Still More Neandertal Stuff

Just a quick post here on another news item which addresses the likelihood of mating between Neandertals and early modern humans.

According to research co-authored by Neandertal expert Erik Trinkaus, remains discovered in South China indicate the spread of modern humans across Eurasia as early as 100,000 years ago — much earlier than previously thought.  These remains also share some physical traits with Neandertals, suggesting interbreeding.

Trinkaus, by the way, is co-author of an excellent survey of Neandertal research titled The Neandertals:  Changing the Image of Mankind, and Greensboro Public Library just happens to own a copy. 

Check out our previous posts on Neandertals here, here, and here.

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More Recent Research on Neandertals

We have previously posted here and here on Homo neanderthalensis, with of course the really big news this year being the Max Planck Institute’s discovery that Neandertals likely interbred with early Homo sapiens, and that present-day non-Africans have inherited a genetic contribution from Neandertal forebears of anywhere from 1 to 4%.

João Zilhão’s team working in Southeastern Spain also recently reports dating evidence for “evolutionarily significant admixture” between neanderthalenesis and modern humans, as well as evidence for the decorative and symbolic use of painted seashells prior to contact with Cro-Magnons (For Zilhão’s work, please refer to the second of the posts noted above.).

Now we have word that Neaderthals who lived in southern Italy could also innovate new technologies on their own.  Anthropologist Julien Riel-Salvatore of the University of Colorado at Denver has identified a Neandertal tool culture there that he refers to as the Uluzzian — in contrast to the Mousterian (an earlier tool culture also associated with Neandertals) and the Aurignacian of the early Homo sapiens or Cro-Magnons.  Evidence suggests that Neandertals of the Uluzzian adapted their tool technology to changes in climate which necessitated a shift to the hunting of smaller game using darts and arrows.  This innovation flies in the face of the long-held view that neanderthalensis was backward relative to early modern humans.

Still another widely accepted idea is that Neandertals were gradually wiped out by Cro-Magnons as they came into contact with one another in Europe between 30 and 40 thousand years ago — or at least that early moderns out-competed them for scarce resources, thus indirectly causing their extinction.

But there is a now a new theory that Neandertals may have been killed off by a series of volcanoes which erupted in Italy and the Caucasus approximately 40,000 years ago.  The new study which appears in this month’s issue of Current Anthropology suggests that the “eruptions reduced or wiped out local bands of Neanderthals and indirectly affected farther-flung populations” in Europe where most of the Neandertals were concentrated at this time.

At any rate, there has been lots of Neandertal news this year, and I don’t think it would be too big a leap to say we have the makings of a paradigm shift in our understanding of our most famous archaic hominid.  Stay tuned for further updates.

You can find a list of some of Greensboro Public Library’s books on human origins at this previous post.

Update:  Here’s another article on the volcanoe theory from Science Daily.

L.A. Judge to Decide Dispute Over Giant Bahia Emerald

As we recently posted on a valuable emerald found at the little hamlet of Hiddenite right here in North Carolina, I thought this story about an ownership controversy over a huge Brazilian emerald was apropos

Known as the Bahia Emerald, after the Brazilian state where it was found, the specimen weighs in at an extraordinary 840 pounds.  It’s really a cluster of emeralds embedded in a matrix, and its value is believed to be as much as $400 million. 

Why the controversy?  Well, a man named Anthony Thomas claims he paid $60,000 for the emerald soon after it was mined in 2001 and is therefore the rightful owner.  But there are a number of other claimants in addition to Mr. Thomas, and a judge in Los Angeles began hearing from them Friday.  For now, this remarkable gem is in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. 

If you’re interested in reading more about rare gems and jewels, as well as the legends and lore often associated with them, try some of these titles from Greensboro Public Library:  Gems of the World by Cally Oldershaw; Jewels:  A Secret History by Victoria Finlay; Jewelry & Gems, the Buying Guide:  How to Buy Diamonds, Pearls, Colored Gemstones, Gold & Jewelry with Confidence and Knowledge by Antoinette L. Matlins & Antonio C. Bonanno; Gemstones:  Symbols of Beauty and Power by Eduard Gubelin, Franz-Xaver Erni; Field Collecting Gemstones and Minerals, Gemstones of North America, and Prospecting for Gemstones and Minerals by John Sinkankas; Hitler’s Holy Relics:  A True Story of Nazi Plunder and the Race to Recover the Crown Jewels of the Holy Roman Empire by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick; The Great Crown Jewels Robbery of 1303: The Extraordinary Story of the First Big Bank Raid in History by Paul Doherty; and Treasures in the Smithsonian:  The Gem Collection by Paul E. Desautels.

Large Emerald Found at Hiddenite Cut into Beautiful 65 Carat Gem

Here’s a neat story about the recent discovery of a very valuable emerald right here in North Carolina.

Named the “Carolina Emperor,” the stone has been cut into a 65 carat jewel and may be worth $1 million dollars or more.

The find was made last year on a farm near the small town of Hiddenite, located in Alexander County.

The locality has been well known since 1879 when a geologist named William Earl Hidden visited the area to search for what the native farmers called “green bolts.”  While Hidden was there, he also discovered a green variety of the mineral spodumene which was later named “hiddenite” after him.  Subsequently, the community also came to be called by the same name; it is today probably North America’s best known source for emeralds.

I myself visited the location several times in my youth.  However, I was never lucky enough to find an emerald.

If you’re interested in reading further on this topic, Greensboro Public Library has a couple of useful titles.  Try In Search of the Scarce Gem Hiddenite and the Emeralds of North Carolina by M. Richard Harshaw, Jr., as well as History of the Gems Found in North Carolina by George Frederick Kunz.

Keeping an Eye on Earl

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center and elsewhere in the U.S. are closely monitoring Hurricane Earl, which today was upgraded to a Category 3 storm with winds of  111 mph or more.

The predicted track at this point suggests the storm will likely remain offshore as it skirts up the east coast, probably approaching the Carolinas by Friday.  But there’s still room for error in the forecast. 

According to the National Hurricane Center:

This is a good time to remind everyone that NHC average track forecast errors are 200 to 300 miles at days 4 and 5.  Given this uncertainty . . . it is too soon to determine what portion of the U.S. East Coast might see direct impacts from Earl. 

In any event, even if we dodge this bullet, we’re at the height of the hurricane season and the tropics are getting pretty active with Danielle, Earl and a thus far unnamed low pressure system all concurrently swirling around out there in the Atlantic.   

Also in the news this week, by the way, was the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which of course struck the Mississippi/Louisiana coast in 2005.

If you’re interested in hurricanes, Greensboro Public Library might have something for you.  Try some of these books and DVDs:  Hurricanes! by Gail Gibbons (juvenile); Storm World:  Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming by Chris Mooney; Storm that Drowned a City (NOVA DVD);  Hurricane Katrina Strikes the Gulf Coast:  Disaster & Survival by Mara Miller; Hurricane Watch:  Forecasting the Deadliest Storms on Earth by Jack Williams and Bob Sheets; and Inside the Hurricane: Face to Face with Nature’s Deadliest Storms by Pete Davies.

Successful Telescope Viewing at Kathleen Clay Edwards Family Branch!

This is just a brief follow-up to our post on the meteorology/ astronomy program Monday evening at Kathleen Clay Edwards Family Branch, with special reference to the telescope viewing. 

Three telescopes were set up, two of which belonged to Greensboro Astronomy Club President Stan Rosenberg, who also did an excellent presentation during the meteorology segment of the program, and the Club’s Treasurer, John P. Cory, who brought along a fine long-focus 8 inch reflector which he built himself.  In addition, we set up Kathleen Clay’s 8 inch Dobsonian reflector; the mount was a little shaky and needs some work, but we were able to get some good views of the Moon.

One of the highlights of the evening was a weather balloon, which we just happened to spy over head while viewing the Moon.  Mr. Rosenberg commented that it was only the second one he’d seen in 30 years.  Basically, it looked like a silver orb with a tail flapping around behind it.  Seeing a weather balloon was quite a coincidence, coming just after the branch’s meteorology program! 

As Monday was more or less the longest day of the year, darkness came very late — after nine.  About 9:10 or so we picked up some stars and detected Saturn.  Mr. Cory directed his big reflector at the planet and pushed the magnification up to about 300x with a 6mm eyepiece.  Saturn’s rings are close to edge-on now and quite spectacular!

At any rate, it was a great program and we look forward to doing more.

New Human Species Discovered in Siberia: X-Woman

In a followup to an earlier post, researchers with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have made more than one extraordinary discovery this year.

Just before their recent triumph in sequencing a good bit of the Neandertal genome and producing the startling result that non-Africans have a little Neandertal DNA in them, word came that a Siberian hominid they’ve sequenced is a new species that lived about 30,000 to 48,000 years ago and was thus a contemporary of both modern humans and Neandertals.  And here’s another excellent article on the same topic.

A few years ago, the Neandertals were the only hominids known to be contemporary with Homo sapiens.  Coming on top of the surprising discovery in 2003 of Homo floresiensis, an extinct dwarf hominid or “hobbit” who once flourished upon the Indonesian island of Flores, the discovery of this new Siberian hominid means the list has grown to three in just a few years.  Undoubtedly paleoanthropologists are beginning to wonder what other surprises are in store.

The discovery was made by sequencing the mitochondrial DNA from a small finger bone found during excavations at Denisova Cave, located in the Altai Mountains of Southern Siberia.  The sex of the individual is still unclear, but in some quarters it is being called the “X-Woman.”

Since the Institute’s analysis shows that X-Woman shared a common ancestor with Homo sapiens and Neandertals about 1 million years ago, and this doesn’t coincide with known emigrations from Africa at about 1.9 million (Homo erectus), 500,000 (Homo heidelbergensis > Homo neanderthalensis) and 50,000 (Homo sapiens) years ago, it is therefore believed that the discovery of the X-Woman is evidence of yet another emigration ca. 1,000,000 years ago.

If you’d like to read books about human evolution owned by Greensboro Public Library, check out this previous post.