from the world's big
Artifacts uncovered in southeast Asia offer clues on early complex human cultures.
- Archaeologists discovered a trove of bone tools used roughly 48,000 years ago in a Sri Lankan cave.
- Uncovered artifacts include the earliest known bow-and-arrow devices found out of Africa, weaving utensils, and decorative beads chiseled from the tips of marine snail shells.
- The findings underline the necessity of looking for early Homo sapien innovation in regions outside of the grasslands and coasts of Africa or Europe, where much of the research has been focused.
New discoveries<p>The study was led by Michelle Langley, an archaeologist at Australia's Griffith University, along with other researchers from Griffith, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH), and the Sri Lankan Government's Department of Archaeology.</p><p>The scientists examined tools and artifacts used between 48,000 and 4,000 years ago that were discovered in the Fa-Hien Lena cave site located in Sri Lanka's southwest tropical forests, an area that has become one of the most important archaeological sites in South Asia since the 1980s. The assemblage of artifacts included 130 of the earliest known bone-arrow tips found out of Africa along with 29 utensils likely used to make clothing or bags. Also excavated were decorative beads chiseled from the tips of marine snail shells and the world's oldest known beads made of red ochre — an ancient pigment used for a variety of things from body paint to sunscreen.</p><p>Archaeologists believe that these tools correspond to four phases of ancient human habitation of the site. Using radiocarbon technology to date thirty items from the site, researchers were able to create a timeline detailing how the tools evolved to become more sophisticated over time.</p><p>"Most of these tools were made out of monkey bone, and many of them appear to have been carefully shaped into arrowheads," <a href="https://experts.griffith.edu.au/8914-michelle-langley" target="_blank">Langley</a> told Tim Vernimmen of <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/06/tools-human-early-migration-rainforest-sri-lanka/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>. "They are too small and light to have been spearheads, which need some weight to gain force, and too heavy and blunt to have been blow darts."</p><p>On close inspection, the size, forms and fractures found on many of the bone points led the researchers to believe that they were used as arrow tips for bow-and-arrow hunting to catch swift and nimble rainforest prey like monkeys and other tree-dwelling creatures. The arrow points increased in length over time for the purpose of hunting larger mammals like deer. If the researcher's conclusions are correct, this finding marks the earliest definitive proof of high-powered projectile hunting in a tropical rainforest environment.</p><p>Additionally, the team uncovered a range of other bone and tooth tools used for scraping and piercing. They were likely used for making nets and working animal skins or plant fibers in the tropical environment.</p><p>"Evidence for the construction of nets is extremely scarce in artifacts many thousands of years old, making this aspect of the Fa-Hien Lena assemblage a startling find," Langley said in <a href="https://news.griffith.edu.au/2020/06/15/discovery-of-oldest-bow-and-arrow-technology-outside-africa/" target="_blank">a Griffith University press release</a>. Because this wasn't a cold region, the authors opine that the clothing made with the assemblage of tools may have been used for protection from insect-borne diseases.</p><p>Other tools discovered at the site were identified as implements probably associated with freshwater fishing.</p>
Out of Africa and into the rainforest<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQxMDExMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ3NjQ4N30.6JVTKeCHRhzvg5lejtnsxf-2y0n1pHAch0MrxJSre1Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="56032" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a86a57e2bb25a4caa3d1777fbcd060b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="assortment of bone arrowheads and tools" />
"Bone projectile points (A to H) and scrapers (I to K) from Fa-Hien Lena. (A and B) Geometric bipoints, with (B) coming from phase D context 146; (C and F) hilted bipoint, red arrows indicate cut notches; (D and E) hilted unipoints, red arrows and red circle indicate wear indicating fixed hafting; (G and H) symmetrical bipoints"
Langley et al., 2020<p>Before the great migration out of Africa, smaller groups of humans began to leave the continent between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago eventually migrating into South Asia. These findings offer clues as to how our ancient ancestors adapted to diverse, precarious environments during their global expansion, such as the tropical rainforest. Though the early humans of South Asia likely didn't make their abode in the densely vegetated forest right away, opting instead for the coast, their decedents eventually would. And that move required some nifty new survival technology. </p><p>The researchers pointed out that their discoveries of these ancient tools underline the necessity of looking for early <em>Homo sapien</em> innovation in regions outside of the grasslands and coasts of Africa, or Europe where much of the research has been focused.</p><p>"[T]his traditional focus has meant that other parts of Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Americas have often been sidelined in discussions of the origins of material culture, such as novel projectile hunting methods or cultural innovations associated with our species," <a href="https://news.griffith.edu.au/2020/06/15/discovery-of-oldest-bow-and-arrow-technology-outside-africa/" target="_blank">said Patrick Roberts</a> from MPI-SHH. </p>
Complex human societies<p>The shell beads that the team found indicate that the ancient forest dwellers traded with the populations that stayed along the coast. The beads were rounded and pierced, suggesting that they were strung. Earlier dated beads (around 8,700 years old) were made from red ochre nodules. The ancient jewelry is gauged to be similar in age to other "social signaling" materials found in Eurasia and Southeast Asia, according to the authors, which was around 45,000 years ago. This highlights the importance of establishing social connections for these early people through trade and symbol. </p><p>"Together, these artifacts reveal a rich human culture in the tropics of South Asia which was creating and utilizing complex hunting and social technologies to not only survive, but thrive, in demanding rainforest environments," concluded study co-author Patrick Roberts, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Queensland.</p>
Inbreeding leads to a problematically small gene pool.
We'd like to think that judging people's worth based on the shape of their head is a practice that's behind us.
'Phrenology' has an old-fashioned ring to it. It sounds like it belongs in a history book, filed somewhere between bloodletting and velocipedes.
The discovery may change what we know about early humans in Europe.
- Newly found human remains in Bulgaria have pushed back the date of Homo sapiens arriving in Europe by thousands of years.
- The site was also littered with animal remains and stone tools.
- These humans were not part of the tool-making culture that replaced the Neanderthals, leaving the fate of the discovered group a mystery.
The first modern humans in Europe?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="rmavKR0g" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="a90da9fe163529e8d4633f1250c4f325"> <div id="botr_rmavKR0g_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/rmavKR0g-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/rmavKR0g-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/rmavKR0g-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>One of the more popular models for the spread of anatomically modern humans out of Africa suggests that they reached the Middle East 50,000 years ago and then began to move into Europe. This discovery lends weight to that theory, as it would fit the timeline very nicely.</p><p>The cave also had a variety of stone tools and ornaments inside. These were made from quality flint brought with them over great distances and refined in ways particular to the Initial Upper Paleolithic time frame, giving even more evidence of exactly when these people lived. </p><p>The similarities between some of the ornaments found, including jewelry made from animal teeth, to items found at Neanderthal sites from thousands of years later led the authors to speculate that these first arrivals from the Middle East may have influenced the Neanderthals. <br> <br> Of course, you mustn't forget Neanderthals were already doing their own thing for a <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/neanderthals-fish-brain" target="_blank">while</a>, including making tools and jewelry. While it is possible that the newcomers influenced them, it is also possible that they weren't. As the Neanderthals were ultimately replaced by later arriving <em>Homo-Sapiens</em>, known as the Aurignacian culture, this new group may have been a mere blip on their Paleolithic radar. </p><p>There is also the highly controversial claim that a 210,000-year-old skull belonging to an anatomically modern human was found in Greece a while <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/greek-skull-oldest-human-homo-sapiens-outside-africa" target="_blank">back</a>. However, that finding was unable to confirm exactly what species the skull in question belonged to. </p><p>The Bulgarian discovery also adds a curious chapter into human history, as the members of this group were not members of the group of modern humans that ultimately replaced the Neanderthals, albeit with some interbreeding with their neighbors. That latter group dates back to 43,000 years ago at most, meaning that the residents of Bacho Kiro Cave were a few thousand years too early to the party. </p><p>For whatever reason, their attempt to move into Europe was either a failure, too limited in size and scope to be part of the replacement of the Neanderthals, or was somehow otherwise unable to gain a foothold on the <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/earliest-known-humans-europe-bacho-kiro-bulgaria" target="_blank">continent</a>. Finding out why this is will be a very interesting topic for future research. </p><p>Perhaps they only found Europe to be a nice place to <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/palaeontology/early-fossil-evidence-of-humans-in-europe" target="_blank">visit</a>. </p>
Many of the bathrooms uncovered at Pompeii and elsewhere were communal.
We've all been caught unawares by our digestive tract at one time or another.
Wikimedia Commons<p>OK, so ancient Roman pooping habits seem strange, but what about their customs around pee?</p><p>As best we can tell from historic and archaeological data, ancient Romans peed in small pots in their homes, offices, and shops. When those small pots became full, they dumped them into large jars out in the street. Just like with your garbage, a crew came by once a week to collect those hefty pots of pee and bring them to the laundromat. Why? Because ancient Romans washed their togas and tunics in pee!</p><p>Human urine is full of ammonia and other chemicals that are great natural detergents. If you worked in a Roman laundromat, your job was to stomp on clothes all day long—barefoot and ankle deep in colossal vats of human pee.</p><p>(Frankly, I wonder why we haven't emulated this aspect of Roman culture in our age of green, eco-friendly, and sustainable businesses. I'm thinking of opening a chain called Urine-Urout All-Natural Laundromat. It's a sparkling business opportunity!)</p><p>As peculiar as personal hygiene practices in ancient Rome may seem to us, the historical fact is that many Romans successfully and sustainably used tersoria and washed their clothes in pee for several centuries—far longer than we've used toilet paper. Indeed, toilet paper is not a universal technology even today, as any trip to India, rural Ethiopia, or remote areas of China will make abundantly clear.</p><p>The memorable stop we made for my son in rural Colorado will always remind me of our culture's widespread dependence on toilet paper. We've become so accustomed to the stuff that we are loath to consider widely used alternatives. (Heck, even the elegant bidet gets short shrift in our society.)</p>