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A cooking pot and wooden spoon recovered from the Åmose bog in Zealand, Denmark. Photograph: Anders Fischer
 
Writing in the Guardian on Monday, 24 October, Camila Ruz reports that –
 
Our ancestors’ move from hunter-gathering to farming happened gradually rather than abruptly, food residues found in 6,000-year-old cooking pots suggests.
 

Evidence from pots found around the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe shows farmers at the beginning of the Neolithic period continued to cook the same types of food foraged by their immediate hunter-gatherer ancestors. The finding challenges the traditional view that farming quickly and completely replaced the more ancient lifestyle. 

Archaeologists from the University of York and the University of Bradford studied 133 pots from farming communities in 15 different sites in Denmark and Germany. The team analysed the chemical structures of fats, oils and waxes that had been released from cooking and had soaked into the ceramic. The researchers also studied crusts of burnt food that had been preserved on the inside of the vessels.

More here.

Children’s ‘finger painting’ in one of the caves at Rouffignac, France. Photo PA
 
Writing in The Guardian today Caroline Davies reports that –
 
“Stone age toddlers may have attended a form of prehistoric nursery where they were encouraged to develop their creative skills in cave art, say archaeologists. Research indicates young children expressed themselves in an ancient form of finger-painting. And, just as in modern homes, their early efforts were given pride of place on the living room wall. A Cambridge University conference on the archaeology of childhood on Friday reveals a tantalising glimpse into life for children in the palaeolithic age, an estimated 13,000 years ago.”
 
More here and here.

 

La Cotte, Jersey. Image credit Man vyi, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In the final episode of the series Alice Roberts goes in search of our Stone Age ancestors, visiting La Cotte in Jersey where she meets a team of archaeologists hoping to shed new light on the Neanderthals, and embarking on a kayak survey of the coastline looking for undiscovered sites hidden in the cliffs. At the Natural History Museum she sees evidence of cannibalism and the ritual use of human skulls. Alice also meets a team who are hoping to unlock the secrets of Stonehenge, not on Salisbury plain, but in the Preseli Hills.
 
Screened on Friday, 30 September 2011 on BBC2 from 9:00pm to 10:00pm. See also Neanderthal survival story revealed in Jersey caves by Becky Evans.

Published tomorrow The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer
 
Writing in The Guardian on 15 June, Peter Forbes reports that –
 
The Cro-Magnons were the creators of the cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira – the ice age hunter gatherers whose art astounds us (“We have learned nothing,” said Picasso, after seeing Lascaux). They were modern humans who entered Europe only about 40,000 years ago, and there, despite the hostile ice age environment, created the first artistically sophisticated culture. But that wasn’t the end of human evolution. Modern genomics has now shown us that biological evolution actually accelerated from this point on, especially since the beginning of farming 10,000 years ago.
 
Stringer is most concerned with the period from the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa, around 195,000 years ago, to their arrival in Europe and the subsequent demise of the Neanderthals (who had left Africa hundreds of thousands of years before). The archaeological record shows Homo sapiens in Africa several times on the verge of a cultural breakthrough, but this is not consolidated until their arrival in Europe. Stringer writes: “It is as though the candle glow of modernity was intermittent, repeatedly flickering on and off again.”

Last year, the Neanderthal Genome Project, led by the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo, finally established that modern humans in Europe and Asia (but not Africa) have some admixture of Neanderthal genes, thus ending decades of speculation. And in December last year the same team produced a total surprise: a genomic analysis of human remains from a cave in Denisova, southern Siberia, which proved to be genetically distinct from all known human types. The team declined at this stage to give the find a Linnean species name, but, by analogy with the Neanderthals, named it Denisovan after the location. The actual Denisovan specimens in Siberia were 30-50,000 years old, and the type predated both modern humans and Neanderthals.

Apart from having what is probably a new species to fit into the pattern of human evolution, the big shock of the Denisovans is that they also have contributed something to the modern human stock in Melanesia (the islands north of Australia that include Papua New Guinea). We now see a pattern emerging of interbreeding between modern humans and earlier types: Neanderthals in Europe and Asia and Denisovans in Melanesia. There will surely be further finds. Especially interesting is East Asia, first peopled by Homo erectus as long as 1.7m years ago.

Format : Hardback
ISBN: 9781846141409
Size : 153 x 234mm
Pages : 352
Published : 20 Jun 2011
Publisher : Allen Lane

 
 
The Scots: A Genetic History by Alistair Moffat and James F Wilson
 
One very interesting fact to emerge from Alistair Moffat and James F Wilson’s research is that the large numbers of redheads in Scotland maybe the result of inbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans; Neanderthals are thought to have had predominantly red hair. The following is an extract from the excellent review of the book by David Robinson.
 

I’m not sure how the numbers of survivors are worked out, but they are impressively small. All people that on earth do dwell – apart from those in Africa – are apparently descended from a mere 300 who made the journey out of our home continent. Again, the numbers are unexplained but a cause of wonder.

As is the peopling of Scotland. All Scots, Moffat reminds us, are immigrants, but DNA evidence allows us for the first time to be more precise about from where. It must be hard, you can’t help thinking, for any geneticist to be a racist, given that we’re all originally African. But even racist nostalgia for a once-pure bloodstock takes a battering from genetics. In Scotland’s case, for example, the people here longest were originally from either side of the Pyrenees, while most of the rest of us are basically Irish. As far as the Romans are concerned, they came, saw and conquered most of Britain, but genetically speaking, they hardly left much of a trace behind.

See http://living.scotsman.com/features/Book-review-The-Scots-A.6732585.jp?articlepage for the full review.

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