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Ancient

Scientists have found traces of a “super-ancient” human population in the DNA of Denisovans

Paleogenetics from the United States found in the DNA of Denisovans and Neanderthals traces of an extremely ancient population of people that separated from the general tree of human evolution almost 2 million years ago. They met with a common ancestor of Denisovans and Neanderthals about 750 thousand years ago, scientists write in the journal Science Advances.

Alan Rogers, a professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City (USA), and his colleagues writes:

“Recently, we learned that the ancestors of the modern inhabitants of Eurasia came into contact with ancient people, Neanderthals and Denisovans. We managed to show that hundreds of thousands of years before that, both came into contact with an even more archaic population of people who first settled in the territory Europe and Asia”

10 years ago, Russian anthropologists and paleogenetics, announced the discovery of the so-called Denisovans, a previously unknown species of people whose remains were found in the Denisova Cave in Altai. Scientists were able to make this discovery due to the fact that they were able to extract and study fragments of the Denisov genome, preserved inside the teeth and knuckles.

Initially, their discoverers believed that the ancient inhabitants of Altai were relatives of Neanderthals living in the Denisova Cave about 50 thousand years ago. Subsequently, it turned out that Denisovans appeared much earlier and were a separate subspecies of people whose traces of DNA were preserved in the genomes of modern Polynesians, Indians of South America and some peoples of Southeast Asia.

The similarities in the DNA structure of Denisovans and Neanderthals, Rogers says, led many scientists to believe that they were close relatives, whose common ancestor left Africa about 600-800 thousand years ago. In the past five years, scientists have been fiercely arguing about what happened next and when the “purebred” Homo neanderthalensis and their Altai “cousins” appeared.

In particular, Rogers and his colleagues suggested three years ago, comparing the DNA of Neanderthals and Denisovans, that their ancestors split unexpectedly early, about 700 thousand years ago. Their opponents, anthropologists believe that this happened much later, referring to the fact that the small size of the populations of ancient people distorted the results of Rogers calculations.

First people of the earth

These discrepancies and disputes, as Rogers found out, were caused by the fact that the DNA of Neanderthals and Denisovans hides traces of another, much more ancient population of people, which is extremely distant in genetic terms from all other known representatives of the genus Homo.

Paleogenetics came to this conclusion using a new technique that allows us to find common features and differences in the genomes of modern Eurasians, Africans, as well as Neanderthals and Denisovans. Comparing how often common and unique mutations occurred for each of these representatives of the genus Homo, scientists tried to understand whether traces of previously unknown groups of ancient people were hidden in their genomes.

A large number of common mutations in the genomes of Neanderthals and Denisovans, as well as their absence among Europeans and Africans, indicated that the common ancestor of the first two species came into contact with a previously unknown and very ancient population of people. The number of this group of ancient Homo was quite large, reaching a mark of 20-50 thousand individuals.

Scientists’ calculations show that its representatives separated from the general tree of human evolution about 2 million years ago. This suggests that these ancient hominids are among the Homo erectus, bipedal people, the oldest “Eurasian” remains of which were found in Georgian Dmanisi at the end of the last century.

Representatives of this ancient species of hominids, as shown by the calculations of Rogers and his colleagues, have existed in Eurasia for a very long time. According to researchers, they should not have disappeared earlier than 750 thousand years ago, when they met with the first populations of common ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans who left Africa. Subsequently, as scientists suggest, these people could additionally contact the Altai Homo.

According to researchers, these ancient people survived about the same fate as the Neanderthals and Denisovans, who disappeared about 50 thousand years ago under the onslaught of new “migrants” from Africa, the ancestors of modern Homo sapiens. Studying their genetic heritage, as Rogers and his team hope, will help uncover the mystery of their disappearance and reveal their role in the evolution of mankind.

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Ancient

The mystery of the disappearance of Sanxingdui culture

In 1929, a Chinese peasant was digging a ditch. Suddenly, his shovel turned a layer of earth with jade figures. It was luck, there were many figures. Most of them went into private collections, and of course, archaeologists became more active. The area was studied for a long time, but there were no more finds.

However, in 1986 there was a sensational event. Workers at a local brick factory accidentally discovered two huge pits filled with artifacts made from various materials – clay, jade, bronze, gold – about 1,000 pieces.

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Archaeologists began an intensive search around, and at the end, there was a lucky strike. Just thirty meters from the first, a second cache was found.

The artistic style in which bronze, ivory and gold objects were made was completely unknown to connoisseurs of ancient Chinese art.

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The contents of the caches turned out to be so unusual that from that moment, the name of the carried out locality was forever inscribed in the history of Chinese archeology.

The artistic style of these works has struck the whole world.

There were gold masks, axes and jade knives, many shells … and mysterious bronze heads with large slanting eyes and sharp ears.

Especially a lot of them were cast bronze products, and the manufacturing technology was amazing. For large objects, the ancient metallurgists used stronger alloys, for this, lead was added to the amalgam of copper and tin, at that time they already knew such subtleties.

Among the large artifacts there is a 4 m high tree and the largest bronze statue in the world, the height of which together with a pedestal is 2.62 m. The statue weighs 180 kg and has an unusual tiara on its head.

The carbon analysis which was carried out, allowed us to determine their age – it ranged from 3 to 5 thousand years.

What is Sanxingdui? Now that archaeologists have been working in these places for many years, it is clear that people lived in Sanxingdui long before Qin Shi Huang established the first imperial dynasty and created the famous terracotta army, and even before the era of the Battle of the Kings.

The settlement appeared here at the end of the Neolithic (the earliest finds date back to about 2800 BC) and continued to exist during the Early Bronze Age.

It reached its heyday in 2100-1400 BC, which corresponds to the so-called “kingdom of Shang-Yin” in traditional Chinese historiography, located in the Yellow River basin, that is, northwest of Sichuan, where Sanxingdui is located.

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In 1992, the Sanxingdui Museum was opened, where you can see all these artifacts.

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Ancient

Researchers will determine the age of the ‘Giant of Cerne Abbas’ geoglyph

Phillip Toms of the University of Gloucestershire and his colleagues will study samples taken from the elbows and feet of the Giant of Cairn-Abbas, the famous geoglyph located in the English county of Dorset. Scientists want to clarify the age of this image.

The Giant was carved on a hillside near the present village of Cerne Abbas. Due to the removal of the surface soil layer, the Cretaceous rock was exposed, and as a result, an image of a naked man appeared. Its height is 55 meters, width – 51 meters (due to arms apart). In his right hand he holds a club with a length of 37 meters. Studies have shown that the giant had a cloak draped over his left hand.

The first mention of the Giant of Cerne Abbas in written sources dates back to November 4, 1694. In the “Reports of Church Ministers from St. Mary’s Church in Cerne Abbas” on this date it is indicated that three shillings were spent on the “restoration of the giant”. In 1734, the Giant was described by the Bishop of Bristol, who examined the local landmark during a visit to Cerne Abbas. Four years later, the giant was mentioned in a letter by the antique dealer Francis Wise, and in 1764 he was discussed at a meeting of the London Society of Antiquaries.

Scientists have not yet agreed on whether it appeared in the 16th century or was created earlier. There are currently three main theories. According to one of them, the Giant was carved in a hillside on the orders of the local Lord Denzil Holles and is a caricature of Oliver Cromwell. Halls and Cromwell, although both sided with parliament, were fierce political opponents, and Cromwell even put forward charges against Holz of clandestine ties with King Charles I, who was in besieged Oxford. The version of Halls’s connection with the Giant of Cerne Abbas is based on a report from the 18th century antiquary John Hutchins, who mentioned in a letter that the estate manager told him that “the figure was modern, carved in the time of Lord Hall”.

Proponents of another theory believe that the Giant dates back to Roman times. They note the similarity of the figure with the traditional images of Hercules , which became especially noticeable after the discovery of traces of the cloak (in this version the “cloak” is considered the skin of a Nemean lion). Finally, the third version connects the Giant of Cerne Abbas with Celtic culture. Its appearance is caused by the similarity of the Giant with the image of the Celtic god on the handle of the pan found in Hod Hill in Dorset, which dates from about 10-51 years of our era.

Current researchers intend to use optically stimulated luminescent dating, which allows us to establish how long ago sunlight was exposed to minerals for the last time. “It is likely that the tests will give us a range of dates, not a specific age, but we hope that they will help us better understand and take care of this famous landmark,” says archaeologist Martin Papworth.

Gordon Bishop, chairman of the historical society of Cerne Abbas, said that although some villagers “would prefer the age and origin of the Giant to remain a mystery,” most would like to know at least if he is ancient or only a few hundred years old.

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Ancient

The mystery of the Anasazi, the mystical “tree of life”

In the XII century BC, when the pharaohs and kings ruled the world, representatives of the Indian Anasazi culture lived on the territory of the American states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. 

They are known for having built the huge city of Pueblo Bonito, on the main square of which a 6-meter pine tree grew. Since there were no other trees growing near the settlement, it was believed that the giant pine tree was sacred to the Anasazi people and was used for religious purposes . However, this assumption was recently rejected because American scientists found that the tree originally grew in a completely different place.

Computer-recreated image of a pueblo bonito with a huge pine tree in the main square

The Tree of Life in the USA

About how scientists managed to dispel myths about the “tree of life” of the city of Pueblo Bonito, was described in the scientific journal ScienceAlert. A settlement of 8,000 square meters, consisting of more than 650 rooms, was first discovered in 1849 by Lieutenant of the American Army, James Simpson. The initial excavations were carried out from 1896 to 1900, during which archaeologists found rooms and other parts of the city. The remains of a tall tree of the species Oregon pine ( Pinus ponderosa ), which was given the name “tree of life”, were found only in 1924.

Photos from the excavation site of Pueblo Bonito

A pine tree was found under the topsoil, and scientists were surprised that the tree survived well even after several hundred years. The leader of the expedition, Neil Judd, shared that the tree had huge roots, so in those days, scientists were sure that the tree originally grew in its place. However, then the researchers came to the conclusion that they deal only with parts of the roots, and not with the entire root system. In addition, at the time of discovery, the tree lay on the ground, so it could be assumed that it had no sacred status and the ancient inhabitants of Pueblo Bonito dragged it from a completely different place.

This assumption was proved after scientists studied the tree rings inside the trunk and found evidence that the tree grew in the Chuska massif. It is located about 80 kilometers from Pueblo Bonito, so researchers can not even imagine how the ancient people managed to move a huge pine tree to such a great distance. Most likely, representatives of the ancient culture did not cut down the tree, but it fell by itself. It could be assumed that the trunk was subsequently dragged, but nearby archaeologists did not find any such traces. Also, they do not know in what position the tree was placed inside the city – it could stand like a pillar or lay along with other logs intended for construction.

Cross section of a sample taken from a tree found in Pueblo Bonito Square

Mysteries of Antiquity

Be that as it may, at the moment the myth of the sacredness of the tree inside the city of Pueblo Bonito can be considered dispelled. But not only the tree, but also the settlement itself was shrouded in riddles. The fact is that people in it clearly did not live on a permanent basis, because on the earth no objects were found that representatives of the Indian Anasazi culture used daily. It turns out that people visited this place only on special occasions and temporarily lived in hundreds of small “houses”, some of which were multi-levelled. Most likely, during mass gatherings, people shared sacred knowledge and performed rituals.

Sacred ceremonies could be held inside the city of Pueblo Bonito, but the tree clearly did not play any role in them.

In general, the city of Pueblo Bonito can be called as important a historical site as Stonehenge in the UK. But it was not preserved as well as it could, because it was built in a very dangerous place. Near the building was a 30-meter rock, part of which weighed more than 30 thousand tons and for many centuries risked collapse. That is why it was known as “threatening rock.” Ultimately, the collapse occurred in 1941 and a rock damaged one of the great walls of the city and some dwellings.

“Threatening rock” before and after the fall

In general, on our planet there are a huge number of historical objects surrounded by secrets. For example, on the island of Easter located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, there are more than 800 huge statues called moai. Locals still believe that they contain the supernatural power of their ancestors. But recently, scientists have found that they were used by ancient people for other purposes.

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