Tag Archives: human evolution

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

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?

NEANDERTHAL TUNES

Often the way archaeology is portrayed and published is rather restrictive and can lack imagination. It also clearly has its own visual tradition and semantics. It is thus fantastic to see/hear a project like the composition NEANDERTHAL by welsh composer Simon Thorne which gives our scientific knowledge such a fresh and exciting voice. He composed a piece of music, a ‘soundscape to provide a musical illustration for the palaeolithic section of … [the National Museum of Wales’] … exhibit Origins of Early Wales.’

 

Simon Thorne in an interview: ‘The soundscape uses a degree of electronic manipulation, but the live piece will be just the four singers plus stones and whatever primitive sound-making system we feel is appropriate. It’s completely based on what we did in that initial three-hour session. We had to let go of our preconceptions about how we thought it should all go, and that opened up a really remarkable space.’

 

At the pieces’ first performance it was accompanied by a discussion of the composer with Prof. Steven Mithen, who has a strong interest in the evolution of language and music. Filmmakers were also invited to produce visualisations to accompany the soundscape.

 

Simon Thorne - Neanderthal

Simon Thorne - Neanderthal

 

Although archaeology is strongly based on the hard data obtained from excavation and the subsequent analysis of the findings thereof, there is, of course, also strong more or less subjective interpretation involved. As is the case with many of the ‘sciences’. Openly subjective or artistic representations and interpretations of the archaeological process and its results can be very interesting and informative and make us more (self-)conscious archaeologists. Either by using visual (or other sensory) representations or critiques. It opens up our archaeological eyes as well as the eyes of the wider public about the questions we ask, the methods we use to answer them, our dilemmas and our opportunities. Admitting to this subjectivity has been advocated by, a.o. many post- processualist archaeologists. I once came upon an article by a journalist who wrote that archaeology is a most complicated art, drawing on many sciences to paint its picture. Nonetheless I believe one of the main aims of archaeology is to understand past realities through the study of material remains.

 

However, it is not just archaeologists who are slowly (re-)discovering the values of artistic interpretation and representation of their work and findings. Researchers in other fields, like the physicists and the neuro-scientists mentioned in this piece on the website of Seedmagazine, are also finding it a valuable tool and medium. 

 

In their manifesto Cochrane and Russell have asked for a ‘re-engagement of archaeology with the history and contemporary practice of the visual arts’ (2007, p.8). and for archaeology ‘to express theoretical concepts in a format which is not constrained by linguistic context (2007, p.3). I believe this can be extended to the not explicitly theoretical part of archaeological practice and its findings. The NEANDERTHAL project for the National Museum Wales does exactly that, using not so much the visual as audio. It is an artistic and alternative (and seemingly educated) interpretation of Neanderthal sounds, based on current scientific thought, which transcends that of the scientific report.

 

As Thorne states on his website:

…why did we ever come to make music in the first place? The idea that Neanderthals sang their way through the landscape, and that early humans were also accomplished musicians creates a space that is ripe for conjecture…