Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ancient Human Footprints

LiveScience (Feb 26, 2009)

By Jeremy Hsu, Staff Writer

Early humans had feet like ours and left lasting impressions in the form of 1.5 million-year-old footprints, some of which were made by feet that could wear a size 9 men's shoe.

The findings at a Northern Kenya site represent the oldest evidence of modern-human foot anatomy. They also help tell an ancestral story of humans who had fully transitioned from tree-dwellers to land walkers.

"In a sense, it's like putting flesh on the bones," said John Harris, an anthropologist with the Koobi Fora Field School of Rutgers University. "The prints are so well preserved ."

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Monday, February 16, 2009

DNA can build an image of your face

Irish Times (Feb 16, 2009)
By Dick Ahlstrom, Science Editor, in Chicago

Forensic science is about to take a startling new turn – reconstructing facial features and skin tone simply by reading your DNA.

This goes far beyond doing an identity-proving genetic fingerprint, it means the person’s actual face will emerge after analysing a collection of genes, according to a scientist from Pennsylvania State University.

The process, “forensic molecular photofitting” relies on mapping genes that are linked to skin pigmentation and in its more complex form, to groups of genes that control facial structure, stated Dr Mark Shriver.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Evolution is speeding up

Seattle Times

By Karen Kaplan
Los Angeles Times

Blue eyes typically are associated with beauty, or perhaps Frank Sinatra. But to University of Wisconsin anthropologist John Hawks, they represent an evolutionary mystery.

For nearly all of human history, everyone in the world had brown eyes. Then, between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, the first blue-eyed baby was born somewhere near the Black Sea.

For some reason, that baby's descendants gained a 5 percent evolutionary advantage over their brown-eyed competitors, and today the number of people with blue eyes tops half a billion.

"What does it mean?" said Hawks, who studies the forces that have shaped the human species for the past 6 million years.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pacific people spread from Taiwan

ScienceDaily (2009-01-27) --

New research into language evolution suggests most Pacific populations originated in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago. Scientists at The University of Auckland have used sophisticated computer analyses on vocabulary from 400 Austronesian languages to uncover how the Pacific was settled.

"The Austronesian language family is one of the largest in the world, with 1200 languages spread across the Pacific," says Professor Russell Gray of the Department of Psychology.

"The settlement of the Pacific is one of the most remarkable prehistoric human population expansions. By studying the basic vocabulary from these languages, such as words for animals, simple verbs, colours and numbers, we can trace how these languages evolved. The relationships between these languages give us a detailed history of Pacific settlement."

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American comet impact disproved

ScienceDaily (2009-01-27) --

New data disproves the recent theory that a large comet exploded over North America 12,900 years ago, causing a shock wave that traveled across North America at hundreds of kilometers per hour and triggering continent-wide wildfires. Scientists tested the theory by examining charcoal and pollen records to assess how fire regimes in North America changed between 15 and 10,000 years ago, a time of large and rapid climate changes.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Study finds 'Hobbit' is not human

ScienceDaily (2009-01-21)

In a an analysis of the size, shape and asymmetry of the cranium of Homo floresiensis, scientists conclude that the fossil, found in Indonesia in 2003 and known as the "Hobbit," is not human.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Earthquakes, El Ninos fatal to American Civilization

ScienceDaily (2009-01-20) --

First came the earthquakes, then the torrential rains. But the relentless march of sand across once fertile fields and bays, a process set in motion by the quakes and flooding, is probably what did in America's earliest civilization.

So concludes a group of anthropologists in a new assessment of the demise of the coastal Peruvian people who built the earliest, largest structures in North or South America before disappearing in the space of a few generations more than 3,600 years ago.

"This maritime farming community had been successful for over 2,000 years, they had no incentive to change, and then all of a sudden, 'boom,'" said Mike Moseley, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. "They just got the props knocked out from under them."

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

DNA test may unlock secrets of manuscripts

ScienceDaily (2009-01-17)

Scholars have long struggled with questions about when and where the majority of the thousands of painstakingly handwritten books produced in medieval Europe originated. Now a researcher is using modern advances in genetics to develop techniques that will shed light on the origins of these important cultural artifacts.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Mars may still be a living planet

ScienceDaily (2009-01-16) --

Scientists has achieved the first definitive detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars. This discovery indicates the planet is either biologically or geologically active. If microscopic Martian life is producing the methane, it likely resides far below the surface where it is warm enough for liquid water to exist.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Evidence of ancient chemical warfare

ScienceDaily (Jan. 15, 2009) —

A researcher from the University of Leicester has identified what looks to be the oldest archaeological evidence for chemical warfare -- from Roman times.

At the meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, University of Leicester archaeologist Simon James presented CSI-style arguments that about twenty Roman soldiers, found in a siege-mine at the city of Dura-Europos, Syria, met their deaths not as a result of sword or spear, but through asphyxiation.

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Primate culture a stone's throw away

ScienceDaily (2009-01-15) --

For 30 years, scientists have been studying stone-handling behavior in several troops of Japanese macaques to catch a unique glimpse of primate culture. By watching these monkeys acquire and maintain behavioral traditions from generation to generation, the scientists have gained insight into the cultural evolution of humans.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

RNA that replicates itself indefinitely

ScienceDaily (2009-01-10) --

One of the most enduring questions is how life could have begun on Earth. Molecules that can make copies of themselves are thought to be crucial to understanding this process as they provide the basis for heritability, a critical characteristic of living systems. New findings could inform biochemical questions about how life began.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Asteroids have Earth-like crust

ScienceDaily (2009-01-08) --

Asteroids are hunks of rock that orbit in the outer reaches of space, and scientists have generally assumed that their small size limited the types of rock that could form in their crusts. But two newly discovered meteorites may rewrite the book on how some asteroids form and evolve.

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Americans arrived in separate migrations

ScienceDaily (2009-01-08)

The first people to arrive in America traveled as at least two separate groups to arrive in their new home at about the same time, according to new genetic evidence.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Pterosaurs have lift-off

ScienceDaily (2009-01-07) --

Pterosaurs have long suffered an identity crisis. Pop culture heedlessly -- and wrongly -- lumps these extinct flying lizards in with dinosaurs. Even paleontologists assumed that because the creatures flew, they were birdlike in many ways, such as using only two legs to take flight.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

American sites hold ancient soil rich in Nanodiamonds

ScienceDaily (2009-01-02) --

Abundant tiny particles of diamond dust exist in sediments dating to 12,900 years ago at six North American sites, adding strong evidence for Earth's impact with a rare swarm of carbon-and-water-rich comets or carbonaceous chondrites, scientists report. The discoveries are consistent with theory of Clovis-age disruption by a cosmic event, according to researchers.

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African Exodus mostly men

ScienceDaily (2009-01-02) --

Modern humans left Africa over 60,000 years ago in a migration that many believe was responsible for nearly all of the human population that exist outside Africa today.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Religion evolved to help self-control

ScienceDaily (2009-01-01) --

Psychologists reveal that religion facilitates the exercise of self-control and attainment of long-term goals. A psychology professor has found a strong correlation between religion and self-control, or self-regulation. He explains that religious people may have at their disposal a set of unique resources that makes them better suited to adhering to long term goals.

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