Topic: Ancient Native Americans
Note: I have set in bold the part of the article that makes mention of ancient foods.
The federal government should fix or drop new regulations that throttle scientific study of America’s heritage.
A rare set of nearly 10,000-year-old human bones found in 1976 on a seaside bluff in La Jolla, Calif., may soon be removed from the custody of the University of California, San Diego, and turned over to the local Kumeyaay Nation tribes. The Kumeyaay have long sought control over the bones, which they contend are the remains of their ancestors. In accordance with new federal regulations, the university has initiated the legal process to transfer the remains to the Kumeyaay in the absence of other claimants. The Kumeyaay have said they may rebury the bones. Being some of the oldest human skeletal remains in North America, the bones could help scientists piece together the peopling of the New World. The excellent preservation of the specimens hints that they might contain DNA suitable for analysis with techniques geneticists have recently developed- the results of which could yield crucial insights into where early Americans came from. Such studies may never come to pass.
Some might consider a loss of knowledge an acceptable trade-off to right the historic wrongs that the Kumeyaay and other Native peoples have suffered. Archaeologists and anthropologists of yore treated Native Americans disgracefully, looting their graves and using the remains to argue for the intellectual inferiority of Native Americans to peoples of Caucasian descent. But what makes this case disturbing is that the Kumeyaay claim is based on folklore. The physical evidence indicates that the La Jolla bones are not affiliated with any modern tribe, including the Kumeyaay, who moved into the area only within the past few thousand years. The new federal regulations are blind to this evidence. In effect, they privilege faith over fact.
The original intention of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), passed in 1990, was to facilitate the return of Native American bones and sacred objects to descendants and culturally affiliated groups. NAGPRA sought to balance the rights of Native Americans to reclaim ancestral remains with the right of society as a whole to learn about our collective past. By and large, the law was succeeding. In recent years scientists and representatives of Native peoples have been working together to everyone’ s gain.
For example, archaeologist Alston Thoms of Texas A&M University has been consulting with Native Americans about their cooking techniques, to gain insights into the subsistence strategies of people who lived on the South Texas plains thousands of years ago. Members of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation- who consider themselves the descendants of those ancient Texans- have, in turn, been learning about ancestral foods and incorporating them into their diet to counter the high rate of diabetes in their population.
Many Native Americans do not object to studies per se but to analyses that destroy remains. Respecting this concern, anthropologist Ventura Pérez of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who studies violence, has developed techniques for making high-quality replicas of cut marks on bone that leave the skeletal material intact and allow it to be repatriated, while creating a permanent record for future scholars.
To be sure, not all was well. Many tribes worried that museums were stalling on identifying remains to avoid having to return them. In May 2010 the U.S. Department of the Interior responded with regulations that allow tribes to claim even those remains whose affiliation cannot be established scientifically, as long as they were found on or near the tribes’ aboriginal lands. These rules nudge museums to get on with evaluating their collections, but they have too broad a brush. They upset the balance that NAGPRA had achieved and foster antagonism, not just between tribes and scientists but also among tribes with conflicting claims. The La Jolla case is just one example. Thousands of remains could be made inaccessible to researchers. In our view, the new regulations should be repealed or, at least, revised to distinguish different classes of unidentified remains.
The colonization of the New World was a watershed in the odyssey that carried Homo sapiens from its African birthplace to the entire globe. The stories of the trailblazers who accomplished that feat deserve to be told. Their remains are the shared patrimony of all Americans and, indeed, all peoples everywhere.
April 19, 2012
Topic ancient city life
I wonder just what they will find here regarding the diet of these people? I would also be interested
in who they traded with.
Topic: Early agriculture
Topic: Ancient Cotton offers insights into agriculture
Scientists studying 1,600 year old cotton from the banks of the Nile have found what they believe is the first evidence that punctuated evolution has occurred in a major crop group within the relatively short history of plant domestication.
The findings offer an insight into the dynamics of agriculture in the ancient world and could also help today’s domestic crops face challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.
The researchers, led by Dr Robin Allaby from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, examined the remains of ancient cotton at Qasr Ibrim in Egypt’s Upper Nile using high throughput sequencing technologies.
This is the first time such technology has been used on ancient plants and also the first time the technique has been applied to archaeological samples in such hot countries.
The site is located about 40 km from Abu Simbel and 70 km from the modern Sudanese border on the east bank of what is now Lake Nasser.
They also studied South American samples from sites in Peru and Brazil aged between 800 and nearly 4,000 years old.
The results showed that even over the relatively short timescale of a millennia and a half, the Egyptian cotton, identified as G. herbaceum, showed evidence of significant genomic reorganisation when the ancient and the modern variety were compared.
However closely-related G.Barbadense from the sites in South America showed genomic stability between the two samples, even though these were separated by more than 2,000 miles in distance and 3,000 years in time.
This divergent picture points towards punctuated evolution — long periods of evolutionary stability interspersed by bursts of rapid change — having occurred in the cotton family.
Dr Allaby said: “We think of evolution as a very slow process, but as we analyse more genome information we can see that there’s been a huge amount of large-scale proactive change during recent history.
“Our results for the cotton from Egypt indicate that there has been the potential for more adaptive evolution going on in domesticated plant species than was appreciated up until now.
“Plants that are local to their particular area will develop genes which allow them to better tolerate the stresses they find in the environment around them.
“It’s possible that cotton at the Qasr Ibrim site has adapted in response to extreme environmental stress, such as not enough water.
“This insight into how domesticated crops evolved when faced with environmental stress is of value for modern agriculture in the face of current challenges like climate change and water scarcity.”
For archaeologists, the results also shed light on agricultural development in the ancient world.
There has long been uncertainty as to whether ancient Egyptians had imported domesticated cotton from the Indian subcontinent, as had happened with other crops, or whether they were growing a native African variety which had been domesticated locally.
The study’s findings that the Qasr Ibrim seeds were of the G. herbaceum variety, native to Africa, rather than G.arboreum, which is native to the Indian subcontinent, represents the first molecular-based identification of archaeobotanical cotton to a species level.
Dr Allaby said the findings confirm there was an indigenous domestication of cotton in Africa which was separate from the domestication of cotton in India.
“The presence of cotton textiles on Egyptian and Nubian sites has been well documented but there has always been uncertainty among archaeologists as to the origin of these.
“It’s not possible to identify some cotton varieties just by looking at them, so we were asked to delve into the DNA.
“We identified the African variety — G. herbaceum, which suggest that domesticated cotton was not a cultural import — it was a technology that had grown up independently.”
The study was funded by NERC.
The second photo is by David Roberts
Topic:Ancient Tool use
The earliest evidence of human tool use may be written on the bones of other animals, but in order to produce reliable conclusions, researchers are calling for improved tools and analysis, including an easy to access large collection of sample specimens and more unified standards.
Archaeologists and anthropologists look beyond the fossils of ancient human relatives to interpret the presence of our ancestors, including the items associated with day-to-day life, from discarded tools to the ashes from fire pits. The marks made by crude stone cutting tools on the bones of animals that early humans ate are another piece of evidence.
These markings have tremendous impact on the understanding of human evolution.
“Most of our interpretations of what early humans were doing depend on correctly identifying what they were doing on bones,” said Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo, an anthropologist and archaeologist at the Complutense University of Madrid, in Spain. “Detecting exactly how these marks were made on the bones is what makes us grant support to one model of human evolution or a different model of human evolution.”
These types of bone marks are difficult to interpret. Cutting tools leave marks on bones, but so can other factors, including other predators’ teeth and weathering. This has led to notable disagreements about individual bone markings; one finding would, if verified, push back the date of the earliest known human tool use by almost a million years.
In 2010, a research group claimed that 3.4 million-year-old fossil bones found in Ethiopia showed evidence of cutting-tool use. Dominguez-Rodrigo and colleagues published months later claiming that trampling of the bones caused the marks.
The Olduvai Gorge site, also located in Ethiopia, is generally accepted as the location where the oldest tools — about 2.6 million years old — were found. However, some of the markings of bones found at that site are disputed.
For decades, researchers have scoured sites in Africa for both marked bones and ancient tools. They have also been experimenting on and collecting the bones of prey animals in order to better understand the effects of many factors, from the biting and tearing of a feeding crocodile to chemical processes.
“Butchery marks are as important as stone tools,” said Jackson Njau, a paleoanthropologist at Indiana University in Bloomington and an associate researcher at the Stone Age Institute. “But stone tools are rocks; they don’t decay.”
Writing in this week’s issue of Science, Njau calls for measures to help scientists make consistent, reliable determinations of the causes of marks.
Njau said that one aspect of the solution would be gathering together a large online collection of samples for making comparisons. He has made extensive efforts to document the marks left by crocodile teeth, which can create patterns similar to those made by stone tools. Because marks that look superficially similar reveal crucial differences under a microscope, researchers must compare a new mark to numerous others before making a firm determination of its origin.
If large collections now held by different researchers and museums were available in an online database of microscopic images, researchers could instantly access images of bones modified by many processes, such as the chewing action of different carnivores or cuts and slices made by researchers recreating butchery techniques with ancient-style tools.
“That would certainly be helpful,” said Pat Shipman, a now-retired anthropologist who in 1981, published one of the first papers on microscopic analysis of bone markings. “How big your comparative sample is and how varied it is and how varied the conditions to which the bone was subjected all influences your ability to make a diagnosis of that mark.”
Dominguez-Rodrigo said that Njau’s ideas could help, but would not completely solve the issues. He emphasized that looking at published photographs cannot convey the same knowledge as looking through a microscope at many bones deformed in a wide variety of ways.
“Nothing replaces doing the experimentation,” said Dominguez-Rodrigo.
“The subtleties are hard to capture and describe,” said Shipman. “You do have to get that gut-level intuitive feel for it.”
Njau said that comparisons are important, but also the criteria used by researchers. He emphasized the need for considering the contextual information of a bone marking in its interpretation so that additional indications of the history surrounding the fossil can be considered. He said that scientists must weigh additional factors when analyzing bones for evidence of tool use, including the presence in the same soil layer of stone artifacts, carnivore activity and other factors.
“We have these resources, it’s time now to put this together to make it available,” said Njau.
April 13, 2012