East Africa is famously the birthplace of humankind and the location where our ancient hominin ancestors first invented sophisticated stone tools. This technology, dating back to 2.6m years ago, is then thought to have spread around Africa and the rest of the Old World later on.
But new research, published in Science, has uncovered an archaeological site in Algeria containing similar tools that may be as old as 2.44m years. The team, led by the archaeologist Mohamed Sahnouni, excavated stone tools at the site Ain Boucherit that they estimate are between 1.92m and 2.44m years old. This suggests that human ancestors spread to the region much earlier than previously thought or that the stone tool technology was simultaneously invented by earlier hominin species living outside east Africa.
The artefacts belong to the “Oldowan” – the oldest known stone tool industry. Rounded river cobbles, used as hammer stones, were used to flake other cobbles, turning them into simple cores. The flakes were then transformed into scrapers and various knives by resharpening their edges. Essentially this was a tool kit for processing animal tissue, such as marrow, bone and brain tissue, but also plant material. However, it is not known for sure which hominin species first created Oldowan tools – potentially Australopithecus or Homo habilis.
The stone tools are very similar to those of early Oldowan sites in East Africa. Bones at the site even have cut marks, where a stone tool has gouged into the bone during butchery. The cut marks may mean these hominins were actively hunting.
But we have only ever found early Oldowan tools in the east African rift valley before, more than 4,000km away. We have always assumed that it started there some 2.6m years ago, so we shouldn’t find it so far from its original home at that age unless we have missed something.
Many archaeologists do indeed suspect there is an unseen ghost somewhere in the machine. There have been discoveries of early hominin sites to the south, in Chad, that suggest that some of our earliest ancestors lived well beyond East Africa. Oldowan-like sites have also been found outside of Africa, in Georgia, beginning at 1.8m years ago – which seems surprisingly early.
The new discovery is telling us that our focus on East Africa as the birthplace of early humans is too narrow – we should be doing what Sahnouni and others have done all along and looking elsewhere. The same team recently published findings about another Oldowan site in Algeria that is about 1.75m years old, but to find early Oldowan tools well over half a million years earlier is a bit of a game changer.
It all hinges on how reliable that 2.44m-year-old date really is. Dating specialists will be scrutinising the details very carefully. According to the paper, four different techniques were used. Palaeomagnetic dating measures the direction and intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field in sediments – this is locked into rocks when they form, helping to tell us how old they are.
The team found that the upper level mapped onto a short period of normal polarity taking place between 1.77m and 1.94m years ago. The lower level’s sediments fitted into a long period of reversed direction at between 1.94m and 2.58m years ago.
To get more precise dates, the team turned to a dating technique called electron spin resonance dating, which measures radioactive decay in quartz sand grains. However, they used a less common version of the technique that was operating close to its upper limit of reliability at this age range. The measurement delivered an age of 1.92m years old, younger than suggested by paleomagnetism.
There are some concerns about how suitable this last method is but the team has been honest about that. They also compared the dates with extinction times of animals present at the site, which suggested the date wasn’t impossible.
To get a better idea of the maximum age of the tools, they used a technique for estimating the rates of sedimentation – basically how long the different layers at the site took to build up. You have to throw in some fancy statistical work though, and map it onto the palaeomagnetic results. Extrapolating backwards in time, the team calculated that the actual age of the lower level is 2.44m years old. I suspect dating specialists will be looking at this carefully.
Now to our ghost. The oldest tools ever found outside of Africa are the ones from Georgia dated to 1.8m years ago. There is a small Oldowan-like site in Pakistan from around the same time and more core-and-flake sites in east China at 1.66m years ago. If the Georgian site represents the first move out of Africa, then these early African migrants got to Pakistan and China extremely quickly.
In Georgia, the tools may have been made by early Homo erectus, which dates back to about 1.8m years ago. As there is a Homo erectus specimen from China dated to 1.6m years old, it is easy to assume that Homo erectus must have been the species that spread the tool technology around the world – and much quicker than we had thought.
But we cannot be sure of that. What if our ghost was an earlier hominin species from Africa predating Homo erectus – such as Homo habilis? Perhaps the Oldowan actually began earlier than 2.6m years ago, and was already widespread throughout Africa by 2.4m years ago.
Maybe our mysterious hominin began to migrate out from Africa before 1.8m years ago, and carried its core-and-flake industry eastwards. That would certainly give it more time to cover those huge distances. Perhaps Homo erectus only migrated eastwards out of Africa later, following in the footsteps of an earlier traveller that we know nothing about.
So that’s a lot of maybes, but then nobody expected there to be Oldowan tools in Georgia when they were first found. It caused a lot of controversy, but now most archaeologists are comfortable with the finding. The Georgian archaeologists went back, did more work and proved their case. I don’t doubt Sahnouni and his team will be doing the same.
ANCIENT WIPEOUT Preliminary evidence indicates that a low-altitude meteor explosion around 3,700 years ago destroyed cities, villages and farmland north of the Dead Sea (shown in the background above) rendering the region uninhabitable for 600 to 700 years. Fightbegin/istock.com
DENVER — A superheated blast from the skies obliterated cities and farming settlements north of the Dead Sea around 3,700 years ago, preliminary findings suggest.
Radiocarbon dating and unearthed minerals that instantly crystallized at high temperatures indicate that a massive airburst caused by a meteor that exploded in the atmosphere instantaneously destroyed civilization in a 25-kilometer-wide circular plain called Middle Ghor, said archaeologist Phillip Silvia. The event also pushed a bubbling brine of Dead Sea salts over once-fertile farm land, Silvia and his colleagues suspect.
People did not return to the region for 600 to 700 years, said Silvia, of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque. He reported these findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on November 17.
Excavations at five large Middle Ghor sites, in what’s now Jordan, indicate that all were continuously occupied for at least 2,500 years until a sudden, collective collapse toward the end of the Bronze Age. Ground surveys have located 120 additional, smaller settlements in the region that the researchers suspect were also exposed to extreme, collapse-inducing heat and wind. An estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people inhabited Middle Ghor when the cosmic calamity hit, Silvia said.
The most comprehensive evidence of destruction caused by a low-altitude meteor explosion comes from the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam, where a team that includes Silvia has been excavating for the last 13 years. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the mud-brick walls of nearly all structures suddenly disappeared around 3,700 years ago, leaving only stone foundations.
What’s more, the outer layers of many pieces of pottery from same time period show signs of having melted into glass. Zircon crystals in those glassy coats formed within one second at extremely high temperatures, perhaps as hot as the surface of the sun, Silvia said.
High-force winds created tiny, spherical mineral grains that apparently rained down on Tall el-Hammam, he said. The research team has identified these minuscule bits of rock on pottery fragments at the site.
Examples exist of exploding space rocks that have wreaked havoc on Earth (SN: 5/13/17, p. 12). An apparent meteor blast over a sparsely populated Siberian region in 1908, known as the Tunguska event, killed no one but flattened 2,000 square kilometers of forest. And a meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 injured more than 1,600 people, mainly due to broken glass from windows that were blown out.
History repeating itself over and over, Iraq and its Capital City Baghdad know how the first to pay is as always those that the mob instinctively understand as being the seat of power. Knowledge that is; so destroying the libraries was like getting rid of the symbols of the civilisation. However, unlike their predecessors, the latest invaders as elaborated here in this article are helping in the endeavour to reconstruct the most significant collateral damage of all through the initiative of an Artist Rebuilding war destroyed Baghdad Library.
“168:01,” an installation now on view at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, encourages visitors to donate books to the University of Baghdad
In 2003, at the start of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, looters set fire to the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad. The college’s vast collection of 70,000 books was destroyed, and 15 years later, students still have few titles at their disposal. So, as Hadani Ditmars reports for the Art Newspaper, an installation at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto is asking the public to help replenish the school’s lost library.
“168:01,” as the project by Iraqi-American artist Wafaa Bilal is titled, is a stark white display featuring bookshelves filled with 1,000 blank books. Visitors are encouraged to replenish the volumes with titles from an Amazon wish list compiled by the college’s students and faculty; donations can be made by sending the books on the wish list to the museum, or by gifting funds to the project through Bilal’s website.
In exchange for their donations, visitors are able to take home one of the exhibition’s white volumes that represent a rich cultural heritage stripped bare by years of conflict. In turn, the colorful books they contributed to the project will ultimately be sent to the College of Fine Arts.
“I wanted a simple visual representation of what’s been lost,” Bilal told Murray Whyte of the Toronto Star last month. “But what’s important is that, over time, this place comes back to life.”
Though Bilal’s project is focused on recouping the losses of one tragic event, “168:01” calls attention to a long history of cultural destruction in Iraq. The installation’s title refers to the destruction of the House of Wisdom, or Bayt al-Hikma, a grand library possibly founded by the Abbasid caliph Al-Mansur in the 8th century. Legend has it that when the Mongols laid siege to Baghdad in 1258, the library’s entire collection of manuscripts and books were thrown into the Tigris. The river is said to have run black for seven days—or 168 hours—due to all the ink seeping into its waters. But the “o1” in the installation’s title is meant to signify a new era of restoration in Iraq—one that looks beyond centuries of loss.
Bilal, who came to America as a refugee in the wake of the First Gulf War, often reflects upon the traumas that have taken place in the country of his birth. In one of his best known works, the 2007 project “Domestic Tension,” the artist sequestered himself in a gallery space and broadcasted live on the internet. Viewers could chat with him at all hours—and opt to shoot him with a robotically controlled paintball gun.
“168:01,” by contrast, seeks to move forward from violence. “To be completely frank, when we talk about war and destruction, when you try to bring that image here, I don’t think it resonates,” Bilal told Whyte of the Star. “There’s an obsession, I think, with images of conflict — when war is taking place, you want to engage people with that. But what happens post-conflict? Either you move on, or you look and say, what needs to be done now? I want to reflect the time now, and now is about rebuilding.”
“168:01” was first conceptualized with the Art Gallery of Windsor and curator Srimoyeee Mitra for Bilal’s major solo exhibition at the museum in 2016. The project has since appeared in various iterations at other museums and galleries around the globe—from a tall tower of books at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology in Liverpool to an entire room at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.
Though the installation at the Aga Khan Museum winds down Sunday, it will be rebuilt for the National Veterans Art Museum Triennial in Chicago next summer.
To date, thanks to visitors who have donated to the project, Bilal has been able to ship 1,700 texts back to Baghdad, contributing to the effort to rebuild the College of Fine Arts’ once prolific collection.
The civilization of ancient Egypt has always been and still is indebted to the Nile River and its dependable water supply that allowed amongst all staple food crops, wheat and barley to be farmed. These are grown throughout the Delta region and all along the banks of the Nile, more recently in the newly reclaimed areas of the western desert. Egypt, the most populous country in the MENA region had for centuries, wheat as a central component of the typical diet of its inhabitants.
The country has lately not only been the largest importer of wheat but also the largest wheat consumer and bread eater per capita in the world. Hence, wheat represents almost 10% of the total value of agricultural production and about 20% of all agricultural imports. However, in 2015, domestic wheat was noticed to be declining as this was found to be less profitable by its producers due mainly to the intervention of Egypt’s government-subsidized bread program. There seem to be an increasing need to reform but at the same time for some Research and Development in all segment of wheat farming. Research on all Genetic Parameters for yield and its components in Bread Wheat would obviously be top of local academic institution’s agenda.
This article of the International Network of Natural Sciences dwells on a piece of research titled An Estimation of Genetic Parameters for yield and its components in bread wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) genotypes under pedigree selection as per a study of Abdel Aziz Nasr Sharaan, Kamal Hassan Ghallab, Mohamed Abdel Salam M. Eid of the Department of Agronomy, Fayoum University, Egypt and published by IJAAR on July 31, 2018.
Genetic Parameters for yield and its components in Bread Wheat
Grain yield is a complex trait and is greatly influenced by various environmental conditions. A 3-year field investigation was carried out to estimate genetic parameters for yield and its related traits of wheat under selection in reclaimed soils conditions. Three field experiments were executed at the Experimental Farm of the Faculty of Agriculture, Fayoum University at Demo (new reclaimed sandy loam soil), Fayoum Governorate, during 2012/2013, 2013/2014, 2014/2015 growing seasons in randomized complete block design (RCBD) with three replications. Results revealed that mean square values were highly significant for all studied traits in all seasons of the experiments, indicating the presence of sufficient variability among the investigated genotypes and gave several opportunities for wheat improvement.
Great correspondence was observed between genotypic coefficients of variation and phenotypic coefficients of variation in every one of the traits. The coefficients of variation were high for no. fertile tillers plant-1 (NFT), grains spike-1 (GS), grains weight spike-1 (GWS), grain yield plant-1 (GYP), spikes m-2 (NSM), grain yield (GY), and harvest index (HI). In addition to, Moderate were recorded for heading date (HD) and spike length (SL) in the all seasons, and low were obtained for days to physiological maturity (DPM) in all seasons. Heritability was greater than 80% for all studied traits whereas genetic advance as a percentage of mean (GAM %) ranged from 12.22 (SS) to 77.00 (GY) in the 1st season and from 15.42 & 12.69 (DPM) to 112.07 & 68.35 (GYP) in 2nd and 3rdseasons.
“Scientific future shaped by ICT”: Dubai Science Park Director in a TahawulTech‘s article by James Dartnell is about how and why Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, the Dubai Science Park’s executive director made such a statement at a time of non-negligible uncertainty not only for that country but for the whole region’s main contribution to the world economy, i.e. hydrocarbons. The highly mediatised UAE’s growing ambitions in Space for notably building a new city on Mars does perhaps come handy in helping to do away with some degree of that uncertainty as well as other things, but what about its ambitions with respect to developing an industry. What about holding on to its present and possibly foreseeable future’s success story in local and regional retail and trade centre? Here is TahawulTech’s article.
“Scientific future shaped by ICT”: Dubai Science Park Director
The executive director of Dubai Science Park has said that the future of the Middle East’s scientific industry will be significantly affected by swift technological advancements.
Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, who has been confirmed as a judge for tahawultech.com’s inaugural Future Enterprise Awards on 14th October at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel in Dubai, said that IT was now not only saving lives, but also advancing the pace of scientific research.
Dubai Science Park’s work focuses around four main areas of science: human science, plant science, energy and environmental science, and Janahi believes that all are now being inextricably linked with and transformed by technology. “Across all of these areas, technology is an important component,” he says. “There is more and more of an overlap between ICT and these sectors. The essence of managing green buildings is a building management system, which is founded on ICT. Using data to predict human conditions is another prime example of where technology is needed.”
[Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi is part of the judging panel of TahawulTech.com Future Enterprise Awards on 14th October 2018 at Emirates Towers, Dubai.| Learn more about TahawulTech.com Future Enterprise Awards.]
While Janahi believes that “all” industries are being disrupted by technology, he says that the healthcare industry in particular sets to benefit citizens through its transformation. “The changes we’re seeing in digital health are particularly impressive,” he says. “Data that sits within servers can now be mined and used for forecasting, while telemedicine gives allows people who don’t have easy access to medical facilities a chance to be looked after. Even regular GP checkups can be done remotely.”
He also believes healthcare transformation will have a significant knock-on effect on other verticals. “There will be a huge disruption in the insurance industry, and managing the journey of patient, which today is all done offline,” he says. “Wearables will be huge, while technologies for things like blood sugar monitoring that connect to smartphones will have a huge impact. The human and environmental sciences will see the biggest disruption in the scientific field.”
Janahi is a chairing member of the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment Task force of the Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, which was announced in 2016. The strategy focuses on five other key areas – aerospace, maritime, aluminum and fabricated metals, food and beverages and machinery and equipment – and aims to transform Dubai from being a service-based economy, to one that creates “25%” of its GDP from industrial activity.
“The bulk of Dubai’s GDP comes from logistics, finance and tourism,” Janahi says. “Manufacturing currently creates around 9-10% of it, and we want to increase that number substantially. We want these kinds of enablers to make Dubai more successful, with opportunities for the short, medium and long-term.”
Janahi is keen to broaden his technological knowledge by participating as a judge in tahawultech.com’s Future Enterprise Awards. “I’m really excited to be a judge,” he says. “I’ve seen more and more technology adopted by the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, but for me it’s interesting to see how technology can be deployed, and how we can learn from other industries.”
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