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'Lucy's baby' found in Ethiopia
The 3.3-million-year-old fossilised remains of a human-like child have been unearthed in Ethiopia's Dikika region.
20 September 2006
The female Australopithecus afarensis bones are from the same species as an adult skeleton found in 1974 which was nicknamed "Lucy".
Scientists are thrilled with the find, reported in the journal Nature.
They believe the near-complete remains offer a remarkable opportunity to study growth and development in an important extinct human ancestor.
The juvenile Australopithecus afarensis remains vanishingly rare.
The skeleton was first identified in 2000, locked inside a block of sandstone. It has taken five years of painstaking work to free the bones.
"The Dikika fossil is now revealing many secrets about Australopithecus afarensis and other early hominins, because the fossil evidence was not there," said dig leader Zeresenay Alemseged, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Delicate bones
The find consists of the whole skull, the entire torso and important parts of the upper and lower limbs. CT scans reveal unerupted teeth still in the jaw, a detail that makes scientists think the individual may have been about three years old when she died.
Remarkably, some quite delicate bones not normally preserved in the fossilisation process are also present, such as the hyoid, or tongue, bone. The hyoid bone reflects how the voice box is built and perhaps what sounds a species can produce.
Judging by how well it was preserved, the skeleton may have come from a body that was quickly buried by sediment in a flood, the researchers said.
"In my opinion, afarensis is a very good transitional species for what was before four million years ago and what came after three million years," Dr Alemseged told BBC science correspondent Pallab Ghosh.
"[The species had] a mixture of ape-like and human-like features. This puts afarensis in a special position to play a pivotal role in the story of what we are and where we come from."
Climbing ability
This early ancestor possessed primitive teeth and a small brain but it stood upright and walked on two feet.
There is considerable argument about whether the Dikika girl could also climb trees like an ape.
This climbing ability would require anatomical equipment like long arms, and the "Lucy" species had arms that dangled down to just above the knees. It also had gorilla-like shoulder blades which suggest it could have been skilled at swinging through trees.
But the question is whether such features indicate climbing ability or are just "evolutionary baggage".
The Dikika girl had an estimated brain size of 330 cubic centimetres when she died, which is not very different from that of a similarly aged chimpanzee. However, when compared to the adult afarensis values, it forms 63 - 88% of the adult brain size.
This is lower than that of an adult chimp, where by the age of three, over 90% of the brain is formed. This relatively slow brain growth in the Dikika girl appears to be slightly closer to that of humans.
Slow, gradual development in an extended childhood is regarded as a very human trait - probably to enable our higher functions to develop.
Professor Fred Spoor of University College London said the find would give scientists a "detailed insight into how our distant relatives grew up and behaved... at a time of human evolution when they looked a good deal more like bipedal chimpanzees than like us."
Dr Jonathan Wynn of the University of St Andrews, UK, and colleagues at the University of South Florida dated the sediments surrounding the remains and came up with an age of 3.3 million years.
The "Lucy" skeleton, discovered in Hadar, Ethiopia, in 1974 belongs to the same species as the Dikika girl. For more than 20 years it was the oldest human ancestor known to science.
Source : on


The Chinese connection to East Africa (Kenya)
7 August 2006
The historic island city of Lamu is popular among tourists from the West; now China is showing a growing interest in the island.
As it marks 600 years since Zheng He's voyage to Africa, the world's most populous nation is seeking to establish that its trade with Africa is much older than previously believed. The centrepiece of its efforts in the salvaging of a Chinese ship that sank off the East African coast in the 15th century.
Zheng He was in charge of a fleet of ships with about 25,000 sailors on a diplomatic and trading mission to Africa when one of the ships ran aground and sank off Pate Island. The sailors swam to shore, carrying porcelain and other goods from the ship.
In time, they married local women, converted to Islam and named the village Shanga, after Shanghai.
Legend has it that the first Chinese to convert to Islam was Famau, and from him came the name Wafamau, which in local dialect was translated as Wafamayi, meaning dying in water.
He established the Famau clan, a small but popular family that now resides in the tiny island, Malindi and Mombasa.
Historians said fighting later erupted among clans in Pate. Shanga was destroyed and the Famau fled, some to the mainland and others to the village of Siyu on the island.
Recently, the outgoing Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, Guo Chongli, told The EastAfrican that though the planned excavation of a ship believed to have sunk during Zheng He’s voyage was behind schedule, it was still on course.
He said the strict monetary approval process at the People’s Council (parliament) and the State Council (Cabinet) had delayed the exercise.
INITIAL SURVEYS HAVE ALREADY been carried out in Shanga by a team of Chinese archaeologists, led by the head of Antiquity in China, Yan Yalin, and their Kenyan counterparts at the site where the ship is believed to have sunk.
The archaeologists, who included underwater archaeology expert Zhang Wei, and pottery expert Qin Dashu from Beijing University, came to Kenya following a request by the National Museums of Kenya for assistance to carry out the exercise.
This will be the biggest underwater archaeological activity ever conducted since the excavation by Americans near Mombasa's Fort Jesus in the 1970s, said Mr Kiriama.
Researchers have turned up other equally interesting clues as to what happened when the Chinese landed.
Craftsmen on Pate and the other islands of Lamu practise a kind of basket weaving that is common in southern China. On Pate, drums are more often played in the Chinese rhythm than the African style, and the local dialect has a few words that may be of Chinese origin.
More startling is the fact that, in 1569, a Portuguese priest named Monclaro wrote that Pate had a flourishing silk industry. Evidence on show in Lamu's museums indicates the Chinese introduced stone buildings, which are still found in the old Shanga town. There are remains of stone mosques, houses, tombs and pillars.
Siyu village on Pate island is home to 2,300 people, among them about 30 people believed to be the offspring of the Chinese sailors.
"Lamu was the storage depot for ancient Chinese porcelain in the 15th century," said Herman Kiriama, director of the nautical archaeology department of the Kenya National Museum.
According to Chinese records, the islands were one of the key points Zheng He's fleet stopped at on the way to Africa. Not only did they leave their vases and plates on the islands, but also their offspring.
And now, the Chinese have come back to retrace their history through one Mwanamaka Shariff Lali, of Siyu village, who says she is a descendent of a Chinese sailor. Ms Lali travelled to China to attend events marking the first voyage of Zheng He.
According to Mr Kiriama, among 40 ruined sites discovered in Kenya, Lamu is one of the most important of those where examples of ancient Chinese porcelain have been unearthed.
Kenyan archeologists are working with their Chinese counterparts to explore the ruins and tombs of the Chinese village on Pate.
Source : on


From left, Michael Egholm, Svante Paabo and Ralf W. Schmitz showing an original cast of a Neanderthal bone.

© Jan Woitas/European Pressphoto Agency published on

Scientists launch two-year project to map Neanderthal's genome
23 July 2006
U.S. and German scientists on Thursday launched a two-year project to decipher Neanderthals' genetic code, a feat that they hope will help deepen understanding of how modern humans' brains evolved.
Neanderthals were a species of the Homo genus who lived in Europe and western Asia from more than 200,000 years ago to as little as roughly 30,000 years ago.
Scientists from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology are teaming up with Branford, Connecticut-based 454 Life Sciences Corp. to map the Neanderthal genome, or DNA code.
"The Neanderthal is the closest relative to the modern human, and we believe that by sequencing the Neanderthal we can learn a lot," said Michael Egholm, the vice president of molecular biology at 454, which will use its high-speed sequencing technology in the project.
There are no firm answers yet about how humans picked up key traits such as walking upright and developing complex language. Neanderthals are believed to have been relatively sophisticated, but lacking in humans' higher reasoning functions.
The Neanderthal project follows scientists' achievement last year in deciphering the DNA of the chimpanzee, our closest living relative, which produced a long list of DNA differences with the chimp and some hints about which ones might be crucial.
The chimp genome "led to literally too many questions, there were 35 million differences between us and chimpanzees _ that's too much to figure out," Jonathan Rothberg, 454's chairman, said in a telephone interview.
"By having Neanderthal, we'll really be able to home in on the small percentage of differences that gave us higher cognitive abilities," he said. "Neanderthal is going to open the box. It's not going to answer the question, but it's going to tell where to look to understand all of those higher cognitive functions."
Over two years, the scientists aim to reconstruct a draft of the 3 billion building blocks of the Neanderthal genome _ working with fossil samples from several individuals.
They face the complication of working with 40,000-year-old samples, and of filtering out microbial DNA that contaminated them after death.
About 5 percent of the DNA in the samples is actually Neanderthal DNA, Egholm estimated, but he and Rothberg said pilot experiments had convinced them that the decoding was feasible.
At the Max Planck Institute, the project also involves Svante Paabo, who nine years ago participated in a pioneering, though smaller-scale, DNA test on a Neanderthal sample.
That study suggested that Neanderthals and humans split from a common ancestor a half-million years ago and backed the theory that Neanderthals were an evolutionary dead end.
The new project will help in understanding how characteristics unique to humans evolved and "will also identify those genetic changes that enabled modern humans to leave Africa and rapidly spread around the world," Paabo said in a statement Thursday.
Source : Berlin (AP) - New Mexican on


View of the Great Sand Sea of Egypt from the Gilf Kebir Plateau. Image © Science
Prehistoric humans roamed the world's largest desert for some 5,000 years, archaeologists have revealed
21 July 2006
The Eastern Sahara of Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Chad was home to nomadic people who followed rains that turned the desert into grassland.
When the landscape dried up about 7,000 years ago, there was a mass exodus to the Nile and other parts of Africa.
The close link between human settlement and climate has lessons for today, researchers report in Science.
"Even modern day conflicts such as Dafur are caused by environmental degradation as it has been in the past," Dr Stefan Kropelin of the University of Cologne, Germany, told the BBC News website.
"The basic struggle for food, water and pasture is still a big problem in the Sahara zone. This process started thousands of years ago and has a long tradition."
Jigsaw puzzle
The Eastern Sahara, which covers more than 2 million sq km, an area the size of Western Europe, is now almost uninhabited by people or animals, providing a unique window into the past.
Dr Kropelin and colleague Dr Rudolph Kuper pieced together the 10,000-year jigsaw of human migration and settlement; studying more than 100 archaeological sites over the course of 30 years.
In the largest study of its kind, they built up a detailed picture of human evolution in the world's largest desert. They found that far from the inhospitable climate of today, the area was once semi-humid.
Between about 14,000 and 13,000 years ago, the area was very dry. But a drastic switch in environmental conditions some 10,500 years ago brought rain and monsoon-like conditions.
Nomadic human settlers moved in from the south, taking up residence beside rivers and lakes. They were hunter-gatherers at first, living off plants and wild game.
Eventually they became more settled, domesticating cattle for the first time, and making intricate pottery.
Neolithic farmers
Humid conditions prevailed until about 6,000 years ago, when the Sahara abruptly dried out. There was then a gradual exodus of people to the Nile Valley and other parts of the African continent.
"The Nile Valley was almost devoid of settlement until about exactly the time that the Egyptian Sahara was so dry people could not live there anymore," Dr Kropelin told the BBC News website.
"People preferred to live on savannah land. Only when this wasn't possible they migrated towards southern Sudan and the Nile.
"They brought all their know-how to the rest of the continent - the domestication of cattle was invented in the Sahara in the humid phase and was then slowly pushed over the rest of Africa.
"This Neolithic way of life, which still is a way of life in a sense; preservation of food for the dry season and many other such cultural elements, was introduced to central and southern Africa from the Sahara."
Motor of evolution
Dr Kuper said the distribution of people and languages, which is so politically important today, has its roots in the desiccation of the Sahara.
The switch in environmental conditions acted as a "motor of Africa's evolution," he said.
"It happened during these 5,000 years of the savannah that people changed from hunter-gathers to cattle keepers," he said.
"This important step in human history has been made for the first time in the African Sahara."
Source : Helen Briggs, bbc on

© Leigh Schindler
The human-influenced evolution of dogs
Thanks to their domestication and favored pet status, dogs have enjoyed a genetic variability known to few other species.
18 July 2006
It may be time to revise that old maxim about humans and their canine companions. A man, it seems, is a dog's best friend, and not vice versa.
A paper in the June 29th issue of Genome Research presents evidence suggesting that the domestication of dogs by humans has given rise to the immense diversity of the canine species by allowing otherwise harmful genetic mutations to survive.
"Dogs that would have otherwise died in the wild would have survived because humans would have allowed them to," said Matt Webster, a geneticist at the University of Dublin and one of the study's authors.
The stunning diversity of dogs—Canis lupus familiaris includes lumbering St. Bernards, sprightly Jack Russell terriers, and graceful greyhounds—has been a source of scientific interest since Darwin, who speculated that these creatures must have descended from several different species. (Scientists now know dogs have a single ancestral species, the gray wolf.)
"Within a single species you have this tremendous range of morphological variation, all this diversity—head shape, body shape, coat color, length—and a tremendous amount of variation in behavior," said Leonid Kruglyak, a geneticist at Princeton University. "Where does all this come from? The parent species, which is the wolf, doesn't show this diversity."
Webster and his colleagues collected and sequenced DNA from the mitochondria of wolf and dog cells. Using this data, they looked for genetic mutations and calculated the rate at which mutations appeared.
Genetic mutations can be divided into two broad categories: nonsynonymous mutations actually change the protein that a stretch of DNA codes for, while synonymous, or silent, mutations do not.
Webster and his colleagues found that the silent mutations occur at similar rates in dogs and wolves, but that nonsynonymous mutations accumulate twice as fast in dogs as they do in wolves. These random changes to proteins are usually harmful, and would have a weakly deleterious effect on dogs and their ability to survive, said Webster.
"That suggests that during dog evolution there's been a relaxation of selective constraint," he said. "These additional changes that have happened during dog evolution have escaped the pressure of natural selection."
Because humans made it easier for domesticated dogs to survive, random genetic mutations that reduced evolutionary fitness—and would have died out in wild dog populations—were able to persist. Furthermore, as humans bred dogs for more desirable traits, they may have exploited these random mutations, accentuating already present variation.
"A lot of the changes over dog evolution would have provided the raw material that humans have used to shape different breeds," Webster said.
The result, then, is the phenomenal diversity in characteristics among different dogs and dog breeds today.
Elaine Ostrander, a geneticist at the National Human Genome Research Institute who worked on the institute's dog genome project, praised Webster's research and its use of mitochondrial DNA.
"For them to focus on mitochondrial DNA was an insightful decision," Ostrander said. "It's been neglected in canine genetics."
Mitochondrial DNA, because it resides outside the cell nucleus, is passed down only from mother to offspring, and it accrues mutations particularly fast. While that might make mitochondrial DNA a natural place to study rates of genetic variation, it's not yet clear whether Webster's findings will apply to the nuclear genome.
"The mitochondrial genome is such a small percentage of the dog genome," said Princeton's Kruglyak. "The interpretations are somewhat speculative."
Nevertheless, he conceded that the researchers' findings and proposed explanation are reasonable, even if not definitive.
"It's difficult to figure out what exactly happened over the last 10,000 years of dog domestication," he said. "It's not clear that any other species has been pushed by artificial human selection to the same extent. There's definitely a very interesting set of questions to be answered."
Source : Emily Anthes, on

Image ©
Stone Circles of Senegambia, the latest addition to the Unesco World Heritage List
14 July 2006
The World Heritage Committee sitting at its 30th session in Vilnius, Lithuania, has approved the inscription of the Stone Circles of the Senegambia in the World Heritage List. This is The Gambia’s second inscription in the prestigious list which constitute cultural and natural sites of outstanding universal value which form the common heritage of humankind, and whose protection is the obligation of the international community as a whole. The Gambia obtained its first inscription under James Island and Related Sites in 2003.
In recognizing the universal significance of the Stone Circles, the World Heritage Committee cited the fulfillment of criteria I and III of the World Heritage Convention’s conditions for inscription in the World Heritage List, noting that:
Criterion I. The finely worked individual stones display precise and skilful stone working practices and contribute to the imposing order and grandeur of the overall stone circles complex.
Criterion III. The nominated stone circles, represent the wider megalithic zone, in which the survival of so many circles is a unique manifestation of construction and funerary practices which persisted for over a millennia across a sweep of landscape, and reflects a sophisticated and productive society.
It will be recalled that the stone circles complex is a trans-border phenomena which extends/radiates from the River Gambia north to the River Saloum in Senegal. In December 2004 the National Council for Arts and Culture spearheaded a workshop which brought together Gambian and Senegalese heritage officials with a view to harmonizing/synchronizing a World Heritage Nomination dossier and developing a management plan for the circles. From the workshop the most representative sites in Gambia (Wassu and Kerbatch) and Senegal (Sine Ngayen and Wanar) were identified for nomination. These are the sites that have now been inscribed in the World Heritage List.
It is to be noted that megalithic phenomena is widespread in the world and is manifested in various configurations and sizes and served diverse functions over a long period of human history. Some studies have asserted that there are links between megalithic phenomena worldwide, but no functional relationship has been scientifically established between these cultures which are often separated by more than 5000Km.
Although the stone circles are smaller in dimension than their counterparts at Stonehenge in the UK, or Carnac in France, the presence of such a large number of stones in a delimited space is found nowhere else in the world. The Senegambian complex comprises 1053 stone circles with upto 52 circles on a single site, and not only a few isolated circles as found in Europe or other parts of the world.
Many questions continue to be asked about the significance of the circles, their purpose, or who built them. What is certain is that they are burial grounds. The burials are either single or multiple. Grave goods, as in the objects interred with the body, consist of body adornment limited to a bracelet on the wrist; and the individual is buried with a weapon, usually a spear. Some pottery are also found, usually upside down. The burials appear to be pre-islamic in nature. On the whole the stone circles testify to a highly sophisticated and organized society with an early knowledge of iron-working, and a belief in life after death. As the burial goods continue to be extant and in use in the vicinities in which they are found, there is no need to look elsewhere for the circle builders.
The NCAC would like to take this opportunity to thank all individuals and institutions who assisted in the nomination process, including the villagers around the sites who have for long realized the importance of this invaluable legacy and have done so much to conserve them. Special thanks is extended to the Africa 2009 Programme for the Conservation of Immovable Cultural Heritage in Sub-Saharan Africa for assisting in the process as well as providing training opportunities for the staff who have day to day responsibility for the circles, both in The Gambia and Senegal.
Source : on
Skeleton 'almost certainly' that of Khoisan :
13 July 2006
An archaeologist who examined the human skeleton unearthed in the grounds of one of the Noetzie castles near Knysna is "almost certain" it is that of a Khoisan teenager buried in pre-colonial times.
Knysna police have meanwhile opened an inquest docket and the skeleton is in the town's mortuary.
The Cape Times asked the Knysna police whether their opening an inquest docket meant they disagreed with the archaeologist and suspected a crime, but they would not comment.
A police spokesman in George said the bones would be sent for forensic examination in his town, but he could not say how long this would take.
Dave Halkett, an archaeologist with the University of Cape Town, said on Wednesday he had visited the site, but the skeleton had been removed.
"It was already out by the time I got there.
"From what I could see at the mortuary, the remains would be consistent with a Khoisan burial," Halkett said.
"It is almost certainly a Khoisan individual.
"The police had taken the skull and most of the big bones.
"It was also certainly a complete skeleton.
"We sieved the pile of earth for other human remains and recovered additional smaller bones, from fingers and toes."
The skeleton was unearthed during excavations for the redevelopment of the castle by the new owners, Pezula Private Estate.
The Knysna municipality stopped excavations last week as they had not authorised the plans for the septic tanks.
Heritage Western Cape, which had not been informed of the human remains, also ordered the excavations to be halted after members of the public had alerted them.
Asked about the significance of the remains, Halkett said: "There is an extensive prehistoric midden on the property, produced by the people who lived on the coast in the past, and this individual is one of those people, a direct representative of them.
"Burials are important to archaeologists because they can be used to indicate things like the diet of the people who lived there, the date they lived there and so on."
Halkett said the skeleton had certain features that would suggest the person had died young, possibly in his or her teens.
Source : Melanie Gosling, IOL South Africa on
How the bow and arrow helped humans to colonise the world :
13 June 2006
The invention of the world's first bows and arrows may have played a part in the eventual colonisation of much of the world by Homo sapiens.
In a groundbreaking paper published yesterday, Paul Mellars, one of Britain's leading archaeologists and a Cambridge professor, suggests Homo sapiens' dominance of much of the world was triggered by a technological revolution which caused a demographic explosion between 60,000 and 80,000 years ago. As a result, the population of one particular human ethnic group expanded up to 1,000 times over.
Source : David Keys, The Independent on
An African kingdom on the Nile [Meroe]
Sudan's fabled city on the Lower Nile is being excavated, conserved, and prepared for tourism
In a lecture at the Canadian Institute of Archaeology in Cairo last month, Krzys Grzymski of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) described the use of modern technology to uncover the origins and topography, history and development of Meroe, an African kingdom which developed along the upper reaches of the Nile about 200km north of Khartoum between 800 BC and 350 AD.
"We began our operations in October 1999, and ancient Meroe is slowly coming to light," Grzymski said. "We first carried out a comprehensive survey of the area, and we are doing our work slowly and thoroughly. There is probably no greater danger to the preservation of an ancient site than hasty excavations, and much of our first season was spent walking over the entire area and recording surface material."
This exercise produced a number of surprises which included errors in earlier published plans of various buildings, numerous unrecorded inscriptions, some graffiti, and many beautifully carved blocks. "Perhaps the most exciting discovery was a stone block bearing the name of King Anlamani (c. 620-600 BC), one of the earliest datable objects ever found at Meroe," Grzymski said.
The UNESCO operations sponsored by the Egyptian and Sudanese governments in the 1960s, when the High Dam in Aswan was destined to inundate all of Nubia, did not include Meroe because it did not fall into the threatened area. Those salvage operations did, however, revive interest in the ancient capital city of Kush, and excavations were resumed in 1965 under the directorship of Peter Shinnie. At first these were on behalf of the University of Khartoum, and later in a joint mission with Canada's University of Calgary.
Domestic and industrial areas were unearthed, several iron-smelting furnaces discovered. Also located were temples dedicated to Isis and the Nubian lion-god Apedemak. Excavations revealed what appeared to be part of a processional avenue leading to a large temple. Also found was a prison, so-called because Herodotus, in the sixth century BC, alluded to prisoners kept in chains of gold.
Although new light is being cast on Meroe, mysteries remain. And it is with a view to drawing back the veil of uncertainty on the African kingdom that Krzys Grzymski and co-director Ali Osman are proceeding to excavate two areas of the ancient city: mound M 712, which was identified, but not excavated, by John Garstang, and parts of the Amun temple, the largest building in the city of Meroe which was never adequately studied.
Modern archaeological surveys are not limited to observing the structures visible on the surface. "Thanks to technological developments, it is now possible to identify structures hidden underground by means of a geophysical survey," Grzymski said. Several different techniques are being used, including a magnetic survey based on identifying anomalies in the ground and a resistivity survey which detects differences in the electrical resistivity of the soil.
Power-point presentations greatly facilitate understanding, but magnetic maps are not for the lay public. Grzymski had to point to part of the area known as the "royal city" (which revealed a large rectangular structure which is possibly a palace), a double row of circles near the city's southern gate which was at first thought to be a monumental colonnade but was later identified as brick-lined pits filled with rich soil brought up from the Nile's banks. "Our magnetic map revealed the existence of similar tree pits at the southern gate," Grzymski said, adding that, "this avenue of verdant trees would have been an impressive sight."
The project is called the "Meroitic revival" and the aim of the team, in contrast to earlier archaeologists who concentrated exclusively on excavations, is site preservation and conservation. Meroe lies within the rain belt, and during the July-September rainy season its soft Nubian sandstone buildings are exposed to serious water erosion, a hazard unknown further north. It is a seriously threatened area.
"Prior to excavations, and on the recommendation of our conservators, we set about trimming trees and removing some of the spoil heaps left by previous excavators," Grzymski said. "This not only makes the site more attractive to visitors but helps to redirect the flow of water away from endangered structures, and moreover it keeps goats from climbing on and destroying the remaining walls."
Meroe has become a popular tourist destination, largely because the sight of archaeologists at work is ever a tourist attraction, and also because there are not many alternatives within reach of Khartoum which is only a couple of hours away by car. "We have had to take the increased flow of Sudanese and foreign visitors into account and provide facilities for them," Grzymski said.
Nubiology is now a recognised discipline. "The study of Nubia extends beyond the Nilotic sites in Egyptian and Sudanese Nubia, into the Eastern Desert as far as the Red Sea coast, and across the Western Desert to include the oases," Grzymski explained.
Source : Jill Kamil, Al Ahram Weekly on
New Fossils Add Link to the Chain of the Evolution of Humans :
13 April, 2006
In following the fossil tracks of human evolution, scientists have for years searched for links between Australopithecus, the kin of the famous "Lucy" skeleton, and even earlier possible ancestors. Now, they think they have found some connections in Ethiopia.
An international team of paleontologists is reporting the discovery of transitional species superimposed in sediments in the neighborhood of a single site. The findings appear today in the journal Nature.
Tim D. White, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was a team leader, and his colleagues said the 4.1-million-year-old fossils were anatomically intermediate between the earlier species Ardipithecus ramidus and the later species Australopithecus afarensis, the Lucy family. The newfound bones and teeth are the earliest remains of the most primitive Australopithecus, known as anamensis.
"This new discovery closes the gap between the fully blown australopithecines and earlier forms we call Ardipithecus," Dr. White said in a statement. "We now know where Australopithecus came from before four million years ago."
The scientists said the fossils supported the hypothesis that Australopithecus anamensis was a direct ancestor of afarensis, which lived 3 million to 3.6 million years ago. The Australopithecus genus — resembling apes in stature and brain size but unlike the great apes in that it walked on two legs — is thought to have given rise to our own genus, Homo.
Some later australopithecines survived until about 1.2 million years ago, existing in Africa as contemporaries with Homo erectus, a predecessor of modern humans.
The genus Ardipithecus, discovered by Dr. White in 1992, appears to have lived 4.4 million to 5.7 million years ago. It was even more apelike, but also walked on two legs.
The relationship between Ardipithecus and Australopithecus, scientists said, remains unclear because of the wide gap in their chronology. Still, they suggested that one probably led to the other.
Dr. White said a key to interpreting the new anamensis was where it was discovered, in the Middle Awash valley of the Afar region of Ethiopia. The area, about 140 miles northeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, has also yielded critical evidence of afarensis and the ramidus species of Ardipithecus.
"Finding these three things in time sequence in a single place, that's never happened before," he said.
In their journal article, the scientists said the evidence suggested "a relatively rapid shift from Ardipithecus to Australopithecus in this region of Africa."
The new anamensis fossils were uncovered first at Aramis and then at a place called Asa Issie. The teeth and jawbones of eight individuals were found at Asa Issie, the most recent of the discoveries last December. The fieldwork and analysis were conducted by scientists from Ethiopia, Japan, France and the United States, with support from the National Science Foundation.
Source : New York Times on
Ethiopian archeologists uncover several ancient relics :
12 April, 2006
Ethiopian archeologists said Wednesday they have uncovered several ancient relics and building through excavations they conducted at the northern ancient town of Axum.
Tekle Hagos, coordinator of the archeologists' team told journalists that the team has been carrying out excavations beginning from Feb. 8 on the tombs of King Izana and King Remhai around the Statue of Queen of Sheba in Axum town.
Tekle said the team has uncovered claywares, several metallic and stone-made relics as well as a four-pillar building.
He added that by the side of the ancient building was found a throne statue erected for a warrior named Hatsani Daniel.
"The script on the statue describes the victory of Hatsani Daniel at Kessela and Wolqait and his refusal to accept the appointment offered to him by the Aksumite king," said Tekle.
The team also uncovered glassware and clay molding tools which indicate that glass technology was in use in ancient Axum, he said.
Moreover, Tekle said armaments, claywares, silver and bronze coins, bracelets and other ornaments have been found at the site.
Ethiopia is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world. The first known civilization in Ethiopia was that of the mighty Aksumite Kingdom.
Having established itself in 1,000 BC, in northern Ethiopia, it eventually spread over all of northern and even central Ethiopia. The ancient city of Axum, which was started by the Aksumites, was Ethiopia's first capital city. Enditem
Source : on
Copper artifacts from West Africa. "Made in North Africa"
© Thomas Fenn / afrol News
Medieval trans-Sahara mineral trade mapped :
12 April, 2006
Researchers have analysed the chemical composition and lead isotopes of the copper used in medieval West African artefacts. Despite the widespread presence of copper ore deposits in the West African region, metals used by the sophisticated metallurgical industry in sub-Saharan Africa were imported from North Africa, they found. Copper probably fuelled the trans-Saharan trade, providing North Africa with gold.
A thousand years ago, after Islam had spread into the Sahel, the trans-Sahara camel caravan trade was flowering. It has been known for a long time that mainly gold and later slaves were the most desired West African products for the Arabs at the Mediterranean coast. So far, historians have argued that salt was the main trade product brought southwards, but new research adds copper to the favourite products of West Africans in the 11th to 16th century.
At the University of Arizona (UA) in the US, a young archaeologist is analysing lead traces in ancient West African artefacts to shed light on the relatively little-understood archaeology of the region, especially the period marked by the spread of the new religion of Islam. With the introduction of Islam on both sides of the Sahara Desert, new trading opportunities were set in motion, connection North and West Africa.
Thomas Fenn, a UA doctoral student, is now unravelling evidence of these centuries-old trade patterns across the Sahara Desert by identifying smelted metal artefacts, mainly copper.
One of the questions Mr Fenn wants to answer concerns the sources of copper and other raw materials that became manufactured goods that were traded throughout the region. Specifically, why were metal workers in a sophisticated metallurgical industry in sub-Saharan Africa importing copper ingots when there were perfectly good copper ore deposits nearby?
"Knowing where these and other materials originated," says Mr Fenn, "may offer larger insights about not only trade, but also about technologies, economics and social organisation. Who controlled bankable natural resources and transportation routes? How was labour distributed in these societies?"
David Killick, a UA associate professor of anthropology and expert on the archaeology of metallurgy in Africa, holds that tracing metals is a crucial part of understanding the development of trade in medieval Africa.
"Most of the money circulating in the western half of the Islamic world between the 11th and 16th centuries was minted with gold from sub-Saharan west Africa, and competition for the wealth generated by the trade fuelled the growth of major West African [medivial empires] like Ghana, Mali and Songhai," commented professor Killick.
Using a process called lead isotope ratio analysis, or LIA, Mr Fenn has examined more than hundred Iron-Age artefacts, most of them copper, from sub-Saharan Africa. Lead has four different isotopes, three of which occur as the natural decay of uranium and thorium. The isotopic ratios change as a function of time.
Smelting does not change the ratios, making them a virtual fingerprint for a metal's source of origin. Scientists need only about 100 billionth of a gram for analysis. LIA has been used successfully to determine the sources of non-ferrous metals from sites in other parts of the world for years, but its use in African archaeology is fairly recent.
From his analysis, Mr Fenn theorises that the ore used to make the copper ornaments and other items found in the sites in West Africa likely came from North Africa. He said merchants there traded gold from regions like present-day Niger for copper from the north via camel caravans across the Sahara Desert.
Refined copper, Mr Fenn said, likely was prized as a commodity that fit in with the value system of the region, where it was easily worked into ornamental objects and other items that could be bartered for other goods and services.
Source : afrol News on
Cordon sableux marquant le paléorivage du Méga-lac Tchad. Au premier plan, sols argileux fertiles du fond du Méga-Lac Les eaux du lac Tchad sont actuellement à plus de 100 km vers l'est.
©IRD/ Marc Leblanc
Le "Méga-lac" Tchad révélé par télédétection :
April, 2006
Depuis plus de 30 ans que dure la sécheresse au Sahel, la disparition du lac Tchad (partagé entre le Tchad, le Niger, le Cameroun et le Nigéria) est régulièrement annoncée par les médias.
Si le lac a effectivement diminué de manière spectaculaire, passant d’un état de Grand Lac à Petit Lac en quelques années, de telles fluctuations rapides sont déjà survenues au cours des derniers siècles et sont liées à la forte variabilité climatique de l’Afrique tropicale.
Plus loin dans le passé, à une échelle pluri-millénaire, des fluctuations de beaucoup plus grande ampleur ont eu lieu. A partir de données issues de la télédétection, l’existence et les caractéristiques d’un gigantesque Méga-lac Tchad à l’Holocène moyen (il y a plus de 6 000 ans) viennent ainsi d’être confirmées et précisées avec le concours de chercheurs de l’IRD.
Source : IRD on
Further reading the pdf file at

"Missing link" skull found in Ethiopia :
April 12, 2006
A research team headed by Ethiopian anthropologist Sileshi Semaw has unearthed a human-like skull estimated to be between 500,000 and 250,000 years old. The cranium, which was found in the Afar region in northern Ethiopia, could prove to be a "missing link" between the earlier Homo erectus and modern humans and Homo sapiens that is what early analyses show.
The important palaeo-anthropological discovery was announced by the Stone Age Institute, based in the US state Indiana, which employs the Ethiopian anthropologist. Mr Semaw, a 45-year-old Ethiopian national, heads the Gona Palaeo-anthropological Research Project in northern Ethiopia on behalf of the US institute.
The skull was found by Mr Semaw's assistant Asahmed Humet on 16 February this year while the research team was conducting archaeological and geological reconnaissance survey in the Gawis river drainage basin in the Afar regional of Ethiopia. The cranium was found in a small gully at the base of a steep slope of soft sediments from which it had recently eroded.
At the same site, the Ethiopian research team also found additional contemporary stone tools and artefacts. Further, a diversity of fossil animals including two types of pigs, zebras, elephants, multiple types of antelopes, small carnivores including cats, and numerous rodents were found at the same layer of the sediments as the skull, indicating that these animals had been eaten or held by the proto-human at Gawis.
The importance of the discovery is attached to the skull's age and its structure. The skull was found in sediments from the Middle Pleistocene, meaning the proto-human must have lived between 500,000 and 250,000 years. The sediments include some volcanic ash layers, meaning that the scientist expect that a more accurate dating should soon be possible.
The age and shape of the skull indicate that it "appears to be intermediate between the earlier Homo erectus and later Homo sapiens and may be sampling a single lineage," according to the Stone Age Institute. The age indicated it was from an "intriguing and important period in the development of modern humans," representing the last forms of proto-humans before our Homo sapiens species was fully developed.
The discovery is also of a great importance because it included a near-complete skull, while most fossils of proto-humans - hominids - only are found as fragments. "I am thrilled to have a complete cranium discovered from Gona that can provide key information for understanding the variation that existed during the Middle Pleistocene," Mr Semaw commented the discovery.
Scott Simpson, the project palaeontologist added that "a good fossil provides anatomical evidence that allows us to refine our understanding of evolution. A great fossil forces us to re-examine our views of human origins. I believe the Gawis cranium is a great fossil."
The Gawis skull comes from a time of transition to modern humans from African Homo erectus that is poorly known, and it could therefore prove to be a major "missing link" of human evolution. According to the Stone Age Institute, the fossil record from Africa for this period is sparse and most of the specimens are poorly dated. The few fossil skulls that are known from the Middle Pleistocene of Africa present a narrow view of the range of potential anatomical variation during this period.
"The Gawis cranium provides us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors," the Institute therefore notes. "Additionally, this fossil links us with the past by showing a face that is recognisably different and more primitive than ours."
Work is in progress by Mr Semaw's team in Gona to determine the age of the skull and associated archaeology, and to understand its evolutionary relationships with others known during the Pleistocene. Mr Semaw concluded by saying that "I am happy that the Gona project succeeded to make a new hominid discovery from this least known time period in human evolution."
"Gona is a wonderful site and Ethiopian palaeo-anthropology has a lot more to offer to the world. We will keep our heads up and continue our work, and I am optimistic that we will be rewarded with more thrilling discoveries for years to come," the Ethiopian scientist promises.
Source : Andnetwork .com on

Clues to African archaeology found in lead isotopes :
March 28, 2006
Microscopic specs of lead are offering clues about the enormous cultural changes that swept across northern Africa a thousand years ago.
At The University of Arizona in Tucson, a young archaeologist is analyzing lead traces in artifacts to shed light on the relatively little-understood archaeology of Africa, especially the period marked by the spread of the new religion of Islam.
Thomas R. Fenn, a doctoral student in the UA anthropology department, is unraveling evidence of centuries-old trade patterns across the Sahara Desert by identifying smelted metal artifacts, mainly copper, found in the continent’s sub-Saharan regions.
Fenn will report the results of his work ("Getting to the source of the problem: Lead isotope analysis and provenance determination of ancient African copper artifacts") on Sunday, March 26, at 2 p.m., U.S. Eastern Time at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Atlanta. Fenn’s presentation is in the Georgia World Congress Center, Room C-108.
As Islamic forces moved across northern Africa, they set in motion trading opportunities between the arid lands bordering the Mediterranean and the dense jungles and savannahs south of the Sahara.
One of the questions Fenn wants to answer concerns the sources of copper and other raw materials that became manufactured goods that were traded throughout the region. Specifically, why were metal workers in a sophisticated metallurgical industry in the sub-Sahara importing copper ingots when there were perfectly good copper ore deposits nearby?
Knowing where these and other materials originated, said Fenn, may offer larger insights about not only trade, but also about technologies, economics and social organization. Who controlled bankable natural resources and transportation routes? How was labor distributed in these societies?
David J. Killick, a UA associate professor of anthropology and expert on the archaeology of metallurgy in Africa, said tracing metals is a crucial part of understanding the development of trade in Africa.
"Most of the money circulating in the western half of the Islamic world between the 11th and 16th centuries was minted with gold from sub-Saharan west Africa, and competition for the wealth generated by the trade fueled the growth of major West African states like Ghana, Mali and Songhai," Killick said.
Using a process called lead isotope ratio analysis, or LIA, Fenn has examined more than 100 Iron-Age artifacts, most of them copper, from sub-Saharan Africa. The experiments were done in the W.M. Keck Isotope and Trace Element Laboratory at the UA. The lab is partially funded by the National Science Foundation and run by Joaquin Ruiz, a professor of geosciences and dean of the UA College of Science.
"LIA is extremely accurate as a forensic tool in identifying lead traces found in metal ores," said John Chesley, a research scientist in the UA department of geosciences who developed the laboratory and analytical techniques for Fenn’s project.
Lead has four different isotopes, three of which occur as the natural decay of uranium and thorium. The isotopic ratios change as a function of time. Smelting doesn’t change the ratios, making them a virtual fingerprint for a metal’s source of origin. Scientists need only about 100 billionth of a gram for analysis.
The trick, said Chesley, is making sure the sample remains completely free of contamination. The process takes about two weeks, but offers a high degree of certainty of linking objects to their source. LIA has been used successfully to determine the sources of non-ferrous metals from sites in other parts of the world for years, but its use in African archaeology is fairly recent.
"In reality, I am dating the deposition of the ores on a geological timescale - millions of years - but I am not dating them within an archaeological time scale," Fenn said. "I am, in fact, using the geological age, derived from the lead isotope ratios, as a means of provenancing raw and refined copper metals, and metallurgical debris, to a potential ore source based on the similarity of their geological age, i.e., their lead isotope ratios, as well as by examining and comparing their chemical compositions."
From his analysis, Fenn theorizes that the ore used to make the copper ornaments and other items found in the sites in West Africa likely came from North Africa. He said merchants there traded gold from regions like present-day Niger for copper from the north via camel caravans across the desert.
Refined copper, Fenn said, likely was prized as a commodity that fit in with the value system of the region, where it was easily worked into ornamental objects and other items that could be bartered for other goods and services.
Source : University of Arizona -

The "intermediate" hominid skull is held by Gona project member Asahmed Humet, who discovered the fossil on Feb. 16 near the Ethiopian city of Gawis

The hominid fossil was found in the Gona region of Ethiopia
Ethiopian find could fill gap in human origins - Skull seen as ‘intermediate’ between modern humans and older ancestors :
March 24, 2006 - Addis Ababa
A hominid skull discovered in Ethiopia could fill the gap in the search for the origins of the human race, a scientist said Friday.
The cranium, found near the city of Gawis, 300 miles (500 kilometers) southeast of the capital Addis Ababa, is estimated to be 200,000 to 500,000 years old.
The skull appeared “to be intermediate between the earlier Homo erectus and the later Homo sapiens,” Sileshi Semaw, an Ethiopian research scientist at the Stone Age Institute at Indiana University, told a news conference in Addis Ababa.
It was discovered two months ago in a small gully at the Gawis River drainage basin in Ethiopia’s Afar region, southeast of the capital.
Sileshi said significant archaeological collections of stone tools and numerous fossil animals were also found at Gawis.
“(It) opens a window into an intriguing and important period in the development of modern humans,” Sileshi said.
Over the last 50 years, Ethiopia has been a hotbed for archaeological discoveries. Hadar, located near Gawis, is where scientist Donald Johnson found the 3.2 million-year-old remains of “Lucy,” described by scientists as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world.
Lucy, unearthed in 1974, is Ethiopia’s world-acclaimed archaeological find. The discovery of the almost complete hominid skeleton was a landmark in the search for the origins of humanity.
On the shores of what was formerly a lake in 1967, two Homo sapiens skulls dating back 195,000 years were unearthed. The discovery pushed back the known date of mankind, suggesting that modern humans and their older precursors existed side by side.
Sileshi said while different from a modern human, the brain case, upper face and jaw of the cranium have unmistakable anatomical characteristics that belong to human ancestry.
“The Gawis cranium provides us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors,” he added.
Source : Reuters -
  Archaeologist calls for protection for Ethiopian historical sites :
March 19, 2006 - Addis Ababa
A renowned British archaeologist said Sunday there is an urgent need to ensure that tourists can visit Ethiopian historical sites but in numbers whichthe sites can accommodate without being threatened and unreasonably damaged.
Professor David Phillipson, director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the Cambridge University, told journalists that a broadly agreed tourist management policy shouldbe put in place in Ethiopia.
"We have a duty to pass on the tangible cultural heritage to future generation," said Phillipson.
He stressed the overriding principle of management policies forthe tangible cultural heritage must be long-term preservation.
"This applies anywhere in the world, not just to Ethiopia and not just in Africa," said Phillipson, who just wrapped up a ten-week visit to Ethiopia.
"This situation can of course be greatly helped by tourist management policies, which design ways in which the presence of tourists has minimal impact and causes minimal damage to the site,which people go to see," he said.
Phillipson led large-scale archaeological excavations at the northern ancient town of Axum from 1993 to 1997, and is currently conducting researches on Lalibela rock-hewn churches.
"We have a duty to pass on the tangible cultural heritage whether it is sites, monuments or specimen housed in a museum to future generations in at least as good a condition as we have received them from our predecessors," he said.
"Of course, these things should be used and exploited for tourism education, and other purposes. But in my view this should be done only in so far as it can safely be done without exposing the heritage to deterioration or putting it at risk.
Ethiopia is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world. In Ethiopia, the main tourist destination at the moment is the northern historic route encompassing Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum, Makalle and Lalibela. Enditem
Source : Xinhuanet -

New analysis shows three human migrations out of Africa :
February 3, 2006
A new, more robust analysis of recently derived human gene trees by Alan R. Templeton, Ph.D, of Washington University in St Louis, shows three distinct major waves of human migration out of Africa instead of just two, and statistically refutes — strongly — the 'Out of Africa' replacement theory.

That theory holds that populations of Homo sapiens left Africa 100,000 years ago and wiped out existing populations of humans. Templeton has shown that the African populations interbred with the Eurasian populations — thus, making love, not war.
"The 'Out of Africa' replacement theory has always been a big controversy," Templeton said. "I set up a null hypothesis and the program rejected that hypothesis using the new data with a probability level of 10 to the minus 17th. In science, you don't get any more conclusive than that. It says that the hypothesis of no interbreeding is so grossly incompatible with the data, that you can reject it."
Templeton's analysis is considered to be the only definitive statistical test to refute the theory, dominant in human evolution science for more than two decades.
"Not only does the new analysis reject the theory, it demolishes it," Templeton said.
Templeton published his results in the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 2005.
A trellis, not a tree
He used a computer program called GEODIS, which he created in 1995 and later modified with the help of David Posada, Ph.D., and Keith Crandall, Ph.D. at Brigham Young University, to determine genetic relationships among and within populations based on an examination of specific haplotypes, clusters of genes that are inherited as a unit.
In 2002, Templeton analyzed ten different haplotype trees and performed phylogeographic analyses that reconstructed the history of the species through space and time.
Three years later, he had 25 regions to analyze and the data provided molecular evidence of a third migration, this one the oldest, back to 1.9 million years ago.
"This time frame corresponds extremely well with the fossil record, which shows Homo erectus expanding out of Africa then," Templeton said.
Another novel find is that populations of Homo erectus in Eurasia had recurrent genetic interchange with African populations 1.5 million years ago, much earlier than previously thought, and that these populations persisted instead of going extinct, which some human evolution researchers thought had occurred.
The new data confirm an expansion out of Africa to 700,000 years ago that was detected in the 2002 analysis.
"Both (the 1.9 million and 700,000 year) expansions coincide with recent paleoclimatic data that indicate periods of very high rainfall in eastern Africa, making what is now the Sahara Desert a savannah," Templeton said. "That makes the timing very amenable for movements of large populations through the area."
Templeton said that the fossil record indicates a significant change in brain size for modern humans at 700,000 years ago as well as the adaptation and expansion of a new stone tool culture first found in Africa and later at 700,000 years expanded throughout Eurasia.
"By the time you're done with this phase you can be 99 percent confident that there was recurrent genetic interchange between African and Eurasian populations," he said. "So the idea of pure, distinct races in humans does not exist. We humans don't have a tree relationship, rather a trellis. We're intertwined."
Source : WUSTL -

"See that ?" - Posnansky and Nigel Fitzpatrick in Dufile
American archaeologists in Madi (Uganda) :
Monday, 23rd January, 2006
By Dradenya Amazia
American archaeologists have arrived in Dufile fort in Moyo district to find out about the relationship between the Europeans, Egyptians and the Madi, that prompted the building of the fort. Professor Merrick Posnansky of the Archaeology University of California said the Madi played a big role in history yet not much is known about their relationship with foreigners. “Not enough people know about the Madi in West Nile. our mission is to correct the imbalance in the history of East Africa and Uganda that this was among the first tribes in Africa that had contacts with Europeans,” he said. He said this can be done through the revitalisation of Dufile fort, which the Madi built between 1874 and 1879 for governor Charles Gordon.
Source : New Vision Online -
Archaeology : New law to protect antiquities against illicit dealers (Morocco) :
January 21, 2006
The Minister of Culture, Mohamed Achaari, underlined to members of the House of Representatives that the new law they adopted Tuesday would protect antiquities against illicit dealers.
“The illicit dealing in antiquities is a universal phenomenon, favoured by certain parties who buy stolen objects”, said the minister. “A text authorizing police intervention to protect the national heritage will be promulgated”, continued Achaari. The law project 19/05 modifies and completes law 22/08 concerning the conservation of historic monuments and sites, inscriptions, objects of art and antiquities. But this law only affects movable art objects and antiquities which will be protected against destruction, such as manuscripts. Sanctions vary between fines and imprisonment, according to the nature of the offence. Historic monuments however, remain governed by the old legislation. There is thus a flagrant juridical void in this field. The delay is due, amongst other things, to the lack of studies and coordination between the concerned parties. These should join their efforts to fight against the illicit trade which threatens the nations' cultural goods and identity, and which is increasing in Morocco. In effect, our country lies at the crossroads of civilizations between the West, the East and Africa. The phenomenon has taken on worrying proportions in recent years. Buyers have recourse to illegal means to obtain, documents, manuscripts, objects of art, ethnology and archaeology. Excavations on several archaeological sites have had to be stopped for lack of protection. Many national manuscripts have been sold illegally. “Diplomatic bags and private travel are a means of exporting them”, the Minister of Culture did not hesitate to declare during a recent study day on this theme. Morocco is not the only country affected. Even the richest states, equipped with the most sophisticated security systems, suffer from important thefts from public museums and private collections, as well as illegal excavations on protected archaeological sites.
Source : Morocco Times -
  Millets older than wheat, rice :
Tarannum Manjul in Lucknow
January 20, 2006
“It is ironical that whenever we are talking about ancient civilisations and farming communities, the archaeological finds and researches have always been based on wheat and rice. Findings prove that millets have been cultivated even more than wheat and rice and can be helpful be identifying the real period and place of first farming.’’ Giving this opinion, Steve Weber of Washington State University and Dorian Q Fuller of the Institute of Archaeology, London say that archaeologists and researches across the world have always been biased towards millets. ‘‘These are the facts. In Southern India, millets were being cultivated as old as 3000 BC to 2500 BC, while rice came into existence only by 500 BC. and in North India, millet cultivation was even there before it made an entry in South India’’ said Fuller. Weber added, “There have been sites in Gujarat, India, and even a few Harappan sites, which have been primarily millet-dominant.’’ Weber says that since millets were more nutritious and were even drought- resistant, perhaps more and more people started cultivating them before anything else. “In India, China and South Africa, millets were the staple diet. And surprisingly, the so very Indian millets like ragi, jowar and bajra actually come from South Africa.’’ Talking about the bias against millets, the duo, who were in the city to participate at the International Seminar on First Farmers in Global Perspective, organised by the state’s Directorate of Archaeology, said that since the 19th century, the bias has continued. “The British started researching with rice and wheat and even today, organisations like the UN and FAO concentrate on that. This may have been because rice and wheat are bigger grains and easier to identify, whereas millets were smaller and more time-consuming to find,” they opined.
Source : Lucknow Newsline -
  Ancient lakes of the Sahara :
January 19, 2006
The Sahara has not always been the arid, inhospitable place that it is today – it was once a savannah teeming with life, according to researchers at the Universities of Reading and Leicester. Eight years of studies in the Libyan desert area of Fazzan, now one of the harshest, most inaccessible spots on Earth, have revealed swings in its climate that have caused considerably wetter periods, lasting for thousands of years, when the desert turned to savannah and lakes provided water for people and animals. This, in turn, has given us vital clues about the history of humans in the area and how these ancient inhabitants coped with climate change as the land began to dry up around them again. In their article ‘Ancient lakes of the Sahara’, which appears in the January-February issue of American Scientist magazine, Dr Kevin White of the University of Reading and Professor David Mattingly of the University of Leicester explain how they used satellite technology and archaeological evidence to reveal new clues about both the past environment of the Sahara and of human prehistory in the area. “The climate of the Sahara has been highly variable over the millennia and we have been able to provide much more specific dating of these changes,” said Dr White. “Over the last 10,000 years, there have been two distinct humid phases, separated by an interval of highly variable but generally drying conditions between roughly 8,000 and 7,000 years ago. Another drying trend took place after about 5,000 years ago, leading to today’s parched environment.” The researchers determined where surface water was once present by using radar images of the desert taken from space. These images showed rivers, lakes and springs now buried below shifting sand dunes. As these bodies dried out thousands of years ago, the resulting mineral deposits cemented the lake sediments together and these hardened layers are detectable by using radar images. “This information was essential because archaeologists need to focus their efforts near ancient rivers, lakes and springs, where people used to congregate due to their basic need for water,” said Dr White. “We found large quantities of stone tools around the ancient water sources, indicating at least two separate phases of human occupation.” The earliest humans in the area were Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, who lived in the Fazzan between about 400,000 and 70,000 years ago. They survived by hunting large and small game in a landscape that was considerably wetter and greener than it is now. A prolonged arid phase from about 70,000 to 12,000 years ago apparently drove humans out of the region, but then the rains returned – along with the people. Around 5,000 years ago the climate began to dry out again, but this time people adapted by developing an agricultural civilization with towns and villages based around oases. This process culminated with the emergence of the Garamantian society in the first millennium BC. Professor Mattingly said: “We have been given a completely new view of this elusive and remarkable society. The Garamantes were known to the ancient Romans as a race of desert warriors, but archaeology has shown they had agriculture, cities and a phenomenally advanced system of water extraction that kept their civilisation going for 1,000 years as the land was drying up around them.” They cultivated a variety of high-grade cereals, such as wheat and barley, and other crops such as date palms, vines, olives, cotton, vegetables and pulses. As the Saharan climate began to dry out they drew their water from a large subterranean aquifer (an underground bed of rock that yields water) and transported it through a network of tunnels. “The fact that the Garamantes developed this ingenious irrigation system shows that our ability to apply engineering solutions to deal with climate change is by no means only a modern phenomenon,” said Dr White. “The gradual drying up of springs and dessication of the surrounding landscape must have seemed ominous , but they knew they had to develop sophisticated methods to cope with it. “But even this remarkably adaptable society – one of the first urban civilisations built in a desert – could not cope forever with a falling water table and intensifying aridity. Sometime around 500AD, the Garamantian society collapsed and their irrigation system fell into disuse.” Associated with this research, Reading’s School of Human and Environmental Sciences, in collaboration with the Department of Meteorology, are undertaking a major project, linking climate, water and civilization in the Middle East and North Africa, with a £1,240,000 grant from the Leverhulme Trust.
Source : Innovations report -
  Students researching into Techiman ancient remains (Ghana) :
January 18, 2006
Fifty three students of the Archaeology Department of the University of Ghana, Legon, are on a 10-day working visit to the Techiman Municipality to excavate tombs, especially ancient remains. The students, led by Dr. Kodzo Gavua, head of the department, Mr. James Boachie-Ansa, director of research and two technicians of the Department, would research and develop the relics of the area and stock them at a museum at Nsemankwa Cultural Village at Takofiano in the municipality. The Nsemankwa cultural village is said to be the origin of the Fantes before they migrated to the coastal areas of the country. Speaking at a durbar to welcome the students, Nana Baffour Asare Twi-Brempong, Adontenhene of Techiman traditional area, through whose efforts the students would develop the cultural village, said Techiman had become a haven for business establishments. Nana Twi-Brempong said a five-acre land had been set aside for the development of the Nsemankwa cultural village and mentioned cultural sites in the municipality including Boten caves, sacred fish in the Tano River, Bat caves, Kristo Boase Monastery and the burial sites of the late Lords of Techiman, among others. Oseadeeyo Akumfi-Ameyaw, Omanhene of Techiman Traditional Area, thanked the department for the assistance to develop the cultural values of Techiman. He said Techiman as the seat of ancient Bono Kingdom, was established more than 800 years ago and that some of its people were now domiciled in Fante land, Osu-Alata in Accra, Jaman district in Brong Ahafo and La Cote D'Ivoire. He called on elders to help support the students in the development of the relics of the great Kingdom. Dr. Gavua said the department was not restricted to the campus alone as there was the need to go to the field as a challenge for the students to ensure that Ghanaian culture was respected instead of copying foreign cultural values. He presented two books of the research on the History of Techiman written by the late Dr. Effah Gyamfi of the University to the Omanhene.
Source : Ghana Web -
  Neanderthal man floated into Europe :
Giles Tremlett in Madrid
January 16, 2006
Spanish investigators believe they may have found proof that neanderthal man reached Europe from Africa not just via the Middle East but by sailing, swimming or floating across the Strait of Gibraltar. "This could break the paradigm of most investigators, who have refused to believe in any contact in the palaeolithic era between southern Europe and northern Africa," investigator José Ramos explained in the University of Cadiz's research journal. Although the scientists have not yet reached definite conclusions, they say the evidence that neanderthal man mastered some primitive techniques for crossing the sea into Europe from the coast near Ceuta looks promising. If the theory could be proved, and a two-pronged arrival of neanderthal man accepted, it would help solve some of the mysteries thrown up by prehistoric sites around Europe. During the ice ages that affected much of Europe, the distance from Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar would have been much less than its current eight miles, the investigators from Cadiz University said. There was also evidence that small islands may have existed in the middle of the strait, which would have made travelling from one side to the other much easier. Fauna and flora evidence from the same era suggested both sides of the Mediterranean were by no means isolated. A neanderthal ability to travel across small stretches of sea would help explain why the Iberian peninsula has older examples of human remains than, say, France. Mr Ramos said: "If the only way of getting to Europe was via the Middle East then, theoretically, they should have got to France before reaching Spain." Investigators from Atapuerca, a Spanish site where some of the continent's oldest human remains have been found, will travel to Ceuta to help investigate. Well-adapted to the cold climate of palaeolithic Europe and western Asia, neanderthals appear to have been the dominant hominid in the region until the emergence of anatomically modern humans. The first neanderthal skull was found in Gibraltar in 1848, although the species was not recognised until a second discovery in a German quarry in 1856. Neanderthals are also thought to have had their last stand in southern Spain around 30,000 years ago before being wiped out by the spread of homo sapiens. Prehistoric remains of hunter-gatherer communities found at a site known as La Cabililla de Benzú, in the Spanish north African enclave of Ceuta, are remarkably similar to those found in southern Spain, investigators said. Stone tools at the site correspond to the middle palaeolithic period, when neanderthal man emerged, and resemble those found across Spain.
Source : Guardian Unlimited -,3604,1687099,00.html
  Oldest dated evidence of cattle in southern Africa found :
August 2, 2005
A team of researchers working with colleagues from the Botswana National Museum shed new light on the questions of when cattle were brought to southern Africa and from where. A domestic cow bone, dated to about 2000 years ago was excavated from a site at Toteng, located in the Kalahari Desert of northern Botswana. This bone, dated by the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon technique, provides the oldest directly dated evidence of cattle in southern Africa.
Domestic sheep were also present at Toteng at about the same time. Historical and linguistic information suggest northern Botswana figured prominently in the arrival and dispersal of livestock in southern Africa. The new dates support this view and confirm a long-term association between people and livestock in this part of the Kalahari. The discovery of the 2000 year old cow and sheep bones are important because of the long held view that the Kalahari was a comparatively isolated area that was primarily occupied by foraging peoples until recently.
The findings, to be published in the August/October issue of Current Anthropology, are also interesting in the broader context of the spread of domestic livestock throughout Africa. Whereas livestock had spread into northern Kenya in East Africa by as early as 4000/4500 years ago, it took an additional 2000 years for their eventual spread into southern Africa. Experts have stressed that this delay was largely due to the presence of tripanosomiasis, carried by tsetse flies, as well as other diseases that kill livestock in much of the intervening area. The Toteng sites are situated near the southern edge of the Tsetse fly zone and the new dates of about 2000 years ago appear to date the initial penetration of livestock through this zone.
Robbins, Larry, et al., "The advent of herding in southern Africa: Early AMS dates on domestic livestock from the Kalahari Desert, Botswana", Current Anthropology, 46:4.
Source : EurekAlert - August 2, 2005