Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hot Links

Look at this collection of gorgeous pictures of a spiny trilobite. I'd never seen one of these before.

According to this study, our preagricultural ancestors had healthier mouths and teeth than we do. Is this a surprise?

It is apparent to me that every few months, there is another press release citing a new radiocarbon date or some DNA evidence addressing the final time line for the demise of Neanderthal populations in Europe: they went extinct earlier than we thought, later than we thought, there was (or wasn't) a Neanderthal refuge in southern Spain, etc. I shouldn't be cranky about this, as it's obvious that the purpose of a press release is to emphasize how important, special, unique or definitive a particular finding is. But in the case of large, complex regional questions like this, in the future there are always going to be more radiocarbon dates or new DNA techniques adding pieces to the puzzle and all we can say is that as of right now, this is what the data tell us.

In what appears to be more definitive chronometric news, new radiocarbon dates have shown that the famous Paleolithic statuette of the Lion Man of Ulm , originally excavated in Germany in 1939, dates to 40,000 years ago.  This is older than previously thought and makes it the oldest known figurative sculpture.

A new DNA study just released finds that a number of physical traits common in Asian populations, such as thick hair, dense sweat glands, and some skin features, arose from a single mutation that occurred 30,000 years ago.

Linguists, psychologists and computer scientists at UC Berkeley and the Univeristy of British Columbia have developed a statistical-based computer model that they believe will help them reconstruct ancestral "proto-languages" from known historic languages. I always have a tendency to wonder about these and how you can judge their accuracy.

Canadian and Spanish marine archaeologists are co-operating on the reconstruction of Canada's oldest shipwreck. The San Juan, a Basque galleon used for whaling, sank off the Labrador coast in the 1560s. I keep expecting that archaeologists in the Maritimes will find 15th century European sites or shipwrecks. There is much circumstantial, but not definitive, evidence, well-covered in Brian Fagan's book Fish on Friday, that Basque, Gascon, and Portugese fisherman and whalers exploited the fisheries of the Grand Banks in the late 1300s and 1400s. Those that knew about it did their best to keep it a secret to exclude competition. Fagan speculates that Columbus may have known quite a bit about this prior to his 1492 voyage.

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