New Study On Early Human Fire Acquisition Settles Debate

New Study On Early Human Fire Acquisition Settles Debate


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Fire starting is a skill that many modern humans struggle with in the absence of a lighter or matches. The earliest humans likely harvested fire from natural sources, yet when our ancestors learned the skills to set fire at will, they had newfound protection, a means of cooking, light to work by, and warmth at their fingertips.

Just when this momentous acquisition of knowledge occurred has been a hotly debated topic for archaeologists.

Now, a team of University of Connecticut researchers, working with colleagues from Armenia, the U.K., and Spain, has found compelling evidence that early humans such as Neanderthals not only controlled fire , but also mastered the ability to generate it.

"Fire was presumed to be the domain of Homo sapiens but now we know that other ancient humans like Neanderthals could create it," says co-author Daniel Adler, associate professor in anthropology. "So perhaps we are not so special after all."

Their work, published today in Scientific Reports , pairs archaeological, hydrocarbon and isotope evidence of human interactions with fire, with what the climate was like tens of thousands of years ago.

Using specific fire-related molecules deposited in the archaeological record and an analysis of climatological clues, the researchers examined Lusakert Cave 1 in the Armenian Highlands.

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Lusakert Cave 1 and Cave 2 along a channel of the palaeo-Hrazdan River. (Ellery E Frahm et al. / Lithic raw material units based on magnetic properties . Semantic Scholar)

"Fire starting is a skill that has to be learned -- I never saw anyone who managed to produce fire without first being taught. So the assumption that someone has the capability to set fire at will is a source of debate," says Gideon Hartman, associate professor of anthropology, and study co-author.

Determining Fire Starting Ability

The research team looked at sediment samples to determine the abundance of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are released when organic material is burned.

One type of PAH called light PAHs, disperse widely and are indicative of wildfires while others, called heavy PAHs, disperse narrowly and remain much closer to the source of fire .

"Looking at the markers for fires that are locally made, we start to see other human activity correlating with more evidence of locally-made fire," says lead author Alex Brittingham, a UConn doctoral student in anthropology.

Evidence of increased human occupation at the site, such as concentrations of animal bones from meals and evidence of tool making , correlated with increased fire frequency and the increased frequency of heavy PAHs.

Homo erectus is known to have used fire and now Homo neanderthalensis is shown to have fire starting ability. ( pict rider / Adobe Stock)

Ruling Out Natural Fires

Researchers also needed to rule out the possibility that unsettled weather, which gives rise to lightning, had ignited the fires.

To do so, they analyzed hydrogen and carbon isotope composition of the waxy cuticles of ancient plant tissues preserved in sediments. The distribution of these leaf waxes indicate what kind of climate the plants grew in.

They could not find any evidence of a link between overall paleoclimatic conditions and the geochemical record of fire, says Michael Hren, study author and associate professor of geosciences.

"In order to routinely access naturally caused fires, there would need to have been conditions that would produce lighting strikes at a relative frequency that could have ignited wildfires," says Hren.

By pairing the climate data with the evidence found in the archaeological record, the researchers then determined the cave's inhabitants were not living in drier, wildfire-prone conditions while they were utilizing fires within the cave.

In fact, there were fewer wildfires for these ancient humans to harvest at the time when fire frequency and heavy PAH frequency was high in the cave, says Brittingham.

"It seems they were able to control fire outside of the natural availability of wildfires," says Brittingham.

Brittingham is now applying the same research techniques to analyze other caves occupied by early humans. He is currently working with a team in Georgia, among other locations, to determine whether fire was developed independently by groups in different geographic areas.

"Was it something that people in Armenia could do but people in France could not do? Was it developed independently?" asks Brittingham.


This forest has stayed wild for 5,000 years—we can tell because of the soil

Aerial view of the Putumayo region of the Amazon rainforest in Peru. Credit: Alvaro del Campo, Field Museum

We sometimes think of the Amazon rainforest as unaltered by humans, a peek into the planet's past. In recent years, scientists have learned that many parts of the Amazon aren't untouched at all—they've been cultivated by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years, and mere centuries ago were the sites of cities and farmland. But that's not the case everywhere. In a new study in PNAS, researchers determined that a rainforest in the Putumayo region of Peru has been home to relatively unaltered forest for 5,000 years, meaning that the people who have lived there found a long-term way to coexist with nature—and the evidence is in microscopic bits of silica and charcoal in the soil.

"It's very hard even for experienced ecologists to tell the difference between a 2,000-year-old forest and a 200-year-old forest," says Nigel Pitman, an ecologist at Chicago's Field Museum and a co-author of the PNAS paper. "There's more and more research showing that many Amazonian forests we think of as wilderness are actually only 500 years old, because that's when the people who were living there died from the pandemics brought by Europeans, and the forest has regrown."

"Far from implying that complex, permanent human settlements in Amazonia had no influence over the landscape in some regions, our study adds substantially more evidence indicating the bulk of the Indigenous population's serious impact on the forested environment was concentrated in the nutrient-rich soils near rivers, and that their use of the surrounding rainforest was sustainable, causing no detectable species losses or disturbances, over millennia," says Dolores Piperno, a researcher at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the study's first author.

Many plants take up silica from the soil and use it to produce microscopic mineral particles called phytoliths that provide structural support. After a plant dies, these phytoliths linger in the soil for thousands of years. Different kinds of plants produce differently-shaped phytoliths, meaning that phytoliths in the soil can be used to determine what kinds of plants lived there in the past.

For this study, Piperno and her colleague Crystal McMichael at the University of Amsterdam needed soil samples from the Putumayo region of the Amazon rainforest in northeastern Peru. That's where Pitman came in. In his work with the Field's Keller Science Action Center, Pitman takes part in "rapid inventories" of the Amazon, intensive information-gathering trips to document the plants and animals of a region and build relationships with the people who live there, in order to help build a case for protecting the area. Piperno and McMichael reached out to Pitman, a botanist, and asked if he'd be able to collect soil samples as he inventoried the Putumayo region's trees.

Soil samples collected in the rainforest. Credit: Nigel Pitman, Field Museum

"The three or four days that we're at one of these sites feel like running a marathon. We have to get a lot done in a really short amount of time, and so we're up really early, we stay up really late, and somehow these soil cores had to be taken at the same time," says Pitman. "Sometimes we collected the soil at midnight, or during rainstorms, when we couldn't survey trees."

To collect the soil, Pitman and his colleagues, including Field Museum associates Juan Ernesto Guevara Andino, Marcos Ríos Paredes, and Luis A. Torres Montenegro, used a tool called an auger. "It's a long metal pole with blades at the bottom, and when you stick it in the ground and rotate it, it carves out a column of soil about 2 to 3 feet long." The team took samples of the soil at different heights on the column, placed them in plastic bags, and transported them back to the US for analysis.

The soil's age roughly correlates to its depth, with newer soil at the top and older soil deeper within the earth. Back in the lab, the researchers used carbon dating to determine the soil's age and then painstakingly sorted through samples under a microscope, searching for phytoliths that would tell them what kinds of plants were living in the area at a given time.

They found that the types of trees growing in the region today have been growing there over the past 5,000 years—an indicator that unlike in other parts of the Amazon, the Putumayo wasn't home to cities and farmland prior to European colonization.

In addition to phytoliths, the researchers also looked for microscopic bits of charcoal. "In the western Amazon where it's wet year-round, finding charcoal tells you that people were there," says Pitman. "There aren't natural forest fires from lightning strikes, so if something burns, it's because a person set it on fire."

The Putumayo region of the Amazon rainforest in Peru, interior. Credit: (c) Corine Vriesendorp, Field Museum

The low levels of charcoal in the soil show that while the forest remained unaltered by humans for 5,000 years, people did live in the area—they just coexisted with the forest in a way that didn't change it.

"One of the scary things for conservationists about research showing that so much of the Amazon used to be towns and cropland, is that it's allowed people who aren't conservationists to say, 'If that was the case, then you conservationists are getting upset for no reason—500 years ago, half the Amazon was cut down and all grew back, it's no big deal. We don't have to worry so much about cutting down the Amazon, we've already done it and it turned out fine,'" says Pitman. This study suggests that while people are able to coexist with wilderness without altering it, the Amazon isn't simply a resource that can be destroyed and regrown from scratch in a matter of centuries.

Long-lasting microfossil particles of dead plants called phytoliths seen under a microscope, sampled from soil cores taken by scientists from the Amazon Basin. Most phytoliths studied by the team were smaller than the width of a human hair. Scientists used the soil cores to create timelines of plant life and fire history at each location going back some 5,000 years. To do this, the team extracted phytoliths and looked for traces of fire such as charcoal or soot. Fire, in a landscape that receives nearly 10 feet of rain annually, is nearly always human in origin and would have been instrumental in clearing large areas of land for human uses, such as agriculture and settlement.Smithsonian scientists and their collaborators have found new evidence that prehistoric Indigenous peoples did not significantly alter large swaths of forest ecosystems in the western Amazon, effectively preserving large areas of rainforests to be unmodified or used in sustainable ways that did not reshape their composition. The new findings are the latest in a long scientific debate about how people in the Amazon have historically shaped the rich biodiversity of the region and global climate systems, presenting new implications for how the Amazon's biodiversity and ecosystems can be best conserved and preserved today. Credit: Dolores Piperno, Smithsonian.

"To me, these findings don't say that the Indigenous population wasn't using the forest, just that they used it sustainably and didn't modify its species composition very much," says Piperno. "We saw no decreases in plant diversity over the time period we studied. This is a place where humans appear to have been a positive force on this landscape and its biodiversity over thousands of years."

"It's an important finding, and a hopeful one, because it shows that people have been living in the Amazon for thousands of years, in a way that allows them to thrive and the forest to to thrive," says Pitman. "And since this particular forest is still being protected by Indigenous peoples, I hope this study reminds us all how important it is to support their work."


Archaeologists Find Earliest Evidence of Humans Cooking With Fire

At the base of a brush-covered hill in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, a massive stone outcropping marks the entrance to one of humanity’s oldest known dwelling places. Humans and our apelike ancestors have lived in Wonderwerk Cave for 2 million years — most recently in the early 1900s, when a farm couple and their 14 children called it home. Wonderwerk holds another distinction as well: The cave contains the earliest solid evidence that our ancient human forebears (probably Homo erectus ) were using fire.

Like many archaeological discoveries, this one was accidental. Researchers weren’t looking for signs of prehistoric fire they were trying to determine the age of sediments in a section of the cave where other researchers had found primitive stone tools. In the process, the team unearthed what appeared to be the remains of campfires from a million years ago — 200,000 years older than any other firm evidence of human-controlled fire. Their findings also fanned the flames of a decade-old debate over the influence of fire, particularly cooking, on the evolution of our species’s relatively capacious brains.

At Wonderwerk, Boston University archaeologist Paul Goldberg — a specialist in soil micromorphology, or the small-scale study of sediments — dug chunks of compacted dirt from the old excavation area. He then dried them out and soaked them in a polyester resin so they would harden to a rocklike consistency. Once the blocks solidified, researchers sawed them into wafer-thin slices. The “eureka” moment came later, as the slices were examined under a microscope at Israel’s Weizmann Institute. “Holy cow!” Goldberg exclaimed. “There’s ashes in there!”

He and his colleagues saw carbonized leaf and twig fragments. Looking more closely, they identified burned bits of animal bones as well. The bones’ sharp edges, and the excellent preservation of the plant ash, indicated that neither wind nor rain had ushered in the burnt material. The burning clearly had occurred inside the cave.

Then team member Francesco Berna subjected the sample to a test called Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy (FTIR), which analyzes a material’s composition by measuring the way it absorbs infrared waves. Often used in crime labs to identify traces of drugs and fibers, FTIR can also determine the temperature to which organic matter has been heated — and Berna is among the first to adapt it for archaeology. When he ran an FTIR analysis on one of the sediment slices, the sample’s infrared signature showed that the cave material had been heated to between 750 and 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. That was just right for a small fire made of twigs and grasses.

When the team announced its findings in April 2012, it added fuel to a controversy that’s been smoldering since 1999. That year, influential primatologist Richard Wrangham proposed a theory of human origins called the “cooking hypothesis.” Wrangham aimed to fill a gap in the story of how early hominins like Australopithecus — essentially, apes that walked upright — evolved into modern Homo sapiens. Evolutionary science shows that our distant progenitors became bipedal 6 million to 7 million years ago. Archaeologists believe early hominins evolved bigger brains as they walked, took up hunting and developed more complex social structures. That process led to the emergence of Homo habilis, the first creature generally regarded as human, 2.3 million years ago. Yet H. habilis ’ brain was only moderately larger than Australopithecus’, and its body retained many apelike features. No one knows why, just 500,000 years later, a radically more advanced species — Homo erectus — emerged. Its brain was up to twice the size of its predecessor’s, its teeth were much smaller, and its body was quite similar to ours.

Wrangham credits the transformation to the harnessing of fire. Cooking food, he argues, allowed for easier chewing and digestion, making extra calories available to fuel energy-hungry brains. Firelight could ward off nighttime predators, allowing hominins to sleep on the ground, or in caves, instead of in trees. No longer needing huge choppers, heavy-duty guts or a branch swinger’s arms and shoulders, they could instead grow mega-craniums. The altered anatomy of H. erectus , Wrangham wrote, indicates that these beings, like us, were “creatures of flame.”

There was one major problem with this hypothesis, however: Proving it would require evidence of controlled fire from at least 1.8 million years ago, when the first H. erectus appeared.

The clues indicating early use of fire tend to be subtle it’s easy to miss them, but it’s also easy to see them when they’re not really there. What looks like charring on a rock or bone, for example, often turns out to be staining from minerals or fungus. And high-tech analytic techniques don’t always banish the ambiguity.

In recent decades, a number of sites have vied for the title of earliest human-controlled fire. At Koobi Fora and Chesowanja, both in Kenya, small patches of reddened soil were found in areas containing stone tools up to 1.5 million years old. To try to prove that Early Stone Age campfires caused the discoloration, researchers in the 1980s and ’90s used techniques such as magnetic susceptibility analysis and thermoluminescence dating. The first tool detects burned earth by gauging fluctuations in its magnetic field the second determines how long ago an object was heated by measuring the photons it emits when baked in a lab. Although these methods showed that burning had occurred, the evidence is simply too sparse to convince most archaeologists that humans — not wildfires or lightning — were responsible.

Another promising site is a South African cave called Swartkrans, where archaeologists in the ’80s found burned bones in a section dating between 1 million and 1.5 million years ago. In 2004, Williams College chemist Anne Skinner analyzed the bones using electron spin resonance, which estimates the temperature to which an artifact has been heated by measuring molecular fragments called free radicals. She determined that the bones had reached at least 900 degrees — too hot for most wildfires, but consistent with a campfire. But since the cave has a gaping mouth and a downward-sloping floor, naysayers argue that the objects might have washed in later after being burned outside.

Until the Wonderwerk Cave find, Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, a lakeside site in Israel, was considered to have the oldest generally accepted evidence of human-controlled fire. There, a team of scientists found traces of numerous hearths dating to between 690,000 and 790,000 years ago. A wide range of clues made this site convincing, including isolated clusters of burned flint, as if toolmakers had been knapping hand axes by several firesides. The team also found fragments of burned fruit, grain and wood scattered about.

Then came Wonderwerk. The ash-filled sediment that Goldberg and Berna found came from a spot approximately 100 feet from the entrance to the tunnel-like cave, too far to have been swept in by the elements. The team also found circular chips of fractured stone known as pot-lid flakes — telltale signs of fire — in the same area. These clues turned up throughout the million-year-old layer of sediment, indicating that fires had burned repeatedly at the site.

Does that mean fire drove the evolution of H. erectus ? Is the cooking hypothesis correct? The occupants who left these ashes at Wonderwerk lived nearly a million years after the emergence of H. erectus . Goldberg and Berna point out that it’s unclear whether the cave’s inhabitants knew how to start a fire from scratch or depended on flames harvested from grass fires outside the cave. If they were eating barbecue, it may have been only an occasional luxury. Whether that could have had an impact on human development remains an open question.

Finding the answers will require more digging. At Wonderwerk, team members plan to probe deeper, analyzing sediments up to 1.8 million years old, for evidence of fire. And they are using their cutting-edge detection methods at other early H. erectus sites as well. “If you don’t look, you’re not going to find it,” Goldberg says.


What's in a name?

While many scientists laud the research for its thoroughness, defining a species from just 13 small bones and teeth is tricky. Though the scientists attempted to extract DNA, they were unsuccessful, as is common for samples that have stewed for millennia in the heat and humidity of tropical locales.

The small stature of H. luzonensis could also cause some traits of the bones to appear more primitive than they truly are, says John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in the study. This muddles comparisons of this species to other known hominins. While there are compelling features, and he thinks the case for a new species is reasonable, his overall take is: “I really wish there were more bones.”

Other researchers are more confident in holding up H. luzonensis as a new species.

“The discovery team has done a very meticulous and commendable job describing these new fossils, and their naming of a new species, in my opinion, is valid,” Griffith University archaeologist Adam Brumm, an expert on H. floresiensis who wasn't involved with the study, says in an email. “This is a truly sensational finding.”

Lead study author Florent Détroit, a lecturer at France's National Museum of Natural History, adds that “species” are human-made categories that aim to clarify evolutionary history, not necessarily hard-and-fast biological realities.

“[If] in the future, colleagues are able to show that we were wrong because the fossils can enter one of the already known hominin species, we will just lump it and forget about it, but in the meantime, I am convinced it is the way we had to do it,” he says via email.


New Study Refutes Theory of How Humans Populated North America

Archaeological studies have found that human colonization of North America by the so-called Clovis culture dates back more than 13,000 years ago, and recent archaeological evidence suggests that people could have been on the continent 14,700 years ago𠅊nd possibly even several millennia before that. The conventional thought has been that the first migrants who populated the North American continent arrived across an ancient land bridge from Asia once the enormous Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets receded to produce a passable corridor nearly 1,000 miles long that emerged east of the Rocky Mountains in present-day Canada.

Map outlining the opening of the human migration routes in North America. (Credit: Mikkel Winther Pedersen)

Evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev, however, believed there was one aspect of the conventional theory that required further investigation. “What nobody has looked at is when the corridor became biologically viable,” says Willerslev, director of the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen. “When could they actually have survived the long and difficult journey through it?”

A pioneer in the study of ancient DNA who led the first successful sequencing of an ancient human genome, Willerslev specializes in extracting ancient plant and mammal DNA from sediments to reconstruct ancient history. According to a recent profile in the New York Times, “Willerslev and his colleagues have published a series of studies that have fundamentally changed how we think about human history,” and a new study published in the journal Nature co-authored by Willerslev may lead to a rethinking of how Ice-Age humans first arrived in North America.

The study’s international team of researchers travelled in the dead of winter to the Peace River basin in western Canada, a spot that based on geological evidence was among the last segments along the 1,000-mile corridor to become free of ice and passable. At this crucial chokepoint along the migration path the research team took nine sediment cores from the bottoms of British Columbia’s Charlie Lake and Alberta’s Spring Lake, remnants of a glacial lake that formed as the Laurentide Ice Sheet began to retreat between 15,000 and 13,500 years ago.

Illustration of North America and Greenland with areas covered in ice highlighted in red, land bridge in purple, c. 15,000 years ago. (Credit: Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images)

After examining radiocarbon dates, pollen, macro-fossils and DNA from the lake sediment cores, the researchers found that the corridor’s chokepoint was not 𠇋iologically viable” to have sustained humans on the arduous journey until 12,600 years ago�nturies after people were known to have been in North America. Willerslev’s team found that until that time the bottleneck area lacked the basic necessities for survival, such as wood for fuel and tools and game animals to be killed for sustenance by hunter-gatherers.

From the core samples, the researchers discovered that steppe vegetation first began to appear in the region 12,600 years ago followed quickly by the arrival of animals such as bison, wooly mammoths, jackrabbits and voles. Around 11,500 years ago there was a transition to a more densely populated landscape with trees, fish such as pike and perch and animals including moose and elk.


Archaeological excavations indicate that the first humans settled the area as early as 9,000 years ago. The area was abandoned, however, possibly because the warming climate of the region lead to the local extinction of many larger game species upon which the early inhabitants depended for food.

A second wave of inhabitants entered the region approximately 3,000 years ago and left behind more advanced hunting implements such as bows and arrows. The remains of approximately 8,000 such early encampments have been found throughout the city. The region has probably remained continually inhabited from that time.

By the time of the arrival of Europeans, the Lenape were cultivating fields of vegetation through the slash and burn technique. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] This extended the productive life of planted fields. They also harvested vast quantities of fish and shellfish from the bays of the area [7] and, in southern New Jersey, harvested clams year-round. [8] The success of these methods allowed the inhabitants to maintain a larger population than nomadic hunter-gatherers elsewhere could support. Scholars have estimated that at the time of European settlement, there may have been about 15,000 Lenape total in approximately 80 settlement sites around much of the New York City area, alone. [9] : 5–6 In 1524 Lenape in canoes met Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European explorer to enter New York Harbor, who called the area New Angoulême to honor his patron, King Francis I of France. [10]

In 1613, the Dutch established a trading post on the western shore of Manhattan Island. Jan Rodrigues was the first documented non-native to live on Manhattan Island. [11]

In 1614 the New Netherland company was established, and consequently they settled a second fur trading post in what is today Albany, called Fort Nassau. It was not until 1623, however, that the Dutch interests in the area were other than commercial, and under the auspices of the newly formed Dutch West India Company they built Fort Amsterdam in 1624, a crude fortification that stood on the location of the present Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House on Bowling Green. The fort was designed mainly to protect the company's trading operations further upriver from attack by other European powers. Within a year, a small settlement, called New Amsterdam had grown around the fort, with a population that included mostly the garrison of company troops, as well as a contingent of Walloon, French and Flemish Huguenot families who were brought in primarily to farm the nearby land of lower Manhattan and supply the company operations with food. Sarah Rapalje (b.1625) was the first European born in the future New York City. Later in 1626, Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island and Staten Island from native people in exchange for trade goods. [12]

The Dutch took heavy advantage of the natives reliance on wampum as a trading medium by exchanging cheap European-made metal tools for beaver pelts. By using such tools, the natives greatly increased the rate of production of wampum, debasing its value for trade. Lenape men abandoned hunting and fishing for food in favor of beaver trapping. Moreover, the Dutch began manufacturing their own wampum with superior tools in order to further dominate the trading network among themselves and the natives (a practice undertaken by the settlers in New England as well). As a result of this increase, beavers were largely trapped out in the Five Boroughs within two decades, leaving the Lenape largely dependent on the Dutch. As a result, the native population declined drastically throughout the 17th century through a combination of disease, starvation, and outward migration.

As the beaver trade shifted to Upstate New York, New Amsterdam became an increasingly important trading hub for the coast of North America. Since New Netherland was a trading operation and not viewed as colonization enterprise for transplanting Dutch culture, the directors of New Netherland were largely unconcerned with the ethnic and racial balance of the community. The economic activity brought in a wide variety of ethnic groups to the fledgling city during the 17th century, including Spanish, Jews, and Africans, some of them as slaves.

The Dutch origins can still be seen in many names in New York City, such as Coney Island (from "Konijnen Eiland" – Dutch for "Rabbit Island"), Bowery from bouwerij (modern Dutch boerderij = "farm"), Brooklyn (from Breukelen), Harlem from Haarlem (formalized in 1658 as Nieuw Haarlem), Greenwich Village (from Greenwijck, meaning "pine wood quarter"), Flushing (from Vlissingen) and Staten Island (from "Staaten Eylandt").

Willem Kieft became director general in 1638 but five years later was embroiled in Kieft's War against the Indians. [13] The Pavonia Massacre, across the Hudson River in present-day Jersey City resulted in the death of eighty natives in February 1643. Following the massacre, eleven Algonquian tribes joined forces and nearly defeated the Dutch. Holland sent additional forces to the aid of Kieft, which took part in the overwhelming defeat of the Native Americans, leading to a peace treaty on August 29, 1645, to end the war. [14]

Manhattan Island was in some measure self-selected as a future metropolis by its extraordinary natural harbor formed by New York Bay (actually the drowned lower river valley of the Hudson River, enclosed by glacial moraines), the East River (actually a tidal strait) and the Hudson River, all of which are confluent at the southern tip, from which all later development spread. Also of prime importance was the presence of deep fresh water aquifers near the southern tip, especially the Collect Pond, and an unusually varied geography ranging from marshland to large outcrops of Manhattan schist, a hard metamorphic rock that is ideal for foundations of large buildings.

In 1664, English ships entered Gravesend Bay in modern Brooklyn, and troops marched to capture the ferry across the East River to the city, with minimal resistance: the governor at the time, Peter Stuyvesant, was unpopular with the residents of the city. Articles of Capitulation 1664 were drawn up, the Dutch West India Company's colors were struck on September 8, 1664, and the soldiers of the garrison marched to the East River for the trip home to the Netherlands. The date of 1664 appeared on New York City's corporate seal until 1975, when the date was changed to 1625 to reflect the year of Dutch incorporation as a city and to incidentally allow New York to celebrate its 350th anniversary just 11 years after its 300th.

The English renamed the colony New York, after the king's brother James, Duke of York and on June 12, 1665, appointed Thomas Willett the first of the mayors of New York. The city grew northward, remaining the largest and most important city in the colony of New York.


Origins of Indonesian Hobbits finally revealed

The most comprehensive study on the bones of Homo floresiensis, a species of tiny human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, has found that they most likely evolved from an ancestor in Africa and not from Homo erectus as has been widely believed.

The study by The Australian National University (ANU) found Homo floresiensis, dubbed "the hobbits" due to their small stature, were most likely a sister species of Homo habilis -- one of the earliest known species of human found in Africa 1.75 million years ago.

Data from the study concluded there was no evidence for the popular theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, the only other early hominid known to have lived in the region with fossils discovered on the Indonesian mainland of Java.

Study leader Dr Debbie Argue of the ANU School of Archaeology & Anthropology, said the results should help put to rest a debate that has been hotly contested ever since Homo floresiensis was discovered.

"The analyses show that on the family tree, Homo floresiensis was likely a sister species of Homo habilis. It means these two shared a common ancestor," Dr Argue said.

"It's possible that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or the common ancestor moved from Africa then evolved into Homo floresiensis somewhere."

Homo floresiensis is known to have lived on Flores until as recently as 54,000 years ago.

The study was the result of an Australian Research Council grant in 2010 that enabled the researchers to explore where the newly-found species fits in the human evolutionary tree.

Where previous research had focused mostly on the skull and lower jaw, this study used 133 data points ranging across the skull, jaws, teeth, arms, legs and shoulders.

Dr Argue said none of the data supported the theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from Homo erectus.

"We looked at whether Homo floresiensis could be descended from Homo erectus," she said.

"We found that if you try and link them on the family tree, you get a very unsupported result. All the tests say it doesn't fit -- it's just not a viable theory."

Dr Argue said this was supported by the fact that in many features, such as the structure of the jaw, Homo floresiensis was more primitive than Homo erectus.

"Logically, it would be hard to understand how you could have that regression -- why would the jaw of Homo erectus evolve back to the primitive condition we see in Homo floresiensis?"

Dr Argue said the analyses could also support the theory that Homo floresiensis could have branched off earlier in the timeline, more than 1.75 million years ago.

"If this was the case Homo floresiensis would have evolved before the earliest Homo habilis, which would make it very archaic indeed," she said.

Professor Mike Lee of Flinders University and the South Australian Museum, used statistical modeling to analyse the data.

"When we did the analysis there was really clear support for the relationship with Homo habilis. Homo floresiensis occupied a very primitive position on the human evolutionary tree," Professor Lee said.

"We can be 99 per cent sure it's not related to Homo erectus and nearly 100 per cent chance it isn't a malformed Homo sapiens," Professor Lee said.


New Evidence From Earliest Known Human Settlement In The Americas

New evidence from the Monte Verde archaeological site in southern Chile confirms its status as the earliest known human settlement in the Americas and provides additional support for the theory that one early migration route followed the Pacific Coast more than 14,000 years ago.

The study was conducted by a team of anthropologists, geologists and botanists headed by Vanderbilt University's Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Tom Dillehay and was reported in the May 9 issue of the journal Science.

The paper, which includes the first new data reported from the site in 10 years, includes the identification of nine species of seaweed and marine algae recovered from hearths and other areas in the ancient settlement. The seaweed samples were directly dated between 14,220 to 13,980 years ago, confirming that the upper layer of the site, labeled Monte Verde II, was occupied more than 1,000 years earlier than any other reliably dated human settlements in the Americas.

The Monte Verde site was discovered in 1976. It is located in a peat bog about 500 miles south of Santiago and has revealed well-preserved ruins of a small settlement of 20 to 30 people living in a dozen huts along a small creek. A wide variety of food has been found at the site, including extinct species of llama and an elephant-like animal called a gomphothere, shellfish, vegetables and nuts.

In 1979, when Dillehay and his colleagues first reported that the radiocarbon dating of the bones and charcoal found at Monte Verde returned dates of more than 14,000 years before the present, it stirred up a major controversy because the early dates appeared to conflict with other archaeological evidence of the settlement of North America.

Since at least 1900, the prevailing theory had been that human colonization began at the end of the last Ice Age about 13,000 years ago, when groups of big game hunters, called the Clovis culture, followed herds from Siberia to Alaska over a land bridge across the Bering Strait and then gradually spread southward. None of the Clovis artifacts were dated earlier than 13,000 years ago. So having a substantially older human settlement in southern Chile was difficult to reconcile with this view.

It wasn't until 1997 that the controversy was resolved by a prominent group of archaeologists who reviewed the evidence, visited the Monte Verde site and unanimously approved the dating.

Most scholars now believe that people first entered the new world through the Bering land bridge more than 16,000 years ago. After entering Alaska, it is not known whether they colonized the hemisphere by moving down the Pacific coast, by inland routes or both. The general view is that the early immigrants would have spread down the coast much faster than they could move inland because they could exploit familiar coastal resources more readily and get much of their food from the sea. However, evidence to support the coastal migration theory has been particularly hard to find because sea levels at the time were about 200 feet lower than today: As the sea level rose, it would have covered most of the early coastal settlements.

According to Dillehay, the new Monte Verde findings provide additional support for the coastal migration theory but, at the same time, raise the possibility that the process may have been considerably slower than currently envisioned.

At the time it was inhabited, Monte Verde was situated on a small tributary of a large river. It was about 400 feet above sea level and located more than 50 miles from the coast and about 10 miles from a large marine bay. Despite its inland location, the researchers identified a total of nine different species of seaweed and algae in the material collected at the site -- material that the Monte Verdeans must have brought from the coast and the bay. The researchers have also found a variety of other beach or coastal resources, including flat beach pebbles, water plants from brackish estuaries and bitumen.

"Finding seaweed wasn't a surprise, but finding five new species in the abundance that we found them was a surprise," said Dillehay. "There are other coastal resources at the site. The Monte Verdeans were really like beachcombers: The number and frequency of these items suggests very frequent contact with the coast, as if they had a tradition of exploiting coastal resources."

In addition, the scientists have found a number of inland resources, such as the gomphothere meat, in the ancient village. This suggests that the group was moving back and forth between different ecological zones, a process called transhumance.

"It takes time to adapt to these inland resources and then come back out to the coast. The other coastal sites that we have found also show inland contacts. If all the early American groups were following a similar pattern of moving back and forth between inland and coastal areas, then the peopling of the Americas may not have been the blitzkrieg movement to the south that people have presumed, but a much slower and more deliberate process," Dillehay observed.

Members of the research team included Carlos Remirez, Mario Pino and Daniela Pino-Navarro from the Universidad Austral de Chile Michael B. Collins from the University of Texas, Austin and Jack Rossen from Ithaca College.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Cientifico y Tecnológica, the National Geographic Society and the Universidad de Chile.

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