Now It’s Cool to Praise Neanderthals

first_img(Visited 443 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0 Long the brunt of jokes, Neanderthals are trending upward in respect. Scientists keep finding things to admire in our ‘archaic’ brethren.Neanderthals hunted in bands and speared prey up close (Phys.org). Spear marks in fallow deer bones indicate to German paleoanthropologists that Neanderthal hunters could teach moderns a few things about bringing home the venison.Neanderthals were capable of sophisticated, collective hunting strategies, according to an analysis of prehistoric animal remains from Germany that contradicts the enduring image of these early humans as knuckle-dragging brutes….It was long thought that these evolutionary cousins—modern Europeans and Asians have about two percent of Neanderthal DNA—were not smart enough to compete, and lacked symbolic culture, a trait supposedly unique to modern humans.But recent finds have revealed a species with more intelligence and savoir faire than suspected.They buried their dead in ritual fashion, created tools, and painted animal frescos on cave walls at least 64,000 years ago, 20,000 years before homo [sic] sapiens arrived in Europe.The use of tontological verbs masks the identity of the people who were wrong about these ‘sophisticated’ humans. Who created the “enduring image” of dumb Neanderthals? Who “long thought” that they were not smart enough to compete? Who “suspected” they lacked intelligence? It was Darwinians, not young-earth creationists, who have always viewed Neanderthals as fully human descendants of Adam and Eve.In chapter 6 of his recent book Evolution’s Blunders Frauds and Forgeries, Jerry Bergman debunks the mistaken belief that facial angle was an indicator of intelligence.Why the Neanderthals may have been more sophisticated hunters than we thought – new study (The Conversation). Writer Annemieke Milks, a PhD candidate in anthropology, may represent a new generation willing to promote Neanderthals to the respect they have been denied by earlier evolutionists. Having been taught they were too stupid to use spears for hunting, she investigated the evidence that Neanderthals did indeed use spears in sophisticated ways, including long-distance throwing. She sneaks in some evolutionary assumptions here and there (belief in the long ages, and comparison to chimpanzee hunting with tools), but her conclusion is quite different than writers in the mid-20th century and earlier.The innovation of long-distance weaponry lies at the heart of questions around hunting strategies of different species of Homo. If Neanderthals were capable of powerful and accurate throws and some of their weapons were capable of flight, then differences between their hunting technologies compared with our own species may not be as great as is often suggested.The findings are compelling because they provide clear evidence that Neanderthals used spears as penetrating weapons to kill their prey, laying to rest hypotheses that early spears were ineffective. With mounting evidence that Neanderthals were clever, creative and capable, the results make a lot of sense. Given that our own species has not yet existed as long as the Neanderthals did, we should reconsider our tendency to underestimate them.Neanderthal brain organoids come to life (Science Magazine). A new technique is allowing scientists to begin glimpsing the Neanderthal brain, Jon Cohen reports. Researchers can grow organoids (clumps of tissue) from ancient DNA.Until now, researchers wanting to understand the Neanderthal brain and how it differed from our own had to study a void. The best insights into the neurology of our mysterious, extinct relatives came from analyzing the shape and volume of the spaces inside their fossilized skulls.But a recent marriage of three hot fields—ancient DNA, the genome editor CRISPR, and “organoids” built from stem cells—offers a provocative, if very preliminary, new option. At least two research teams are engineering stem cells to include Neanderthal genes and growing them into “minibrains” that reflect the influence of that ancient DNA.The unpublished work could be incapable of deriving any sound conclusions about Neanderthal intelligence, admittedly. In fact, the pioneer of Neanderthal DNA rescue has serious doubts:Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, expects the work to draw skepticism because it’s so difficult to figure out which genetic differences are “functionally relevant,” and the organoids only represent the early stage of brain development. “Organoids are far from being able to tell us how adult brains function,” says Pääbo, who led the team that deciphered the Neanderthal genome by rescuing DNA from their bones. His group has also started to make organoids with Neanderthal brain genes, but he stresses that the technique can introduce unintended mutations. “There are lots of control experiments to do, and then I’m quite hopeful we’ll overcome those doubts,” says Pääbo, who plans to compare Neanderthal brain organoids to those made from chimpanzee or modern human cells.Speculative claims in the article that certain growth patterns resemble those seen in autistic children cannot be taken seriously. One researcher commented, “we have no idea what it means,” which leaves open the possibility that Neanderthal brains were actually superior to ours. It’s hard to imagine a population of autistic humans thriving for millennia. As Milks said above, “Given that our own species has not yet existed as long as the Neanderthals did, we should reconsider our tendency to underestimate them.”Speaking (or Misspeaking) of Human EvolutionCranium of a four-million-year-old hominin shows similarities to that of modern humans  (Science Daily).  “The ‘virtual’ revisiting of a fossil described as ‘the oldest evidence of human evolution in South Africa’ shows surprising results,” this article says. It presents two challenges to evolutionary assumptions: (1) the skull of this creature classified in the genus Australopithecus has the same kind of bone structure that we have. (2) A skull of Paranthropus (an ape) has a different kind of bone. “This result is of particular interest, as it may suggest a different biology,” the authors say. The evidence appears too fragmentary to draw any conclusions about evolution.How did Homo sapiens evolve? (Science Magazine). Chris Stringer and Julia Galway-Witham opine again on the never-ending quest for “understanding” a subject that most human beings deny: that we came from apes. The correct inquiry should be, “Did humans evolve?” not “How did humans evolve?” Nobody outside the Darwin Party, however, is allowed to ask the right question. We see right from the first paragraph how evolutionary chutzpah runs into the brick wall of surprises, contradictions, and complexity.Over the past 30 years, understanding of Homo sapiens evolution has advanced greatly. Most research has supported the theory that modern humans had originated in Africa by about 200,000 years ago, but the latest findings reveal more complexity than anticipated. They confirm interbreeding between H. sapiens and other hominin species, provide evidence for H. sapiens in Morocco as early as 300,000 years ago, and reveal a seemingly incremental evolution of H. sapiens cranial shape. Although the cumulative evidence still suggests that all modern humans are descended from African H. sapiens populations that replaced local populations of archaic humans, models of modern human origins must now include substantial interactions with those populations before they went extinct. These recent findings illustrate why researchers must remain open to challenging the prevailing theories of modern human origins.Stringer and Galway-Witham plunge into complexities about dates, classification, migration patterns, and all the usual surprises that upset the paleoanthropology applecart every year. None of the “complexities” mentioned in the quote above were predicted by evolutionary anthropologists. Each one came as a total surprise. How can anyone trust their confidence about the “cumulative evidence” that they claim still “suggests” their main outline of a theory is correct?These are the same class of experts, perceptive readers will recall, who were telling us the Neanderthals were dumb brutes. At least we can agree with their last sentence: “With the growing influx of new analytical techniques and discoveries within and outside Africa, it is imperative that researchers continue to rigorously challenge our theories and that they remain aware of their limitations.“last_img read more

Children’s rights portal launched

first_img4 September 2012A new policy-orientated web portal on children’s rights, called Policy Action Network, or PAN: Children, was announced during a panel discussion on children in Cape Town on Monday.The portal – children.pan.org.za – is a partnership between the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council’s (HSRC).According to the HSRC, PAN: Children will provide high-quality, timely information which can be used to inform decision-making and policy.“It will strengthen the dialogue between the producers and the users of child-related research evidence to build networks between researchers and policy makers,” the HSRC said in a statement. “The aim is also to generate debates on key policy issues affecting children in South Africa.”The web portal is primarily targeted at South African policy makers and government officials involved in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes relating to children, as well as academics and other research institutions working on issues related to child rights and their well-being.The knowledge-hub “will also be of value to civil society organisations, private sector and development sector professionals involved in the advancement of child rights,” the HSRC said. “Lastly, the hub will allow other countries with an interest in South African policy to easily access relevant information.”PAN: Children also aims to establish and maintain an up-to-date digital repository of the most credible publications available on child rights in South Africa.The information and resources available include advocacy initiatives and networks, case studies, case law, country studies, government policy and legislation, and other useful information.In addition, the portal will produce regular opinion pieces written by acknowledged research experts in the child rights arena, commenting on current debates and providing insight on policy development and practice.SAinfo reporterlast_img read more

Map to help travellers ‘walk in Mandela’s footsteps’

first_imgThe Department of Tourism has launched a travel map to guide and assist people from around the world who may be looking to visit South Africa to “walk in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps”. “To make it as easy as possible for people to personally experience Mandela’s story, we have developed the ‘Madiba-inspired tourist attractions’ map, which encapsulates the key points on his life’s journey,” Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said in March. He was speaking at the launch of the travel map at Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison) in Cape Town – the last place where Nelson Mandela was held captive before he took his first steps to freedom on 11 February 1990. Developed by South African Tourism in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the map highlights tourist sites as well as general places of interest in the four main provinces that defined Mandela’s life. These include the Eastern Cape, where he was born, grew up and attended Fort Hare University; Gauteng, where he worked as a human rights lawyer and became instrumental in South Africa’s political struggle; KwaZulu-Natal, where he was captured; and the Western Cape, where he was imprisoned and ultimately freed. Since Mandela was released from prison in February 1990, a number of world-class museums, monuments and precincts have been developed to help bring his story to life and to cater for the demand to better understand South Africa’s history. The map includes well-known attractions such as the Unesco world heritage site Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned, and Mandela’s house on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, which is the only street in the world to have had two Nobel peace prize winners, Mandela and Desmond Tutu, as residents. It also features some lesser-known attractions, such as the Kliptown open-air museum, also in Soweto, which marks the spot where the Freedom Charter was adopted by the Congress of the People, as well as the Nelson Mandela youth and heritage centre in Mandela’s childhood home, Qunu, where he was laid to rest on 15 December. “Mandela’s integrity and spirit of hope, reconciliation and love have touched the lives of millions of people,” Van Schalkwyk said on Tuesday. “This year, we celebrate 20 years of democracy and freedom, and we look forward to welcoming many tourists from around the world to share the South African story and Mandela’s legacy with us. “Not only was Nelson Mandela an incredible man and leader, but he remains a truly global icon. Since 1994, visitors from all corners of the globe have come to South Africa to seek out the places that shaped his remarkable life. His name alone put South Africa on the map; today, we are returning the favour in a literal sense.” According to the Department of Tourism, International visitors to the country increased from 3.4-million in 1993 – the year before Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president – to 13.5-million in 2012, with close to 9.2-million of those being tourists (people who spent one or more nights here). “The numbers aside, what has perhaps been the greatest legacy for tourism is that Mandela has encouraged people from all corners of the globe to come and experience South Africa for themselves,” Van Schalkwyk said. It was also thanks to Mandela, the minister said, that the world “now knows South Africa for more than just our incredible wildlife, amazing scenic beauty and excellent value for money. Since 1994, the world has come to realise that what really sets this country apart is Mandela’s people, whose warmth and hospitality leave all who visit us touched by the ‘Madiba magic’.” SAinfo reporter View the map online at mandela.southafrica.netlast_img read more