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Discarded ostrich shells provide schedule for the African ancestors

By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media relations

Archeologists have discovered a lot about our ancestors by rummaging through their garbage heaps, which contain pr f of their diet and population levels since the regional flora and fauna changed with time.

One common kitchen scrap in Africa — shells of ostrich eggs — is now helping unscramble the secret of whenever these modifications t k place, providing a timeline for a few for the earliest Homo sapiens who settled right down to utilize marine meals resources over the South African shore significantly more than 100,000 years back.

Geochronologists at the University of Ca, Berkeley, and the Berkeley Geochronology Center (BGC) have developed an approach that makes use of these discards that are ubiquitous precisely date garbage dumps — politely called middens — which are t old become dated by radiocarbon or carbon-14 methods, the conventional for materials like bone tissue and w d that are younger than about 50,000 years.

In a paper published this month within the journal Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, previous UC Berkeley doctoral pupil Elizabeth Niespolo and geochronologist and BGC and connect director Warren Sharp reported using uranium-thorium dating of ostrich eggshells to establish that a midden outside Cape Town, Southern Africa, ended up being deposited between 119,900 and 113,100 years back.

That makes your website, called Ysterfontein 1, the earliest known seashell midden on the planet, and shows that early people were fully adapted to coastal living by about 120,000 years back. This also establishes that three hominid teeth available at your website are on the list of oldest Homo sapiens fossils recovered in southern Africa.

The technique is precise enough for the researchers to convey convincingly that the 12.5-f t-deep pile of mostly marine shells — mussels, mollusks and limpets — intermixed with animal bones and eggshells might have been deposited over a period of less than 2,300 years.

The latest many years already are revising a number of the presumptions archeologists had made concerning the very early Homo sapiens who deposited their trash during the web site, including exactly how their population and foraging strategies changed with changing weather and ocean degree.

“The reason why this might be exciting is this web site wouldn’t are datable by radiocarbon because it is t old,” Niespolo said, noting there are much more such sites around Africa, in specific the coastal areas of South Africa.

“Almost all this sort of site have ostrich eggshells, therefore now about foraging and human behavior in the past,” she added that we have this technique, there is this potential to go and revisit these sites and use this approach to date them more precisely and more accurately, and more importantly, find out if they are the same age as Ysterfontein or older or younger, and what that tells us.

Because ostrich eggshells are ubiquitous in African middens — the eggs certainly are a rich source of protein, equal to about 20 chicken eggs — they are a attractive target for geochronologists. But applying dating that is uranium-thorium also called uranium series — to ostrich shells has been beset by numerous uncertainties.

“The past work to date eggshells with uranium series has been actually hit and skip, and mostly miss,” Niespolo said.

Precision dating pushed back again to 500,000 years ago

Other methods applicable to web sites avove the age of 50,000 years, such as luminescence dating, are less precise — often by way of a factor of 3 or more — and cannot be performed on archival materials available in museums, Sharp stated.

The scientists believe that uranium-thorium relationship can provide ages for ostrich eggshells because old as 500,000 years, expanding accurate dating of middens along with other archeological web sites approximately 10 times further into the past.

“This may be the first posted body of data that shows that individuals will get results www.datingmentor.org/germany-herpes-dating that are really coherent things well away from radiocarbon range, around 120,000 years ago in this case,” said Sharp, who specializes in using uranium-thorium dating to fix issues in paleoclimate and tectonics as well as archeology. “It is showing that these eggshells maintain their intact uranium-series systems and provide reliable many years further back in its history than had been demonstrated before.”

“The brand new times on ostrich eggshell and excellent faunal preservation make Ysterfontein 1 the as-yet most readily useful dated multi-stratified Middle rock Age shell midden in the South African west coast,” stated co-author Graham Avery, an archeoz logist and retired researcher with all the Iziko South African Museum. “Further application of this novel method that is dating where ostrich eggshell fragments can be found, will strengthen chronological control in nearby center Stone Age web sites, such as Hoedjiespunt and water Harvest, that have comparable faunal and lithic assemblages, as well as others in the southern Cape coast.”

The first human settlements?

Ysterfontein 1 is one of approximately a dozen shell middens scattered over the eastern and western coasts of Western Cape Province, near Cape Town. Excavated in the very early 2000s, it really is considered A middle rock Age site founded across the time that Homo sapiens were developing behaviors that are complex as territoriality and intergroup competition, in addition to c peration among non-kin teams. These modifications can be because of the fact that these groups were transitioning from hunter-gatherers to settled populations, because of stable resources of top-notch protein — shellfish and marine animals — from the sea.

So far, the ages of center Stone Age internet sites like Ysterfontein 1 have already been uncertain by about 10%, making contrast among Middle Stone Age web sites and with Later rock Age sites difficult. The latest dates, by having a accuracy of approximately 2% to 3%, place the website within the context of well-documented alterations in international environment it was occupied right after the last period that is interglacial whenever sea degree is at a higher, possibly 8 meters (26 legs) higher than today. Water degree dropped rapidly through the occupation of this site — the shoreline retreated up to 2 kilometers in those times — but the accumulation of shells continued steadily, implying that the inhabitants found approaches to accommodate the changing distribution of marine f d resources to maintain their favored diet.

The research additionally demonstrates that the Ysterfontein 1 shell midden accumulated rapidly — possibly about 1 meter (3 feet) any 1,000 years -— implying that center Stone Age people over the southern African coastline made substantial usage of marine resources, just like individuals did through the subsequently Stone Age, and suggesting that effective marine foraging strategies developed early.

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