Were the Americas inhabited 30,000 years ago?

One of the most dramatic discoveries to fuel the debate about the date of habitation in the Americas was made in a streambed in southern Uruguay – a set of 30,000-year-old fossilised animals which show distinctive marks left by human tools . The immense significance of the discovery is that mainstream archaeology says that humans began arriving in the Americas between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago, and the Clovis people of North and Central America are generally considered the “first Americans.”

The fossils were first uncovered in 1997 when severe drought led local farmers to drain a lagoon in Arroyo del Vizcaíno, which exposed many fossilised animal remains. But these weren’t just any animals. The bones were gigantic.

It wasn’t until 2011 that a team of palaeontologists managed to break their way through the bureaucratic roadblocks to excavate the site, and over the next two years they unearthed thousands of fossils. It turns out that the bones belong to giant sloths weighing up to 4 tonnes (the size of a small elephant), saber-toothed cats, oversized armadillos, and other mega fauna that roamed the Americas until around 11,000 years ago.

Hunting mega fauna. Credit: Heinrich Harder

In an analysis published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B in November 2013, it was revealed that the fossils at Arroyo del Vizcaíno have been radiocarbon dated to between 29,000 to 30,000 years old. And, astonishingly, the bones had marks left by human tools. The team also found a potentially human-made scraper that could have been used on dry animal hides, and stone flakes. If this is indeed the case, it means that humans inhabited the Americas at least 15,000 years before previously thought.

Study co-author Richard Fariña said the strength of the evidence lies in the team’s methodology and the fact that two of the bones they tested for dating also bore markings similar to those made by human tools. “The association can’t be closer than it is,” he said.

But of course, such dramatic findings are never accepted easily. There are already suggestions that the markings on the bones are the product of nature mimicking human tools.

Further excavations at the site are already planned and it is estimated that it could yield a thousand more bones.

24,000-Year-Old Boy reveals Origins of Native Americans

The DNA of a young boy found in eastern Siberia holds the key to unravelling the mystery of where Native Americans originated . The 24,000 year-old remains revealed two major surprises for anthropologists when they completed an analysis of his genome.

The remains of the boy, aged 3 to 4 years old, were found buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia. He was buried under a stone slab wearing an ivory diadem, a bead necklace and a bird-shaped pendant. The discovery was made by Russian archaeologists back in 1938, following which the remains sat in a museum for decades gathering dust. The true significance of the finding was unrealised until they were examined by a team led by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen.

Dr Willerslev extracted DNA from bone taken from the child’s upper arm, hoping to find ancestry in the East Asian people from whom Native Americans are known to be descended. But what they discovered was a huge surprise.

The team discovered that the boy’s DNA matched that of Western Europeans, showing that during the last Ice Age people from Europe reached much further east across Eurasia than previously believed. Incredulous at the results, they decided to test the DNA of an adult who died 17,000 years ago, found at a second Siberian grave site – they found the same markers of European origin. The results indicated that Europeans occupied Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum approximately 20,000 years ago.

But that was not all. The results also showed that a quarter of the boy’s DNA matched that of living Native Americans. Until now it was believed that Native Americans descended from East Asians in Siberia. Now it seems that they descended from a mixture of Western Europeans who had reached Siberia and the East Asian population.

“We estimate that 14 to 38 percent of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population,” Dr Willerslev and colleagues wrote in an article published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

A European contribution to Native American ancestry could explain two longstanding mysteries about their origins. One is that many ancient Native American skulls, including that of the well-known Kennewick man , look very different from those of the present day population. Another is that one of the five mitochondrial DNA lineages found in Native Americans, the lineage known as X, also occurs in Europeans.

Dr. Willerslev has presented his findings to the academic community, which received a mixture of reactions from excitement to incredulity. The research will certainly prompt a search for more ancient DNA from Siberia in order to provide further verification of this ground-breaking result.

Early Humans Lived in China 1.7 Million Years Ago

New research published in in the journal Scientific Reports, has revealed that Homo erectus, an ancient ancestor to modern humans, occupied a vast area in China as early as 1.7 million years ago. The work is part of a government push to investigate traces of early humans in China with the hope that it may identify a new cradle of mankind in the nation.

The now-extinct species of human is said to have evolved in Africa at least 1.8 million years ago and then dispersed out from the continent reaching as far as China. Now scientists are trying to understand exactly when, how and why they moved to other continents in an attempt to better understand what drove human evolution. One possibility is that hominids migrated to East Asia during the early Stone Age as a consequence of increasing cooling and aridity in Africa and Eurasia.

A team of archaeologists were able to determine when the Homo erectus wandered the plains of China by analysing tools and earth samples in the Nihewan Basin, which lies in a mountainous region about 150 kilometres west of Beijing, an area rich with Stone Age sites. Researchers have found more than 100,000 relics in the region including thousands of stone tools including stone blades used for cutting or scraping, which are believed to have been used by Homo erectus.

In order to date the items, Hong Ao, a paleomagnetist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Xi’an, and his colleagues analysed earth samples to look at the way in which different layers were magnetized — since the Earth’s magnetic field has regularly flipped numerous times over millions of years, looking at the manner in which the magnetic fields of minerals are oriented can shed light on how old they are. The researchers discovered this site in northern China might be about 1.6 million to 1.7 million years old, making it 600,000 or 700,000 years older than previously thought.

Artefacts, bones and tools belonging to Homo erectus have also been found in southern China more than 2,500 kilometres away, which suggests that they inhabited a huge territory in China about 1.7 to 1.6 million years ago. Some researchers believe that discoveries showing stone tools dating back up to 2 million years in China draws into question current beliefs that Africa was the sole origin of mankind .

Belief in ‘God’ is programmed in our brains

Old news but current. Back in 2009 a scientific study had shown that the belief in ‘God’ or supernatural force that is above everything is programmed in different parts of our brain. This is important because such a belief does not exist in animals which makes it a strange addition to evolution.

That’s why there are divided opinions amongst scientists whether religious belief has a biological basis or not. Followers of Darwin’s theory suggest that this center of the brain was evolved because the belief in the Divine can help you survive in difficult circumstances when you cannot do anything else.

What makes this discovery important is when we correlate it to the hypothesis that humans were created to serve the ‘Gods’. If such a theory has any truth in it, then this scientific study supports it. A programmed brain to believe in ‘Gods’ is the perfect tool to create faithful servants.

Such a strong belief in our minds has created multiple religious divisions in humanity and all of them are supposedly seeking the truth and enlightenment and yet the wars between religions have brought death to millions.

You can read more here.

Early humans probably walked in a different way

In a recent research at the University of Liverpool in the UK publishes in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Karl Bates and a team of researchers have analysed how a footprint is associated with the way an animal or early human walked.

Until now the depth of the footprint was directly connected to the pressure of the body which created it. However, the study shows that the correlation of the foot pressure and footprint depth is more complicated than what was initially thought. Using sophisticated computer algorithms and models as well as live data from people walking, they have correlated foot print depths with pressure, showing that different parts of the foot create different size indentations.

The results indicated that previous ideas on early human gait have to be rethought.

You can read more here.