Earliest hominin cancer

Malignant tumour found in 1.7m year old metatarsal

Cancer is the primary cause of death in industrialised countries and the second most common cause of death in the developing world. The condition not known to occur in non-chordates and is largely confined to the higher vertebrates. It is extremely ancient, with purported cases of neoplasm found in fossil fish from the Upper Devonian. It may therefore be assumed that hominins have always been afflicted by cancer, but evidence for malignant tumours is rare in the fossil record. The earliest example affecting an archaic human is a case of fibrous dysplasia from a Neanderthal rib dated to 120,000 years ago from the site of Krapina in northern Croatia. Continue reading

Flores ‘hobbits’ were already small 700,000 years ago

Earliest Homo floresiensis fossils found at Mata Menge

The diminutive Homo floresiensis hominins, popularly referred to as the Flores hobbits, are thought to be descended from normally-sized hominins who underwent a phenomenon known as ‘insular dwarfism’ after they reached Flores. Food shortages combined with an absence of dangerous predators meant that smaller individuals, with lower calorific requirements, were at an advantage and over many generations the entire population ‘downsized’. Continue reading

175,000-year-old underground Neanderthal stone circle

Structure discovered in 1990s is ten times older than Lascaux cave paintings

Bruniquel Cave in southwest France was discovered by members of a local caving club in 1990. The cave’s entrance had been sealed by a landslide during the last Ice Age, but the cavers re-opened a narrow 30m (100 ft.) passage leading into a main gallery of chambers rich in stalagmites and stalactites. Some 336 m (1,000 ft.) from the entrance, they found strange complex of stone circles, constructed from broken stalagmites. Intrigued by the discovery, the cavers brought in archaeologist Francois Rouzaud to investigate. Continue reading

Iron Age origins of European Alpine dairy farming

Chemical analysis of organic residues from pottery reveals lipids

Dairy produce from the high Alps is today of enormous economic and cultural importance to the region. The recent history of dairy farming is well-documented, but there is very little in the way of archaeological evidence to attest to its origins. Transhumance (seasonal migration of livestock between pastures) leaves few traces, and the problem is compounded by acidic soils that lead to the deterioration of faunal remains. Continue reading

No Neanderthal-derived Y-chromosomes in modern population

Evidence found of genetic incompatibility

An open access study published in The American Journal of Human Genetics has found no evidence of Neanderthal introgression into modern male Y-chromosome despite it being elsewhere in the modern genome. The study is the first in which a Neanderthal Y-chromosome has been sequenced as all the Neanderthal individuals previously sequenced to 0.1x coverage were women. Women do not have a Y-chromosome, so men inherit their Y-chromosomal DNA exclusively from their fathers. The researchers sequenced the Y-chromosome from a male Neanderthal from the El Sidrón cave site in northern Spain, dating to 49,000 years ago. Continue reading

Flores ‘hobbits’ died out much earlier than originally thought

Homo floresiensis extinct by 50,000 years ago

A new study published in Nature has suggested that Homo floresiensis became extinct much earlier than originally reported. The type specimen LB 1, recovered from Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua, Flores in 2004 was claimed to be 18,000 years old, with other remains and associated stone tools dating from 74,000 to 95,000 years old. The dates were inferred from radiocarbon, thermoluminescence, uranium series and electron spin resonance dates on associated sedimentary material. No direct dates were obtained from the remains themselves for fear of damaging them. However, some authorities were dubious that the ‘hobbits’ could have survived for so long after modern humans reached Southeast Asia. Continue reading

Melanesian genomes reveal episodes of interbreeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans

Study demonstrates multiple encounters with archaic humans

In a new attempt to obtain genetic information about Neanderthals and Denisovans, researchers have analysed the genomes of 1,523 genetically-diverse individuals, including 35 Melanesians. Results were compared with known Neanderthal and Denisovan sequences. 1340 Mb of the Neanderthal genome and 304 Mb of the Denisovan genome were obtained. Continue reading