A leading anthropologist suggests that protohumans' decrease in reactive aggression, alongside developing greater intelligence, cooperation, and social learning abilities, were key to homo sapiens becoming what we are today. These just happen to be the characteristics that increase when humans domesticate animals. In an article reviewing the new theory is is suggested that, perhaps, we domesticated ourselves too.
An excavation team has found evidence of an 11,800-year-old sewer system at the ancient settlement of Boncuklu Tarla East in southeastern Turkey. It has been confirmed to be in a public use area, making this the oldest known sewer system in the world. It was surrounded by buildings thought to have stood about 23 feet tall and reached up to 8 stories. With that much space comes plenty of people -- and their waste.
BBC did a fascinating article on the oldest known written recipes, written in cuneiform in the Mesopotamian region. They are pretty short, some just 4 lines long, and date to as far back as 1730 BCE.
This ceramic storage jar is decorated using brown-on-buff pottery, known as Sialk, after the site where it was found in northern Iran. Sialk pottery flourished in the fourth millennium BCE thanks to the abundance of clay in the area. In the fourth millennium B.C. in central and southwestern Iran, painted decoration on pottery like this large jar reached a new level of sophistication. Combinations of geometric patterns, birds, and animals were silhouetted in dark brown on buff clay.
This particular storage jar is a masterful example of Sialk pottery, and early pottery making in genearal. It is stylized, yet dynamic, with the mountain goat/ibex's horns echoing the jar's curves and the circular bands the ibex stands upon emphasizing the jar's girth. The pattern of geometric shapes framing an ibex is repeated three times around the jar so a ibex is visible from any angle. From the slightly irregular shape of the pot, it seems the jar either was built up by hand with coils of clay or was thrown on a slow wheel.
Humans are pretty adaptable compared to other hominin species, and other apes, which may have been key to the survival of our species. Most animals stick to particular habitats, or are wide-ranging, and based on that scientists classify species on a continuum between generalist and specialist.
But homo sapiens are unique in that they can specialize, and they can generalize. We are specialist-generalists. Some humans have adapted intensively to one ecological niche, most famously high-altitude zones, while other wander across ecological zones. Yet we are still all one species, able to intermarry, or switch regions and adapt. That makes homo sapiens unique across species.
About 160 million years ago the first feathered dinosaurs started stretching their wings and taking to the skies. Not all flying dinosaurs were built the same, however. Discoveries in China are revealing at least one dinosaur family had bat-like wings -- rather than bird-like wings. In 2015 the first bat-like dinosaur was found and named Yi Qi. Recently, a second bat-like dinosaur related to Yi has been found. Though the recently-discovered Ambopteryx longibrachium was likely a glider, rather than a flier, the fossil is helping scientists discover how dinosaurs first took to the skies. And it proves that Yi Qi was not a one-off (like platypuses today) but an alternate evolutionary path for airborne dinosaurs.
When Ötzi the Iceman died around 5,300 years ago in the Italian Alps, he was surrounded by thousands of microscopic fragments of bryophytes, a plant group that includes mosses and the flowerless green plants known as liverworts. Now a team has analyzed bryophyte fragments recovered from Ötzi's clothes, gastrointestinal tract, and pieces of ice around him.
Although only 23 bryophyte species currently live near the glacier where Ötzi was found, about 75 species were identified by the team. This included 10 liverwort species, which are rarely recovered from archaeological sites. The team also found that only 30% of the identified species were local to where Ötzi died. The rest came from lower elevations, helping to confirm the route Ötzi took as he journeyed to what became his final resting place more than 10,000 feet above sea level.
A group of researchers say they have pinpointed the ancestral homeland of all humans alive today: modern-day Botswana. Based on analyses of mitochondrial DNA, the researchers concluded that every person alive today descended from a woman who lived in modern-day Botswana about 200,000 years ago.
When a mass grave containing 15 women, children and young men who lived 5,000 years ago was found in a southern Polish village, a mystery surrounded their demise. Women and their children are buried together in family groups so those who buried them knew the deceased and wanted the families to be together after death. But almonst no fathers are present, only one adult man buried with his wife and his child. What does the lack of fathers -- and the presence of so many mothers-and-child pairs -- mean?
Archaeologists think the adult men of the community were away and returned to find their loved ones dead. So they buried their families with respect and grave goods. The researchers believe there was a raid on the settlement between 2,776 and 2,880 BCE. The grave contained people from the Indo-European Globular Amphora culture, so named because of the shapes of the handled pots they made, who at the time were in competition with the newly-arrived and rapidly-spreading Corded Ware culture. Perhaps this small attack is part of that larger conflict.
Israeli cave finds challenge our theories about evolution’s winners and losers. Because the archaeological evidence shows that homo sapiens lived in the area between 115,000 and 75,000 years ago. Neanderthals lived in the area around the same time, successfully maintaining a population without interbreeding with the neighboring homo sapiens.
Homo sapiens are thinner, adapted for warmer and wetter climates. Neanderthals are stockier and carry more heat, adapted for cooler and drier climates. So when the climate of the area changed, steppe-glaciers advancing and forests disappearing, homo sapiens retreated while Neanderthals stayed. It’s unclear if the homo sapiens living in the area died out, or moved south to more favorable climes. The archaeological record does not say.
But we do know that it about 5,000 years later, around 60,000 years ago, homo sapiens sent a second successful wave of settlers into the area. And of course, in the long run, the Neanderthals were the ones who died out. But the evidence from Israel’s caves show that outcome was not always inevitable.