stone tool is a dingo: Country and relatedness in Australian Aboriginal notions of landscape” the other day. Bradley manages to illustrate and summarize some important points about how past (and present) societies might understand their surroundings much less compartmentalized as we in western societies of the 21st C might do. It made me wonder if the concept of a lithic tool being a dingo can be translated to the (peri-)alpine Central European Mesolithic. Could a stone tool be a lynx instead?

However, intuitively the first thing that came to mind reading about such a complete/holistic worldview did not concern the Mesolithic, but my own life. More than a third of my life I have now spend away from where I grew up. Those ca. 13 years were spend in 6 cities on two continents. All of these cities have grown dear to me, but none of them I know as well as the city I spend my younger years in.

A. Deusser - Arcen von Westen (Lottum, von Arcen aus gesehen, mit Bodennebel, Abendlandschaft an der Maas, Lottum, 1918 - 1924)

A. Deusser - Arcen von Westen (Lottum, von Arcen aus gesehen, mit Bodennebel, Abendlandschaft an der Maas, Lottum, 1918 - 1924.)
Deusser moved to the region I grew up in, during the 1910s-1920s, living and painting in Arcen.

One of the band members of Arcade Fire went back to the neighbourhood he grew up in and wrote the song “We used to wait” about this. Chris Milk and a team from Google made the interactive video The wilderness downtown around it, taking you back to YOUR youth. It is an amazing experience and shows what is possible with HTML5. It’s worth a try (best with google chrome).

My understanding and knowledge of the part of Europe where I spend the first 19 years (and a few more later on) of my life goes back at least four generations, roughly 120 years. It is probably the most in depth and intense knowledge and understanding I will ever have of any part of the world. I guess this will be true for most if not all people who pack up their things and go and live in a new part of the world. Perhaps I will look back at this post in 20 years and think how wrong I was. But maybe archaeologists, dealing with the material and immaterial remains of the past (and present?) in our surroundings find it easier than many others to find stone-tool-dingos – or lynxes – in their newly adapted homes.

 Bradley, J., 2008, When a stone tool is a dingo: Country and relatedness in Australian Aboriginal notions of landscape, in David, B. & Thomas, J. (eds), Handbook of Landscape Archaeology. Left Coast Press

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Aside

Quite a while ago again, I wrote a few words on the A. Sediba finds. The fossils have been controversially described as the ancestors of Homo. Now a number of specialists have met at two occasions and discussed the fossils. … Continue reading

Four Stone Hearth Tea-Party and a weekly anthro round-up

Krystal at Anthropology in Practice invites to the 102nd Four Stone Hearth Tea-Party.

It’s a good and very wide selection this time. So, head over there.

And also at Neuroanthropology the Wednesday round-up has some fascinating links as well!

Keep up the good work, all of you!

Neandertal genome sequence and Belgian Beer

I wonder if it is slowly time to change the name of this blog to Gene relations. The max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Svante Pääbo and Richard Green and colleagues did it. It’s only an initial version, but using material from four sites, they have decoded the Neanderthal genome, and surprise surprise, a little bit of Homo Neanderthalensis lives on in some of us, in Europeans, East Asians, and Melanesians. Having grown up not too far from the actual Neanderthal valley in Germany I like to think I have some in me too.

DNA clusters on Roche/454 Genome analyzer. ©Frank Vinken; http://www.eva.mpg.de/neandertal/press/press_kit.html

This is cool stuff! Continue reading

Malapa Cave – Australopithecus sediba

So now, of course, I can’t not draw your attention to the ~2mya Malapa Cave (South Africa) finds just published in Science, esp. as one of the authors has his home as the same university as I do (Zürich, Switzerland). The two partial skeletons, MH1 and MH2 are dubbed Australopithecus sediba. Who would want to miss out on the rare opportunity to name a new species, eh?

I haven’t read the articles yet, but I am sure to do so soon.  John Hawks has already some usefull comments on his blog.

Below the abstract of the main article in Science and the ref to the second article. It’s also worth to have a look at the website of the University of Zürich and the videos there, even if you don’t understand much German. The main video doesn’t show much of the bones, but is subtitled in English. What’s rather nice, is that Schmid and colleagues say that they want to keep the material available for and share it with other researchers, incl. the original material. Continue reading

Denisova II

I came across another article on the Denisova find here, on Spiegel-online, which includes a nice little slideshow (or in english), and John Hawks wrote a few more lines on it too.

Below the abstract of the letter in Nature:

Nature advance online publication 24 March 2010 | doi:10.1038/nature08976; Received 21 January 2010; Accepted 3 March 2010; Published online 24 March 2010

The complete mitochondrial DNA genome of an unknown hominin from southern Siberia

Johannes Krause1, Qiaomei Fu1, Jeffrey M. Good2, Bence Viola1,3, Michael V. Shunkov4, Anatoli P. Derevianko4 & Svante Pääbo1

Abstract

With the exception of Neanderthals, from which DNA sequences of numerous individuals have now been determined, the number and genetic relationships of other hominin lineages are largely unknown. Here we report a complete mitochondrial (mt) DNA sequence retrieved from a bone excavated in 2008 in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. It represents a hitherto unknown type of hominin mtDNA that shares a common ancestor with anatomically modern human and Neanderthal mtDNAs about 1.0 million years ago. This indicates that it derives from a hominin migration out of Africa distinct from that of the ancestors of Neanderthals and of modern humans. The stratigraphy of the cave where the bone was found suggests that the Denisova hominin lived close in time and space with Neanderthals as well as with modern humans.

  1. 1. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
  2. 2. Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812, USA
  3. 3. Department of Anthropology, University of Vienna, Althanstr. 14, A-1090 Wien, Austria
  4. 4. Paleolithic Department, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Branch, Lavrentieva Avenue, 17 Novosibirsk, RU-630090, Russia

Correspondence to: Johannes Krause1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to J.K. (Email: krause[at]eva.mpg.de).

Denisova: mtDNA of previously unrecognized, extinct human species?

Just a quick note today. In Nature an article was published, in which the news was revealed that the mtDNA extracted from a 48 – 30 kya old fingerbone, found at the Denisova Cave in Siberia,  might represent an until now unkown human species. However, this is far from certain yet. But still, this is very exciting news, and it shows once more that we are far from knowing it all yet.

A BBC article with some comments from other scientists.

Link to the original article in Nature: here

So, before you believe the hype, have a good look at John Hawk’s commentary first, okay?