06 Mar 2015

Discovery of jaw by ASU team sheds light on early human ancestor

Comments Off Early man, Evolution, Paleoanthropology
Credit: Brian Villmoare

Credit: Brian Villmoare

Please click here to read the entire Science Daily article.

For decades, scientists have been searching for African fossils documenting the earliest phases of the Homo lineage, but specimens recovered from the critical time interval between 3 and 2.5 million years ago have been frustratingly few and often poorly preserved. However, a fossil lower jaw found in the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, Ethiopia, pushes back evidence for the human genus — Homo — to 2.8 million years ago.

According to a pair of reports published March 4 in the online version of the journal Science, the jaw predates the previously known fossils of the Homo lineage by approximately 400,000 years. It was discovered in 2013 by an international team led by Arizona State University scientists Kaye E. Reed, Christopher J. Campisano and J Ramón Arrowsmith, and Brian A. Villmoare of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Researchers have found fossils that are 3 million years old and older. The most famous example of those human ancestors is the skeleton of Lucy, found in northeastern Africa in 1974 by ASU researcher Donald Johanson. Lucy and her relatives, though they walked on two feet, were smaller-brained and more apelike than later members of the human family tree.

Scientists have also found fossils that are 2.3 million years old and younger. These ancestors are in the genus Homo and are closer to modern day humans.

But very little had been found in between – that 700,000-year gap had turned up few fossils with which to determine the evolution from Lucy to the genus Homo. Because of that gap, there has been little agreement on the time of origin of the Homo lineage.

At 2.8 million years, the new Ledi-Geraru fossil provides clues to changes in the jaw and teeth in Homo only 200,000 years after the last known occurrence of Australopithecus afarensis (“Lucy”) from the nearby Ethiopian site of Hadar. Found by team member and ASU graduate student Chalachew Seyoum, the Ledi-Geraru fossil preserves the left side of the lower jaw, or mandible, along with five teeth. The fossil analysis, led by Villmoare and William H. Kimbel, director of ASU’s Institute of Human Origins, revealed advanced features, for example, slim molars, symmetrical premolars and an evenly proportioned jaw, that distinguish early species on the Homo lineage, such as Homo habilis at 2 million years ago, from the more apelike early Australopithecus. But the primitive, sloping chin links the Ledi-Geraru jaw to a Lucy-like ancestor.
“In spite of a lot of searching, fossils on the Homo lineage older than 2 million years ago are very rare,” says Villmoare. “To have a glimpse of the very earliest phase of our lineage’s evolution is particularly exciting.”

Arizona State University. “Discovery of 2.8-million-year-old jaw sheds light on early humans.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 March 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150304141454.htm>


10 Feb 2015

A Theme for Archaeology

Comments Off Heritage, Uncategorized

Uzi Baram

Professor of Anthropology, New College of Florida

Themes and Theming

Vacation spots have themes. Restaurants have themes. Malls have themes. Theme parks are, by definition, themed. Sociologist Mark Gottdiener in a 1996 book The Theming of America: Dreams, Visions and Commercial Spaces brought a term for consideration of social experiences: theming. Professor Gottdiener noticed the use of symbols and signs to integrate experience at a place. The most famous and successful example of theming is the Disney World theme park, with the mouse ears recognizable seemingly across all generations and social groups. Driving on I-4, the transmission tower is easily recognizable and connected to Disney World. That is successful theming.


Archaeology is a source for theming. Archaeological artifacts invoke history and adventure. So Busch Gardens, which is a theme park using Africa for inspiration, has a subsection for its Ancient Egypt area as seen in the Egyptology restaurant, gift shop, playground, and exhibit. Egyptology is just the most popular of archaeo-themes for theme parks.

Theming is not just for American theme parks. For the tourists to the famous archaeological site of Troy in Turkey, there is a replica of a horse. There has been a horse at Troy for decades; in 2004 after the Warner Brothers film, a new replica for tourists to photograph and climb was donated to stress the Homeric theme for the location.

Archaeology is a source for themes but archaeology is also themed. In the Middle East archaeological expeditions have been named after benefactors for decades, and many have logos that go nicely on tee-shirts. In the USA, the excavations are focused to highlight particular issues although most present the titles as informative for the research focused on the place or time period. In a 2005 essay in the SAA Archaeological Bulletin, I raised concerns over the competing demands of heritage tourism, with its want for themes, and academic research. But even then I realized themes do help with communication, clarifying the intent and goals for a research project in a concise manner.

Themes for Heritage Interpretation

I learned to appreciate theming as a member of the interdisciplinary public anthropology program Looking for Angola , the search for material remains of an early 19th century maroon community. At first when I presented on the project, I would start with a long discussion of the time period and then the meaning of the term maroon. The questions from the audience focused on techniques and the challenges of excavations. But when I heard historian Canter Brown Jr. in Vickie Oldham’s 2006 video Looking for Angola invoke the project in terms of freedom, I realized the clunkiness dissolved. An archaeology of freedom allowed concise, productive presentations. At public presentations where I explained the goal of freedom in early 19th century, the questions raised by audiences brought out the details of the larger historical context and a concern for the descendant communities – a more satisfying dynamic, more in line with the anthropology of the program and the social justice goals of the project.

So as I plan my next public anthropology program in partnership with Sarasota County, at Phillippi Estate Park, there are multiple steps before engaging the public but I am thinking about themes as well. What is the archaeology of trust at Phillippi Creek?

Read the full article here.

22 Jan 2015

Physicists read scrolls scorched by ancient volcano By Lizzie Wade

Comments Off Ancient civilizations, Explorers

To read the whole article, please go to

http:/ /news.sciencemag.org/archaeology/2015/01/physicists-read-scrolls-scorched-ancient-volcano

Herculaneum photo by SANDRO VANNINI/CORBIS



Pompeii wasn’t the only Roman town destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E. The blast of hot air and rain of volcanic ash also reached nearby Herculaneum (pictured above), where it entombed a library of papyrus scrolls. Unfortunately, it also transformed them from pliable parchment into little more than blackened, carbonized lumps. Archaeologists have tried several techniques to unroll the scrolls since the library was discovered in the 1750s, but they always ran the risk of destroying them in the process. Now, a new technique using high-energy x-rays offers a nondestructive way of reading these ancient texts. By placing a rolled up scroll in the path of a beam of powerful x-rays produced by a particle accelerator, researchers can measure a key difference between the burned papyrus and the ink on its surface: how fast the x-rays move through each substance allows them to differentiate between the scroll and the writing on it . Although they’ve managed to read only a few complete words so far.   The handwriting style is characteristic of texts written in the middle of the first century B.C.E.; in fact, it looks a lot like the handwriting on a previously unrolled scroll attributed to the philosopher Philodemus, the team says. More studies with even higher energy x-rays are needed to reconstruct the whole text on this and other scrolls, but the technique offers the possibility of reading works that haven’t been seen for nearly 2000 years.

11 Jan 2015

Community Conscious Archaeology

Comments Off Uncategorized

Sarasota Bay

By Uzi Baram

Professor of Anthropology, New College of Florida

Sarasota Bay is a dominant feature of Sarasota’s identity even though it is visible only from its shores, from high rise buildings, and from aerial views. For public enjoyment, there are public parks on the bayfront as well as Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, a marina complex, and a performing arts complex. How to use the bayfront is a continual community concern. One particular spot, an area with the performing arts center and several civic buildings but also large parking lots, is being debated these days. On November 13, 2014, 300 people came together to discuss the development of that property; Tom Tryon writing in the Sarasota Herald Tribune noted that “there was a two-point consensus on what people most want the site to offer: 1. A place to enjoy a nice glass of wine. 2. A good view of the bay while sipping that wine” (http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20141207/COLUMNIST/312079999?p=all&tc=pgall)

The image of sipping wine by the bay is appealing; if that vision comes to pass, hopefully people will be able to reflect on the heritage for the location. History might have been discussed at the gathering but it did not come up in the newspaper or social media stories. When I look at the publicly-held area, I think of it as part of Yellow Bluffs. What was once an outcropping is where Sarasota began. There was an initial Anglo-American settlement by the Whitakers as well as pre-Columbian Native American mounds with their history that stretches back centuries. The heritage for the region matters but, with historic preservation and development usually pitched against each other, how could heritage, particularly archaeo-heritage, fit into the discussions over the bayfront, to meet community concerns for the property? Read full article here.  Community Conscious Archaeology

02 Dec 2014

9,000-year-old man yields secrets of America’s earliest inhabitants By Dan Springer

Comments Off Ancient civilizations, Early man, Explorers

To read the whole article, please go to:


Kennewick Man may have more secrets to spill, according to top anthropologists. (Smithsonian)


Eighteen years after his near-complete skeletal remains were found along the bank of the Columbia River in eastern Washington, Kennewick Man is finally telling his 9,000-year-old story — and reshaping our knowledge of how North America was first populated by humans.

The prehistoric man’s bones have yielded clues about his diet and lineage, convincing forensic anthropologist Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History that he was an immigrant who had come a long way before his death. Based on his diet of seals and other marine mammals and the shape of his skull, the theory is he and his relatives traveled in boats from Polynesia, along the coasts of Japan, Russia, Alaska, Canada and eventually up the Columbia River.

The dramatic scientific discovery almost didn’t happen because of the federal government. The Army Corps of Engineers tried to give the bones to local tribes for re-burial before they could be studied, but a lawsuit filed by several scientists blocked the transfer. The Corps did manage to prevent any further finds around where the bones were discovered, dumping 2 million pounds of dirt and planting several thousand trees on top of Kennewick Man’s burial site.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks, who heard the scientists’ case, wrote in his opinion the Army Corps of Engineers had ‘prejudged the outcome’ in the interest of fostering a climate of cooperation with the tribesStill, the Army Corp of Engineers is defending its effort to hand the bones over to the tribes.

Jelderks, and later the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, disagreed with the government and demanded the Army Corps of Engineers allow the bones to be studied. Owsley ran tests on Kennewick Man over a 16-day period.

The Umatilla Tribe continues to fight.

“We maintain, and nothing has been published to date to refute, that the Ancient One is one of our ancestors,” the tribe wrote in a statement.

Anthropologists say the tribes are just trying to flex political muscle and the Corps capitulated.

“That law is supposed to be a compromise between the scientists and Native Americans, not just a one-sided law that hands everything over,” said James Chatters, the first forensic anthropologist to study Kennewick Man.

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