Wednesday, June 29, 2016

News Stories from Episode 17

“Sinkhole discovery suggests humans were in Florida 14,500 years ago. Knife, bone, and dung cast doubt on Bering Strait theory and indicate humans spread through Americas 1,500 years earlier than thought, researchers say. Neil Puckett, from Texas A&M University, surfaces with a limb bone of a juvenile mastodon at a sinkhole in limestone bedrock site near Tallahassee, Florida. A stone knife, mastodon bones and fossilized dung found in an underwater sinkhole show that humans lived in north Florida about 14,500 years ago, according to new research that suggests the colonization of the Americas was far more complex than originally believed. Archaeologists have known of the sinkhole in the Aucilla river, south of Tallahassee, for years. But they recently dived back into the hole to excavate what they call clear evidence that ancient mankind spread throughout the Americas about 1,500 years earlier than previously thought.” [ … ] “in the last two decades, archaeologists have found an 11,000-year-old skull in Brazil, human DNA by way of feces in a cave in Oregon, evidence of humans in coastal Chile as long as 14,800 years ago, and spearheads in Texas that could date human arrival in the Americas to 15,500 years ago. Most of the manmade artifacts found in these disparate sites lack the signatures of the Clovis people. “ [ ]

“This ‘ancient city’ below the sea wasn’t built by humans. The "pillars" are actually the work of industrious microbes. (University of Athens). When tourists snorkeling near the Greek isle of Zakynthos first spotted mysterious structures about 20 feet under the sea, they thought they might have stumbled upon a lost city. And you can't blame them: The site features what appear to be clusters of cobblestones and symmetrical stone cylinders with Hellenic flair. It's easy to see the waterlogged structures and imagine a bustling square full of artists and philosophers. Archaeologists who dove down to see the site for themselves immediately noted a lack of coins, pottery fragments or other signs of life. So they got to work finding another explanation, analyzing the mineral content of the "pillars" and "streets." And it turns out that the structures have a perfectly natural origin story — no humans required. The structures contain a mineral called dolomite, a calcium byproduct produced by microbes that feed off methane. When bacteria huddle around a reliable source of the gas, their calcium excrement can react with methane to produce the cement-like substance.” [ ]

“How Ancient Human-Like "Hobbits" Got So Small. Our most recent ancestor shrank into Homo floresiensis after millennia of isolation. If you were to travel back in time 80,000 years to the Middle Pleistocene period, and take a stroll around the island of Flores, in Indonesia, you would find a scene you might previously have thought could only occur in The Lord of the Rings: small hairy hominids walking around the grassy savannah-covered island. These small people stood about three feet tall, but were decidedly hairier and less clothed than Tolkien’s hobbits.“
[ … ] “did H. erectus turn into a hobbit? Well, isolated populations on islands have been known to do strange things, evolutionarily speaking, and dwarfism has occurred in island populations of other vertebrates as well. It’s believed that a population of H. erectus landed on Flores, and experienced a period of rapid dwarfism that eventually shaped it into an entirely new species: H. floresiensis. While the new fossils indicate that this likely happened, they also suggest that it happened at an astonishingly rapid pace. “It’s quite surprising that it happened so fast,” said archaeologist Gerrit van den Bergh of Wollongong University in Australia . “Because we know that humans were present on Flores over a million years ago and then 300,000 years later (the date to which these new fossils are matched), they were already small.” [ ]

“Did Ancient Climate Change Ignite Human Evolution? [ … ] drying forests and lightning may have turned fire from a primal threat into a life-sustaining object of reverence.” A new study suggests that a pattern of climate change occurred as humans were first evolving, making their habitats prone to wildfire. Early humans may have learned to exploit the increasingly common fires around to cook meals and for other benefits. A problem with these serendipity-based explanations is that they "raise more questions than they answer," says evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Parker at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. For example, these theories do not address when or where the discovery might have occurred, why it did not happen earlier or why other animals that use stone tools—chimpanzees, capuchin monkeys, crab-eating macaques and sea otters are known to do so—did not also develop fire use, Parker notes. [ … ] The blazes would have made it easier to find food, much as Martu Aboriginal women in Australia still rely on fire to clear brush for more efficient hunting. The models also indicate that early humans might have combed the charred remains of wildfires to dine on animals, seeds, nuts and tubers cooked in the flames—benefitting from a chemical process that not only makes many foods easier to digest but kills germs and neutralizes some toxins.” [ ]

Termites invented farming 25 million years before humans? Formosan subterranean termites build a nest. The whitish dots are remains of meals, that are used in building the nest. The "poop" contains antibacterial substances that block the growth of fungus that is toxic to the termites. The fossil structures bore every hallmark of a prehistoric farm: Crops were arranged according to an intricate, complex plan. Material for harvesting littered the ground. Analysis revealed that the crop was a species that only grows when cultivated. This was agriculture -- but underground and on a micro scale. At 25 million years old, it was also far more ancient than anything constructed by humans; Homo sapiens didn't even exist yet. Instead, the farmers who tilled these ancient plots were termites. And their harvest was fungus. The fossilized termite gardens, uncovered from exposed cliff sides in the Rukwa Rift Basin of southwestern Tanzania, are the oldest physical evidence of farming on Earth, scientists report in the journal PLOS One this week. [ ]

“Remains of mammoth uncovered in Mexico. Mexican experts are carefully digging up fossils of a Pleistocene-era mammoth believed to have been cut to pieces by ancient humans. Remains of the giant wooly mammal, believed to be some 14,000 years old, were discovered by chance in December near Mexico City while drainage pipes were being installed in the village of Tultepec.

Archaeologists have been working at the site since April, and they hope to complete their work in the next few days. Luis Cordoba, an archaeologist with the National Institute of Anthropology and History, said the remains of more than fifty mammoths have been discovered in the area around the capital, where in pre-historic times there was a shallow saltwater lake where the heavy creatures often got stuck.“ [ ]

“Ancient Earth Had More Than Two Magnetic Poles. The history Earth's magnetic field is more complicated than you think. Most of us don't often think about Earth's magnetic field, but without it, humans and most other life would be unable to exist. Earth's magnetic field protects our planet from harsh radiation blasted out of the sun. It's essential to everything we think of as life on Earth. Scientists believe our magnetic field comes from the rotation of Earth's liquid iron core around a smaller, solid core (this is an effect called geodynamo). But the solid core hasn't always existed. What was the magnetic field like back then? For most of history, the magnetic field has had two poles, north and south. Scientists have found proof of that in very old rocks that still show signs of the magnetic polarity of their times. The dipolarity of our planet seems to have remained consistent through much of Earth's 4.5 billion year history. However, during the Neoproterozoic Era, between .5 to 1 billion years ago, evidence suggests that the Earth sometimes had more than two poles. ” It is suggested by research studies and models that “Earth had a dipolar field until about 1 billion years ago. When the Earth's core began to solidify, the magnetic field went haywire, with many poles instead of two. Once the new solid core settled in, the field returned to its regular number of poles.” [ ]

“Does Earth Really Have A Second Moon? Since ancient times, humans have gazed at Earth’s moon and wondered about its origins, its place in the Universe and why it was our only one. After the discoveries of Jupiter, Saturn and many other worlds with multiple moons — including even our neighbor Mars , with more than one — it left us scratching our heads as to why Earth only has one. Yet even this assumption may turn out to be false, as recent reports declared that we have a second moon! ” Have you heard about this Asteroid 2016 HO3 ? It is true; we do have a small object orbiting in the vicinity of Earth, and a good enough skywatcher with the right equipment can find it for themselves! There are two different ways that a planet can have a natural satellite. The one you’re most familiar with — the path that the “old” Moon follows — occurs when an object is directly bound to its parent body. That means it has a certain speed and orbits at a certain distance from a planet to remain in direct orbit around it for an arbitrarily long time. It can’t be too far away or too elliptical in nature, or the tug from other worlds and objects in the Solar System will destroy or eject it over time. If we take a look at each one of the moons in the Solar System, they all have those characteristics.” Jupiter possess Trojan asteroids, why not the Earth? Don’t be surprised when I tell you that Asteroid 2016 HO3 isn’t even the first secondary moon of Earth discovered. “Asteroid 3753 Cruithne, was discovered way back in 1986, and it also orbits the Sun in the vicinity of Earth. Like most of the Trojan asteroids, it appears to make a bean-shaped path as seen from Earth, but with a nearly 365 day orbit as well, its position can reliably be predicted a long way into the future. As far as we can tell, this asteroid will be a stable, quasi-satellite of Earth for thousands of years to come.” [ ]

“Ancient structures found in cave couldn't have been built by modern humans. Constructions date to 176,000 years ago. Some of the oldest constructions ever discovered were recently found and dated in a cave in southern France, and they're so old that it's impossible for them to have been built by modern humans, reports Nature. The structures were first identified back in 1990 when a group of spelunkers first broke into a cave chamber that had likely been sealed for tens of thousands of years. They noticed odd ringed semicircles assembled from broken stalagmites that seemed too ordered to be a natural formation. The cave explorers couldn't be certain, however, and they reported their discovery so experts could investigate. But it wasn't until 2013 — more than two decades later — that researchers finally descended into the cave to witness the legend for themselves, and their findings have finally been published. So who or what could have built them? Modern humans weren't around yet, but some of our ancient brethren were: Neanderthals. It seems reasonable to suspect that Neanderthals built these cave structures, since they were the only humans around in this part of France at the time. Some charred bones — likely from a bear or large herbivore — found within one of the constructions also hints at Neanderthals, who probably cooked them. “ [ ]

“One of the earliest and most complete ancient legal codes was proclaimed by the Babylonian king Hammurabi, who reigned from 1792 to 1750 B.C. Hammurabi expanded the city-state of Babylon along the Euphrates River to unite all of southern Mesopotamia. His code, a collection of 282 laws and standards, stipulated rules for commercial interactions and set fines and punishments to meet the requirements of justice. Hammurabi’s Code was proclaimed at the end of his reign and carved onto a massive, finger-shaped black stone stela (pillar) that was looted by later invaders and rediscovered in 1901 by a French archaeological team in present-day Iran. Hammurabi’s Code includes many harsh punishments, sometimes demanding the removal of the guilty party’s tongue, hands, breasts, eye or ear. But the code is also one of the earliest examples of the idea of the accused being considered innocent until proven guilty. The black stone stela containing Hammurabi’s Code was carved from a single, four-ton slab of diorite, a durable but incredibly difficult stone for carving. At its top is a two-and-a-half-foot relief carving of a standing Hammurabi receiving the law—symbolized by a measuring rod and tape—from the seated Shamash, the Babylonian god of justice. The rest of the seven-foot-five-inch monument is covered with columns of chiseled cuneiform script. In 1901 Jacques de Morgan, a French mining engineer, led an archaeological expedition to Persia to excavate the Elamite capital of Susa, more than 250 miles from the center of Hammurabi’s kingdom. There they uncovered the stela—broken into three pieces—that had been brought to Susa as spoils of war, likely by the Elamite king Shutruk-Nahhunte in the mid-12th century B.C. The stela was packed up and shipped to the Louvre in Paris, and within a year it had been translated and widely publicized as the earliest example of a written legal code—one that predated but bore striking parallels to the laws outlined in the Hebrew Old Testament. The 1935 U.S. Supreme Court building features Hammurabi on the marble bas relief of historic lawgivers that lines the south wall of the courtroom.” [ ]

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