Taxonomy term

human history

A long layover on the Bering land bridge

About 11,500 years ago, two infants were laid to rest side by side in a shallow grave 80 kilometers southeast of what is now Fairbanks, Alaska. The area was once part of Beringia, a strip of ice-free land connected to Asia during the last ice age. Researchers found the remains in 2013, and have now sequenced the complete mitochondrial genomes of the two children. The results revealed that the infants had different mothers and that their genetic signatures are found today throughout North and South America.

23 Mar 2016

Earliest Americans were wide-ranging wanderers

About 40 years ago, when the Monte Verde archaeological site in southern Chile was dated to 14,800 years ago, conventional ideas of American anthropology were turned on their heads. Until then, the “Clovis First” theory, which held that modern humans only began populating the Americas from Asia via the Bering land bridge roughly 13,500 years ago, was widely accepted. That people had lived thousands of kilometers farther south more than 1,000 years before the Clovis culture arose came as a shock initially, but the idea, and the Monte Verde site, has gradually become accepted over time.

27 Feb 2016

Geologic Column: Thanksgiving's unsung hero

Thanksgiving as we know it in America today has only been celebrated since President Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863, thanks to the entreaties of Sarah Josepha Hale, an influential writer and editor.

13 Nov 2015

Isotopes could reveal ancient American turquoise trade

For centuries before the arrival of Europeans, turquoise was prized among pre-Hispanic cultures of North America. Caches of the distinctive, creamy-blue-green mineral have been unearthed in crypts and other ritually significant structures in what are now the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Farther south, in Mesoamerica, archaeologists have found elaborate mosaic masks and ornamentation made of turquoise pieces. Despite multiple anthropological and historical hints, identifying where the turquoise used by different civilizations came from has proven difficult. But in a recent study, scientists have described a geochemical fingerprinting technique that may help parse the geographic origins of turquoise specimens and illuminate trade routes in ancient America.
 
09 Nov 2015

Travertine buildup reflects ancient Rome's water usage

By the third century, Rome had 11 aqueducts — engineered rivers enclosed by masonry — that supplied water to more than a million people in the metropolis, as well as to the city’s many extravagant public baths and fountains. But just how much water was being sourced from distant rivers, lakes and mountain springs has long been a mystery. Now, scientists are putting some impressive numbers to ancient Rome’s water usage based on a study of travertine deposits that built up over time in the Anio Novus aqueduct as freshwater flowed through it to the city.
 
08 Nov 2015

Kennewick Man related to modern Native Americans

After two decades of controversy surrounding the origins of Kennewick Man — a 9,000-year-old skeleton found on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington state — a genomic analysis has revealed that he was, in fact, related to modern Native Americans. The 1996 discovery of the well-preserved skeleton led to a protracted legal battle among scientists, Native American tribes and the federal government over the disposition of the remains, and sparked a scientific debate about the origins of the first Americans. 
 
11 Oct 2015

Widening the window of human dispersal into Arabia

The vast sea of sand that is much of the Arabian Peninsula presents a formidable barrier to travel, even with today’s modern conveniences. How and when our ancestors crossed this dry expanse after leaving Africa — on their way to populating the rest of the world — has long been a mystery. Now, a new paleoclimate study paints a wetter picture of Arabia during the time of human expansion, and the findings may change scientists’ thinking about the route and timing of early human migrations out of Africa.

31 Jul 2015

Pre-settlement erosion rates illuminated

Humans are one of the most powerful erosive agents on Earth, moving copious amounts of sediment to and fro, mainly through agriculture and development. But quantifying how much we actually move — often a necessary step for developing sustainable land management practices — hinges on determining erosion rates in an area before humans intervened. A new study using surface exposure dating to estimate pre-colonial erosion rates in the southeastern U.S. has now clarified the natural background rate in more detail than ever before, revealing the dramatic human impact on the regional landscape.

 
31 May 2015

Ancient moss reveals tsunami timing

Fishermen trawling Norway’s waters have long known of a place where the seafloor drops precipitously into the abyss. It’s called Storegga — or “great edge” — and it’s actually the steep headwall of the largest undersea landslide in recent geologic history. The slide triggered a tsunami that flooded the shores of the North Sea, reaching as far as Greenland, and likely affecting the Stone Age people that inhabited Northern Europe at the time.

 
14 May 2015

Down To Earth With: John Underhill

“The Odyssey” follows Odysseus’ 10-year journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. John Underhill, a stratigrapher at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, has been on his own odyssey over the past seven years — to test whether Ithaca actually existed. For centuries, scholars assumed that the people and places described by Homer in his epic poems were fictional, but archaeological finds elsewhere, such as Troy and Mycenae, have proven that these stories were grounded in reality.
 
01 Jun 2011

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