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.


Colony On Mars – First Step for Who? Or What? #Mars #explore #space #solar #sun


Hallucigenia_sparsa (200x156)

Wonderful Hallucigenia of the Burgess Shale fossils.

“Eventually we’ll have to get out of this solar system because our Sun is dying. If humans want to survive as a species they’ll have to get out.” Stephen Petranek, award-winning science writer – see his TED talk on the end of the world.

Many people want a colony on Mars as insurance against human extinction on Earth – usually from nuclear war to asteroid impacts.

But from the Sun dying?

In 5 billion years or so the Sun will expand and swallow the inner planets before collapsing into a white dwarf.

But in only 2.8 billion years life on Earth will end when the last of the hardiest microbes die off in the Sun’s brutal solar output. Humanity’s progeny will be gone long before then.

Two new modeling studies find that the gradually brightening Sun won’t vaporize our planet’s water for at least another 1 to 1.5 billion years. Earth will suffer a “runaway greenhouse” in 600 million to 700 million years when we’d probably be best off living in undersea cities.

Realistically, how long have we got? Let’s choose a nice, round 500 million years. Let’s say all goes well – we adapt to global warming, we refrain from exterminating ourselves, and we grow into an admirable species. That species will not be Homo sapiens.

Five hundred million years is a long time. Looking backwards at history, the Cambrian explosion of life was well underway 500 million years ago when various fascinating wormy creatures lived in Earth’s oceans. It took over 400 million years for primates to originate (85 million years ago) and another 65 millions years for the Hominid family to emerge (20 million years ago). Another 15 million years passed before our own genus, Homo, emerged (3 million years ago – there’s no point in being too specific on timing – just round the numbers off), and you still wouldn’t want to bring Homo habilis home.

What does this mean? Five hundred million years from now, our descendants will be as different from us and we are from Hallucigenia.

How much do you care about these strange future creatures?

I once read a science fiction story where nuclear war destroyed most of the world, and a few people survived on barren Pacific atolls where they evolved into something like walruses. How much effort would you put into preserving that species?

Go to Mars, go to Europa or Titan. Aim for the stars. But don’t worry about the Sun exploding.

Where are we going? Life, the timeless, mysterious gift, is still evolving. What alien_wizard_fenn_03.svg.medwonders, or terrors, does evolution hold in store for us in the next ten thousand years? In a million? In six million? Perhaps the answer lies in…the Outer Limits,” The Sixth Finger episode.

Most Domesticated Animal #Poem #poetry #biology #science


Wild Human

A dozen dozen mammals
Of the largest size,
Yet only fifteen or so
Are now civilized.

Domesticated animals
Adapt to human life.
They eat whatever we have left,
They’re calm with little strife.

They’re smaller than their wild kin,
They breed in quarters tight,
In a social hierarch
They live without much fight.

With floppy ears and curly tails
Retaining juvie traits,
With spotted coats and weaker jaws
They’re joined to mankind’s fate.

It’s not clear how this happened,
Not clear it was our plan,
Cause farmers grew much smaller
Than Cro-Magnon man.

If we compare ourselves today
To Neanderthal,
We find our muscles weaker
To clamp our smaller jaws.

We tolerate the crowding,
Grow peaceful over time.
We lost protruding muzzles,
Lost the fangs canine.

Can’t judge the curly tail,
Can’t claim a piebald pelt.
But humans are domestic

The fate that we’ve been dealt.

by Kate Rauner

Here’s a weird trait of domestic vs wild animals: domestic animals and human beings suffer from venereal diseases but almost no wild animals do. What does that mean about domestication? :]