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.
These flightless birds were 11 feet tall and weighed nearly half a ton at an estimated 450 kilograms. For context: the ostrich is he largest bird on earth and adult ostriches weigh just 150 kilos (330 lbs).
The Pachystruthio dmanisensis was discovered using a femur bone found in 2018 on the Crimean Peninsula, in the northern Black Sea. Based on other animal remains found in the same cave this particular dmanisensis is estimated to have died between 1.5 and 2 million years ago. That puts it at the right time to have been around when the first humans migrated to the area!
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.
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.
After a villager notified authorities about a cave hidden beneath the Maya site of Chichen Itza, archaeologists crawled hundreds of feet through passages that were only 16 inches high in places. In the cave, they encountered hundreds of undisturbed ritual artifacts, including incense burners depicting the rain god Tlaloc.
Here’s the funny part – this was actually the second time this cave was discovered! The cave was first discovered by locals about 50 years ago. At the time, they alerted archaeologist Víctor Segovia Pinto to the find. He ordered the cavern sealed and issued a brief report, which was soon forgotten. Last year, locals once again pointed out the location to archaeologists, and this time they decided to actually investigate it.
This sounds like a bungled opportunity by Pinto but today’s archaeologists say it was a boon. Because everything was left in situ, and they plan to leave the artifacts in the cave now, it will remain an intact time capsule that can be studied with the most modern of techniques. Cutting edge 3-D mapping and paleobotany examinations are in the works. And who knows what scientists will come up with in the future? The current plan is that the cave, intact and preserved, will be waiting to be examined by each new generation of techniques.
An international team of archaeologists and geneticists have compared the genomes obtained from 28 grape pips, discovered at nine archaeological sites in France, the oldest pip dating to some 2,500 years ago. These genomes were then compared to a modern grape DNA database. One grape seed, unearthed at a medieval site in the center of France and dated to around 1100 CE, was found to have DNA identical to Savagnin Blanc. That’s the grape used to produce a wine known in France as Vin Jaune, and in Central Europe as Traminer. The lineage of this one grape has been maintained for 900 years!
The study also found that humagne blanche, a white grape grown in the Swiss Alps, is related to grapes grown by the Romans in southern France. It confirms stories of the Romans bringing grapes and wine into Switzerland.