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.”

Just Settled Down for a Long Winter’s Nap – Really #neanderthals #nature #biologist

How did our Neanderthal relatives survive Europe’s brutal Ice Age winters? Here’s an idea I’d never heard before: they hibernated. Their bones tell the tale.

A cache of bones from Spain shows “evidence of hyperparathyroidism” and “pathognomonic lesions“. Or, in more colloquial terms, ‘rotten fence post’ bones.

Reconstruction of a Neanderthal child

Hibernation wasn’t good for them. They seem to have been only partly adapted to the annual assault on their bodies and probably woke from time to time during the winter. (You think Monday mornings are tough!) But the alternative to diseased bones and kidneys was starvation. Unlike modern-era Inuits, who have access to fat-rich marine animals all winter, our desperate cousins had a poor winter environment.

The aridification of Iberia then could not have provided enough fat-rich food for the people of Sima during the harsh winter. theguardian

We say that large mammals like bears “hibernate” but a more accurate word is “torpor.” Apparently, there is a primate species, the fat-tailed lemur, that enters a winter torpor. I didn’t know that either, but lots of sources confirm the fact. (Here’s one.)

I can’t imagine what Neanderthals experienced, awaking hungry and sick… having to return to sleep if weather outside the cave looked dismal. Spring foraging better have been easy. Is the seed of the ability to enter torpor inside you and me? Maybe someday this science-fiction-sounding ability will be tapped. In the meantime, research can continue:

“The idea is a fascinating one that could be tested by examining the genomes of the Sima people, Neanderthals and Denisovans for signs of genetic changes linked with the physiology of torpor.” Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London

Ancient Tragedy is a Stunning Ice Age Find #paleontology #Siberia #mummy #poem #poetry

mummified foal

Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU/The Siberian Times

Forty thousand years concealed
In the arctic frost,
Mummified from tip to toe,
A baby that was lost.

Millennia did not erase
The tragedy we found.
A mare whose foal,
Just two months old,
Fell, was trapped,
And drowned.

How many days
Did she graze
Along that fatal shore?
Calling for a baby gone
Who would respond no more?

A herd, like time,
Is never still,
And soon away will drift,
To leave behind,
For us to find,
Her unintended gift.
Kate Rauner

This story reminded me that we share a lot with Ice Age animals.

Paleontologists found the mummified body of the young horse inside the 328-foot-deep (100 meters) Batagaika crater during an expedition to Yakutia in eastern Siberia… Its mummified remains were so well-preserved by icy conditions that the skin, the hooves, the tail, and even the tiny hairs in the animal’s nostrils and around its hooves are still visible.

Age of Humanity #poetry #anthropogenic

How does a mine move so much dirt? Here's my car next to a mine truck tire.

How does a mine move so much dirt? Here’s my car next to a mine truck tire.

Our numbers and our industry,
Fossil-fuels and farming,
New minerals called pottery –
Are bricks and glass alarming?
Chemicals that we create,
Plastics, fibers, microbeads –
Mining moves three times more silt
Than all Earth’s rivers can succeed.
Greenhouse gases, mass extinction,
And synthetic fertilizer
Disrupts Earth’s nutrient flow,
Leaves Nature’s rate of change a miser.
Only since the last Ice Age
Came a Totally New Epoch.
We have grown civilized
And now see where that led us.
Epochs used to last for ages,
Now the Holocene,
Only twelve millennia old,
Yields to – Anthropocene.
We humans mark the planet,
We humans modify,
We humans are the greatest cause,
We’re fruitful and we multiply.
Thanks to for five signs of the Anthropocene. I’ve posted about the Epoch of Humanity before. It started in the year 1610 CE.