Tuesday, March 14, 2006

KV-63 update -- WOW Egyptian ‘tomb’ was mummy workroom

A chamber discovered last month in the Valley of the Kings was a room used by the ancient Egyptians for mummifying pharaohs buried in the area, rather than a tomb, Egypt’s top archaeologist said Monday.

Zahi Hawass said five sarcophagi found in the chamber contained remnants of pottery, shrouds and materials used in mummification.

The American researchers from the University of Memphis who discovered the chamber had also opened 10 sealed jars found there to discover other materials used in mummification.

That's interesting, if in fact, the case. Only a couple of stories have this so far, and it's only Zahi saying it. More no doubt to come. . . .

Survival Dance: How Humans Waltzed Through the Ice Age

Some people are naturally graceful on the dance floor, while others seem burdened by two inept left feet. Blame it on the Ice Age.

According to new research, the ability to dance may have been a factor in survival for our prehistoric ancestors, who used their moves to bond and communicate with each other when times were tough.

A study published in a recent issue of the Public Library of Science's genetics journal, suggests that, as a result, today's creative dancers actually share two specific genes. Both genes are associated with a predisposition for being good social communicators.

Easter Island updates

This story seems to making quite a splash. Terry Hunt sent a PDF of the Science paper that I shall read today sometime (pre-print version which is due out Friday).

Easter Island Settled Later, Depleted Quicker Than Thought?

New archaeological evidence suggests that Easter Island, mysterious home of titanic stone heads, was first settled around A.D. 1200, much later than previously thought.

Once there, the colonizers quickly began erecting the famous statues for which the remote eastern South Pacific island (map) is famous. They also helped deplete the island's natural resources at a much faster rate than previously thought, the study says.

Research: Polynesian Islands Settled Later

I just read over the paper. It's primarily concerned with dating, but presenting the new dates and analyzing older ones that purported to show earlier colonization of Rapa Nui. Important point is that many of the former dates were rejected as being unreliable. For the latter, Hunt and Lipo were generally trying to avoid accepting false dates rather than rejecting true dates. Probably not terribly fascinating for lay-people (even for archaeologists dating issues aren't terribly exciting), but it is important. We tend to forget the importance of precise dating, especially when including older dates in our models. And this is generally the case when a particular overall chronology has some consensus reached about it; dates involving controversial (e.g., pre-Clovis) issues are generally scrutinized much more closely. Note that there is some criticism of the rejection of some of these early dates (no doubt disagreement of the criteria used for rejection), cited in an accompanying review article.

There's really not much discussion in the paper itself of the implications of the study other than to note that the impacts of human settlement were immediate. Terry is planning on posting the article on his own web site, so look for it in the near future.

[UPDATE] After reading it again. The interesting bit is in the final sentence of the paper: "Demographic and cultural collapse resulted from European contact beginning in 1722 A.D. with the devastating consequences of newly introduced Old World diseases to a nonimmune Polynesian population."

Two reasons this is of note:
1) It brings into question the whole idea of a pre-European collapse. If severe population disruptions of the aboriginals did not take place until European contact, that means that whatever the inhabitants did to their environment before that did not cause huge disruptions or at least that they had come to some sort of

2) That the original Dutch explorers who described the population as in such
dire straits were really not the first to visit the place and it had already
been devastated by European disease. This has some support in work done in North
America by Anne Ramenofsky (among others) whose archaeological work strongly
suggests that by the time European explorers described many indignenous
inhabitants, they had already undergone depopulation before the initial contact
with Europeans had occurred. This makes sense when one considers that disease
doesn't really need to travel *with* Euopeans; it just has to be introduced and
then it will travel through existing (aboriginal) populations on its own, and
very rapidly.

Some bio-anth stories

Why we differ from our primate cousins

The differences between humans and chimpanzees, which are genetically quite similar, may be down to the differences in the activity of individual genes in each species.

That was the theory, but until now little has been known about how gene activity differs in different primates. To find out, Yoav Gilad, a human geneticist now at the University of Chicago, US, and his colleagues prepared a "gene chip" (a large array of genes) containing the same 1056 genes from humans, chimps, orang-utans and rhesus macaques. The researchers used the chip to measure the activity level of each of those genes in the four species. Any given pair of species differed in activity levels for 12% to 19% of the 907 genes for which they had good data for all four species.

Separation of Man and Ape Down to Gene Expression
Study Tackles Human-Chimp Difference


Still Evolving, Human Genes Tell New Story

Providing the strongest evidence yet that humans are still evolving, researchers have detected some 700 regions of the human genome where genes appear to have been reshaped by natural selection, a principal force of evolution, within the last 5,000 to 15,000 years.

The genes that show this evolutionary change include some responsible for the senses of taste and smell, digestion, bone structure, skin color and brain function.

Hundreds of Human Genes Still Evolving

Human Genome Shows Proof of Recent Evolution, Survey Finds

Time Magazine articles now online free

Who Were The First Americans?
Who Should Own the Bones?
A Tale Told By Ancient Bones (Graphic showing the skeleton and someo of its features)

The second item notes that the addendum to NAGPRA -- the famous "or was" addition -- seems to have been killed.

Lost civilization tunnels. . .found Archaeologists find ancient tunnels

Underground chambers and tunnels used during a Jewish revolt against the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago have been uncovered in northern Israel, archaeologists said Monday.

The Jews laid in supplies and were preparing to hide from the Romans during their revolt in A.D. 66-70, the experts said. The pits, which are linked by short tunnels, would have served as a concealed subterranean home.

Yardenna Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the find shows the ancient Jews planned and prepared for the uprising, contrary to the common perception that the revolt began spontaneously.