Posts about anthropology

Huge Human Population Boom 40,000 to 50,000 Years Ago

Interesting open access paper on looking at the Y-chromosome to explore our ancestry: A calibrated human Y-chromosomal phylogeny based on resequencing. I can’t understand all the details but the basic idea isn’t that complicated. It is interesting to see these details as are the conclusions that can be drawn: that we had a big explosion of human population o 41,000–52,000 years ago.

This population explosion occurred, between the first expansion of modern humans out of Africa 60,000 to 70,000 years ago and the Neolithic expansions of people in several parts of the world starting 10,000 years ago.

“We think this second, previously unknown population boom, may have occurred as humans adapted to their new environment after the first out-of-Africa expansion,” says Dr Qasim Ayub, lead author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger institute. “We think that when humans moved from the horn of Africa to Asia, Australia and eventually Europe, they remained in small groups by the coasts. It took them tens of thousands of years to adapt to the mountainous, forested surroundings on the inner continents. However, once their genetic makeup was suited to these new environments, the population increased extremely rapidly as the groups travelled inland and took advantage of the abundance of space and food.”

The work highlights how it is now possible to obtain new biological insights from existing DNA sequencing data sets, and the value of sharing data. The majority of the DNA information used for this study was obtained from freely-available online data-sets.

This is the first time researchers have used the information from large-scale DNA sequencing to create an accurate family tree of the Y chromosome, from which the inferences about human population history could be made.

Full press release

Related: Laser Tool Creates “blueprints” of Archeology SitesHHMI on Science 2.0: Information RevolutionScientists crack 40-year-old DNA puzzle

Artificial Intelligence Finds Ancient Indus Script Matches Spoken Language

Artificial Intelligence Cracks 4,000-Year-Old Mystery by Brandon Keim

An ancient script that’s defied generations of archaeologists has yielded some of its secrets to artificially intelligent computers.

The Indus script, used between 2,600 and 1,900 B.C. in what is now eastern Pakistan and northwest India, belonged to a civilization as sophisticated as its Mesopotamian and Egyptian contemporaries. However, it left fewer linguistic remains. Archaeologists have uncovered about 1,500 unique inscriptions from fragments of pottery, tablets and seals. The longest inscription is just 27 signs long.

They fed the program sequences of four spoken languages: ancient Sumerian, Sanskrit and Old Tamil, as well as modern English. Then they gave it samples of four non-spoken communication systems: human DNA, Fortran, bacterial protein sequences and an artificial language.

The program calculated the level of order present in each language. Non-spoken languages were either highly ordered, with symbols and structures following each other in unvarying ways, or utterly chaotic. Spoken languages fell in the middle.

When they seeded the program with fragments of Indus script, it returned with grammatical rules based on patterns of symbol arrangement. These proved to be moderately ordered, just like spoken languages.

Related: The Rush to Save Timbuktu’s Crumbling ManuscriptsThe Mystery of the Voynich ManuscriptAztec Math

Anthropologists Find New Type of Urbanism in Amazon Jungles

Anthropologists Find New Type of Urbanism in Amazon Jungles

Recently-discovered Amazonian settlements could be a new type of metropolis, unseen elsewhere in the world and hidden until recently in the Kuikuro jungle, say anthropologists.

Revealed by overgrown earthworks, the 100 square-mile urban units consist of clusters of interconnected villages ranging from 50-150 acres in size. The town-nodes were arranged along a highly-regular pattern of roads built around a central plaza about 500 feet across. The cities appear to have been at their height between the 13th and 17th centuries.

“No single Xingu settlement merits the term ‘city.’ But what do you do with a core of five settlements are few kilometers away from each other?” Michael Heckenberger, a University of Florida anthropologist currently in Brazil, told Science. “A fast walk from one to another would take you 15 minutes, maximum.”

Related: Aztec MathSurfing a Wave for 12 kmTraffic Congestion and a Non-Solution‘Hobbit’ human is a new species

Pioneers of the Pacific

Pioneers of the Pacific

how could a Neolithic people with simple canoes and no navigation gear manage to find, let alone colonize, hundreds of far-flung island specks scattered across an ocean that spans nearly a third of the globe?

Answers have been slow in coming. But now a startling archaeological find on the island of Éfaté, in the Pacific nation of Vanuatu, has revealed an ancient seafaring people, the distant ancestors of today’s Polynesians, taking their first steps into the unknown. The discoveries there have also opened a window into the shadowy world of those early voyagers.

While the Lapita left a glorious legacy, they also left precious few clues about themselves. What little is known or surmised about them has been pieced together from fragments of pottery, animal bones, obsidian flakes, and such oblique sources as comparative linguistics and geochemistry. Although their voyages can be traced back to the northern islands of Papua New Guinea, their language—variants of which are still spoken across the Pacific—came from Taiwan. And their peculiar style of pottery decoration, created by pressing a carved stamp into the clay, probably had its roots in the northern Philippines.

Related: Ancient Greek Technology 1,000 Years EarlyAztec MathPrayer Book Reveals Lost Archimedes Work Studying Ideas at Heart of Calculus

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