Neanderthals lacked specialised cold weather clothing

Study of faunal remains suggest garments with fur trim were made only by modern humans.

Neanderthal use of clothing has long been debated. Even during warm interglacial periods, Neanderthals must have faced a problem with heat-loss in winter. It has been argued that wearing cape-type clothing across the shoulder would not have been sufficient to ward off the cold of even a moderately severe winter or body cooling caused by wind-chill. Clothing and footwear would therefore have had to be sewn together tightly in order to keep out snow and water. (Sørensen, 2009) Despite this, definite evidence for tailored clothing is lacking in Europe prior to the arrival of modern humans, and it has only been found at modern human sites. (Klein, 1999; Hoffecker, 2005) Continue reading

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

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

Death at Lake Turkana

Evidence of inter-group violence between East African hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago

Inter-group violence has long played a part in human affairs, but just how long is unclear. Over the last thirty years, evidence has accumulated that massacres were a frequent occurrence in Neolithic Europe. Mass graves have been found at a number of sites associated with the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture dating to around 5,000 BC. In all cases, the victims appeared to have been attacked and killed with weapons associated with farming groups suggesting internecine conflict between LBK groups rather than attacks by local hunter-gatherers. Continue reading

‘Iceman’ stomach bug points to more complex picture of early European settlement

Researchers obtain genome of Helicobacter pylori from 5,000-year-old stomach contents

The stomach bacterium Helicobacter pylori is found in roughly half of the world’s present-day population, although it causes symptoms in only around 10 to 15 percent of cases. The bacterium’s association with humans is very ancient, possibly originating in East Africa 58,000 years ago. Since then, various strains have emerged as humans dispersed around the world. Thus differing strains reflect differing geographical origins and are informative about past human migrations. Continue reading

Congenital defect is possible further evidence of inbreeding by Neanderthals at El Sidrón

High incidence of congenital clefts of the arch of the atlas observed among remains from Spanish site

The Atlas (C1) vertebra is the first cervical vertebra of the spine, immediately below the skull. It takes its name from the Greek Titan Atlas, who is popularly (but incorrectly) supposed to have held the world on his shoulders. Congenital defects of the anterior or posterior arches are rare in modern populations, occurring at frequencies of 0.087 to 0.1 percent and 0.73 to 3.84 percent respectively. The condition does not normally lead to clinical symptoms. Continue reading