Taxonomy term

human history

Travels in Geology: Underground awe in France: The caves of the Causses

The Causses du Quercy region in south-central France has been transformed into a karstic wonderland by the slow dissolution of limestone. The resulting caves, which served as shelters for early humans who left their bones, tools and art for us to ponder, are both geologically and paleoanthropologically fascinating.

06 Apr 2018

No river meant no floods for ancient Indus settlements

Large Middle Eastern rivers like the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates and Tiber were critical for the development of early urban societies in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Ancient Rome. And researchers have long thought that the rise, and eventual decline, of cities in the ancient Indus Civilization, which spread across about 1 million square kilometers of what’s now northwestern India and Pakistan from roughly 4,600 to 3,900 years ago, also depended on major rivers, namely those emerging from the Himalayas. But a new study looking at river sediments from the time of the civilization and earlier suggests that wasn’t the case for every ancient Indus city; some may have benefited from being farther away from large rivers and their periodic floods.

01 Apr 2018

Isotopes suggest ancient turquoise mine was prolific

Few minerals are more iconic in the Desert Southwest than turquoise. The blue-green gemstone, which offers a stark contrast to the dusty red southwestern deserts, has been coveted for thousands of years by indigenous peoples, conquering Spaniards and now by a growing market around the world. Despite its past and present cultural significance, especially among indigenous populations, little is known about the early history of turquoise mining. Researchers have now uncovered previously unknown details about a historic turquoise mining site in Arizona that suggest it was more prolific than once thought.

05 Feb 2018

Turkey DNA reveals Mesa Verde denizens moved to New Mexico

The Mesa Verde region of southern Colorado was home to as many as 30,000 Puebloans through the middle of the 13th century, until severe drought drove them south into New Mexico, ending the cliff dwellers’ reign. In a new study, researchers have charted this mass migration using mitochondrial DNA from a novel source: turkey bones from the domesticated birds kept by Puebloans in both Mesa Verde and northern New Mexico.

28 Dec 2017

Antimony may have poisoned Pompeii's drinking water

The ancient Romans may have had advanced water distribution systems, but the water pipes they used were highly toxic. Many Roman-era water pipes were lined with lead, leading some archaeologists to suspect a public health crisis among Romans that may have contributed to the empire’s eventual fall. But others point out that the high levels of calcium carbonate in the Romans’ water supply would have quickly coated the pipes with scale, limiting the exposure of drinking water to lead. However, a new study suggests lead wasn’t the only concern: A sample of pipe from Pompeii dating to A.D. 79 has shown that the Italian city’s drinking water may have also contained alarmingly high levels of antimony. Antimony is an acutely poisonous element, ingestion of which can lead to severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and/or death from ailments such as kidney failure and cardiac arrhythmia.

23 Nov 2017

Humans arrived Down Under earlier than thought

Analysis of sediments surrounding a trove of artifacts discovered in northern Australia suggests the first humans arrived on the continent about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, a finding that has implications for the hypothesized role of humans in the extinctions of Australian megafauna.

07 Nov 2017

When agriculture went to our heads

The dawn of agriculture left an indelible mark on early human societies, and a new study finds that eating softer, cultivated foods subtly changed the shape of human skulls. Scientists have long suspected that the transition from hunting and foraging to farming and raising livestock would have affected our skulls, specifically the mandible and other anatomy involved in chewing, but quantifying such changes has proven difficult.

01 Nov 2017

Northern Finns didn't starve during Little Ice Age

Today, Finland’s Northern Ostrobothnia region is one of the northernmost places in Europe that can support agriculture. But how this region fared during the Little Ice Age — a period of globally cooler temperatures that lasted roughly from A.D. 1300 to 1850 — is unknown. Scientists assume the climatic cooling would have adversely affected food supplies. Now, however, the discovery of a mysterious medieval cemetery in northern Finland dating to the middle of the Little Ice Age is offering clues that the inhabitants were well fed and well suited to the northern clime.

31 Oct 2017

First complete DNA sequences from Egyptian mummies

Egyptian mummies provide archaeologists with a tantalizing window into ancient Egyptian culture. And now they are offering up their DNA.

11 Oct 2017

Neolithic farmers impacted sedimentation

The Neolithic Revolution, also known as the Agricultural Revolution, started in the Middle East about 11,500 years ago when people moved away from nomadic hunting and gathering toward more settled agricultural communities where they raised livestock and cultivated crops. In a new study of the Dead Sea Basin, researchers found that this turning point may also mark the first time that humans made a measurable impact on sedimentation rates.

29 Sep 2017

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