TIME Archaeology

Oldest Known Ancestor of Modern Birds Is Discovered

Holotype of Archaeornithura meemannae, the oldest ancestor of modern birds has been dug up in China which evolved almost six million years earlier than previously thought.
National News—Zuma Press Holotype of Archaeornithura meemannae, the oldest ancestor of modern birds has been dug up in China which evolved almost six million years earlier than previously thought.

The discovery indicates that modern birds originated roughly six million years before previously thought

Scientists said in a paper published Tuesday that a newly discovered species is the oldest known relative of living birds.

The Archaeornithura meemannae lived roughly 130.7 million years ago in northeastern China, about 6 million years before the previously thought origin of modern birds, according to the researchers who published their findings in Nature Communications.

The bird—which looks largely similar to modern birds—was reconstructed mostly from imagination but also from intact plumage and skeletal features, a researcher told the Washington Post. In part because of its long legs, the scientists believe it patrolled water sources looking for food.

While a separate bird species that lived some 145 million years ago remains the oldest known bird, but it had no living descendants.

TIME Innovation

How to Feed 9 Billion People

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Here’s how we feed nine billion people. And why.

By Madeleine K. Albright in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

2. Hate your bank? With an open banking platform, developers could build better financial institutions.

By Noel Peatfield at Open Source

3. There’s an upside to war-torn heritage sites.

By the University of Leicester

4. Americans are trading the ballot box for the mailbox.

By Sean Green and Kyle Ueyama at the Pew Charitable Trusts

5. Could a knee brace power an artificial heart?

By Mike Williams at Rice University

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Archaeology

Oldest Neanderthal DNA Ever Found Is Discovered in Skeleton in Italy

The molecules are from 130,000 to 170,000 years ago

Researchers studying a skeleton from a cave in Italy have discovered the oldest Neanderthal DNA ever found.

Scientists have dated the molecules to about 130,000 to 170,000 years ago, according to Live Science. The skeleton was first found in 1993, but a new study evaluating the DNA from a piece of its right shoulder blade suggests that the fossil was a Neanderthal, the closest extinct relative of modern humans.

“We have a nearly complete human fossil skeleton to describe and study in detail. It is a dream,” Fabio Di Vincenzo, the study’s co-author, told Live Science. “His morphology offers a rare glimpse on the earliest phase of the evolutionary history of Neanderthals and on one of the most crucial events in human evolution. He can help us better understand when—and, in particular, how—Neanderthals evolved.”

[Live Science]

TIME Archaeology

Human Ancestor ‘Little Foot’ Lived 3.7 Million Years Ago

Undated handout photo shows the Little Foot skull
Reuters The Little Foot skull is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters April 1, 2015.

The findings shed light on the connections between early human ancestors

New research indicates that a mysterious skeleton dubbed “Little Foot” lived around the same time as human ancestor Lucy’s species, suggesting a diverse landscape of pre-humans in Africa during the same period.

Scientists initially believed that Little Foot was far older than Lucy’s species, but according to research published in the journal Nature this week the skeleton is roughly 3.7 million years old.

Lucy, who lived about 3.2 million years ago, was an Australopithecus afarensis, a species of early upright walkers in east Africa that lived between 2.9 and 4.1 million years ago and is believed to be a direct human ancestor, predating the Homo lineage by more than a million years.

Scientists aren’t clear how to categorize Little Foot, who was found in a cave in South Africa in the 1990s. But the age of the skeleton helps shed light on the diversity of the Australopithecus human ancestors.

“The most important implication from dating Little Foot is that we now know that australopithecines were in South Africa early in their evolution,” lead author Darryl Granger, a geochronologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, told Live Science. “This implies an evolutionary connection between South Africa and East Africa prior to the age of Little Foot, and with enough time for the australopithecine species to diverge.”

TIME Archaeology

‘Romeo and Juliet’ Dinosaurs Found Buried Together

476871173
Getty Images A pair of omnivorous Caudipteryx, a member of the oviraptorosaur family, feathered dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous period.

The couple was unearthed after 75 million years

Researchers uncovered a dinosaur couple that had been buried together for more than 75 million years and gave them the nicknames “Romeo and Juliet.”

The dinosaurs, a pair of oviraptors, were found to have physical differences suggesting they were male and female, similar to the gender differences seen in modern birds, the researchers wrote in the journal Scientific Reports. They were discovered within about 20 centimeters of each other in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia.

It’s likely that the love birds were killed in a sand dune collapse brought on by heavy rains, and therefore buried alive—suggesting a more apt pair of nicknames might be Aida and Radamès.

[Scientific Reports]

TIME Archaeology

Scientists Discover Salamanders the Size of Cars

An artist's rendition of a previously unknown species of crocodile-like "super salamander" that roamed the Earth more than 200 million years ago. Image, made available by the University of Edinburgh on Tuesday March 24, 2015.
Marc Boulay–Cossima Productions/University of Edinburgh/AP An artist's rendition of a previously unknown species of crocodile-like "super salamander" that roamed the Earth more than 200 million years ago. Image, made available by the University of Edinburgh on Tuesday March 24, 2015.

The creature lived some 220 million years ago

Scientists have discovered the bones of ancient salamanders that they say would have been the size of cars.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh excavated the bones in southern Portugal, where they have already found remains from at least 10 individual bodies, the BBC reports. Though related to the modern salamander, the animal would have behaved more like a crocodile or alligator when it likely feasted on early dinosaurs and mammals some 220 million years ago.

Scientists continue to dig up the flat-headed, toothy amphibians and expect to uncover hundreds more bodies on the site.

[BBC]

TIME Archaeology

World’s Largest Asteroid Crater Unearthed in Australia

Evidence of 250-mile wide impact zone found deep underground

Scientists have discovered evidence of a 250-mile wide crater in central Australia they believe was created by a colossal asteroid hundreds of millions of years ago.

The largest impact zone ever discovered is no longer visible on the Earth’s surface, researchers from the Australian National University said in a statement Monday, but could be identified by evidence buried deep in the earth’s crust.

The scientists had been drilling for another geothermal research project when, by chance, they came across rock layers that had been turned to glass, which usually signifies a high-energy impact. Their findings, published recently in the journal Tectonophysics, contributes to the understanding of the Earth in prehistoric times.

“Large impacts like these may have had a far more significant role in Earth’s evolution than previously thought,” said lead researcher Andrew Glikson. Still, the exact details of when the impact occurred remain unclear. While the rocks surrounding the impact zone are around 300 million years old, scientists said they have not yet found a similar layer in other sediments the same age.

“It’s a mystery — we can’t find an extinction event that matches these collisions,” Glikson said. “I have a suspicion the impact could be older than 300 million years.”

TIME Archaeology

Oldest Known Fossil in Human Lineage Found in Ethiopia

The remains are estimated to be some 2.8 million years old

A handful of teeth and a partial jawbone unearthed in Ethiopia are now thought to be the oldest fossil ever found of the species that evolved into humans, researchers say in a new report.

The U.S.-led team that discovered the fossil a couple hundred miles away from the capital, Addis Ababa, believe the remains are some 2.8 million years old, making the fossil around 400,000 years older than other discovered remains thought to be from the Homo genus, which scientists believe to be our lineage.

The researchers reported their findings in the journal Science and said they have could help fill in some evolutionary gaps that are still uncertain. Prior to the genus Homo, there was the hominid Australopithecus afarensis. Researchers say the specifics of the evolution between the two during that time is still unknown.

“By finding this jaw bone we’ve figured out where that trajectory started. This is the first Homo,” study author Brian Villmoare of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas told The Guardian. “It marks in all likelihood a major adaptive transition.”

TIME Archaeology

Scientists Unlock Secrets of Ancient Scrolls Near Pompeii

Italy Ancient Scrolls
Salvatore Laporta—AP David Blank, professor of Classics from the University of California, looks through a microscope at an ancient papyrus at the Naples' National Library, Italy, Jan. 20, 2015.

The breakthrough could help find more long-lost texts in a ruined library

Scrolls charred in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii are being read for the first time in almost 2,000 years, thanks to new X-ray technology.

The scrolls were recovered about 260 years ago from the ruins of the ancient Roman city Herculaneum, near Pompeii, preserved in a grand villa believed to be owned by the family of Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, the New York Times reports.

In the famous eruption, they were burned black by a blast of hot gas and had been thought to be indecipherable, since any attempt to unroll the brittle scrolls would destroy them.

But thanks to the new, advanced imaging technology, scientists in Naples, Italy have begun to decipher the first lines of two scrolls. CNET reports that the X-rays are so powerful that researchers analyzed the handwriting to determine the author of one of the scrolls, Epicurean philosopher Philodemus. These scrolls are just a small piece of what is thought to be still buried in the library of the Herculaneum villa, and this breakthrough could lead to the rediscovery of many long-lost texts by Rome and Greece’s most famous philosophers, according to the NYT.

The results appeared in the scientific journal Nature.

“This study, without compromising the physical integrity of the roll, has not merely discovered traces of the ink inside it, but has also helped identify with a certain likelihood the style of handwriting used in the text, along with its author,” the researchers conclude in the report.

“It holds out the promise that many philosophical works form the library of the ‘Villa dei Papiri’, the contents of which have so far remained unknown, may in future be deciphered without damaging the papyrus in any way.”

[CNET]

TIME Archaeology

Neanderthals May Have Used Tools, Making Them Smarter Than We Thought

A multipurpose bone tool dating back to before the Stone Age was discovered in France

A new discovery suggests that Neanderthals, the immediate ancestors of human beings, may not have been as technologically inferior to our species as previously thought.

Researchers from the University of Montreal found a multipurpose bone tool in Burgundy, France, that dates back to the Neanderthal era, Science Daily reported.

“It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens,” said Luc Doyon, a University of Montreal anthropologist who participated in the excavation.

The pre–Stone Age implement is the first of its kind ever discovered, and challenges a long-held assumption that Neanderthals did not have the cognitive ability to create tools. Marks on the artifact, supposedly fashioned from the left femur of a reindeer, indicate that it was used as a scraper, a sharpener for stone tools and a device to puncture meat.

[Science Daily]

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