Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ancient man more mobile than believed

Analysis of a 40,000-year-old tooth found in southern Greece suggests Neanderthals were more mobile than once believed, paleontologists and the Greek Culture Ministry said.

A part of the first and only Neanderthal remains found in Greece -- showed the ancient human to whom it belonged had spent at least part of its life away from the area where it died.
Paleoanthropologist Katerina Harvati at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany said that Neanderthal mobility is highly controversial. Some experts believe Neanderthals roamed over very limited areas, but others say they must have been more mobile, particularly when hunting, Harvati explained.

Ian Tattersall, curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, said the tooth analysis provided a rare piece of hard evidence. The findings were published in the journal of Archaeological Science.

The tooth was found in a seaside excavation in Greece's southern Peloponnese region in 2002. The team from the Max Planck Institute, led by Department of Human Evolution professor Mike Richards and Harvati, analysed tooth enamel for ratios of strontium isotope, a naturally occurring metal found in food and water. Levels of the metal vary in different areas. As it is absorbed by the body, an analysis of its levels can show where a person lived.

Eleni Panagopoulou of the Paleoanthropology-Speleology Department of Southern Greece said the levels of strontium isotope found in the tooth showed that this particular Neanderthal grew up in a different area - at least 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) away -- from its discovery site. Given that Neanderthals also coexisted with modern man in some parts of Europe, one could presume that this mobility would facilitate the contacts of the two populations on a cultural and, perhaps, on a biological level.

Professor Clive Finlayson, an expert on Neanderthal man and director of the Gibraltar Museum, disagreed with the finding's significance. It is unlikely that Neanderthals didn't move at least 20 km. It is not as if they were trees, he said.

Source : AP


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