Archive for August, 2011

Gene for Red Hair may be older than you think

By: The Scribe on August, 2011

Scientists are now finding research that the gene responsible for red hair and freckles may have actually come from Neanderthal man. It is believed that the gene could be as much as 100,000 years old and was found in Neanderthals living in Europe. They believe that the gene was passed to our Homo sapiens ancestors about 40,000 years ago. That was when our ancestors migrated to the area from Africa.image

Neanderthals were taller than members of the Homo sapiens species and had much stockier builds. Their faces were larger than those of Homo sapiens ancestors and had large noses and chins and foreheads that receded.

Our ancestors, who belonged to the Cro-Magnon branch of Homo sapiens, were able to co-exist with Neanderthals for about 10,000 years. It is believed that the two species may have interbred in order for the gene to pass from one species to the next. It is the MC1R gene that is responsible for red hair and freckles. It is believed that Neanderthals that possessed the MC1R gene may actually have looked very similar to that of modern Europeans.

Having light skin was actually an evolutionary advantage for these Neanderthals. It meant that the individuals who had light skin and red hair were capable of absorbing more vitamin D from sunlight. In Europe, where there are clouds the majority of the time, this would have been a distinct advantage.

Other discoveries have been made that are changing scientists’ beliefs about Neanderthals. They were originally believed to have only rudimentary speech. Scientists and archaeologists have long thought that Neanderthals had a vocabulary of only about 70 words and that their speech was likely very guttural. New research is beginning to show that that may not have been the case. It is now theorized that Neanderthals may have had a much more sophisticated language than was originally thought.

imageArchaeologists have also found painted shells in Spain that prove that Neanderthals created artwork, something that experts did not think they did. The painted shells were a form of body art or jewelry. Similar shells had been found in Africa and in the Near East and dated from 70,000 to 120,000 years ago. When they were found, they were attributed to our ancestors and not to members of the Neanderthal species. Scientists and archaeologists are now thinking that jewelry that was believed to have been created by Cro-Magnon man may have been created by Neanderthals instead.

The shells were painted with traces of mineral pigments. In some cases, tools used to paint the shells were found as well. There was no proof that the items had been painted at random as there were no traces of pigments found on other items such as food or other stone tools.

Not only was it obvious that the painting of the items was deliberate, some of the mineral pigments came from a distance away. This meant that they needed to be transported to the new area specifically for the purpose of creating artwork. Some shells were used as paint cups and others were decorated for use as body art or jewelry.

Archaeologists Now Theorizing Different Uses For Machu Picchu

By: The Scribe on August, 2011

The one hundredth anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu has occurred and the site has become one of the most popular tourist destinations. Archaeologists originally believed that the site was a palace or estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti who lived from 1438 CE to 1472 CE. Now, archaeologists are beginning to think that the site may have been created for different uses.

imageMachu Picchu is located 2,430 meters or 7,970 feet above sea level. It sits on a mountain ridge and looks down on the Urubamba Valley. Construction on the site began around 1400 CE and was later abandoned approximately 100 years later when the Spanish Conquest began.

One theory is that the site was built in an area that was sacred to the Inca people. The Inca considered the Urubamba River to be sacred. Machu Picchu is built on a mountain which is circled almost completely by the Urubamba River. The site is also positioned so that the rising and setting of the sun is in alignment with mountains that are religiously significant. This is something that is unique to Machu Picchu.

The site also may have acted as a temple that was dedicated to an order known as the Virgins of the Sun. These women lived at Machu Picchu and were responsible for maintaining sacred fires, the weaving of sacred and royal clothing and even the preparation of ritual food. They were supervised by women known as Mama Cuna and governed by a high priestess known as the Coya Pasca.

A third theory was that the site acted as a royal retreat for the Incan Emperor. It was believed that the site was used so that the royal court could hunt, entertain guests and generally relax. It is unknown how long the court would have stayed at Machu Picchu. The theory was developed in the 1980’s and was based on a document written in the 16th century. It referred to a royal estate that was named Picchu and which was constructed in an area close to where Machu Picchu is actually located.image

Another theory states that Machu Picchu may have been built as a way of recreating a mythic landscape that was important to the Inca people. The theory is that Machu Picchu acted as a kind of Mecca for the Incan people and that the journey to the site was actually a recreation of the harrowing journey that their ancestors took. The pilgrimage is believed to have begun at Lake Titicaca which lies on the border between Peru and Bolivia. The path that they followed went underground for a distance before it emerged in an area close to Cusco.

A final theory states that the site was actually an Inca city known as Vilcabamba la Vieja. This was the site where Inca rulers maintained their independence and fought against the Spanish conquistadors that were invading the Inca Empire in the 16th century. This theory was disproved when archaeologists identified the refuge in Espiritu Pampa which was a jungle site located approximately 80 miles west of Cusco.