Using dating techniques that examine the build-up of calcium carbonate, scientists have concluded that artwork found in caves in Spain is more than 40,000 years old. That makes the particular artistic statement — a red dot, found on a wall that features a series of depictions of hands rimmed by red paint — is more than 4,000 years older than the previous oldest known piece of human art.
The age of the art is extraordinary, because it stretches back to the dawn of human immigration into Europe, which is believed to have occurred about 41,000 years ago. To give some context to the amazing age of the paintings, consider that the first known civilizations didn’t begin until about 6000 years ago, and that if you went back in time 4000 years from today you’d be at a point centuries before the birth of King Tut.
Discoveries like this make you wonder how old human expression truly is, and when it first was displayed. Is cave painting the earliest form of human artistic expression, or is another form even older? When did humans first sing, or dance around the fire pit, or create some form of music? How soon after language was developed did the first poet or storyteller come into being?
The days of these early humans were consumed by hunting dangerous animals, foraging for food, building fires, creating tools and clothing, and avoiding predators — and yet they spent time creating art on the walls of their cave shelters. The fact that the artistic impulse is found in such early humans says something very powerful about creativity and the artistic urge as a fundamental part of human nature.
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Posted in Dogs, Humor, Kasey, Penny, Science, tagged Dogs, Early Humans, Humor, Kasey, Natural Selection, Neanderthals, Penny, Science on May 16, 2012 |
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Tens of thousands of years ago, both humans and Neanderthals walked the Earth. Humans, obviously, survived. Neanderthals — except to the extent they mated with humans and left their genes behind — didn’t. Why did one humanoid species thrive, and the other fail?
New theories posit that the domestication of dogs was a significant part of the secret to success for humans, because dogs helped humans procreate more rapidly and crowd the Neanderthals out. Paleolithic excavations show significant interaction between humans and dogs, and even indicate that early humans engaged in ritualistic canine worship that included special burials of man’s best friend. Dogs also helped hunting humans identify and take down their prey and served as beasts of burden, carrying packs as they accompanied their human masters. All of this allowed humans to eat more, carry more supplies, and survive to reproduce. Under the laws of natural selection, that gave the humans an ultimately dispositive advantage.
Although the linked article doesn’t mention it specifically, I imagine that the special emotional bond between humans and dogs also was an important part of the humans’ secret. It’s not hard to imagine dogs helping to keep ancient humans warm at night, providing early warnings when predators approached, and giving the kind of happy companionship that makes people feel good — and makes life a bit more worth living. It’s one reason why companion dogs have been so successful at hospitals and retirement homes.
It’s hard to imagine Penny and Kasey as pack animals for early hunter-gatherers, but they would have liked the canine worship part.
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Posted in Science, Technology, World, tagged Clovis hunters, Early Humans, Extinction, Human History, Ice Age, Mastodons, Science, Technology, World on October 21, 2011 |
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Scientists have been carefully examining the rib bone of a mastodon, a giant, tusked, elephant-like creature that roamed North America thousands of years ago. The bone has led them to some interesting conclusions about when humans first came to the Americas, and what they were like.
The mastodon rib bone is unique because it includes an embedded projectile — a spear-point, also made from a mastodon’s bone, that had been sharpened to a needle-like point. Scientists have applied precise new dating technologies, including radio carbon tests using atomic accelerators, to the bone and have concluded that it dates from 13,800 years ago. The age of the bone is significant because it predates the point at which the so-called “Clovis hunters” were supposed to have swept across the land bridge from Siberia and spread across the North American continent. The needle-like spear point in the mastodon’s rib — which uses bone tool techniques much more sophisticated than those purportedly used by the stone tool-wielding “Clovis hunters” — indicates that humans probably arrived thousands of years earlier.
The bone tells us that the early North Americans were capable of fine and effective toolmaking and were fierce and formidable hunters. Imagine being able to hurl or thrust a bone spear with sufficient force to pierce not only the hide of a mastodon, but also penetrate its rib bone! But the bone may tell us something more about the bloody-handed history of our race. It raises the possibility that early humans played a much larger role than was once thought in the mass extinction of the huge creatures that ruled the Earth during the last Ice Age. Woolly mammoths, mastodons, sabre-toothed cats, giant sloths, and giant birds all went extinct about 13,000 years ago. The dating of the mastodon’s rib bone increases the sad likelihood that the fierce, bone spear-throwing hunters standing at the dawn of recorded history hunted those long-lost species to their deaths.
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A recent study has concluded that the woolly mammoth died out due to declining pasture land, rather than being hunted to extinction by early humans as some scientists have speculated.
Interestingly, climate change apparently played a role — although no one seems to be attributing that climate change to humans (yet). During the Ice Age, there were smaller concentrations of carbon dioxide, which discouraged tree growth. As a result, there were vast pasture lands that were perfectly suited to large grass- and plant-munching beasts like the woolly mammoth. As the Ice Age receded, climates warmed and carbon dioxide concentrations increased, which in turn led to the development of forests that encroached on the grasslands that were crucial to the survival of the mammoths.
The study is based on computer simulations, so there will still be room for debate. Nevertheless, it is nice to think that our ancestors were not responsible for the extinction of these striking, colossal creatures that roamed the planet at the dawn of mankind.
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