Monthly Archives: December 2013

Human hand fossil turns back clock 500,000 years on complex tool use

Human hand fossil turns back clock 500,000 years on complex tool use

By Charles Q. Choi

Published December 17, 2013

LiveScience
  • human-hand-fossil

The discovery of a 1.4-million-year-old hand-bone fossil reveals that the modern human ability to make and use complex tools may have originated far earlier than scientists previously thought, researchers say.

A critical trait that distinguishes modern humans from all other species alive today is the ability to make complex tools. It’s not just the extraordinarily powerful human brain, but also the human hand, that gives humans this unique ability. In contrast, apes humans’ closest living relatives lack a powerful and precise enough grip to create and use complex tools effectively.

A key anatomical feature of the modern human hand is the third metacarpal, a bone in the palm that connects the middle finger to the wrist.

“There’s a little projection of bone in the third metacarpal known as a “styloid process” that we need for tools,” said study lead author Carol Ward, an anatomist and paleoanthropologist at the University of Missouri.”This tiny bit of bone in the palm of the hand helps the metacarpal lock into the wrist, helping the thumb and fingers apply greater amounts of pressure to the wrist and palm. It’s part of a whole complex of features that allows us the dexterity and strength to make and use complex tools.” [In Images: The Oddities of Human Anatomy]

Until now, this styloid process was found only in modern humans, Neanderthals and other archaic humans. Scientists were unsure when this bone first appeared during the course of human evolution. (The human lineage, the genus Homo, first evolved about 2.5 million years ago in Africa.)

“We had thought the modern human hand was something relatively recent, maybe something that appeared as a recent addition near the origin of our species,” Ward told LiveScience.

Now, researchers have discovered a fossil almost 1.5 million years old that possesses this vital anatomical feature, meaning it existed more than 500,000 years earlier than it was previously known to have existed.

“This suggests this feature might be fundamental to the origin of the genus Homo,” Ward said.

The scientists discovered a third metacarpal bone in northern Kenya, west of Lake Turkana. The fossil was found near the sites where the earliest Acheulean tools named for St. Acheul in France where tools from this culture were first discovered in 1847 were unearthed. The Acheulean artifacts were the first known complex stone tools, rough hand axes and cleavers that first appeared some 1.8 million years ago.

“It’s an arid badlands desert area now,” Ward said. “There’s not much vegetation to cover up fossils there’s cobble and rock everywhere, and we try and find fossils by going out and looking under all that cobble and rock on the surface.”

The hand-bone fossil is about 1.42 million years old. The researchers suspect it belonged to the extinct human species Homo erectus, the earliest undisputed predecessor of modern humans.

“Back then, this area was an open woodland area much more lush than today, probably with some trees and some areas of grassland,” Ward said. “The fossil was found near a winding river, which often deposits things like fossils.”

By revealing the early human lineage had a modern handlike anatomy, the fossil “suggests this feature may have [been] a pre-adaptation that helped set the stage for all the technology that came later,” Ward said.

Intriguingly, “at this time, in addition to early members of Homo, there were some late-surviving members of Australopithecus still around close relatives of humans that don’t seem to have this adaptation,” Ward said. “This raises the question of how important our hands were in the success of our lineage and the extinction of their lineage (Australopithecus).”

The researchers now want to find older hand bones “to see when this feature evolved,” Ward said. “We want to get closer to 2 million years ago to find out when this transition to modern hand anatomy took place.”

Ward and her colleagues detailed their findings online Dec. 16 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Strange Christmas Tree Ornaments

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December 23, 2013 · 9:06 pm

Cute Dogs for Your Monday Blues

More cute dog pictures for your Monday!  Merry almost Christmas!

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Lost da Vinci artwork unearthed beneath paint

Lost da Vinci artwork unearthed beneath paint

By Rossella Lorenzi

Published October 28, 2013

Discovery News
  • 4.davinci-detail.jpg

    A mural on the roof of the Milan castle where Da Vinci work was recently recovered. The mural is made up of 16 mulberry trees bound together by a knotted rope. (COMUNE DI MILANO)

  • 2.davinci-sala-delle.jpg

    Known as Sala delle Asse, or Room of the Planks, after the wood panels that lined it, the room contains one of most original paintings of the  15th Century. (COMUNE DI MILANO)

Drawings sketched by Leonardo da Vinci are emerging from the walls of an Italian castle, announced restorers working on an elaborate fresco devised by the Renaissance master.

One of most original paintings of the 15th century, the mural covers the vault and walls of the Sala delle Asse in the Sforza Castle in Milan. It depicts a garden pergola made of 16 mulberry trees bound together by a golden, knotted rope. The trunk of each tree rises as a column supporting 16 half-moon-shaped spaces above a Gothic vault, producing an evocative, fictive grove.

‘This restoration is extremely important to fully understand Leonardo’s work.’

– Milan culture councillor Filippo Del Corno

Now restorers might be able to bring to light extra sections of the original work, possibly providing further insights into Da Vinci’s vision of the highly symbolic decoration.

Photos: Da Vinci’s Revealed Sketches – Up Close

The work was commissioned in 1498 by the duke of Milan, Ludovico Maria Sforza, nicknamed il Moro (the Moor) and was executed by Leonardo, who at that time was the court artist, and his assistants.

Experts agree the master’s hand can be detected in a monochrome section of the fresco on the northeast and northwest corner of the room. The apparently unfinished work depicts sturdy roots bursting through rocks.

“Large parts of this mural can be recovered beneath several layers of whitewash,” the Opificio Pietre Dure (OPD) the Florence based institute who is carrying out the restoration, wrote in a report.

Photos: Da Vinci’s Inventions

Preliminary analysis produced “quite interesting results,” lending hope that the work will recover “important parts of the preparatory drawings,” Marco Ciatti, superintendent of the OPD art restoration institute, said.

Leonardo’s work in the Sala delle Asse, or Room of the Planks (after the wood panels that lined it) has remained largely unknown. In 1499 Milan was conquered by the French who stormed the castle. In 1706, when Milan was under the Austrian rule, the castle became soldier barracks and the Sala delle Asse was turned into a stable, its walls covered with abundant layers of whitewash.

The arboreal decoration remained hidden beneath up to 13 layers of paint until 1893, when renovations to the castle revealed traces of frescoes.

In 1901, amid much criticism, the mural was heavily restored.

Only in 1954, the paint applied during the disastrous restoration was finally removed. But damage to Leonardo’s work remained.

Photos: The Face of Da Vinci: An Enduring Mystery

“The mural is covered by a thick layer of grime. However, our cleaning tests indicate that it can be easily removed. Leonardo’s paint won’t be damaged in the procedure,” the restorers wrote.

Meanwhile, archival research also revealed the room’s original name.

It was called “Camera dei Moroni” — a clear allusion to Ludovico il Moro.

Indeed Leonardo’s decoration is filled with punning allusions. The mulberry, or Morus tree, refers to the Duke’s well known nickname, Il Moro, the Moor. The tree is also a symbol for the Milanese silk industry – mulberries were cultivated in the region as food for the silkworm.

“This restoration is extremely important to fully understand Leonardo’s work,” Milan culture councillor Filippo Del Corno said. “The project will last two years, ending just in time for the Milan’s Expo 2015,” he added.

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Neanderthal woman’s genome reveals unknown human lineage

NOTE:  For those of you newer to my blog site, you might not know my viewpoint on God, the Universe and Science.  You see, I am a right-wing Christian fundamentalist – but nothing like what you think that really means.  I believe in God and the Bible, but I also have three science degrees, love all people, have a 168 IQ and write magazine columns on astro-physics.  My belief in God is not based on blind faith, although for many that is true.  For others, their non-belief comes to them the same way, through blind acceptance and not a true search for truth.

I believe that science and creation theory are the same.  If there is no God, it just happened.  If there is a God, then he is a being far beyond our comprehension who created the original time/space anomaly that popped existence as we know it today into being.  With my background in statistics, I believe it is far more possible that the intricacies we view at all levels imply a design, which implies a designer.  However, there is no proving that.  One can equally believe it “just happened” and is not the result of a design.

So, I don’t believe in a bearded man in the clouds.  I believe in someone beyond our comprehension, who is therefore, by definition, and advanced alien being.  My theory, which is only my own and not shared by many Christians, is that there are multiple aliens who have experimented on mankind for a long, long time.  I think there were advanced civilizations that have come and gone and been long forgotten and lost to us.

So, how do I explain my lack of belief in the Evolution Theory?  First, I absolutely believe things evolve.  My only disagreement is that I believe we evolved due to outside influences, and that we were created in God’s image.  By His image, I believe we have a physical, temporary life, but we have an immortal essence.  For whatever reason, this existence is our testing zone.  The ones who can show love and compassion for each other will be transformed after to death into a reality we have no comprehension of at all.  In fact, “we shall be transformed in an instant” and there “will be no male or female, but spirits of light.”

For this reason, I find it very possible that ancient Sumerian myths of fish gods teaching them, the ancient alien theorists, the Greek gods, ancient writing and creatures, do in fact have basis in external manipulation on this planet.  As we find more and more about early man, we are finding it was not a chain of evolution, but pockets of similar humans living in different spots, sometimes interbreeding.  Adam and Eve were not the first humans in the Bible.  In fact, when Cain was driven out, he was afraid others would kill him, so a mark was put on him, and he took another woman for his wife.  The Bible makes references to other tries at children of God and earlier extinctions.

I don’t try to convince you of any of this.  All I ask is that you keep an open mind when I post about early man, new archaeology, and other finds.  I really don’t think any of us have much of a clue what went on past 5,000 years ago.  Including me.

– Michael Bradley

Neanderthal woman’s genome reveals unknown human lineage

By Charles Q. Choi

Published December 19, 2013

LiveScience
  • neanderthal-illustration

    Neanderthals were once the closest living relatives of modern humans, dwelling across a vast area ranging from Europe to the Middle East to western Asia. This ancient lineage of humans went extinct about 40,000 years ago, about the same time mo(MAURO CUTRONA)

The existence of a mysterious ancient human lineage and the genetic changes that separate modern humans from their closest extinct relatives are among the many secrets now revealed in the first high-quality genome sequence from a Neanderthal woman, researchers say.

The Neanderthal woman whose toe bone was sequenced also reveals inbreeding may have been common among her recent ancestors, as her parents were closely related, possibly half-siblings or another near relation.

Although modern humans are the world’s only surviving human lineage, others also once lived on Earth. These included Neanderthals, the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, and the relatively newfound Denisovans, whose genetic footprint apparently extended from Siberia to the Pacific islands of Oceania. Both Neanderthals and Denisovans descended from a group that diverged from the ancestors of all modern humans. [See Photos of Neanderthal Bone & Denisovan Fossils]

The first signs of Denisovans came from a finger bone and a molar tooth discovered in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia in 2008. To learn more about Denisovans, scientists examined a woman’s toe bone, which was unearthed in the cave in 2010 and showed physical features resembling those of both Neanderthals and modern humans. The fossil is thought to be about 50,000 years old, and slightly older than previously analyzed Denisovan fossils.

Human interbreeding
The scientists focused mostly on the fossil’s nuclear DNA, the genetic material from the chromosomes in the nucleus of the cell that a person receives from both their mother and father. They also examined the genome of this fossil’s mitochondria the powerhouses of the cell, which possess their own DNA and get passed down solely from the mother.

The investigators completely sequenced the fossil’s nuclear DNA, with each position (or nucleotide) sequenced an average of 50 times. This makes the sequence’s quality at least as high as that of genomes sequenced from present-day people.

The genetic analysis revealed the toe bone belonged to a Neanderthal. When compared with other Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA samples, this newfound fossil’s closest known relatives are Neanderthals found in Mezmaiskaya Cave in the Caucasus Mountains about 2,100 miles away.

These findings helped the scientists refine the human family tree, further confirming that different human lineages interbred. They estimated about 1.5 to 2.1 percent of DNA of people outside Africa are Neanderthal in origin, while about 0.2 percent of DNA of mainland Asians and Native Americans is Denisovan in origin.

“Admixture seems to be common among human groups,” said study lead author Kay Prfer, a computational geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Intriguingly, the scientists discovered that apparently Denisovans interbred with an unknown human lineage, getting as much as 2.7 to 5.8 percent of their genomes from it. This mystery relative apparently split from the ancestors of all modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans between 900,000 years and 4 million years ago, before these latter groups started diverging from each other.

This enigmatic lineage could even potentially be Homo erectus, the earliest undisputed predecessor of modern humans. There are no signs this unknown group interbred with modern humans or Neanderthals, Prferadded. [The 10 Biggest Mysteries of the First Humans]

“Some unknown archaic DNA might have caught a ride through time by living on in Denisovans until we dug the individual up and sequenced it,” Prfertold LiveScience. “It opens up the prospect to study the sequence of an archaic (human lineage) that might be out of reach for DNA sequencing.”

Interbreeding took place between Neanderthals and Denisovans as well. These new findings suggest at least 0.5 percent of the Denisovan genome came from Neanderthals. However, nothing of the Denisovan genome has been detected in Neanderthals so far.

In addition, “the age of the Neanderthals and Denisovans we sequenced also doesn’t allow us to say whether any gene flow from modern humans to Neanderthals or Denisovans happened,” Prfer said. The Neanderthals and Denisovans that researchers have sequenced the DNA of to date “probably lived at a time when no modern humans were around,” he explained.

Modern humans’ distinguishing features
It remains uncertain when modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans diverged from one another. The researchers currently estimate modern humans split from the common ancestors of all Neanderthals and Denisovans between 550,000 and 765,000 years ago, and Neanderthals and Denisovans diverged from each other between 381,000 and 473,000 years ago.

Genetic analysis revealed the parents of the woman whose toe bone they analyzed were closely related possibly half-siblings, or an uncle and niece, or an aunt and nephew, or a grandfather and granddaughter, or a grandmother and grandson. Inbreeding among close relatives was apparently common among the woman’s recent ancestors. It remains uncertain as to whether inbreeding was some kind of cultural practice among these Neanderthals or whether it was unavoidable due to how few Neanderthals apparently lived in this area, Prfer said.

By comparing modern human, Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes, the researchers identified more than 31,000 genetic changes that distinguish modern humans from Neanderthals and Denisovans. These changes may be linked with the survival and success of modern humans a number have to do with brain development.

“If one speculates that we modern humans carry some genetic changes that enabled us to develop technology to the degree we did and settle in nearly all habitable areas on the planet, then these must be among those changes,” Prfer said. “It is hard to say what exactly these changes do, if anything, and it will take the next few years to find out whether hidden among all these changes are some that helped us modern humans to develop sophisticated technology and settle all over the planet.”

Prfer and his colleagues detailed their findings in the Dec. 19 issue of the journal Nature.

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Cosplay Pictures for Your Saturday

Awesome photos of cosplayers.  Enjoy!

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Scientists accidentally kill world’s oldest animal at age 507

Scientists accidentally kill world’s oldest animal at age 507

Rob Quinn, Newser12 p.m. EST November 15, 2013
The oldest animal ever known lived from 1499 until the day researchers cracked its shell open, killing it in the process.

Ming, an ocean quahog from the species Arctica islandica, was initially thought to be a record-setting 402 years old. But the scientists who found it on a seabed near Iceland in 2006 now say further analysis has revealed that it was an incredible 507 years old, reports CBS.

The researchers, who didn’t realize how old Ming was when they first found it, opened the ancient clam up to judge its age by counting growth rings inside its hinge ligaments. That’s because the rings are “better protected” there, scientist Paul Butler tells ScienceNordic, which notes that Ming was named for the Chinese dynasty that ruled when it was born.

But the rings were so close together that scientists ended up having to count the rings on the outside to be accurate, leading CBS to point out that Ming could have lived on, had scientists just started there.

“We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit [hasty] publishing our findings back then. But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now,” says Butler.

The old, dead, mollusk still has a huge amount to offer science, reports the Herald-Sun. Scientists believe it will provide valuable data on changing sea temperatures over the last half-millennium—and maybe even some clues to longevity.

In other fascinating animal news, the “Asian Unicorn” has been captured on camera.

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