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February 4, 2016

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND—An inherited deficiency in alpha-1-antitrypsin (A1AT) can contribute to the onset of the debilitating illnesses of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. A1AT protects the lungs and liver from enzymes produced by the immune system, but those enzymes, called proteases, are also produced by parasitic worms. Richard Pleass of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and a team of scientists say that deviant forms of A1AT evolved in Viking populations more than 2,000 years ago to combat worm infestations. “Vikings would have eaten contaminated food and parasites would have migrated to various organs, including lungs and liver, where the proteases they released would cause disease,” he said in a press release. “Thus these deviant forms of A1AT would have protected Viking populations, who neither smoked tobacco nor lived long lives, from worms. It is only in the last century that modern medicine has allowed human populations to be treated for disease-causing worms. Consequently these deviant forms of A1AT, that once protected people from parasites, are now at liberty to cause emphysema and COPD,” he explained.

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February 4, 2016

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—A new genetic study suggests that some 50,000 years ago, all non-Africans dispersed rapidly from a single population, and that around 14,500 years ago, there was a major turnover of the population in Europe. Researchers reconstructed the mitochondrial genomes of 35 hunter-gatherers who lived in Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, and Romania between 35,000 and 7,000 years ago. The mitochondrial DNA of three of these individuals, who lived in what is now Belgium and France more than 25,000 years ago, belonged to haplogroup M. Haplogroup M is now very common in Asian, Australasian, and Native American populations, but had not been found in Europe, leading to the argument for multiple migrations. “When the Last Glacial Maximum began around 25,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer populations retreated south to a number of putative refugia, and the consequent genetic bottleneck probably resulted in the loss of this haplogroup,” Cosimo Posth of the University of Tübingen said in a press release. The DNA study also indicates that those who survived the cold of the Last Glacial Maximum were replaced by a population from another source. To read about the art made by the first modern humans in Europe, go to "A New  Life for Lion Man."

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February 3, 2016

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK—The rate at which mutations occur helps evolutionary geneticists estimate when events such as the split between the ancestors of humans and chimpanzees occurred. New estimates of the mutation rate, however, put the split between humans and chimpanzees at odds with the fossil record. Scientists at Columbia University have produced a new model, described in a press release, that takes life history traits, such as puberty and reproduction, into account for the number of mutations that are passed on to offspring. Since these life history traits evolve, the mutation rate should evolve as well. Based upon this model, the rate of mutation has slowed down, and the split between humans and other apes may have occurred as recently as 6.6 million years ago. To read more about human evolution, go to "Ardipithecus: Ape or Ancestor?"

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February 3, 2016

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA—Phys.org reports that William Gilpin and Marcus Feldman of Stanford University and Kenichi Aoki of Meiji University adapted a computer model that was developed to mimic interspecies competition to investigate the interaction between modern humans and Neanderthals in Europe some 45,000 years ago. The model took cultural and technical abilities into consideration, and, as the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the results suggest that a group that was culturally more advanced may have been able to displace a group that was culturally less advanced, even if that group was initially much larger. In theory, modern humans would have been able to use their cultural and technological advantages to outcompete Neanderthals for natural resources. The researchers add that it is not clear why Neanderthals did not copy the successful culture and technology. To read more about our extinct cousins, go to "Should We Clone Neanderthals?"

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February 3, 2016

KARNEI HATTIN, ISRAEL—A hiker discovered a 3,500-year-old Egyptian seal in the Lower Galilee on the Horns of Hattin, so-called for the twin peaks of an extinct volcano where a fortified citadel stood in the late Bronze Age. Recent rainstorms may have brought the artifact to the surface. The man handed the seal, carved in the shape of a beetle, over to the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The scarab represents Pharaoh Thutmose III (1481-1425 B.C.) sitting on his throne, and before him is a cartouche—an oval shape that contains symbols representing his name in hieroglyphics,” curator of Egyptian archaeology at the Israel museum Daphna Ben-Tor told Haaretz. “Thutmose ruled for many years during the fifteenth century B.C., and during his reign Egypt set up an administrative system of governance in Canaan. There, he waged many campaigns of conquest, of which the most famous was the battle of Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley—a victory documented in giant tablets on the walls of the Karnak Temple in [Luxor}, Egypt,” she explained. For more about Egyptian influence in the Levant, go to "Egyptian Style in Ancient Canaan." 

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<p>BUA, FIJI&mdash;According to a

February 2, 2016

BUA, FIJI—According to a report in Fijivillage.com, Sepeti Matararaba of the Fiji Museum and Patrick Nunn of Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast discovered a Lapita site dating to between 2,700 and 3,000 years ago on the northern island of Vanua Levu. The oldest-known Lapita site in Fiji was occupied approximately 3,100 years ago on the island of Viti Levu, to the south. To read about the link between tattoos and Lapita pottery, go to "Ancient Tattoos: Lapita Fragment and Engraving."

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February 2, 2016

LAWRENCE, KANSAS—A team of researchers has combined historical and anthropological literature with fieldwork in Namibia to gain a better understanding of how traditional San hunters use beetle arrow poisons. “Arrow-hunting appears in ancient rock-paintings of the San, but it is unclear when poisons might have been adopted. We suspect poisons were adopted very early,” entomologist Caroline Chaboo of the University of Kansas said in a press release. “In general, the beetle larvae are harvested by digging up soil around the host, sifting out the cocoons to take home. Later the cocoons are cracked open and the beetle larvae extracted. Some San hunters squeeze the beetle body fluids out onto the arrowhead, or they make a concoction with other plant juices. The arrow preparer is very careful in handling all the materials and in storing the poisoned arrows and remaining cocoons away from the community,” she explained. The poison slowly paralyzes the prey while the hunter tracks the animal until it falls over. Then the hunter makes the kill. To read more, go to "First Use of Poison."

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February 2, 2016

BERGEN, NORWAY—Researchers from the University of Bergen and University of the Witwatersrand have examined artifacts from Blombos Cave and other sites in in South Africa to try and determine if different groups of people shared technology and engaged in cultural interaction during the Middle Stone Age, as early as 100,000 years ago. “The pattern we are seeing is that when demographics change, people interact more. For example, we have found similar patterns engraved on ostrich eggshells in different sites. This shows that people were probably sharing symbolic material culture, at certain times but not at others,” Karen van Niekerk of the University of Bergen said in a press release. She and Christopher Henshilwood concluded that the more contact the groups had, the stronger their technology and cultures became. “Contact across groups, and population dynamics, makes it possible to adopt and adapt new technologies and culture and is what describes Homo sapiens,” he said. To read more about archaeology in the caves of South Africa, go to "First Use of Poison."

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February 2, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND—A complete collapsed wall painting dating to the first century A.D. was discovered face-down during an excavation at 21 Lime Street, London, by a team from the Museum of London Archaeology. The image is likely to have adorned a reception room in the home of a wealthy citizen. It depicts deer nibbling trees, birds, fruit, and a vine woven around a candelabrum. One area of the painting’s red panels had been painted with cinnabar thought to have been imported from Spain. The design has not been seen before in Roman Britain, but resembles a painting in a Roman villa in Cologne, Germany. The home in which it had been painted was probably demolished ahead of the construction of the second Forum Basilica. To read more about Roman frescos, go to "Saving the Villa of the Mysteries."

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February 1, 2016

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND—Last month, the Swiss government returned 45 boxes of Etruscan artifacts to Italy, including two earthenware sarcophaguses. According to a press release from the city government of Geneva, the antiquities had been stored in a local warehouse, registered to an offshore company, for more than 15 years. Italian experts believe that the vases, frescoes, sculptures, and reliefs were illegally excavated from sites in Umbria and Lazio and imported through the Geneva Free Ports by a disgraced British art dealer. To read about excavations at at Etruscan site, go to "The Tomb of the Silver Hands." 

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February 1, 2016

TÜBINGEN, GERMANY—Hominins living 300,000 years ago at the site of Schöningen were more like modern humans than had been previously thought, according to Nicholas Conard, Jordi Serangeli, and Christopher Miller of the University of Tübingen and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment. They say that Homo heidelbergensis lived in social groups, conducted coordinated group hunting, and communicated about the past, present, and future. Excavations at Schöningen have recovered well-preserved Paleolithic wooden, bone, and stone tools, including a unique hammering tool made from the humerus of a saber-toothed cat. The site has also yielded evidence of the hunting and butchering of large animals. The team has not, however, found convincing evidence at the site for the mastery of fire by Homo heidelbergensis. “The findings from Schöningen suggest that archaic humans may have been able to survive in the Ice Age landscape of northern Europe without being able to make and control fire,” Miller explained in a press release. A special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution is devoted to the Schöningen excavations. To read more about Homo heidelbergensis, go to "A Place to Hide the Bodies."

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February 1, 2016

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Shell and bone remains found at Qesem Cave suggest that tortoises were cooked and eaten there some 400,000 years ago. Marks on the bones indicate that the tortoises were sometimes roasted whole and sometimes they were butchered. “Somehow they cut them with stone knives, and most probably into small pieces,” archaeologist Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University told The New York Times. Gathering tortoises would have been a low-risk, low-energy activity that supplemented deer, birds, wild asses, horses, and aurochs that made up most of the diet.

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February 1, 2016

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC—A 60-foot-long boat dating to about 2550 B.C. has been discovered to the south of a large mud-brick tomb in the Old Kingdom necropolis at Abusir. Its wooden planks, joined with wooden pegs, are intact, as are the plant fibers that covered the planking seams. Ropes that bound the boat together are also well preserved. Most of the ancient Egyptian boats uncovered by archaeologists have been poorly preserved or were dismantled in antiquity, so this vessel offers a unique opportunity to examine how ships were built 4,500 years ago. The name of King Huni from the Third Dynasty has been found on a stone bowl in the tomb, but the name of the tomb’s high-status occupant is unknown. “In fact, this is a highly unusual discovery since boats of such a size and construction were, during this period, reserved solely for top members of the society, who usually belonged to the royal family. This suggests the potential for additional discoveries during the next spring season,” Miroslav Bárta, director of the mission for the Czech Institute of Archaeology at Charles University, said in a press release. To read more, go to "Oldest Egyptian Funerary Boat."

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January 29, 2016

FUJI, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that ceramics have helped researchers date Suzukawa no Fujizuka to the eighteenth century. During the Edo Period, (1603-1867), fujizuka, or mountain-shaped mounds, were constructed to honor Mount Fuji by religious groups known as fujiko. The ceramics, when combined with a date inscribed on a stone lantern at the monument, suggest that Suzukawa no Fujizuka was built before the practice became popular. Mountain ascetics, when preparing to climb Mount Fuji, brought stones from the ocean shoreline and placed them on top of Suzukawa no Fujizuka to pray for safety. The researchers also found smooth stones at Suzukawa no Fujizuka. To read more about archaeology in Japan, go to "Dogu Figurine."

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<p>CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND&mdash;Population

January 29, 2016

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Population geneticist Andrea Manica of the University of Cambridge announced that he and his team made a mistake in the conclusions drawn from the comparison of the genome they obtained from the 4,500-year-old human remains found in Ethiopia’s Mota Cave, and the reference human genome. The paper claimed that traces of Eurasian ancestry, brought to Africa by farmers from the Middle East some 3,000 years ago, can be found in Ethiopian highlanders, West Africans, and the Mbuti of Central Africa. “The movement 3,000 years ago, or thereabouts, was limited to eastern Africa,” Manica told Nature News. Incompatibility between two software packages caused the error, first detected by Pontus Skoglund and David Reich of Harvard Medical School, who tried to duplicate the results. “Almost all of us agree there was some back-to-Africa gene flow, and it was a pretty big migration into East Africa. But it did not reach West and Central Africa, at least not in a detectable way,” Skoglund said. To read about early human forays out of Africa, go to "New Evidence for Mankind's Earliest Migrations."

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January 29, 2016

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND—It had been thought that Austronesian languages spread “Out of Taiwan” and throughout Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Madagascar, and the islands of the Pacific with a migrating population some 4,000 years ago. But Martin Richards of the University of Huddersfield and his colleagues conducted a large-scale genetic study, and they have found that Pacific Islanders’ mitochondrial DNA was present in Island Southeast Asia much earlier. They also found that the expansion from Taiwan accounts for only about 20 percent of the population in the region. Richards and his team suggest that rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age some 11,500 years ago transformed the landscape of the region and made migration possible. They also think that populations expanded from Indonesia to Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands some 8,000 years ago. Austronesian languages, which can be traced to Taiwan, may have been associated with a new religion or philosophy, or perhaps the Taiwanese migrants constituted an elite group that others emulated. For more, go to "Settling Southeast Asia."

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January 29, 2016

BOULDER, COLORADO—Australia’s first human inhabitants cooked and ate the cantaloupe-sized eggs of Genyornis newtoni, a flightless bird that stood nearly seven feet tall and weighed 500 pounds, according to a new study led by Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado at Boulder. “We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly preying on now-extinct Australian megafauna. We have documented these characteristically burned Genyornis eggshells at more than 200 sites across the continent,” he said in a press release. The bones of Australia’s extinct megafauna rarely survive in the harsh soil, leaving little chance to find evidence of early hunting activity. The burned eggshell fragments, however, were dated to between 54,000 and 44,000 years ago with optically stimulated luminescence dating, and radiocarbon dated to no younger than 47,000 years old. Analysis of amino acids in the eggshells indicate that the eggs had been cooked at one end with a localized heat source. Many of the burned eggshell fragments were also found in clusters. Miller and his team argue that “the conditions are consistent with early humans harvesting Genyornis eggs, cooking them over fires, and then randomly discarding the eggshell fragments around their cooking fires.” To read more about the relationship between humans and megafauna, go to "Butchering Big Game."

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January 28, 2016

BERLIN, GERMANY—Historian of science Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University, using the texts from three published and two unpublished cuneiform tablets from the British Museum, realized that the Babylonians calculated the position of the planet Jupiter with geometrical methods between 350 and 50 B.C. It had been thought that Babylonian astronomers used only arithmetical methods, and that such geometrical computations were not carried out until the fourteenth century. Ossendrijver had been studying four tablets with texts that describe trapezoids when Hermann Hunger of the University of Vienna brought him a photograph of a fifth, uncatalogued tablet that does not describe a trapezoid, but does describe an astronomical computation that is mathematically equivalent to the others, and can be assigned to Jupiter. “The crucial new insight provided by the new tablet without the geometrical figure is that Jupiter’s velocity decreases linearly within the 60 days. Because of the linear decrease a trapezoidal figure emerges if one draws the velocity against time,” Ossendrijver explained in a press release. “It is this trapezoidal figure of which the area is computed on the other four tablets.” 

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<p>SAKAI, JAPAN&mdash;Five new

January 28, 2016

SAKAI, JAPAN—Five new boreholes for piers thought to have supported a massive bridge have been found at the Nisanzai Kofun burial mound in Japan’s Osaka Prefecture. The bridge is estimated to have been nearly 40 feet wide, 150 feet long, and aligned with the center of the keyhole-shaped mound. “It seems likely that people stood by on both sides of the bridge while a temporary casket for the body was taken into the tomb. It gives us clues as to how ancient burial rites were performed at giant burial mounds,” Taichiro Shiraishi of the Chikatsu Asuka Museum told The Asahi Shimbun. The bridge, thought to have been used in the late fifth century, would have been torn down after the ceremony. “It is unlikely that a structure of this kind was unique to this burial mound. If they get the chance, we hope researchers will investigate other large tombs as well,” Shiraishi said. To read more about archaeology and Japanese history, go to "Khubilai Khan Fleet."

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January 28, 2016

FORT LAWRENCE, NOVA SCOTIA—Parks Canada archaeologist Charles Burke has found an intact, eighteenth-century surface at the site of Fort Lawrence, a British defensive structure overlooking the Isthmus of Chignecto, which connects Nova Scotia to New Brunswick. “Just inside the walls of the fort we encountered what we call essentially a 1750 walking surface,” Burke told CBC News. Fort Lawrence was abandoned in 1755 after the British took the French Fort Beauséjour, located across the border, and renamed it Fort Cumberland. Burke’s team also uncovered the brick-lined cellar of a large home built by Col. Joseph Morris at the site in 1762. “It would be the first house built in the area after the British military abandoned the property,” he said. The home was burned in 1776 after American sympathizer Jonathan Eddy’s failed attack on Fort Cumberland. Eddy was father-in-law to Morris’s daughter. “It seems likely and you can’t help but imagine that discussions about planning for the attack on Fort Cumberland in 1776 very likely occurred in or near that house,” Burke said. 

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