News and views Tuesday 13th of October 2015: Triple-header!

Two 5,000-year old male skeletons unearthed near the city of Tell el Hammeh, in the southern Jordan river valley, could possibly be the world’s oldest known homosexuals in human history.


The ruins that are under excavation by a team of researchers of the University of Tel Aviv believe the ruins are the remnants of the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities allegedly destroyed by God’s Divine wrath because of the “wickedness and obscure practices” of its population. The discovery was greeted with much enthusiasm by the team of researchers that hope other similar finds could prove “once and for all” that the ruins are in fact those of the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The professor of archeology was clearly enthused by the discovery. “I have made my life’s work to discover the location of Sodom and Gomorrah and this could ultimately be the proof I have been looking for all this time” explained the scientist, visibly emotional. “Sodom and Gomorrah who are reputed for their homosexual sexual practices, and the reason the Bible claims the cities were destroyed, are an important window to understand the culture of the region at that time” he told local reporters. “Extremely high levels of radioactivity found at the site also denote a major catastrophic event occurred in the region, at levels we cannot explain for the moment, but which are consistent with the biblical account of the destruction of the cities” he admitted. In the Bible, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with brimstone and fire from the LORD because “the men of Sodom [were] wicked and sinners” and “because their sin is very grievous”, a behavior often attributed to the practice of homosexuality by a majority of biblical scholars.

48-Million-Year-Old Pregnant Horse Found


New research has confirmed that a 48-million-year-old horse predecessor, whose exceptionally well-preserved remains were discovered in Germany, still has its fetus and some soft tissues intact.

Announcement of the find occurred at last year’s Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting, but the new study confirms that the preserved soft tissues, which include the mother’s placenta and a uterine ligament, represent the earliest fossil record of the uterine system of such an animal. Photos: The Last Wild Horses on Earth

The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal PLOS ONE. “The fetus is the earliest and best-preserved fossil specimen of its kind,” wrote lead author Jens Lorenz Franzen, from the Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt, and his colleagues. They used scanning electronic microscopy to analyze the remains, which were found at a quarry in Messel, near Frankfurt. Photos: Horses, Humans Share Facial Expressions. The extremely high magnification revealed the nearly 5-inch-long fetus, which retains almost all of its tiny bones. Only its skull was damaged, having been crushed at some point. The researchers believe the mare, from the species Eurohippus messelensis, died shortly before giving birth. They do not, however, think that her death was related to her pregnancy. The cause of her demise is a mystery so far, although it is thought that many prehistoric animals perished at the site as a result of asphyxiation.

Lake Messel, present during the mare’s lifetime, is known to have released toxic carbon dioxide gas from time to time, due to volcanic activity. This might have caused the death of the mother, who perhaps sought water as she was about to deliver.

Eurohippus messelensis was only first discovered in 2006. The now-extinct species was smaller than today’s horses, being only about the size of a fox terrier, and had toes: four on its front “feet” and three on its back ones.

Franzen and his colleagues were able to reconstruct the position of the fetus as it would have been when its mother perished. They found that the positioning “was normal and corresponds to late gestation of modern horses.” (Yet proponents of evolution believe it takes a mere one million years for notable evolutionary changes to take hold upon an animal, not over 48,000,000 years!). Photos: Strange Animals Reveal Bizarre Past of Horses.

The scientists therefore conclude that the reproductive system of today’s horses was already highly developed at this early time in the Paleocene Era. The mode of reproduction could have even evolved much earlier. Humans are also placental mammals, so it will be interesting to see how far back this form of birth goes. It clearly predates the common ancestor of the predecessors of horses and humans, but by precisely how many years remains unknown.

Ancient DNA reveals ‘into Africa’ migration


Researchers extracted DNA from a 4,500-year-old skull that was discovered in the highlands of Ethiopia.

A comparison with genetic material from today’s Africans reveals how our ancient ancestors mixed and moved around the continents. The findings, published in the journal Science, suggests that about 3,000 years ago there was a huge wave of migration from Eurasia into Africa. This has left a genetic legacy, and the scientists believe up to 25% of the DNA of modern Africans can be traced back to this event. “Every single population for which we have data in Africa has a sizeable component of Eurasian ancestry,” said Dr Andrea Manica, from the University of Cambridge, who carried out the research.

Petrous bone

Ancient genomes have been sequenced from around the world, but Africa has proved difficult because hot and humid conditions can destroy fragile DNA. However, the 4,500-year-old remains of this hunter gatherer, known as Mota man, were found in a cave and were well preserved. Importantly, a bone that is situated just below the ear, called the petrous, was intact. Dr Manica, speaking to Science in Action on the BBC World Service, said: “The petrous bone is really hard and does a really good job of preventing bacteria getting in and degrading this DNA. What we were able to get is some very high quality undamaged DNA from which we could reconstruct the whole genome of the individual.”

“We have the complete blueprint, every single gene, every single bit of information that made this individual that lived 4,500 years ago in Ethiopia.”

Mass moves

The genome revealed that Mota man had purely African DNA, his ancestors had never moved from Africa (an article in Nature undermines the claim heavily). But the comparison of this with modern African genomes highlighted that about 1,500 years after his death, the make-up of the continent had changed. Genetic studies have shown that after the great migration out of Africa, which happened about 60,000 years ago, some people later returned to the continent. But this study shows that about 3,000 years ago there was a much larger migration than had been thought.

“We know now that they probably corresponded to a quarter of the people that already lived in East Africa (at that time). It was a major backflow, a very sizeable movement of people,” said Dr Manica. It is unclear what caused this move – potentially changes happening in the Egyptian empire – but it has left a genetic legacy. “Quite remarkably, we see in Ethiopia about 20% – so a fifth – of the genome of people living there right now is actually of Eurasian origin, it actually comes from these farmers,” explained Dr Manica.

“But it goes further than that, because if you go to the corners of Africa, all the way to West Africa or South Africa, even populations that we really thought were purely African have 5-6% of their genome that dates back to these western Eurasian farmers.”

Neanderthal genes

The Eurasians’ return also introduced some extra genetic material to Africa. The genes their ancestors had picked up from interbreeding with Neanderthals were then passed to Africans, and can still be seen today. Commenting on the research, Dr Carles Lalueza-Fox, from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, said: “What is nice is that it places in time the origin of the Eurasian backflow into Africa already detected some years ago from modern genome data, and it turns out to be the farming.”

“Once again, like in the case of Europe where we see dramatic genomic turnover, the spread of agriculture has had a huge impact even in a continent where large groups continued to be hunter gatherers.”

“And it is also interesting to discover now that even sub-Saharan Africans have a bit (0.3-0.7%) of Neanderthal ancestry.”

Prof David Reich, from Harvard Medical School in the US, added: “The claim that all sub-Saharan Africans today have a substantial amount of ancestry due to back-to-Africa migrations is quite interesting, and while I won’t be 100% convinced until I look at the data myself, I think the analyses seem careful and thoughtful.”

“While previous studies have documented substantial West Eurasian ancestry in some sub-Saharan African populations, including Nigerians and KhoeSan from southern Africa, if the findings of this paper are right, they are important because they extend these claims to populations that were previously thought to have little or no West Eurasian ancestry, for example Mbuti hunter gatherers from central/east Africa.”

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