More ancient humans

A couple of the interesting ancient human articles from this month’s Scientific American:

Turns out that if you’re of European descent, your great-great-great-great granddad was most likely a farmer. Mark Jobling of the University of Leicester in the U.K. and his colleagues found not only that agriculture seems to have spread westward via a new group of Neolithic people from the Near East, but also that these new farmers were incredibly successful with the local ladies, leaving their genetic traces in their modern male descendents.

“We focused on the commonest Y-chromosome lineage in Europe,” Jobling said in a prepared statement. The team analyzed a single haplotype, R1b1b2 (which is carried by about 110 million men in Europe today) from 2,574 European men whose families had been living in the same location for at least two generations. This common haplotype, however, is not randomly distributed across the continent. “It follows a gradient from south-east to north-west,” he said. About 12 percent of men in eastern Turkey have it, whereas some 85 percent of men carry it in Ireland.

Going back even further, researchers looking at why humans became so hairless speculate it was an adaptation to changing environmental conditions that forced our ancestors to travel longer distances for food and water. Okay, more than speculate…the ability to time when we lost our hair is pretty cool.

culture · technology

Multi-tasking in the stone-age

Stone blades found in Sibudu Cave, near South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, bear traces of compound adhesives that once joined them to wooden hafts to make spears or arrows.

Why is this so cool? Because by systematically replicating the ancient glues, using only Stone Age techniques and ingredients, the researchers discovered that ocher improves the bonding capacity of such natural adhesives as acacia gum. They also learned that those ingredients are highly variable in chemical composition and thus in key characteristics, such as viscosity, that affect the strength of the bond.

To make an effective glue, say the researchers, ancient artisans would have had to adjust their recipes in real time to compensate for unpredictable ingredients, staying mindful of their goal while shifting their focus back and forth among the various steps in the process.

So maybe they were just mad scientists! Mwahahaha!