More than 40,000 years ago, Australia used to be home to many species of giant kangaroos. One, the
short-faced kangaroo, had a single-toed clawed foot (modern-day kangaroos have three toes), and weighed more than 260 pounds (118 kilograms, modern-day kangaroos reach only 200 lbs). And the short-faced kangaroo had a box-shaped head. A recent study of the short-faced kangaroo’s odd skull shape found that it was specifically adapted to eat
tough foods like mature leaves, stems, and branches when other food sources were scarce.
That makes the short-faced kangaroo very similar to the modern-day giant panda. They both have thick jaws, and specialized skulls, evolved for eating the toughest plants that other animals can’t.
When times are hard, the short-faced kangaroo and the giant panda both have a competitive edge.
Getting DNA from Indus River Valley Civilization burials is quite difficult, as the hot South Asian climate provides the perfect conditions for degrading biological material. After 5,000 years in the ground there is usually nothing left to sequence. But for the first time, a full genome has been sequenced! A team from Deccan College in India successfully recreated a genome from an individual buried in a cemetery at the site of Rakhigarhi, in Haryana, India. They were able to get enough undamaged DNA by patiently re-sampling the skeleton over 100 times and pooling the results.
It has been known that there are cultural connections between the Indus River Valley Civilization and Iranian civilization. It has even been theorized that the hunter-gatherers who lived in the ecologically rich valley learned farming from Iran. The recent study therefore compared the Rakhigarhi remains to genomes from 523 genetically sampled from Gonur in Turkmenistan and Shahr-i-Sokhta in Iran.
Their analysis showed that the genes associated with this individual’s Iranian ancestry came from before the time when farmers and hunter-gatherers in the area separated from each other. This individual’s Iranian ancestors left before farming spread through Iran, meaning that the Indus River Valley civilization did not learn farming from Iran but independently decided to give up hunting and gathering for farming. The genetic analyses also found that 11 individuals from the 523 belonged to the same genetic group as the Indus River Valley Civilization remains. That suggests that the 11 were migrants, or near descendants of migrants, from the Indus River Valley.
In 1760, Horace Benedict de Saussure, a naturalist hoping to gain scientific information, offered a reward to anyone who could make the full climb up Mont Blanc, the highest mountain peak in Europe. It was 26 years before Dr. Michel Paccard was able to complete the climb and earn the reward.
Animals who live in polar waters or deep-sea waters tend to evolve into bigger animals than related species who live in shallower waters, in a phenomenon known as “polar gigantism.” Exactly why this happens is unknown.
This is Meritamun. Her name means “beloved of Amun,” the great Egyptian creator/sun god. She lived in ancient Egypt, sometime between 1500 BCE and 331 BCE, and was likely high status judging by the quality of the linens she was mummified with. Meritamun was between 18 and 25 when she died.
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).
A study has recently revealed that the rapid expansion of the Roman Empire in the 1st century CE assisted the spread of tuberculosis around the world. The disease is first evidence in humans in Africa around 3000 BCE. But the spread out of Africa, of four of seven investigated genetic strains of TB, occurred during the 1st century CE. Just at the time that the Roman Empire conquered the Mediterranean basin.
The out-of-Africa spread of TB is thought to have been aided by the expanding Roman’s new transportation links – those wonderful Roman roads – as well as increased movement and exploration around the Mediterranean.