Analysis of growth rings in Australopithecus africanus teeth may tell us about prehistoric hominin’s breastfeeding habits. A recent analysis looked at four teeth, recovered from South Africa’s Sterkfontein Cave, belonged to two individuals who lived between 2.6 and 2.1 million years ago. The results suggest that they exclusively breastfed for the first six to nine months of life.
Although other foods were added around the 1st birthday, milk intake also ramped up again each year, over a period of four or five years. Why this yearly return to breastmilk? Perhaps during times of food scarcity, mothers would return to breastfeeding, to ensure their children got enough to eat.
The analysis found an additional piece of evidence suggesting that breastmilk was a starvation-food used to keep young children nourished. Levels of lithium in the teeth rose right before the period of breastfeeding began each year. Such a distinctive biological time-stamp connected to the later-life breastfeeding suggests that the breastfeeding began again each year in the same season, likely corresponding to the time of year when food was scarcest. One can speculate that lithium was high in a specific food source which became available only during a certain season each year (like apples in autumn) – or which Australopithecus africanus only resorted to when other foods were scarce (like tree bark in winter).
The first blue-feathered prehistoric bird has been detected by science. It’s feathers are long gone, but remains of their pigment were analyzed, and fall on the spectrum of what human eyes call “blue.” The bird lived about
48 million years ago.
A bronze ring artifact from Japan has been identified as a weight for measuring commodities. The ring was found a while ago, in 1999, at the bottom of a dry riverbed which flowed during the late Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 BCE – 300 CE). The artifact is estimated to date to the second half of the 100s CE. The ring measures 12.7 centimeters (5 inches) across, is 0.7 cm (0.27 in) thick and weighs 89.30 grams (3.14 oz).
What makes the find special is that weight rings have previously been found only in China and Korea, as burial accessories. It has been known that Japan during this period had connections with China, as other Chinese-made artifacts from the the Early Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 8 CE) have been found in Japanese tombs. This ring weight suggests that Chinese trading practices, such as a semi-standardized weight system, were also making their way to Japan.
Thanks to a small stick with two cactus needles on its end, we know that Native Americans in the southwest USA were tattooing each other as early as 2,000 years ago. Which is much, much earlier than previously believed. The artifact in question is made of a sumac twig handle, two small prickly pear cactus spines, and yucca-leaf trips to hold the spines on the handle.
If you look closely you can see that the tips of the needles are stained with a black pigment. Analyses show the pigment matches the proper depth to pierce and stain the epidermis. This was not a first, fumbling attempt but a workable tool, one that was used before it was eventually thrown away.
The artifact comes from a midden heap at the Turkey Pen site near Bear Ears National Monument, which was occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan civilization from roughly 50 BCE to 200 CE. It is the first evidence that the Ancestral Puebloan peoples practiced tattooing.
Elsewhere in the world, the rise of tattooing is associated with agriculture and increases in population. Ancestral Puebloans were undergoing just such a population increase when the tool was made. Archaeologists on the project speculated, therefore, that community members’ tattoos may have strengthened a sense of social identity, as the world quickly changed around them.
Central Asians were smoking cannabis by 500 BCE! Archaeologists have found traces of cannabinol, an oxidative metabolite of tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) in incense burners recovered from the ancient Jirzankal Cemetery on the Pamir Plateau in western China. It appears that cannabis plants were placed in the incense burners, then hot stones placed on top, to create a mind-bending smoke.
There is archaeological evidence that cannabis has been grown and cultivated since around 4000 BCE, but because those plants had very low THC content, they were likely being grown for their fiber and oil.
The new discovery at Pamir Plateau is the first clear evidence of cannabis being used for its psychoactive properties. Especially interesting: the charred remains had higher THC concentrations than are found in wild plants, suggesting they had deliberately been cultivated to enhance their psychoactive properties, or that the Jirzankal people sought out wild plants with especially high THC content.
A new computer model has been used to test a variety of factors that may have influenced the extinction of the Neanderthals. And the results suggest that humans probably did not kill them off.
The computer results suggest that wars or epidemics brought on by contact with modern humans
would have caused Neanderthals to die off more rapidly than appears to
have been the case.
Based on findings from the archaeological record,
Neanderthals are believed to have lived alongside modern humans in
Europe for some 4,000 to 10,000 years. The researchers think a slight
drop in the fertility rate among young Neanderthal women, perhaps
brought on by climate change and resulting food shortages, could instead
be to blame.
A study has found that the first known Homo sapiens in Sri Lanka were eating fast-moving, tree-dwelling monkeys and squirrels. The remains of primates and other small animals with cut marks and signs of charring were found alongside stone tools and monkey bone and monkey teeth tools in the Last Pleistocene layers at the Fa-Hien Lena Cave (the earliest known Homo sapiens site in Sri Lanka). In other words, the remains of their meals made it very clear that these prehistoric humans were eating tree-dwelling monkeys and squirrels, at least as early as 45,000 years ago.
What is so exciting about that? Well, the discovery is the oldest record of primate hunting by foragers, not just in Sri Lanka, but anywhere. Homo sapiens apparently adapted very quickly to the new, challenging environment of the tropical rainforest, even though it was very different from their previous home in the open savanna. Homo sapiens were survivors, and they quickly found new protein sources and learned how to catch them.
Italian authorities announced in 2018 that the first-ever Etruscan settlement has been discovered in Sardinia. The site dates to the 800s BCE and was strategically situated on the small island of Tavolara. It was likely intended to facilitate trade between Early Iron Age Sardinian Nuraghic communities, known to have inhabited Sardinia at the time, and Etruscan cities nearby on the Italian mainland. There had been extensive archaeological evidence of Etruscan-Nurghic exchanges, but this is the first evidence of an expatriate Etruscan community in Sardinia.
The Etruscans are famous for adopting many Greek cultural aspects and blending them with their own native culture. The resulting mélange in turn influenced Roman culture, which was initially a small backwater to the mighty Etruscans. One potential reason for the Etruscans’ strength? Extensive trading ties with southern Italy, Greece, and Sardinia.