Clues to an ancient mystery

Picture of the skull of a young woman believed to be an early American

Naia, one of the oldest skeleton ever found in the Americas (Hoyo Negro, Mexico), is  the earliest one intact enough to provide a foundation for a facial reconstruction. Geneticists were even able to extract a sample of DNA. Looking at the skeletal remains of Paleo-Americans, more than half of men have injuries caused by violence, and four out of ten have skull fractures. The wounds seem to be the result of the violent fight among them. The women don’t have these kinds of injuries, but they’re much smaller than the men, with signs of malnourishment and domestic abuse.

According to the archaeologist Jim Chatters, co-leader of the Hoyo Negro research team, these are all indications that the earliest Americans were what he calls “Northern Hemisphere wild-type” populations: bold and aggressive, with hypermasculine males and diminutive, subordinate females. And this, he thinks, is why the earliest Americans’ facial features look so different from those of later Native Americans. These were risk-taking pioneers, and the toughest men were taking the spoils and winning fights over women. As a result, their robust traits and features were being selected over the softer and more domestic ones evident in later, more settled populations.

Sin título

Sin título

Skeletal remains suggest that Paleo-American men ate better, grew larger and lived much longer than women, most of whom died before age 26. Modern native American men have tended to be smaller than their ancestors, and women larger as we can see in the picture.


A new hominin species?

We have all heard about human diversity and also that evolution happened during years, but according to new findings the diversity of hominin species could be still bigger. Some Chinese and Spanish researchers have found a new piece for the complex human
evolution puzzle. The remains found in Xujiayao (China) are composed of an infant maxilar and some teeth of a still unclassifiable human species. This species would have inhabited in Asia about 60.000 and 120.000 years ago according to the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The dental morphology of the still not described hominid s
hows that the species shared features with Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and with the most primitive Asiatic Homo erectus, but they do not have any relationship with our species, the Homo sapiens. Taking this into account, researches proposed that this hominid would have coexisted with Neanderthals and modern humans in the late Pleistocene.

María Martinón-Torres, the coauthor of the study, has noticed that the taxonomy of many of the fossils found in the Asiatic continent should be reconsidered because those could be related with the newly found remains.

Sing like a bird, man! Speak like a man, bird!

Speech and its evolution…Long story! Nobody knows where does it start! This so complex skill has to begin somewhere. The new Science magazine shows us more about it!

Complex language is a uniquely human trait, but vocal learning – the ability to pick up new sounds by imitating others – is not. Some mammals, including whales, dolphins and elephants, share our ability to learn new vocalisations. So do three groups of birds: the songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds.

Featured image

We’ve known for many years that the singing behavior of birds is similar to speech in humans—not identical, but similar—and that the brain circuitry is similar, too,” said Jarvis, an associate professor of neurobiology at the Duke University Medical School and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “But we didn’t know whether or not those features were the same because the genes were also the same.”

So what did they do?

Andreas Pfenning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleague compared maps of genetic activity – transcriptomes – in brain tissue taken from the zebra finch, budgerigar and Anna’s hummingbird, representing the three groups of vocal-learning birds. […]Their results showed that FOXP2 is just one of 55 genes that show a similar pattern of activity in the brains of humans and the vocal-learning birds. Those same genes show different patterns of activity in the brains of animals incapable of vocal learning.

“Speech is difficult to study in human brains,” said Jarvis. “Whales and elephants learn speech and songs, but they’re too big to house in the lab. Now that we have a deeper understanding of how similar birdsong brain regions are to human speech regions at the genetic level, I think they’ll be a better model than ever.”


Probably our  common ancestor with birds and other animals (may have lived 310 million years ago) had genes which later were used for articulate speech and vocal learning! And was found a new laboratory model for research in the field of human speaking abilities!


The oldest bone found in Euskadi

In August of 1964, a humerus was found by Jose Miguel Barandiarán and Jesus Altuna in the Lezetxiki cave in Mondragón, Gipuzkoa. After 50 years of the finding, scientist have determined the age of this bone. The humerus, which is 164, 000 years old, is one of the oldest remains of the peninsula, the oldest found in Euskadi. Just a couple of remains of Atapuerca are more ancient than this one.

Jesus Altuna, one of the paleoanthropologists that found the bone, has remarked that even if until now the age of the bone was not set, they knew that the remain was older than 120,000 years because in an upper level of the cave they found pieces of the skull of a bear who lived before the cave bears and was extinguished in Europe by this period.

The study was carried out in the National University of Australia and they used the uranium/lead method to determinate the age because the ressults obtained by the C14 would be inconclusive. They have also obtained the DNA from the humerus in order to identify the species and the sex of this remain.

Lezetxikin aurkitutako humeroa, atzean; lehen lerroan, erreplika. /

A Species Odyssey (Documentary film)

A Species Odyssey is a Frech documentary film directed by Jacques Malaterre and first emited in 2003.

It relates the story of the birth of the first human being starting from the first Hominins. The timeline described in the documentary begins 10 My ago, with the formation of the African rift. According to the documentary, with the disappearance of the trees, the apes began to evolve to bipedal species, which allowed them to look over the grass of the savanna. In this documentary, the theory known as “East Side Story” is exposed.  blog

You can follow the first link to watch the documentary in English, the second one to watch it in Spanish or the third one to watch it in French.

We hope that you’ll enjoy it!

English version:

Spanish version:

Original version:

Are you interested in the human evolution timeline?

Here you have an interesting interactive timeline of the evolution of humans since the earliest Hominins. Follow the link and enjoy it!!

(or click in here and then find the timeline in the left side menu :

From ancient bone to modern human

Recently scientist decode the DNA from leg bone found by chance on the bank of a Siberian river which has helped work out when early humans interbred with our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals

Mysterious Siberian bone(s):

Radiocarbon dating of pieces of the leg bone put the remains at around 45,000 years old. The scientist went on to extract DNA from the bone, which allowed them to reconstruct the oldest modern human genome ever.

Prior to the latest study, the oldest modern human genome came from the 24,000-year-old remains of a boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in easterbn Siberia. (More information in our earlier article)

Neanderthales and modern humans met and shared DNA earlier than we thought

About 2 per cent of many people’s genomes today is made up of Neanderthal DNA, a result of interbreeding between the two species that can be seen in everyone except people from sub-Saharan Africa. The so-called Ust’-Ishim man, named after the town in western Siberia where he was found, carries a similar proportion of Neanderthal DNA in his genome as present-day Eurasians, and a combination of radiocarbon and genetic dating shows he died only about 45,000 years ago.

Featured image

Neanderthal DNA specialist Svante Pääbo examines the anatomically modern human femur, found near Ust’-Ishim in western Siberia. 

By comparing Ust’-Ishim’s genome to various groups of modern and ancient humans, the researchers are filling in gaps in the map of initial human migrations around the globe. They found that he is as genetically similar to present-day East Asians as to ancient genomes found in Western Europe and Siberia, suggesting that the population he was part of split from the ancestors of both Europeans and East Asians, prior to their divergence from each other.


Mummy remains refute antiquity of ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a systemic disease that causes inflammation in the spinal joints and was thought to have affected members of the ancient Egyptian royal families. Now a new study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), refutes that claim, finding instead a degenerative spinal condition called diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) in royal Egyptian mummies from the 18th to early 20th Dynasties.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a member of a group of inflammatory conditions called the spondyloarthropathies that cause arthritis and affect up to 2.4 million Americans over the age of 15. Causes pain and stiffness in the back, and may lead to bony fusion of the spine. Studies estimate that ankylosing spondylitis affects about one percent of the population, primarily affecting young men.

In DISH the hardening of ligaments along the vertebrae of the spine cause stiffness in the upper back and can affect other joints in the body. While DISH may appear similar to ankylosing spondylitis, it is a degenerative and not an inflammatory type of arthritis, affecting those 60 years of age and older.

Previous research using x-ray images claimed that three Pharaohs (Amenhotep II, Ramesses II, and Merenptah) displayed evidence of ankylosing spondylitis. The current study used computed tomographyto study thirteen royal Egyptian mummies from 1492-1153 BC to determine if signs of ankylosing spondylitis or DISH were present.

A diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis was ruled out due to the absence of joint erosion in the lower back and pelvis area (sacroiliac joints) or fusion of sacroiliac joints or of small joints between the vertebra in the spine (facet joints) on the CT scans of the mummies. Signs of DISH were found in four Pharaohs (Amenhotep III, Ramesses II, Merenptah, and Ramesses III).

The study was conducted by Dr. Sahar Saleem with the Kasr Al Ainy Faculty of Medicine in Cairo, Egypt and Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egyptologist and former head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. The authors say, “The mummies of Ancient Egypt offer a wealth of information regarding the history of disease. In studying these ancient remains we may be able to uncover the pathway of diseases — like ankylosing spondylitis or DISH — and how they might impact modern populations.” Dr. Sahar Saleem adds, “The process of mummification could induce spinal changes, which should be considered when investigating diseases in ancient remains.”

European mystery

Origin of human being that is the question. New research publicized in Nature can shed some light on the origin of European population and show that is not so easy how we thought.

How look our ancestors?

Picture 1 Life of hunter-gatherers. (author Zdeněk Burian)

Till now the DNA remains have showed that our European genome had its origin from the ancient hunter-gatherers living in European continent for thousands of years (since 45 000 years ago) and the first farmers which came from Near East (area of modern Syria, Iraq and Israel) around 7500 years ago – from the place where the first agriculture has occurred. The parts of their DNA could be found till now in our genetic information. It shows how has agriculture changed and influenced prehistoric lifestyle, but this is not enough.

The third missing piece of puzzle

Prof David Reich from the Harvard Medical School and colleagues studied the genomes of seven hunter-gatherers from Scandinavia, one hunter whose remains were found in a cave in Luxembourg (  ̴8000-years-old),  and another early farmer from Stuttgart, Germany (  ̴7000-years-old) and compare the data with 2,354 present day people. And they found, that there is something missing – the third population.

Another discover of ancient remains of  24,000 year old boy buried near the Lake Baikal in Siberia and comparation of his genome with modern Europeans showed that Siberians are the missing piece of puzzle in genetic richness of European population.  This people called ancient north Eurasians are probably also the brave adventures, which crossed the frozen sea and founded the population of Native Americans around 15,000 years ago.

When did they come to the Europe?

Answer for this question is also suggested by this researchers group. They looked for the signs of Siberian genome in ancient remains from Europe but they couldn’t find them. It shows that their arrival to Europe was later, after farming was already established in Europe.

Featured image

Picture 2  Possible ways of migration of the ancient people to Europe

Now are modern Europeans various mixes of the three populations. For example Sardinians are more than 80% early European farmer, with less than 1% of their genetic contribution coming from the ancient north Eurasians. Or the modern English get around 50% of their genes from early European farmers, 36% from western European hunter-gatherers, and 14% from the ancient north Eurasians.

What happened at that time? Hom and why migrated these people to Europe? Who are our ancestors? There still remain a lot of questions but some of them are already answered.


Picture 1

Picture 2

Neanderthals, our close relatives

The neanderthal man became extinct 40,000 years ago

45,000 years ago the european continent was mainly inhabited by the neanderthals, and a few individuals of the “new” human specie originated in Africa some 200,000 years ago. 5,000 years later, the neanderthals were completely extinct, and the new human specie was widespread through the whole continent. In this short period that both species lived together, there was a cultural and genetic transmission.

And how neanderthal are you?

Scientific have found that Eurasian people share between 1-4% of our DNA with neanderthals.The genes we share with them are especially involved in creating keratin filaments but also have relation with the immune system. These genes were kept in our genome because they were useful in our evolution and in our adaptation to different environments. However, there are some genes that affect the risk of several diseases, including lupus, biliary cirrhosis, Crohn’s disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Neanderthal sequences are typically inherited in large batches, since they were imported into the modern human genome relatively recently and have not had time to break apart.