Cemeteries from the Longobard spread into Italy tell tales of migration and mixing.
The amount of information we have about the human family tree is steadily growing, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions. One of the biggest mysteries is why our particular branch of human history was able to endure, while others like the Neanderthals were snuffed out. A new study by a group of researchers from multiple institutions in the US and Europe suggests that plunging temperatures may have been too much for Neanderthals to handle.
The work, which was published in Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, used observations of stalagmites that are tens of thousands of years old. The rocky formations can act as a sort of timeline of change, offering information on how climate patterns shifted over thousands and thousands of years.
In the paper, the scientists explain that a change appears to have taken place somewhere around 44,000 years back. During this time, they believe the climate began to grow colder over a period of thousands of years and remaining chilly for an extended period of time.
Temperatures eventually returned to where they were, but the archaeological record seems to indicate that many Neanderthals couldn’t push through the extended cold snap. These cold cycles repeated themselves, and each time they did things got worse for the Neanderthals.
“For many years we have wondered what could have caused their demise,” Dr Vasile Ersek of Northumbria University explains in a statement. “Were they pushed ‘over the edge’ by the arrival of modern humans, or were other factors involved? Our study suggests that climate change may have had an important role in the Neanderthal extinction.”
The study is one of the first to draw a clear link between natural climate change and the affect it may have had on the Neanderthal population. The researchers note that the number of tools made by Neanderthals during the suspected cold periods seems to have been very low, hinting at the possibility that the ancient people were having a very hard time coping with the changing world. With a greatly diminished population, the race was ultimately doomed to extinction, especially when our own human ancestors began expanding into new areas.
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Modern technology makes it so easy to connect with people all over the world that it might sound crazy to think that there are still communities of people who have never made contact with pretty much anyone. However, tribes which have no interest in our way of life do indeed exist, and advocates are doing their best to protect them.
Brazil is thought to be home to several of these groups of indigenous people, and the Brazilian government just released new footage of a remote tribe that seems to be getting along just fine without the meddling of the outside world.
The brief clip shows at least two individuals going about their daily routines in the solitude of the rain forest. As the New York Times reports, the video was shot near Brazil’s border with Peru, and was captured by a government agency known as Funai, or the National Indian Foundation.
From the footage it’s a bit hard to tell whether or not the individuals on the ground are actually looking at the drone hovering high above their heads or not. Both of them pause at different points, but it’s difficult to tell what way they’re looking. Nevertheless, the footage helps advocates argue in favor of keeping these sections of the rain forest free from outside interference.
There are groups that routinely monitor the status of these isolated tribes in order to prevent farmers and others from encroaching on their settlements. As farmers push into the rain forest, they sometimes overlap with areas that are settled by these remote tribes, and that can quickly lead to conflict.
In one particularly tragic case, a man now commonly known as “the Man of the Hole” was the only survivor of an attack by farmers on his tribe and family. He now lives alone in the rain forest, and has never made contact with the outside world. Nobody even knows what language he speaks, but he has been surviving on his own for over two decades with no help from outsiders. He earned his nickname due to his habit of digging holes for various purposes.
Finding the remains of animals that have been dead for tens of thousands of years isn’t easy. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a handful of bones, or maybe even a near-complete skeleton, but that’s about the best most scientists can hope for. So, when researchers in Siberia stumbled upon the body of a 40,000-year-old baby horse so perfectly preserved that it still has its hair, you can see why it would be cause for celebration.
The foal, which is thought to have been a member of an ancient population of wild horses which inhabited the Russian republic of Yakutia between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago, is pristine. With zero damage to its body, the young horse remained frozen in the ground, just waiting for researchers to find it.
Discoveries such as this are important for a number of reasons. Not only does it reveal exactly what these ancient animals looked like, but it also allows scientists to study the way they lived in incredible ways. For example, the horse’s internal organs can now be searched for evidence of its last meal, telling us about its diet as well as what kind of plants were present in the area at the time of its death tens of thousands of years ago.
Scientists believe the tiny horse was only around two months old when it died. It’s unclear how it died, but the lack of damage to its body would suggest that it didn’t fall victim to a predator. A full autopsy is planned for the near future, but in the meantime the researchers have taken samples of from the body and the earth that encased the remains.
Wild horses — that is, horses with no ancestors who had been domesticated — are thought to be extinct on Earth today. Przewalski’s horse, once thought to be the last remaining wild horses still alive today, were recently revealed to be the descendants of a population of domesticated horses. If true, that would make the population feral rather than wild, and would also mean there’s no truly wild horses left.