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  • Originally published 08/02/2013

    Archaeology: The milk revolution

    In the 1970s, archaeologist Peter Bogucki was excavating a Stone Age site in the fertile plains of central Poland when he came across an assortment of odd artefacts. The people who had lived there around 7,000 years ago were among central Europe's first farmers, and they had left behind fragments of pottery dotted with tiny holes. It looked as though the coarse red clay had been baked while pierced with pieces of straw.Looking back through the archaeological literature, Bogucki found other examples of ancient perforated pottery. “They were so unusual — people would almost always include them in publications,” says Bogucki, now at Princeton University in New Jersey. He had seen something similar at a friend's house that was used for straining cheese, so he speculated that the pottery might be connected with cheese-making. But he had no way to test his idea....

  • Originally published 06/28/2013

    Was first curveball thrown 2 million years ago?

    NEW YORK —It's a big year for throwing. The greatest closer in baseball history, Mariano Rivera of the Yankees, is retiring. Aroldis Chapman, the overpowering Cincinnati Reds reliever, continues to fire fastballs beyond 100 mph.And now some scientists say they've figured out when our human ancestors first started throwing with accuracy and fire power, as only people can: Nearly 2 million years ago.That's what researchers conclude in a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature. There's plenty of skepticism about their conclusion. But the new paper contends that this throwing ability probably helped our ancient ancestor Homo erectus hunt, allowing him to toss weapons — probably rocks and sharpened wooden spears....

  • Originally published 05/28/2013

    Neanderthal molar suggests early weaning

    Modern mothers love to debate how long to breast-feed, a topic that stirs both guilt and pride. Now — in a very preliminary finding — the Neanderthals are weighing in.By looking at barium levels in the fossilized molar of a Neanderthal child, researchers concluded that the child had been breast-fed exclusively for the first seven months, followed by seven months of mother’s milk supplemented by other food. Then the barium pattern in the tooth enamel “returned to baseline prenatal levels, indicating an abrupt cessation of breast-feeding at 1.2 years of age,” the scientists reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature.While that timetable conforms with the current recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics — which suggests that mothers exclusively breast-feed babies for six months and continue for 12 months if possible — it represents a much shorter span of breast-feeding than practiced by apes or a vast majority of modern humans. The average age of weaning in nonindustrial populations is about 2.5 years; in chimpanzees in the wild, it is about 5.3 years. Of course, living conditions were much different for our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals, extinct for the last 30,000 years....

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