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Paleontology

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Oldest stone tools pre-date earliest humans - BBC News. The world's oldest stone tools have been discovered, scientists report. They were unearthed from the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya, and date to 3.3 million years ago. They are 700,000 years older than any tools found before, even pre-dating the earliest humans in the Homo genus. The find, reported in Nature, suggests that more ancient species, such as Australopithecus afarensis or Kenyanthropus platyops, may have been more sophisticated than was thought. "They are significantly earlier than anything that has been found previously," said Dr Nick Taylor, from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) in France and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. "It's really quite astonishing to think what separates the previous oldest site and this site is 700,000 years of time. It's monumental. " The first tools from the site, which is called Lomekwi 3, were discovered in 2011.

They include sharp flakes of stone, sheared off from larger rocks, which were most likely used for cutting. Skeletal remains of 24,000-year-old boy raise new questions about first Americans. Results from a DNA study of a young boy's skeletal remains believed to be 24,000 years old could turn the archaeological world upside down -- it's been demonstrated that nearly 30 percent of modern Native American's ancestry came from this youngster's gene pool, suggesting First Americans came directly from Siberia, according to a research team that includes a Texas A&M University professor. Kelly Graf, assistant professor in the Center for the Study of First Americans and Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, is part of an international team spearheaded by Eske Willerslev and Maanasa Raghaven from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and additional researchers from Sweden, Russia, United Kingdom, University of Chicago and University of California-Berkeley.

Their work, funded by the Danish National Science Foundation, Lundbeck Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, is published in the current issue of Nature magazine. Neanderthal Viruses Found In Human DNA Prompt Scientists To Explore Links To Cancer And AIDS. Ancient viruses inherited from Neanderthals have been found in modern human DNA. Scientists are investigating possible links between the "endogenous retroviruses", which are hard-wired into DNA, and modern diseases such as AIDS and cancer.

Researchers compared DNA from Neanderthals and another group of ancient humans called Denisovans with that obtained from cancer patients. They found evidence of Neanderthal and Denisovan viruses in the modern DNA, suggesting that they originated in a common ancestor more than half a million years ago. Neanderthals co-existed with our ancestors in Europe for thousands of years, but belonged to a different human sub-species. Around 8% of human DNA is made up of endogenous retroviruses, or ERVs, which are DNA sequences left by viruses which pass from generation to generation.

They form part of the 90% of the genome, sometimes called "junk" DNA, that contains no instruction codes for making proteins. Loading Slideshow. Dinosaur Brain Structure Modeled From Birds & Alligators In New Study. SAN DIEGO — Fossils have painted an often colorful and sometimes feathery picture of what dinosaurs looked like in their heyday, but almost nothing is known about the brains of man's favorite Jurassic beasts. Drawing from the brain structures of crocodiles and birds, new research provides some clues about the structure of the dinosaur brain.

"No one has ever found a preserved dinosaur brain," said Erich Jarvis, a neurobiologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., who presented the research with a colleague Tuesday (Nov. 12) here at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The only scraps of evidence available are fossilized molds of dinosaur brains, called endocasts — including one of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

But endocasts don't accurately reflect the brain's internal structure. For that, Jarvis and his colleagues turned to the brains of dinosaurs' closest living relatives. [Gallery: Stunning Illustrations of Dinosaurs] "Dinosaurs may be underrated in complexity," Jarvis said. Dinosaur Extinction Event Research Helps Explain Why Some Species Survived.

When an asteroid or comet slammed into Earth about 66 million years ago, most of our planet’s species were wiped out in a mass extinction—including entire groups such as the nonavian dinosaurs, marine reptiles such as mosasaurs, and their flying kin the pterosaurs. But not all ecosystems suffered equally, and the dramatic difference in survival rates between marine species and freshwater ones has been particularly puzzling. A new study weighs in on the long-standing riddle. According to some estimates, about three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth disappeared during the end-of-the-Cretaceous dino-killing impact. But marine ecosystems lost only about half of their species, and freshwater environments lost a mere 10% to 22%, says William Lewis, an aquatic ecologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. For instance, researchers have previously estimated that sunlight couldn’t reach Earth’s surface for at least several months after the impact.

Also on HuffPost: Battle for the Americas. One More Homo Species? 3D-comparative analysis confirms status of Homo floresiensis as fossil human species. Ever since the discovery of the remains in 2003, scientists have been debating whether Homo floresiensis represents a distinct Homo species, possibly originating from a dwarfed island Homo erectus population, or a pathological modern human. The small size of its brain has been argued to result from a number of diseases, most importantly from the condition known as microcephaly. Based on the analysis of 3-D landmark data from skull surfaces, scientists from Stony Brook University New York, the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, Eberhard-Karls Universität Tübingen, and the University of Minnesota provide compelling support for the hypothesis that Homo floresiensis was a distinct Homo species.

The study, titled "Homo floresiensis contextualized: a geometric morphometric comparative analysis of fossil and pathological human samples," is published in the July 10 edition of PLOS ONE. The ancestry of the Homo floresiensis remains is much disputed.

Paleontology

Sabretooth killing power depended on thick neck. 2 July 2013Last updated at 11:13 ET By Melissa Hogenboom Science reporter, BBC News This marsupial pouched killer (pictured in an artist's interpretation) had bigger canines than those of other similar-sized sabretooth beasts Scientists have analysed how an extinct sabretooth animal with huge canines dispatched its prey, finding that strong neck muscles were vital for securing a kill. The marsupial, which terrorised South America 3.5 million years ago, had the biggest canine teeth for its size. Experts say the big beast possessed extreme adaptations to the "sabretooth lifestyle". The killing behaviour of Thylacosmilus atrox is described in Plos One.

Until now, the extinct sabretooth "tiger" Smilodon fatalis has received most attention as a ferocious sabretooth predator. Thylacosmilus's canine teeth were extremely close to its brain Like Smilodon, Thylacosmilus had highly specialised canines adapted to kill large beasts but until now little was known about the exact way it killed its prey. Did Humans Eat Neanderthals? Evidence For Scientists' Shocking Claim Said Lacking. By: Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor Published: 06/04/2013 12:14 PM EDT on LiveScience No clear evidence suggests modern humans ate Neanderthals, much less that they did so enough to drive Neanderthals to extinction, despite recent claims from scientists in Spain. Neanderthals were once the closest living relatives of modern humans, ranging across a vast area from Europe to western Asia and the Middle East.

Their lineage went extinct about the same time modern humans expanded across the world, leading to speculation that modern humans wiped them out. Scientists Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro and Policarp Hortolà at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution in Tarragona, Spain, noted the migration of modern humans across the globe may have played a role in the extinction of more than 178 of the world's largest mammal species or megafauna, such as woolly mammoths. No evidence Human-Neanderthal contact? The first factor is very rapid climate change. Eight Bronze Age Boats Unearthed In Britain Go On Display (PHOTOS) Eight Bronze Age boats go on display this week in England after extremely meticulous preservation efforts.

The fleet of wooden boats -- which included one vessel that could still float -- was discovered between 2011 and 2012 at Must Farm in what was once a river bed outside the city of Peterborough, according to the Guardian. Archeologists working with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit are still waiting on the results of carbon 14 dating, but they believe some of the boats date all the way back to 1,600 B.C.

Of varying size and design, the boats found in Must Farm may offer clues about the lifestyle of prehistoric Britons, according to The Independent. “Dugout canoes were a major form of personal transport in prehistoric times," Richard Darrah, a leading ancient boat specialists, told The Independent. Curious tourists or history buffs can view the boats through windows in the container starting Wednesday. Dinosaur Embryos Discovered In Egg Clutch In Portugal Called Most Primitive Ever Found.

By: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer Published: 05/30/2013 09:02 AM EDT on LiveScience A dinosaur nest discovery has revealed the most primitive known dinosaur embryos, which are among the oldest ever found. The eggs belong to Torvosaurus, a T. rex-like predator that stalked the late Jurassic some 150 million years ago. Torvosaurus grew to be around 30 feet (9 meters) long, but the fragmented embryos discovered in Portugal were probably only about 6 inches (15 centimeters) in length. "This is shedding some light on the early stages of the development of these types of dinosaurs," said Ricardo Araújo, a doctoral candidate in paleontology at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

[See Photos of Dinosaur Embryos and Hatchlings] A surprising find The crushed clutch of eggs was found in 2005 by amateur fossil-hunter and fossil cast-maker Art Walen, who was on an annual vacation to the fossil-rich Lourinhã Formation in western Portugal. Such a find is "extremely rare," Araújo said. Babies Learn To Talk & Birds Learn To Sing In Similar Ways, Finch Study Shows. By Karen Ravn Babies learn to babble before they learn to talk, at first simply repeating individual syllables (as in ba-ba-ba), and later stringing various syllables together (as in ba-da-goo). Songbirds exhibit similar patterns during song-learning, and the capacity for this sort of syllable sequencing is widely believed to be innate and to emerge full-blown — a theory that is challenged by a paper published on Nature's website today1.

A study of three species — zebra finches, Bengalese finches and humans — reports that none of the trio has it that easy. Their young all have to learn how to string syllables together slowly, pair by pair. “We discovered a previously unsuspected stage in human vocal development,” says first author Dina Lipkind, a psychologist now at Hunter College in New York. The researchers began by training young zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) to sing a song in which three syllables represented by the letters A, B and C came in the order ABC–ABC. Babble on. How the turtle got its unique hard shell. 31 May 2013 Last updated at 08:08 GMT By Melissa Hogenboom Science reporter, BBC News The sea turtle's unique shell evolved many millions of years ago How the turtle shell evolved has puzzled scientists for years, but new research sheds light on how their hard shells were formed. Scientists say the ancient fossil skeleton of an extinct South African reptile has helped bridge a 30 to 55-million-year gap.

This ancestor of the modern turtle, Eunotosaurus , is thought to be around 260 million years old. It had significant differences to a recently found fossil relative . Eunotosaurus was discovered over a century ago but new research in the journal Current Biology has only now analysed its differences to other turtle fossils. An extinct reptile fossil has helped scientists discover how turtles hard shells are formed A turtle's shell is unique in that it is made up of around 50 bones, with ribs, shoulder bones and vertebrae fused together to form a hard external shell.

A turtle's shell. Archaeopteryx restored in fossil reshuffle. 29 May 2013 Last updated at 13:12 ET By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News Features seen in the bones of Aurornis tell scientists they are looking at the beginning of the bird line What may be the earliest creature yet discovered on the evolutionary line to birds has been unearthed in China.

The fossil animal, which retains impressions of feathers, is dated to be about 160 million years old. Scientists have given it the name Aurornis , which means "dawn bird". The significance of the find, they tell Nature magazine , is that it helps simplify not only our understanding for how birds emerged from dinosaurs but also for how powered flight originated. Aurornis xui , to give it its full name, is preserved in a shale slab pulled from the famous fossil beds of Liaoning Province. How it might have looked: Aurornis would have lived in forested environment Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is the lead author on the paper that describes Aurornis . Dog’s tooth accessories were all the rage in Stone Age Europe. Archaeologists excavating a Stone Age burial ground near Leipzig, Germany, have uncovered the world’s oldest purse.

The very rare discovery is believed to be up to 4,500 years old and is decorated with over 100 tightly packed canine teeth. Susanne Friederich, of the Sachsen-Anhalt State Archaeology and Preservation Office, believes the teeth formed the decorative outer flap of the purse. She told the National Geographic , “Over the years the leather or fabric disappeared, and all that’s left is the teeth. They’re all pointing in the same direction, so it looks a lot like a modern handbag flap. It’s the first time we can show direct evidence of a bag like this.” Canine teeth are commonly found in Stone Age burial sites in northern and central Europe, which suggests that dogs were considered more as livestock than as pets – the purse’s decoration alone required the teeth of dozens of animals. Profen, near Leipzig, where the dog-tooth purse was discovered at a Stone Age burial site.

New evidence suggests Europeans reached America by boat up to 26,000 years ago. A remarkable series of several dozen European-style stone tools, dating back between 19,000 and 26,000 years, have been discovered at 6 locations along the US east coast. Three of the sites are on the Delmarva Peninsular in Maryland, one is in Pennsylvania and another in Virginia. A sixth was discovered by fishermen on the seabed 60 miles from the Virginian coast on what, in prehistoric times, would have been dry land. The new discoveries are being heralded as “among the most important archaeological breakthroughs for several decades”. The similarity between Stone Age tool technologies discovered in the US and those of the Solutrean cultures of France and Iberia has been fiercely debated for years, but all the European-style tools previously unearthed dated to around 15,000 years ago – long after the Solutrean culture had passed.

The ‘Solutrean Hypothesis’ had therefore been rejected by most archaeologists through lack of evidence. Ice Age Atlantic Crossing – image from Daily Mail. Neanderthal Breastfeeding Habits Revealed By Analysis Of Prehistoric Tooth. Humans' Spear Use Dates Back 90,000 Years, Bone Study Suggests. Dinosaur Ancestors Flourished After Mass Extinction, Fossil Study Suggests. Team reconstructs 'human ancestor' Fragments of ancient continent buried under Indian Ocean. HIV 'may have an ancient origin' Darwin Was Wrong About Dating. A history lesson from genes: Using DNA to tell us how populations change. Prehistoric ghosts revealing new details: Synchrotron helps identify previously unseen anatomy preserved in fossils. 'Marine' Fossils May Instead Represent Early Land Dwellers. Scientists 'surprised' to discover very early ancestors survived on tropical plants, new study suggests.

Tracing humanity's African ancestry may mean rewriting 'out of Africa' dates. New way to look at dawn of life: Focus shifts from 'hardware' to 'software' Reconstruction of prehistoric DNA refutes criticism on theory of evolution. Origin Of Life: New Study Spotlights Not Chemistry But How Living Things Store, Process Information. Feathered Non-Avian Dinosaurs from North America Provide Insight into Wing Origins.