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Showing posts from May, 2013

Denisova and aDNA: an embarrassment of riches

As usual, I'm being a bit naughty- blogging when I have a ton of other work that needs attention. But I have to write about thoughts spilling out of my head following a new article in Science (paywall) pointed out by Ross Barnett (@DeepFriedDna). Also, it's my birthday, so I'll blog if I want to ;-)
OK, well this paper is a tantalising write-up of new results on the hominins at Denisova Cave, Altai, not yet published (but presented yesterday at a conference) by Svante Pääbo and team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Denisova hit the news big time in 2008 when it was announced that there was a "hominin X" there- a species in 2010 certainly identified as something different by DNA analysis of a tiny finger tip, and dubbed "Denisovans". I love this site because it's making everyone sit up, rub their eyes and take a look at the New World of human evolution- surprises wherever we look, even kicks in our collective acade…

Goodness gracious, great Blazing Trowels!

So today, after just over a week of frantic planning following a moment's madness by myself and three colleagues on Twitter- the blog TrowelBlazers is launching at 3pm!

Tori Herridge, Brenna Hassett (aka #SpaceApe Queen), Suzie Birch and me decided to do something funky to big up the often astounding stories of pioneering women in the fields of archaeology, palaeontology and geology: in other words, Trowel Blazers! In case you're sleepy today and haven't twigged, or are baffled by the idea of women being linked by a garden/building implement, TROWELS are the tool of choice for scientists who work out in the field on excavations in these three disciplines. Well, for most jobs anyway; heavy earth-shifting requires a pick or mattock, and for the tricky, delicate parts we might use a toothpick or wooden spatula (not metal! No!). Specifically, we use pointing trowels, not the big rounded types you might pot a herb with.

There are some disputes about benefits of different trowel…

A very old rabbit skull; a very new rabbit skull.

A funny thing about archaeologists is that many of them seem to share a childhood fascination with dead animals. Not in a morbid way, but simply an interest in the physical remains of once-living creatures. Many of my colleagues admit to having collected animal bones as kids (and still do- useful for teaching!), as well as other discarded faunal treasures like snake skins or feathers. Over the weekend, documentary proof of this childhood activity was discovered while clearing out old stuff from my cellar in advance of moving to France.

Studying stone tool assemblages in Australia

Just a brief post to point you all to a very nice write-up by Jacqueline Matthews (@archaeo_jacq on Twitter) for the Australian Archaeological Association on the use of a particular method for studying lithic (stone tool) assemblages, called MANA: Minimum Analytical Nodule Analysis. This method goes one step beyond grouping tools by stone type, and uses the subtle differences within raw materials to identify artefacts that came from the same original stone nodules.
I've used MANA previously in a basic way during my PhD research, and more recently while working on the Late Pleistocene lithics from La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey. Some of the flint from this massive collapsed cave site has extremely distinctive banded colours, which I was hoping that I could use to find some refits- different flakes which fit together because they were part of the same core that was knapped by a Neanderthal.

As Jacqueline says in her article, MANA is especially useful for trying to understand open-a…