Early Concepts of Disease

For many centuries explanations for disease were based not on science, but on religion, superstition, and myth. Hunter-Gatherers Ten thousand years ago humans were hunter-gatherers. They had a short life span, but not because of epidemics; their primary problem was just finding enough food to eat. They lived and traveled in small groups and hunted[…]

Ancient Diseases: Traces of Suffering in the Bones

Diseases have often influenced historical events, but they are neglected in the documentation of these events. Human remains used to be considered a nuisance in archaeological excavations. Today they are considered a valuable source of information to understand the ways of life of prehistoric populations and their conditions. A short distance from what is now[…]

Prehistoric and Ancient Native American Tools and Technology in Iowa

Exploring archery technology, the production of bone tools and ground stone tools, flintknapping, and prehistoric pottery. By Tim WeitzelHistoric Preservation Specialist Overview Paleoindian At the end of the last Ice Age, Iowa had a cool, wet climate and widespread coniferous forests. Paleoindian peoples (11,000_8500 BC) lived in small, highly mobile bands and hunted large game animals. Their tools[…]

Prehistoric Oldowan Tools

2.6-million-year-old tools from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Introduction The appearance of simple stone tools, widely known as Oldowan tools or the Oldowan industry, marked the beginning of our technological revolution. To our knowledge, these artifacts appeared around 2.6 million years ago in the savannahs of Eastern Africa. Today, the Oldowan is still the earliest, universally acknowledged stone tool[…]

Evolution and an Ancient ‘Arms Race’ for Resources

Larger brains lead to a broader social network. Human society rewards individuals who can handle complex social interactions and control large groups of people. Extreme examples of this power are comedians who can fill stadiums entertaining 70,000 people, or politicians who, through their rhetoric and charm, convince millions of us to vote for them so[…]

Immense Neolithic Ring Discovered Near Stonehenge

The mystery near and around Stonehenge keeps growing. The latest revelation is the discovery of a ring of at least 20 prehistoric shafts about 2 miles from the famous Neolithic site of immense upright stones, according to an announcement from the University of Bradford. Archaeologists say the “astonishing” shafts in Durrington Walls date back to[…]

The Archaeological Record and Epidemics Since the Prehistoric World

People have lived with infectious disease throughout the millennia, with culture and biology influencing each other. Introduction The previous pandemics to which people often compare COVID-19 – the influenza pandemic of 1918, the Black Death bubonic plague (1342-1353), the Justinian plague (541-542) – don’t seem that long ago to archaeologists. We’re used to thinking about[…]

Kurgans: Ancient Burial Mounds of Scythian Elites in the Eurasian Steppe

These elite burial monuments are not only important for rich funerary goods but also for the complex structure of the kurgans themselves. Introduction This article is dedicated to the phenomena called ‘kurgans’, the monumental burial mounds of riding nomads of the Scythian period. Kurgans were first investigated in southern Ukraine and southern Russia, the core[…]

Prehistoric Italian Rock Drawings of Valcamonica

The first appearance of these drawings can be dated back to the age of Epipaleolithic (20000-1000 BP). Introduction The rock drawings of Valcamonica are prehistoric petroglyphs carved in the glacier-polished, grey-purple Permian sandstone of the Camonica valley that extends for 90 km in the Italian provinces of Brescia and Bergamo in Lombardy. The name of[…]

Prehistoric Human Footprints: A Snapshot of Ancient Human Behavior

The footprints of over 20 different prehistoric people show possible evidence for sexual division of labor in this ancient community. Introduction When it comes to reconstructing how ancient creatures lived, palaeontologists like us are as much detectives as we are scientists. We’re used to partial evidence, dead ends and red herrings. It’s especially hard to[…]

Neanderthals, String, and Sophisticated Tools

There is growing evidence that our closest extinct human relative wasn’t as dumb as scientists had long assumed. Tiny bits of twisted plant fibers found on an ancient stone tool suggest that Neanderthals were able to make and use sophisticated cords like string and rope. Cords made from twisted fibers are so ubiquitous today that[…]

An Overview of the Origins of Stonehenge

It was built in five constructional stages spanning a period from around 3000 to 1500 BCE. Stonehenge represents one of Britain’s most important and enigmatic archaeological sites. Beginning in Neolithic times and modified during the Bronze Age it currently comprises a number of incomplete stone circles and stone horseshoes, built in five constructional stages spanning[…]

An Overview of Prehistoric Ancestor Cults

Some of the burials in the Palaeolithic period raise the possibility of very early forms of ancestor cults. Introduction Ancestor cults stem from the belief that human beings are made up of two parts: the body and the spirit. Dead ancestors are considered divine and rituals are organised to respect their memory and invoke the[…]

A Hole in the Head: Trephination in Prehistoric and Ancient Times

Evidence for trephination occurs from the Neolithic period onwards. Introduction Trephination (also known as trepanning or burr holing) is a surgical intervention where a hole is drilled, incised or scraped into the skull using simple surgical tools. In drilling into the skull and removing a piece of the bone, the dura mater is exposed without[…]

Human Diseases May Have Contributed to the Fate of Neanderthals

Stomach ulcers, herpes, ringworm and other tropical diseases may have all contributed to the Neanderthal demise. By Jason Daley In the last decade, researchers have realized that the interactions between ancient humans and Neanderthals were much more complicated than previously believed. Not only did Homo sapiens compete with Neanderthals for resources, we extensively interbred with[…]

Prehistoric Bird Skull Found in Amber Was Tiny Predator in Time of Giant Dinosaurs

The skull of Oculudentavis provides new clues into the transition from dinosaurs to birds and may be smallest of either ever found. Introduction In 2016, our colleague Xing Lida held up a small piece of polished, deeply yellow amber. As sunlight shone through the ancient resin, Lida saw the outline of a pristinely preserved, amazingly[…]

Phantasmagoria Dinosauria: An Overview of Earth’s Mesozoic Rulers

The taxon Dinosauria was formally named by the English palaeontologist Richard Owen in 1842. Introduction Dinosaurs are an extinct, diverse, largely terrestrial group of vertebrate animals of the Sauropsid orders Saurischia (lizard-hipped) and Ornithischia (bird-hipped) and were the dominant land reptiles for over 160 million years, during the Mesozoic era. Dinosaurs first appeared approximately 230[…]

The Geological History of Earth

The geological history of the Earth can be broadly classified into two periods: the Precambrian supereon and the Phanerozoic eon. Introduction The geological history of Earth began 4.567 billion years ago, when the planets of the Solar System were formed out of the solar nebula, a disk-shaped mass of dust and gas left over from the formation[…]

The Age of the Earth

The Earth has been through many changes during its existence. Introduction Modern geologists and geophysicists consider the age of Earth to be around 4.54 billion years (4.54×109 years).[1] This age has been determined by radiometric age dating of meteorite material[2] and is consistent with the ages of the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples. Following the[…]

New Dinosaur Relative Was ‘King’ of Antarctica

The discovery of a new species related to dinosaurs, an iguana-sized reptile whose genus name, Antarctanax, means “Antarctic king.” Introduction Antarctica wasn’t always a frozen wasteland. About 250 million years ago, it was covered in forests and rivers, and the temperature rarely dipped below freezing. It was also home to diverse wildlife, including early relatives[…]

Examining the Fossil Record and Prehistoric Life in Antarctica

It is clear that a major extinction event occurred around Antarctica in the period 2–3 million years ago. Introduction Life has been on earth for about 3.5 billion years. Until about 575 million years ago, all life was microscopic plant life. Before that time, life in the Antarctic was very different from the way it[…]

A Brief Overview of the Neolithic Age

People were becoming more aware of their inter-dependence, of social obligations, and of loyalties beyond the immediate family. Introduction The Neolithic (or “New” Stone Age) was a period in the development of human technology that is traditionally the last part of the Stone Age. The name was invented by John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury (1834-1913)[…]

A Brief Overview of the Paleolithic Age

During this period major climatic and other changes occurred, affecting the evolution of humans. Introduction The Paleolithic Age, also known as the Stone Age, encompasses the first widespread use of technology—as humans progressed from simpler to more complex developmental stages—and the spread of humanity from the savannas of East Africa to the rest of the[…]

Human Origins and ‘Ghost’ DNA in West Africans

Our own species — Homo sapiens — lived alongside other groups that split off from the same genetic family tree at different times. About 50,000 years ago, ancient humans in what is now West Africa apparently procreated with another group of ancient humans that scientists didn’t know existed. There aren’t any bones or ancient DNA[…]

Investigating Homo Floresiensis and the Myth of the Ebu Gogo

According to folklore, such tiny, hairy people as her once roamed the tropical forests alongside modern humans. An ancient legend from the Indonesian island of Flores speaks of a mysterious, wild grandmother of the forest who eats everything: the ‘ebu gogo’. According to folklore, such tiny, hairy people as her once roamed the tropical forests[…]

Ditsong’s Dioramas: Putting a Body on a Fossil and a Fossil in a Narrative

Dioramas have a powerful explanatory power as tangible reconstructions. Introduction His eyes were vacant—glassy, even. Blood flowed from his head and his hands dragged next to him, fingers rolling lifelessly in the brown African dirt. His mouth was frozen open in terror, his head firmly clenched between a leopard’s jaws. The cat’s snarl was practically[…]

Primate Activity with Stones Hints at How Human Tool Use Evolved

Studying animal tooling can provide clues to the mysteries of human evolution. Human beings used to be defined as “the tool-maker” species. But the uniqueness of this description was challenged in the 1960s when Dr. Jane Goodall discovered that chimpanzees will pick and modify grass stems to use to collect termites. Her observations called into[…]

Ancient ‘Gum’ Reveals 5,000-Year-Old DNA

Researchers have extracted a complete ancient human genome from birch pitch, a 5,700-year-old type of ancient “chewing gum”. By Cecelie Krabbe Introduction The researchers believe it marks the first time that anyone has extracted an entire ancient human genome from anything other than human bones. “It is amazing to have gotten a complete ancient human[…]

44,000-Year-Old Indonesian Cave Painting Is Rewriting the History of Art

These works had been known for years by locals on the island of Sulawesi, but it was assumed they weren’t that old. Scientists say they have found the oldest known figurative painting, in a cave in Indonesia. And the stunning scene of a hunting party, painted some 44,000 years ago, is helping to rewrite the[…]

Neanderthal Bones: Signs of Their Sex Lives

Lately, much news from the field of paleoarchaeology and anthropology has centered on Neanderthal bedfellows. By Dr. Anna GoldfieldArchaeologist In a cave tucked into the limestone hills of the Asturias region of Spain, there lie the remains of a group of 13 Neanderthals that date to between 50,600 and 47,300 years ago. The site is[…]