Patagonia lies at the southern tip of the Americas, and was one of the last areas to have been settled by Humans, who did not arrive there until the end of the Pleistocene. The area has a unique environment, which would have presented challenges to the people settling there. It also has a climate particularly suitable for the preservation of archaeological remains, making it particularly interesting to archaeologists. The area has extensive rock art, but to date little of this has been accurately dated.
Thursday 22 February 2024
Monday 19 February 2024
Saltwater Crocodiles, Crocodylus porosus, are found in coastal environments in the Asia-Pacific region from the Bay of Bengal, throughout Southeast Asia and New Guinea, to northern Australia, and as far east as the Solomon Islands. Unlike other Crocodile species, they are not currently considered to be threatened, being classified as of Least Concern under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. However, this assessment is essentially dependent on good relations between Human and Crocodile populations; Saltwater Crocodiles will attack Humans and livestock, causing injuries and deaths, as well as less obvious economic damage by excluding Humans from areas where they become dangerous. This in turn can lead to retaliatory actions by Humans, removing troublesome Crocodiles, or sometimes whole populations, from areas where they are seen as harmful.
Saltwater Crocodiles feed in tidal rivers and creeks, freshwater lakes and Mangrove forests, and will occasionally forage on Coral reefs. While they cross open sea to seek new territory, they do not usually hunt or feed there. Female Saltwater Crocodiles can reach about 3 m in length, and can weigh as much as 150 kg, but the largest males can reach more than 6 m in length and weigh more than 1000 kg. Males will try to defend a territory and the females within it, chasing away smaller males, who then go on to look for territories of their own, which can lead to changes in the social structure and behaviour of Crocodile groups.
In a paper published in the journal Orynx on 22 January 2024, Shankar Aswani of Rhodes University and Joshua Matazima of the University of Queensland present the results of a study of negative Human-Crocodile interactions around Roviana Lagoon on the island of New Georgia in the Solomon Islands.
A previous study examined Human-Crocodile interactions across the Solomon Islands over the period 1998-2017. This study identified 225 Crocodile attacks across the islands, with 83 of these being fatal, including 31 on children. Aswani and Matazima's study concentrates on a much smaller area, and is aimed at understanding Human-Crocodile interactions in a specific, localised environment with a view to developing specific policies for that location, something which it is difficult to achieve from wider scale national surveys.
Aswani and Matazima's study concentrated on four villages, Dunde, Baraulu, Nusa Hope, and Kozou, located on the 700 km² Roviana Lagoon, on the southwest of New Georgia island. Each village has a population of between 50 and 300 people. Twenty three men and thirty seven women from sixty households across the four villages were interviewed by three locally hired assistants, in the local Roviana language. Twenty of the interviewees reported that a member of their household being attacked by a Crocodile between 2000 and 2020, four in Dunde, seven in Baraulu, five in Nusa Hope and four in Kozou.
Sunday 18 February 2024
Understanding the orientation of graves in the Bronze Age Gumugou Cemetery of Xinjiang Province, China.
Many cultures bury their dead with a preferred orientation, and understanding how this is chosen can tell us a great deal about the beliefs of a culture. The orientation of graves has been extensively studied for ancient European and Mediterranean cultures, demonstrating that burials were often aligned with both terrestrial and celestial objects of importance by ancient peoples, but has been less well studied in other parts of the world.
In a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports on 17 February 2024, Jingjing Li of the Xinjiang Astronomical Observatory, Jarken Esimbek, also of the Xinjiang Astronomical Observatory, and of the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Yingxiu Ma, again of the Xinjiang Astronomical Observatory, examine the orientation of graves in the Bronze Age Gumugou Cemetery of Xinjiang Province, China.
The Gumugou Cemetery is located on the eastern fringe of the Taklimakan Desert, in the Tarim Basin, to the north of the now dry Kongque (Peacock) River and about 70 km to the west of the Lop Nor Salt Lake. The cemetery has been dated to between 3800 and 3400 years before the present, and along with a series of related sites within the region between Lop Nor and the Taklimakan Desert, is considered representative of one of the oldest known Bronze Age cultures within Xinjiang Province.
The Gumugou Cemetery site was excavated in the winter of 1979 by an expedition from the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology under the leadership of Binghua Wang. A total of 42 burials were discovered and excavated, all within an area of 1600 m³. The burials could be divided into two types, with six Type I burials forming an upper layer, and 36 Type II burials forming a lower layer.
The Type I burials are quite often placed above Type II burials, and are surrounded by seven rounds of timber posts. These Type I burials apparently contained wooded coffins, which have long decayed away, leaving the (well preserved) Human remains exposed. A small amount of grave goods were present.
Type II burials form a lower layer and each contain a single body placed within a boat-shaped coffin between two posts, one at the head of the coffin and one at the feet. These contained more numerous grave goods, including pointed felt hats, leather, woollen capes, grass woven baskets, bone and stone artifacts, wheat grains, and Ephedra twigs. While grave goods were more numerous in the Type II burials than the Type I burials, there was otherwise little to differentiate them, and they are presumed to have come from the same culture.
The tombs are aligned roughly along an east-west axis, with their heads to the east, which, combined with the posts surrounding the Type I burials, which resemble solar rays, was taken as evidence of sun-worship by the people who used the cemetery.
However, Wang took care to record every detail about the graves, including the azimuth of each burial (the azimuth is an orientation relative to true north, where north is 0°, east is 90°, south is 180°, etc.). Li et al. collated this data, and compared it to a calculated solar arc for sunrises at the site. A solar arc of sunrises is made up of the azimuth of the sunrise throughout the year, giving an arc (in the Northern Hemisphere) with the Summer Solstice to the north and the Winter Solstice to the south. At the Gumugou Cemetery the sunrise azimuth is 57.7° on the summer solstice and 120.8° on the winter solstice, while the graves have azimuths of between 102° and 58°.
The region where the Gumugou Cemetery is located has an arid desert climate with temperatures reaching as high as 40°C in the summer and falling as low as -20°C in the winter, and strong winds in spring and autumn leading to dust storms which can cause potentially lethal respiratory illnesses. The graves in the cemetery contain men and women, adults and children, with no apparent connection between age and/or gender of the occupant and the type of burial, the amount of grave goods, or the orientation of the grave.
The graves vary in orientation, but are clustered around azimuth directions of 90° and slightly north of this. If the graves were orientated in line with the orientation of the sun at the time of burial, as Li et al. suspect, then the overwhelming majority of the dead would have been buried at or around the Spring and/or Autumn Equinoxes. Since it is unlikely that people were only dying at these times of year, Li et al. instead suggest that the graves represent secondary burials, with the dead being stored elsewhere until the favoured season of funerals.
Saturday 17 February 2024
The origins and evolution of Mesozoic Birds are now well understood, but the emergence and development of the crown group Birds (a crown group contains all living members of a group, their most recent common ancestor, and everything descended from that ancestor) remains largely clouded in mystery. Most living Bird groups have a very poor fossil record, if they have a fossil record at all, despite Birds being the most diverse group of flying Vertebrates alive today, with more than 10 000 species. Fossils, where known, tend to be extremely fragmentary in nature, with most phylogenies of the group based entirely upon genetic data. This is particularly frustrating as the living Birds are the only group of Dinosaurs to have survived the End Cretaceous Extinction, something which has been taken to imply they had some quality missing in all other Avian and non-Avian Dinosaur groups. However, while crown group Birds are known to arisen before the End of the Cretaceous, they appear to have been at best a minor component of the Cretaceous Fauna, with few-or-no specimens found even in deposits which have produced numerous fossils of extinct Mesozoic Bird groups.
In a paper published in the journal BMC Ecology and Evolution on 9 February 2024, Chase Doran Brownstein of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University and the Stamford Museum and Nature Center, describes a possible crown group Bird from the End Cretaceous Lance Formation of Wyoming.
The specimen, YPM VP 59473, comprises partial skeleton consisting of the complete left quadrate, portions of the skull roof a partially articulated, though very poorly preserved, cervical series, a fragment of the synsacrum, the left humerus, the articulated left radius and ulna, partial left tibiotarsus, and a partial pes. The material is largely disarticulated, but all of the bones are from a young juvenile and no duplicate bones are present, supporting the idea that they came from a single Animal.
Despite the extremely fragmentary nature of the material, Brownstein feels confident in assigning the specimen to the Galloanserae, the group which includes the living Land and Water Fowl, and one of the three groups of Neornithine Birds thought to have diverged before the End of the Cretaceous, with the Palaeognaths and the Neoaves. This diagnosis is on the basis of the clear separation of the otic and squamosal capitula on the quadrate, the presence of a subcapitular tuberculum below the squamosal capitulum on the quadrate, the expansion of the ventral condyles and pterygoid condyle on the quadrate, the humeral head being dorsally offset from the rest of the proximal margin of the humerus, tricipital fossa being deeply excavated, and the dorsal tubercle of the humerus being large and offset from the rest of the proximal margin, all of which traits are typical of Galloanserine Birds, but absent in the various Mesozoic Avian stem groups.
While the presence of a Galloanserine Bird in an End Cretaceous deposit is not unexpected, the presence of the specimen in the Lance Formation is significant in two ways.
Firstly, because the deposit is from the Northern Hemisphere; phylogenetic studies of Birds based upon genetic data have found that the earliest diverging members of many groups have Southern Hemisphere distributions, which has led to speculation that the Neornithine Birds might have had a Southern Hemisphere origin, and the establishment of YPM VP 59473 adds to a growing body of data which contradicts that, suggesting that Neornithine Birds already had a global distribution in the Late Mesozoic.
Secondly, unlike other deposits which have yielded Mesozoic Neornithine Birds, the fossils of the Lance Formation are thought to have been buried in situ, rather than being an accumulation deposit. This is important because the deposit has also produced toothed stem-Birds from at least four major clades, as well as Eudromaeosaurian, Alvarezsaurid, Troodontid, and potentially ‘four-winged’ Microraptorine Dinosaurs, all of which are thought to have been ecologically close to Birds. This is significant, as it suggests that the Neornithine Birds were not occupying some ecological niche which protected them from the impacts of the End Cretaceous Extinction, but instead were part of a community of ecologically similar Animals living in similar environments. This undermines the idea that Neornithine Birds were able to survive the End Cretaceous Extinction because they were in some way special, supporting the alternative hypothesis that they survived due to simple luck an important but sometimes overlooked factor in evolutionary biology.
Hundreds of rescue workers have been deployed to a mine in eastern Turkey following a landslide on Tuesday 13 February 2024. The event happened when a spoil heap from the open-pit gold mine collapsed, leading several hundred tonnes of cyanide-laced soil to flow down into the mine site. Nine workers are reported to still be trapped within the mine, five within a shipping container, one inside a truck, and three in another vehicle. Concerns have been raised that cyanide from the mine may enter the Euphrates River, which runs close to the mine in the İliç District of Erzincan Province, then though Syria and Iraq before entering the Persian Gulf. Authorities in Turkey report damming a stream which flows from the mine to the Euphrates, and carrying out ongoing monitoring of the river.
The incident happened at the Çöpler Mine, which is operated by Anagold Madencilik, a subsidiary of the American SSR Mining. The mine has previously faced calls for its closure over an apparently poor safety record, following a cyanide leak in 2020, when the Euphrates was affected. On that occasion the mine was fined 16.5 million Turkish lire (US$537 000), but allowed to resume operating in 2022, despite objections from a range of organisations, including the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects, which includes the Chamber of Mining Engineers. Operations at the mine have been suspended pending an investigation. Four members of staff, including the pit's field manager, have been arrested as part of the investigation.