Posted by DanielS on Sunday, 27 November 2016 10:06.
Science Mag, “Meet the frail, small-brained people who first trekked out of Africa, 22 Nov 2016:
On a promontory high above the sweeping grasslands of the Georgian steppe, a medieval church marks the spot where humans have come and gone along Silk Road trade routes for thousands of years. But 1.77 million years ago, this place was a crossroads for a different set of migrants. Among them were saber-toothed cats, Etruscan wolves, hyenas the size of lions—and early members of the human family.
Here, primitive hominins poked their tiny heads into animal dens to scavenge abandoned kills, fileting meat from the bones of mammoths and wolves with crude stone tools and eating it raw. They stalked deer as the animals drank from an ancient lake and gathered hackberries and nuts from chestnut and walnut trees lining nearby rivers. Sometimes the hominins themselves became the prey, as gnaw marks from big cats or hyenas on their fossilized limb bones now testify.
“Someone rang the dinner bell in gully one,” says geologist Reid Ferring of the University of North Texas in Denton, part of an international team analyzing the site. “Humans and carnivores were eating each other.”
What was it that allowed them to move out of Africa without fire, without very large brains? How did they survive?
Donald Johanson, Arizona State University
This is the famous site of Dmanisi, Georgia, which offers an unparalleled glimpse into a harsh early chapter in human evolution, when primitive members of our genus Homo struggled to survive in a new land far north of their ancestors’ African home, braving winters without clothes or fire and competing with fierce carnivores for meat. The 4-hectare site has yielded closely packed, beautifully preserved fossils that are the oldest hominins known outside of Africa, including five skulls, about 50 skeletal bones, and an as-yet-unpublished pelvis unearthed 2 years ago. “There’s no other place like it,” says archaeologist Nick Toth of Indiana University in Bloomington. “It’s just this mother lode for one moment in time.”
Until the discovery of the first jawbone at Dmanisi 25 years ago, researchers thought that the first hominins to leave Africa were classic H. erectus (also known as H. ergaster in Africa). These tall, relatively large-brained ancestors of modern humans arose about 1.9 million years ago and soon afterward invented a sophisticated new tool, the hand ax. They were thought to be the first people to migrate out of Africa, making it all the way to Java, at the far end of Asia, as early as 1.6 million years ago. But as the bones and tools from Dmanisi accumulate, a different picture of the earliest migrants is emerging.
By now, the fossils have made it clear that these pioneers were startlingly primitive, with small bodies about 1.5 meters tall, simple tools, and brains one-third to one-half the size of modern humans’. Some paleontologists believe they provide a better glimpse of the early, primitive forms of H. erectus than fragmentary African fossils. “I think for the first time, by virtue of the Dmanisi hominins, we have a solid hypothesis for the origin of H. erectus,” says Rick Potts, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
This fall, paleontologists converged in Georgia for “Dmanisi and beyond,” a conference held in Tbilisi and at the site itself from 20–24 September. There researchers celebrated 25 years of discoveries, inspected a half-dozen pits riddled with unexcavated fossils, and debated a geographic puzzle: How did these primitive hominins—or their ancestors—manage to trek at least 6000 kilometers from sub-Saharan Africa to the Caucasus Mountains? “What was it that allowed them to move out of Africa without fire, without very large brains? How did they survive?” asks paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson of Arizona State University in Tempe.
They did not have it easy. To look at the teeth and jaws of the hominins at Dmanisi is to see a mouthful of pain, says Ann Margvelashvili, a postdoc in the lab of paleoanthropologist Marcia Ponce de León at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi. Margvelashvili found that compared with modern hunter-gatherers from Greenland and Australia, a teenager at Dmanisi had dental problems at a much younger age—a sign of generally poor health. The teen had cavities, dental crowding, and hypoplasia, a line indicating that enamel growth was halted at some point in childhood, probably because of malnutrition or disease. Another individual suffered from a serious dental infection that damaged the jawbone and could have been the cause of death. Chipping and wear in several others suggested that they used their teeth as tools and to crack bones for marrow. And all the hominins’ teeth were coated with plaque, the product of bacteria thriving in their mouths because of inflammation of the gums or the pH of their food or water. The dental mayhem put every one of them on “a road to toothlessness,” Ponce de León says
Regardless of the Dmanisi people’s precise identity, researchers studying them agree that the wealth of fossils and artifacts coming from the site offer rare evidence for a critical moment in the human saga. They show that it didn’t take a technological revolution or a particularly big brain to cross continents. And they suggest an origin story for first migrants all across Asia: Perhaps some members of the group of primitive H. erectus that gave rise to the Dmanisi people also pushed farther east, where their offspring evolved into later, bigger-brained H. erectus on Java (at the same time as H. erectus in Africa was independently evolving bigger brains and bodies). “For me, Dmanisi could be the ancestor for H. erectus in Java,” says paleoanthropologist Yousuke Kaifu of the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.
In spite of the remaining mysteries about the ancient people who died on this windy promontory, they have already taught researchers lessons that extend far beyond Georgia. And for that, Lordkipanidze is grateful. At the end of a barbecue in the camp house here, he raised a glass of wine and offered a toast: “I want to thank the people who died here,” he said.
Posted by DanielS on Saturday, 17 September 2016 02:57.
TNO, “World’s Oldest Snowshoe Found”, 16 September 2016:
The world’s oldest snowshoe, made in the late Neolithic age, over 5,800 years old— made of birch wood and twine, has been discovered at an altitude of 3,134 meters (10,280ft) on the Gurgler Eisjoch glacier, close to Italy’s border with Austria.
“It is the oldest snowshoe in the world so far discovered, dating to around 5,800 years ago,” scientists said in a statement.
The shoe, which consists of an oval-shaped frame with strands of twine tied across it, was found by Simone Bartolini, a cartographer from Italy’s Military Geographical Institute, who was mapping the border with Austria.
He came across it in 2003 but for the next 12 years kept it in his office in Florence as a curiosity.
“At first I thought it was maybe 100 years old and was a snowshoe that belonged to a farmer who lost it while driving cattle. I kept it in my office as a keepsake,” Dr. Bartolini said at a press conference this week in Bolzano, the capital of the autonomous, Germany-speaking province of South Tyrol.
It was only last year that it dawned on him that it could be much older and more significant. He gave it to archaeologists to study.
The discovery was made close to where the frozen, mummified remains of a Neolithic hunter, nicknamed “Otzi,” were found by two German hikers 25 years ago.
That mummified corpse has revealed a wealth of information on what people of the period wore and ate, how they hunted and armed themselves and how they traveled.
Scientists at the press conference said the discovery of the snowshoe was “exceptional.”
“The shoe is evidence that people in the Neolithic period were living in the Alps area and had equipped themselves accordingly,” said Dr. Catrin Marzoli, the director of the province’s cultural heritage department.
It was unclear why people were traveling through such an inhospitable region, she said. They may have been hunting animals, fleeing enemies from a rival tribe, or visiting ancient pre-Christian sites of worship.
Posted by DanielS on Wednesday, 08 June 2016 00:02.
This one hits close to home. It wasn’t that long ago that I found out that my maternal line Mt haplogroup is U5b1e1 - mutating in Finland some 6,600 years ago. It is particularly concentrated in Sweden and Finland - places like Turku.
It is a rare and ancient genome - mutating through the first people in Europe, the hunter-gatherers who arrived prior to the agrarians.
Now this genome is under a concerted attack by the (((YKW))) - even where those they’d imposed upon the native human ecologies of Finland would like to go back to their own native countries.
Many migrants to Finland could not find opportunity for work, even if they wanted it; and more fundamentally, they found the unfamiliar surroundings and climbs of Finland inhospitable. They wanted to return to their native countries.
Finland had no jobs, many wanted to leave, so jobs were (((created))) for them in order to encourage them to stay. A tech-training program was offered (it is not offered to natives of Finland).
5 of 700 applicants taken; (((they’ll))) use those 5 as an excuse to keep all of them. It augurs exponential assault on the native genome.
The “exemplary” asylum seeker focused-on in this article had gone through several EU countries with asylum laws before arriving in Finland - even though asylum seekers are supposed to stop at the first EU country capable of offering asylum.
Pioneering programme is teaching refugees coding so they can become developers and is helping them integrate in society.
Iraqi Eyas Taha, left, is one of five recent graduates of the developer programme for asylum seekers. Photograph: Jussi Rekiaro
Problem one: Finland’s otherwise flourishing startup scene has a chronic shortage of developers.
Problem two: the 32,000-plus asylum seekers who arrived in the Nordic country last year – many young, highly educated and computer literate – face waiting for years before they land a job.
“Essentially, we just thought: there is a way to at least start addressing these issues,” said Niklas Lahti, the chief executive of Helsinki-based web services company Nord Software. “We can teach refugees coding so they can become software engineers.”
This month the first three graduates of Integrify, the developer programme for asylum seekers that Lahti and his friend Daniel Rahman, boss of recruitment company TalentConnect, launched in April, started internships with leading Finnish tech companies.
The two are working on a second, expanded programme to train up to 200 refugees as developers, and hope to place them with companies across Europe – starting with Sweden, where “finding developers is almost impossible, harder even than Finland”, according to Lahti.
The starting point, he said, was that “integration just takes way too long. You have lots of young, qualified, motivated people sitting doing nothing. The registration process takes for ever; they’re supposed to learn Finnish before they get a job. While in tech at least, all you really need is English.”
Even once their paperwork is in order, many asylum seekers can wait up to five years to find employment, Rahman said – and when they do, “very highly educated professionals can easily find themselves in really low-skilled jobs”.
Life – and the inhospitable Nordic climate – has proved so frustrating for some newly arrived asylum seekers in Finland that officials said this year they expected up to 5,000 to cancel their applications and return home.
Officials in Helsinki said in February that some 4,000 refugees, nearly 80% of them Iraqi, had already asked for help to leave.
Once their project was fleshed out late last year, Rahman and Lahti toured refugee reception centres to present it, choosing about 20 candidates from 700 refugees who expressed an interest.
With the Finnish tech sector struggling to fill about 5,000 vacancies, the pair had no difficulty recruiting 12 software houses and web services companies as potential employers. They rented a large flat in central Helsinki to accommodate the successful students, and hired an experienced engineer to do the teaching.
Eight weeks into the course, three of the first five trainees – from Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Syria – are in internships, with the remaining two waiting to hear back after interviews.
Eyas Taha, 22, is one of the group. He fled his native Iraq after the family home was blown up three times and by early 2015 had found a job with a web-based food delivery startup in Jordan, in customer care and tech support. Then his father was killed in a terror attack, and he realised he could never return to Baghdad.
“I decided to go to Europe on my own,” he said. Taha took a boat from Egypt to Sicily – “three hundred people, eight days at sea” – and made his way through France, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark to Finland, arriving in last August.
“I knew Finland was a good country, humane,” he said. “And great for education. The only downside was the weather: in Baghdad it can be 50C in summer, in Finland in winter it can be -36C. That’s a shock.”
Taha spent six months in one reception centre and two in another before meeting Rahman and Lahti. “Now, instead of doing nothing I am learning programming languages, eight hours a day. I knew nothing, I had no coding background. But it’s an amazing opportunity.”
Taha has had two job interviews and is awaiting recalls. “This course is just a great shortcut, like a two or three-year shortcut to a proper life,” he said. “It takes a year to get a residence permit, maybe two more to learn Finnish and get a cleaning job.”
Mostly, though, “it means for us, people who have left behind our homes, our countries, our jobs, our educations, our lives – people who have nothing – it means we can actually start to make something new. It’s precious.”
Nizar Rahme, 26, another graduate of the scheme, arrived in Finland three months ago after fleeing Damascus with his wife, Lydia, when her parents’ home was destroyed in a bomb attack in December last year.
A qualified architect who was also working as an animator and game developer in Syria, Nizar came via Russia, hoping initially “just to continue studying, hopefully information systems. So this was an amazing opportunity.”
He is now a junior developer at Nord Software, with a path to a full-time – and fully paid – job. “My life has been … transformed,” he said. “Three months ago I was not a part of society. I was at the reception centre, unable to do anything. Depressed. Now I am learning, working … Integrating. Back in the world.”
The project, Rahman said, is “making integration happen. It’s win-win for everyone. For society, because these jobs need doing, and because the faster asylum seekers integrate and contribute, the better for everyone. And for refugees, because they can actually start building the new lives they crossed Europe to make for themselves.”
This piece is part of our Half-full series. If you have suggestions of stories, trends, innovations and people that you’d like to see included in this series please share them in the form below.