Mesoamerican “cradle of civilisation” and the Osmec head sculptures

66 million years ago a massive asteroid hit the Gulf of Mexico. This resulted in what we now call the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. Amazingly, much of the earth healed eventually, and new creatures evolved to replace those which had been killed, even the dinosaurs extinction left us with birds, descendants of those mighty creatures. 

Map of Chicxulub crater

For more current research see https://news.utexas.edu/2016/11/17/dino-killing-asteroid-made-rocks-behave-like-liquid

Then, 2.8 million years ago North and South America joined with an isthmus, impacting on living creatures to pass to and fro between these land masses.

In the last 14,000 years our ancestors have evolved and spread around the world. By 1800 only 1 billion humans populated the earth. There may have been more at times, but disasters may have befallen other human-like populations. Our current form has multiplied exponentially to a 2017 population of over 7 billion – and counting.

We humans began to make life easier by creating cooperative civilisations. Staying in one place and settling began when groups of humans created stability by finding an abundance of water and food through hunting, fishing and gathering resources including cereals.

Civilisations developed independently. Archaeologists discovering these lost kingdoms have designated these as ‘cradles of civilisation’. Where art had been given status by the civilisation and preserved in the right geological conditions for us to see thousands of years later, we have the luxury to marvel at the art and compare the findings. In this blog I am comparing the various civilisations and their sculpting of heads.

Best known ‘cradles of civilisations’ are briefly described as follows, with examples of sculpted heads:

The earliest we know of was the Natufian culture:

The Epipaleolithic Natufian culture (/nəˈtuːfiən/) existed from around 12,500 to 9,500 BC in the Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean. The culture was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture.

see my August blog on the Fertile Crescent, https://borderslynn.com/2017/08/14/destruction-of-the-garden/

Sumerians of Mesopotamia:

Sumer, the southernmost region of ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and Kuwait). The name comes from Akkadian, the language of the north of Mesopotamia, and means “land of the civilized kings”. The Sumerians called themselves “the black headed people” and their land, in cuneiform script, was simply “the land” or “the land of the black headed people”. They dominated Mesopotamia for thousands of years.

Mesopotamians generally, and the Sumerians specifically, believed that civilization was the result of the gods’ triumph of order over chaos.

Whoever these people were, they had already moved from a hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian one prior to 5000 BCE – around 7 thousand years ago.

Image of Timeline (from https://www.slideshare.net/mobile/nichsara/near-eastern-art-part-ii)


Image of Votive Statues, from the Temple of Abu, Tell Asmar c.2500 BC, limestone, shell, and gypsum


Image of carved kings


Ancient India:

Ancient India is often called the Harappan Civilization because one of the ancient cities was called Harappa. Harappa was just one of 1500 cities in the Indus River Valley. Another well-known city is called Mohenjo-Daro. Historians estimate Ancient India to be the biggest of all four early civilizations. 

The Indo-Gangetic plains of NW India and Pakistan are one of the cradles of Old World Bronze-age civilizations. Here, the Indus civilization (~4.8 – 3.9 thousand years before the present (ka B.P.) formed one of the first urban civilizations, before abruptly declining. Prevailing theory in archaeology suggests that 3rd millennium urbanization was only possible in association with large perennial river systems to provide water for irrigation. In the case of the Indus civilization, the most extensive set of urban settlements occur in a region with no present day perennial rivers. 

Statue of a Priest in Mohenjo-Daro


Ancient Egypt

Continued desiccation forced the early ancestors of the Egyptians to settle around the Nile more permanently and to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. By about 5500 BC, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of inter-related cultures as far south as Sudan, demonstrating firm control of agriculture and animal husbandry, and identifiable by their pottery and personal items, such as combs, bracelets, and beads. The largest of these early cultures in upper (Southern) Egypt was the Badari, which probably originated in the Western Desert; it was known for its high quality ceramics, stone tools, and use of copper. The oldest known domesticated bovine in Africa are from Fayum dating to around 4400 BC. The Badari cultures was followed by the Naqada culture, which brought a number of technological improvements. As early as the first Naqada Period, Amratia, Egyptians imported obsidian from Ethiopia, used to shape blades and other objects from flakes. By 3300 BC, just before the first Egyptian dynasty, Egypt was divided into two kingdoms, known as Upper Egypt to the south, and Lower Egypt to the north.

Egyptian civilization begins during the second phase of the Naqda culture, known as the Gerzeh period, around 3500 BC and coalesces with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt around 3150 BC. Farming produced the vast majority of food; with increased food supplies, the populace adopted a much more sedentary lifestyle, and the larger settlements grew to cities of about 5,000 residents.

Bearded male figure Egypt, predynastic, Amratian-Gerzean (Naqda I-lib)

Kings of Egypt


Ancient China:

Chinese refer to the Yellow river as “the Mother River” and “the Cradle of Chinese Civilization”. That is because the Yellow River was the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilizations in the Xia (2100–1600 BC) and Shang (1600–1046 BC) eras — the most prosperous region in early Chinese history.

Image of Shang mask


Chavín of Peru:

Norte Chico has established an earlier estimate for complex societies in the Peruvian region by more than one thousand years. The Chavín culture, circa 900 BC, had long been considered the first civilization of the area.

They carved heads with tusks into fortress walls.

The Olmec of Mesoamerica:

Evidence of pre Olmec Mesoamericans has been traced to Soconuscoe dated to around the period when the Votive statues (above) were carved. the first civilisation known to us in Mesoamerica.

Around 3000 years ago, the ancient Olmec of Mesoamerica, located in Mexico were motivated to sculpt enormous heads out of volcanic rock. 

Deep in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, (now Veracruz and Tabasco) and out of an evolving small population centred in Soconusco, grew the first largest Mexican civilisation. They were the Olmecs.

This was Mesoamerica’s formative period, dating roughly from as early as 1500 BCE to about 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished in the area since about 2500 BCE, but by 1600–1500 BCE, early Olmec culture had emerged, centered on the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán site near the coast in southeast Veracruz. 

They left us amazingly heavy and detailed head sculptures.

These heads (sometimes with torsos) were sculpted from from a single basalt boulder which in some cases were transported 100 km or more to their final destination, presumably using huge balsa river rafts wherever possible and log rollers on land. The principal source of this heavy stone was Cerro Cintepec in the Tuxtla Mountains. The heads were sculpted using hard hand-held stones and it is likely that they were originally painted using bright colour. (See https://www.ancient.eu/article/672/olmec-colossal-stone-heads/)

Image of Monument 4 from La Venta with comparative size of an adult and child. The monument weighs almost 20 tons.


These fascinating people were capable of great art.

The Olmec civilization was first defined through artifacts which collectors purchased on the pre-Columbian art market in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Olmec artworks are considered among ancient America’s most striking.
And as if this exercise of carving huge heads and the engineering of moving their immense weight to chosen locations had become something to transmit to some future human population, a few thousand years later it happened again, but on the Pacific Island of Rapu Nui. 

The powerful image of head sculptures resonates with us today. Even if we can’t view them in situ, we can see from the photographed images, how they seem to strike some deep memory in our ancestral global knowledge. We feel it. We can’t articulate the meaning, but this great effort and artistic skill was, in my opinion, a message to humans then and now. They felt the urge to create iconic heads in overlapping periods of civilisations on different continents, isolated yet somehow connected. 

We should not minimise the bond of communication which transcends language and is deeply felt by humans who are open to the transmissions. For I am sure it is what makes most of us aspire to be guardians of this planet, rather than destroyers.

Rapa Nui

Map of island


By 1200 C.E, Polynesians settled on Rapa Nui (also known as “Easter Island” – named by the island’s first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday (5 April) in 1722, while searching for Davis or David’s island). The early Polynesian settlers also felt the urge to sculpt huge heads. These are the famous Moai, but no one can yet explain them. 

Rapu Nui was annexed by Chile in the late 19th century and now maintains an economy based largely on tourism. The Rapa Nui people currently make up 60% of Easter Island’s population and have a significant portion of their population residing in mainland Chile.

The Moai heads are carved from Tuff, which is an easily carved, compressed volcanic ash. The tuff quarries are located in an extinct volcano called Rano Raraku on the northeastern part of the island [Radford 2012]. The torsos of the heads have sunk into the ground over time, so that the dramatic sight of only heads is what most of us are familiar with (see http://www.eisp.org).

Image of Moai

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The seafaring Neanderthals and their descendants, the seafaring Pacific Islanders

We are learning far more about ourselves thanks to the Human Genome Project. Adding this avalanche of new findings to what has been collected by other branches of discovery since, for example, the Taung child skull found in South Africa by Raymond Dart, 1925, seem to be getting us closer to how branching migratory activity mingled small groups of our human ancestors.

We have used the term ‘Neanderthal’ as a derogatory and humorous description of a non too bright character. But now we find we carry Neanderthal genes and they have great significance.

Some news I picked up at http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/10/modern-humans-lost-dna-when-they-left-africa-mating-neandertals-brought-some-back

“In a recent annual meeting of The American Society of Human Genetics, researchers announced that some “Neandertal” genetic variants inherited by modern humans outside of Africa are not peculiarly Neandertal genes, but represent the ancestral human condition. The work highlights just how much diversity was lost when people passed through a genetic bottleneck as they moved out of Africa. 

“They left many beneficial variants behind in Africa,” says evolutionary genomicist Tony Capra of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, who reported the results. “Interbreeding with Neandertals provided an opportunity to get back some of those variants, albeit with many potentially weakly deleterious Neandertal alleles as well.” 

His team found the ancient African variants when they scrutinized the genomes of more than 20,000 people in the 1000 Genomes Project and Vanderbilt’s BioVU data bank of electronic health records. They soon noticed a strange pattern: Stretches of chromosomes inherited from Neandertals also carried ancient alleles, or mutations, found in all the Africans they studied, including the Yoruba, Esan, and Mende peoples. The researchers found 47,261 of these single-base changes across the genomes of Europeans and 56,497 in Asians, Capra says. In Eurasians these alleles are only found next to Neandertal genes, suggesting all this DNA was inherited at the same time, when the ancestors of today’s Eurasians mated with Neandertals roughly 50,000 years ago.”

Which type of ancestor met with the Neanderthal is becoming traceable through the Genome research.

The Andamans are theorised to be a key stepping stone in a great coastal migration ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coastal_migration#/media/File%3AWorld_Map_of_Y-DNA_Haplogroups1.png) of humans from Africa via the Arabian peninsula, along the coastal regions of the Indian mainland and towards Southeast Asia, Japan and Oceania.
Haplogroup Map

Classification of peoples has been a historical process, just as names of nations, boundaries of countries, counties, towns, villages has been a method of differentiating one from another, from the outside in, very often. These perspectives have been drawn by those in a position of power to decide and write these terms into our ‘educational’ materials. The terms might be challenged by those viewings from the inside out, but it is rare there are changes made. Only when a nation seeks independence from a once greater power, may a nation choose its own name for example. But the name may still be chosen on behalf of the citizens, rather than by them.

Take the name Apache. The name Apache comes from a Zuni word meaning “our enemies”; their own names for themselves are Ndee, Inday, and Dine’é, which mean “the people” in their languages. Today most Apache people also use the name “Apache,” which is frequently spelled Abachi or Abaachi in their own orthographies. Spelling variants on these names include Apachi, Nde, Dine’, Dine’e, Tineh, Tinde, Chinde, Inde, Indé, Indee, and Nnee. 

Then we ask ourselves, what is a Zuni word? And the Internet answers with: “Most live in the Pueblo of Zuni on the Zuni River, a tributary of the Little Colorado River, in western New Mexico, United States. Zuni is 55 km (34 mi) south of Gallup, New Mexico. In addition to the reservation, the tribe owns trust lands in Catron County, New Mexico and Apache County, Arizona.” Obviously the tribes they called Apache were their enemies.

And then we ask how old this tribe is? And the answer comes “Archeologists believe Zuni history began well before 2500 B.C. when the tribe moved into the Southwest as big game hunters. Between 2500 B.C. and 700 A.D. the Zuni Indians made their first attempts at agriculture and hunted smaller game. Historians believe it was during this period they started making pottery and weaving baskets.”

And they came up with the word ‘Apache’ and it stuck.

So it was, in 1832, a French explorer, Dumont D’Urville classified the peoples of Oceania into four racial groups: Malaysians, Polynesians, Micronesians, and Melanesians. D’Urville’s model differed from that of Bory de Saint-Vincent in referring to ‘Melanesians’ rather than ‘Mélaniens.’ The concept of ‘race’ sprang out of early anthropology which is best consigned to the bin of ignorance, but labels are still used until we can throw off race related ignorance.  

Jonathan Friedlaender states, “The first settlers of Australia, New Guinea, and the large islands just to the east arrived between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago………” See my August 25th blog for more on that subject.

We have also noted earlier from the Genome Project, that, “In Eurasians these alleles are only found next to Neandertal genes, suggesting all this DNA was inherited at the same time, when the ancestors of today’s Eurasians mated with Neandertals roughly 50,000 years ago.”

There were certain health risks which evolved. One unpleasant example Is evidence that modern genital warts – otherwise known as the human papillomavirus (HPV) – were sexually transmitted to Homo sapiens after our ancestors slept with Neanderthals and Denisovans once they left Africa.

So it isn’t all good news about sleeping with cousins, it took is thousands of years to learn not to do that!

I’m first finding out about ‘Melanesia’. 

Most of the peoples in Melanesia have established independent countries, are admistered by France or have active independence movements (in the case of West Papua). Many have recently taken up the term ‘Melanesia’ as a source of identity and “empowerment.” Stephanie Lawson writes that the term “moved from a term of denigration to one of affirmation, providing a positive basis for contemporary subregional identity as well as a formal organisation”. For instance, the author Bernard Narokobi wrote about the “Melanesian Way” as a distinct form of culture that could empower the people of this region. The concept is also used in geopolitics. For instance, the Melanesian Spearhead Group preferential trade agreement is a regional trade treaty among Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji.” Wikipedia.

Map image


The original inhabitants of the group of islands now named Melanesia were likely the ancestors of the present-day Papuan-speaking people. Migrating from Southeast Asia, they appear to have occupied these islands as far east as the main islands in the Solomon Islands, including Makira and possibly the smaller islands farther to the east.

They are known as the Lapita culture, and, like our ( https://ww2.kqed.org/quest/2011/08/29/how-neanderthal-are-you/) Neanderthals ancestors, were expert in seamanship and navigation, reaching out and finding islands separated from each other by hundreds of miles of empty ocean. Their descendants, the Polynesians, would populate islands from Hawaii to Easter Island.

Present evidence from fossils defines Neanderthals as evolving in Europe, separate from modern humans in Africa for more than 400,000 years. They are considered either a distinct species, Homo neanderthalensis, or more rarely as a subspecies of Homo sapiens (H. s. neanderthalensis). They will have been separated due to our constantly changing planet, and the search is on for other species of ancestor who may have evolved separately until meeting at some location.

Based on his genetic studies of the Denisova hominin, an ancient human species discovered in 2010, Svante Pääbo claims that ancient human ancestors of the Melanesians interbred in Asia with these humans. He has found that people of New Guinea share 4%–6% of their genome with the Denisovans, indicating this exchange. The Denisovans are considered cousin to the Neanderthals. Both groups are now understood to have migrated out of Africa, with the Neanderthals going into Europe, and the Denisovans heading east about 400,000 years ago. This is based on genetic evidence from a fossil found in Siberia. The evidence from Melanesia suggests their territory extended into south Asia, where ancestors of the Melanesians developed.

Another study suggests:

“Europeans have no hint of Denisovan ancestry, and people in China have a tiny amount – 0.1 percent, according to Bohlender’s calculations( Ryan Bohlender, a statistical geneticist from the University of Texas). But 2.74 percent of the DNA in people in Papua New Guinea comes from Neanderthals. (See  https://www.sciencealert.com/pacific-islanders-appear-to-be-carrying-the-dna-of-an-unknown-human-species)

Melanesians of some islands are one of the few non-European peoples, and the only dark-skinned group of people outside Australia, known to have blond hair. The blonde trait developed via the TYRP1 gene, and is not found in European blonds.

The mutation, which has no obvious advantages, likely arose by chance in one individual and drifted to a high frequency in the Solomon Islands because the original population was small, says Jonathan Friedlaender, an anthropologist emeritus at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study. “This whole area seems to have been populated by very small groups of people making it across these stepping-stone islands, so you do have very dramatic effects in fluctuations of gene frequency.” See http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/05/origin-blond-afros-melanesia

Image of blond hair trait

Lapita Pottery identifier

When archaeologist began finding pottery remnants on the various islands they named them as Lapita. The term ‘Lapita’ was coined by archaeologists after mishearing a word in the local Haveke language, xapeta’a, which means ‘to dig a hole’ or ‘the place where one digs’, during the 1952 excavation in New Caledonia. The Lapita archaeological culture is named after the type site where it was first uncovered in the Foué peninsula on Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. The excavation was carried out in 1952 by American archaeologists Edward W. Gifford and Richard Shulter Jr at ‘Site 13’. 

Their culture or tradition was prehistoric just as the Zuni Indians in the Americas (between 2500 B.C. and 700 A.D. ) and the island of Fiji was settled before or around 3500 to 1000 BC. Almost a parallel existence, and since no one knows exactly, maybe they were developing separately but from a split migration from some point in the past.

The Lapita pots were usually created by any materials that were accessible, as well as the techniques used to make such detailed designs. The low-fired earthenware pottery, often tempered with shell or sand, is typically decorated with a dentate (toothed) stamp. It has been theorized that these decorations may have been transferred to or from less hardy mediums such as tapa (bark cloth), mats or tattoos. Undecorated “plain-ware” pottery is an important part of the Lapita cultural complex, which also includes ground-stone adzes and shell artefacts, and flaked-stone tools of obsidian, chert and other available rock, as well as the remainders of breakers, cooking pots, and bowls.

Image of pottery (see http://www.messagetoeagle.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/lapitafirstpeople2.jpg)

The great arc of islands located north and east of Australia and south of the Equator is called Melanesia (from the Greek words melas, “black,” and nēsos, “island”) for the predominantly dark-skinned peoples of New Guinea island, the Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu (the New Hebrides), New Caledonia, and Fiji.

The study found a high rate of genetic differentiation and diversity among the groups living within the Melanesian islands, with the peoples distinguished by island, language, topography, and geography among the islands. Such diversity developed over their tens of thousands of years of settlement before the Polynesian ancestors ever arrived at the islands. For instance, populations developed differently along the coasts than in more isolated valleys.

In the archaeological record there are well-defined traces of this expansion which allow the path it took to be followed and dated with some certainty. 

It is thought that by roughly 1400 BC, “Lapita Peoples”, appeared in the Bismarck Archipelago of north-west Melanesia. This culture is seen as having adapted and evolved through time and space since its emergence “Out of Taiwan”. They had given up rice production, for instance, after encountering and adapting to breadfruit in the Bird’s Head area of New Guinea. In the end, the most eastern site for Lapita archaeological remains recovered so far has been through work on the archaeology in Samoa. The site is at Mulifanua on Upolu. The Mulifanua site, where 4,288 pottery shards have been found and studied, has a “true” age of c. 1000 BC based on C14 dating. 

A 2010 study places the beginning of the human archaeological sequences of Polynesia in Tonga at 900 B.C., the small differences in dates with Samoa being due to differences in radiocarbon dating technologies between 1989 and 2010, the Tongan site apparently predating the Samoan site by some few decades in real time.

Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita archaeological culture spread 6,000 kilometres further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. The area of Tonga, Fiji, and Samoa served as a gateway into the rest of the Pacific region known as Polynesia. Ancient Tongan mythologies recorded by early European explorers report the islands of ‘Ata and Tongatapu as the first islands being hauled to the surface from the deep ocean by Maui.’

Solomon Islands

Five of the Solomon Islands have disappeared into the Pacific Ocean due to rising seas and erosion, in what Australian researchers say is the first major effect of climate change on the coastlines and people of the Pacific.

The Solomon Islands archipelago has seen annual sea levels rise as much as 0.4 inches, according to research published in Environmental Research Letters. Using aerial footage, radiocarbon dating of trees and traditional knowledge, researchers discovered that five tiny islands that existed in 1947 had completely disappeared by 2014.

On top of the uninhabited, submerged islands—which range in size from 2.5 to 12.4 acres—six other islands have seen chunks of land washed into the sea, forcing entire villages on two of them to be relocated. One of the islands affected was Nuatambu, which lost half its habitable area since 2011, including 11 houses.

The Solomon Islands is a nation made up of hundreds of islands, with a population of about 640,000 people.

Tectonic Background

The M=8.1 earthquake that occurred in the Solomon Islands on April 1, 2007 (UTC), was located along the Solomon Islands subduction zone, part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”. A subduction zone is a type of plate tectonic boundary where one plate is pulled (subducted) beneath another plate. For most subduction zones that make up the western half of the Ring of Fire, the Pacific plate is being subducted beneath local plates. In this case, however, the Pacific plate is the overriding or upper plate. There are three plates being subducted along the Solomon Islands subduction zone: the Solomon Sea plate, the Woodlark plate, and the Australian plate (see figure below). A spreading center separates the Woodlark and Australian plates. More detailed information on the plate tectonics of this region can be found in Tregoning and others (1998) and Bird (2003). See  https://walrus.wr.usgs.gov/tsunami/solomon07/index.html

And so humans continue to struggle for survival against difficult odds.  

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Fragility of human existence: following the migration of hominins

The first humans to arrive in the Americas out of Africa would have been faced with crossing the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the long migration through Asia to Beringia, or maybe through hops over Pacific islands. The migration of our ancestors was due to their need to find less hostile environments, just as thousands have to migrate today.

We know the formation of islands and continents took place over thousands of years. We also know, as happens now, islands rise, then become submerged, then others rise, due to volcanic activity, tectonic movements beneath the oceans. Landmasses of continents expand and reduce. Some become more fertile, others become inhospitable. The climate  changes because of so many likely events such as El Niño – see http://www.mawsweather.com/elnino.html and unexpected events such as the terrible earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan.

Could the land now submerged have been the route for migrant humans? Certainly there is evidence that humans arrived in the Americas thousands of years before Columbus. Or did their route always hug coastlines? 

Only today we find the media carry stories with this headline ‘9.7 Million-Year-Old Teeth Found in Germany Belong to Hominin Only Known To Have Existed in Africa 4 Million Years Later’. Such amazing finds are challenging long standing theories around the origin of man focussing on the Out of Africa evidence.  Nothing is ever fact, only conjecture. A ‘proof’ must be challenged as technology becomes more sophisticated to refine the process of challenge.

We now know the climate suffered catastrophic collapse (http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/06/crippled-atlantic-currents-triggered-ice-age-climate-change) “The last ice age wasn’t one long big chill. Dozens of times temperatures abruptly rose or fell, causing all manner of ecological change. Mysteriously, ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica show that these sudden shifts—which occurred every 1500 years or so—were out of sync in the two hemispheres: When it got cold in the north, it grew warm in the south, and vice versa. Now, scientists have implicated the culprit behind those seesaws—changes to a conveyor belt of ocean currents known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC).”

See also: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shutdown_of_thermohaline_circulation

The turning point as the warm water of the Gulf Stream (named and charted by Benjamin Franklin whilst he was stationed in England in 1776) is pushed down by the cold waters north of Scotland and the Global Conveyor begins its deeper journey of cold water back around the oceans. In the 16th to 18th centuries,  Spanish sailors who became aware of the fast river of current which is the Gulf Stream, used it to secretly gain advantage over other nations ships. They found they could travel on the current from the Americas back home at 100 miles per day (5.6 mph).

Image of AMOC

Image of Global Conveyor


We do need to accept that we are only building a jigsaw puzzle of evidence and applying theories to the known evidence. As we seek to understand our origins, we hope to understand our fragile existence and to learn to minimise human harm in the future based on Anthropocene evidence of our trail of destruction.

In recent years the dreadful earthquake and massive tsunami over Japan 11 March 2011 (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-35638091) has led to years of debris crossing from Japan to Canada and the USA. Obviously people are sharing tragic stories ever since the event occurred, but the flow of debris is an opportunity to learn more about currents, winds and Pacific ocean flow. Looking at the graphic below one can imagine the natural, yet seemingly impossible, direction from east to west which might cause a human presence to cross this vastness somehow in the ancient past.

NOAA graphic:


Such devastation to humankind will have occurred many times as the evolving hominins attempted to migrate to more stable areas of land. When groups were nearly made extinct they had to survive through inbreeding until they met other hominins. This pattern of inbreeding can be found amongst ancient Mesoamericans who would appear to have survived near extinction events. But more of that in future blogs.

This time I have gathered information about the Pacific which remains vast and hugely interesting on so many levels.

The Pacific is 161.8 million km². It was formed out of the Panthalassa, (Old Pacific or Paleo-Pacific or Proto-Pacific) from its centre in the Mesozoic to the present.

Graphic of Panthalassa:


During the Paleozoic—Mesozoic transition c. 250 Ma it occupied almost 70% of Earth’s surface. Its ocean-floor has completely disappeared because of the continuous subduction along the continental margins on its circumference.

Graphic of submerged continents:


The Pacific and Atlantic were joined until as recently as 2.8 million years. A new study has shown the Isthmus of Panama formed around 2.8 million years ago splitting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Beneath the Pacific is the largest tectonic plate, and like all tectonic plates it is continuously moving, north-west at a speed of 56–102 mm (2.2–4.0 in)/year. It is 103 million square kilometres (40,000,000 sq mi).

Graphic of Pacific tectonic plate from http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/7/e1600022.full


The movement resulted in islands such as Baja California (also home to numerous islands off both of its shores. The westernmost point in Mexico, the Guadalupe Island, is part of Baja California. The Coronado, Todos Santos and Cedros Islands are also on the Pacific Shore. On the Gulf of California, the biggest island is the Angel de la Guarda, separated from the peninsula by the deep and narrow Canal de Ballenas. 

Other famous islands Hawaii ( the island of Oahu, about 75 miles southeast of Kauai, was formed about 3.4 million years ago. The island has two inactive volcanoes, Waianae and Koolau. Waianae is about 2.75 million years old, while Koolau is about 2.5 million years old. In areas where the plates come together, sometimes volcanoes will form. Volcanoes can also form in the middle of a plate, where magma rises upward until it erupts on the seafloor, at what is called a “hot spot.” The Hawaiian Islands were formed by such a hot spot occurring in the middle of the Pacific Plate.

The Pacific Plate is almost entirely oceanic crust, but it contains some continental crust in New Zealand, Baja California, and coastal California.

The early human migration may have involved Asian routes via islands such as the Philippines. The Pacific, Australian and Indian plate have continued to push inward to Asia thus creating 7, 107 islands of the now, Philippines. This is an example of possible island hopping routes which could have been made by humans when opportunities arose.

The earliest known human remains in the Philippines are the fossilised remains discovered in 2007 in the Callao Caves in Cagayan. The 67,000-year-old find predates the 47,000-year-old Tabon Man, which was until then the earliest known set of human remains in the archipelago. The find consisted of a single 61 millimeter metatarsal which, when dated using uranium series ablation, was found to be its current age. If definitively proven to be remains of Homo sapiens, it would also be one of the oldest human remains in the Asia-Pacific. 

The Indo-Australian plate lies south of the Eurasian and the Philippine Seaplates. It is generally oceanic, being submerged by Indian and Pacific Oceans, but it holds two gigantic land masses – the island continent of Australia and Indian subcontinent. Recent researches, however, show that these two land masses are moving independently of each other, thus, may actually be parts of separate plates.

(For animation for the Philippine formation see http://www.s1expeditions.com/2013/08/094-philippinegis.html)

The Philippine Sea plate is east of the Eurasian plate. It is the bedrock of the major islands of the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Marianas. 

Philippine formation graphics


The territory of the Philippines is composed of many island arcs formed by several incidents of subduction. The island arcs are collectively called Philippines island arc system. Each major Philippine island had a complex natural history. 

With the exception of Palawan, Mindoro and Romblon, most of the Philippine islands are considered to have been parts of island arcs formed at the southern edge of the Philippine Sea plate millions of years ago. As part of the Philippine Sea plate, the islands moved northward as the plate rotated clockwise. These roving islands, known as the Philippine Mobile Belt, eventually collided with the Sundaland. The collision resulted, among others, in a series of subductions around Philippine archipelago. (http://thehistoryofthephilippines.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/formation-of-philippine-islands.html

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.

The Zhirendong hominins, for instance, could represent an exodus of early modern humans from Africa between 120,000 and 80,000 years ago. Instead of remaining in the Levant in the Middle East, as was thought previously, these people could have expanded into east Asia, says Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, UK.

There are many mysteries which we may never solve, but we are trying. For example, there are ancient scripts in the form of pictograms that suggest Chinese explorers may have discovered America long before Europeans arrived there. These were located at the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The epigraph researcher John Ruskamp photographed and enhanced symbols which he found etched into rock

So many researchers are considering the submerged continent of Sundaland as the possible home of Eastern mankind, and therefore the route from Asia to the Americas before Sundaland sank beneath the waves. ( see the above graphic of the Global Conveyor – it passes through the area which was Sundaland, known for its warm climate when Sundaland was a likely home to early hominins).

Graphic showing Sundaland location:


Skulls found in the Upper Cave at Choukoutien / Zhougoudian, the “Peking Man” cave represent two of the “Asiatic” populations of Eastern Asia at the time and are derived from Sundaland / Lemuria.

First migrations along these lines started out of Africa about 100000 years ago. The older population was mostly wiped out but then a newer population came in, with both males and females, but the males also took mates of surviving females out of the older population. We know this because of the peculiar mismatch in dates between Y-DNA and mtDNA strains here.

See also : http://frontiers-of-anthropology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/sundaland-home-of-eastern-mankind.html
Human migrations

Previously the human migrations was believed to take the direction Southward from East Asian mainland to Taiwan and to the rest of Maritime Southeast Asia. However recent findings pointing to the submerged Sundaland as the probable cradle of Asian population, thus generated the “Out of Sundaland” theory. (Stephen Oppenheimer, an Oxford scientist proposed the “Out of Sundaland” theory.

In a study from Leeds University and published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, the research examined mitochondrial DNA lineages revealing humans have been evolving within Islands of Southeast Asia for a longer period than previously believed. Population dispersals occurred at the same time as sea levels rose, which may have resulted in migrations from the Philippine Islands to as far north as Taiwan within the last 10,000 years. 

The population migrations were most likely to have been driven by climate change – the effects of the drowning of a huge ancient continent Sundaland. This happened during the period 15,000 to 7,000 years ago following the last Ice Age. The rising sea levels in three massive pulses caused flooding and the submergence of the Sunda Continent, creating the Java and South China Seas and the thousands of islands that make up Indonesia and the Philippines today.

The new findings from Human Genome Organisation also shows that Asia was populated primarily through a single migration event from the south. They found genetic similarities between populations throughout Asia and an increase in genetic diversity from northern to southern latitudes. Although the Chinese population is very large, it has less variation than the smaller number of individuals living in Southeast Asia, because the Chinese expansion occurred very recently, following the development of rice agriculture — within only the last 10,000 years.

Stephen Oppenheimer located the origin of the Austronesian in Sundaland and its upper regions. Genetic research reported in 2008 indicates that the islands which are the remnants of Sundaland were likely populated as early as 50,000 years ago, contrary to a previous hypothesis that they were populated as late as 5,000 years ago from Taiwan.

When we consider examples of catastrophic events we can imagine that if humans were populating the Americas at the time of one of these events, they would be wiped out. We can learn from near extinction events. What happened in the past contributes to our understanding of the future.  

Here is an example from http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/7/e1600022.full

Recent research has revealed there was a catastrophic release of fresh water from a vast South American lake at the end of the last Ice Age. It was significant enough to change circulation in the Pacific Ocean, according to new research co-authored by a PhD student from the University of Bristol.

“This study is important because we are currently concerned about the volumes of fresh water entering the oceans from the melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and this gives us an indication of the likely effects,” the study’s lead author, Professor Neil Glasser from Aberystwyth University said.

The lake was about one third the size of Wales, and it drained several times between 13,000 and 8,000 years ago, with devastating consequences. It was held back by a dam formed by a large ice sheet, the lake drained rapidly as the ice sheet shrank in size.

At its high point the lake extended over 7,400km2, held 1500km3 of water and occupied a basin which now contains Lago General Carrera in Chile (see the magnificent marble caverns at http://www.kuriositas.com/2011/05/marble-cathedral-of-general-carrera.html) and Lago Buenos Aires in Argentina

Professor Glasser said: “This was a massive lake. When it drained, it released around 1150km3 of fresh water from the melting glaciers into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – equivalent to around 600 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. This had a considerable impact on the Pacific Ocean circulation and regional climate at the time.

“Much of the freshwater drained into the sea near Golfo Peñas, south of the Chilean capital Santiago. (See http://navy.memorieshop.com/Constellation/Strait-Of-Magellan/Raper/index.html)

Image of lighthouse at Gulf of Peñas:


The fresh water would have sat on top of the salt water as it spread out so it affected the regional ocean currents. The event affected the whole of southern South America and would have led to lower rainfall in winter and cooler ocean and air temperatures around Cape Horn, with the effects felt as far east as the Falkland Islands.”

The study, which applied different techniques to investigate the size of the former lake and how it drained, was undertaken by an international team of scientists, including Max Holloway, a PhD student in Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences.

Whether the idea of a catastrophic event is one close to home, or one that might take out 99 percent of life on this planet, it is felt emotionally by humans as we must have ancestral memory of the fear, loss and devastation. May we keep learning and understanding all we can about this wonderful planet and treasure it in our daily lives.

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Graecopithecus to the Americas

Let us go back to pre-human existence, in fact to the Jurassic (201–145 Ma) when 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. Over thousands of years major forces reshape our planet and evidence of human remains are often destroyed.

Image of Jurassic Period

The oldest remains were uncovered in May of this year, said to be 7.175 million years old. These were found not in Africa, but Pyrgos, Vassilissis, Greece (today in metropolitan Athens) as given the name ‘Graecopithecus freybergi’ (El Graeco). The study author Madelaine Böhme says they do not doubt the presence of early hominins in Africa, “but the oldest potential hominin has been found in Greece and Bulgaria. That is the fact we present.”

Artist’s impression of Graecopithecus

We cannot fix any archaeological find as definitive evidence of our origins, nor can we begin to explain the migratory paths and genetic changes that led to the diversity of human beings. But numerous sciences are sharing data and pulling together more solid evidence as technological advances aid their studies.

We find great controversy about the origins of the humans who were living in the Americas thousands of years before the Europeans arrived with their devastating impact.

The USA continues to teach the ‘Bering Strait’ theory of how early paleoindians arrived in the Americas a mere 13000 years ago. Yes, the continent has oceans between it and Africa. So logic tells us to look at the end of the last glacial age.

The Siberia to Alaska land bridge existed during the last glacial period. Here enough of the earth’s water became frozen in the great ice sheets covering Alaska and Europe to cause a drop in sea levels. For thousands of years the sea floors of many interglacial shallow seas were exposed, including those of the Bering Strait, the Chukchi Sea to the north, and the Bering Sea to the south. Other land bridges around the world have emerged and disappeared in the same way. As you will note in my previous piece, mainland Australia was linked to both New Guinea and Tasmania. 

Image of Beringia


The term Beringia was coined by the Swedish botanist Eric Hultén in 1937. During the ice ages, Beringia, like most of Siberia and all of North and Northeast China, was not glaciated because snowfall was very light. It was a grassland steppe, including the land bridge, that stretched for hundreds of kilometres into the continents on either side.

It is believed that a small human population of at most a few thousand arrived in Beringia from eastern Siberia during the Last Glacial Maximum before expanding into the settlement of the Americas sometime after 16,500 years ago during the Late Glacial Maximum as the American glaciers blocking the way southward melted, but before the bridge was covered by the sea about 11,000 years BP. (BP Before Present = 1950)

Children in US Schools are taught the first people to inhabit the Americas arrived via the Bering Strait. This is the most popular theory, but is being challenged in light of recent evidence.

Before European colonization, Beringia was inhabited by the Yupik peoples on both sides of the straits. This culture remains in the region today along with others. In 2012, the governments of Russia and the United States announced a plan to formally establish “a transboundary area of shared Beringian heritage”. Among other things this agreement would establish close ties between the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and the Cape Krusenstern National Monument in the United States and the planned Beringia National Park in Russia.

Native American Indians are convinced the Bering Strait theory has been disproved. They have held beliefs which they will not give up. For example:

Montana’s Blackfoot tradition holds that the first Indians lived on the other side of the ocean, but their creator decided to take them to a better place. “So he brought them over the ice to the far north,” the account reads.

The Hopi people of Arizona say their ancestors had to travel through three worlds, finally crossing the ocean eastward to a new and final new world. And Oklahoma’s Tuskagee people believe the “Great Spirit” chose them to be the first people to live on the earth.

Stories handed down over millennia cannot be ignored. There is often truth in such ancient tales. So many Native Americans are highly sceptical of archaeologists and other scientists, mostly white, purporting to have found evidence which supports the Bering Strait theory.

I have my doubts about the Bering Strait ‘evidence’ too. From a wide range of very recent and more accurate data being produced almost monthly this year, this Bering Strait theory will surely be consigned to the bin one day.

We, as human beings, all have the right to an opinion of where our origins derive. We can intuit, imagine, sense and consider whatever information we are drawn to and add that to our personal opinion.

I have spent my life wondering, as I’m sure most of us do as to how and why our species should survive when so many extinctions have happened during fierce environmental events over millennia.

Concepts of multiple millions of years ago really boggle my brain! As continents formed through these thousands of years whilst extreme events of astounding size and scope took place; that story as it has been told so far, does seem convincing. It also appeals to my imagination.

The relatively short period humans have traversed the planet has resulted in them developing methods of explaining how we came to exist and how we have been close to extinction many times as the earth constantly formed, reformed under continuing extreme events.

Debate, even intense argument has taken place between archaeologists and other developing sciences, as they all search for a way of increasing the certainty of defining our human origins and human development.

Since the sixteenth century, the origins of Native Americans have been an intellectual puzzle.

I have taken extracts from the book, 1491, it is enlightening as it points me to the human documented history of the period before Europeans arrived in the Americas. I would recommend this book as riveting reading for anyone interested. It argues against the Bering Strait theory most convincingly.

I have also dipped into areas of the Internet to help me gain more recent knowledge since the book was written.

Image of book 1491


First we must consider the notion that early inhabitants of the Americas could have hunted, even over hunted and caused the extinction of massive animals such as the one below. This idea was also attributed to the actions of early aborigine in Australia. Logic and further recent evidence suggests the women gathered the main diet and any meat acquired by the hunters was a luxury. 

Researchers are constantly trying to explore all avenues to understand how the emergence of Pleistocene hominins encompassed the rise of traits such as increased body size, reduced gut size, higher brain capacity and extended life spans, all of which anthropologists have traditionally associated to a shift towards high quality food sources such as meat. Increased amounts of lipids and proteins are presumably necessary to make these changes possible…………..Taking a look into the food sources available to early humans, no single food simultaneously fulfils both requirements. The richest dietary source of preformed AA and DHA regularly available to hominins through hunting or scavenging was possibly ruminant brain that complemented with bone marrow possibly satisfied both requirements. Evidence for fish consumption in early humans sites suggests that, fish became a food source rich in brain selective nutrients around 2 Ma. Aquatic food sources as well as ruminant brain would supply amounts of DHA that far exceed the daily intake recommended (100mg) for a normal brain development in modern humans …….https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465628/)

Remains of Megafauna (very big animals) in North America have been found, for example the daeodon is worthy of a healthy dose of fear. They were enormous hulking towers of brawny pig that lived around 20 million years ago in North America. They could grow to be six feet high at the shoulder and weigh thousands of pounds. Fossilized remains of their teeth suggest that they were omnivorous, dining both on animals (some as large as modern-day cows) and plants. It’s telling of their dominance of the food web that they belong to a family of animals nicknamed “hell pig” and “terminator pig.”

If humans had to fend against megafauna – even consider trapping, killing and eating them, this would have been a daunting task.

Searching for the earliest remains of hominids is producing results which challenge the long standing theory of ‘Sahelanthropus’ from Chad. This year we have a find in Greece and Morocco, both dated as much older than Sahelanthropus. As mentioned earlier, the 2017 ‘Graecopithecus’ was discovered in Greece, by an international research team headed by Professor Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen and Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. These remains are now considered several hundred thousand years older than the oldest potential pre-human from Africa, the six to seven million year old Sahelanthropus from Chad. This would impact on the longstanding conviction that the split of the human lineage occurred not — as customarily assumed — in Africa; rather we might have to revise our understanding that lineage took place in the Eastern Mediterranean. But this will be debated, no doubt, and argued over for many years to come.

So we might also have to revise the time period and direction from whence humans first migrated to the Americas.

Archaeological discoveries in South America in the 1980s led to a revision in the timeline of the Bering Strait Theory, throwing the whole theory into doubt. This theory has been taught to all school children in America for decades. But the dogmatic insistence on a single passageway in a certain time period was also being challenged on many other fronts, despite a strong resistance by authorities to consider new findings.

In almost every case, recent research of Indian societies have been revealed to be older, grander, and more complex than was thought possible even twenty years ago. Archaeologists not only have pushed back the date for humanity’s entrance into the Americas, they have learned that the first large-scale societies grew up earlier than had been believed—almost two thousand years earlier, and in a different part of the hemisphere. And even those societies that had seemed best understood, like the Maya, have been placed in new contexts on the basis of new information.

Contact with Indians caused Europeans considerably more consternation. Columbus went to his grave convinced that he had landed on the shores of Asia, near India. The inhabitants of this previously unseen land were therefore Asians—hence the unfortunate name “Indians.”

A Smithsonian anthropologist, from 1904 to 1941, Aleš Hrdlička, who regarded himself as the conscience of physical anthropology and made it his business to set boundaries would thoroughly discredit all purported findings of ancient Indians. So much so that a later director of the Bureau of American Ethnology admitted that for decades it was a career-killer for an archaeologist to claim to have “discovered indications of a respectable antiquity for the Indian.”

In the village of Clovis, New Mexico, near the state border with Texas, a 19 year old young man named Whiteman who was part Indian, was fascinated by Indian lore. He had heard about farmers finding ancient bones in Folsom. He was hoping to find something in the dried up river bed of Blackwater Draw. During the Pleistocene era it served as a wide, shallow regional drainage channel, a kind of long, slow-moving lake. As the Ice Ages ended, Blackwater Draw slowly dried up. The continuous flow of water turned into isolated ponds. Game animals congregated around the water, and hunters followed them there.

In 1932, Whiteman made contact with Edgar B. Howard, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, who visited Blackwater Draw and was to work on the site for the next four years. He and a team of assistants peeled away the geological layers, and found Blackwater Draw had hosted not one, but two ancient societies. One had left relics just like those at Folsom. Below the dirt strata with these objects, though, was a layer of quite different artifacts: bigger, thicker, and not as beautifully made. This second, earlier culture became known as the Clovis culture. He made his findings known at the Academy of Natural Sciences, in Philadelphia, inviting four hundred scientists to an international symposium. They travelled from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. The symposium featured a full-scale reproduction, fifteen feet wide and thirty-four feet long, complete with actual artifacts and bones, of a particularly profitable section of Howard’s excavation. (Whiteman was not invited; he died in Clovis in 2003 at the age of ninety-one.)

The Clovis finds were without skeletons, so evidence of the American Indians ancient history was not linked to the artefacts according to the authoritative 68 year old Aleš Hrdlička of the Smithsonian Institute.

Image of “Clovis point”


Clovis (left) and Folsom points (shown to scale; fluting at bases)

Clovis culture had a distinctive set of tools: scrapers, spear-straighteners, hatchetlike choppers, crescent-moon-shaped objects whose function remains unknown. Its hallmark was the “Clovis point,” a four-inch spearhead with a slightly cut-in, concave tail; in silhouette, the points somewhat resemble those goldfish-shaped cocktail crackers.Folsom points, by contrast, are smaller and finer—perhaps two inches long and an eighth of an inch thick—and usually have a less prominent tail. Both types have wide, shallow grooves or channels called “flutes” cut into the two faces of the head. The user apparently laid the tip of the spear shaft in the flute and twisted hide or sinew repeatedly around the assembly to hold it together. When the point broke, inevitable with stone tools, the head could be loosened and slid forward on the shaft, letting the user chip a new point. A paleo-Indian innovation, this type of fluting exists only in the Americas.

With Blackwater Draw as a pattern, scientists knew exactly what to look for. During the next few decades, they discovered more than eighty large paleo-Indian sites throughout the United States, Mexico, and southern Canada. All of them had either Folsom or Clovis points,  which convinced many archaeologists that the Clovis people, the earlier of the two, must have been the original Americans. (Excerpt from 1491).

The Megafauna of Blackwater Draw must have been something to behold. (For a list of Blackwater Draw Fauna see https://www.utep.edu/leb/pleistnm/sites/blackwaterloc1.htm)

One on the  list is the Glyptodon

Image of Glyptodon



A species of Glyptodon on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Credit: Copyright AMNH | D. Finnin. Until the end of the last ice age, American cheetahs, enormous armadillolike creatures and giant sloths called North America home. But it’s long puzzled scientists why these animals and other megafauna — creatures heavier than 100 lbs. (45 kilograms) — went extinct about 10,000 years ago. See artist’s impressions of 10 Megafauna at https://www.livescience.com/13670-25-amazing-ancient-beasts-dinosaurs-reptiles.html

In a recent fossil find in Madagascar, researchers suspect a deadly algae poisoned dinosaurs – and where all dried up water beds contain fossils of mass deaths of megafauna, then it is possible the water was contaminated with harmful algal blooms, which can develop repeatedly in the same place in late summer. See http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/08/did-tiny-algae-fell-mighty-dinosaurs?utm_campaign=news_daily_2017-08-29&et_rid=330717162&et_cid=1517895

Seeking explanations of extinction of megafauna other than over hunting seems logical to me, given the possibility early humans might recognise toxic water and not use it, especially if one of the tribe had died from tasting it before the others consumed it.

In 2014, some dramatic, ancient DNA, was extracted from the remains of a 1-year-old boy who died in what is now Montana more than 12,000 years ago.

That’s the only human skeleton known from a brief but prolific culture in the Americas called Clovis.
“Clovis is what we like to refer to as an ‘archaeological complex,’ ” says Michael Waters, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University. That complex is defined by characteristic tools, he says.

The Clovis artifacts were common for about 400 years, starting about 13,000 years ago. But at this point, there is only one set of human remains associated with those sorts of tools: that of the baby from Montana.”So this genetic study actually provides us with a look at who these people were,” Waters says.The most obvious conclusion from the study is that the Clovis people who lived on the Anzick site in Montana were genetically very much like Native Americans throughout the Western Hemisphere.”The Anzick family is directly ancestral to so many peoples in the Americas,” says Eske Willerslev, from the University of Copenhagen. “That’s astonishing!”

The artifacts from this culture are found from Washington state to Florida and many places in between. But the culture also disappeared suddenly, around 12,600 years ago. Waters doesn’t find all of that so mysterious.”People change all the time and cultures change all the time and technologies change,” Waters says. “And they change because people are adapting to new environments and changes in climate.”

“And at the end of the Clovis time period, 12,600 years ago, when this child was buried, the climate was changing. It was the beginning of the Younger Dryas cold snap. This is when you start seeing a lot of cultural differentiation taking place,” Waters says.

The DNA evidence now makes clear that the people who used Clovis tools lived on, even though they left their old technology behind. But the Clovis genes give only a broad-brush view of how and when migrations through the Americas took place.

“We have no idea exactly where the U.S. fits in this pattern,” Willerslev says. “And to be completely honest, we have no idea how they actually moved through time, these different groups throughout the continent. In order to answer that question there’s only one way to go, and that is sequencing more genomes from ancient remains.”

That will require, among other things, cooperation with native peoples.

In the case of the Clovis child, the archaeologists worked closely with modern tribes to make sure the scientists were treating the remains appropriately. The Clovis infant is to be reburied later this year, on the property where he was unearthed.(from http://www.npr.org/2014/02/13/276021092/ancient-dna-ties-native-americans-from-two-continents-to-clovis)  

Many archaeologists believe Clovis sites to be the oldest in the Americas but that honour may go to the Pedra Furada human remains and hearths, a site in Brazil that precedes the Clovis culture and other similar sites by 19,000 to 30,000 years. (See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clovis_culture)

Looking  now at the present day Native American Indians of New Mexico (See http://www.native-languages.org/nmexico.htm)


And consider the proximity of Clovis


An example of one indigenous tribe is the Apache see – http://www.crystalinks.com/apache.html
The Apaches formerly ranged over southeastern Arizona and north-western Mexico. The chief divisions of the Apaches were the Arivaipa, Chiricahua, Coyotero, Faraone Gileno, Llanero, Mescalero, Mimbreno, Mogollon, Naisha, Tchikun and Tchishi. They were a powerful and warlike tribe, constantly at enmity with the whites. The final surrender of the tribe took place in 1886, when the Chiricahuas, the division involved, were deported to Florida and Alabama, where they underwent military imprisonment. The U.S. Army, in their various confrontations, found them to be fierce warriors and skillful strategists. The Apaches are now in reservations in Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma, and number between 5000 and 6000.


As a child in Britain, the Apache were the tribe name seemingly most commonly referred to in the ‘Cowboys and Indians’ action movies, which, in my ignorance of the real life situation, I was thrilled to watch. I grew up imagining I was a squaw, a heroic squaw, and would hide in the bushes in my garden and aim my pathetically useless bow and arrow at passers by – made by me from elderberry tree branches.

Nowadays we are all familiar with the brutal and harsh treatment all indigenous folk endure, even to the present day, whilst they attempt to protect their homeland, shrinking as it always does from industrial monstrous machinery which destroys everything in its path for the sake of perceived corporate financial profit.

After the Chiricahuan Apache were deported east to Florida in 1886, San Carlos became the reservation for various other relocated Apachean-speaking groups. These included the Pinal Coyotero of the northern Gila River area, the former San Carlos Apache bands Aravaipa (also Arivaipa or Tsee Zhinnee), Pinaleño (also Pinal Apache or Tiis Ebah Nnee), Apache Peaks (also called Bichi Lehe Nnee), and San Carlos proper (also Tiis Zhaazhe Bikoh or ′Small Cottonwood Canyon People′), the former Canyon Creek, Carrizo Creek and Cibecue bands of the Cibecue Apache.

The San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, in southeastern Arizona, United States, was established in 1872 as a reservation for the Chiricahua Apache tribe as well as surrounding Yavapai and Apache bands forcibly removed from their original homelands under a strategy devised by General Crook of using an Apache to catch an Apache. Also known as “Hell’s Forty Acres” under United States occupation because of deplorable health and environmental conditions.


Image of Guard House in San Carlos, Arizona circa 1880. Photograph by Camillus S. Fly.

Soldiers and their commanding officers sometimes brutally tortured or killed the Indians for sport while politicians in Washington, D.C., knew little about differences in tribal cultures, customs, and language. Politicians also ignored political differences and military alliances and tried to apply a “one-size-fits-all” strategy to deal with the “Indian problem”. As a result, tribal friends and foes were forced to live in close proximity to one another. Meanwhile, the Apaches were supposed to be fed and housed by their caretakers, but they rarely saw the federal money and suffered as a result.

As of August 2014, the San Carlos Apache tribe has an enrollment of 15,393 tribal members.

The San Carlos Reservation is one of the poorest Native American communities in the United States, with an annual median household income of approximately $27,542, according to the US Census. About 49.2 percent of the people live under the poverty line, and 36.7 percent of the active labor force is unemployed.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama signed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which would give land sacred to the Apache in Arizona to Resolution Copper Mine [RCM], a joint venture owned by London based Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. The Act cleared the way for the land swap in which Resolution Copper would receive 2,422 acres of National Forest land in exchange for deeding to the federal government 5,344 acres of private land.

See Land Swap Map below


A proposal or rider in Section 3003 of the Act, titled “Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act”, would allow RCM to develop and operate an underground copper mine 7,000-feet deep (approximately five Empire State buildings) in the publicly owned Tonto National Forest near Superior, Arizona. The mine would destroy an area set aside in 1955 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower that is sacred to the San Carlos Apache. The land contains more than 2,400 acres of the Oak Flat Campground, an area dotted with petroglyphs and historic and prehistoric sites. Said former San Carlos Apache tribal chairman Wendsler Nosie Sr. of the Act’s attached rider: “This is Congressional politics at its worse, a hidden agenda that destroys human rights and religious rights.”

The San Carlos Apache Tribe, under the leadership of Chairman Terry Rambler, has led a strong opposition to the RCM land exchange. Both the National Audubon Society in Tucson and the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club in Arizona along with the National Congress of American Indians have joined in the fight to Resolution’s land grab. Native American groups and conservationists worry about the impact to surrounding areas, including the steep cliffs at Apache Leap. James Anaya, former United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said that without community and tribal support, Rio Tinto should abandon its Resolution Copper mining project. United States Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said she was “profoundly disappointed with the Resolution Copper provision, which has no regard for lands considered sacred by nearby Indian tribes”.

By January 2015 over 104,000 had signed a petition to President Obama, “We the People|Stop Apache Land Grab”. Jodi Gillette, Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs, quickly gave an official White House response, vowing that the Obama Administration will work with Resolution Copper’s parent company Rio Tinto to determine how to work with the tribes to preserve their sacred areas.

In March 2016, the Oak Flat campground was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the designated site, which is identified by the National Register as the “Chi’chil Bildagoteel Historic District” will not stop the Resolution Copper mine, a federal agency must evaluate the project’s effects on the property before taking action. Bills introduced in 2015 by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Tucson) would reverse the land-exchange deal, but neither has received a hearing

The Resolution Copper mine land grab has succeeded but is being currently debated. The Native American Indians see no end to their being treated as non persons when it comes to greed of the corporate ecocidal wheel crushing their hopes and dreams.
Read more at:
http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2017/01/29/the-resolution-copper-land-grab-how-environmental-ngos-expand-green-capitalism/

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From Africa to Australia, then thousands of years later, arrival of the Scots

I have put together what, to me, and surely any other curious person, is the fascinating current understanding of the ancient people who made their way to Australia, possible 40 to 70,000 years ago. Those humans knew how to light fires, and in so doing it is thought they may have burned the landscapes they found which eradicated the habitat of many indigenous creatures. In turn species died out due to fires and maybe over hunting. Plants evolved in Australia which could withstand fire.

The genomes of Australian aborigines, New Guineans and some Pacific Islanders are about 6 percent Denisovan genes, according to earlier studies.  

All human beings have two genomes. The first is the genome of the DNA in chromosomes, the genome of the famous year 2000 human genome project. (See https://www.genome.gov/12011238/an-overview-of-the-human-genome-project/). The website states “The HGP has revealed that there are probably about 20,500 human genes. The completed human sequence can now identify their locations. This ultimate product of the HGP has given the world a resource of detailed information about the structure, organization and function of the complete set of human genes. This information can be thought of as the basic set of inheritable “instructions” for the development and function of a human being.”

The second and much smaller genome is of the DNA in mitochondria; it was mapped, to little public notice, in 1981. Mitochondria are minute, bean-shaped objects, hundreds of which bob about like so much flotsam in the warm, salty envelope of the cell. The body’s chemical plants, they gulp in oxygen and release the energy-rich molecules that power life. It is the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which spans about 16,500 DNA building blocks (base pairs), representing a small fraction of the total DNA in cells. Mitochondria are widely believed to descend from bacteria that long ago somehow became incorporated into one of our evolutionary ancestors. They replicate themselves independently of the rest of the cell, without using its DNA. To accomplish this, they have their own genome, a tiny thing with fewer than fifty genes, left over from their former existence as free-floating bacteria. Because sperm cells are basically devoid of mitochondria, almost all of an embryo’s mitochondria come from the egg. Children’s mitochondria are thus in essence identical to their mother’s. More than that, every woman’s mitochondrial DNA is identical not only to her mother’s mitochondrial DNA, but to that of her mother’s mother’s mitochondrial DNA, and her mother’s mother’s mother’s mitochondrial DNA, and so on down the line for many generations. The same is not true for men. Because fathers don’t contribute mitochondrial DNA to the embryo, the succession occurs only through the female line. In the late 1970s several scientists realized that an ethnic group’s mitochondrial DNA could provide clues to its ancestry. Their reasoning was complex in detail, but simple in principle. People with similar mitochondria have, in the jargon, the same “haplogroup.” If two ethnic groups share the same haplogroup, it is molecular proof that the two groups are related; their members belong to the same female line.

The genome project has influenced all other studies of human existence, such that earlier archaeological finds can be reassessed if sufficient DNA can be retrieved. Frozen bodies previously trapped in the now thawing Arctic are in better condition for such analysis, but if there is sufficiently preserved DNA in ancient skeletal remains, astonishing leaps in tracing our ancient ancestors have been made.

Research, conducted by a large group of genetic scientists, shows that Neanderthals and Denisovans (See mapping of links below) are very closely related, and that their common ancestor split off from the ancestors of modern humans about 400,000 years ago.


Our human species is an African one: Africa is where we first evolved, and where we have spent the majority of our time on Earth. The place of our origin should surely be treated with immense respect.

Evidence is now suggesting that present-day Aboriginal Australians are the oldest population of humans living outside of Africa.


The Mungo Man was discovered by ANU archaeologist Dr. Jim Bowler on February 26, 1974 when shifting sand dunes exposed his remains. He was found near Lake Mungo, one of several dry lakes in the World Heritage listed Willandra Lakes Region. The body was sprinkled with red ochre, in what is the earliest incidence of such a sophisticated and artistic burial practice. This aspect of the discovery has been particularly significant to Indigenous Australians, since it indicates that certain cultural traditions have existed on the Australian continent for much longer than previously thought.

In 2003, a group of scientists from several Australian universities, led by the University of Melbourne, reached a new consensus that Mungo Man is about 40,000 years old. This age largely corresponds with stratigraphic evidence, and used four different dating methods, and brought together scientists from several different universities. The age of 40,000 years is currently the most widely accepted age for the Mungo Man and makes it the second oldest anatomically modern human remains found outside of Africa to date. The study also found that Mungo Lady was a similar age to Mungo Man, and not 30,000 years old, as previously thought. This made Mungo Lady the oldest cremated human remains yet discovered.


The pattern of burn marks on the bones of Mungo Lady implies an unusual ritual that after she died, the corpse was burned, smashed, then burned a second time. It was suspected that her descendants had tried to ensure that she did not return to haunt them.


Aborigines are believed to be among the earliest human migrations out of Africa. This happened around 30 to 40,000 years ago. They possibly used the landmass which formed part of the Sahul continent, connected to the island of New Guinea via a land bridge. It is also possible that people came by island hopping via an island chain between Sulawesi and New Guinea and the other reaches North Western Australia via Timor.

Humans reached Tasmania approximately 40,000 years ago by migrating across a land bridge from the mainland that existed during the last ice age. After the seas rose about 12,000 years ago and covered the land bridge, the inhabitants there were isolated from the mainland until the arrival of European settlers.

See https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/human-journey/

Once the climate started to improve, after 70,000 years ago, we came back from this near-extinction event. The population expanded, and some intrepid explorers ventured beyond Africa. The earliest people to colonize the Eurasian landmass likely did so across the Bab-al-Mandab Strait separating present-day Yemen from Djibouti. These early beachcombers expanded rapidly along the coast to India, and reached Southeast Asia and Australia by 50,000 years ago. The first great foray of our species beyond Africa had led us all the way across the globe.

In August 2012, scientists reported the discovery of human skull fragments in a limestone cave in northern Laos that date back to between 46,000 and 63,000 years ago. The finding was surprising, because it indicated early humans roamed far and wide across Asia after leaving Africa, venturing north and northeast across rough mountainous terrain into Laos and perhaps even China, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Reaching Australia would have presented significant challenges for ancient humans. An ocean has always separated Asia and Oceania, and travel between the two continents would have required humans to navigate dozens of miles of open water. Whether humans colonized Australia intentionally or by accident—after being blown there by monsoon winds, for example—is unknown, although National Geographic’s Wells thinks the former scenario is more likely.

Spencer Wells, a geneticist and a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, has speculated that the first Australians landed in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea—then part of the same landmass—and gradually moved inland by following the river systems of Queensland and southern Australia.

In 2011, using modern gene sequencing techniques, researchers sampled the DNA from a lock of hair that a young Aboriginal man had donated to a British anthropologist in 1923. When DNA in the hair was compared with the genomes of people living in Asia, Europe, and Africa, scientists discovered that Aboriginal Australians are more closely related to Africans than they are to modern Asians and Europeans.

This suggests humans migrated into Eastern Asia in multiple waves and that today’s Aboriginal Australians are descended from an early wave that left Africa about 70,000 years ago, before the ancestors of Asians and Europeans. If confirmed, the finding means that present-day Aboriginal Australians are the oldest population of humans living outside of Africa.

Colonial period

The first Scottish settlers arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788, including three of the first six Governors of New South Wales John Hunter, Lachlan Macquarie (often referred to as the father of Australia) and Thomas Brisbane. … They were not all Scots, but had been tried in Scotland. The First Fleet is the name given to the first group of eleven ships that carried convicts from England to Australia in 1788. Beginning in 1787 the ships departed with about 778 convicts (586 men, 192 women), provisions and agricultural implements. Seventeen convicts died and two were pardoned before departure.

This was just 7 years after the first British expedition of the Endeavour under command of Lieutenant James Cook who was himself the son of a Scottish ploughman. Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. His reports in Cook’s expedition would lead to British settlement of the continent, and during the voyage Cook also named two groups of Pacific islands in honour of Scotland: New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. The first European to die on Australian soil was a Scot; Forbey Sutherland from Orkney, an able seaman died on 30 April 1770 of consumption and was the first to be buried on the colony by Captain Cook, who named Sutherland Point at Botany Bay in his honour.

Now more humans want to migrate to Australia. Many are rejected.

The original peoples of Australia are being seemingly tricked into surrendering their homelands forever with Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) “without understanding they are whitewashing their own history, under the invaders’ law.

This surrendering trick takes effect before the deed of grant of land is issued to the shires of the whole area. In this way compensation is also avoided.”

This opens up their land to corporates who seek to exploit the coal deposits for example, or any other profitable activity which would not be shared with the indigenous people and would sabotage their cherished lands.

see 

http://nationalunitygovernment.org/content/indigenous-land-use-agreements-iluas-trick-first-peoples-surrendering-their-homelands

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Destruction of the Garden

Humans thrive when nature provides them with fertile land where they feel safe and can develop skills. This was such a place, between less abundant and often hostile lands, it was a place humans would target and fight to keep and, in the end, as populations became more demanding, destroy by overuse. This was the Fertile Crescent.

The Fertile Crescent is traditionally associated (in Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths) with the earthly location of the Garden of Eden.

Map of showing location of Fertile Crescent


In 1916, the name was coined by Egyptologist James Henry Breasted in his work Ancient Times: A History of the Early World, where he wrote, “This fertile crescent is approximately a semi-circle, with the open side toward the south, having the west end at the south-east corner of the Mediterranean, the centre directly north of Arabia, and the east end at the north end of the Persian Gulf.” 

When populations were small and took up little space in the Fertile Crescent, in around 10000 BC (12,000 years ago), farming practices began to develop and humans began to settle rather than be nomads. 

Humans had always gathered seeds and berries as hunter-gatherers. Now they sowed the seeds and reaped the crop. For human history this was the Neolithic revolution. Until that time, humans had no sense of property, no concept of protecting an area of land they believed to belong to them alone, no thought of the costly defence of such territory and all the artefacts they were to create and identify as their own.

They just wanted to be comfortable and have plentiful food and water ‘on hand’, so to speak.

Over thousands of years, these early farmers domesticated the first crops and transformed sheep, wild boars and other creatures into domestic animals.

Recently (2016) population geneticists at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, Losif Lazaridis and David Reich, managed to take a genetic sample from a tiny ear bone called the petrous, to analyse the genomes of the 44 Middle Eastern individuals, who lived between 14,000 and 3,500 years ago. As it has been so far hugely difficult to analyse DNA in hotter climes, this has proven to be a breakthrough. 

Their findings, and more recent studies, suggest the ‘toolkit’ for farming came from two Middle Eastern populations who independently developed farming and then spread the technology to Europe, Africa and Asia.

The team found stark differences between the genomes of Neolithic individuals from the southern Levant region, including Israel and Jordan, and those living across the Zagros Mountains in western Iran. The Zagros early farmers were instead more closely related to nearby hunter-gatherers who lived in the region before the Neolithic.

This pattern of ancestry adds to the evidence that the hunter-gatherers in the southern Levant and Iran independently developed farming, says Roger Matthews, an archaeologist at the University of Reading, UK, who co-directs the Central Zagros Archaeological Project in Iran.

The Zagros farmers domesticated goats as well as cereals such as emmer, whereas their counterparts to the west had their own crops, including barley and wheat. Around 9,500 years ago, these traditions began spreading around the Middle East, Rogers says, noting that the two populations of farmers may have mixed in eastern Turkey while seeking out sources of obsidian, which was useful for making tools. By the time farmers in present-day Turkey began migrating to Europe, they carried a ‘Neolithic toolkit’ that included crops, animals and tools from both farming traditions.

But the present day state of the Fertile Crescent speaks of the tragedy of Anthropocene impact.

Around 90 per cent of the Mesopotamian marshlands have been lost, mainly as a result of drainage and damming.

A study by scientists in 2001 at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), drawing on historical and satellite images, has collected the first hard evidence detailing the true extent of damage to this important habitat for people, (Marsh Arabs) wildlife and fisheries.

Image of Marsh Arab


The immediate cause of loss of marshland is, however, the massive drainage works implemented in southern Iraq in the early 1990s following the second Gulf War.

The satellite images provide hard evidence that the once extensive marshlands have dried-up and become desert with vast stretches salt encrusted. A small northern fringe of the Hawizeh (known as the Hawr Al-Azim in Iran), is all that remains. The Hawizeh Marshes are a complex of marshes that straddle the Iraq and Iran border. The marshes are fed by two branches of the Tigris River (the Al-Musharrah and Al-Kahla) in Iraq and Karkheh River in Iran. The Hawizeh marsh is critical to the survival of the Central and Hammar marshes, which also make up the Mesopotamian Marshes, because they are a refuge for species that may recolonize or reproduce in the other marshlands. The Hawizeh Marshes are drained by the Al-Kassarah. This river plays a critical role in maintaining the marshes as a flow-through system and preventing it from becoming a closed saline basin.

Even this last vestige is rapidly disappearing as its water supply is impounded by new dams and diverted for irrigation. The collapse of Marsh Arab society, a distinct indigenous people that has inhabited the marshlands for millennia, adds a human dimension to this environmental disaster.

Around one fifth of the estimated half-million Marsh Arabs are now living in refugee camps in Iran with the rest internally displaced within Iraq. A 5,000 year-old culture, heir to the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians, is seriously in jeopardy of coming to an abrupt end.

The impact of marshland loss on the area’s teeming wildlife is probably equally devastating with significant implications for global biodiversity, including migratory birds, from Siberia to southern Africa. The marshlands disappearance has placed an estimated forty species of waterfowl at risk. Mammals, such as the smooth coated otter, that exist only in the marshlands are now considered extinct. Coastal fisheries in the northern Gulf, which depend on the marshlands for spawning grounds, have also experienced a sharp decline.

The Marsh Arabs are believed to be the cultural descendants of the ancient Sumerian and later Babylonian civilizations.

Sumer was the southernmost region of ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and Kuwait) which is generally considered the cradle of civilization. The name comes from Akkadian, the language of the north of Mesopotamia, and means “land of the civilized kings”. The Sumerians called themselves “the black headed people” and their land, in cuneiform script, was simply “the land” or “the land of the black headed people”. In the biblical Book of Genesis Sumer is known as Shinar. One of the many ‘taken for granted’ gift to us from them is the 24 hour clock. Their empire was built from the Middle to Late Bronze Age. The city-states of Sumer during this time fought for control of arable land and water rights until the rise of the First Dynasty of Lagash in 2500 BCE. 

Image of Marsh Arab homeland


The same communal mudhif buildings seen in marsh culture today have also been seen depicted on Sumerian seals from 5000 years ago. There are also apparent similarities between the agricultural and irrigation practices of the ancient Sumerians and the modern day ‘Ma’dan’, as the present Marsh Arabs are known. The Sumerians also travelled in similar slender reed boats, caught fish and birds with long spears, lived on marsh islands in reed houses, and herded water buffalo, sheep and cattle.

Yet another indigenous group forced from their ancient way. Watch more recent film of the Marsh Arabs at https://youtu.be/Awsjn-_rvxI

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Movement of People of the African Sahara

I have been particularly interested in finding out why people migrated out of Africa, but there is also the story of those who remained.  The adaptable indigenous human, always so ingenious in the most hostile environments. Yet becoming part of the landscape and working with it, not against it.

Of interest: the word Sahara means desert in Arabic.

The world’s largest hot desert, the Sahara, is a subtropical desert in northern Africa. 


The Sahara’s topographical features, (according to “The Living Africa,” by Steve Bloom, 2008) :

include not only the iconic sand dune fields, but also arid mountains, plateaus, sand- and gravel-covered plains, shallow basins and large oasis depressions. Its highest point is Chad’s Mount Koussi (an extinct volcanic crater that rises 11,204 feet above sea level at the peak), and its lowest, Egypt’s Qattera Depression (an oasis depression that lies 436 feet below sea level at the deepest point)

 In 2007, Iain Stewart and joint author John Lynch wrote in their book Earth: the power of the planet, 2007, about a series of events which created the Sahara desertification:

 “A small change in the distribution of incoming solar radiation, due to a subtle change in the Earth’s orbit, had weakened the equatorial storms that fed the African monsoons. Within a few decades, the tropical summer rains that once watered much of Northern Africa had retreated south, and vast areas of woodland and marsh had become parched wastelands. Over the following centuries, the drifting sands of the desert spread north as well, and the ancient peoples who had farmed the once fertile Sahara heartland were pushed out. Part of the exodus moved east to settle a river valley that had previously been too marshy, and so began the Nile civilisation and the age of the pharaohs. Others remained in isolated havens where water was still available, but by 2000 years ago only one group of hardy people was left holding back the desert: the Garmanthians, skilled charioteers who held in check the southward advances of imperial Rome. But on their flank, the advance ofthe desert was unstoppable. By AD 500, the Garmanthian culture was gone, its people scattered to a nomadic existence and its ruins buried beneath the sand.”

Current research using “a series of climate simulations, co-led by Dr Camille Contoux of the Bjerknes Center for Climate Research in Bergen, Norway, suggests that the desertification of Sahara started about 7 million years ago, at least four million years earlier than previously thought………this is due “to a recent discovery of 7-million-year-old sand dune deposits in the northern Chad Basin.”

Map to locate Chad:


The researchers describe the Sahara desert as:

At over 9,400,000 km2, it covers nearly 10 percent of the African continent, including Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia.”

Robert Korty, associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, along with colleague William Boos of Yale University, have had their work published in the current issue of Nature Geoscience in 2016. They are working on the effect of the Hadley circulation rainfall pattern. (The Hadley cell, named after George Hadley, is a global scale tropical atmospheric circulation that features air rising near the equator, flowing poleward at 10–15 kilometers above the surface, descending in the subtropics, and then returning equatorward near the surface.)

Hadley Circluation model:


Korty tells us “As little as 6,000 years ago, the vast Sahara Desert was covered in grassland that received plenty of rainfall, but shifts in the world’s weather patterns abruptly transformed the vegetated region into some of the driest land on Earth.” He and his team are using computer models and other data, and have found links to rainfall patterns thousands of years ago.

The mystery was why did the tropical rainfalls move so far north? 

“The Hadley circulation is a tropical atmospheric circulation that rises near the equator. It is linked to the subtropical trade winds, tropical rainbelts, and affects the position of severe storms, hurricanes, and the jet stream. Where it descends in the subtropics, it can create desert-like conditions. The majority of Earth’s arid regions are located in areas beneath the descending parts of the Hadley circulation.

“We know that 6,000 years ago, what is now the Sahara Desert was a rainy place,” Korty adds.

Korty says. “We were able to conclude that the variations in Earth’s orbit that shifted rainfall north in Africa 6,000 years ago were by themselves insufficient to sustain the amount of rain that geologic evidence shows fell over what is now the Sahara Desert. Feedbacks between the shifts in rain and the vegetation that could exist with it are needed to get heavy rains into the Sahara.”

Simulating paleoclimates in the Sahara region, a team of researchers from Germany and United Kingdom has found evidence of three major river systems that likely existed in North Africa about 130,000 – 100,000 years ago, but are now largely buried by dune systems in the desert.

Image they provided:


This image shows Irharhar, Sahabi and Kufrah rivers systems in the Sahara region. The green points show the location of archaeological sites in the region. Image credit: Coulthard TJ et al.

It’s exciting to think that 100,000 years ago there were three huge rivers forcing their way across a 1,000 km of the Sahara desert to the Mediterranean and that our ancestors could have walked alongside them,” said Dr Tom Coulthard of the University of Hull, UK, who is a lead author of the study published in the journal PLoS ONE.A

Previous studies have shown that people traveled across the Saharan mountains toward more fertile Mediterranean regions, but when, where and how they did so is a subject of debate.

Existing evidence supports the possibilities of a single trans-Saharan migration, many migrations along one route, or multiple migrations along several different routes.

The existence of ‘green corridors’ that provided water and food resources were likely critical to these events, but their location and the amount of water they carried is not known.”

It is worth reading the explanation of how aquifers beneath the Sahara hold water which has lain there since the precipitation of the last glacial age. See http://www.oxfordpresents.com/ms/nance/water-in-the-sahara-desert/

Map of Arabian Desert


Adjacent is the Arabian desert, located in Western Asia. It is a vast desert wilderness stretching from Yemen to the Persian Gulf and Oman to Jordan and Iraq. It occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula, with an area of 2,330,000 square kilometers (900,000 sq mi). It is the fourth largest desert in the world, and the largest in Asia. At its center is the Rub’al-Khali, one of the largest continuous bodies of sand in the world. 

The Arabian Desert consists of two major regions. The first, the ancient Arabian platform (a segment of the African Shield), is in the west. It is composed mainly of Precambrian gneiss (dated to between 2.6 billion and roughly 541 million years ago) and was assembled roughly 900 to 541 million years ago.(Brittanica)

But back to the Sahara – a massive subject, only touched on here in my short blogs.

A little more useful detail at https://www.desertusa.com/du_sahara.html an extract here:

Its permanent rivers are the Nile and the Niger. The Nile rises in central Africa, south of the Sahara, and flows northward through Sudan and Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean. The Niger rises in western Africa, southwest of the Sahara, and flows northeastward into Mali and the desert then turns southeastward, through Nigeria, and empties into the Gulf of Guinea.

If you find yourself stuck in the desert, here are a few tips from http://www.pbs.org/lawrenceofarabia/revolt/water.htm

Lawrence of Arabia . Desert Survival . Water | PBS


Water

The ability to transport and find water is perhaps the most crucial element for survival in the desert. In extreme temperatures the human body can require over a gallon of water a day. 

Bedouins are nomadic people. They move on to fresh pastures when their grazing lands are exhausted. They cannot afford to to sit tight where water is not plentiful. 

Constantly on the move in a harsh environment they carefully planned their routes across desert landscapes, calculating precisely how far their water supply will stretch between wells. 

The goat-skin bag has long been the traditional method for carrying water and, once drawn from deep wells, experience dictates how severely water must be rationed. 

Tricks to finding water in the desert:

An old Bedouin trick is to turn over half-buried stones in the desert just before sun up. Their coolness causes dew to form on their surface.

Desert grass will also form dew in the pre-dawn with your tongue. It can be soaked up with a cloth and wrung out into a container.

Where sand dunes meet the sea digging above the high tide mark might reveal a thin layer of fresh water sitting atop a heavier layer of salt water.

Flies and mosquitos are a giveaway for a water source and bees fly in a straight line to and from water up to 1000 metres away.

Look out for pigeons and doves – they can only exist near fresh water

Water seepage in canyons, small pockets of water in sandstone rock formations and digging at the base of rocks and mountains can produce water

Even contaminated water has its uses. It can be used to soak your clothing and reduce water loss from perspiration.close 

The Taureg of Mauritania, NW Africa, an example of a people who still cling to their nomadic existence

And extracted from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuareg_people:

The Tuareg today inhabit a vast area in the Sahara, stretching from far southwestern Libya to southern Algeria, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Their combined population in these territories exceeds 2.5 million, with an estimated population in Niger of around 2 million (11% of inhabitants) and in Mali of another 0.5 million (3% of inhabitants. The Tuareg are also the majority ethnic group in the Kidal Region of northeastern Mali.

In antiquity, the Tuareg moved southward from the Tafilalt region into the Sahel under the Tuareg founding queen Tin Hinan, who is believed to have lived between the 4th and 5th century. The matriarch’s 1,500 year old monumental Tin Hinan tomb is located in the Sahara at Abalessa in the Hoggar Mountains of southern Algeria. Vestiges of an inscription in Tifinagh, the Tuareg’s traditional Libyco-Berber writing script, have been found on one of the ancient sepulchre’s walls.

Some studies have linked the Tuareg to early ancient Egyptian civilization.

Archaeological excavations of prehistoric tombs in the Maghreb have yielded skeletal remains that were painted with ochre. Although this ritual practice was known to the Iberomaurusians, the custom seems instead to have been primarily derived from the ensuing Capsian culture. Megalithic tombs, such as the jedar sepulchres, were also erected for religious and funerary purposes. In 1926, one such tomb was discovered south of Casablanca. The monument was engraved with funerary inscriptions in the ancient Libyco-Berber writing script known as Tifinagh, which the Tuareg still use. 

You might like to watch this this fascinating documentary to find out more about Taureg life: https://youtu.be/CUHEc1fQhwo

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