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Ancient tribal language becomes extinct as last speaker dies

February 4, 2010

The last speaker of an ancient tribal language has died in the Andaman Islands, breaking a 65,000-year link to one of the world’s oldest cultures.

Boa Sr, who lived through the 2004 tsunami, the Japanese occupation and diseases brought by British settlers, was the last native of the island chain who was fluent in Bo.

Taking its name from a now-extinct tribe, Bo is one of the 10 Great Andamanese languages, which are thought to date back to pre-Neolithic human settlement of south-east Asia.

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California wants to register as historical resources the space junk left behind by the Apollo 11 crew.

February 2, 2010

When the Apollo 11 astronauts blasted off from the moon, they left behind not just the small steps of men but a giant pile of equipment and junk for all of mankind.

Some of the 5,000 pounds of stuff Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin abandoned at Tranquility Base was purposeful: a seismic detector to record moonquakes and meteorite impacts; a laser-reflection device to make precise distance measurements between Earth and the moon; a U.S. flag and commemorative plaque. Some was unavoidable: Apollo 11′s lunar module descent stage wasn’t designed to be carted back home, for instance.

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Silver coin dating to 211 BC is oldest piece of Roman money ever found in Britain

January 31, 2010

A 2,221-year-old silver coin dug up as part of a hoard is the oldest piece of Roman money ever found in Britain.
Dating from 211 BC and found near the Leicestershire village of Hallaton, the coin was uncovered with 5,000 other coins, a helmet and a decorated bowl.

Unearthed in 2000 by a metal detectorist, staff at the nearby Harborough Museum have only just realised its significance.

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Evidence of Stone Age amputation forces rethink over history of surgery

January 26, 2010

The surgeon was dressed in a goat or sheep skin and used a sharpened stone to amputate the arm of his patient.

The operating theatre was not exactly Harley Street — more probably a wooden shelter — but the intervention was a success, and it has shed light on the medical talents of our Stone Age ancestors.

Scientists unearthed evidence of the surgery during work on an Early Neolithic tomb discovered at Buthiers-Boulancourt, about 40 miles (65km) south of Paris. They found that a remarkable degree of medical knowledge had been used to remove the left forearm of an elderly man about 6,900 years ago — suggesting that the true Flintstones were more developed than previously thought.

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Pashtun clue to lost tribes of Israel

January 22, 2010

Israel is to fund a rare genetic study to determine whether there is a link between the lost tribes of Israel and the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.

Historical and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests a connection, but definitive scientific proof has never been found. Some leading Israeli anthropologists believe that, of all the many groups in the world who claim a connection to the 10 lost tribes, the Pashtuns, or Pathans, have the most compelling case. Paradoxically it is from the Pashtuns that the ultra-conservative Islamic Taliban movement in Afghanistan emerged. Pashtuns themselves sometimes talk of their Israelite connection, but show few signs of sympathy with, or any wish to migrate to, the modern Israeli state.

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Most British men are descended from ancient farmers

January 20, 2010

Most men in Britain are descended from the first farmers to migrate across Europe from the Near East 10,000 years ago, scientists say.

Ancient farmers left their genetic mark on modern males by breeding more successfully than indigenous hunter-gatherer men as they made their way west, a study has found.

As a result, more than 60% of British men, and nearly all of those in Ireland, can trace their Y chromosome back to the agricultural revolution, or more precisely the sexual success of the men behind it.

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Radiocarbon Daters Tune Up Their Time Machine

January 18, 2010

It took nearly 30 years and a lot of heated debate, but a team of researchers has finally produced what archaeologists, geologists, and other scientists have long been waiting for: a calibration curve that allows radiocarbon dating to achieve its full potential. The new curve, which now extends back 50,000 years, could help researchers work out key questions in human evolution, such as the effect of climate change on human adaptation and migrations.

The basic principle of radiocarbon dating is fairly simple. Plants and animals absorb trace amounts of radioactive carbon-14 from carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere while they are alive but stop doing so when they die. The steady decay of carbon-14 from archaeological and geological samples ticks away like a clock, and the amount of radioactive carbon left in the sample gives a reproducible indication of how old it is. Most experts consider the technical limit of radiocarbon dating to be about 50,000 years, after which there is too little carbon-14 left to measure accurately.

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