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Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall


Monday, August 19, 2019

Australasian signal in the DNA of Amerindians


BBack in 2015 (Skoglund P, Mallick S, Bortolini MC, et al. Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the Americas. Nature. 2015;525(7567):104–108. doi:10.1038/nature14895) an article showed that " show that some Amazonian Native Americans descend partly from a Native American founding population that carried ancestry more closely related to indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andaman Islanders than to any present-day Eurasians or Native Americans. This signature is not present to the same extent or at all in present-day Northern and Central Americans or a ~12,600 year old Clovis genome, suggesting a more diverse set of founding populations of the Americas than previously accepted.".


This is quite a remarkable discovery, and the authors quickly clarified that "These results do not imply that an unmixed population related anciently to Australasians migrated to the Americas. While this is a formal possibility, an alternative model that we view as plausible is that the 'Population Y' (we use 'Population Y' after Ypykuéra, which means 'ancestor' in the Tupi language family spoken by the Suruí and Kartiana) that contributed Australian related ancestry to Amazonians was already mixed with a lineage related to First Americans at the time it reached Amazonia."


They concluded that "he genetic data allow us to say with confidence that Population Y ancestry arrived south of the ice sheets anciently: the fact that the geographically diverse Andamanese, Australian and New Guinean populations are all similarly related to this source suggests that the population is no longer extant, and the absence of long-range admixture linkage disequilibrium suggests that the population mixture did not occur in the last few thousand years."


Last year another study (Reconstructing the Deep Population History of Central and South America Posth C. et al., (2018) Cell, Vol 175:5 P1185-1197.E22, Nov. 15, 2018) looked into the peopling of America but didn't manage to find this Australasian signal in "ancient remains" that they analyzed:


"failure to find significant evidence of Australasian or Paleolithic East Asian affinities in any of the ancient Central and South American individuals raises the question of what ancient populations could have contributed the Population Y signal in Surui and other Amazonian groups and increases the previously small chance that this signal—despite the strong statistical evidence for it—was a false-positive."


But shortly after another paper was published in Science (Early human dispersals within the Americas, Moreno-Mayar et al., Science 07 Dec 2018: Vol. 362, Issue 6419, eaav2621 DOI: 10.1126/science.aav2621) that sequenced the DNA of ancient remains from all across America, Alaska to Patagonia and found that prior to the main migration into America, there was an earlier one, with Australasian traits:


"... there are genomic and archaeological hints of an earlier human presence. How these early groups are related or structured, particularly those with Australasian ancestry, remains unknown.... [there were] multiple independent, geographically uneven migrations into South America. One such migration provides clues of Late Pleistocene Australasian ancestry in South America, [which] contributed to present-day South American ancestry."


"... we find that the Amazonian Surui share a larger proportion of alleles with Australasian groups (represented by Papuans, Australians and Andaman Islanders), with respect to Mixe. Lagoa Santa yielded similar results to those obtained for the Surui. When compared to Mesoamerican groups (Mixe and Huichol), Lagoa Santa also shares a larger proportion of alleles with Australasian groups but not with other Eurasians."


Remarkably, these first wave individuals with Austronesian genes somehow reached South America without leaving any traces in North America: "[a populaton] that harbored an Australasian signal in the Late Pleistocene and reached South America, yet left no apparent traces in North America".


So the facial reconstruction of "Luzia", one of the 12,500 year-old Lagoa Santa crania (and almost lost in the fire that razed the Rio de Janeiro National Museum -fortunately the skull survived) which originally depicted her with an African look now has her looking more Asian:


Luzia now. Source

Luzia before, more "African".

So the question remains open: where did this signal come from? And why is it not present in North America or Asia? Below is a map from Skoglund's 2015 paper, and the white circles show this lack of Australasian DNA in those regions, and the red and yellow cicles indicate their presence in South America:




Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Fuegian Dogs, some photos


Almost ten years ago (Oct. 2009) I posted about the Fuegian dogs -pictured below, said to descend from foxes. At that time I had only managed to get one photo of them, a stuffed specimen at a museum in Punta Arenas Chile. Today I have found several images of Fuegian dogs, which don't look fox like at all!


The photo from my 2009 post:


I have wondered if they were replaced by European dogs after these were introduced by shepherds, and the Selknam adopted the newcomers to replace their extinct breed.


A paper published a year ago in Science (The evolutionary history of dogs in the Americas, Maire Ni Leathlobhair, Angela R. Perri et al., Science 06 Jul 2018:Vol. 361, Issue 6397, pp. 81-85 DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4776) tells us that the Amerindian dogs were wiped out by disease brought to the New World after European discovery and conquest (post 1492 AD). The paper also came up with an intriguing discovery "The closest detectable extant lineage to precontact American dogs is the canine transmissible venereal tumor, a contagious cancer clone derived from an individual dog that lived up to 8000 years ago", but that will be discussed in a separate post.


Below are some of the photos I came across today in the Internet, they are all Selknam dogs. There were other natives in Tierra del Fuego, and their dogs are not depicted here (the Alakaluf, the Haush, the Yaghans or Yamana).


Selknam dogs with surviving Selknam people ca. 1910. (source)


Selknam woman, child and dog:


Selknam hunting with two dogs, and using bows and arrows.



Salesian father Juan Vila, with an embalmed Fuegian dog. Seems very much like the one in the Punta Arenas museum.



Here the Selknam are called "Ona", another name used until recently to designate these people.



Another dog, during a Selknam ritual.



Two dogs.




Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Language diversity (or the lack of it) does not suppor the Out of Africa theory


The diversity of human languages has been something that has always interested me -maybe I was really impressed back in Sunday school with the Tower of Babel story from the Bible.


But the biblical explanation in Genesis 11:1-9 is in itself an attempt at explaining the origin of the different languages we speak:


(from Genesis 11:1-9 English Standard Version), the bold highlight is mine:
"1. Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.
2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
3 And they said to one another, 'Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar.
4 Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.'
5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.
6 And the Lord said, 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.'
8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused[a] the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
"


So the idea of an "original" language which -in this case, due to divine intervention- became many, is very old indeed.


Now we know that languages evolve and change, as is the case of migrating people isolated from each other, even during short periods of time (think about British English and Australian English where "city" is pronounced "siddy" by the Aussies and "sity" by the Brits).

Even one established society as time goes by finds its language modified, an example is the "Great Vowel Shift" in British English between the 1300s and the 1600s, where vowels literally changed as we can see in the following sonnet by William Shakespeare (Sonnet 47):


With my love's picture then my eye doth feast,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart;
Another time mine eye is my heart's guest,
...
So either by thy picture or my love
Thyself away are resent still with me
For thou not farther than my thoughts canst move
And I am still with them and they with me


Back then, "guest" rhymed with "feast" and "love" with "move"!


Today I came across a paper that tries to use something called "phonemic diversity" to prove the Out of Africa theory of human origins.


It was published by Quentin D. Atkinson in April 2011: Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa, Science 15 Apr 2011: Vol. 332, Issue 6027, pp. 346-349 DOI: 10.1126/science.1199295. And very boldly claims that:


"Here I show that the number of phonemes used in a global sample of 504 languages is also clinal and fits a serial founder–effect model of expansion from an inferred origin in Africa. This result, which is not explained by more recent demographic history, local language diversity, or statistical non-independence within language families, points to parallel mechanisms shaping genetic and linguistic diversity and supports an African origin of modern human languages".


In other words, the further you move away from Africa -according to Atkinson- languages have less phonemes, in a similar manner as bottlenecks restrict genetic diversity, a similar effect affects language.


I am not too sure if I agree with Atkinson's idea, but I didn't have to look too far to find an excellent rebuttal of this theory: Asya Pereltsvaig wrote a great post in her blog which summarizes its detailed analysis as follows:"All in all, the Science article by Atkinson on phomenic diversity seems to be yet another example of shoddy work in which mathematical methods are applied in a simplistic fashion, without any understanding of concepts and phenomena under consideration. Such works produce results that contradicts well-known facts about the nature of human languages, as well as plain common sense".


In fact, there are several language hotspots outside of Africa, such as the Caucasus, Papua New Guinea and, the Americas (yes, the "last" place to be colonized by our errant ancestors -yes Polynesia is younger still, but America is the last big place to have been reached in the purported Out of Africa event).


I haven't been able to find any papers on the evolution of languages, a "clock" that can be used to explain why America supposedly first reached by humans 15 kya has roughly the same diversity as New Guinea which was reached 50 kya or the Caucasus and Southern Asia, which were populated by H. sapiens even earlier!



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Stone tools 2.6 My old in Northern India... Who made them?


Thank you NeilB for drawing my attention to this paper: The first Indo-French Prehistorical Mission in Siwaliks and the discovery of anthropic activities at 2.6 million years, Anne Dambricourt Malasse, Comptes Rendus Palevol, Volume 15, Issues 3–4, February–March 2016, Pages 281-294, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crpv.2015.12.001.


It is quite controversial to say the least. It discusses some remains and stone tools 2.6 Million years old found at the foot of the Himalayas in NW India, in the village of Masol


I will quote some parts of this paper:


"In the African paradigm, the most probable cradle of Homo genus is the north of the Rift Valley, rather than Central and South Africa.
The first Asian paradigm is interesting. The comparison between the geographical distribution of fossil apes and the oldest human occupations including Riwat, shows clearly a superposition (Fig. 2). The partial mandible of Longgupo was first assigned to a descendant from Homo habilis, then, a dozen of years later, to a "mystery ape". This revision arose from the paradigm of “Out of Africa” dating from 1.8 Ma; "such classifications are always open to interpretation. But I am now convinced that the Longgupo fossil and others like it do not represent a pre-erectus human, but rather one or more mystery apes indigenous to southeast Asia's Pleistocene primal forest. In contrast, H. erectus arrived in Asia about 1.6 million years ago." (Ciochon, 2009)."


The tools found at the site (see image below -from Dambricourt's paper) are chopped pebbles or cobbles similar to those of the Oldowan stone technology, the oldest known stone tools:


The 2.6 MY old tools.

The paper concludes: "These hominines were familiar with an environment regularly exposed to monsoon and floods in the plain, where Himalayan rivers provided carrion for meat, grease, marrow and also raw material for the stone tools. Insofar as, on the ground, there is no hard stone other than the quartzite pebbles with a mean size of 15 cm, hominins likely used the direct percussion that gives an idea of their muscle power. The hominins of Masol had a good anatomical knowledge of the carrion as shown by the marks on the bones, which reveal organized, agile and precise gestures. The discovery of anthropic scavenging activity in Siwaliks dating from 2.6 Ma raises now the question of the geographic and phyletic origins of these hominines."


I am not so positive about an Asian origin of these hominins, but they may represent an early dispersal out of Africa of Australopithecines or Homo habilis, earlier than formerly believed.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Neanderthals in China some 40kya


This is a very short post, but quite interesting even though the paper it mentions was published over 18 months ago. It mentions Moutserian tools -typical of Neanderthals- in China.


The easternmost Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) from Jinsitai Cave, North China, Feng Li et al., Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 114, January 2018, Pages 76-84, Volume 114, January 2018, Pages 76-84


Their abstract is revealing:


"Abstract
The dispersal of Neanderthals and their genetic and cultural interactions with anatomically modern humans and other hominin populations in Eurasia are critical issues in human evolution research.
Neither Neanderthal fossils nor typical Mousterian assemblages have been reported in East Asia to date. Here we report on artifact assemblages comparable to western Eurasian Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) at Jinsitai, a cave site in North China.
The lithic industry at Jinsitai appeared at least 47–42 ka and persisted until around 40–37 ka.
These findings expand the geographic range of the Mousterian-like industries at least 2000 km further to the east than what has been previously recognized.
This discovery supplies a missing part of the picture of Middle Paleolithic distribution in Eurasia and also demonstrates the makers' capacity to adapt to diverse geographic regions and habitats of Eurasia.
"


We add the map published in the paper:


JST -red arrow- marks the site. From Feng Li et al.

This means that the map we published in our post Neanderthals migration to America - Part I has to be modified with this new information!:


Neanderthal range in Asia, revised again. And possible dispersal route into America. ©. 2019 A. Whittall.

I have added the Denisovans and extended Neanderthal's range to include the Jinsitai cave in China.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, July 19, 2019

The most recent information on Admixture with archaic hominins


A paper (Using hominin introgression to trace modern human dispersals, Joao C. Teixeira and Alan Cooper, PNAS first published July 12, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1904824116 - behind a pay wall), reports admixture with several groups of hominins other than Denisovans and Neanderthals during the dispersal of modern humans around the globe.


The abstract says the following:


"bstract The dispersal of anatomically modern human populations out of Africa and across much of the rest of the world around 55 to 50 thousand years before present (ka) is recorded genetically by the multiple hominin groups they met and interbred with along the way, including the Neandertals and Denisovans. The signatures of these introgression events remain preserved in the genomes of modern-day populations, and provide a powerful record of the sequence and timing of these early migrations, with Asia proving a particularly complex area. At least 3 different hominin groups appear to have been involved in Asia, of which only the Denisovans are currently known. Several interbreeding events are inferred to have taken place east of Wallace’s Line, consistent with archaeological evidence of widespread and early hominin presence in the area. However, archaeological and fossil evidence indicates archaic hominins had not spread as far as the Sahul continent (New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania), where recent genetic evidence remains enigmatic."


Apparently the following admixture events took place between our unchaste ancestors and the other humans they met during their travels:


  1. Neanderthals: in the Middle East (?) 50 - 55 kya
  2. Unknown human similar to Neanderthals and Denisovans. More recent than 50 kya. In Northern India. Modern Punjabi and Bengal populations have some DNA from this admixture event.
  3. Humans that headed into Central and Eastern Asia: Admixture with Denisovans.
  4. Humans heading south into the Malaysian Peninsula: mixed with a relative of the Denisovans which had split from those living in Central Asia some 280 kya. This introgression took place in Malaysia or Borneo.
  5. This group split: those heading into the Philippines mixed with yet another group of Denisovans and the hunter-gatherers living there nowadays carry this genetic imprint.
  6. The group heading south towards Australia met some humans which were not Homo erectus, or Neaderthal or Denisovan, they were not the Flores "Hobbit" either. The genetic signals of this archaic group has been found int he short-statured people living on Flores nowadays.

Nobody seems to have admixed with the other known species of that region: the Homo luzonensis (from the Philippines) and the Flores Island hobbits.


The following images are from this paper:

 


 



These unknown hominins are indeed a very interesting find! We will have to await for further studies to learn more about them.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Gibraltar Neanderthal DNA sequenced: they are not the last survivors.


The DNA of two Neanderthal skulls discovered in Gibraltar has revealed their sex and their affinity with the "Older" Neanderthals such as Scladina Belgium and Russia (see my recent post on the "Old" and "New" Neanderthals) instead of more recent Neanderthals from Spain.


One skull, found in 1848 in Forbes' quarry, lacks the stratigraphic information to be able to date it correctly, and it was assumed to be recent, as Gibraltar is the southernmost part of the Iberian peninsula, and therefore the last bastion where Neanderthals managed to survive when modern Homo sapiens occupied their European range.


But, according to the paper (A genetic analysis of the Gibraltar Neanderthals, Lukas Bokelmann et al. PNAS first published July 15, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1903984116), this skull (also known as Gibraltar 1) is actually closer to the earlier Neanderthals than to the more recent ones:


"is genetically more similar to the ∼120,000-y-old Neanderthals from Scladina Cave in Belgium (Scladina I-4A) and Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave in Germany, as well as to a ∼60,000- to 70,000-y-old Neanderthal from Russia (Mezmaiskaya 1), than to a ∼49,000-y-old Neanderthal from El Sidrón (El Sidrón 1253) in northern Spain ".


The second skull belonged to a child, discovered in 1926. The study proved that he was a boy, but his DNA affinity was not mentioned.


DNA Tree Neanderthals. From the paper

As we can see there is "affinity" with the Scladina, Altai and HST branch but we can also see that it is also on the branch that led to all later Neanderthals.


What is really interesting is that these skulls had been handled by many people who left their human DNA on them (back in 1926 or THE 1800s nobody even dreamed of DNA) yet the scientists managed to remove it and focus only on the Neanderthal DNA. Also they found it in bones from a warm setting -heat tends to destroy ancient DNA. So that means that we can harbor hopes that DNA from hot settings in China or Africa can also be sequenced.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Siberians are not that close to Native Americans


Siberians are said to be the direct ancestors of Native Americans. These Siberians moved into the Beringian land bridge and from there crossed into North America and spread across the whole continent, peopling the Americas, or at least that is what the story says. But what are the facts?


A recent paper: The population history of northeastern Siberia since the Pleistocene, by Martin Sikora et al., Nature vol 570, pp. 182 June 13, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1279-z, describes their findings after sequencing the genomes obtained from 34 ancient remains across Siberia. These genomes span ages ranging from 600 to 31,600 years ago.


These genomes also include the northernmost pleistocene remains found in Siberia, at Yana RHS: they are the earliest direct evidence of human presence in northeastern Siberia, a population that they refer to as Ancient North Siberians (ANS).


Their conclusions are interesting: (bold is mine)


"We find that—despite the complex pattern of population admixture throughout the past 40,000 years the first inhabitants of northeastern Siberia (represented by the Yana RHS individuals) were not the direct ancestors of either Native Americans or present-day Siberians, although traces of their genetic legacy can be observed in ancient and modern genomes across America and northern Eurasia.
These earliest ancient Siberians (the ANS) are known from a handful of other ancient genomes (those of the Mal’ta and Afontova Gora individuals); they are the descendants of one of the early modern human populations that diversified as Eurasia was first settled by our species, and are thus highly distinct.
The ANS were later partially assimilated with a group with East Asian affinity who formed the Ancient Palaeo-Siberians (represented by Kolyma1); this group also probably once had a wide geographical distribution across northern Eurasia. The genetic legacy of Ancient Palaeo-Siberians among present-day Siberians is more limited, being restricted to groups in northeastern Siberia.
"


They found that "Despite their extreme northeastern Siberian geographical location, the Yana RHS individuals are genetically closer to West Eurasians".


They have to look to a later date to find a Siberian that is closer to Native Americans: "We find that the Kolyma1 individual (dated to 9.8 ka) who represents a lineage that formed after about 30 ka, which we name ‘Ancient Palaeo-Siberian’ documents the first major genetic shift that we observe in the region ... Principal component analysis, outgroup-f3 statistics and mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome haplogroups (G1b and Q1a1b, respectively) demonstrate a close affinity between Ancient Palaeo-Siberians and present-day Koryaks, Itelmen and Chukchis, as well as with Native Americans."


But Kolyma1 remains, found in northeastern Siberia, close to Beringia, are less than 10 ky old! So she cannot be an ancestor of the older American population which is now believed to have reached America at least 16 kya. Could Kolyma1 be the outcome of a backflow into Siberia, from America? Only about 66% of her genes is similar to that of Native Americans.


So Kolyma1 is the closest they could find to American Natives, however she isn’t an ancestor. Most of her genome belongs to the "Ancient Paleo-Siberian" lineage which split from that of the Native Americans some 24,000 years ago.

Interestingly, they report that "A signal of Australasian ancestry that has been observed at a very low frequency in some modern and ancient South American populations is not evident in any of the ancient Siberian or Beringian samples sequenced here, or in previous studies".


The study concludes that "the majority of Native American genetic ancestry is likely to have originated in northeastern Siberia rather than south-central Siberia, as has been inferred from modern mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA."


To sum it up, the northernmost of the early Siberians (Yana) are not related to the people who supposedly peopled America. The later Kolyma woman is similar to but not an ancestor either, she is actually a later arrival in the area, when she died, America was already inhabited!


There is a paucity of remains between Yana and Kolyma1 which means that we have to wait for more remains to be discovered and studied before this issue is settled for good.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Archaic Hominin in China author of the earliest use of ochre on bone engravings


Two engraved bones were unearthed at the Lingjing site in Central Eastern China. The remarkable thing about these bones is that they were dated to 105,000 - 125,000 years and the incissions were done deliberately, not as the result of removing meat from a carcass, but with a symbolic intent. The bones were also coated with ochre.


The paper (Engraved bones from the archaic hominin site of Lingjing, Henan Province, Zhanyang Li, Luc Doyon, Hao Li, Qiang Wang ... DOI: https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2019.81Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 July 2019) finds these bones as the earliest evidence of human populations using ochre for symbolic or abstract purposes.


The age of these bones means that they were done by "archaic" hominins that lived prior to and during the evolution of Homo sapiens in Africa (according to the prevalent "out of Africa" theory).


Ochre is a clay with an iron content that once it has oxidized (rusted) gives the clay a tone which can range from yellow to red to brown. It has been used around the world for religious purposes and sacred art (even by Neanderthals, 73 kya - see paper).


Its bright red color may have symbolized blood and therefore life, afterlife, fertility. It is also very visible in the dimly lit caves and was used as raw material for many of the cave rock paintings from the origin of humankind onwards, all across the globe.


A photograph (top) and tracing of an engraved bone fragment found at Lingjing in China’s Henan Province. (Image courtesy Francesco d’Errico and Luc Doyon).


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

A trait shared by East Asians and Denisovans: three rooted molar


As you can see, by checking my most recent posts, I have been reading recent articles and papers about Homo sapiens in Eurasia. Another one caught my eye: Rare dental trait provides morphological evidence of archaic introgression in Asian fossil record, Shara E. Bailey, Jean-Jacques Hublin, and Susan C. Antón, PNAS first published July 8, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1907557116.


Bailey, Hublin and Antón found a dental trait in modern humans that is quite rare outside of Eastern Asia and the Americas and yet was found in the jawbones of two Denisovans. This suggests that modern Asians inherited this trait from an ancestral population that lived in Asia.


Let me quote the paper's Abstract to summarize its findings:


"The recently described Denisovan hemimandible from Xiahe, China [F. Chen et al., (2019) Nature 569, 409–412], possesses an unusual dental feature: a 3-rooted lower second molar. A survey of the clinical and bioarchaeological literature demonstrates that the 3-rooted lower molar is rare (less than 3.5% occurrence) in non-Asian Homo sapiens. In contrast, its presence in Asian-derived populations can exceed 40% in China and the New World. It has long been thought that the prevalence of 3-rooted lower molars in Asia is a relatively late acquisition occurring well after the origin and dispersal of H. sapiens. However, the presence of a 3-rooted lower second molar in this 160,000-y-old fossil hominin suggests greater antiquity for the trait. Importantly, it also provides morphological evidence of a strong link between archaic and recent Asian H. sapiens populations. This link provides compelling evidence that modern Asian lineages acquired the 3-rooted lower molar via introgression from Denisovans."


So the three-rooted second molar (3RM2) is unusal outside of Asia and it was found in the Xiahe Denisovan fossil which is 160,000 years old.


The paper also tells us that: "he recently described Penghu 1 mandible from Taiwan (190 to 10 ka) also exhibits a 3RM2 ... The Penghu mandible retains 'archaic' features, including a receding symphysis that lacks a chin, a thick mandibular corpus, and large molar crowns similar in size to Denisovans. Like Xiahe, these exceptionally large molars are coupled with agenesis of the third molar. For these reasons, Chen et al.suggest that Penghu 1 may also be closely related to Denisovans. Both mandibles show that the 3RM anomaly existed in archaic Asian hominins before H. sapiens in the region.".


The authors conclude: " the presence of “archaic features” in recent Asians that were once used to suggest continuity from Pleistocene Asian H. erectus may also have been obtained by introgression from Denisovans."


Some interesting facts they report are that " the 3RM has not been reported in the earliest H. sapiens from Asia, nor have we observed the trait in early H. sapiens from Africa or Homo erectus in Asia.* We note, however, that the lack of radiography of many specimens and the absence of the original Zhoukoudian remains make this conclusion preliminary."


The global prevalecy of the 3RM is highest in Asians (this paper cites a 25% prevalence rate for Nepal) and Esquimos. See the table in this other paper for more info on 3RM prevalence data.


The Homo luzonensis, which lived 67 kya in the Philippines (see post), had teeth that shared features of both modern H. sapiens and ancient H. erectus, yet they were far smaller than those of modern humans and... they also had three rooted molars.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Homo Sapiens in Greece 210,000 years ago


This paper: Apidima Cave fossils provide earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia published in Nature (Katerina Harvati et al., Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1376-z) provides sound evidence that Homo Sapiens were living in Greece 210,000 years ago, which is 150 ky earlier than what had been considered as their arrival date in Europe.


The cave of Apidima had two skulls, located side by side, roughly one foot apart (30 cm). One was identified as that of a Neanderthal, the other, a modern human skull.


Apidima Cave skulls, Homo sapiens (left) and Neanderthal (right).

The human skull is known as Apidima-1, and is definitively a H. sapiens skull based on its shape. It lacks the characteristic occipital bun that Neanderthals have.


The other skull, Apidima-2 is clearly a Neanderthal one. Its age is also correct -it was dated as being 170,000 years old- because Neanderthals lived in Europe at that time.


The paper summarizes its importance:


"Together, the Apidima crania suggest a complex pattern of population dispersal and possible replacement for southern Greece that is not dissimilar to that proposed for the Levant —a potential source area for the population represented by Apidima-1. In such a scenario, early modern humans who were present in the region in the late Middle Pleistocene were replaced by Neanderthals, whose subsequent pres-ence in southern Greece is well-documented. The latter were them-selves replaced by Upper Palaeolithic modern humans, whose earliest appearance in the region—as documented by Upper Palaeolithic lithic industries—dates to approximately 40ka."


The Apidima-1 skull is the oldest known modern human in Europe, and very likely in all of Eurasia. It is over 160,000 years older than the next oldest known European H. sapiens fossil.


The earliest Homo sapiens African remains -Africa is supposed to be the cradle of modern H. sapiens- date back to 315,000 years and were found in Morocco at Jebel Irhoud. Then come the Florisbad remains from South Africa at 260,000 years.


The skulls were washed into the cave in separate events 40,000 years apart, and stuck in the breccia, one foot apart until discovered in the 1970s.


This age of 210 ky is very close to the date assigned to another skull found in Greece, the Petralona crania dated at 160 - 240 kya yet belonging to a hominin which has been alternatively classified as being that of a Homo erectus, a Neanderthal and also a Homo heidelbergensis (ESR-dating of the fossil hominid cranium from Petralona Cave, Greece, G. J. Hennig, W. Herr, E. Weber & N. I. Xirotiris Naturevolume 292, pages 533–536 (1981).


The dates are going back in time, and Sapiens in Eurasia is older than what a few years ago was deemed possible. Perhaps Homo sapiens fossils even older than those found in Africa are out there, waiting to be discovered.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, July 12, 2019

HST and Scladina Neanderthals


A A recent paper by Stephane Peyregne et al., (Nuclear DNA from two early Neandertals reveals 80,000 years of genetic continuity in Europe, Science Advances 26 Jun 2019: Vol. 5, no. 6, eaaw5873 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw5873) looked into the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of some ancient European remains and compared them to that of modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans.


What they found is indeed interesting, and unexpected.


The team sampled the remains of two Neanderthal people, which lived roughly at the same time (some 125,000 years ago), relatively close to each other in Western Europe: a male femur (thigh bone) discovered in the Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave, Germany, back in 1937 -this sample was named HST. They also analyzed a jaw bone belonging to a girl found in 1993 in Scladina, Belgium.


The mtDNA of the Scladina girl and the HST man, both from Western Europe, were most similar to the mtDNA of the Altai Neandertal (from the Altai region in Asia), 3,300 miles (5.300 km) west of Scladina and Hohlenstein-Stadel.


Their mtDNA was quite different from the mtDNA of later European Neanderthals that lived in the same region 80,000 years later.


HST and its unique mtDNA


The HST an carried mtDNA that was very different from that of all other Neanderthals, it had more than 70 mutations that distinguish it from the others' mtDNA. The bone was dated to approximately 124 kya. (62 to 183 kya), but its mtDNA split from that of other humans 270 kya.


The girl's remains are of a similar age: 127 kya (95 to 173 kya) but her mtDNA was more similar to that of an Asian Altai Neanderthal.


In fact both Scladina and the Altai Neanderthal grouped together in a branch of their own, with HST at the root and all other later Neanderthals on a separate branch.


The image below shows the branch that groups the Scladina girl with Atai Neanderthals and the HST Branch (inside the red square). As you can see, they are quite differentiated from that of all the other Neanderthals and Modern Humans (we are shown on the upper part of the diagram).


MtDNA of Neanderthals, Sima de los Huesos, Denisovan and Modern Humans

The fact that these three older Neanderthals are grouped together (see red square in image above) means that they share a common lineage of mtDNA; they all lived more or less at the same time (some 125 kya) and spanned a wide geographic area from the North Sea to the Altai in Siberia.


All more recent Neanderthals who lived roughly 40,000 years ago (green square in the image above) shared a common ancestor who lived some 97 kya, and belong to a branch that diverges from that of these three older Neanderthals.


These "modern" Neanderthals' mtDNA is derived from that of the "older" group.


The interesting part is that the Denisova Neanderthal (see "Denisova 11" in the image) which lived 90 kya in the Denisova cave in Central Asia, and is a hybrid of Denisovan father and a Neanderthal mother, has mtDNA which is closer to the more recent Neanderthals of Western Europe than to the Altai Neanderthal that lived in that same Denisova cave! 120,000 years ago.


This means that the ancient mtDNA of Altai Neanderthals was replaced by the "new" mtDNA shared by Denisova 11 and all other modern Neanderthals, so these later western European Neanderthals migrated east into Siberia and repopulated the Altai.


What about the Nuclear DNA?


The team looked into the nuclear or autosomal DNA of both Scladina and HST specimens and compared them with that of other Neanderthals.


They found that from a nuclear DNA point of view HST and Scladina were "more closely related to Vindija than they are to the Altai Neandertal". Vindija is a cave in Northern Croatia.


We see that all Neanderthals, old and recent share a common root for their nuclear DNA, but there are two branches: one with the Altai Neanderthal, and the other with all the other Neanderthals.


So it may be reasonable to suppose that all known Neanderthals (old and recent) share a common origin, and that it split as they migrated into Western Europe (HST and Scladina) and Siberia (Altain Neanderthals), this explains their branching.


Regarding the Atai Neanderthal, (see Prüfer K, Racimo F, Patterson N, et al. The complete genome sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains, Nature. 2014;505(7481):43–49. doi:10.1038/nature12886) it was found to be (see Figure 2b in that paper) on the most diverged and basal branch within Neanderthal's nuclear DNA and therefore furthest away from the Vindjia specimens).


See image below, which I adapted from (here) and Fig. 2 of Peyregne et al.; it depicts the Nuclear DNA branching.



So we can imagine a very early migration of Neanderthals into Siberia (ancestral to Altai Neanderthal) who did not leave descendants.


The Western Neanderthal population (which included HST and Scladina) had settled Europe 125 kya and its descendants later migrated across Eastern Europe, entered Asia and settled in the Altai region replacing this eastern population in Asia.


The very odd HST mtDNA


The very divergent mtDNA carried by HST split from that of all other Neanderthals some 270,000 years ago. This is far older than expected by the team (they'd estimated less than 150 kya).


And they believe that this is due to the fact that "HST carries some ancestry from a genetically distant population.".


They propose two scenarios:

  1. "Admixture between Neandertals and ancestors or relatives of modern humans could explain the origin of this later Neandertal mtDNA... If several mtDNAs were introduced into the Neandertal population by such a putative gene flow, then the deeply divergent mtDNA in HST may represent the remnants of the mitochondrial diversity of this introgressing population... This would imply that this admixture into Neandertals occurred later than the previously suggested lower boundary of 270 ka ago".
  2. "An alternative source for the deeply divergent mtDNA in HST could be an isolated Neandertal population, for example, a population that separated from other Neandertals before the glacial period preceding HST and Scladina (~130 to 190 ka ago...). Such an isolated population may have preserved the mtDNA that was later re-introduced during a warmer period between 115 and 130 ka ago (the “Eemian” period) when these populations met again and gene flow resumed."

Discussion


I ask: Can we reasonably expect a group to remain in isolation for 15,000 to 75,000 years and maintain their mtDNA without mutations? This "isolated group"notion is identical to the Beringian Standstill Hypothesis which states that the humans who would people America remained isolated in Beringia for tens of thousands of years.


But the Beringian mutated while the isolated Neanderthals did not! This is weird, same situation and two different outcomes:


The Beringians suffered mutations that gave their descent, the modern Native Americans a distinctive mtDNA that is not found in Asia is said to have arisen during the "standstill": after their ancestors left Asia, but before they dispersed into the Americas.


Yet the isolated ancestors of the Neanderthals retained their original mtDNA without anyn mutations.


So in one case it is mtDNA "stasis" and in another "mutation". You can't have it both ways. One or other or perhaps even both theories are wrong.


In this context, the admixture theory seems reasonable, but why should we have to assume admixture? Let's read it in the paper's words:


"It seems unexpected that HST carries an mtDNA lineage that diverged ~270 ka ago from other mtDNAs, given the recent population split times from the Vindija ancestors and the low levels of genetic diversity in the nuclear genomes of Neandertals".


In other words, as their nuclear genome is very similar to that of the Vindija Neanderthals, who lived 80 ky later than HST, their mtDNA can't be 270 ky old.


They add:


"An explanation could be related to a replacement of mtDNAs in Neandertals that has been suggested to explain the discrepancy between the mtDNA divergence time (<470 ka ago) and the population split times based on nuclear DNA (>520 ka ago) between modern humans and Neandertals.
The Sima de los Huesos hominins, and perhaps other early Neandertals, carried mtDNAs that shared a common ancestor with Denisovan mtDNAs more recently than with those of modern humans, whereas later Neandertals carried mtDNAs that shared a more recent common ancestor with the mtDNAs of modern humans.
Admixture between Neandertals and ancestors or relatives of modern humans could explain the origin of this later Neandertal mtDNA
".


We see that once again there is a discrepancy between mtDNA and nuclear DNA divergence dates, you'd expect both to be the same age. In this case it is 470 ky vs. 520 ky.


In a previous post on this subject (Sima de los huesos is now.... closer to Neanderthals than Denisovans!) I gave an explanation for this conundrum as follows:


The common mtDNA shared by Denisovans and Sima de los Huesos but not the nuclear DNA could be explained as follows:

  • A native archaic population lives in Eurasia (descendants of H. erectus?) with its specific autosomal DNA and mtDNA; they are the ancestors of Denisovans and a pre-Sima de los Huesos people.
  • A later wave of proto-Neandertal reach Europe, they are more successful and breed with the native women (kill the men and keep the women) of the native pre-Sima de los Huesos stock.

The original archaic mtDNA is preserved in their offspring -since it is transmitted by the mothers to their children-, but the nuclear DNA is now admixed with that of the proto-Neandertals.

After many generations we have a European lineage with mtDNA similar to the original ancient stock (Homo erectus?) and therefore shared with Denisovans, but a nuclear DNA which will be more like that of Neanderthals which were formed by this admixture.


A similar event must have taken place with the Neanderthals.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

A paper from 1978: 70,000 year-old stone tools found in Timlin, New York.


After writing my previous post on 2.4 Million-year-old tools found in Jordan I pondered about the difficulties faced by those who propose paradigm shifts (such as Neves and his team, who propose an earlier Homo habilis migration out of Africa).


Another finding of old tools back in 1977 (Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast North America, B. E. Raemsch; W. W. Vernon Current Anthropology, Vol. 18, No. 1. Mar., 1977, pp. 97-99.) led to a very heated debate.


Vernon and Raemsch reported finding stone tools that were 70,000 years old, at the Timlin site in the Catskills in New York state, USA.


Yes, 70 Ky ago is not that old, but when it deals with a site located in America it is much older than the currently accepted date for the peopling of America. And back in the late 1970s, the date was even more recent (some 13,000 years max.).


The tools discovered by Raemsch and Vernon were dug out of the soil which was buried under glacial rocks belonging to the early Wisconsin (or Würm) age, roughly 70,000 years ago.


They described these rock tools as follows: "The oldest of the artifacts closely resemble flake tools commonly referred to in Europe and Africa as Upper Acheulean, and they include cordiform points (fig. I), type side- and end-scrapers resembling those of Mousterian assemblages ".


And this is very interesting because the Mousterian lithic tools were associated with the Neanderthals! and the older Acheulean tools date back to Homo erectus.


Of course critics attacked these findings considering them as geofacts (natural origin) instead of man made, and also questioning their age. Vernon and Raemsch responded to these criticisms quite clearly (See their reply in On Criticisms of "Some Paleolithic Tools From Northeast North America - with some images too!) and added "Funk has resisted accepting even the possibility of the great antiquity of man in the New World for years. This bias places him with the early 20th-century skeptics..."


We have posted on Mousterian and Acheoulean tools in America several times so we do believe that further findings (if only someone was looking for this type of tools in America) would settle the issue for good.


Below are some images from these papers, with their captions:



Below is yet another image, captioned "FIG.2. Handaxe approximating position in which it was found in situ, lodged in the radius of a bovid. Deep pits in the bone accommodated the handaxe tip, which was broken as it was driven into the bone":




Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Homo habilis left Africa 2.4 Million Years ago


Brazilian media has reported that today, Saturday July 6, 2019, Quaternary Science Reviews magazine will publish a paper authored by a Brazilian-Italian team who conducted a series of excavations on the Zarqa River in northern Jordan between 2013 and 2015. Their key discovery are stone tools dated 2.4 Million years old.


At the time that I published this post, I hadn't been able to find the article in Quaternary Science Reviews, but I will share what these news reports say (I am translating them more or less freely from Portuguese to English):


The fact that these stone tools are 2.4 Million years old is significant because it places them 500,000 years further back in time than the commonly accepted earliest date of hominid migration out of Africa.


The team unearthed some 450 pieces of stone of which at least 100 are really old. Images shown below depict these tools:


Tools dated 2.4 My Old, from Zarqa River, Jordan.

The age of these tools means that they predate Homo erectus and therefore, they are the work of the only hominid that existed at that time: Homo habilis.


Furthermore, it places H. habilis in the Middle East, that is, out of Africa and in Asia.


One of the paper's authors, Walter Neves, a Brazilian biologist, archaeologist and anthropolgist stated that "With our discoveries, we demonstrated that man left Africa some 500 thousand years earlier, and that the transition from Homo habilis to Homo erectus took place in the Caucasus and not in Africa".


Their discovery would, as Neves says "solve one of the biggest problems of paleonanthropology fo the last 20 years" by explaining the skulls found in Dmanisi, Georgia, in the Caucasus as belonging to H. habilis.


These five skulls, pictured below, had been originally assigned to a local branch of Homo ergaster, now they are considered as being Homo erectus and their age of 1.8 My makes this feasible, as it coincides more or less with the date of the supposed migration of Homo erectus out of Africa. However the size of the Dmanisi skulls was problematic: they were very different to each other and far smaller than Homo erectus skulls... they were more like Homo habilis skulls.


-The five Dmanisi skulls of Homo erectus georgicus (credits; M.S. Ponce de Leon & P.E. Zollkofer, University of Zurich).

The Dmanisi remains data (from David Lordkipanidze et al., (2013). A Complete Skull from Dmanisi, Georgia, and the Evolutionary Biology of Early Homo. Science 18 October 2013. Vol. 342 no. 6156 pp. 326-331; doi: 10.1126/science.1238484):


  • Similar to the "African" H. erectus (known as H. ergaster) but have smaller crania and therefore closer to H. habilis.
  • Skull sizes from 546 to 730 cm3, compatible with theH. habilis' 509 to 687 cm3.
  • Small bodied: 146 to 166 cm, 47 to 50 kg, similar to H. habilis but in the lower range of H. erectus.

Neves believes that they were Homo habilis, and that they are the forebearers of Homo erectus, who evolved in Asia out of H. Habilis stock.


He also suggests that this can explain the tiny Flores Island hominids and the old stone tools recently discovered in China, which are 2.1 Million years old, in line with what we wrote in our post on those tools (Hominins in China 2.1 Million years ago... pushing back the dates in Asia):


"And this is in China, surely the hominins who made those tools reached western Eurasia far earlier than the 2.12 My age assigned to those tools. Which may imply that they were not Homo erectus, maybe Homo habilis or even an australopithecine species! (maybe the ancestors of the primitive Flores island "Hobbit")."


The Flores - Homo habilis link was proposed by Debbie Arguea et al., (see my post First Asians were not Homo erectus revisited) in June 2017, and Neves' dates seems to support it.


We will update this post once the paper is published.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Archaic humans admixed with modern humans in Africa


News published on the Internet these last few days mentioned that scientists had discovered large strands of ancient DNA (i.e. Neanderthal and other even older archaic hominin) lurking in the "Dark Heart" of the human genome. I was intrigued after reading these laymen articles.


But the news is old, the original publication dates back to July 30, 2018, almost 11 months ago ( Haplotypes spanning centromeric regions reveal persistence of large blocks of archaic DNA, Sasha A. Langley, Karen Miga, Gary Karpen, Charles H. Langley, doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/351569).


Their paper is interesting; they looked into "centromeres", specialized portions of DNA located more or less in the middle of chromosomes, that bind or link the two arms that text books typically show as a chromosome: one is the original chromosome, the other is its copy, they are called "sister chromatids" and form an "X" shaped structure. The centromer is where each part meets the other, in the "waist" of the "X".


Centromers serve to anchor fibers that pull the arms apart again when the cells divide, so each cell has one and only one chromosome.


The paper by Langley et al, reports "large-scale haplotypes (cenhaps) in humans" spanning the centromer region with "surprisingly deep diversity, including entire introgressed Neanderthal centromeres and equally ancient lineages among Africans".


They found that "Despite being fairly common among Africans today, a distinctly diverged chrX cenhap (cenhap 1, highlighted in purple, Fig. 1b,c) is rare outside of Africa. Examination of the haplotypic clustering (...) yields a parallel relationship among the three major cenhaps and an estimated Time of the Most Recent Common Ancestor (TMRCA) of ≈700 KYA (Fig. 1d) for this most diverged example.".


What is interesting is that they wonder about this very diverged cenhap: "It is unclear if this cenhap represents an introgression from a distinct archaic hominin in Africa or a surviving ancient lineage within the population that gave rise to AMHs". The ancient hominin admixing with modern humans is something that we have mentioned in other posts as a reason for the "greater diversity" of humans in Africa: they got a dose of very ancient DNA which increased their diversity, but this took place recently.


The paper states that it is old, but (as we highlighted in bold) it is consistent with a recent admixture:


"The most diverged, basal clade on chr12 (Fig. 2c, indicated in brown) is common in Africa, but, like the most diverged chrX cenhap, is not represented among the descendants of the out-ofAfrica migrations (26). The great depth of the lineage of this cenhap is further supported by comparison to homologous archaic sequences (21,22,23).
Consistent with the hypothesis that this branch split off before that of Neanderthals/Denisovans, members of this cenhap share fewer matches with derived SNPs on the Neanderthal and Denisovan lineages (DM) and exhibit strikingly more ancestral non-matches (AN) than other chr12 cenhaps (see Fig. 2b).
This putatively archaic chr12 cenhap represents a large and obvious example of the genome-wide introgressions into African populations inferred from model-based analyses of the distributions of sequence divergence (16,17).
(...) This bolsters the conclusion that the basal African cenhap represents a distinct, older and likely introgressed archaic lineage.
Unfortunately, there are too few coding bases in this region to support confident estimation of the TMRCAs of these ancient chr12 cenhaps. Based on the numbers of SNPs underlying the cenhaps, this basal cenhap is twice as diverged as the apparent introgressed Neanderthal cenhap, placing the TMRCA at ~1.1 MYA, assuming the Neanderthal TMRCA was 575KYA(23). While there is no direct evidence of recent introgression, the large genomic scale of this most diverged cenhap (relative to apparent exchanges in other cenhaps) is consistent with recent admixture with an extinct archaic in Africa, although, again, suppression of crossing over is an alternative explanation.
"


The finding is interesting, and it supports the idea of an enhanced modern African diversity due to the archaic admixture event with modern Africans.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2014 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Ancestors of Neanderthal and Denisovans admixed with H. erectus


The paper published by Alan R. Rogers, Nathan S. Harris and Alan A. Achenbach (Neanderthal-Denisovan ancestors interbred with a distantly-related hominin June 14, 2019 biorxiv.org) finds evidence to support three human migrations out of Africa, the first one took place 1.9 Million years ago. The second wave happened 700,000 years ago and involved the ancestors of the Nenderthals and Denisovans (which they call "neandersovans". The last wave was that of modern humans. The oldest migration into Eurasia resulted in a population which they call "superarchaic".


They add: "..the large effective size of the superarchaic population hints that it comprised at least two deeply-divided subpopulations, of which one mixed with neandersovans and another with Denisovans."


They mention their molecular clock, which provided a date (95% confidence interval) of 1.9 to 2.5 Million years ago for the split between "superarhcaic" and the other trunk of mankind.


And coment that: "The lower end of this interval hardly differs from the 1.85 mya date of the earliest Eurasian archaeological remains at Dmanisi. It is possible that superarchaics separated from an African population 1.9 mya, expanded into Eurasia, and left those remains at Dmanisi. If so, then superarchaics descend from the earliest human dispersal into Eurasia. On the other hand, some authors prefer a higher mutation rate of 0.5 × 10−9 per year. Under this clock, the lower end of our confidence interval would be 1.7 mya. Thus, our results are also consistent with the view that superarchaics entered Eurasia after the earliest remains at Dmanisi."


They also find that the molecular clock calibrations used to calculate a Denisovan - Neanderthal split some 381,000 years ago by M. Meyer, et al., (Nature 531, 504, 2016) are too recent. They calculate the date of the split was almost twice that figure: 731,000 years ago.


This older date is in line with the 750 kya that we mention in our post Neanderthal and Denisovans split around 750 Kya (May 11, 2018), citing a paper by Ryan J. Bohlender and Chad D. Huff.


Although the paper does not name them, it is possible that the unknown super-archaic hominin population was in fact Homo erectus; they appeared around 2 million years ago which coincides with the split date between superarchaics and the other hominins calculated by Rogers et al.


This is in line with something we posted back in Dec. 2013 (Denisovans interbred with Homo Erectus), when we commented on a paper by Prüfer et al., that hinted at interbreeding between Denisovans and H. erectus.


Mendez, F. L., Watkins, J. C., Hammer, M. F., 2012. Global genetic variation at OAS1 provides evidence of archaic admixture in Melanesian populations. Molecular Biology and Evolution 29 (6),1513–1520.) also suggested an ancient admixture event between Denisovans and H. erectus: "These observations present the intriguing possibility that this deeply diverged region of OAS1 may have introgressed into the common ancestor of Denisova and Melanesians via admixture with an unsampled hominin group, such as Homo erectus. In fact, the introgression of a more archaic form into the ancestors of Denisova was also considered by Reich et al. (2010) to explain some archaic morphological features of the Denisova molar."


 


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2014 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

An earlier Human - Neanderthal split? (400,000 years earlier!)


Aida Gómez-Robles published a paper in Science Advances three days ago (May 15, 2019 - Dental evolutionary rates and its implications for the Neanderthal–modern human divergence, Vol. 5, no. 5, eaaw1268 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw1268) in which she finds evidence that "support[s] a pre–800 ka last common ancestor for Neanderthals and modern humans unless hitherto unexplained mechanisms sped up dental evolution in early Neanderthals".


This is really remarkable, as it pushes the conventionally accepted date of divergence back in time from 400 to 800 thousand years ago.


This far older age was worked out by studying ancient Neanderthal teeth from the Sima de los Huesos site in Spain.


Gomez-Robles compared fossilised teeth from archaic hominins such as Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus robustus, Paranthropus boisei, and ancient ones such as Homo habilis, Asian specimens of H. erectus, a Sima de los Huesos H. neanderthalensis and of course, us: Homo sapiens, Other Neanderthal teeth from different sites in Europe were deliberatel left out of the comparative study.


The idea behind the comparison was to see how the shape of teeth in hominins changed over time. Gomez-Robles found that they evolve, and do so at a steady pace. This let estimate when each of these species split from each other.


The conclusion: "The simplest explanation of the results presented in this study is that Neanderthals and modern humans diverged before 0.8 Ma ago", our Last Common Ancestor (LCA) with Neanderthals dates back to 800,000 years ago.


Gomez-Robles goes on to spell out the implications of this more ancient split:


" If the phenotypic LCA of Neanderthals and modern humans was older than 800 ka, this would imply that all fossil hominins younger than this age are no longer valid candidates to occupy this ancestral position. Some fossils younger than this age, however, are frequently considered to be part of the last common ancestral species to Neanderthals and modern humans. These fossils, usually ascribed to Homo heidelbergensis, include European and African specimens, such as Mauer, Arago, Petralona, Bodo, Kabwe, etc., and maybe even some Asian specimens. If Neanderthals and modern humans diverged earlier than 800 ka ago, then all these fossils have to be related either to Neanderthals or to modern humans, or they can be part of a sister lineage to both of them. These fossils, however, cannot be ancestral to Neanderthals and modern humans because they would postdate their evolutionary divergence. An evolutionary relationship between these fossils and both Neanderthals and modern humans would be possible only if they were part of an older ancestral species that persisted in time as a relic species after the actual split of both lineages. Effectively, this scenario would mean that the H. heidelbergensis fossils are part of a sister group to Neanderthals and modern humans but that the evolutionary change from their putative ancestral populations did not involve speciation."


Of course, there are confounding factors that can explain the structural differences in teeth without requiring such an older age, for instance: the teeth evolved quicker in a small population of Neanderthals, isolated from other human groups, making them seem older while they are actually only 400 Ky old.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Oldest human footprint in the Americas, in Chile 16 Kya


A paper published in PLOS (Moreno K, Bostelmann JE, Macías C, Navarro-Harris X, De Pol-Holz R, Pino M (2019) A late Pleistocene human footprint from the Pilauco archaeological site, northern Patagonia, Chile. PLoS ONE 14(4): e0213572. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213572) reports finding the "oldest human footprint" in America, North or South.


Pilauco, is close to Osorno, in Chile's Patagonian Lake District. This site is very close (60 miles away) to the Monte Verde site, where ancient remains (Pre-Clovis) were found, but their age was questioned.


The team's dating places this footprint at 15,600 years ago. And this is indeed older than any other human footprint in America.


The interesting part is that its age challenges theories about the peopling of America, which had suggested that modern humans entered America some 13,000 years ago.


Here we have a footprint far older than that date, and far, far away from Beringia!


Why should we assume that they were new arrivals? Couldn't these people have reached Chile 20, 25 or even 100 Kya?


See this video on the footprint:



More findings will clarify our doubts.


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Homo erectus lived in Java with two other ape species: Meganthropus and the ancestors of orangutans


An articl Published: 08 April 2019 in Nature Ecology & Evolution,(Evidence for increased hominid diversity in the Early to Middle Pleistocene of Indonesia by Clément Zanolli et al., reports that at least two species of great apes coexisted with Homo erectus in Indonesia over 1 M years ago.


We already knew that Homo erectus lived with the ancestors of modern orangutans, but now a third ape has been reported, and all three species lived together on the island of Java.


The scientists analyzed teeth discovered in 1941 by Gustav von Koenigswald (which he assigned to a new species, the Meganthropus) and found that they didn't belong to either Homo erectus or the ancestral orangutans.

They apparently belong to another ape, the Meganthropus. The thickness of the teeths' enamel and the positioning of the cusps set them apart from the other two species. Furthermore their wear pattern is similar to that of modern and ancient organgutans, meaning that they ate a similar diet of fruits.


The article is behind a paywall, but the abstract is accessible:


Since the first discovery of Pithecanthropus (Homo) erectus by E. Dubois at Trinil in 1891, over 200 hominid dentognathic remains have been collected from the Early to Middle Pleistocene deposits of Java, Indonesia, forming the largest palaeoanthropological collection in South East Asia. Most of these fossils are currently attributed to H. erectus.
However, because of the substantial morphological and metric variation in the Indonesian assemblage, some robust specimens, such as the partial mandibles Sangiran 5 and Sangiran 6a, were formerly variably allocated to other taxa (Meganthropus palaeojavanicus, Pithecanthropus dubius, Pongo sp.).
To resolve the taxonomic uncertainty surrounding these and other contentious Indonesian hominid specimens, we used occlusal fingerprint analysis (OFA) to reconstruct their chewing kinematics; we also used various morphometric approaches based on microtomography to examine the internal dental structures.
Our results confirm the presence of Meganthropus as a Pleistocene Indonesian hominid distinct from Pongo, Gigantopithecus and Homo, and further reveal that Dubois’s H. erectus paratype molars from 1891 are not hominin (human lineage), but instead are more likely to belong to Meganthropus.

Meganthropus


The hominin which Gustav von Koenigswald discovered and named Meganthropus was big. He estimated its size as being two-thirds of that of the Chinese Gigantopithecus, which in turn was twice the size of modern gorillas.


Meganthropus would therefore weigh around 500 lbs (250 kg) and measure 8 feet tall (2.44 m).


He unearthed a jaw fragment, lost to the Japanese during Word War II, but a cast sent to Germany survived the war.


The lack of other physical evidence led most scientists to group it with Homo erectus, as a variant within that group.


This new paper however puts it in a separate species, distinct from H. erectus and the orangutans.


Could the Meganthropus have evolved into sentient beings? Could the small hominins (i.e. those found in Flores Island or the Philippines) be descendants of this ape?


Or are they related to Denisovans?


Now we know that they differ from Pongo (orangutans), Homo (us) and the Gigantopithecus.


Comparison: the jaw fragment of Meganthropus, an Orangutan jaw (right) and a reconstructed Homo erectus jaw (left) Credit: Senckenberg.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Archaic Ghost population admixed with Modern Humans in Africa


A paper published on April 26, 2019, Whole-genome sequence analysis of a Pan African set of samples reveals archaic gene flow from an extinct basal population of modern humans into sub-Saharan populations by Belen Lorente-Galdos et al. (Genome Biology201920:77 https://doi.org/10.1186/s13059-019-1684-5) looks into a "Ghost" archaic population (XAf) in Africa which admixed archaic genes into humans (AMH or anatomically modern humans) there.


The authors write:


"We identify the fingerprint of an archaic introgression event in the sub-Saharan populations included in the models (~ 4.0% in Khoisan, ~ 4.3% in Mbuti Pygmies, and ~ 5.8% in Mandenka) from an early divergent and currently extinct ghost modern human lineage."

These are quite high values. The authors continue:


"Our results suggest interbreeding of AMHs with an archaic ghost population that diverged from the AMH lineage at a temporal scale similar to the one between the Neanderthals and Denisovans.
This observation would indicate the presence of a deep archaic population substructure also in the African continent and contrasts with previous studies that suggested that a basal lineage had a major impact only on particular western African populations.
Furthermore, our analyses showed that the estimated proportion of Neanderthal ancestry in Eurasian populations is highly sensitive to the presence of XAf population, increasing by a threefold the amount of archaic introgression.
This result suggests that the amount of Neanderthal ancestry out of Africa that so far has been estimated could be an underestimation by not having considered events of archaic introgression in Africa in the tested models.
"

I find the last part very interesting, the paper is suggesting that we -non-Africans- may have even more Neanderthal genes than current studies suggest, because they have not considered this XAf admixture into the humans leaving Africa.


The paper downplays a possible "Into Africa" event where Neanderthal genes were passed on to Africans by Neanderthals and assume the source of those genes are more recent: Europeans or Asians. The authors write:


"Traces of Neanderthal introgression have been observed not only in North African populations, who are in fact historically and genetically different from sub-Saharan peoples, but also in other African populations, for instance in Yoruba genomes, although they were most likely introduced through recent Eurasian admixture."

They defined some timelines (we quote them below):


"The AMH lineage and the one from the archaic Eurasian populations diverged 603 kya" the CI is 495.85 to 796.86 kya


"The ghost XAf archaic population and the AMH lineage split 528 kya" (CI 230.16 to 700.06 kya)


"The Denisovan and Neanderthal lineages split 426 kya" (CI 332.77 to 538.37 kya)


Admixture of XAf was significant, considering that Neanderthal genes account for less than 2% of Eurasian genetic makeup. These are the African values of admixture:


  • 3.8% (95% CI 1.7 to 4.8%) in Khoisan
  • 3.9% (95% CI 1.3 to 4.9%) in Mbuti
  • 5.8% (95% CI 0.7 to 0.97%) in West Africa

The paper found that there was high levels of inbreeding as they "observed that ... both Khoisan and Pygmies show higher levels of ROH that are closer to the ones found in North African or Eurasian populations". ROH or Runs of Homozygosity are are regions of the chromosomes where there are many consecutive homozygoous loci and are an indication of inbreeding.


So the supposedly ancient Khoshian are very similar in their ROH to the "more recent" Eurasians, which are supposed to have undergone bottlenecks and later inbreeding.


The issue of African diversity is not addressed clearly. Although they identify some introgression regions:


"Specific candidate introgressed regions have also been identified, for instance, a 20 kbp block found exclusively in sub-Saharan populations that covers the entire MUC7 gene, a protein abundantly expressed in saliva and associated with the composition of oral microbiome [40], or 265 loci spanning ~ 20 Mbp spread across the genome that were detected in two Western African Pygmy populations"

Read more about the MUC7 gene introgresion here.


The impact of 4% archaic genes in the overall diversity of modern Africans must be significant, and that means that their diversity is not due to Africa being the cradle of mankind but to an admixture of archaic DNA.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 
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