The tribes who evolved out of Africa to eventually become pre-Roman settlers

Influencers of pre Roman tribes were The Scythians – the Greeks’ name for this initially nomadic people. They inhabited Scythia from at least the 11th century BCE to the 2nd century CE. This included Kazakhstan, thought to be the location for the first area where people domesticated horses, an incredibly important development for the western world. Numerous tribes spread into the vastness of the Eurasian steppes which cover thousands of miles, from Mongolia to Eastern Europe, creating what one researcher calls a “highway” for cultural exchange and conquest.

Whilst the Scythian tribes evolved during the Neolithic, they gained skills in metallurgy. The Chalcolithic (English: /ˌkælkəˈlɪθɪk/; Greek: χαλκός khalkós, “copper” and λίθος líthos, “stone”) period or Copper Age, also known as the Eneolithic or Æneolithic (from Latin aeneus “of copper”), was a period in the development of human technology, before it was discovered that adding tin to copper formed the harder bronze, leading to the Bronze Age. The Copper Age was originally defined as a transition between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, but is now usually considered as belonging to the Neolithic.

The archaeological site of Belovode on the Rudnik mountain in Serbia contains the world’s oldest securely dated evidence of copper smelting from 5000 BCE. The Scythians absorbed this metallurgy understanding and applied it most effectively over thousands of years.

A farming population (I haplogroup) from the Taurus Mountains arrived at Rudnik and this became the first outpost in Europe in the 6004-5960 B.C. in the pass between the Danube and the Carpathians. Before the arrival of the Romans, the area was inhabited by the Illyrians, followed by the Celts. The Greeks and Romans, keen to name these tribes, provided the classifications we still use today.

The Scythians were highly successful traders over a huge area, a mixture of tribes with variable skills.

The term Scythic may be used, “to describe a special phase that followed the widespread diffusion of mounted nomadism, characterized by the presence of special weapons, horse gear, and animal art in the form of metal plaques”. 

The Scythians worked in a wide variety of materials such as gold, wood, leather, bone, bronze, iron, silver and electrum. Clothes and horse-trappings were sewn with small plaques in metal and other materials, and larger ones, including some of the most famous, probably decorated shields or wagons. Wool felt was used for highly decorated clothes, tents and horse-trappings, and an important nomad mounted on his horse in his best outfit must have presented a very colourful and exotic sight. As nomads, the Scythians produced entirely portable objects; to decorate their horses, clothes, tents and wagons – with the exception in some areas of kurgan stelae, stone stelae carved somewhat crudely to depict a human figure, which were probably intended as memorials. Bronze-casting of very high quality is the main metal technique used across the Eurasian steppe, but the Scythians are distinguished by their frequent use of gold at many sites;  although large hoards of gold objects have also been found further east, as in the hoard of over 20,000 pieces of “Bactrian Gold” in partly nomadic styles from Tillya Tepe in Afghanistan. 

 Image of gallery 

Image of plaque from Saka (N.B. Saka is an Iranian word equivalent to the Greek Scythes, and many scholars refer to them together as Saka-Scythian), Sakas were Iranian-speaking horse nomads who deployed chariots in battle, sacrificed horses, and buried their dead in barrows or mound tombs called kurgans.


The Scythians did accept defeat at one time, after warring with another tribe for land control. King Darius, king of the Achaemenid Empire, in 513 BC, finally exercised his naval strength in the area they had dominated. The Achaemenid Empire was created by nomadic Persians. The name “Persia” is a Greek and Latin pronunciation of the native word referring to the country of the people originating from Persis (Old Persian: Pārsa), their home territory located north of the Persian Gulf in southwestern Iran.

The Scythians had invaded Media, revolted against Darius and threatened to disrupt trade between Central Asia and the shores of the Black Sea (as they lived between the Danube and Don Rivers and the Black Sea). The campaigns took place in parts of the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper, while principally in what is modern-day Ukraine and southern Russia and they were driven from the Near East. In the first half of the 6th century BCEE, Scythians had to re-conquer lands north of the Black Sea. In the second half of that century, Scythians succeeded in dominating the agricultural tribes of the forest-steppe and placed them under tribute. As a result, their state was reconstructed with the appearance of the Second Scythian Kingdom which reached its zenith in the 4th century BCE.

Map revealing the distances the mobile Scythians were willing to travel to expand their territory. In the case of Media, for example.


Today, a project led by Danish evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev has collected a massive amount of genetic data across the steppes. Genetically speaking, based on this research, it appears that earlier Western Eurasian farmers, already living on the steppes 5,000 years ago, were gradually replaced by mounted warriors of East Asian descent in several waves of migration that continued well into historic times.

This genomic research is beginning to challenge some of David Anthony’s work (see details below). For example, the team uncovered suggestions of two waves of migration into South Asia: a very early one prior to the Bronze Age (ruling out the Early Bronze Age Yamnaya and Afanasievo) and a second during the Late Bronze Age, 3,200-4,300 years ago, which may have introduced Indo-Iranian languages into the region.

The area of the East Mediterranean in 6000 B.C., influenced by the Scythian horsemanship and military acumen, led to the Mycenaean Minoan cultures which in turn became the forcing ground for the great civilisations of Greece and Rome.

Without the domestication of horses by, most probably, the people of Kazakhstan’s Akmola Province, and the invention of the wheel, imported from the civilized Middle East, which had arrived in the steppe around 3100 BCE, we would not have seen the invention of the chariot in the steppe. It may be the chariot was originally meant as an improved tool for hunting – used roughly by 2000 BCE, probably in the area just east of the southern Ural mountains, where the oldest chariots have been unearthed.

Despite new genetic information, we can refer, in the meantime, to the still convincing body of work by David Anthony, but remember it is healthy to remain curious and sceptical as new sciences discover more fascinating insights.

The title of David Anthony’s book says it all really. 

Anthony, David W. (2007). The Horse The Wheel And Language. How Bronze-Age Riders From the Eurasian Steppes Shaped The Modern World. Princeton University Press.

According to Anthony, between 3100–3000 BC, a massive migration of Indo-Europeans from the Yamna culture took place into the Danube Valley. This link to the Yamna is now disputed, but the Yamna are of great interest nonetheless.

Map showing Danube valley


The Yamna culture originated in the Don–Volga area, 

Map of Don-Volga area


and is dated 3300–2600 BC. It was preceded by the middle Volga-based Khvalynsk culture and the Don-based Repin culture (ca. 3950–3300 BC), and late pottery from these two cultures can barely be distinguished from early Yamna pottery.

According to Anthony (2007), the early Yamnaya horizon spread quickly across the Pontic–Caspian steppes between ca. 4000 and 3200 BC. 

Image of map of Pontic-Caspian steppes


The Pontic–Caspian steppe, Pontic steppe or Ukrainian steppe is the vast steppeland stretching from the northern shores of the Black Sea (called Euxeinos Pontos [Εὔξεινος Πόντος] in antiquity) as far east as the Caspian Sea, from Moldova and eastern Ukraine across the Southern Federal District and the Volga Federal District of Russia to western Kazakhstan, forming part of the larger Eurasian steppe, adjacent to the Kazakh steppe to the east. It is a part of the Palearctic temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands ecoregion of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome.

The area corresponds to Cimmeria, Scythia, and Sarmatia of classical antiquity. Across several millennia the steppe was used by numerous tribes of nomadic horsemen, many of which went on to conquer lands in the settled regions of Europe and in western and southern Asia.

The term ‘Ponto-Caspian region’ is used in biogeography for plants and animals of these steppes, and animals from the Black, Caspian, and Azov seas. Genetic research has identified this region as the most probable place where horses were first domesticated.

According to the dominant Kurgan hypothesis in Indo-European studies, the Pontic–Caspian steppe was the homeland of the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language, and these same speakers were the original domesticators of the horse.

Kazakhstan’s Akmola Province is believed to be the location of the earliest domestication efforts, while other discoveries place this activity as far back as 4000-3500 years BC, in the Eurasian Steppes. 

Image of horses


According to Anthony, “the spread of the Yamnaya horizon was the material expression of the spread of late Proto-Indo-European across the Pontic–Caspian steppes.” Anthony further notes that “the Yamnaya horizon is the visible archaeological expression of a social adjustment to high mobility – the invention of the political infrastructure to manage larger herds from mobile homes based in the steppes.” 

According to Pavel Dolukhanov the emergence of the Pit-Grave culture represents a social development of various local Bronze Age cultures, representing “an expression of social stratification and the emergence of chiefdom-type nomadic social structures”, which in turn intensified inter-group contacts between essentially heterogeneous social groups.

The genetic basis of a number of physical features of the Yamnaya people were ascertained by the ancient DNA study conducted by Haak et al. (2015), Wilde et al. (2014), Mathieson et al. (2015): they were genetically tall (phenotypic height is determined by both genetics and environmental factors), overwhelmingly dark-eyed (brown), dark-haired and had a skin colour that was moderately light, though somewhat darker than that of the average modern European.

Their dialects might then have developed into Proto-Celtic. The arrival of Indo-Europeans into Italy is in some sources ascribed to the Beakers. A migration across the Alps from East-Central Europe by Italic tribes is though to have occurred around 1800 BC.

From the late 3rd to the early 2nd millennium BC, tribes coming both from the north and from Franco-Iberia brought the Beaker culture and the use of bronze smithing, to the Po Valley, to Tuscany and to the coasts of Sardinia and Sicily. 

The Bell Beaker culture is understood as not only a particular pottery type, but also a complete and complex cultural phenomenon involving metalwork in copper and gold, archery, specific types of ornamentation and shared ideological, cultural and religious ideas. The Bell Beaker period marks a period of cultural contact in Atlantic and Western Europe on a scale not seen previously, nor seen again in succeeding periods.

The Beakers could have been the link which brought the Yamna dialects from Hungary to Austria and Bavaria. 

When the massive migration (thought to be militaristic in nature) moved over the land, their people, often warriors, died along the way, and the tradition was to build a kurgan – and these have been found by archaeologists:

Image of kurgan


The Kurgan people culture existed during the fifth, fourth, and third millennia BC; they lived in northern Europe, from N.Pontic across Central Europe. The word “kurgan” means a mound or a barrow in Türkic. Kurgan culture is characterized by pit-graves or barrows, a particular method of burial. They are also called the Pit-grave people (Pit-grave culture), or Barrow people (Barrow culture).

Thousands of kurgans are attributed to this event. These migrations probably split off Pre-Italic, Pre-Celtic and Pre-Germanic from Proto-Indo-European. By this time the Anatolian peoples and the Tocharians had already split off from other Indo-Europeans.

During the late Bronze Age, the Urnfield culture (cremation of their dead and ashes placed in special urns) might have brought proto-Italic people from among the “Italo-Celtic” tribes who remained in Hungary into Italy. These tribes are thought to have penetrated Italy from the east during the late 2nd millennium BC through the Proto-Villanovan culture. They later crossed the Apennine Mountains and settled central Italy, including Latium. 

In the mid-2nd millennium BC, the Terramare culture developed in the Po Valley. The Terramare culture takes its name from the black earth (terra marna) residue of settlement mounds, which have long served the fertilizing needs of local farmers. These people were still hunters, but had domesticated animals; they were fairly skillful metallurgists, casting bronze in moulds of stone and clay, and they were also agriculturists, cultivating beans, the vine, wheat and flax. The Latino-Faliscan people have been associated with this culture, especially by the archaeologist Luigi Pigorini.

During the Late Bronze Age (1350-1150 BC), we can hypothesise a greater degree of diversified territorial organisation, including centres which are larger and tending towards hegemony, adjacent to smaller sites. In certain areas during the Late Bronze Age (LBA) we see a higher frequency of sites occupying a larger extension and a scant presence of small-size settlements, perhaps due to a marked tendency towards concentration of population. This trend seems to be accentuated during the advanced LBA, when the overall number of settlements decreases, with a tendency towards concentration in larger-size settlements and probable subordination of the smaller settlements to the larger ones.

Scientists examined 7,000-year-old ancient pollen and charcoal samples from the Nile to piece together the time – and found evidence of a ‘mega drought’ in the the area. 

The droughts brought fires, famine and social unrest to the region. Pollen grains obtained from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee have also provided similar evidence that the region endured a 150 year drought between 1250BC and 1100BC.

Professor Eric Cline, director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at George Washington University says there was a sharp decline around 1250 BCE in oaks, pines, and carob trees—the traditional flora of the Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age.

Plants usually found in semiarid desert regions increased while the number of olive trees – an important crop plant – also declined.

And so we find that, around 1200 BC, a serious crisis began for the terramare culture that within a few years led to the abandonment of all the settlements; the reasons for this crisis, roughly contemporaneous with the LBA collapse in the eastern Mediterranean, are still not entirely clear. It seems possible that, in the face of an incipient overpopulation (between 150,000 and 200,000 individuals were calculated) and depletion of natural resources, a series of drought periods led to a deep economic crisis, famine, and consequently the disruption of the political order, which caused the collapse of society. Around 1150 B.C. the terramare were completely abandoned, with no settlements replacing them. The plains, especially in the area of Emilia, were abandoned for several centuries, and only in the Roman era did they regain the density of population reached during the terramare period.

Finally, we gradually see the tribes of central Italy going through evolved stages toward the formation of a pre-Roman existence. Rome was to be eventually located some distance from the earthquake prone Apennines.

Archaeologists divide the pre-Roman history of central Italy into three periods:

1. Proto-Villanovan (1200 BC – 1000 BC)

The Proto-Villanovan culture dominated the peninsula and replaced the preceding Apennine culture. The Proto-Villanovans practiced cremation and buried the ashes of their dead in pottery urns of a distinctive double-cone shape. Generally speaking, Proto-Villanovan settlements have been found in almost the whole Italian peninsula from Veneto to eastern Sicily, although they were most numerous in the northern-central part of Italy. The most important settlements excavated are those of Frattesina in Veneto region, Bismantova in Emilia-Romagna and near the Monti della Tolfa, north of Rome. The Osco-Umbrians, the Veneti, and possibly the Latino-Faliscans too, have been associated with this culture.

2. Villanovan (1000 BC – 750 BC)

The Villanovan culture is closely associated with the Celtic Halstatt culture of Alpine Austria, and is characterised by the introduction of iron-working, the practice of cremation coupled with the burial of the ashes in distinctive pottery. The earliest remains of Villanovan culture date back to approx. 1100 BC

3. Etruscan (750 BC – 300 BC) 

The Etruscans, to the north, provided a model for trade and urban luxury. Etruria was also well situated for trade and the early Romans either learned the skills of trade from Etruscan example or were taught directly by the Etruscans who made incursions into the area around Rome sometime between 650 and 600 BCE (although their influence was felt much earlier). The extent of the role the Etruscans played in the development of Roman culture and society is debated, but there seems little doubt they had a significant impact at an early stage. 

At one time researchers thought these were three separate cultures. Today, they tend to consider them three phases of a single, evolving culture.

And last, but not least, bear in mind the seismic activity of the Apennine Mountains, a significant feature of Italy.

Map of Italy highlighting the Apennine range 


The Apennines spine of Italy

The Abruzzi Apennines, located in Abruzzo, Molise (formerly part of Abruzzo) and southeastern Lazio, contain the highest peaks and most rugged terrain of the Apennines. They are known in history as the territory of the Italic peoples first defeated by the city of Rome.

The Apennines also conserve some intact ecosystems, which have survived human intervention. In here there are some of the best preserved forests and montane grasslands in the whole continent; now protected by national parks and, within them, a high diversity of flora and fauna. These mountains are, in fact, one of the last refuges for the big European predators such as the Italian wolf and the marsican brown bear, now extinct in other countries of central Europe.

The mountains lend their name to the Apennine peninsula, which forms the major part of Italy. They are mostly verdant, although one side of the highest peak, Corno Grande is partially covered by Calderone glacier, the only glacier in the Apennines. It has been receding since 1794. The eastern slopes down to the Adriatic Sea are steep, while the western slopes form foothills on which most of peninsular Italy’s cities are located. The mountains tend to be named from the province or provinces in which they are located; for example, the Ligurian Apennines are in Liguria. As the provincial borders have not always been stable, this practice has resulted in some confusion about exactly where the montane borders are. Often but not always a geographical feature can be found that lends itself to being a border.

60 kilometer to the East of present day Rome runs the Apennine mountain chain, and here there are earthquakes. It is the distant echoes of these quakes which so damaged the Colosseum. 

And the scene is set for my next blog, the tribes who built the Mesoamerican city of Teohuacan compared with the tribes who went on to build the city of Rome.

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Obsidian Power: Part Two

Fact: You can’t hang on to your power base if the drinking water has dried up or become contaminated.

It comes as no surprise that we find early humans dwelt close to abundant water supplies, recognising humans can endure many months without food, but not without water. 

When mammoths roamed these lands they too expired as researchers now make clear:

The two major reasons for why megafauna like the mammoth went extinct are thought to be climate change and human predation. As the climate warmed, humans expanded into new territories that were formerly blocked by ice or too harsh to sustain life on an ongoing basis……..Those mammoth that outlived all other mammoths survived on land which became cut off by rising seas, forming islands, making them dependent on fresh water resources on an ever shrinking landmass. These islands were: Wrangel Island, a Russian island in the Arctic Ocean, and Saint Paul Island, off the Alaskan coast. The latter is the last-known location where mammoths survived in North America (3600 BC), while the Wrangel population lived until roughly 2000 BC. They died as freshwater dried up, sea levels shrank the island area.

Saint Paul island lacks any spring or source for fresh water, which means there was no way to restore its supply. As the climate dried, the amount of water available to the mammoths would have dwindled, while rising sea levels allowed salt water to penetrate the soil from below. Salt water penetrating freshwater is like poison. They would drop in their tracks after drinking from water they had previous found safe.

Water shortages in present day Mexico City

For at least a decade there has been a water crisis in Mexico City.

Mexico City has expanded over a huge area, where 5 lakes existed, but now water is hard to find as a crumbling sewage and their water supply system is exacerbated by floods and effects on the ground below, which is triggering instability and seismic reactions.

See http://www.bbc.com/future/gallery/20180510-how-a-city-that-floods-is-running-out-of-water

Once there was plenty of water.

There used to be a vast lake named Lake Texcoco

Map of Lake before it was drained:
This Lake had been revered and was integral to the Mesoamerican remarkable building of early civilisations.

One of those cities was Tenochtitlán.

Image of model of Aztec Tenochtitlán


an amazing city, built on an island in the Lake, existing between A.D. 1325 and 1521, largely destroyed by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés after a siege in 1521, and modern-day Mexico City now lies over much of its remains. 
Lake Texcoco (Spanish: Lago de Texcoco) was a natural lake within the “Anahuac” or Valley of Mexico.

Between the Pleistocene epoch and the last glacial period, the lake occupied the entire Mexico Valley. It is called a valley but really it is more like a great bowl within the mountain ranges. 

Lake Texcoco reached its maximum extent 11,000 years ago with a size of about 2,189 square miles (5,670 km2) and over 500 feet (150 m) deep. 

When the lake’s water level fell it created several paleo-lakes that would connect with each other from time to time.

A recent analysis of a skeleton, named Tepexpan Man, found in 1947 in the sediment of the Lake, has revealed new understandings regarding the Mesoamerican people who lived there:

 Dr. Gonzalez …reconstructed the environment of Lake Texcoco around the time of Tepexpan Man by analyzing sediments and fossils from the area. Dr. Gonzalez and her team analyzed sand, clay, and volcanic ash, as well as fossils of diatoms (microscopic algae) and ostracods (a form of small crustacean). When Tepexpan Man was alive, the lake was very deep, full of fish, and surrounded by trees. The environment surrounding Lake Texcoco experienced major changes over the past 20,000 years including several volcanic eruptions, changing water levels, and numerous types of vegetation. These environmental changes clearly affected populations living in the area. Today, Lake Texcoco is almost dried up. It sits on the northeast outskirts of Mexico City. 

The Lake was primarily fed by snowmelt and rain runoff when the Mexico Valley had a temperate climate. Between 11,000 and 6,000 years ago, the climate naturally warmed (classified as the Holocene Epoch when the Earth began warming after the last Ice Age) and snowfall in central Mexico became less prevalent. This caused the water level of the lake to drop over the next several millennia. Remnants of the ancient shoreline that Lake Texcoco had from the last glacial period can be seen on some slopes of Mount Tlaloc as well as mountains west of Mexico City. 

Image of Mount Tlaloc (Spanish: Monte Tláloc, Aztec Nahuatl: Tlālōcatepētl) 

Agriculture around the lake began about 7,000 years ago, with humans following the patterns of periodic inundations of the lake. Farming was developed, and corn (maize) was, and still is, a staple food product of Mexicans. The complexity of the genetic breeding of grasses to create corn was not known anywhere else on the planet. The brilliance of the human endeavour to create this vital food stuff has still not been explained.

Image of maize


The Balsas River valley was possibly one of the earliest maize growing sites in Mexico, dating from around 9200 years ago. Though it is known that successive communities of Yop, Coixica, Matlatzinca (Chontal), Tlahuica and Xochimilca with Nahua succeeding in the end have lived in the region, archeological excavations in the area are yet to establish the hierarchical succession of the various communities. 

Several villages appeared on the northeast side of the Lake Texcoco between 1700 and 1250 BC. 

There are a series of wonderful educational maps which help us understand the Holocene population development in this area of Mexico.

See https://www.timemaps.com/history/mexico-central-america-1000bc/

By 1250 BC the identifying signs of the Tlatilco culture, including more complex settlements and a stratified social structure, are seen around the lake. 

By roughly 800 BC Cuicuilco had eclipsed the Tlatilco cultural centers and was the major power in the Valley of Mexico during the next 200 years when its famous conical pyramid was built. Cuicuilco may be the oldest city in the Valley of Mexico and was roughly contemporary with, and possibly interacting with, the Olmec of the Gulf Coast of lowland Veracruz and Tabasco(also known as the Olmec heartland).

Cuicuilco means: “Place where songs and dances are made”.

View of south side of the pyramid:


Facing view of pyramid:


The Xitle volcano destroyed Cuicuilco around AD 30. Xitle lies in the Ajusco mountain range. Ajusco is a Náhuatl word variously translated as ‘source of waters’ or ‘watered grove’. 

Ajusco image

Some think the power base of Cuicuilco was a threat to the developing power base of Teotihuacan as their farming produce was vital for the growing population of Teotihuacan. Once it was no more, the land and surviving people were siezed by the Teotihuacanoes. This expanded their power base, being less dependent on these previous trading partners and providing easy access to the established trading routes developed by the people of Cuicuilco.

The city of Teotihuacan may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around AD 550 during a period of unrest when the fresh water supply began to fail and the once powerful leading priests could no longer ‘give’ the community this vital requirement.

At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the 1st millennium AD, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more, making it at least the sixth largest city in the world during its epoch. They left no written history since their system did not elicit a need to develop a written language. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is the subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi or Totonac ethnic groups.

Scholars have suggested that Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic state.

The name Teōtīhuacān was given by the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs centuries after the fall of the city around AD 550. The Nahuatl scholar Thelma D. Sullivan interprets the name as “place of those who have the road of the gods.” They understood how to develop a power base using expertise over water use and worshipping their god of water, placing those best able to demonstrate water control at the top of the community respect table. 

They chose to build their magnificent city in an area of easily obtainable obsidian, but the land was mostly infertile. They traded obsidian in exchange for food which was being grown by other communities around them. Their trading abilities were built over time until others recognised them as superior traders. They developed a strong and powerful army to protect their power base, utilising the ready source of obsidian to create efficient weaponry of sharp spears and arrows. Their armies conquered other territories and their population grew, creating ever greater demands on water supplies within a landscape which began to suffer regular drought.

It was only when their water supply dried up that their power base soon declined and the civilisation disintegrated.

Without clean drinking water many power bases have crumbled, even when laden with trading goods, it is just stuff which cannot be exchanged for a continual supply of fresh water.

Field Museum scientist Laure Dussubieux, in a recent article about her work studying the likely ‘collapse’ of the Rapa Nui on Easter Island, she said something I think we should bear in mind whenever we study past human communities:

“What happens in this world is a cycle, what happened in the past will happen again,” Ms Dussubieux said. “Most people don’t live on a small island, but what we learn about people’s interactions in the past is very important for us now because what shapes our world is how we interact.”

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Obsidian and Power: Part One

One of the most fascinating subjects I personally keep returning to is the area around the Gulf of Mexico and that point in Earth’s history when she was hit by a massive asteroid and the millions of years of global non avian dinosaur existence came to an end. I’ve written blogs previously, dipping into findings from books and online, to research ongoing history of that most cursed and blessed location.

Beginning with the impact of a large meteorite, at the site of Chicxulub Crater, just west of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, researchers noted higher levels of iridium at the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary (K–Pg boundary), (see Alvarez Nobel Prize winning hypothesis, 1980, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cretaceous–Paleogene_boundary) which occurred approximately 65 to 66 million years ago (Ma). This extinction event resulted in 75 percent extinction of animal and plant species in a geologically short period of time, recorded in studies of the sediment from the point of the crater to areas around the world.

In addition to finding increased levels of iridium, recent research of the asteroid sent carbon, embedded in the rocks, vaporising due to the impact, forming tiny airborne beads (carbon structures) that blanketed the planet. This was discovered in 2008 by Indiana University Bloomington geologist Simon Brassell, study coauthor and former adviser to the paper’s lead author, Mark Harvey. The scientists concluded the cenospheres could have been created by a new process, the violent pulverization of the Earth’s carbon-rich crust.

Scientists now estimate the total mass of carbon cenospheres ejected by the asteroid collision, assuming a global distribution, to be perhaps as much as 900 quadrillion kilograms. Only animals underground and creatures underwater could have survived when the air burned so hot.

In 2018, scientists are warning that the earth is heating up to the level where we, who have flagrantly sought and burned fossil fuels, are close to the brink of a further 2 degree increase in temperature which will be the tipping point from which we can no longer save ourselves. The sixth extinction will begin.

Map of earth 66 million years ago


Around the same time as the asteroid hit, the largest volcanic range in the world was erupting – the Deccan traps in India.

Image of Deccan Traps


Here is an extract from information on the volcanic Deccan Traps in India, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deccan_Traps

“In addition, there is some evidence to link the Deccan Traps eruption to the asteroid impact which created the Chicxulub crater in the Mexican state of Yucatán. Although the Deccan Traps began erupting well before the impact, argon-argon dating suggests that the impact may have caused an increase in permeability that allowed magma to reach the surface and produced the most voluminous flows, accounting for around 70% of the volume. The combination of the asteroid impact and the resulting increase in eruptive volume may have been responsible for the mass extinctions that occurred at the time that separates the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods, known as the K–Pg boundary.”

The land-living dinosaurs were destroyed but they were victims of a perfect storm; a devastating meteorite hitting the worst ever point on Earth, and volcanic eruptions of the Deccan Traps concurrently occurring.

But we humans have been on Earth for a blip of time compared to the lumbering dinosaurs. We know Africa has the longest record of human habitation in the world since the first hominins emerged, but that was just 6-7 million years ago. Whilst our ancestors evolved, the earth changed what it had to offer for humans to adapt or die as they took on the challenge to survive. Over time, Homo sapiens had acquired adaptive abilities to survive in many friendly but also seemingly hostile environments. Their genetics and interbreeding passed on protections from disease, skills for survival and abilities to assess new situations and environments. Our adaptable nature seems like a great asset, but the Earth has been plundered by us again and again as we expect more and more from its bounty. We see threats – we turn them into opportunities. We see volcanoes, yet we live close to them. (Fossils of early hominins were found in the East Rift Valley – a volcanic area, see an earlier blog https://borderslynn.com/2018/02/19/the-great-rift-valley-route-out-to-world-exploration/)

Volcanoes are  

….generally found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging, and most are found underwater. For example, a mid-oceanic ridge, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates whereas the Pacific Ring of Fire has volcanoes caused by convergent tectonic plates. Volcanoes can also form where there is stretching and thinning of the crust’s plates, e.g., in the East African Rift and the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field and Rio Grande Rift in North America. This type of volcanism falls under the umbrella of  ‘plate hypothesis’ volcanism. Volcanism away from plate boundaries has also been explained as mantle plumes. These so-called  ‘hotspots’, for example Hawaii, are postulated to arise from upwelling diapirs with magma from the core–mantle boundary, 3,000 km deep in the Earth. Volcanoes are usually not created where two tectonic plates slide past one another. Extract from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcano.

Most volcanoes are located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, where tectonic plates can slide beneath one another and cause a disturbance. We have only learned about tectonic plates in the past 60 years. In 1912 the meteorologist Alfred Wegener amply described what he called continental drift, expanded in his 1915 book The Origin of Continents and Oceans, and the scientific debate started that would end up fifty years later in the theory of plate tectonics.

The size of the volcano eruption depends on how much time a volcano has had to build up pressure — some of the biggest volcano disasters came after a long period of dormancy. 

Early August 2018 saw the 6.9 mag earthquake hit the Indonesian islands in the Pacific of Bali, Lombok and islands nearby. 

A supervolcano eruption about 74,000 years ago on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra caused a large-scale environmental calamity that may have decimated Stone Age human populations in parts of the world. But some populations, it seems, endured it unscathed.

Scientists said excavations at two nearby archeological sites on South Africa’s southern coast turned up microscopic shards of volcanic glass from the Mount Toba eruption, which occurred about 9,000 kilometres away.

Mount Toba belched immense amounts of volcanic particles into the atmosphere to spread worldwide, dimming sunlight and potentially killing many plants. It was the most powerful eruption in the past two million years and the strongest since our species first appeared in Africa.

Hawaii’s largest island has been devastated by the volcano Kilauea, the biggest and most active of the island’s five volcanoes and is one of the most active in the world. It is situated on the southern shore of Hawaii’s “Big Island”. It has been erupting consistently since 1983 after a period of being dormant. Yet beautiful homes have been built in its shadow and farming has been extensive because of fertile soils. Now much is covered beneath foul smelling, burning lava.

Timeline of events from May 3,2018

May 3, 2018: The volcano erupted dramatically several hours after a magnitude-5.0 quake struck the Big Island.

The eruption spewed lava into residential subdivisions in the Puna district of the Big Island, prompting mandatory evacuations of the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions

Lava flow on May 3 was caused by a series of earthquakes on the eastern side of the Big Island

The island’s largest earthquake in more than 40 years struck a day later on May 4

The magnitude 6.9 tremor hit near the south part of the volcano, following a smaller quake that rattled the same area

May 12: The USGS reported a shallow but small earthquake with a magnitude of 3.5 had struck the island

May 13: New fissures roaring like jet engines and spewing magma opened up, piling lava as high as a four-story building

The 300m long crack is the 17th to have opened since the volcano began erupting

Locals say 45kg chunks of lava were hurled into the air as smoke and steam spewed into the air

May 15: Rumours circulated suggesting the volcano could cause a “mega-tsunami” – these claims were refuted by Hawaii County officials

May 16: Plumes of between 3,000 to 6,000 feet rose from the volcano

The Hawaiian Electric Company restored power to all 571 customers in Aiea affected by a power outage on the morning

May 17: The volcano erupted sending a plume of ash six miles into the air – Kilauea was also blasting out “ballistic blocks” the size of kitchen appliances

May 20: A man was injured by “lava splatter” – projectile molten rock – whilst he sat on his balcony

May 25: A 4.4 magnitude earthquake struck near the summit of Kilauea, according to the US Geological Survey

June 3: A 5.5 magnitude earthquake rattled the summit of Kilauea sending an ash plume 8,000 feet into the sky, officials said.

The huge quake was one of 500 in the summit area in a 24 hour period – which is a record for the Hawaiian volcano

June 5: A growing river of molten rock flowing from a fissure at the foot of the volcano is believed to have demolished scores of additional homes.

The latest estimates – up to 80 more structures – could bring the total number of homes and other buildings lost over the past month to nearly 200.

The massive lava flow has filled in a small bay at the eastern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island, civil defence officials said.

June 18: Lava continued to spew out of the volcano. More than 600 homes are believed to be destroyed by the violent eruptions.

July 16: Lava bomb sent molten rock crashing through tourist boat injuring 23 following another eruption

This description illustrates the human vulnerability to Nature and explains why humans have always been drawn to the magnificence of such power contrasted at the same moment with pure terror experienced by many who flee for the lives.

When the land masses of South America collided with the land mass which we now call North America, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans were created, separating a much larger ocean in two and the land bridge (Panama) allowed land animals to move between North and South. This event occurred 2.8 million years ago, not long after what we refer to as the beginning of the dramatic Pleistocene, 2.5 million years BP. This area is a tectonic plate meeting point.

Almost all of Mexico sits atop the south-west corner of the massive North American plate (see map). Immediately to the south is the much smaller Caribbean plate. The North American plate extends westwards from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs through Iceland and down the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, to the western edge of North America. In a north-south direction, it extends from close to the North Pole as far south as the Caribbean.

For more details see http://geo-mexico.com/?p=6277

Image of major Six Mexican Volcanoes which form the volcanic axis:


Left to right Ixtaccíhuatl, Popocatépetl, Matlalcueitl (Malinche), Cofre de Perote (most distant), Pico de Orizaba, Sierra Negra
Map of Mexico and volcanic sites

And map of obsidian sites

Since the Stone Age skills acquired by humans were extensive by the time the Osmec and Lapita cultures developed. Amongst other skills, they were by now adept at making tools, some of which were used to carve sophisticated and huge statues from the volcanic rock. Volcanic basalt rock is easier to carve than many other forms of rock. See my earlier blog on carved heads from basalt in Mexico, Easter Island at https://borderslynn.com/2017/11/19/mesoamerican-cradle-of-civilisation-and-the-osmec-head-sculptures/

Obsidian was valued in Stone Age cultures because, like flint, it could be chipped to produce hand axes, sharp blades or arrowheads.

Pre-Columbian Mesoamericans’ used obsidian often. It was worked for tools and decorative objects. It was also polished to create early mirrors. Mesoamericans also made a type of sword with obsidian blades mounted in a wooden body. Called a macuahuitl, the weapon could cause terrible injuries, because it combined the sharp cutting edge of an obsidian blade with the ragged cut of a serrated edge.

Native American people traded obsidian throughout North America. Each volcano and in some cases each volcanic eruption produces a distinguishable type of obsidian. So archaeologists can trace the origins of a particular artifact. Obsidian can be identified in Greece as coming from different islands in the Aegean Sea. Obsidian cores (unworked lumps) and blades were traded great distances inland from the coast.

Obsidian was named after a Roman explorer named Obsius who reportedly visited Ethiopia. His name serves as the origin of the term since his discovery of its use whilst on his travels in Ethiopia where obsidian was traded. 

Obsidian is more often dark, the colour varies on the presence of different materials. Iron and magnesium typically give the obsidian a dark green to brown to black color. A few samples are nearly colorless. In some stones, small crystals produce a snowflake pattern (snowflake obsidian). It may contain patterns of gas which produce effects such as a golden sheen (sheen obsidian) or a rainbow sheen (rainbow obsidian).

Image of obsidian:


The characteristics of the Lapita culture are the extension of human settlement to previously uninhabited Pacific Islands scattered over a large area, distinctive geometric dentate-stamped pottery, the use and widespread distribution of obsidian, and the spread of Oceanic languages.

The Lapita culture or tradition was a prehistoric Pacific Ocean people from c. 1600 BCE to c. 500 BCE, running concurrently with the amazing Osmec “cradle of civilisation” of Mesoamerica. 

Both used obsidian for practical and ornamental use. The Lapita sources of obsidian have been researched and presented in a paper http://members.peak.org/~obsidian/pdf/summerhayes_2009.pdf.  

Obsidian sources in Mesoamerica are limited in number and distribution, and are restricted to the volcanic regions of the Sierra Madre Mountains as it runs through Mexico and Guatemala.

The range extends from northern Sonora state near the Mexico-U.S. border at Arizona, southeastwards to the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt and Sierra Madre del Sur ranges. The high plateau that is formed by the range is cut by deep river valleys. This plateau is formed from volcanic rock overlying a basement of metamorphic rock.

Over thousands of years, the intelligent evolving human brain eventually recognised obsidian and ancestral memory ensured knowledge of its potential. The dexterous human hands honed the glass-like structure into whatever was required. From Africa, after travelling over thousands of years, this knowledge was passed down to generations and still, today, obsidian is used in beautiful jewellery and sometimes in the medical world as special scalpels for delicate work.  

In Part Two we will see how the Teotihuacan civilisation grew to become a major influence for centuries thanks to recognising the potential of an obsidian monopoly.

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Habitat, genetics and us

As the last Ice Age melts at a fast pace, the upside of that news is that researchers are finding more and more ancient bones, skeletons and artefacts which were previously locked under permafrost. The knowledge accumulating about the kind of habitat extinct life forms experienced has enabled animators to depict paradise-like scenes where amazing creatures roamed before the ice overwhelmed their pleasant pastures. All the science gathered is informing the creative world and together they bring us stunning images to educate and inform us.

Now our human lineage is also clearly identified on an interactive ‘family’ presented here by The Smithsonian at http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-family-tree

We can begin to understand how the human family have moved on to seek less hostile environments when they felt the necessity and had acquired sufficient confidence with new skills of survival. Once hunted themselves by many fierce creatures, they became hunters and their gathering and storing skills became more sophisticated over time. When arriving in a place of plenty, they settled and became farmers, living in cooperative groups, supporting one another.At some point they began to meet other groups from different branches of the family tree who had developed different genetic patterns. The groups would interbreed and their offspring would acquire some helpful and some not so helpful genes as they evolved.

As the human brain grew through experience and acquiring a diverse range of food sources, the human digestive system also evolved.

Early hominins, living 3 to 3.5 million years ago, got over half their nutrition from grasses, unlike their predecessors, who preferred fruit and insects (forest dwellers whose diet was similar to chimpanzees).

This is the earliest evidence of eating savannah plants, says Julia Lee-Thorp at the University of Oxford. She found high levels of carbon-13 in the bones of Australopithecus bahrelghazali, which lived on savannahs near Lake Chad in Africa.

Just as massive gorillas are vegetarian and whose strength and barrel chest have similarities to Neanderthals, so the vegetarian route to build a diverse gut microbiome evolved.

It is likely that both modern humans and Neandertals descended from Homo heidelbergensis. When Neanderthals and modern humans interbred after thousands of years of separation, the genetic result was that humans around the globe carry the now extinct Neanderthal, genes to between 2 and 3 percent.

Compared to the Neandertals and other late archaic humans, modern humans generally have more delicate skeletons.

Geneticist Professor Tim Spector, in his book The Diet Myth says:

Early hominids like Australopithecus who lived between two and five million years ago were half our size and had much bigger molars than we have. These humans probably didn’t eat much meat apart from insects or reptiles, as they were not fast, agile or bright enough to catch much unless it was already dead. A couple of million years ago during the Ice Age, Africa cooled down and fruit became scarcer. Our Home erectus ancestors, in order to survive, now had to find better hunting and gathering techniques. Studies of chimps show they can take up to eleven hours to chew raw meat properly, so humans wanting better things to do with their time had to work around this. They initially developed stone tools to cut up the tubers, roots and raw meat into smaller pieces.”

It was not until around 100,000 years ago that humans began to light fires to cook their food and thus reduce the time it took to chew before swallowing. They could also dwell in caves, lit by firelight, once too dangerous for them with caves being home to various human predators. Fire warmed their ‘home’, protected them from many dangers, helped them cook and develop hunting tools using heat from the fire to create fixing materials for their tools – fire just enabled more innovation to assist their survival.

As Tim Spector said:

This opened up many more possibilities, as cooked food reduced toxins and the incidence of food poisoning, and allowed much more energy to be extracted from food in a short time.  Importantly, it freed up the valuable time we had previously spent collecting, then eating and digesting the tough roots we’d gathered and the occasional bit of raw meat.

Now that we were eating cooked food, we needed less of the digestive juices and enzymes as well as less fermentation time, so the lower part of our gut shrank accordingly. With the intestines using less energy and receiving more calories from the cooked vegetables and meat, our brains rapidly grew bigger and we became vastly more efficient at hunting meat, a great source of calories.”

In Siberia, there is a location called the Lugovskoe ‘mammoth graveyard’ by scientists Alexander Pavlov and Eugeny Mashchenko. This is a swampy area where thousands of bones of mammals – mainly mammoths – have been unearthed by scientists since the 1990s. It remains unclear to what extent our ancestors ate the woolly mammoth when other, perhaps more succulent, food sources were available. Yet a related discovery last year in Lugovskoe was the remains of a 13,270 year old fireplace belonging to archaic humans in this region. 

The current theory is that mammoth bone was burned with charcoal, the fat from the bone giving a superior heat. Anton Rezvy, 39, head of the palaeontological department of the Khanty-Mansiysk Museum of Nature and Man, explained: ‘The vertebra was found in Lugovskoe mammoth cemetery.’

Other uses for mammoth remains have been discovered. There is evidence of these humans using the giant tusks as support structure and then laying the skins of mammoths in sections over the top to create an enclosed family home. This was recently demonstrated in a documentary series on BBC by Bristol University. Another illustration of astonishing discoveries since caves, such as the one found in Transylvania, have been explored and Siberia is yielding up mammoth finds in once frozen tundra.

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Before humans there were many forms of life

Timeline: Pre-human evolution

The earth is about 4.54 billion years old and the first life dates to at least 3.5 billion years ago.

I found the following useful https://dinosaurpedia.wordpress.com

I have referred back to Scotland (where I live) as this country has some ancient geology well worth a visit by anyone who wants to walk on rocks older than many places found elsewhere.

First Life:  3,000 MYA (Million Years Ago)

The first living things on Earth were very simple, single-celled forms of life. There were bacteria and a type of algae called blue-greens. Fossils of blue-greens and bacteria have been found in rocks 3,000 million years old. The hot springs in Yellowstone Park, North America contain bacteria and simple algae. Perhaps this scene is similar to 3,000 million years ago when life began.

Here in Scotland the oldest rocks are the Lewisian gneisses, which were formed in the Precambrian period, up to 3,000 Ma (million years ago). They are among the oldest rocks in both Europe and the World. They form the basement to the west of the Moine Thrust on the mainland, in the Outer Hebrides and on the islands of Coll and Tiree. These rocks are largely igneous in origin, mixed with metamorphosed marble, quartzite and mica schist and intruded by later basaltic dykes and granite magma. One of these intrusions forms the summit plateau of the mountain Roineabhal in Harris. The granite here is anorthosite, and is similar in composition to rocks found in the mountains of the Moon.
Image of anorthosite:


Torridonian sandstones were also laid down in this period over the gneisses, and these contain the oldest signs of life in Scotland. In later Precambrian times, thick sediments of sandstones, limestones muds and lavas were deposited in what is now the Highlands of Scotland.

Example of rocks NW Highlands of Scotland courtesy of http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-6rbOcjzrszo/TjGDFrObbSI/AAAAAAAAApo/v5KcIN4rJLs/s1600/Book_1.png

The Paleozoic Era
Diagram


543 MYA

From the start of the Cambrian period 543m years ago, the number of animal species grew dramatically. The fossil record goes from showing no animal fossils to suddenly showing tracks and body fossils all over the globe. All major animal groups, including the ancestors of vertebrates, showed up over just a few tens of millions of years (a short period in geological time).

Life In The Sea: 600 – 530 MYA

Before fish, the seas were home to other creatures. Many of them were like sea animals that live today. There were jellyfish, shellfish called brachiopods and many sorts of sea worms. One type of animal that hasn’t survived is the trilobite. Trilobites were sea creatures with hard bodies like armour, which were jointed so that they could move. They had legs like those of shrimps. To protect themselves some would curl up into a ball, rather like a woodlouse.

Leafless Plants & Insects: 410 – 380 MYA

The first plants were leafless and flowerless and no more than 4 or 5 cm tall. They lived in boggy ground. Through this miniature jungle, scorpions hunted milipedes that fed on the plants.

Fish Teem In The Sea: 390 MYA

The first animals with backbones were fish. It is thought that sometime during this period Eusthenopteron, a fish that used its front fins to help it ‘walk’, crawled out of the water to live on land. It was the ancestor of land animals.

Amphibians Rule: 370 – 280 MYA

Amphibians live on land and in water, where they lay their eggs. Amphibians evolved from fish. At this time in history amphibians were very successful. Some amphibians were quite big. Icthyostega was about 1 m long. It looked a bit like a fish and had scales and a fin, but it had legs and could walk on land, although it spent most of its time in water.

NB. Recent findings:

…..pond scum first made landfall almost 100 million years earlier [320 MYA]

 “[This] study has important global implications, because we know early plants cooled the climate and increased the oxygen level in the Earth’s atmosphere,” conditions that supported the expansion of terrestrial animal life, says Tim Lenton, an earth system scientist at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom who was not involved with the work. 

Mesozoic Era Diagram:


220 MYA

These locations of dinosaur remains have been listed at http://ark-survival-evolved.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Dinosaurs_by_Location



Dinosaurs began life during an era we call The Jurassic. They lived successfully for 160 million years up to the fatal asteroid strike 65 million years ago.

Unlike us, they adapted particularly well to life on this planet. We are still trying to adapt, but I don’t think we have millions of years to look forward to for much needed evolved attributes.

Reasons for their success:

They had evolved scaly, waterproof skin. The overlapping scales kept the dinosaur dry and protected it.

They laid hard-shelled eggs which helped many young to survive.

Dinosaurs could walk on land more easily than many of the other animals of the time, so they could find food and escape from enemies quickly.

Some dinosaurs ate plants and some ate meat. This meant that there was usually enough food to go round.

We humans, on the other hand, began evolving a mere 3 million years ago, and I think we would agree, we don’t have the staying power of dinosaurs! We have already plundered our generous planet and are looking for other planets to move to.

Here in Scotland, as the Jurassic (201–145 Ma) started, the earth continents were on the move. Pangaea began to break up into two continents, Gondwana and Laurasia, marking the beginning of the separation of Scotland and North America. Sea levels rose, as Britain and Ireland drifted on the Eurasian Plate to between 30° and 40° north. Most of northern and eastern Scotland including Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides remained above the advancing seas, but the south and south-west were inundated. 

Picture: Giant footprint of dinosaur found in Scotland 2108 on Isle of Skye, CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH/PA WIRE


The 170 million-year-old tracks were made in a muddy lagoon off the north-east coast of what is now the Isle of Skye

“Their long-necked prints are almost car tyre size whereas the meat-eater ones are about the size of a basket ball.”
Dr Brusatte added: “The more we look on the Isle of Skye, the more dinosaur footprints we find.

When the fatal asteroid struck, what actually happened?

(See also a relevant previous blog written at the end of last year: https://borderslynn.com/2017/11/19/mesoamerican-cradle-of-civilisation-and-the-osmec-head-sculptures/

Researchers recovered rocks from under the Gulf of Mexico that were hit by the asteroid. The nature of this material records the details of the event. It is becoming clear that the 15km-wide asteroid could not have hit a worse place on Earth.

In 2008 a geologist, Mark Harvey conducted research while he was a master’s student at IU Bloomington. Claire Belcher (University of London) and Alessandro Montanari (Coldigioco Geological Observatory) also contributed to the study. It was funded by the Geological Society of America, the Indiana University Department of Geological Sciences, and the Society for Organic Petrology.

Harvey measured carbon cenospheres, from the Yucatan out to areas around the world. Carbon cenospheres are a classic indicator of industrial activity,” Harvey said. “The first appearance of the carbon cenospheres defines the onset of the industrial revolution.” But in choosing to study where the asteroid hit he found the further he went away from the site of the asteroid impact, the smaller were the carbon cenospheres. The conclusion from that research is that the strike must have aerosolized massive oil fields under the Yucatan at that time and set them ablaze. 

Carbon embedded in the rocks was vaporized by the impact, eventually forming new carbon structures in the atmosphere,” said Indiana University Bloomington geologist Simon Brassell, study coauthor and former adviser to the paper’s lead author, Mark Harvey.

The tiny airborne beads blanketed the planet, assuming a global distribution, to be perhaps as much as 900 quadrillion kilograms. 

That was why it was the worst place for the asteroid to hit.

The reptilian dinosaurs died out due to their reliance as land living creatures, unable to find shelter or safety of any kind.

An article in the Daily Mail gave an impression of what the disaster may have been like:

Within 10 hours of the impact, a massive tsunami wave ripped through the Gulf coast.

This caused earthquakes and landslides in areas as far as Argentina. 

The creatures living at the time were not just suffering from the waves – the heat was much worse.

While investigating ‘dooms day’ researchers found small particles of rock and other debris that was shot into the air when the asteroid crashed.

Called spherules, these small particles covered the world with a one-tenth inch thick layer of soot.

Experts explain that losing the light from the sun caused a complete collapse in the aquatic system as the phytoplankton base of almost all aquatic food chains would have been eliminated.

It’s believed that the more than 180 million years of evolution that brought the world to the Cretaceous point was destroyed in less than the lifetime of a Tyrannosaurus rex, which is about 20 to 30 years.

Scientists are taking rock core samples from the impact zone in Mexico, known as the Chicxulub crater.

The site of the crash of Chicxulub has been on record since the 1980s and is home to the impact that is more than 100 miles (160km) in diameter, reports Smithsonian Magazine.

Scientists have also discovered signs of a massive tsunami around the Gulf coast.

They believe the asteroid hit Earth with such force that, within 10 hours, a huge wave made its way along the coast, causing mass destruction. 

The wave would have caused sand to end up on dry land, while plants would have been thrown into the ocean. 

Signs of this geological mix up can still be seen today in sedimentary layers of rock that mark the final day of the Cretaceous period.

The blast also triggered earthquakes and landslides in regions as far away as Argentina.

But perhaps the most devastating result of the impact was the intense heat that followed.  

The asteroid caused tiny particles of rock to shoot into the air and settle into a thin layer across the world.

The kinetic energy carried by these spherules is colossal, about 20 million megatons total or about the energy of a one megaton hydrogen bomb at six kilometer intervals around the planet,’ University of Colorado geologist Doug Robertson told the Smithsonian.

That kinetic energy would have produced intense heat, beginning around 40 minutes after impact and lasting for several hours.”

According to Penn State researcher Russ Graham, the lifestyles of mammals gave them an advantage when the asteroid struck the area. In response to a “probing question” published on the university’s website, Graham opined that mammals that used burrows or lived in aquatic environments would have been shielded from the intense heat that briefly followed the impact. Once the heat was off, mammals could come back out and make the most of the remaining food resources. There may not have been enough food for dinosaurs, but the more generalized tastes of mammals allowed them to hang on.

Researchers recently announced they had found evidence that a string of volcanoes in a region of India known as the Deccan Traps doubled their activity around 50,000 years after the Chicxulub impact.

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The Great Rift Valley route out to world exploration

The Red Sea (also the Erythraean Sea) is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The sea is underlain by the Red Sea Rift which is part of the Great Rift Valley, that stretches across East Africa, it is about 48 km (30 mi) long. It is located in the eastern Serengeti Plains in the Arusha Region not far, about 45 kilometres (28 miles), from Laetoli. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. To the north lie the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez (leading to the Suez Canal). 

Map of Red Sea


The Leakey family famously searched the Olduvai Gorge (within the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania) and found the fossilised remains of Homo habilis who was time dated to have occupied Olduvai from 1.9 mya. This led to further understanding the origins of the human race. From this area, over thousands of years, some of the early hominids moved away from their place of origin and travelled eastward and northward.

Topography of the Olduvai Gorge area


Map showing distance between Ethiopia and Tanzania


In Ethiopia, the remains of ‘Lucy’ (the common name of AL 288-1) in several hundred pieces of bone fossils representing 40 percent of the skeleton of a female of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis. In Ethiopia, the assembly is also known as Dinkinesh, which means “you are marvelous” in the Amharic language. Lucy was discovered in 1974 in Africa, near the village Hadar in the Awash Valley of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia, by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Researchers are constantly tracing of the migrations within and Out of Africa.

Some early hominids moved to the Sudan and developed cultures, such as those who built around 200 pyramids. Meroe was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush, which was ruled by the Nubian kings. Up to 4,600 years old, the pyramids of Meroe were built in the what’s known as Nubian style, marked by steep slopes and small bases.
Image of pyramids


Yet other hominids moved across the dry bed of the Red Sea (the northern hemisphere ice age trapping all the water which would later flow and fill this important sea, with its wonderful and flourishing diversity being explored in the last decade – see http://www.natureasia.com/en/nmiddleeast/article/10.1038/nmiddleeast.2015.195)

The hominids became adventurers, moving through the Arabian Peninsula into Asia. The climate changed over tens of thousands of years and hominids evolved and adapted, their brains grew with knowledge and experience.

Those who settled in ancient Yemen noted the twice yearly monsoons and developed irrigation systems to exploit these rains as they fell on the mountainous south west. This is where the frankincense tree was cultivated and large oases across this area were cultivated for millennia by the ancient people. There the date palms grew. Camels were first hunted as food, but later domesticated. Urban societies grew into cities until the Peninsula lay between two great powers by the 4th millennium B.C. Egypt to the west and Mesopatamia to the north east.

Some hominids had travelled to the Mediterranean. In 1993 bones of a young girl were discovered in a cave. In 2018, it was reported that an orthodontist has been able to reconstruct the young girl given the moniker of Avgi (‘Dawn’), who lived during circa 7000 BC – thus being among the first inhabitants of what is now considered mainland Greece. Corresponding to the end of the Mesolithic Period, Avgi probably resided at the Cave of Theopetra in Thessaly, Central Greece. Theopetra Cave, in the Thessaly region, was first inhabited about 100,000 years ago, according to the Culture Ministry. Stone tools from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods have been discovered, as well as pottery from the Neolithic period.

Avgi, or Dawn, is believed to be aged between 15 to 18 based on an analysis of her bones and teeth. She has a protruding jaw, thought to be caused by chewing on animal skin to make it into soft leather – a common practice among people of that era – and a scowling expression.

Asked why she looked angry, orthodontics professor Manolis Papagrikorakis, who created a silicone reconstruction of her face from a terracotta mould of her head, joked: “It’s not possible for her not to be angry during such an era.”

Dawn was possibly anemic and may have suffered from scurvy, the researchers said. Evidence also pointed to hip and joint problems, which may have made it difficult for her to move and may have contributed to her death.

Such evidence gives us an idea of the struggle to survive to adulthood in those days of nomadic hunter gatherers. 

Just before 6000 B.C. populations living in the East Mediterranean grew into Mycenaean Minoan cultures which in turn became the forcing ground for the great civilisations of Greece and Rome.

The remains of the once great Greek empire are extensive. Here a place in Sicily dating back to the 5th century BC:

Pictured here The Valle dei Templi map


The Valle dei Templi (Italian pronunciation: [ˈvalle dei ˈtɛmpli]; English: Valley of the Temples; Sicilian: Vaddi di li Tempri) is an archaeological site in Agrigento (ancient Greek Akragas), Sicily, southern Italy. It is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, and is one of the main attractions of Sicily as well as a national monument of Italy. The area was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1997. Much of the excavation and restoration of the temples was due to the efforts of archaeologist Domenico Antonio Lo Faso Pietrasanta (1783–1863), who was the Duke of Serradifalco from 1809 through 1812. The archaeological park and landscape of the Valley of the Temples is the largest archaeological site in the world with 1,300 hectares.

This was one of the major Greek-populated settlements of Magna Graecia, during what is termed as the golden age of Greek city-states (circa 5th century BC). The city, famous for its monumental Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples), was originally founded in the early 6th century by Greek colonists from Gela (in Sicily), and by the turn of the century, it possibly had a population of more than 100,000 people. And now, archaeologists have found evidence of one of the settlement’s eminent civic structures, in the form of a large Hellenistic theater possibly dated from circa 4th century B.C.

In the research, the team thoroughly surveyed the Valley of the Temples, and located the remains of as many as 10 Doric shrines, each dedicated to a Greek god, goddess or hero, such as Juno, Heracles, Demeter and Persephone, Olympic Zeus, Vulcan, Concordia, Aesculapius and so on.

But those hominids who had travelled to colder climes were unable to settle comfortably and had to be content with less sophistication. The Greek historian Ephorus, in the fourth century B.C, claimed there were four great barbarian peoples in the known world: the Libyans in Africa, the Persians in the east, and in Europe the Scythians and the Celts.

When people think of themselves as sophisticated because they have explored knowledge through understanding ancient to the most modern writings, it is a human failing that we may then categorise humans without empathy. We may interpret, inaccurately, and describe the human family as hierarchical pyramids with elite at the pinnacle and lesser beings below. Even worse, we may specify imagined racial differences and provide a sense of ‘other’ as a threat to the rest, which must be eradicated for the sake of ‘the rest’ (who are not clearly specified).

That we are one human family is obvious and it is sad that we have built much of our written history on notions of difference which has led us inflict harm on innocents in the name of some belief which has no solid foundation. 

The real differences between us are for us to marvel at, accept and appreciate.

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How we can remain healthy since we first shed our fur coats

Africa would appear to have the longest record of human habitation in the world. The first hominins are likely to have emerged 6-7 million years ago, and among the earliest anatomically modern human skulls were discovered at Omo Kibish, south Ethiopia. There is potentially older fossils linked to Homo sapiens found at a site in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco. When the site was occupied by early humans, it would have been a cave; the covering rock and much sediment was removed by work in the 1960s.

Perhaps, it has been suggested, the Jebel Irhoud humans “were an ‘archaic’ species that survived in North Africa until H. sapiens from south of the Sahara replaced them. East Africa is where most scientists place our species’ origins: two of the oldest known H. sapiens fossils — 196,000 and 160,000-year-old skulls – come from Ethiopia, and DNA studies of present-day populations around the globe point to an African origin some 200,000 years ago……..What we think is before 300,000 years ago, there was a dispersal of our species — or at least the most primitive version of our species — throughout Africa,” Hublin says. Around this time, the Sahara was green and filled with lakes and rivers. Animals that roamed the East African savanna, including gazelles, wildebeest and lions, also lived near Jebel Irhoud, suggesting that these environments were once linked.”(see http://www.nature.com/news/oldest-homo-sapiens-fossil-claim-rewrites-our-species-history-1.22114)

Researchers in genetics have been tracing Homo Sapiens back to Africa; for example studies of Chinese populations show that 97.4% of their genetic make-up is from ancestral modern humans from Africa, with the rest coming from extinct forms such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. But in China we may yet find early hominins began to emerge before the African. Many Western scientists tend to see Asian fossils and artefacts through the prism of what was happening in Africa and Europe,” says Wu. Those other continents have historically drawn more attention in studies of human evolution because of the antiquity of fossil finds there, and because they are closer to major palaeoanthropology research institutions, he says. “But it’s increasingly clear that many Asian materials cannot fit into the traditional narrative of human evolution.” Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, agrees. “Asia has been a forgotten continent,” he says. “Its role in human evolution may have been largely under-appreciated.”

But we are one human race, wherever and however we evolved into Homo Sapiens, we descend from the same single ancestor as the chimpanzee.

Between 4.5 and 2 million years ago early humans moved out of rainforests to the savannas of East Africa. They not only had to cope with more intense sunlight but had to develop a better cooling system. It was harder to get food in the hot savannas and as mammalian brains are prone to overheating then 5 or 6 °C rise in temperature can lead to heatstroke – so there was a need for the development of better heat regulation. The solution was sweating and loss of body hair. If the skin was white it burned, so some early hominins may have stayed under canopies of forests, whilst others ventured gradually into the burning heat and developed skin protection, turning their skin pigmentation darker.

When human life evolved in the equatorial region it was bombarded by UVB and still today the pattern of distribution of UVB is most strongly influenced by latitude because of atmospheric scattering and absorption. Africa receives high and uniform amounts, whereas northern Eurasia receives negligible amounts. The darker skinned could stay longer in the UVB rays, the lighter skinned would move away from those burning rays.

The bacterial sludge from which life emerged came, in the case of our ancestors, to use mitochondrial DNA, (mtDNA) being derived from the circular genomes of the bacteria that were engulfed by the early ancestors of today’s eukaryotic (true nucleus) cells. And humans are still categorically eukaryotic organisms. This means that all human cells—including those found in the brain, the heart, the muscles, and so on—are also eukaryotic.

In most multicellular organisms, mtDNA is inherited from the mother.

Mothers transmit vitamin D to their foetus in the womb. Therefore pregnant mothers must have sufficient to pass on to help the developing baby grow normally. Another important requirement for producing a healthy baby is folic acid, this the body does not make and can only be obtained from the right diet.

Folic acid is a B vitamin which is vital for the formation of red blood cells. The form of folic acid occurring naturally in food is termed ‘folate’. Folic acid is essential for the body to make DNA, RNA, and metabolise amino acids which are required for cell division. As humans cannot make folic acid, it is required from the diet, making it an essential vitamin. Somehow early humans found the right foods to maintain folic acid levels in order to produce healthy offspring.

A 1978 study examined the effect of sunlight on folate – a vitamin B complex – levels. The study found that even short periods of intense sunlight are able to halve folate levels if someone has light skin. Thus, the light skinned early humans would protect themselves by dwelling in shaded areas whilst the sun was at its most dangerous to their skin.

Nina Jablonski has suggested the interference with folic acid synthesis occurs when excessive UV radiation penetrates deep into the dermis. The end result of this is reduced folate levels, which in pregnant females often causes neural tube abnormalities. Any impact on pregnancy success is an extremely powerful selective force. In this model the dark skin of humans naturally arose because women who were darker skinned carried more normal fetuses to term than those who were light skinned. 

To remain in Equatorial Africa we could not have survived unless our skin evolved protection from the UVB rays. That protection came from melanin.

Melanin is derivative of the amino acid tyrosine. Eumelanin is the dominant form of melanin found in human skin. Eumelanin protects tissues and DNA from radiation damage of UV light. Melanin is produced in specialized cells called melanocytes, which are found at the lowest level of the epidermis. Melanin is produced inside small membrane-bound packages called melanosomes. People with naturally occurring dark skin have melanosomes which are clumped, large, and full of eumelanin. A four-fold difference in naturally occurring dark skin gives seven to eightfold protection against DNA damage, but even the darkest skin colour cannot protect against all damage to DNA. From  Wikipedia 

From Nina Jablonski:

Cooling by evaporation of eccrine sweat is impeded by thick body hair (9); the primary selective pressure promoting the evolution of hair loss in humans was thermoregulation. The loss of body hair in humans was accompanied by enhanced barrier functions of the stratum corneum (10, 11), including the evolution of other epidermal keratins (12, 13), which reduced the skin’s permeability and improved its abilities to resist abrasion and microbial attack. The rapid divergence of genes responsible for epidermal differentiation was one of the most significant results to emerge from the initial comparison of human and chimpanzee genomes (12). Changes in skin pigmentation also accompanied loss of body hair, and multiple lines of evidence indicate that permanent, dark, eumelanin-based pigmentation evolved soon after the emergence of the genus Homo in Africa (7, 14). See http://www.pnas.org/content/107/Supplement_2/8962

Variation exists within all populations of organisms. This occurs partly because random mutations arise in the genome of an individual organism, and offspring can inherit such mutations. Throughout the lives of the individuals, their genomes interact with their environments to cause variations in traits. The environment of a genome includes the molecular biology in the cell, other cells, other individuals, populations, species, as well as the abiotic environment. Because individuals with certain variants of the trait tend to survive and reproduce more than individuals with other, less successful, variants, the population evolves. Other factors affecting reproductive success include sexual selection (now often included in natural selection) and fecundity selection.

Natural selection acts on the phenotype, the characteristics of the organism which actually interact with the environment, but the genetic (heritable) basis of any phenotype that gives that phenotype a reproductive advantage may become more common in a population. Over time, this process can result in populations that specialise for particular ecological niches (microevolution) and may eventually result in speciation (the emergence of new species, macroevolution). In other words, natural selection is a key process in the evolution of a population.

Image of young chimpanzee (note the pale skin beneath the fur)


Homosapiens descend from the same single ancestor as chimpanzees. The earliest hominid of presumably primitive bipedalism, is considered to be either Sahelanthropus or Orrorin, both of which arose some 6 to 7 million years ago. These were probably the last single ancestor before the ancestral tree split.

When our ancestral branch split, hominids were still covered in fur and this continued until Homo erectus developed the skill of moving fast through walking and running.

Homo erectus (meaning “upright man”) is an extinct species of archaic humans that lived throughout most of the Pleistocene geological epoch. Its earliest fossil evidence dates to 1.9 million years ago. It likely originated in East Africa and spread from there, beginning 1.8 million years ago, migrating throughout Eurasia.

That vital development occurred over thousands of years of hominids mostly living in tropical forests and beginning to venture out into open spaces. The hunter became more efficient and effective once the body became capable of walking and particularly, running.

The body needed to have strong bones to carry the body mass as it changed to a shape more suited to fast movement. The UV rays from the sun produced the vital Vitamin D in the body to maintain circulation and calcium density. The body required magnesium to help absorb the essential vitamin D, and Calcium can only reach its full bone-building potential if the body has enough vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D work together to protect bones—calcium helps build and maintain bones, while vitamin D helps the body effectively absorb calcium. Sources of food providing magnesium include nuts, dark leafy green vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fish.

Image of changed body shape for the effective running machine.


Seeking foods which provided good nutrition for the body were understood by the human over thousands of years of experience. When humans migrated, they had to seek out essential foods for their bodily needs.

For example, by the time the Aztecs existed they had found a widely nutritious seed, chia. This gave them the energy to get through their days.

Chia seeds provide:
*  Fiber: 11 grams.

* Protein: 4 grams.

* Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s).

* Calcium: 18% of the RDA.

* Manganese: 30% of the RDA.

* Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.

* Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA.

* They also contain a decent amount of Zinc, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Potassium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2.

In the Amazon, the tribes who had made it there understood how to work with the environment to have the nutrition they needed and yet establish a healthy ecosystem around them. Here Anne Roosevelt stated:

“If you like,” she said. “You could go [along the river] where you wanted and homestead— the forest gives you all kinds of fruit and animals, the river gives you fish and plants. That was very important to societies like Marajó. They had to be much less coercive, much more hang-loose, much more socially fluid, or people wouldn’t stay there.” Compared with much of the rest of the world at that time, people in the Amazon “were freer, they were healthier, they were living in a really wonderful civilization.”

Anne Roosevelt, Archaeologist

But as light skinned people evolved away from the harmful UVB rays, vitamin D was harder to come by.

Our bodies manufacture vitamin D when the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) present in the skin. “However, we can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB. A few minutes at midday are sufficient for many Caucasians,” says Roy Geronemus, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center and director of the Skin/Laser Division at the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary. “After reaching the production limit, further exposure actually destroys the vitamin, decreasing vitamin D levels.”

Here the crude word ‘caucasian’ is used. The term “Caucasian race” was coined by the German philosopher Christoph Meiners in his The Outline of History of Mankind (1785). Meiners’ term was given wider circulation in the 1790s by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German professor of medicine and a member of the British Royal Society, who is considered one of the founders of the discipline of anthropology.

It is more accurate to speak of ‘light skinned’ which is the most vulnerable to UVB rays. Light skinned people need to cover themselves or sit in shade to avoid depletion of folate and vitamin D. Dark skinned people need more exposure to UVB to ensure full vitamin D and folate development for strong bones and for pregnant women to pass on to their foetus to avoid harm to their offspring.

Skin color is determined genetically. Genes tell the body how much of the two types of melanin, the pigment that helps to determine the skin color, to produce. Pheomelanin causes reddish yellow pigments, and eumelanin gives deep brown coloring. Sunlight exposure causes the optic nerve to signal the pituitary gland to release more melanin. The skin will then tan.

The next, rather complex genetic finding is worth quoting as it shows we are getting closer to understanding the genetic complexities which cause skin pigmentation.

See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SLC45A2

Since researchers began to sequence the genome of ancient populations recently, it has been discovered that Europeans today are the product of hunter gatherers and farmers of at least three ancient populations having mixed together during their migration to the continent over the past 8,000 years………

……..SLC24A5 appears to have played a key role in the evolution of light skin in humans of European ancestry. The gene’s function in pigmentation was discovered in zebrafish as a result of the positional cloning of the gene responsible for the “golden” variety of this common pet store fish. Evidence in the International HapMap Project database of genetic variation in human populations showed that Europeans, represented by the “CEU” population, had two primary alleles differing by only one nucleotide, changing the 111th amino acid from alanine to threonine, abbreviated “A111T”…….

………By comparing key parts of DNA across the genomes of 83 ancient humans from European archaeological sites with recent ones from the 1000 Genomes Project, Iain Matheison of Harvard University’s lab of population, and geneticist David Reich, discovered the genes linked to skin pigmentation that had survived the natural selection process across Europe……..

……SLC45A2 is a transporter protein that mediates melanin synthesis……..

………Sodium/potassium/calcium exchanger 5 (NCKX5), also known as solute carrier family 24 member 5 (SLC24A5), is a protein that in humans is encoded by the SLC24A5 gene that has a major influence on natural skin colour variation. The NCKX5 protein is a member of the potassium-dependent sodium/calcium exchanger family. Sequence variation in the SLC24A5 gene, particularly a non-synonymous SNP changing the amino acid at position 111 in NCKX5 from alanine to threonine, has been associated with differences in skin pigmentation……..

……….The SLC24A5 gene’s derived threonine or Ala111Thr allele (rs1426654) has been shown to be a major factor in the light skin tone of Europeans compared to Africans, and is believed to represent as much as 25–40% of the average skin tone difference between Europeans and West Africans. It has been the subject of recent selection in Europe, and is fixed in European populations……

These few paragraphs illustrate how the understanding of skin pigmentation is tied to processes within the human body and changes in the chemistry.

If a human has access to plenty of quality vitamin d, calcium and magnesium but lives in the higher northern hemisphere where UVB heat never arrives then the skin pigmentation is not paler despite lack of UVB rays. The Inuit have a bronze skin. They are also, due to their fish dominated diet, healthier than most people of the western world.

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