A new study suggests that Sardinians experienced less genetic turnover than populations living in mainland Europe. When large-scale migration is thought to have occurred during the Bronze Age in Europe, Sardinia’s population remained in place.
An international team of scientists analyzed the genomes of 70 Sardinians whose remains were recovered from more than 20 archaeological sites spanning a period of about 6,000 years. The scientists then compared the Sardinian DNA to DNA collected from other ancient and modern peoples. The researchers determined that Neolithic Sardinians were closely related to their contemporaries in mainland Europe. Sardinian genetic ancestry remained stable through 900 BCE, although a new style of stone towers did appear on the island in this century. The 900s BCE are important because that is when major population movements occurred in Europe. But they apparently did not impact Sardinia as much.
The DNA supported later population movement on the island, such as the arrival of the Phoenicians from what is now Lebanon, and the Punics, from what is now Tunisia, as early as 500 BCE During the Roman and medieval periods, the scientists also found evidence of migration to the island from Italy and Spain.
The Gunditjmara have been building an eel-farming system at the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape for more than 6,000 years. Their aquaculture allowed them to build settled villages in the area, thousands of years before European colonization. Not very different from how prehistoric peoples along the South American west coast relied on seafood to support settlements in the middle of the Atacama Desert.
A small hoard of artifacts have been discovered underneath the central plaza at Paso del Macho in northern Yucatan. The cache may have been put there as an offering when the Maya settlement was founded between 900 and 800 BCE.
And the inhabitants were trying to make sure they succeeded in their new home: the artifacts are some of the earliest evidence of Maya fertility rituals to encourage crop growth and rainfall. There are a number of artifacts symbolizing maize sprouting from the underworld and several pots painted with fertility images, plus spoons, clamshell pendants, and a large plaque.
This is a cooking vessel from Japan dating back to 2,500 BCE! Archaeologists call this kind of vessel “fire-flame,” ka’en in Japanese, because their tops resemble flames. No one knows why the design was created, or what it actually represents.
Pots like this were used by making holes in the ground, starting fires in the holes, then placing the pots onto the fires in the holes. As a result, bottoms often deteriorated and this particular vessel’s bottom is a replacement.
When the woman was buried about 2,200 years ago, she was dressed a fine woolen dress and shawl, sheepskin coat, and a necklace made of glass and amber beads. Her relatively high status is further evidenced by the bronze bracelets and bronze belt clasp she wore.
In two years of studying her remains, archaeologists have concluded that she was about 40 when she died and was born and raised in the Limmat Valley that houses Zurich. She had done little if any manual labor. And she had a huge sweet tooth (based on the state of her teeth).
The woman’s remains were found buried about 260 feet (80 meters) from the grave of a Celtic man found in 1903. Even more exciting, the man was buried in the same decade as the lady. They may have known each other when alive!
Fishermen in Argentina’s Greater Buenos Aires region keep making an unusual catch: shells of prehistoric armadillo ancestors. In October of 2019, a group of fishermen found a mostly intact shell which has been dated to over 10,000 years old. And four years earlier, on Christmas Day of 2015, Jose Antonio Nievas found a shell in mud by a stream in his farm.
Both turned out to be glyptodonts’ shells. Glyptodonts were not a single species, but an animal genus containing seven known species, among them the ancestors of modern armadillos. Glyptodonts had large, heavy shells and armored tails which they could use as clubs. They emerged in South America no earlier than 35 million years ago, and went extinct around the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago. Whether or not their extinction was related to humans’ arrival on the continent around the same time… well, that’s still up for debate.
Forty years ago, a Buddhist monk found a human mandible bone at Baishiya Karst Cave, perched 10,000 feet above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau. The bone they found has now been dated to 160,000 years ago. And analysis of the proteins caught in its teeth demonstrate that the mandible belonged to the Denisovan branch of the hominin family.
This is the first evidence for Denisovans found outside of southern Siberia’s Denisova Cave. That cave is just 2,300 feet above sea level. It is also about 1,750 miles northwest of Baishiya Karst Cave. The mandible therefore revealed the Denisovans were widely distributed, and able to adapt to extremely high altitudes.
This is likely related to the mutation, found in previous Denisovan genetic studies, that assists survival in low-oxygen environments such as the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau. The same mutation has been found in present-day Tibetans. And given that the Denisovans once lived in the area, perhaps a long-ago intermarriage introduced the gene to the Tibetans? It seems more likely than the exact same gene randomly mutating twice.
In 1849, part of a fossilized arm bone belonging to an extinct giant turtle was found in a New Jersey streambed. It belonged to an Atlantochelys mortoni, who lived during the upper Cretaceous period, about 75 million years ago. From tip to tail it would have been ten feet (3 m) long! That’s larger than any living turtle species.
And in 2012, the other half of the arm bone was found by an amateur paleontologist in New Jersey. Which is especially amazing since the 1849 specimen was the first example of the genus and the species, and the older bone was also without a match of any kind.