Sunday December 8, 2013
December 8th is the traditional date for Bodhi Day, when the historical Buddha Siddartha Gautama is said to have reached enlightenment: when better to speak of the enlightening effects of archaeology?
Stupa at Sarnath, where the Buddha is said to have found enlightenment. Chris Moss
Several recent archaeological studies associated with the life of the Buddha have been conducted, most recently excavations at Lumbini in Nepal, said to have been his birthplace. The oldest phase of the Maya Devi shrine at Lumbini is securely dated between 550-800 BC, making it the earliest shrine associated with the Buddha to date.
Coningham RAE, Acharya KP, Strickland KM, Davis CE, Manuel MJ, Simpson IA, Gilliland K, Tremblay J, Kinnaird TC, and Sanderson DCW. 2013. The earliest Buddhist shrine: excavating the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini (Nepal). Antiquity 87(338):1104-1123.
Friday December 6, 2013
There's really no other way to look at it: new techniques of extracting and analyzing tiny fragments of mitochondrial DNA from very old bone are forcing scholars to rewrite human history.
The Sima de los Huesos hominins lived approximately 400,000 years ago during the Middle Pleistocene.
Javier Trueba, MADRID SCIENTIFIC FILMS.
Analysis of the mtDNA from what looked like 400,000 year old Neanderthals in the Sima de los Huesos site in Spain has revealed instead that the hominins at Sima are not Neanderthal but instead are more closely related to the recently discovered Denisovan population.
That alone shakes up the scientific world, because for over a century, scholars have had to rely solely on morphological characteristics of ancient people to understand human evolutionary relationships. What this study, that of the recent Dmanisi study, and others in the past half a decade show is that morphology cannot necessarily be a reliable indicator of relatedness.
The work of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology scholar Svänte Pääbo and others inventing and refining laboratory methods to winkle out mtDNA from ever-older human samples has continued and (I hope I hope) will continue to amaze us and overthrow our ideas of the course of human evolution. How exciting!
Meyer M, Fu Q, Aximu-Petri A, Glocke I, Nickel B, Arsuaga JL, Martinez I, Gracia A, Bermúdez de Castro JM, Carbonell E et al. 2013. A mitochondrial genome sequence of a hominin from Sima de los Huesos. Nature in press.
Some Recent News Stories
Monday December 2, 2013
This month, the fourth edition of James Graham-Campbell's classic text The Viking World is published by Frances Lincoln LTD, via Aurum Press.
The Viking World - Cover Art Francis Lincoln LTD Publishing Group
The new version includes updates to several of the chapters, and is in a smaller format, which turns the oversized coffee table book into a more accessible format for the intent reader....
Wednesday November 27, 2013
A recent article published in Nature Communications suggests, sort of, that cattle may have been domesticated in China.
Herd of cattle in Yunnan Province, China. timquijano.
The story is a little odd. Two conjoined jawbones (mandibles) were identified as taurine (Bos taurus, the humpless cattle type thought to have been domesticated in the Taurus Mountains about 10,500 years ago) have been recovered from the Kongni ditch in northeastern China.
The mandibles are AMS radiocarbon dated between 10,756 and 10,565 years ago, and mitochondrial DNA studies of it suggest to the scholars that the beast had a distinct mitochondrial structure, distinct from other types of aurochs. It looks domesticated, based on the tooth wear. If the scholars are correct in their surmise that this is evidence of early taurine domestication in China, it might be pretty amazing news--but they come from a place called the "Kongni Ditch" without any additional description and that worries me, and I'm strongly reminded that context, if not everything, is a big hunk of the pie.
I've sent away for some more information about the context, and I'll report it if and when I hear back.
It may turn out that there's another cattle domestication center in China--heck, how would I know? and science as we know is a moving target--but at the moment, this is an outlier, so caution is in order.
Zhang H, Paijmans JLA, Chang F, Wu X, Chen G, Lei C, Yang X, Wei Z, Bradley DG, Orlando L et al. . 2013. Morphological and genetic evidence for early Holocene cattle management in northeastern China. Nature Communications 4:2755.