Who Were the Mysterious Neolithic People That Enabled the Rise of Ancient Egypt?

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Who Were the Mysterious Neolithic People That Enabled the Rise of Ancient Egypt?

To many, ancient Egypt is synonymous with the pharaohs and pyramids of the Dynastic period starting about 3,100BC. Yet long before that, about 9,300-4,000BC, enigmatic Neolithic peoples flourished. Indeed, it was the lifestyles and cultural innovations of these peoples that provided the very foundation for the advanced civilisations to come.

But who were they? As it turns out, they haven’t actually been studied much, at least relative to their successors. But our excavations of six burial sites – with some of the analyses recently published – have now provided important insights into their mysterious ways of life.

One reason why we know so little about Neolithic Egypt is that the sites are often inaccessible, lying beneath the Nile’s former flood plain or in outlying deserts.

Ancient DNA Changes Everything We Know About The Evolution of Elephants

A study by Meyer et al reconfigures the elephant family tree, placing the straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) closer to the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), than to the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), which was once thought to be its closest living relative. Image credit: Asier Larramendi Eskorza / Julie McMahon.

A study by Meyer et al reconfigures the elephant family tree, placing the straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) closer to the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis), than to the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), which was once thought to be its closest living relative. Image credit: Asier Larramendi Eskorza / Julie McMahon.

Ancient DNA Changes Everything We Know About The Evolution of Elephants

By Julien Benoit, Postdoc in Vertebrate Palaeontology, University of the Witwatersrand. First published on The Conversation Africa.

For a long time, zoologists assumed that there were only two species of elephant: one Asian and one African. Then genetic analyses suggested that the African Elephant could be divided into two distinct species, the African Forest and African Savannah elephants.

Now a new elephant has been added to the mix. The palaeoloxodon antiquus has been extinct for 120 000 years. This elephant roamed Europe and western Asia during the last ice age, about 400 000 years ago. A study of its DNA shows that this supposedly European animal is actually the African forest elephants’ closest relative. Another study by the same team found that at a genetic level, it may even have more in common with the modern African forest elephant than the African savannah elephant.

This study changes everything we thought we knew about the evolutionary history and ancestry of modern elephants and their closest relatives. It also shows that the African elephant’s lineage was not confined to Africa; the animals actually went out of the continent, which we didn’t know before. It roamed Europe and – through a lot of interbreeding – left its genetic mark far from its original stomping grounds.

The new find, based on DNA from fossils found in Germany, may also shed light on a DNA discrepancy that has puzzled scientists for some time.

Richard Leakey Plans Libeskind-Designed 'Cathedra' Honoring Human Evolution In Lake Turkana

Richard Leakey Plans Libeskind-Designed 'Cathedra' Honoring Human Evolution In Lake Turkana

Renowned Kenyan paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey has commissioned a new museum in the desert near Lake Turkana. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, 'the cathedra' will be constructed at 400 miles north of Kenya's capital in Nairobi,  near the border with Ethiopia. 

It's in this region that the Leakey family and their decades old teams have uncovered many of the best-preserved fossils of humanity's ancient ancestors, some dated to 4 million years ago.

Lake Turkana is home to all the inspirations behind Anne of Carversville's Jewelry & Gift Collection, including Ethiopia's Omo Valley people, who live at the northern tip of the lake. It's the world's largest permanent desert lake and by volume the world's fourth-largest salt lake. 

We have many connections to LakeTurkana and Africa's Rift Valley both psychically and in our commitment to elephant conservation and the use of woolly mammoth bones in our jewelry. It's believed that woolly mammoths migrated out of the Rift Valley towards cooler climates and reliable water sources. 

Richard Leakey, the 72-year-old Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) chairman took Polish-American designer Daniel Libeskind to Lake Turkana to explore the project, now that financing has been secured for the design phase of the project. "Can we do something here that will absolutely stand-alone and wow?" Leakey asked the master planner of New York's post-September 11 World Trade Center redevelopment.

His vision is for a museum that is a "very creative" experience and not a fancy house for fossils. A museum pedigree is reason for eliminating people, not recruiting them for the project. The Kenyan powerhouse wants people from Silicon Valley or creative advertising professionals. "Why don't we have a room you come in to wearing a 3D headset and sit quietly in the middle of a band of Homo erectus moving all around you? That's much more interesting than a skeleton of Turkana Boy behind glass."

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Lascaux 4, Full-Size Replica Of Ancient Cave Paintings, Opens In Dordogne, France

Lascaux 4, Full-Size Replica Of Ancient Cave Paintings, Opens In Dordogne, France

Often labeled the 'Sistine Chapel of prehistory', France's Lascaux cave paintings may be up to 20,000 years old. Included as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1979, the public has been banned from visiting the Lascaux caves since 1963. The caves were accidentally discovered by a group of boys in 1940, and for a period of time, visitors did tour the site. Archaeologists and art historians then discovered that the amount of carbon dioxide being exhaled by humans caused major damage to the integrity of the paintings, necessitating that they be closed from the general public forever. 

In a wonderful gift to the worldwide public, Lascaux 4, a full-size replica of the ancient cave paintings has opened in the Dordogne region of France. The whole Lascaux cave will be the essential part of Montignac-Lascaux Parietal Art international Centre, devoted to using the latest image technology and virtual mediation to recreate the experience of actually walking through the Lascaux caves.

Researchers Reveal Extinction of St Paul Island Woolly Mammoths

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Researchers Reveal Extinction of St Paul Island Woolly Mammoths | Shop Woolly Mammoth Jewelry

The majority of woolly mammoths have been extinct for a minimum of 10,000-100,000 years. But new research about woolly mammoths living on a remote island off the coast of Alaska are the subject of a scientific investigation by Prof Russell Graham, from Pennsylvania State University. Graham has focused on a group of woolly mammoths that lived on St Paul Island, located in the Bering Sea, for another 4,500 years. 

Scientists have long believed that the woolly mammoths became extinct due to human hunting and environmental connections. It's hoped that some of the research conclusions will have applications to human and animal populations living in areas impacted by climate change.

As the Earth warmed up after the Ice Age, sea levels rose, much as they are today across the globe. Prof Graham believes that as ocean salt water levels rose, available land mass on St Paul Island was reduced, along with necessary for survival freshwater watering holes.