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Unmasking Neanderthals, Ancient Cabins, and Mesoamerican Erotica!
Ancient Origins Unleashed Debrief
Greetings The Unleashed!
With our current categorization methods, we are the last surviving human species. But observing the behavior of the modern humans in the world, it sometimes seems there are still various totally different species walking about. Physically the same, but very different under the surface, resulting in radically different thinking and behavior. It just doesn’t equate how some humans can justify horrific acts of violence, whilst others are devastated if they step on an ant. Is it really just circumstances that lead to these differences, or is there actually something different in the DNA?
For the sake of all our sanities, today I’ll stick to the more scientific considerations of the leaps we are making in the understanding of some hominins that we do categorize as distinct species. Some great stuff has come out over the last week or so.
First, I’d like to clarify the use of ‘human’ as it has a dual meaning, and can be confusing.
In general, we refer to our species, Homo sapiens as humans, but more scientifically, Homo sapiens are one of a number of species similar to us, which are all varieties of human.
They generally include: Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus, Homo antecessor, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo floresiensis (nicknamed 'the hobbit'), Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals) and the recently discovered Homo naledi. And maybe even Denisovans (who might turn out to be sapiens).
So ‘modern humans’ is often used to specify Homo sapiens, but sometimes just ‘human’ is used, so watch out.
Interestingly, our closest known extinct relative is hardly ever talked about, probably because it was so similar to us that some regard it as a sapiens subspecies. So, here’s a small acknowledgement to out brothers and sisters, Homo sapiens idalto, or Herto Man.
Now, our cousins the Neanderthals have been a mischaracterized bunch of individuals. Homo neanderthalensis were barely understood, and became depicted as primitive, grunting folk. It was pretty much assumed by most that they were ‘sub-human’ compared to us and died out due to some superior characteristic we had. However, plentiful discoveries and research have been rewriting the narrative of these ancient humans, describing their true nature and capabilities.
Here's a quick Neanderthal myth-busting session before we get to the latest revelations:
Myth 1: Neanderthals are not direct ancestors of modern humans, rather the existed side by side as two separate groups, so they are more accurately described as our distant cousins, sharing a common ancestral lineage.
Myth 2: Neanderthals were thought incapable of crafting advanced tools, but recent discoveries in France have challenged this notion, revealing their proficiency in complex projectile technology.
Myth 3: It was once believed that Neanderthals communicated through grunts and animal sounds. However, research on a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal hyoid bone suggests they had a sophisticated form of speech and language.
Myth 4: Neanderthals were thought not to bury their dead. But evidence from carefully arranged burials in France and elsewhere suggests they had deep cultural practices.
Myth 5: Contrary to the idea that Neanderthals lacked organized living spaces, archaeologists in Italy have uncovered evidence of tidy, well-structured Neanderthal homes.
Myth 6: Neanderthals were considered strict carnivores, but recent discoveries of plant residues on their teeth indicate they had a more varied diet, including cooked vegetables and medicinal plants.
Myth 7: Recent genetic studies have shown that interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans was not only possible but quite common, with up to 20% of Neanderthal DNA present in modern humans.
And so, to the latest revelations on our ancient cousins that have come out this week…
A groundbreaking study has shattered the conventional timeline of human-Neanderthal interactions. The prevailing belief was that Homo sapiens ancestors first mingled with Neanderthals in Eurasia after a massive exodus from Africa about 75,000 years ago. However, the startling revelations from this research expose a far more ancient narrative, one that traces back over 250,000 years, suggesting that early human DNA flowed into Neanderthals long before our anticipated migrations.
A team of geneticists led by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine has revealed that interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans in Eurasia started much earlier than had previously been believed.
The conventional view is that interbreeding only occurred sometime after humans migrated to Eurasia from Africa in large numbers beginning about 75,000 years ago. But this new study found that Neanderthals were already carrying sections of human DNA in their genomes by this time, from encounters with their human cousins that likely took place more than 250,000 years ago.
As the geneticists explain in an article appearing in the journal Current Biology , these interactions must have taken place in Eurasia, since there is no record of Neanderthals ever having lived in sub-Saharan Africa, which is where the human DNA detected in the Neanderthal genome came from.
“We found this reflection of ancient interbreeding where genes flowed from ancient modern humans into Neanderthals,” study co-author Alexander Platt, a researcher at the Perelman School of Medicine, said in a University of Pennsylvania press release .
“This group of individuals left Africa between 250,000 and 270,000 years ago. They were sort of the cousins to all humans alive today, and they were much more like us than Neanderthals.”
A international team of paleoanthropologists has just published research supposedly proving that Neanderthals were hunting and eating cave lions nearly 50,000 years ago in Europe. Until now experts had no idea that Neanderthals hunters had been stalking cave lions. In fact, this stunning discovery represents the oldest evidence of large predator hunting by human relatives or ancestors found anywhere in the world.
Discovering the Mark of the Neanderthal Hunter
As detailed in the article published in the journal Scientific Reports , the paleontologists analyzed the well-preserved remains of a cave lion skeleton found in Siegsdorf, Germany, which was excavated 38 years ago and dated to approximately 46,000 BC. While the cave lion has been extinct for more than 10,000 years, its skeletal remains have been discovered in many different locations in Eurasia.
At the time the skeleton was found, archaeologists noted right away that the animal had been butchered after its death. There were cut marks on many of its bones, showing that the meat and skin had been removed from the cave lion after it had died.
But during the recent reanalysis, the international team of researchers, who were led by Dr. Gabriele Russo from the University of Tübingen, noticed something that had been overlooked before. This was the presence of a distinctive puncture wound on the inside of one of the lion’s ribs.
This puncture had previously been identified as a bite mark from a scavenger, but this time the paleoanthropologists were able to rule out this explanation. This indentation was also not consistent with butchering cuts, they noted, but suggested the cave lion had been mortally wounded by some type of sharp object.
The thing about tools…
While they first appeared on the lowland savannas of East Africa around two million years ago, the human ancestor Homo erectus soon expanded their range into the Ethiopian highlands. According to a new study just published in the journal Science, those early Homo erectus groups that migrated upward into the Ethiopian mountains were true toolmaking pioneers, as they successfully completed the transition from the Oldowan tool industry to the Acheulean tool industry in approximately 50,000 years.
An Infant’s Jawbone Reveals Truth about Oldowan to Acheulean Transition
The authors of the Science study, led by archaeologist Margherita Mussi from Sapienza University in Rome, were able to accomplish a rare feat. They were able to connect the fossil remains of an ancient hominin or archaic human directly to specific prehistoric tools . This is something that has been incredibly difficult to achieve, given the relative scarcity of identifiable fossil remains from either Homo habilis or Homo erectus , the two human ancestors responsible for the invention of the Oldowan and Acheulean tool industries respectively.
Amazingly, they achieved this breakthrough through a fresh analysis of a single hominin fossil—the lower jawbone or mandible of a prehistoric infant, which was unearthed back in 1981 at the Melka Kunture archaeological complex in Ethiopia’s highlands. The mandible was recovered from excavation Level E of a site designated as Garba IV, where Oldowan tools have also been found. And just one level higher, at Level D, the Garba IV site also produced a collection of Acheulean tools, which undoubtedly meant the species that had lived there had used both.
Here’s another cracking find…Who lived in a house like this?
Remarkable findings have been unearthed in the Neolithic site of La Draga de Banyoles. Excavation work has revealed the well-preserved remnants of ancient wooden cabins, shedding light on the lifestyles of farming communities that once settled around L'Estany approximately 7,300 years ago.
La Draga Neolithic Site
La Draga is an Early Neolithic lakeshore site located in Banyoles in Catalonia, Spain, and it is the only prehistoric lake site known on the Iberian Peninsula . It has undergone several excavations around the site since 1990, when it was discovered during construction work for the 1992 Olympics which took place in Barcelona.
From an archaeological standpoint, La Draga stands out due to the exceptional preservation of waterlogged organic materials—such as bones, wood, fibers, textiles, seeds, leaves, and mushrooms—unearthed during excavations. These findings have provided invaluable insights into the ancient environment and societal dynamics of the area.
And this got people’s juices flowing…
The ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica left behind a rich artistic legacy that continues to captivate and intrigue modern scholars and enthusiasts. Among the myriad of themes that Mesoamerican art explored, one aspect stands out as both fascinating and provocative: human sexuality.
From the seductive curves of ceramic vessels to the intricate murals adorning temple walls, the depictions of sexuality in Mesoamerican art offer a window into the intimate realms of desire, fertility, and spirituality. This was a natural aspect of ancient belief and can tell us a lot more about the everyday lives of ancient Mesoamericans.
Sexuality and eroticism were recurring themes in Mesoamerican art, reflecting the diverse cultures and beliefs of the region. Artworks from ancient civilizations such as the Maya, Aztec, and Olmec often depicted sexual imagery and explored various aspects of human sexuality.
In these ancient cultures, nudity and sexuality were not seen in the same light as they are today. In modern and near-modern history, explicit eroticism and nudity was often seen as taboo and inappropriate. But in ancient cultures it was not so. Fertility and sex played a huge role in the everyday lives of many ancient civilizations, including Mesoamericans. There were numerous deities connected with virility, fertility, childbirth, and so on. With that being said, it should not come as a surprise to realize that a lot of Mesoamerican gods, murals, sculptures, and beliefs revolved around explicit nudity and sexuality.
Of course, it goes without saying that many Mesoamerican cultures held fertility in high regard and believed it to be closely tied to the cycles of nature. After all, life back then was not a certainty, and the people prayed to the gods of fertility to secure offspring, as well as good yield.
Sexual imagery often represented the act of procreation and the creation of life. Phallic symbols, depictions of copulation, and images of male and female genitalia were common motifs in Mesoamerican art, particularly in pottery, sculptures, and murals. Knowing that this was a focal point of all their lives and their future as well, the Mesoamericans did not shy from these depictions.
As a result, many Mesoamerican cultures produced a significant amount of erotic pottery. These ceramics featured explicit sexual scenes and depicted various sexual acts, including intercourse, masturbation, and oral sex. Sex meant offspring, life, and new generations. So these people embraced it fully. Erotic pottery was often associated with ritual and fertility, believed to bring blessings and ensure abundance. That is why today, archaeologists often stumble upon ceramics painted with the most explicit sexual scenes - all of which simply celebrate the art of creating new life.
Til next time, remember, use that sapiens wisdom wisely.
Gary Manners - Senior Editor, Ancient Origins