Archive for March 10th, 2008

Micronesian Islands colonized by small-bodied humans

Monday, March 10th, 2008

It seems that there have been small human fossils described originating on the island of Palau that have some characteristics of both Homo sapiens and Homo floresiensis. The skeletons date between 1440 and 2890 years old at one site, and 940 to 1080 at another. The article:

Reporting in this week’s PLoS ONE in a study funded by the National Geographic Society Mission Programs, Lee Berger and colleagues from the University of the Witwatersrand, Rutgers University and Duke University, describe the fossils of small-bodied humans from the Micronesian island of Palau. These people inhabited the island between 1400 and 3000 years ago and share some – although not all – features with the H. floresiensis specimens.

Palau is situated in the Western Caroline Islands and consists of a main island of Babeldaob, with hundreds of smaller rock islands to the south west, colloquially known as the ‘‘rock islands.” These rock islands contain caves and rock shelters, in many of which, fossilized and subfossilized human remains have been found. The specimens described by Berger and colleagues came from two such caves, Ucheliungs and Omedokel, which appear to have been used as burial sites.

In both caves, they found skeletons of individuals who would have been small even relative to other such populations and are approximately the size of H. floresiensis or small members of the genus Australopithecus. These fossils were radiocarbon dated to between 1410 and 2890 years ago. The entrance to Omedokel cave also contained the remains of larger individuals dated to between 940 and 1080 years ago.

These two caves have provided and will continue to provide a wealth of specimens, which will need more intensive study. However, preliminary analysis of more than a dozen individuals including a male who would have weighed around 43 kg and a female of 29 kg, show that these small-bodied people had many craniofacial features considered unique to H. sapiens. These include: a distinct maxillary canine fossa, a clearly delimited mandibular mental trigone (in most specimens), moderate bossing of the frontal and parietal squama, a lateral prominence on the temporal mastoid process, reduced temporal juxtamastoid eminences and an en maison cranial vault profile with the greatest interparietal breadth high on the vault. Thus, these individuals are likely to be from a human population who acquired reduced stature, for some reason.

It is well established that populations living on isolated islands often consist of individuals of smaller stature than their mainland cousins – a phenomenon known as island dwarfism. This is true not just for humans but for many animals including extinct mammoths and elephants from islands off Siberia, California and even in the Mediterranean. Alternatively, the island may have been colonized by a few small individuals, between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago who, through extensive inbreeding, and other environmental drivers, produced a small-bodied population, which continued to inhabit Palau until at least 1400 years ago.

As well as having characteristics of H. sapiens, the Palau fossils also have features seen in H. floresiensis, such as their small bodies and faces, pronounced supraorbital tori, non-projecting chins, relative megadontia, expansion of the occlusal surface of the premolars, rotation of teeth within the maxilla and mandible, and dental agenesis. Berger and colleagues do not infer from these features any direct relationship between the peoples of Palau and Flores; however, these observations do suggest that at least some of the features which have been taken as evidence that the Flores individuals are members of a separate species, may be a common adaptation in humans of reduced stature.

Detailed analysis of the Palau specimens is unlikely to settle arguments over the status of H. floresiensis as there are features of Flores man, such as small brain size, not found in the people of Palau. Nevertheless, they do suggest that at least some of the unusual features seen in Flores are a result of environment rather than ancestral heritage. Above all, the skeletons from Palau should greatly increase our understanding of the process of island dwarfism in human populations and of the ancient colonizations of Oceania.

So this study is proposing there might not be a species of Homo floresiensis at all, but the characteristic features are born of the usual island dwarfism phenomenon.

Might i suggest something very irresponsible though? Could Homo floresiensis have interbred with Homo sapiens ?

 

Spitzer and Vitter

Monday, March 10th, 2008

I reckon that it makes sense that Spitzer should resign, being a law and order reformer who likes to pay to put his penis in other people, which is illegal. It’s embarrassing to have our elected officials breaking the law at personal whims.

So why is the whorehopping, nappy-wearing, Family Values David Vitter still in office?

Just asking…

police states of America: why wiretap a person when you can wiretap a city?

Monday, March 10th, 2008

According to the WSJ, when the NSA suspects that a terrorist is in a city, the Terrorist Surveillance Program cranks up monitoring and recording every communication coming in and out of that city:

Two former officials familiar with the data-sifting efforts said they work by starting with some sort of lead, like a phone number or Internet address. In partnership with the FBI, the systems then can track all domestic and foreign transactions of people associated with that item — and then the people who associated with them, and so on, casting a gradually wider net. An intelligence official described more of a rapid-response effect: If a person suspected of terrorist connections is believed to be in a U.S. city — for instance, Detroit, a community with a high concentration of Muslim Americans — the government’s spy systems may be directed to collect and analyze all electronic communications into and out of the city.

The haul can include records of phone calls, email headers and destinations, data on financial transactions and records of Internet browsing. The system also would collect information about other people, including those in the U.S., who communicated with people in Detroit.

TPM Muckerraker explains this so much better, but contemplate those two paragraphs. One person is suspected of connections with something defined as a terrorist group, and millions of people have their communications recorded and stored as a result.

Is there any great leap in logic to admit that the government is recording everything by everyone all of the time? We’ve already seen how ridiculous and vindictive the No Fly lists are for the TSA. What should make us believe that their “suspected terrorists” are any better defined with a net as big as they are casting? The only reason why i can think of why they wouldn’t is because it is cost prohibitive.

Warrants are essentially obsolete for the federal government. With these parameters, they can monitor every action of every person at any time at any whim.

Ket language family linked to Na-Dene language family

Monday, March 10th, 2008

It’s another link connecting Siberia to North America. The Ket language family is Siberian and Na-Dene is North American. Here it is:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A panel of respected linguists who met in Anchorage recently is hailing new research that links the Old World language of Ket to the sprawling New World family of Na-Dene languages.

Other than Siberian Yupik, a regional Eskimo dialect that straddles the Bering Strait, a connection between North American and Asian language families had never before been demonstrated.

The research by University of Western Washington linguist Edward Vajda, who spent 10 years deciphering the Ket language, drew upon parallel work by three Alaskans — Jeff Leer, Michael Krauss and James Kari, professors of linguistics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks — who independently detailed patterns in Na-Dene languages.

Establishing that two such far-distant language groups are closely related is both demanding and rare in the exacting field of historical linguistics, according to participants who attended a language symposium at the annual meeting of the Alaska Anthropological Association.

That Interior Indian languages spoken in North America are related to languages spoken in Asia has long been assumed, since other fields of science have widely concluded that the Americas weren’t populated until ice age hunters migrated across a temporary land bridge from the old world to the new world 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

And as early as 1923, other linguists speculated specifically about a genetic link between the Yeniseic family of languages spoken along the Yenisei River (of which Ket is now the only surviving member) and the Na-Dene family, spoken in North America. Ten years ago, American linguist Merritt Ruhlen did so again after producing a list of 36 cognates — comparable words in two languages that sound alike and mean the same thing.

But producing lists of similar-sounding words isn’t sufficient evidence to establish a real genetic relationship between two languages, declared Bernard Comrie, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, speaking at the Anchorage meeting.

That’s because cognates can also occur by accident or chance — when selective words are adopted by travelers from unrelated languages, or when words have a universal appeal.

What makes the new finding so exciting, Comrie said, is that it’s based on complex and verifiable morphologies that show how certain Ket words were systematically altered to create Athabascan words — or vice versa (the research doesn’t speculate on which language came first or when).

Vajda began studying the Ket language firsthand in the 1990s after the Iron Curtain fell and he began making field trips to the Yenisei River — about 3,600 miles west of Fairbanks.

“There is no road and no train,” Vajda said in an interview. “You have to go by steamboat or helicopter to get there.”

Through his research and interviews, Vajda determined that there are about 1,200 people who say they are Ket, including 200 people who speak the language. But only about 100 speak Ket fluently, Vajda said, and nearly all of them are now older than 50.

“They were the last hunters of north Asia that didn’t have any domesticated animals that they used for food,” he said. “They moved around, they didn’t live in the same place.”

That came to an end when the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union forced the Ket to live in villages. Now their traditional lifestyle is nearly gone, Vajda said — and their language is disappearing too.

While trying to capture it before it vanishes altogether, Vajda gained a new understanding about the peculiarities of Ket verbs, suffixes and tonalities — which are unlike any of the other Siberian languages to the east.

Comparing what he learned with research conducted independently in Alaska, Vajda began to find words the two languages had in common. A news release issued this week by the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, concurs, noting language similarities “too numerous and displaying too many idiosyncratic parallels to be explained by anything other than common descent.”

Among linguistic scholars elsewhere who have reviewed Vajda’s paper in its draft form and reacted favorably so far is Heinrich Werner of Bonn, Germany — a world authority in the Ket language, whose work Vajda cited and incorporated into his own, along with that of the Alaskans.

Vajda thinks his research might be a door-opener for scientists in other fields, including those who work in human genetics and archaeology, to proceed with additional comparisons of the two cultures.

He says it also points out the necessity and urgency to record dying languages before they disappear.

Linguistics is obviously not my thing. I’m a sloppy amateur in everything. However, in looking at the distribution map of of Na-Dene, it was interesting to see that Navajo not just belongs to that family, but is significantly isolated from the rest of the family. The story of how that happened is bound to be interesting.

Neandertal sites under the North Sea

Monday, March 10th, 2008

An amateur archaeologist spotted a cache of artifacts in a load of gravel dredged eight miles off Great Yamoth. It turned out to be Neanderthal artifacts?! Very, very lucky indeed. I’m copying the rest of the story, as this needle in a haystack find is impressive:

By David Keys Archaeology Correspondent
Monday, 10 March 2008

Some of the world’s best preserved prehistoric landscapes survive in pristine condition at the bottom of the North Sea, archaeologists claimed yesterday.

Academic interest in what are being described as drowned Stone Age hunting grounds is likely to increase dramatically after the discovery of 28 Neanderthal flint axes on the sea bed off the East Anglian coast.

Dating from at least 50,000-60,000 years ago, they were found with other flint artefacts, a large number of mammoth bones, teeth and tusk fragments, and pieces of deer antler. The sea bed location was probably a Neanderthal hunters’ kill site or temporary camp site.

The axes – one of the largest groups ever found – were spotted by a keen-eyed amateur archaeologist when a consignment of North Sea gravel arrived at the Dutch port of Flushing.

The cache was found 8 miles off Great Yarmouth and is the most northerly point in the North Sea that Neanderthal tools have been discovered. It had been feared that the ice sheets that destroyed most pre-ice age Brit-ish landscapes had done the same to the land surfaces which existed where the North Sea is now.

But archaeologists now suspect that some Neanderthal landscapes have survived under the North Sea. What’s more, they are now certain that hundreds or even thousands of square miles of post-ice age prehistoric landscapes do survive there. On land they have largely been destroyed or degraded by centuries of agriculture, later human settlement and natural erosion.

The North Sea is of immense value to archaeologists and is the largest area of drowned landscape in Europe. “It’s vital that parts of it should be considered as a potential World Heritage site,” said Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham, a leading authority on North Sea archaeology.

Professor Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum, said: “The quality and quantity of material from the North Sea shows what a rich resource it is for helping to reconstruct missing phases of our prehistory. The evidence should be preserved and studied. World heritage status would help in that process.”

In the southern North Sea, Dutch prehistorians working alongside North Sea fishermen over the past decade have identified about 100 Neanderthal flint axes, 200 later Stone Age bone, antler and flint artefacts made by anatomically modern humans, and the remains of thousands of mammoths, woolly rhinos and other ice-age mammals.

Detailed archaeological research at the bottom of the North Sea would be likely to solve a host of Stone Age mysteries. It should help establish when Britain was recolonised by humans after a 100,000-year uninhabited period. It may also reveal for the first time the full technological capabilities of Neanderthal Man, because preservation on and in the sea bed is extremely good. Wooden, stone and bone implements have almost certainly survived.

Later this week, British and Dutch archaeologists will meet in Holland to formulate a joint program of North Sea research. German, Belgian, Danish and Norwegian archaeologists and oceanographers are likely to be included in a plan to map and investigate the North Sea’s prehistoric landscapes in detail.

The discovery of the 28 Neanderthal axes was initially reported to the Dutch government archaeological agency, who passed the information via English Heritage to the gravel extraction firm Hanson Aggregates.

“This is the single most important archaeological find from the North Sea. We have stopped dredging that area and have created an exclusion zone to protect the site,” said a senior Hanson geologist Robert Langman.

Yep. Dredging bad. No like dredging.