Anthro in the news 6/10/13

A badger at a rescue center. / Wikipedia Commons

Badgers beware

National Geographic news covered the ongoing debate in Britain about the badger situation and whether or not to cull. The article quotes AW’s Sean Carey, a research fellow at the University of Roehampton’s Department of Social Science, said that the debate has some quintessentially British aspects to it. “To some extent, it’s a rerun of the fox-hunting debate, a split between town and country. The townie has a romanticized version of the badger, which has a privileged place in English literature. Mr. Badger in The Wind in the Willows is an outsider but has heroic qualities. The country farmer, on the other hand, prides himself on realism. It’s a case of ‘let’s get rid of the sentiment and get practical,'” he said. In the House of Commons, the Labour Party demand that badger culls be abandoned was rejected by a vote of 299 to 250.

Kathy Jefferson Bancroft, tribal historic preservation officer / Louis Sahagun, LA Times

Paiute massacre site source of new disputes

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Indian oral histories and U.S. Cavalry records offer insights into a horrific massacre in 1863 when thirty-five Paiute Indians were chased into Owens Lake by settlers and soldiers to drown or be gunned down. California DPW (Department of Water and Power) archaeologists discovered the site a year ago, but its existence was not revealed to prevent vandalism. A dispute has arisen between the DWP and air pollution authorities is forcing it into the open. The site is on a section of the lake bed that state air pollution authorities say contributes to dust storms that create a public health hazard. The site also involves Indian heritage protection. Kathy Jefferson Bancroft, tribal historic preservation officer for the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Reservation is quoted as saying: “Just over there, 150 years ago, our people ran into the water and then were picked off…We take this personally — my grandmother told me about this massacre and she knew the people it happened to…This ground, and the artifacts in it, is who we are.” She wants the land to be left undisturbed.

Very old canoes

Ancient Britons made hundreds of thousands of dugout canoes, archaeologists now believe. Analysis of a key long-buried ancient river channel in Cambridgeshire suggests that canoes, made of tree trunks, were the basic transport in prehistoric times. Archaeologists and conservators are attempting to save eight of canoes in a specially designed cold store conservation facility at a Bronze Age site and museum at Flag Fen near Peterborough. The boats date from 1600 to 1000 BCE.

• Early immigrants to Bronze Age Britain

According to a report in The Telegraph, archaeologists analyzing findings from burial pits in Suffolk have found that immigrants were settling in Britain as far back as 3,000 years ago. Immigrants at that time came from Scandinavia, the western Mediterranean, and  North Africa. Findings are published in British Archaeology. Mike Pitts, the editor, said: “This is the first burial site of its type that we’ve found and it reveals that Britain was always part of a bigger landscape that includes most of Europe.”

Lost and found: Sunken city in the Mediterranean

The Australian, among other mainstream media outlets, carried an article about  an Egyptian city, swallowed by sand and sea more than 1,200 years ago. Elsbeth van der Wilt, a University of Oxford archaeologist working at the site, said the port played an important role in the network of long-distance trade in the Eastern Mediterranean and would have been among the first stops for foreign merchants arriving in Egypt: “Excavations in the harbour basins yielded an interesting group of lead weights, likely to have been used by both temple officials and merchants in the payment of taxes and the purchasing of goods. Among these are an important group of Athenian weights. It is the first time that weights like these have been identified during excavations in Egypt.” The article includes a video.

Scientists have raised concern about the health effects of the smoke released from burning wood. / Wikimedia Commons

First case of very old case of cancer

The finding of a cancerous tumor in the rib of a Neanderthal specimen predates previous evidence of such a tumor over 100,000 years. Prior to this research, the earliest known bone cancers occurred in samples approximately 1,000-4,000 years old. The cancerous rib, recovered from Krapina in Croatia, is an incomplete specimen, and thus the researchers were unable to comment on the overall health effects the tumor may have had on this individual. Findings are published in PLoS One by David Frayer from the University of Kansas and co-researchers. Science Daily quotes Frayer as saying that “Evidence for cancer is extremely rare in the human fossil record. This case shows that Neandertals, living in an unpolluted environment, were susceptible to the same kind of cancer as living humans.” However, in an interview with CBS news, he clarifies that Neanderthals did not always live in a completely clean air environment: “They didn’t have pesticides, but they probably were sleeping in caves with burning fires…They were probably inhaling a lot of smoke from the caves. So the air was not completely free of pollutants — but certainly, these Neanderthals weren’t smoking cigarettes.”

Let them eat grass

The Republic and Science Daily discussed a new study showing a major change in the diet of African hominids about 3.5 million years ago when some ancestors added grasses or sedges to their menus. Tests on tooth enamel indicate that prior to about 4 million years ago, Africa’s hominids had a chimpanzee diet that included fruits and some leaves. According to CU-Boulder anthropology professor Matt Sponheimer, lead study author, despite the availability of grasses and sedges, the hominids seem to have ignored them for an extended period: “We don’t know exactly what happened…But we do know that after about 3.5 million years ago, some of these hominids started to eat things that they did not eat before, and it is quite possible that these changes in diet were an important step in becoming human.” Findings are published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences along with three related papers.

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