Neanderthal’s Ebb and Flow #poem #anthropology #DNA

The floor of a cave
Holds subtle clues,
Genetic remnants
Preserved in the ooze.

Molecular treasures
Hide in dirt layers,
From blood or from skin,
Or lumps of whatever.

Statistical methods
Link populations
Throughout ancient Europe’s
Inter-glacial locations.

When ice returned
The Tree of Life shook,
Layers of soil,
Are leaves
in humanity’s book.

Classic Neanderthal image from 1920

Thanks to for their article on a report in Science that dirt from Northern Spain has yielded the first nuclear DNA from an ancient human to be gleaned from sediments:

The sequences reveal the genetic identity and sex of ancient cave dwellers and show that one group of Neanderthals replaced another in the Spanish cave about 100,000 years ago, perhaps after a climate cooling. “They can see a shift in Neanderthal populations at the very same site, which is quite nice.”

Fascinating Glimpse of Ancestors’ Lives Exposed in Ancient Writing #poem #poetry #history #archeology #ancient

Cuneiform tablet

Early writing tablet recording the allocation of beer in southern Iraq, 3100–3000 BC

What do you share with ancients,
With people lost in time?
Messages in cuneiform
Reveal that
our worries rhyme.

Advice to sooth a baby,
Betray a brother’s fear,
your meal’s delivery,
Including all your beer.

Maps to aid your travels,
Proof your taxes
have been paid,
Seals that are signatures
That eons couldn’t fade.

Will future anthropologists
Revere your grocery list?
Concern themselves with UPS
From kin they can’t dismiss?

The world was once so different
At civilization’s s dawn,
But we are human,
as they were,
And our heirs
will carry on.

Kate Rauner

Thousands of cuneiform writings remain to be translated so we can understand the Mesopotamians who gave us the wheel, astronomy, the 60-minute hour, maps, economics and politics, and the story of the flood and  ark.

The records give us a picture of day-to-day life in ancient Mesopotamia, of power structures and trading networks, but also of other aspects of its social history, such as the role of female workers.

Thanks to advanced imaging techniques, anyone with an internet connection can now access treasures.

New imaging techniques are making the job of working with such ancient, often damaged texts easier… machines will eventually be able to translate more complex Sumerian tablets, and other languages like Akkadian.

Our Neanderthal Cousins More Like Us Than You Know #anthropology #fossil #Iraq #neanderthal #caveman #science

Skeleton and model Neanderthal

Neanderthal humans, the iconic cavemen of the last Ice Age, were a lot like us. Some early modern humans thought they were enough like us to mate with. You and I probably have a small amount of Neanderthal DNA in our bodies, which helps us make vitamin D and may raise our cholesterol levels (both adaptations to Europe in the Ice Age.) They contribute to the skin tone, hair color, and sleeping patterns inherited from our European ancestors. Neanderthal genes

Evidence from skulls and skeletons shows that Neanderthals cared for each other, just as we do today. Fossil discoveries in Northern Iraq included flower pollen.

Someone in the last Ice Age must have ranged the mountainside in the mournful task of collecting flowers for the dead… It seems logical to us today that pretty things like flowers should be placed with the cherished dead, but to find flowers in a Neanderthal burial that took place about 60,000 years ago is another matter. Neanderthal DNA

While not the only explanation possible for the flower pollen, it is haunting.

Neanderthals cared for injured or disabled individuals during their lives too.

At a young age, [the fossil designated] Shanidar 1 experienced a crushing blow to his head. The blow damaged the left eye (possibly blinding him) and the brain area controlling the right side of the body… All of Shanidar 1’s injuries show signs of healing, so none of them resulted in his death. In fact, scientists estimate he lived until 35–45 years of age. He would have been considered old. Shanidar-1

He also suffered from a withered right arm which had been fractured in several places and healed, but which caused the loss of his lower arm and hand. wikipedia

A new analysis of Shanidar 1 adds severe hearing loss to the man’s list of disabilities.

Of course, various animals care for offspring and share food. I still get teary-eyed remembering a momma dog I once knew. One of her pups died and we buried it, but in the morning found the little body, licked clean, at her side. But Neanderthals were humans, and more and more I can add: like us.

I’ve read that most of the fossils from the Shandiar cave have been lost in the current Middle East wars. “Shanidar 1 Neanderthal cranium was analyzed visually with low magnification assessment of the intact right and left external auditory meatus in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad in 1976–78. Cranial radiography was not available in the Iraq Museum, and reanalysis since then has not been feasible. Observations are therefore based on the externally visible configurations of the auditory pori and lateral meatus.” The research is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

The emphasis in this quotation is mine. A dry reference, I assume, to one more sad outcome of war. There have been stories of museum staff hiding, and thereby saving, some of Iraq’s treasures. I hope the Neanderthals will reappear someday.

New Study Revives an Old Mystery #archeology #anthropology #polynesia #easterisland #environment

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Moai of Easter Island

Easter Island is one of the most far-flung Pacific islands to be settled by Polynesians. I’ve thought of the place as a textbook case of overpopulation, a group overrunning this small, sealed habitat and destroying their environment before Europeans arrived.

Those Europeans, who first landed on the island in 1722, estimated that no more than 3,000 people lived on Easter Island, and wondered how such a small population could have erected the 900 moais, or giant sculpted heads, that make the place famous.

Using soil samples and estimates of sweet potato crops (a primary food), a new study suggests over 17,000 people once inhabited the island. The 80% decline seems to reinforce the view that islanders exhausted their soil, destroyed their own forests until they could no longer build fishing boats, and so were doomed.

But other research examined modern and historical samples to discover that islanders harvested fish at about the same rate throughout their history, and that farming practices included enriching the soil.

Prehistoric Easter Islanders had extensive knowledge of how to overcome poor soil fertility, improve environmental conditions, and create a sustainable food supply. These activities demonstrate considerable adaptation and resilience to environmental challenges — a finding that is inconsistent with an ‘ecocide’ narrative.

So what caused the population crash? Perhaps more research will discover the truth.

It was fun to come across these two stories on on the same day: here and here.