Study concludes 33,000-year-old-skull shows signs of blunt force trauma

Study concludes 33,000-year-old-skull shows signs of blunt force trauma

Enlarge / Right lateral view of the Cioclovina calvaria exhibiting a large depressed fracture. A new paper concludes this is evidence of fatal blunt force trauma. (credit: Kranoti et al, 2019)

Some 33,000 years ago, a man was violently clubbed to death by a left-handed attacker wielding a club or similar object. That’s the conclusion of an international team of scientists, who published the results of their forensic analysis in a recent paper in PLOS ONE.

The so-called Cioclovina calvaria is a fossilized skull around 33,000 years old, discovered in a cave in South Transylvania in 1941 during a mining operation. That makes it one of the earliest fossilized human remains yet known, so naturally it’s been studied extensively by scientists interested in learning more about the Upper Paleolithic period, which started around 40,000 to 45,000 years, and marks the major dispersal of modern humans in Europe.

“The Cioclovina individual

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We probably don’t descend from Australopithecus sediba

We probably don’t descend from Australopithecus sediba

Enlarge / According to Du and Alemseged, A. sediba is probably not our direct ancestor. (credit: Brett Eloff courtesy Profberger and Wits University)

Sometime around 2 million years ago, a group of bipedal hominins in Eastern Africa gradually evolved into something that looked and acted enough like us to be part of our genus, Homo. This was an important moment in the evolutionary history of our species, but paleoanthropologists aren’t sure yet exactly which species actually gave rise to our branch of the hominin family tree. A new study, however, suggests that we can probably rule out one of the contenders.

Where did we come from?

The top contenders include a species called Australopithecus sediba, known from the fossilized remains of two adults and four children who apparently fell to their deaths in Malapa Cave around 1.9 million years ago. The other top contender is called A.

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Finally, a Denisovan specimen from somewhere beyond Denisova Cave

Finally, a Denisovan specimen from somewhere beyond Denisova Cave

Enlarge / The entrance of the cave is relatively flat with a gentle slope up to the inside, where two small trenches were plotted in 2018. (credit: Dongju Zhang, Lanzhou University)

Denisovans, an extinct group of hominins that once walked alongside (and had sex with) Neanderthals and modern humans, are an enigmatic branch of our family tree. They left fragments of their DNA behind in modern human genomes across Asia, Australia, and Melanesia. But their only physical remains seem have been left in Denisova Cave in Siberia: just a finger, a few molars, a fragment of arm or leg bone, and a small chunk of skull.

But we’re starting to piece together a little more of our mysterious cousins’ story. A team of paleoanthropologists recently identified a new Denisovan fossil—half of an entire jaw. And it comes from the high altitude of the Tibetan Plateau in northern China,

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How to brew ancient Wari beer

How to brew ancient Wari beer

Enlarge (credit: Donna Nash)

When the people of the Wari Empire (predecessors of the Inca) abandoned the southern Andes around 1100 CE, they made sure nobody else could enjoy their former home by destroyed the brewery that, for 400 years, had provided for lavish festivals held at the provincial center of Cerro Baúl.

“They intentionally and deliberately destroyed the site so that it couldn’t be used by successor societies when they left,” Field Museum Associate Curator & Professor of Anthropology Ryan Williams told Ars Technica. “The brewery itself was burned down at the end, and a great feast accompanied that burning, in which the special ceramic vessels from which the local lords would have been served were smashed into the burning flames.”

The smashed pots that were left behind, however, contained clues to the ancient beer recipe that once held an empire together.

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1,550 years ago, someone ate a rattlesnake whole—and we have poo to prove it

1,550 years ago, someone ate a rattlesnake whole—and we have poo to prove it

An example of Crotalus atrox, aka western diamondback rattlesnake. (credit: Wikipedia)

Sometime around 450 CE in the Chihuahuan Desert, one brave soul ate a whole rattlesnake raw. If you think that takes guts, imagine passing an 11mm (0.43 inch) fang afterward. The desiccated coprolite—archaeologists’ term for ancient poop—contained the scales and bones of the snake along with remnants of a small rodent and an assortment of edible desert plants. It’s a great example of how coprolites can give archaeologist a direct (sometimes unnervingly direct) look at what ancient people ate.

The dry desert climate preserves things we don’t always think about. When archaeologists first excavated the layers of sediment in Conejo Shelter, a rock shelter high on the wall of a canyon in Texas’ Lower Pecos Valley, they found nearly 1,000 coprolites buried in a corner near the entrance, which looks like it served as an ancient latrine.

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