Archive for the ‘anthropology’ Category

Middle Pleistocene Man (Homo heidelbergensis)

January 29, 2021

Many late Pleistocene animals evolved from middle Pleistocene ancestors that were different enough to be considered separate species.  Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus colombi) evolved from the southern mammoth (M. meridionalis), a shorter elephant with straighter tusks. Jefferson’s ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersoni) evolved from Wheatley’s ground sloth (M. wheatleyi), and Smilodon fatalis evolved from the more lightly built S. gracilis, among many other examples.  The same is true for humans.  Both Homo sapiens and H. neanderthalis evolved from H. heidelbergensis, also known as Heidelberg man after discovery of the first specimen in Heidelberg, Germany during 1907.  Genetic evidence suggests modern humans diverged from Neanderthals between 750,000 years BP-550,000 years BP.  The population of Heidelberg man that lived in Europe evolved into H. neanderthalis, while the population of Heidelberg man that lived in Africa evolved into H. sapiens.  (The poorly known Denisovans diverged from Neanderthals.) Fossil evidence of Heidelberg man dates to between 600,000 years BP-300,000 years BP, though undoubtedly it occurred earlier than the fossil evidence indicates.  The oldest evidence of humans in Europe dates to 800,000 years ago and was found in Spain, but these specimens are considered an extinct sister species of Heidelberg man known as H. ancessor.

Homo Heidelbergensis: Forbears of Homo Sapiens - The Human Journey

Artist’s depiction of Homo heidelbergensis.  They were about the same height as modern men and had the same average brain capacity, but their jaws were distinctly different.

New insights on the wooden weapons from the Paleolithic site of Schöningen - ScienceDirect

The Schoningen spears, 330,000 year old projectile weapons used by Homo heidelbergensis.  They were found in a strip mine in Germany.  Archaeologists found 9 spears, 1 lance, a stick pointed on both ends, and a burned stick along with the remains of butchered horses next to a lakeshore.

Heidelberg man evolved from H. erectus.  Heidelberg man had a more human-like face and a larger brain capacity (averaging 1200 cc compared to 973 cc).  They had the same average brain size as modern day humans, and the main difference between the 2 is the shape of the jaw which was distinct.  Heidelberg man was the first species of human to colonize regions with cold climates.  To survive in harsher climates, they evolved to eat more meat.  In Europe this diet included elephant, rhino, bear, deer, boar, and horse; and in Africa they ate antelope and zebra.  They surely ate many different kinds of plants, but nothing is known of the vegetal part of their diet.  Heidelberg man had control of fire and used tools such as stone hand axes and wooden spears. In 1994 nine spears made of spruce wood were found in a German strip mine, and they dated to 330,000 years BP.  They are known as the Schoningen spears, and they were found associated with butchered horse bones.  Rapid rise of a lake level covered all this evidence in sediment and helped preserve it.

I have no doubt Heidelberg man could speak, though a minority of scientific opinion believes they could not.  The hyoid bone, important for speech, is well developed as are the middle ear bones used for understanding speech.  There is also evidence for right brain/left brain lateralization–one side of the brain is more dominant.  Brain lateralization suggests a brain used to speak and understand speech.  Heidelberg man hunted large mammals, an activity requiring cooperative hunting and therefore speech.

Specimens of Heidelberg man have been found in sites located in Germany, England, France, Greece, India, Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa.  I tried to find out exactly how many specimens have been discovered worldwide, but as far as I can determine no study has catalogued them all.

Heidelberg man likely occurred in low population numbers, fluctuating with boom and bust climatic conditions, and whole tribes often perished  when important members died.  One site in Germany where Heidelberg remains were found also yielded bones of saber-tooths (Homotherium), lions, leopards, hyenas, bear, elephant, red deer, and horse.  Unlike modern humans, Heidelberg man didn’t always win in competition with the predators they shared the landscape with.

Reference:

Schoch, W.; G. Bigga, W. bohner, P. Richter, and T. Terberger

“New Insights on the Wooden Weapons from the Paleolithic Site of Schoningen”

Journal of Human Evolution 89 December 2015

The Pleistocene Christmas Tree

December 24, 2020

I’m hosting family this week for Christmas, and I don’t have time to work on a new blog article. Here is a rerun.

GeorgiaBeforePeople

Christmas is a pagan holiday that probably originated during the Pleistocene.  Many of the pagan traditions associated with Christmas are rooted in northern European mythology, and they predate written records, so historians have no way of knowing for sure when they began. However, the celebration of the winter solstice was widespread throughout the ancient world, and people enjoyed this holiday thousands of years before the Judeo-Christian bible was ever written.  The wise men of the primitive world believed that the sun was a God.  This actually makes more sense than what the Abrahamic religions claim because life on earth does depend upon the sun.  The Abrahamic religions propose that a Supreme Being created the sun, but this belief leaves one to wonder who created the Supreme Being.  In a culture without scientific knowledge paganism seems just as logical if not more so than Judeo-Christianity.

The ancient thinkers noticed the days became shorter during…

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Cave Paintings of Megafauna in the Amazon Rain Forest

December 5, 2020

Archaeologists have been studying ancient paintings on cave and rock shelter walls in Cheribiquete National Park for over 30 years, but last year they discovered an 8 mile stretch that includes rare images of extinct megafauna.  Cheribiquete National Park is located in Colombia and covers 17,000 square miles–the largest tropical forest park in the world.  The newly discovered rock shelter walls are illustrated with images of a giant ground sloth and young, horse, llama, macrauchenia, gompothere, and perhaps bear.  An extinct species of horse known as hippidion lived in South America over 10,000 years ago.  The llama depicted on the wall maybe an extinct or extant species.  All the images are crudely drawn and don’t depict adequate details to distinguish species identification.  These may be the only images of a gompothere and macrauchenia that have ever been drawn by people who actually saw them alive.  Gompotheres were a mastodon-like animal, similar to elephants, but nothing like a macrauchenia lives today.  Their closest living relatives are rhinos, horses, and tapirs; but genetic evidence suggests they diverged from those odd toed ungulates 66 million years ago when dinosaurs became extinct.  Macrauchenia were adaptable animals capable of living in many different kinds of habitats, and they likely occupied a giraffe-like ecological niche because they had long necks.  Fossil remains of macrauchenia are not found anywhere near Cheribiquete National Park, showing how inadequate the fossil record is.

Image

Rock art paintings of pre-historic megafauna.  The art work is poor, but I think they depict a ground sloth and young, gompothere (an animal similar to a mastodon), a llama, an horse, and a bear or another ground sloth?, and a macrauchenia.  It looks like a man is hunting the gompothere (a juvenile?) with a club or atlatl.  It also looks like a man has his armed raised at the ground sloth, but the atlatl isn’t drawn.  In another image it looks like the man is stabbing the bear in the side.

Colombia expands Chiribiquete National Park

The Natives must have used ladders to paint these figures on some of the rock shelters.  They are much higher than a human can reach.  Archaeologists used drones to photograph some of them.

Archaeologists suggest the natives scaled the high rock shelter walls to paint these images.  I think it is more likely they used ladders to reach these heights.  The paintings are thought to vary in age from about 15,000 years BP to the 16th century.  Apparently, natives stopped painting walls shortly after European contact perhaps because the culture shock of this interaction destroyed American civilizations.  The paintings themselves can’t be radio-carbon dated because the substance used was inorganic.  European cave paintings were drawn with charcoal and can be radio-carbon dated.

Some of the articles reporting this discovery are written by people who assume the presence of the animals depicted on the rock shelter walls is evidence of a different local environment during the Late Pleistocene than occurs there today.  This is not necessarily true.  Macrauchenia was a generalist species, and gompotheres likely preferred dense forests.  Clearings in the forest created by gompothere foraging may have sustained populations of horses and llamas.

In addition to the extensive rock shelter drawings, Cheribiquete National Park is home to 82 species of mammals (52 of them bats), an astonishing 410 species of birds, 60 species of reptiles, 57 species of amphibians, 238 species of fish, and over 200 species of butterflies.  Notable animals include jaguars, cougars, monkeys, armadillos, peccaries, tapirs, scarlet macaws, emerald hummingbirds, and harpy eagles.  The park has great potential as a tourist destination.  Unfortunately, it is also an hideout for thousands of FARC rebels.  FARC is an organization that basically is a bunch of communist gangsters who kidnap people for ransom and sell cocaine.  FARC battled the Colombian government for 40 years before finally signing a peace agreement recently, but the region is still not safe enough for tourism.

Pleistocene Alcohol

November 28, 2020

Our evolutionary ancestors accidentally got drunk when they binged on fermented fruit. This still happens to modern day species of monkeys and apes dependent upon fruit for a major part of their diet. In warm tropical regions the sugar in overripe fruits naturally ferments into alcohol when airborne yeast attaches to mold growing on the fruit. Modern humans discovered the fermentation process during the Pleistocene, though evidence is scant. The oldest known evidence of humans deliberately manufacturing alcohol comes from Raqefet Cave near Haifa, Israel, and it dates to 13,000 years BP. Archaeologists actually call the site a brewery. They found traces of barley and wheat beer in stone containers. Bread is likely just a byproduct of beer-making. The euphoria from alcohol consumption is addicting and far more motivating than satisfying hunger with bread when they had plenty of fish and venison to eat and could cook grains into cereal. Archaeologists also discovered evidence of early wine-making in northern China that dates to 9,000 years ago. This wine was made with honey, rice, and grape and/or hawthorn fruit. The latter is a small apple-like fruit that grows on scrubby bushes.

Microscope World Blog: Kids Science Microscope Activity: Yeast

Natural yeast present in the atmosphere converts sugar to alcohol and also makes bread rise.

13,000-Year-Old Brewery Found in Israel | Archaeology | Sci-News.com

Location of Raqefet Cave and photos of the actual stone mortars used 13,000 years ago to store beer.  This ancient beer tasted nothing like modern beer.  It was sour and yeasty tasting.  Hops weren’t added to beer until the Middle Ages. Image from http://www.sci-news.com/archaeology/raqefet-cave-brewery-06412.html

Humans probably discovered, forgot, then rediscovered how to make alcohol dozens of times during the Pleistocene.  Humans have independently discovered the fermentation process at multiple sites around the world just in the past 6,000 years.  However, Pleistocene humans mostly used skins or wooden containers.  Evidence from such organic materials has long since decayed into dust, and the hypothesis that humans commonly manufactured alcohol for tens of thousands of years is impossible to prove.

I think alcohol is the most wonderful all-purpose medicine ever discovered by man.  For myself I prescribe alcohol to treat depression, anxiety attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, Parkinson’s tremors, insomnia, back-ache, stomach-ache, tooth-ache, and erectile disfunction.  If I ever went to a doctor, he would prescribe 9 different drugs to treat each of these different problems.  Imagine how much that would cost.  I’d be spending half my life waiting in the pharmacy.  Oh yeah, and I also use alcohol to get high.  It’s what helps me get through the daily drudgery of my pathetic existence.

References:

Alex, Bridget

“The Search for the World’s Oldest Alcohol”

Discovery Magazine June 2019

McGovern, P. et. al.

“Fermented Beverages of Pre-and Proto- Historic China”

PNAS December 2004

 

Monsters from Georgia

October 31, 2020

The natural world scares many people.  They freak out when they encounter a snake or a spider.  Not me.  I think they are interesting creatures and not something to fear.  For my annual Halloween blog article I could write about snakes or spiders or some ferocious dinosaur or pre-historic mammal that formerly roamed Georgia, but I don’t consider them monsters.  They killed for food, territory, or mates; and their behavior was largely instinctual.  The most terrifying monsters in the history of Georgia are our fellow human beings.  Below is a short summary of the most heinous monsters in Georgia history.

All Confederate soldiers were monsters.  They were fighting, whether they realized it or not, for the institution of slavery.  The Confederacy used extremist militias to take over an entire region of the country, sparking a 5 year conflict that included family members and relatives killing each other.  After the Civil War was over, southern sympathizers imagined and put into writing a revisionist version of what the conflict was about.  The war was over slavery and nothing else.  All the southern state legislatures and governors admitted they were seceding from the Union to preserve the institution of slavery. (You can find these historical documents online.) I believe their confessions. Later revisionists were simply a bunch of cry babies who wanted to pretend  southerners were victims, even though they brought their destruction down upon themselves.  The Confederate soldiers were not victims–they were all slave-owners, sons of slave-owners, or poor shmucks who aspired to be slave-owners.  

Georgia Confederate Muster Rolls | FamilyTree.com

Confederate soldiers from Georgia. They claim they fought for States Rights.  Yeah, the right of states to keep slavery legal.

The next generation of Georgia monsters included racists who lynched innocent black people.  Now, most of the monsters on my list in this article look like ordinary people, but the monsters in the below photo look like refugees from the movie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Just think.  Their grandchildren post pro-Trump propaganda on Facebook today.  Facebook won’t let them use the N-word on their platform, but they have enough influence with Facebook for the platform to ban the word, White Trash, as if it is an equivalent.  (I am currently blocked from posting for 24 hours for saying conservatives = White Trash.)  It’s a false equivalency.  The word, White Trash, refers to a mindset more than a race.

The lynching of a black man in Royston, Ga., around 1935.

Scary bunch of rednecks.

Eugene Talmadge served as Georgia’s governor from 1933-1937 and from 1941-1943.  He won re-election in 1946 but croaked of liver cirrhosis before he could serve in office a third time.  In the 1946 election he lost the popular vote but won the election anyway because Georgia had a rule that whoever won the most counties won the election.  Sound familiar?  Talmadge was an ardent segregationist who believed in slave labor.  He claimed to be a populist (like Trump) but supported the interests of wealthy landowners (like Trump).  He had striking textile workers arrested and put into POW camps.  He complained to President Roosevelt about New Deal public works programs that paid better than local farmers who were used to cheating poor people into working for obscenely low wages.  Talmadge wasn’t much of a reader, but he did read Hitler’s Mein Kampf 7 times, and he sympathized with both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  In turn Germany’s Nazi Party praised Talmadge.  Talmadge attended KKK meetings and bragged about how he flogged black sharecroppers.  As governor, he fired de-segregationists serving on the University of Georgia’s Board of Regents, setting back integration there for decades.  Talmadge was also behind a lynching that resulted in the deaths of 2 young African-American couples.

Eugene Talmadge, Georgia Governor.jpg

Eugene Talmadge, Georgia’s governor for 2 terms during the 1930s and 1940s, read Mein Kampf 7 times and was praised by Germany’s Nazi Party.  He was an ardent segregationist.

William Calley commanded the platoon that murdered 504 old men, women, and children at the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.  He personally shot 22 of them.  Of the 14 men who took part in this war crime, he was the only 1 convicted.  He received a slap on the wrist–3 years of house arrest.  He should have been given the death penalty.  He went on to work in his father-in-law’s jewelry store in Columbus, Georgia.  Most of his customers hade no idea they were buying rings and wristwatches from a monster.

I sent them a good boy and they made him a murderer' - The Pulitzer Prizes

William Calley was found guilty of killing 22 innocent civilians during the My Lai massacre.

Wayne Williams raped and murdered at least 23 teenaged boys during the late 1970s in Atlanta.  He still claims he is innocent, and some of the victim’s parents believe him, but the evidence against him is overwhelming.  He posed as a talent agent to lure his victims into trusting him.  Police caught him throwing a body off a bridge into the Chattahoochee River in the middle of the night, and the murders suddenly stopped when he was taken into custody.  Moreover, 2 witnesses identified Wayne as the person who attempted to sexually assault them before they escaped.  Some additional murders attributed to Wayne may have been committed by other unknown monsters.

Where Is Wayne Williams, Suspect From Atlanta Child Murders Now?

Wayne Williams raped and murdered dozens of black teenagers.  He still claims his innocence, though the police caught him throwing a body off a bridge and the killings stopped once he became incarcerated.

Pleistocene Foot, Hoof, and Paw Prints in New Mexico

October 24, 2020

I worked alongside many young married men when the Augusta Chronicle employed me in their circulation department a few decades ago.  They all complained how their wives refused to have sex with them after having a baby.  My wife had a stroke during the birth of our daughter, and because of her disability I was forced to perform more mothering than most men.  Toddlers between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old go through a clinging stage.  All day long it seemed as if my child was constantly clinging to me or needing me to carry her.  By the time I got her to bed, I was so tired of human contact that sexual intercourse was the last thing I wanted.  Thus, I gained some insight into why the wives of my colleagues were not in the mood for romance after caring for a baby or toddler all day.  Evidence from over 11,000 years ago found in White Sands National Park suggests taking care of a toddler was a mood-killing chore even then.

Equatorial Minnesota: Tracking sloths and people at White Sands National  Monument

Fossilized footprints from the White Sands National Park.

A park employee found fossilized human footprints during 2017, and scientists have been studying them ever since.  A woman or teenaged boy carried a toddler almost a mile near a muddy lakeshore.  The footprints indicate she (or he) periodically set the toddler down to rest.  Dolomite and calcite salts hardened the prints into molds that were quickly covered by mud when heavy rains caused the lake to rise, preserving them for thousands of years.  The woman or teenaged boy carried the toddler in 1 direction, but this individual made a return trip without the toddler.  I think a young woman was dropping her toddler off at grandma’s camp, so she could have some romantic alone time with her husband.  Or maybe a teenaged babysitter was bringing a toddler back to its mother after taking care of it during the parents’ romantic interlude.  The pathway is crisscrossed with mammoth and ground sloth tracks.  Apparently, the trip was worth the risk of encountering large dangerous animals.  The presence of megafauna that became extinct about 11,000 years ago suggests these prints are at least that old.

Other fossilized tracks in White Sands National Monument show prints of children playing in mud puddles made by mammoth and ground sloth tracks, and they show the paw prints of big cats and wolves.  All of the articles I’ve read about this are written by authors who assume these are saber-tooth and dire wolf tracks, but I am unaware of any study differentiating between saber-tooth and other big cat paw prints, nor are their any studies distinguishing dire wolf and timber wolf tracks.  

Climate patterns were much different in southwestern North America during the late Pleistocene.  Annual precipitation rates were much higher, while average annual temperatures and evapotranspiration rates were much lower.  Abundant lakes and lush vegetation covered the landscape, but today, the region is an arid desert. (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/ice-age-western-lakes-and-altered-bird-migrations/ ) Unfortunately, now that these fossilized trackways are exposed they will erode away and disappear forever.

Refererence:

Bennett, M; et al

“Walking in Mud: Remarkable Pleistocene Human Trackways from White Sands National Park (New Mexico)”

Quaternary Science Review 249 December 2020

Homo sapiens is a Meat-Eater

December 9, 2018

An Hindu vegetarian didn’t like my blog post, “Native American Cannibalism and Dog-Eating,” (See: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/native-american-cannibalism-and-dog-eating/ ).  In the comments section he went on a long rant, explaining how humans are frugivores (fruit-eaters) and how humans aren’t anatomically built to eat meat.  He also has a pro-vegetarian website, promoting the same pseudo-science and misinterpretations of scientific facts that he wrote about in my comments section.  He claims meat-eating has been rare throughout human history, and our evolutionary ancestors ate a plant-based diet.  While it may be true that our very ancient ancestors lived on a diet of leaves and fruit with the occasional bird’s egg or insect, humans have evolved significant differences in dietary requirements and capabilities since then.  Meat is actually much easier for humans to digest than plant foods.  For example humans digest 97% of beef but just 89% of flour and 65% of most vegetables.

The ability of humans to digest large quantities of meat helped them survive the harsh climatic conditions of the Pleistocene when edible plant foods often became an unreliable or scarce resource.  If it wasn’t for man’s ability to eat meat, Homo sapiens would likely have become extinct. The added protein also contributed to brain development, making humans more intelligent.  The human brain is a large fatty organ that requires lots of protein.  The larger brain gave humans a crucial advantage over competing species.

The vegetarian’s response to my blog article made me curious about man’s diet during the Ice Age, so I searched for scientific studies of stable isotopic analysis of ancient human remains.  Scientists can determine the past diet of organisms by analyzing their bone chemistry.  I found 2 studies and was surprised to learn just how dependent upon meat at least some populations of humans were.

Image result for neanderthals hunting rhino

Neanderthals relied heavily upon rhino and mammoth meat.

One study determined Neanderthals (H. neanderthalis) enjoyed a diet that was 80% animal and 20% plant.  The authors of this study looked at Neanderthal specimens from Troisiemo Cave in Belgium.  Apparently, Neanderthals relied heavily upon mammoth and rhino for their diet.  Other carnivores in the region fed more on horse, bison, and caribou.  Some scientists believed H. sapiens displaced Neanderthals because they had more flexibility in their diet.  But a 2nd study debunks this notion.  Scientists analyzed the bones of 3 anatomically modern human skeletons from Buran-Kay III, a rock shelter located in Crimea.  The specimens dated to between 37,000 years BP-33,000 years BP–shortly after the most recent date of Neanderthals.  They found these early humans also had a meat heavy diet, though they “possibly” ate more plant foods than Neanderthals.  This population of humans ate Saiga antelope, red deer, horse, and hare; but mammoth was their most important source of food. This study suggests H. sapiens competed with H. neanderthalis for the same food resources.

Image result for bloody sliced sirloin steak

The vegetarian claimed meat is not appetizing and kept comparing it to “roadkill.”  Meat looks appetizing to me.

Image result for dry rub ribs

I’ll eat this roadkill every time.

Humans have continued to evolve since the Pleistocene.  The agricultural revolution has made plant foods more available, and the human body has evolved to eat more of them.  So, I don’t agree with the paleo-diet fad either.  I believe in eating a balanced diet that includes all 4 food groups.

References:

Drucker, D; et. al.

“Isotopic Analysis Suggests Mammoth and Plants in the Diet of the Oldest Anatomically Modern Humans from far Southeastern Europe”

Scientific Reports 2017

Wilburg, C.; et. al.

“Isotopic Evidence for Dietary Ecology of Late Neanderthals in Northwestern Europe”

Quaternary International 2015

Terrifying Trench Warfare Caused the Flu Pandemic of 1918

October 29, 2018

Halloween scares are silly compared to the real world.  The universe is a really scary place, considering the potential for random disasters that could wipe out life on earth or at least a large segment of it.  Supernovas, asteroid impacts, tsunamis, and tornadoes are far scarier than a kid wearing a mask.  The other day I saw my cat terrorizing and killing a baby squirrel, and I thought to myself how harsh the universe can be for living organisms.   That particular animal never had a chance.  One would think humans would always be comforting and helpful to each other because the universe is so unforgiving.  History shows just the opposite is often true.  Humans kill other humans–a behavioral trait inherited from their evolutionary ancestors.  During the 20th century this frightening trait was illustrated in 2 world wars that left 67 million people dead.

Image result for WWI no man's land

No man’s land on a battlefield in France during WWI.  Imagine being ordered to cross this into an hail of burning steel.

Image result for trench warfare

Before the widespread strategic use of tanks trench warfare resulted in years of bloody stalemate on the Western front during WWI.

World War II caused more deaths than WWI, but battles in the earlier conflict were bloodier.  Men fought in static lines of trenches before the widespread use of tanks.  During WWII mobile tank warfare led to breakthroughs when many army divisions could be surrounded and thousands of troops would be forced to surrender.  Being in a prisoner of war camp sucked, but it was better than death.  But during WWI generals tried to break through enemy trench lines by bum-rushing opposing trenches with a mass of soldiers.  It was like forcing living human flesh through a meat grinder.  At the sound of a whistle 20 year old men were ordered to run across a devastated landscape known as “no man’s land.”  They ran into machine gun fire, artillery barrages, minefields, barbed wire, and poison gas.  Men were slaughtered and these attacks frequently failed.  Death notices were sent to thousands of families, following these futile offensives.  Just think how terrifying it was for these young men to know they were facing near certain death at the sound of a whistle.

The short lifespan of troops participating in trench warfare selected for an unusual strain of virus.  Most influenza viruses are not that deadly because if the host dies rapidly, fewer virus spores will survive to infect other hosts.  But hosts were dying rapidly in WWI trenches, and a virulent strain of virus, known as the Spanish flu, was just as likely to infect other hosts as the less virulent strains.  The virus began to spread in the spring of 1918.  Demobilization during the fall of 1918 when soldiers rejoined the civilian world caused a surge in the pandemic.  The Spanish flu continued to afflict the populations through the winter of 1919.  Scientists estimate this influenza virus killed 50-100 million people–probably more than both world wars combined.  It infected 25% of the world population and had a mortality rate of 5%-10% (most influenza viruses have a mortality rate of .1%).  Healthy people in their  20’s and 30’s suffered an higher mortality rate than the elderly who are usually more vulnerable to flu epidemics.  Scientists think this flu strain was different from the initial flu strain this generation first encountered during the 1890’s, and their imprinted immune systems were maladapted for it.

Image result for spanish flu virus

Spanish flu virus.

Image result for people dying of Spanish flu

The Spanish flu virus may have killed up to 100 million people.

I’m not afraid of vampires, werewolves, and witches; but the possibility of global war and disease pandemics are much more frightening to contemplate.

Reference:

unnamed author

“A Deadly Touch of Flu”

The Economist September 29, 2018

Pleistocene Bread

August 9, 2018

It is the 20th anniversary of my sourdough starter.  With my sourdough culture I make great bread, pancakes, and dumplings; and it can also serve as an excellent coating for fried fish and shrimp.  Wild yeast living in the atmosphere of Augusta, Georgia helps my bread rise without the need for store-bought yeast during summer months.  (The wild yeast needs some help when the house is cold.)  The discovery of bread must have been an happy and tasty accident.  Hunter-gatherers collected the seeds of wheat and other grains, but to make them more palatable, they removed the chaff, pounded the grains with rocks, and cooked them in water.  Crushed grains left over night or for a few days fermented.  This gruel could be consumed as a primitive beer or baked into bread.  Archaeologists debate over whether beer was a byproduct of bread-making or vice-versa.  Most think the effort to gather individual grass seeds was so tedious when many other plant and animal foods were available that only the desire for alcohol would’ve inspired primitive people to labor so intensely.  It should be noted this primitive beer did not taste like modern beer.  It was sour.  Bitter hops weren’t added to beer until the year 736 AD in Germany.

I started my sour dough culture in 1998 by exposing flour and water to air.

My sourdough bread fresh from the oven.

Archaeologists believe humans didn’t deliberately plant wheat until 10,000 years ago.  Yet, burnt bread crumbs, resembling toaster detritus, were recently discovered at a site dated to 14,400 years ago in Jordan.  The Natufians, hunter-gatherers roaming through the Middle East then, lived in sunken houses with stone floors and fireplaces, and apparently, they made bread.  Today, this region is a desert, but during the late Pleistocene it was an open woodland with many species of edible grasses growing between widely spaced trees.  The people often feasted on gazelle, wild sheep, and hare; and they ate bread too.  The bread was made with a mixture of primitive wheat, rye, millet, barley, possibly oat, and papyrus root.  The latter ingredient likely added necessary sugar to help fuel the yeast.  Modern bakers always add a little sugar or honey to their bread dough.  Archaeologists sifting though the site found 65,000 plant specimens including 95 species, but papyrus was by far the most common making up 50,000 of the specimens.  They also found mustard seed, peas, and of course the wheat, barley, rye, millet, and oats.  Mustard greens are edible, and the seeds were probably used as a condiment.  So some people were already eating bread during the Pleistocene.

Image result for Natufian house foundation

Artist’s representation of Natufian houses in Jordan 14,000 years ago.  The foundations are still visible.  They made bread in these houses.  The landscape was not as barren then as depicted in the illustration.

Reference:

Otaegui, P.; et. al.

“Archaeobotanical Evidence Reveals the Origin of Bread 14,400 Years Ago in North-Eastern Jordan”

PNAS July 2018

See also: https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/humans-cultivated-figs-during-the-pleistocene/

A Relic Population of Pleistocene Man (Homo sapiens) on North Sentinel Island

March 22, 2018

Homo sapiens first left Africa about 60,000 years ago.  Most of the original tribes that left Africa either perished in the harsh environments of Asia or were replaced by later arriving tribes that had developed superior technology or subsistence strategies.  The people who eventually conquered Asia look and behave quite differently from the initial African colonizers.  However, there is a relic population of early Homo sapiens on the Andaman Islands located in the Bay of Bengal near Malaysia.  Scientists believe a land bridge connected the Andaman Islands with Malaysia during Ice Ages and early Homo sapiens walked there.  Rising sea levels isolated the Andamanese and protected them from being killed or assimilated by groups that later conquered Asia.  Genetic evidence suggests the Andaman Islanders diverged from the rest of humanity 60,000 years ago.

Andaman Islands.PNG

Location of the Andaman Islands.  They were connected to Malaysia during Ice Ages due to lower sea levels.

The Andaman Islanders are related to African pygmies but are considered negrittos–people smaller than average in size but larger than pygmies.  This smaller stature probably helps them survive on islands where they have less food.  It’s an evolutionary advantage to have lower caloric intake needs on islands, and dwarfism is common among large species of mammals that became trapped on islands.  People on 1 particular Andaman Island known as North Sentinel have been isolated longer than any other Andaman Islanders.  Their language is far different from the 2 languages spoken on the other Andaman Islands, and they have incredibly primitive technology.  All attempts to communicate with them have failed because no one in the outside world understands their language. The North Sentinelese kill outsiders on sight, explaining why they have been isolated for so long.  They have no agriculture, and some believe they depend on lightning strikes for fire, though I doubt this.  I think our evolutionary ancestors (H. heidelbergensis and H. erectus) had fire, but who knows–maybe the North Sentinelese forgot fire-making knowledge.

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The unfriendly North Sentinelese attack outsiders on sight.  Here, they are about to shoot arrows at a passing helicopter. Note the red-ochre painted faces.

There are only 40-400 North Sentinelese living on the 24 square mile island.  The island vegetation prevents an aerial survey of the population.  They eat wild pigs, fish and shellfish, and wild plant foods.  The Indian government (owners of the Andaman Islands) abandoned attempts to contact the tribe and outlawed other outsiders from visiting the island.  It’s unsafe for outsiders because they will be attacked, and introduction of infectious diseases would probably wipe out North Sentinelese because their immune systems have been isolated from other humans for so long.  The North Sentinelese recently murdered 2 drunken fishermen who drifted too close to shore.  Also not long ago, a typhoon wrecked an oil tanker on a coral reef off the island, and the crew had to fight for their lives before being rescued.  The North Sentinelese stripped the ship bare.  They shoot arrows at all passing helicopters.

The North Sentinelese represent what Pleistocene man was like 60,000 years ago.  Pleistocene people were small of stature and dark-skinned.  Genetic evidence of a 10,000 year old skeleton in Britain suggests even some Europeans were dark-skinned during the Pleistocene.  They had primitive technology and were hostile to strangers.  The descendants of these small violent humans conquered the world.

Reference:

Endicott, P. et. al.

“The Genetic Origins of the Andaman Islanders”

American Journal of Human Genetics  72 (1) 2003