Skeleton Lake: Genetic Surprise Deepens Riddle Of The Dead

By Gemma Tarlach | August 20, 2019 10:00 am
Skeleton Lake
Skeleton Lake, formally known as Roopkund Lake, sits at more than 16,000 feet above sea levels in the Himalayas. (Credit: Atish Waghwase)

At the mysterious Skeleton Lake in northern India, the dead are talking, revealing surprises through centuries-old DNA. And it’s not what anyone expected.

New research suggests the site is not the scene of a single natural disaster that killed hundreds, as once thought. Skeleton Lake’s emerging truth is far more mysterious. The human bones littering its shores appear to belong to people from across Eurasia, who met their end in multiple incidents spanning a thousand years.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: anthropology

Unusual Parasites Plagued Bronze Age Fen Folk And Their Dogs

By Gemma Tarlach | August 15, 2019 6:00 pm
Parasites aplenty riddled humans and their dogs at a swampy site in Bronze Age England. From left: Microscopic eggs of a fish tapeworm, giant kidney worm and Echinostoma worm found in ancient feces from the Must Farm site. (Black scale bar represents 20 micrometers.) (Credit: M. Ledger, Department of Archaeology, Cambridge University)

Around 3,000 years ago, people were going about their business in a marshy corner of eastern England known as The Fens.

These Fenland folk had just built their settlement over a slow-moving river channel, sinking wooden stilts for homes deep into the squishy soil. They had erected a wooden palisade around it all, creating as comfortable a gated community as one might imagine possible in a setting that was, well, a bit swampy.

Then, one day, less than a year after construction, fire consumed the entire settlement. The homes, the stilts and the palisade burned and quickly collapsed into the river. Of course, as soon as the flames hit the water, they fizzled out.

It was a terrible event for the people who lived there, and likely fled with little more than the clothes on their backs. But the settlement’s collapse, and subsequent burial in layers of silt, would be a gift to modern archaeology, preserving an incredible wealth of detail about how the fen folk lived.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Cambroraster: Ancient Predator Looked Like Millennium Falcon

By Gemma Tarlach | July 30, 2019 6:15 pm
Artist rendering of Cambroraster, a predator from half a billion years ago. (Credit: Lars Fields © Royal Ontario Museum)

Half a billion years ago, Cambroraster falcatus was a bizarre predator of the Cambrian seas. As it moved through the water, enormous mouth and rake-like claws at the ready for its next meal, it cast a shadow on the seafloor reminiscent of the most famous bucket of bolts in the entire Star Wars galaxy: the Millennium Falcon.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Cambrian, paleontology

Ochre Engraving On Bones From China Oldest Symbolic Use

By Gemma Tarlach | July 15, 2019 3:06 pm
ochre engraving
Ochre engraving on a rib fragment from China is the oldest evidence for the material’s symbolic usage, say researchers behind the find (top: photograph; bottom: illustration). (Credit: Francesco d’Errico and Luc Doyon)

Two pieces of animal bones with ochre engraving, found in central China, are the latest evidence that members of the human family used the material to express abstract ideas much earlier than once believed — and much further from Africa.

Researchers studying the find call it the oldest such example of the symbolic use of ochre. At more than 100,000 years old, the discovery raises another challenge to the conventional model of human evolution.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human evolution

Long-Toed Bird Preserved In Amber For 99 Million Years

By Gemma Tarlach | July 11, 2019 10:00 am
A long-toed bird preserved in amber from Myanmar is the first of its kind. (Credit: Lida Xing)

Smaller than a sparrow, a bird that lived 99 million years ago in what’s now Southeast Asia had legs unlike any other avian. The bird’s hindlimb features one toe longer than its entire lower leg bone.

Lucky for paleontologists, a piece of amber has preserved the animal’s odd anatomy.

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MORE ABOUT: amber, paleontology

Apidima Skull Is Earliest Homo Sapiens Outside Africa, Say Researchers

By Gemma Tarlach | July 10, 2019 12:00 pm
The skull fragment known as Apidima 1 (right) is about 210,000 years old, according to a new analysis. Seen from the rear (middle) and side (left) in a reconstruction, the partial skull’s rounded shape shares a unique feature of modern humans. (Credit: Katerina Harvati, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen)

A scrap of skullcap collected in 1978 and stored for decades in an Athens museum may rewrite the timeline of our species leaving our ancestral African homeland.

A new analysis of the Apidima 1 fossil, named for the Greek cave where it was found, suggests it’s 210,000 years old, which would make it the oldest evidence of Homo sapiens outside Africa.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human evolution

Some Ancient Crocodiles Went Vegan

By Gemma Tarlach | June 27, 2019 10:00 am
This American alligator, like crocodiles and other related species, is a meat-eating power biter. (Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Someone says “crocodiles” and the image that comes to mind is probably a toothy one. Modern crocodilians are power biters, and many species are apex predators. But it wasn’t always that way.

Paleontologists believe that multiple extinct species preferred plants over prey.

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MORE ABOUT: paleontology

Really Big Bird Found In Crimea

By Gemma Tarlach | June 26, 2019 7:00 pm
big bird found in crimea
Artist’s rendering of the Black Sea big bird Pachystruthio, which researchers estimate was comparable to Madagascar’s elephant birds and New Zealand’s moa. (Credit: Andrey Atuchin)

Towering more than ten feet tall and weighing in at about 1,000 pounds, big bird Pachystruthio was a big deal. The animal, which weighed about as much as a male polar bear, roamed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. That’s thousands of miles — and across the equator — from the better-known avian giants.

The earliest members of the genus Homo outside of Africa may have hunted Pachystruthio. But it’s unclear whether they would have been successful. The researchers behind the find say, unlike Madagascar’s large but lumbering elephant birds, this big bird was fast.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: paleontology

Fossil Find Is First Evidence Of Arctic Hyenas

By Gemma Tarlach | June 18, 2019 5:00 am
An artist’s rendering of ancient Arctic hyenas belonging to the genus Chasmaporthetes, now known to have roamed Canada’s Yukon Territory. (Credit: Julius T. Csotonyi)

You might associate hyenas with Africa’s sprawling savannas, but the animals were once right at home above the Arctic Circle.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Beringia, paleontology

Catching A Whiff Of T. Rex’s Sense Of Smell

By Gemma Tarlach | June 11, 2019 6:01 pm
Did Sue the T. rex and other members of the species have a great sense of smell? (Credit: The Field Museum)

As fascinating and awe-inspiring as fossils are, the ancient bones tell us only so much about how an animal actually lived.

Take T. rex, for example: How did the animal find food, through sharp sight, great hearing or a keen sense of smell? The nose knows, say authors of a new paper on the iconic dinosaur’s olfactory ability.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: paleontology
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