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Humanity's Strange Face
Science News Magazine ^ | 5-22-2004 | Bruce Bower

Posted on 05/25/2004 7:23:49 AM PDT by blam

Humanity's Strange Face

Stone Age skull stokes debate over what it takes to be human

Bruce Bower

In June 2003, three cave researchers prepared for what they hoped would be a return to the Stone Age. The explorers strapped on scuba gear and plunged into a lake in Romania's Carpathian Mountains. These intrepid souls, led by Stefan Milota of Pro Acva Grup in Timisoara, Romania, swam one at a time into a rocky passage that snakes up into an adjacent limestone hillside. At the top of the 80-foot-long channel, they emerged into the musky air of a pitch-dark cave that most of the group had first visited the previous year. Helmet-mounted lights cast a glow over a panorama of bones scattered across the ground.

HOLDING UP WELL. Inside a Romanian cave last year, an explorer displays a fossil Homo sapiens skull thought to be around 35,000 years old. That discovery has fueled a debate over whether Neandertals and other ancient humanlike species interbred with Stone Age people. Romanian Academy

The group had chanced upon the cave for the first time while exploring the hillside's many fluid-filled conduits. Millennia ago, the deep space would have been accessible on foot, but since then, a massive rockslide has plugged the aboveground entrance.

Upon reaching the cavern in 2002, the investigators saw cave bear bones lying everywhere. The huge creatures may have hibernated there and died after awakening, perhaps lacking the energy to lumber to the surface.

Curiously, a bear skull and leg bone lay atop separate boulders, suggesting that someone had placed them there. Proceeding into another of what turned out to be a series of chambers, the explorers collected the big prize of that first modern visit: a lower jaw that, though massive and thick, looked to be human.

Radiocarbon measurements yielded an age of about 35,000 years for the fossil, making it Europe's oldest securely dated representative of what anthropologists call modern Homo sapiens (SN: 5/10/03, p. 302: Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20030510/note13.asp). However, closer analysis revealed a mix of primitive and modern traits, according to Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Milota and his coworkers returned last year, hoping to find new fossils and map the cave they dubbed Pestera cu Oase, or cave with bones. An even bigger prize awaited them. Amid a pile of bear bones in one chamber sat a partial skull that mimicked the previous find in its mix of seemingly modern and primitive human characteristics. The face was intact, with many teeth in place, and surrounded by several pieces of the individual's brain case. The specimen even retains internal structures of the nose and ears. A piece of another person's cranium lay nearby.

Scientists have yet to establish radiocarbon ages for these fossils. But the new H. sapiens specimens are probably just as old as the Oase (pronounced wa-zee) jaw, says Trinkaus, who now leads efforts to analyze the Romanian discoveries. Together, the cave finds challenge the popular theory that people evolved into our modern form by making a neat evolutionary jump from a more primitive version of H. sapiens sometime around 50,000 years ago, Trinkaus asserted on March 31 at the Paleoanthropology Society's annual meeting in Montreal.

The Oase skull's strange combination of modern and archaic characteristics underscores scientific confusion about how to define anatomically modern humans, Trinkaus adds.

"Paleontologists have created an artificial [anatomical] Rubicon that the Oase fossils violate," he says. "The blend of traits on these specimens contradicts the existence of a straightforward evolutionary process [during the Stone Age] in which modern humans came out of Africa and replaced everyone else."

Funny face

The Oase skull—which probably came from a 15- or 16-year-old male—resists easy interpretation. "The anatomy of this individual was not particularly modern, while still qualifying overall as that of a modern human," Trinkaus says.

The fossil displays a relatively narrow, high-set nose and distinct chin typical of people today. The shape and positioning of the specimen's internal ear structures also mark it as a modern H. sapiens. Another telling sign appears on the Oase skull's forehead, which lacks a brow ridge typical of Neandertals. Most researchers regard Neandertals as a separate species, Homo neanderthalensis.

Yet the Romanian fossil also flaunts some strikingly primitive traits. Its molar teeth are considerably larger than those of European H. sapiens that lived 30,000 to 20,000 years ago. In fact, Trinkaus says, the chewing surfaces of the Oase skull's molars are wider than those of the generally bulkier Neandertals.

LOTS OF LUMPS. The biting surface of a third molar tooth from a Homo sapiens specimen found in a Romanian cave exhibits a curious welter of protrusions, which raises questions about its evolutionary heritage. Romanian Academy

Moreover, at the back of the Oase individual's mouth, a welter of bumps tops its third molars. No fewer than 11 protrusions of various sizes jut up from each chewing surface. Corresponding H. sapiens molars are far smoother.

A third-molar tooth from another human ancestor, which was recently unearthed in the central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, also displays nearly a dozen bumps. Preliminary work suggests that this tooth belonged to a Neandertal that lived at least 40,000 years ago. Michelle Glantz of Colorado State University in Ft. Collins described that find at the Paleoanthropology Society meeting.

Bump-covered third molars appear in some current species of mammals and may evolve as a by-product of genetic mechanisms that promote larger teeth, Trinkaus speculates.

Aside from the Oase specimen's teeth, the heft of its jaw and the shape of parts of its braincase also hark back to H. sapiens that lived 100,000 years ago or more, he says.

The mix of old and new features on the Romanian fossils adds to suspicion that, on the evolutionary path toward today's people, interbreeding occurred among H. sapiens, Neandertals, and other ancient Homo species to varying extents in different regions, according to Trinkaus and a colleague in the Oase project, Joao Zilhao of Cidade University in Lisbon, Portugal.

That theory previously received a boost with the discovery in Portugal of a 24,500-year-old skeleton that Trinkaus and Zilhao view as a prime example of interbreeding between modern H. sapiens and Neandertals (SN: 5/8/99, p. 295: http://www.sciencenews.org/pages/sn_arc99/5_8_99/fob7.htm). The child's bones display a potpourri of traits from both species, in the researchers' view.

The Oase fossils contain a different mosaic of characteristics, with more pieces from archaic H. sapiens than from Neandertals. If human evolution hinged on groups of various Stone Age species moving from place to place and interbreeding to some extent along the way, then unpredictable mixes of anatomical features would have been generated in any locality that attracted prehistoric crowds, Trinkaus contends.

He thus takes a skeptical view of traditional efforts to reconstruct neatly branching evolutionary trees of human ancestors by determining whether fossils contain predominantly primitive or advanced traits. Analyses of modern and ancient DNA are also incapable of unraveling the extent to which Neandertals and other Homo species interbred with H. sapiens, in Trinkaus' opinion.

That leaves a big evolutionary question mark punctuating the Romanian discoveries. "We don't fully understand what's going on with the combination of features on these bones," the St. Louis researcher says.

Channeling evolution

One way to make sense of fossils such as the Portuguese child and the Oase skull is to stop assuming that each ancient Homo species existed on a separate branch of an evolutionary tree, says Trenton W. Holliday of Tulane University in New Orleans. Instead, he proposes, think of human evolution as a braid of several large, winding tributaries, some of which are connected by small streams. Each tributary represents a Homo species; the streams signify gene flow among them.

Most of the larger channels eventually dried out, leaving only one main tributary on which H. sapiens drifted into the present.

Holliday's scenario relies on evidence that many plant and animal species remain cohesive over time, despite some interbreeding with related species that creates fertile offspring with hybrid genetics. In some instances, these offspring display a combination of anatomical features from both parent species; in others, they look like one parent species but possess a blend of DNA sequences from both species.

Interbreeding flourishes where two or more related species share common ground. Scientists refer to these areas as hybrid zones. Novel DNA arrangements can arise in hybrid zones and then spread into the larger populations of each species. In a process that's thought to be especially common among plants, a hybrid population may ultimately evolve into a new species.

Even low levels of genetic give-and-take among closely related Homo species, as suggested by a recent DNA analysis (SN: 3/9/02, p. 149: Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20020309/fob6.asp), would have yielded confusing blends of skeletal traits that vary from one region to another, Holliday asserted in the December 2003 Current Anthropology.

Other investigators doubt that interbreeding among ancient Homo species would have yielded individuals with the patchwork of traits observed on the Portuguese and Romanian fossils. Genes directly regulate the shape of only selected skeletal features, notes Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University. Bone responds to myriad influences as a person grows (SN: 11/25/00, p. 346: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20001125/bob9.asp). Parentage from different species is thus hard to detect in fossils, Lieberman says.

The Oase skull may carry hybrid traits, according to some researchers who have received detailed information about it. For all its anatomical eccentricities, the Oase material "fits well within the envelope of modern H. sapiens," says Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, agrees. Skulls from at least 60,000 years ago in northern Africa display primitive facial features, such as large jaws and teeth, he notes, yet they're attributed to modern H. sapiens.

Another perspective, exemplified by Milford Wolpoff of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, folds Neandertals and all other Homo fossils from the past 2 million years into one species, H. sapiens. If that's true, then interbreeding had nothing to do with human evolution.

Cultured relatives

The debate over the nature of modern H. sapiens doesn't end with fossils. A related issue concerns whether archaeological discoveries support the assumption that a cultural and behavioral revolution between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago set people apart from Neandertals and other species in our evolutionary family.

Western European sites from that period show many signs of cultural advances. These include art and ornaments of various kinds, graves, bone tools, and stone blades.

Christopher S. Henshilwood of the African Heritage Research Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, and Curtis Marean of Arizona State University in Tempe reviewed Stone Age finds from Europe and elsewhere in the December 2003 Current Anthropology. They concluded that modern human behavior emerged as H. sapiens evolved over the past 200,000 years, not in a late revolution.

People living in tropical parts of Africa prior to 50,000 years ago were the intellectual equals of those who later trekked into Europe, Henshilwood and Marean assert. There, a frigid climate, competition for resources in larger populations, and other environmental pressures encountered by ancient Europeans instigated innovations in tool making and hunting, these researchers propose.

They point to a growing body of evidence that many behaviors previously attributed only to late Stone Age people stretch back at least 100,000 years in Africa and occurred in European and Middle Eastern Neandertals from around 130,000 to 28,000 years ago.

In 75,000-year-old sediments at South Africa's Blombos Cave, for instance, Henshilwood has unearthed etched pieces of ocher and—as described in the April 16 Science—numerous perforated ostrich eggshell shards. Late Stone Age Europeans had no monopoly on body decorations and other symbolic products, he argues.

Although intriguing, such finds offer at best hazy glimpses of ancient societies, Trinkaus remarks. However, he suspects that cultural evolution has deep roots in the Stone Age.

Meanwhile, the fossil hunt at Oase resumes this summer. Researchers seek radiocarbon ages for the bones of bears and H. sapiens and an explanation of how people's remains ended up in the cave. "We're beyond the glory stage at Oase," Trinkaus says. "We're entering the hard-work stage."


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: archaeology; economic; face; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; history; humanitys; strange
These folks still have Neanderthals mixing with moderns, etc.
1 posted on 05/25/2004 7:23:51 AM PDT by blam
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To: farmfriend

GGG ping.


2 posted on 05/25/2004 7:24:29 AM PDT by blam
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To: blam

I gotta ask.....what the....??


3 posted on 05/25/2004 7:26:44 AM PDT by cousair
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To: blam

Not a Y-5 molar.


4 posted on 05/25/2004 7:29:12 AM PDT by null and void (The owls are not what they seem...)
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To: blam
At first glance, for some reason I thought the headline said Hannity's Strange Face. I thought, man if you think Hannity has a strange face, what about Alan Colmes???

Anyway, very interesting read here.

5 posted on 05/25/2004 7:29:53 AM PDT by tdadams (If there were no problems, politicians would have to invent them... wait, they already do.)
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To: tdadams
At first glance, for some reason I thought the headline said Hannity's Strange Face. I thought, man if you think Hannity has a strange face, what about Alan Colmes???

Thanks for letting me know I'm not the only idiot online! LOL I started reading the article and thought, "What the heck?"

6 posted on 05/25/2004 7:33:39 AM PDT by Dianna
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To: tdadams; Dianna

OH THE HANNITY!

7 posted on 05/25/2004 7:40:58 AM PDT by SquirrelKing ("I have to march because my mother could not have an abortion." - Maxine Waters (D - California)
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To: blam

If you want to know what happened to the Neanderthal genes, just look at the offensive ond defensive frontline of any NFL team this fall................

BTW, I served in the USMC with a guy who had hair over almost every square inch of his body. He looked like a bear in a pair of boxers.......


8 posted on 05/25/2004 7:41:15 AM PDT by Red Badger (The government will always do everything you let it get away with......)
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To: blam
These folks still have Neanderthals mixing with moderns, etc.

Why shouldn't they? That still happens even today:


9 posted on 05/25/2004 7:46:32 AM PDT by dirtboy (John Kerry - Hillary without the fat ankles and the FBI files...)
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To: blam
"humanlike species interbred with Stone Age people"

Right after the discovery of Beer.

10 posted on 05/25/2004 7:46:35 AM PDT by Deguello
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To: blam
I need to lay off FR for a while. I clicked on this link thinking it said 'Hannity's Strage Face'.


11 posted on 05/25/2004 7:48:37 AM PDT by Sloth (We cannot defeat foreign enemies of the Constitution if we yield to the domestic ones.)
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To: SquirrelKing

Let not your heart be troubled.


12 posted on 05/25/2004 7:49:37 AM PDT by Constitution Day
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To: blam

My understanding is that one of the key definitions of a species is the ability to interbreed. If Neanderthals and early homo-sapiens did interbreed, would that not make them the same species by definition? Rather than different species, we would be looking at different races. Dogs are the same species, but there are lots of 'races' we call breeds.


13 posted on 05/25/2004 8:10:12 AM PDT by blanknoone (I voted for before I voted against it, didn't show up for the vote except once, but left too early)
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To: blam

Oase (pronounced wa-zee)

Kewl! So would that make oaso pronounced wa-zoo?

Surely there are remnants of the Neanderthal around in some western euro gene pools. Consider more than just the hairyness...some folk have some fairly heavy brow ridges too.
I find this stuff fascinating.


14 posted on 05/25/2004 8:11:56 AM PDT by Adder (Can we bring back stoning again? Please?)
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To: tdadams
At first glance, for some reason I thought the headline said Hannity's Strange Face.

LOL!!! Me too!

15 posted on 05/25/2004 8:13:11 AM PDT by retrokitten (That's it! I'm tired of you people holding me back! I'm going to clown college!- Homer J. Simpson)
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To: PatrickHenry

Pa-dingy in the hizouse.


16 posted on 05/25/2004 8:16:52 AM PDT by Shryke (Never retreat. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl.)
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To: blam

I misread the title of this article as HANNITY'S Strange Face.


17 posted on 05/25/2004 8:21:42 AM PDT by George Smiley (Is the RKBA still a right if you have to get the government's permission before you can exercise it?)
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To: Shryke

Thanks for the ping, but I don't know if the list will get all worked up over this. If the thread heats up, lemme know.


18 posted on 05/25/2004 8:23:46 AM PDT by PatrickHenry (Hic amor, haec patria est.)
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To: blam; *Gods, Graves, Glyphs; A.J.Armitage; abner; adam_az; AdmSmith; Alas Babylon!; ...
Gods, Graves, Glyphs
List for articles regarding early civilizations , life of all forms, - dinosaurs - etc.
Let me know if you wish to be added or removed from this ping list.
19 posted on 05/25/2004 8:32:58 AM PDT by farmfriend ( In Essentials, Unity...In Non-Essentials, Liberty...In All Things, Charity.)
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To: blam

http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/magazines/tj/docs/v8n1_homo_erectus.asp


20 posted on 05/25/2004 9:26:30 AM PDT by whee0071
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To: AdmSmith

Oase skull pong


21 posted on 05/25/2004 9:34:00 AM PDT by nuconvert ("America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins." ( Azadi baraye Iran)
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To: blam

"Upon reaching the cavern in 2002, the investigators saw cave bear bones lying everywhere. The huge creatures may have hibernated there and died after awakening, perhaps lacking the energy to lumber to the surface."

? I can come up with a better story than that.


22 posted on 05/25/2004 9:36:51 AM PDT by nuconvert ("America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins." ( Azadi baraye Iran)
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To: blam

The idea of a sudden explosion of modernity some 40,000 years ago leaves a lot of questions in my mind. However, the European cave painting and associated artifacts certainly are testiment to a great golden age. Thought provoking article.


23 posted on 05/25/2004 10:08:05 AM PDT by JimSEA ( "More Bush, Less Taxes.")
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To: blam
Are we still thinking that the 'ginger gene' which brings red hair/freckles probably is a result of neanderthal/human interbreeding?

http://www.freerepublic.com/forum/a3adc5573604d.htm
24 posted on 05/25/2004 5:16:50 PM PDT by gcruse (http://gcruse.typepad.com/)
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To: gcruse
"Are we still thinking that the 'ginger gene' which brings red hair/freckles probably is a result of neanderthal/human interbreeding?"

Yup. RedHeads are Neandethals

25 posted on 05/25/2004 5:45:30 PM PDT by blam
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To: George Smiley

And so did I. I don't know who Hannity is, although I heard the name someplace.


26 posted on 05/25/2004 5:51:40 PM PDT by RightWhale (Theorems link concepts; proofs establish links)
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To: gcruse

That theory previously received a boost with the discovery in Portugal of a 24,500-year-old skeleton that Trinkaus and Zilhao view as a prime example of interbreeding between modern H. sapiens and Neandertals (SN: 5/8/99, p. 295: http://www.sciencenews.org/pages/sn_arc99/5_8_99/fob7.htm). The child's bones display a potpourri of traits from both species, in the researchers' view.

27 posted on 05/25/2004 5:59:23 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam

You don't have to tell me. I married two of them. Prolly would again...


28 posted on 05/25/2004 6:06:08 PM PDT by gcruse (http://gcruse.typepad.com/)
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To: gcruse
"I married two of them."

LOL, I only married one...it lasted for nine months.

29 posted on 05/25/2004 6:10:17 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam

Put her there, pal. My first marriage, to a redhead natch, lasted exactly nine months from "I do," until the divorce was final. LOL The second one made it eleven years.


30 posted on 05/25/2004 6:42:06 PM PDT by gcruse (http://gcruse.typepad.com/)
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To: gcruse
"Put her there, pal. My first marriage, to a redhead natch, lasted exactly nine months from "I do," until the divorce was final. "

That's exactly the story with mine...some called it a 'rebound.' My first and third lasted eight years each. Now, I just have the doggies. (And, one wonderful son, Dr blam)

31 posted on 05/25/2004 7:01:42 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam

LOL Same here. One son married and gone, one dog, no worries. Enough was enough.


32 posted on 05/25/2004 7:13:57 PM PDT by gcruse (http://gcruse.typepad.com/)
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To: gcruse

Charlie Brown syndrome?


33 posted on 05/26/2004 1:08:46 PM PDT by rightofrush (right of Rush, and Buchanan too.)
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To: gcruse

Charlie Brown syndrome?


34 posted on 05/26/2004 1:08:54 PM PDT by rightofrush (right of Rush, and Buchanan too.)
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To: rightofrush

I have what I think is a genetic predisposition toward ladies with Irish features. Being red headed is ne plus ultra.


35 posted on 05/26/2004 1:36:44 PM PDT by gcruse (http://gcruse.typepad.com/)
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To: blam

But the Aboriginies in Austrailia arrived there 50000 plus years ago...they are modern. No Neanderthal traits there.


36 posted on 06/05/2004 7:16:48 PM PDT by Henchman (I Hench, therefore I am!)
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To: Henchman
"But the Aboriginies in Austrailia arrived there 50000 plus years ago...they are modern. No Neanderthal traits there."

It is complicated. (Mainly, there's a lot of 'stuff' we don't know)

Australian DNA Challenges Human Origins Theory

37 posted on 06/05/2004 8:04:14 PM PDT by blam
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38 posted on 06/01/2006 9:21:20 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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The Neandertal Enigma
by James Shreeve
Frayer's own reading of the record reveals a number of overlooked traits that clearly and specifically link the Neandertals to the Cro-Magnons. One such trait is the shape of the opening of the nerve canal in the lower jaw, a spot where dentists often give a pain-blocking injection. In many Neandertal, the upper portion of the opening is covered by a broad bony ridge, a curious feature also carried by a significant number of Cro-Magnons. But none of the alleged 'ancestors of us all' fossils from Africa have it, and it is extremely rare in modern people outside Europe." [pp 126-127]

39 posted on 06/01/2006 9:33:36 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: nuconvert
"Upon reaching the cavern in 2002, the investigators saw cave bear bones lying everywhere. The huge creatures may have hibernated there and died after awakening, perhaps lacking the energy to lumber to the surface." ? I can come up with a better story than that.

Yes me too! Neanderthals are the offspring between early Homo Sapiens males and lonely female cave bears!

Distressed about the lack of abillity to find honey in their weakly built offspring, the cave bears then died of maternal stress.
40 posted on 06/01/2006 10:02:42 AM PDT by S0122017
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To: SunkenCiv

oh darnit you did it again you tricked me into replying a two year old posting.


41 posted on 06/01/2006 10:04:01 AM PDT by S0122017
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To: Sloth

LOL. So did I! I kept scanning for any connection between the subject of the article and Hannity.


42 posted on 06/01/2006 10:05:18 AM PDT by new cruelty
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Just updating the GGG information, not sending a general distribution.
The Neandertal Enigma
by James Shreeve
Frayer's own reading of the record reveals a number of overlooked traits that clearly and specifically link the Neandertals to the Cro-Magnons. One such trait is the shape of the opening of the nerve canal in the lower jaw, a spot where dentists often give a pain-blocking injection. In many Neandertal, the upper portion of the opening is covered by a broad bony ridge, a curious feature also carried by a significant number of Cro-Magnons. But none of the alleged 'ancestors of us all' fossils from Africa have it, and it is extremely rare in modern people outside Europe." [pp 126-127]
To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.
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43 posted on 10/06/2006 10:43:09 AM PDT by SunkenCiv (If I had a nut allergy, I'd be outta here. https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: blam

· join list or digest · view topics · view or post blog · bookmark · post a topic · subscribe ·

 
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Just updating the GGG info, not sending a general distribution.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.
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44 posted on 01/03/2010 10:02:39 AM PST by SunkenCiv (Happy New Year!)
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