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Were Other Humans The First Victims Of The Sixth Mass Extinction?

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Were Other Humans The First Victims Of The Sixth Mass Extinction?
Photo Credit: The Conversation

Nick Longrich, The Conversation

Nine human species walked the Earth 300,000 years ago. Now there is just one. The Neanderthals, Homo neanderthalensis, were stocky hunters adapted to Europe’s cold steppes. The related Denisovans inhabited Asia, while the more primitive Homo erectus lived in Indonesia, and Homo rhodesiensis in central Africa.

Several short, small-brained species survived alongside them: Homo naledi in South Africa, Homo luzonensis in the Philippines, Homo floresiensis (“hobbits”) in Indonesia, and the mysterious Red Deer Cave People in China. Given how quickly we’re discovering new species, more are likely waiting to be found.

By 10,000 years ago, they were all gone. The disappearance of these other species resembles a mass extinction. But there’s no obvious environmental catastrophe – volcanic eruptions, climate change, asteroid impact – driving it. Instead, the extinctions’ timing suggests they were caused by the spread of a new species, evolving 260,000-350,000 years ago in Southern AfricaHomo sapiens.

The spread of modern humans out of Africa has caused a sixth mass extinction, a greater than 40,000-year event extending from the disappearance of Ice Age mammals to the destruction of rainforests by civilisation today. But were other humans the first casualties?

Human evolution. Nick Longrich (Author Provided)
Human evolution. Nick Longrich (Author Provided)

We are a uniquely dangerous species. We hunted wooly mammoths, ground sloths and moas to extinction. We destroyed plains and forests for farming, modifying over half the planet’s land area. We altered the planet’s climate. But we are most dangerous to other human populations, because we compete for resources and land.

History is full of examples of people warring, displacing and wiping out other groups over territory, from Rome’s destruction of Carthage, to the American conquest of the West and the British colonisation of Australia. There have also been recent genocides and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq, Darfur and Myanmar. Like language or tool use, a capacity for and tendency to engage in genocide is arguably an intrinsic, instinctive part of human nature. There’s little reason to think that early Homo sapiens were less territorial, less violent, less intolerant – less human.

Optimists have painted early hunter-gatherers as peaceful, noble savages, and have argued that our culture, not our nature, creates violence. But field studies, historical accounts, and archaeology all show that war in primitive cultures was intense, pervasive and lethal. Neolithic weapons such as clubs, spears, axes and bows, combined with guerrilla tactics like raids and ambushes, were devastatingly effective. Violence was the leading cause of death among men in these societies, and wars saw higher casualty levels per person than World Wars I and II.

Old bones and artefacts show this violence is ancient. The 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man, from North America, has a spear point embedded in his pelvis. The 10,000-year-old Nataruk site in Kenya documents the brutal massacre of at least 27 men, women, and children.

It’s unlikely that the other human species were much more peaceful. The existence of cooperative violence in male chimps suggests that war predates the evolution of humans. Neanderthal skeletons show patterns of trauma of trauma consistent with warfare. But sophisticated weapons likely gave Homo sapiens a military advantage. The arsenal of early Homo sapiens probably included projectile weapons like javelins and spear-throwers, throwing sticks and clubs.

Complex tools and culture would also have helped us efficiently harvest a wider range of animals and plants, feeding larger tribes, and giving our species a strategic advantage in numbers.

The Ultimate Weapon

But cave paintings, carvings, and musical instruments hint at something far more dangerous: a sophisticated capacity for abstract thought and communication. The ability to cooperate, plan, strategies, manipulate and deceive may have been our ultimate weapon.

The incompleteness of the fossil record makes it hard to test these ideas. But in Europe, the only place with a relatively complete archaeological record, fossils show that within a few thousand years of our arrival, Neanderthals vanished. Traces of Neanderthal DNA in some Eurasian people prove we didn’t just replace them after they went extinct. We met, and we mated.

Elsewhere, DNA tells of other encounters with archaic humans. East Asian, Polynesian and Australian groups have DNA from Denisovans. DNA from another species, possibly Homo erectus, occurs in many Asian people. African genomes show traces of DNA from yet another archaic species. The fact that we interbred with these other species proves that they disappeared only after encountering us.

But why would our ancestors wipe out their relatives, causing a mass extinction – or, perhaps more accurately, a mass genocide?

13,000-year-old spear points from Colorado. Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
13,000-year-old spear points from Colorado. Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

The answer lies in population growth. Humans reproduce exponentially, like all species. Unchecked, we historically doubled our numbers every 25 years. And once humans became cooperative hunters, we had no predators. Without predation controlling our numbers, and little family planning beyond delayed marriage and infanticide, populations grew to exploit the available resources.

Further growth, or food shortages caused by drought, harsh winters or overharvesting resources would inevitably lead tribes into conflict over food and foraging territory. Warfare became a check on population growth, perhaps the most important one.

Our elimination of other species probably wasn’t a planned, coordinated effort of the sort practised by civilisations, but a war of attrition. The end result, however, was just as final. Raid by raid, ambush by ambush, valley by valley, modern humans would have worn down their enemies and taken their land.

Yet the extinction of Neanderthals, at least, took a long time – thousands of years. This was partly because early Homo sapiens lacked the advantages of later conquering civilisations: large numbers, supported by farming, and epidemic diseases like smallpox, flu, and measles that devastated their opponents. But while Neanderthals lost the war, to hold on so long they must have fought and won many battles against us, suggesting a level of intelligence close to our own.

Today we look up at the stars and wonder if we’re alone in the universe. In fantasy and science fiction, we wonder what it might be like to meet other intelligent species, like us, but not us. It’s profoundly sad to think that we once did, and now, because of it, they’re gone.

Top image: A Neanderthal skull shows head trauma, evidence of ancient violence.  Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The article “ Were other humans the first victims of the sixth mass extinction? ” by Nick Longrich was originally published on The Conversation and has been republished under a Creative Commons license.

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Stash Of Paleoindian Artifacts Found At 12,000-Year-Old Connecticut Site

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Photo Credit: Native American hunter. Credit: Daniel / Adobe Stock

Ed Whelan, Ancient Origins

A site has been uncovered in the American state of Connecticut, that is revealing evidence about its earliest inhabitants . Some 15,000 artifacts related to a Paleoindian community have been uncovered and they are providing an unprecedented insight into the distant past. In particular, evidence has been found of a throwing spear , which was key to the survival and success of the first people in the area.

The site was found during a massive Department of Transportation (DOT) construction project, while workers were building a bridge over the Farmington River, in Avon. It was only discovered because the bridge required a deep excavation. DOT informed the authorities, as required by law and they carried out a preliminary investigation.

Brian Jones, the Connecticut state archaeologist, after testing some soil samples, believed that the site was of great importance and he was the driving force behind ensuring that it was thoroughly investigated. For the past several years archaeologists have been working here and DOT even supplied extra funding for the archaeological survey.

The Paleoindian site settlement uncovered in Connecticut. Source: © Connecticut DOT .
The Paleoindian site settlement uncovered in Connecticut. Source: © Connecticut DOT .
First People Lived At The Paleoindian Site In Southern New England

The experts have determined that some of the artifacts found are up to 12,500 years old. Terri Wilson, president of the Avon Historical Society, told NBC CT that “this is the oldest known Paleoindian archaeology site in southern New England”. In total, the archaeologists have found 15,000 stone artifacts and the vast majority of them are stone tools, used mainly for the preparation of food.

Stone artifacts of the first people of the Paleoindian site. (© Connecticut DOT )
Stone artifacts of the first people of the Paleoindian site. (© Connecticut DOT )

They also found an open fire pit and several posts holes that were used in the construction of shelters. NBC CT quotes Wilson as stating that “This is a human contact site. Not a human remains site. So, there’s no remains of humans. This is where they lived and worked”.

The Paleoindian site contained an open fire pit and a number of posts from temporary housing, along with 15,000 artifacts. (© Connecticut DOT )
The Paleoindian site contained an open fire pit and a number of posts from temporary housing, along with 15,000 artifacts. (© Connecticut DOT )

Archaeologists have found the most extensive remains of Paleoindian culture in Connecticut, to date at the site. Previously only a few items had been found in the state, which was of only limited research value. Caroline Labidia is quoted by the Daily Mail as stating that “This site has the potential to make us understand the first peopling of Connecticut in a way we haven’t been able to”.

Throwing Spears Found At The Paleoindian Site

Some tiny fragments of flint and stone were discovered which had unique chips and cracks that correspond to those found in spear-throwers. These “coincide with a study from 2015 that concluded the North American hunters used spear-throwers to hurl their weapons over longer distances” reports the Daily Mail . These spear-throwers or atlatls were probably brought to the Americas by the so-called Clovis people, who were among the continents’ first people.

Tiny fragments of flint discovered at the Paleoindian site. (© Connecticut DOT )
Tiny fragments of flint discovered at the Paleoindian site. (© Connecticut DOT )

Professor Karl Hutchings, an anthropologist stated that this discovery “helps to support theories that these early hunters were able to kill large prey like mammoths and other megafauna” reports the Daily Mail . This was very important in hunting and ensured that the Paleoindians were able to thrive in the often-hostile environment. It seems likely that a traditional spear could not have killed large beasts and at the time the spear-throwers would have been much more lethal.

Peopling Of America

The Paleoindians’ ability to bring down large animals meant that they were not confined to one area. The athals or spear-throwers were highly portable and they did not require as many participants as hunts, that involved javelins. This technology probably allowed the hunters to follow the large animals as they migrated, such as the mammoth. This was very important in the peopling of modern North America.

Evidence of spear-throwers found at the Paleoindian site. (© Connecticut DOT )
Evidence of spear-throwers found at the Paleoindian site. (© Connecticut DOT )

The discovery of the site is an excellent example of what can be achieved between the construction sector and archaeologists when they collaborate. This archaeological area has been named after Brian Jones, who sadly passed away over the summer. Work on the site, which has been thoroughly processed, by archaeologists is expected to conclude in 2020.

This article (Stash Of Paleoindian Artifacts Found At 12,000-Year-Old Connecticut Site) was originally published at Ancient Origins and is re-posted here under Creative Commons.

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After 300: The Posthumous Vengeance Of King Leonidas Of Sparta

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Photo Credit: Pexels

Riley Winters, Ancient Origins

Mythologically descended from the hero Herakles, the Agiad dynasty of ancient Sparta reigned alongside the Eurypontids almost since the beginning of the city-state. When war was on the borders of their land, and that of their neighboring city-states, it was to the current Heraklean descendent that those city-states turned. Even the Athenians, who were long-time rivals of the Spartan warriors looked to the current Agiad king for guidance in the darkest time of the war. That king, unsurprisingly, was King Leonidas I.

A King Amongst Kings

The better remembered of the two warrior-kings of the ancient Greek city-state Sparta, King Leonidas I lived and ruled between the 6 th and 5 th centuries BC. His time on the throne was short-lived, but his legacy has lasted lifetimes. Leonidas is the king who many other kings aspire to emulate; King Leonidas gave everything to defend and protect his homeland. Called upon to lead the allied forces of the Greek city-states based on his military record alone, it is said that King Leonidas tried to protect his soldiers, ordering them to leave the battlefield to fight another day. They did not, as one might guess, as they were Spartans; one way or another, Spartans return from battle—either with their swords, or on them, as the saying goes. Leonidas’ words of protection at the battle of Thermopylae fell on deaf ears, and the Greeks were slaughtered that fateful day in 480 BC.

Leonidas at Thermopylae by Jacques-Louis David ( Public Domain )
Leonidas at Thermopylae by Jacques-Louis David ( Public Domain )

What happened after the massacre, however? What happened after the death of the one of the greatest military leaders? Without Leonidas, Sparta was down one king; it had been tradition for two kings to rule the city-state, one from each of the two primary families, the Agiads and the Eurypontids. With his death at the hands of the army of Xerxes, king of Persia, and his head paraded around on a spike, Sparta was left short-handed. What was the next step?

Revenge
Leonidas I of Sparta ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Leonidas I of Sparta ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Wrath Of The Gods

If one believes in the ancient Greek gods—as the city-states clearly did—it is impossible not to see the vengeance those gods encouraged through their mortal soldiers following the death of Herakles’ descendent. With the death of King Leonidas and the insult to his person, the Persians had essentially painted a bright red, divinely taunting target on their backs. Over the next year, the Persians and Greeks engaged in their final land and sea battles, of which the Persians suffered as often as not. Salamis and Plataea, two of the most decisive Greek victories, officially turned the tide in favour of the Greeks. In fact, a better vengeance could not have been written for King Leonidas. The Greeks, who had not forgotten the slaughter of Thermopylae, returned the favour in spades at the Battle of Plataea.

A romantic version painting of the Battle of Salamis by artist Wilhelm von Kaulbach . ( Public Domain )
A romantic version painting of the Battle of Salamis by artist Wilhelm von Kaulbach . ( Public Domain )

The ancient historian Herodotus (5 th century BC) is one of the primary sources of this battle. Following a stalemate around the Persian camp constructed in Plataea, the Persians were unintentionally (though it was lucky for the Greeks) lulled into a sense of victory. Having cut off the Greeks from their supply lines, the Persians believed the few Greeks who retreated to regain those connections represented the whole army; the subsequent Persian attack quickly proved them wrong. The Greek allies literally had the high ground, and a defeat of those Persian forces, led by Mardonius, was relatively swift. The Greek forces then, loosely interpreted from ancient texts, and exacted their revenge for the slaughter of Leonidas and his men by massacring the Persian camp at Plataea. Later that afternoon, the Greeks finished the job at the final battle of Mycale.

King Leonidas I Monument at Thermopyles. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
King Leonidas I Monument at Thermopyles. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Exacting Revenge

One could attribute this “retribution” as constructed by King Leonidas’ son Pleistarchus, intended to take the throne upon Leonidas’ death. Yet in an interesting turn of events, Pleistarchus was too young to rule at his father’s death, and the boy’s guardian Pausanias, was actually on the second Spartan throne. Thus the decisive, somewhat brutal, actions against the Persians at Plataea and Mycale may or may not have been an act of vengeance in the name of the father Leonidas, but were almost certainly for the Herculean general who sacrificed everything for his home, and the homes of those allied with him. (One should remember that Sparta and Athens were only on good terms when they were teamed up against Persia. They placed their animosities aside during the Persian War, Athenians willingly following Spartans, and Spartans trusting to delegate to Athenians. This alliance would crumble soon after the war, but Leonidas’ actions are even more inspiring for the prejudices put aside.)

Greek and Persian warriors depicted fighting on an ancient kylix. 5th century BC. ( Public Domain )
Greek and Persian warriors depicted fighting on an ancient kylix. 5th century BC. ( Public Domain )
United States Of Leonidas

King Leonidas’ sacrifice might not have resulted in the battle to end all Persian-Greek battles; however it did inspire a great deal of “nationality“, a concept not yet fully formed in the ancient world. Yet the Greek city-states saw a common enemy, and shared a common goal, and for a brief period of time, respected and valued the same man—homeland and culture aside. The increased sense of unity Leonidas inadvertently forged between the Spartans, Thebans, Athenians, etc. led to an increased determination; the Greeks left no man standing at Plataea and Mycale if they could find one. The victory of the Greeks over the Persians resonated for centuries, and Leonidas’ name is remembered far better than those of the men who returned home with their shields rather than on them. Because of this (and the later cockiness of the Athenians), the Spartans and their allies successfully defeated the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War , the next great battle on their horizon.

This article (After 300: The Posthumous Vengeance of King Leonidas of Sparta) was originally published at Ancient Origins and is re-posted here under Creative Commons.

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Iron Age Warrior Shield Hailed As Most Important Find This Millennium

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Iron Age Warrior Shield Hailed as Most Important Find This Millennium
Photo Credit: Ancient Origins

Ed Whelan, Ancient Origins

Conservation experts have been able to restore a stunning shield that is 2,200 years old. The artifact belonged to a Celtic warrior who was buried in a chariot burial in the north of England. The warrior shield has been hailed as one of the most important and remarkable ancient finds this millennium.

Last year, construction workers that were building a housing development came across something unusual in the earth. They found what appeared to be a grave at the project known as ‘The Mile’ in Pocklington, East Yorkshire, England. The company behind the development, Persimmon Homes, contacted MAP Archaeological, who subsequently conducted an excavation of the site and what they found was truly amazing.

Chariot Burial

The workers had come across an Iron Age warrior’s chariot burial. The remains of the warrior were found in the chariot and two skeletons of horses were also unearthed. Paula Ware, an archaeologist with MAP, stated that “these horses were placed with their hooves on the ground and their rear legs looking as though they would leap out of the grave” according to The Yorkshire Post . A number of grave goods were also uncovered with the dead man, including a precious brooch. Interestingly as part of a funeral ritual, some young piglets had been sacrificed and placed near the deceased.

Skeletons of the horses found at the site in Pocklington ( MAP Archaeological Practice Limited )

This grave was dated to the period 320–174 BC when Celtic tribes dominated the British Isles. At the time this part of England was dominated by the Arras culture, which is noted for its unusual burials. It appears that the warrior was a member of the elite, who probably died of old age and not in battle. This burial was 20 feet (60m) away from the grave of a young male who had been speared multiple times, possibly as part of a ritual.

Rare Burial

The nature of the grave would seem to indicate a belief in the afterlife. The food and goods were deposited for the dead warrior for his existence after death in this world. This is the first chariot burial of its kind, uncovered in this part of Britain. Curiously a near-identical burial “dating to the third or fourth century BC was discovered in 2013 in Svestari in north-east Bulgaria” reports the Pocklington Post .

The remains of the warrior shield were found near the chariot burial, and were in a poor state after centuries in the earth. It clearly needed a great deal of conservation work to repair the shield. It was found face down in the chariot near the deceased and it measured 30 inches (74cm). The leather fitting and wooden handle had long since disintegrated.

The warrior shield unearthed before conservation work had been completed ( MAP Archaeological Practice Limited )
The warrior shield unearthed before conservation work had been completed ( MAP Archaeological Practice Limited )
Stunning Warrior Shield Uncovered

Now after the completion of the conservation work which was a lengthy process, the warrior shield has been revealed in all of its glory. The object is ornately designed, specifically it is typical of the “La Tène’ culture that spanned Europe from around 450–1 BC” reports The Daily Mail . It was made by a craftsperson hammering out bronze sheets from the reverse side.

The Daily Mail further states, that it has a design of “mollusk shells in a series of three-legged, triskelion-like whorls around the central raised boss”. Researchers have been amazed by the shield and its artwork. According to The Yorkshire Post , it has been called “the most important British Celtic art object of the millennium” and has been compared to the famous Wandsworth shield boss, which is on display at the British Museum . The conserved shield has a unique scalloped border, which is like nothing else found from Iron Age Europe.

Archaeologists unearthing the warrior shield together with the remains of the man ( MAP Archaeological Practice Limited )
Archaeologists unearthing the warrior shield together with the remains of the man ( MAP Archaeological Practice Limited )
Battle Worn Shield

The shield was not just an ornament, but it appears to have been used in battle, which is evidenced by a sword slash on it. The received wisdom was that such items were not used in battle. However, Ware stated that “our investigation challenges this with the evidence of a puncture wound in the shield typical of a sword” according to The Daily Mail . It also appears that the object was repaired and may have even been used in several battles.

Excavations at the site in Pocklington are now completed. There are hopes that the treasure trove of objects will be put on display at a local museum. The full findings of the excavation are expected to be published in book form in 2020. Research is expected to continue on the artifacts found in the chariot grave, and they could provide more insights about Iron Age Britain.

Top image: The stunning conserved warrior shield found at the site in Pocklington.         

This article (Iron Age Warrior Shield Hailed as Most Important Find This Millennium) was originally published at Ancient Origins and is re-posted here under Creative Commons.

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Giant Viking Ship Discovered Under Farm In Norway Was A One-Way Voyage To Valhalla

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Photo Credit: The Washington Post

There was no greater honour for a Viking than to die in battle, beginning a journey from the flat Earth up toward Valhalla, where an eternal feast awaited. “They can have a fight and party every day,” Knut Paasche, a period archaeologist said, “and then the next day, do it again.”

But they needed a vessel to get there. Chieftains and kings, laid to rest in long ships with swords and jewels, were buried in earthen mounds signifying their stature, Paasche said.

The larger the ship and mound, the more important the burial.

Archaeologists using ground-penetrating radar found a big mound carved into a western Norwegian island — along with the remains of a “huge” ship as long as 55 feet, Paasche told The Washington Post, in a discovery that may tell new tales about how the ships evolved to become fearsome and agile vessels more than 1,000 years ago.

The discovery on the Edoy island, announced Nov. 22 by the Institute for Cultural Heritage Research — where Paasche is an archaeologist and researcher — was part luck.

Archaeologists partnered with the Smola municipality, and the counties of More and Romsdal, to conduct research in the area already known for its rich historical setting, including Viking battles.

Researchers had finished for the day in September, the institute said, but decided to make a quick pass in a farmer’s field near a Medieval church.

The geo-radar vehicle rumbled over the soil, revealing the husk of a ship set inside a burial mound that was once 60 feet in diameter, Paasche said, but has been destroyed by centuries of plows tearing through the dirt.

It is unknown how much of the ship remains before excavation begins. Researchers can pinpoint the ship’s backbone, the 42-foot keel, along with hints of planking, Paasche said, but it is unclear whether the occupant was buried with any riches or weapons.

Wood from a buried ship found last year was rotted away, leaving only black detritus, he said. Another ship found in England also had no wood, though an outline of nails helped identify it, Paasche said, so he hopes for more nails or other finds.

Anything helps, he said, to understand an era with few immaculate artifacts as large as a vessel.

There are only three well-preserved Viking ships in Norway,” Paasche said, which are all housed in a museum in Oslo. “And we need more.”

Edoy and the surrounding region were well traversed in the Merovingian dynasty, which preceded the Vikings, Paasche said, and Viking chieftains later enriched themselves by levying taxes on those traveling the network of fjords.

Many battles were fought in the area, he said, including some waged by Harald I Fairhair, the Viking who unified Norway as its first king in the ninth century.

The ship may belong to the Viking era, which ran from about 800 to 1000, or even earlier in the Frankish Merovingian period in Europe, Paasche said.

Typically, 26 rowers would power a large Viking ship through wind-blasted fjords, but the sails would unfurl on the sea, he said.

That innovative dual design helped Vikings roar into England, quickly attacking soldiers and settlements before jetting off, leaving their enemies startled and confused.

They made ships that no one else could cope with for 200 years,” Paasche said. But lost in the imagery of a marauding Viking is a history of far-reaching trade and skilled fishing, he said.

The Edoy find was remarkably similar to another buried ship’s discovery last year near Halden, south of the capital, which produced a similar signature.

The institute also used ground-penetrating radar to uncover a 65-foot Viking ship amid several other burial mounds. The ship is believed to be the biggest Viking-Age ship ever buried.

I think we could talk about a hundred-year find,” archaeologist Jan Bill, curator of Viking ships at Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, told National Geographic at the time.

Paasche marveled at finding two buried ships in Norway within a year, excited at the prospect of discovering more about the Viking age.

Vikings were terrified of sailing off the edge of the world, Paasche explained, believing a large god of a snake was there to eat them whole. And yet, they threshed their oars toward new worlds.

How could they dare to go westward?” he asked.

2019 © The Washington Post

This article was originally published by The Washington Post.

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