H. neanderthalensis – H. sapiens Interbreeding?

The BBC reports that the question has come up again as to whether early modern humans and Neanderthals, whose occupation of Europe overlapped, interbred. This new speculation is based on radiocarbon dating and re-examination of 30,000 year old skeletal material from a cave site in Romania. The bones (cranium shown above) are said to show diagnostic features of both modern humans and Neanderthals.

I would think that a lot of this can be sorted out by the project to map the Neanderthal genome that we blogged on last summer. Professor Clive Gamble, quoted in the article, also says that the DNA evidence should tell the tale at the end of the day and that we should be cautious about the evidence for interbreeding. Neanderthal DNA recovered so far seems to show that our evolutionary lines diverged 600,000 years ago. My favorite quote from Gamble: “We’ve known for some time that the earliest modern humans in Europe are a funny-looking bunch”.

Steve’s take on this:

I love this: “The question is whether these robust features show that they were up to no good with Neanderthal women behind boulders on the tundra, or whether they were just a very rugged population.”

Rugged to be out shagging on the tundra I should think…


Ah, synchronicity! The press release on “terror birds” that I posted on last week came just as Darren Naish was finishing a literature review of phorusrhacids. You can read the first of a series of posts on these big critters over here at Darren’s Tetrapod Zoology.

A Horseman

I couldn’t think of a single contemporary “hook” for use of this photograph, but I like it so much I just had to put it up. This is my grandfather, Travis Reid, in a picture taken in Jonesboro, Arkansas. From his appearance and its placement in the album, I believe this was taken in the winter of 1921-22, when he was 21.My grandfather loved horses and boats and fishing. Though he was born in 1900, he always kept a very 19th century mind-set. My father (his son-in-law) still jokes that air-conditioning and the outboard motor on his fishing boat were the only 20th century inventions that Mr. Reid really approved of.He was a fine man and I was lucky to spend a lot of time with him. He taught me how to fish, gave me my first canoeing lessons, would always toss a baseball, and patiently answered my myriad questions. He took me on trips to the Ozarks. We went fishing at his favorite spots in the lowlands west of Crowley’s Ridge: Cache River and Portia and Shirey Bays, horseshoe lakes on the Black River. One quirk: he never used my name when he talked to me. It was never “Reid”, but always “Grandson” or “Old Boy”. In the 27 years we shared I never even thought to ask why.You can tell from this picture that Travis Reid was a sharp-dressed man. Look at that raffish cap and the hacking jacket. And dig those boots!


Patrick sent me this item: a foxhound pack in England is flying a hybrid eagle at foxes.

IF– very big “if”– the bird is very well- trained and, above all, the dogs are accustomed to it, this could work– after all, hounds, eagles, and horses work together every winter in Asia.

But most likely this isn’t so. I fear Patrick’s scenario: “Let’s see — amped up hounds, lots of people, a couple hundred horses, a panicked fox, and someone in a coat and tie handling a massive Golden Eagle cross in the middle of it all. Madness on stilts if you ask me! When the eagle is injured or killed, it will be described as an “accident” rather than planned stupidity”.

Only it may not be the eagle that gets killed…

(And will someone tell me why anyone would dilute the genes of a Golden with those of a gerbil- eating Steppe??)

“Sun Head”

The petroglyphs Reid blogged about below put me in mind of the “Sun Head” figure at the Tamgaly site in Kazakhstan, below. Could it be a shaman figure? According to a Kazakh brochure, other figures might be as well. “Unique representations of ‘magic personages’ can be found, dressed up in animal skins with wolf tails and the extremities of the hands crooked in spirals. But the brochure says that what it calls “a deity with a round aura around the head” is missing. While some have been stolen and allegedly shipped to Japan– I never could find the dog and ram photographed by archaeologist Renato Sala, for instance– this one was obviously there!

These are from the oldest, Bronze- Age group, along with hunters, dogs, horses, and even sex.


Reid says:

That’s a great petroglyph, Steve! Shamanism has deep roots in Central Asia and Siberia. Some of the classic ethnographic descriptions of it come from here and typically, the shaman uses a drum to induce the trance. Studies have shown that beating the drum at a certain frequency causes people to go into the trance state. The “swirling” hands, the feeling of extra digits, and the swirling feeling around the head that you mention are common images in shamanism world-wide.
Here’s another Coso petroglyph showing the swirling head effect to accompany the ones shown in my original post. Do you recall seeing any geometric designs that might fit with the “entoptic images” that Whitley and others have talked about?

Bronze Age would certainly fit – I imagine that’s about 2000 – 500 BC there. Dave Whitley gave a paper at the Society for American Archaeology meetings in 2005 where he said that the earliest archaeological evidence in Asia for shamanism dated to about 8,000 years ago. He believes he has rock art evidence for shamanism here in North America that he can date back to 12,000 years ago. He thinks it is possible that shamanism was invented in North America and that the practice traveled back across the Bering Strait to Asia. Certainly a provocative theory, but I thought it was quite a reach.

Around the web

Peculiar writes to me:

This one sounds like the first chapter of a pretty good thriller: “Disgraced South Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk said on Tuesday he spent part of private donations for research to pay the Russian mafia for mammoth tissues to clone extinct elephant species.”

He adds: “I like this line too, though I wouldn’t have figured it was very hard in Korea: “Do you know how hard it is to secure four or five animal ovaries at butcher shops? You need to keep the workers there happy.” “

Michael Blowhard begins an excellent series of interviews with the brilliant and politically unclassifiable writer Bill Kauffman, whose thinking is admired by “Crunchy Cons”, paleoconservatives, anarchists, and old- fashioned Democrats (if there are any of them left).

Want to write a novel? Quickly? Go here and do it! Actually I think this is a very good idea and if I were not writing (at least) two books right now– more on that soon– I’d be in there too.

The nanny state is determined to kill your dog with kindness. Go here to find out how Joe Trippi and the dog meddlers around Denver want to bring in a “European- style” model that includes the outright destruction of certain breeds. Is yours next?

“European models” for the US are as much red flags as are the words “for the children” as justification for the latest in social engineering. Come to think of it, these dog rules seem to stink of both.


Here is one that will resonate with all writers and editors, courtesy of my agent Bill Bowers:

I have a spelling checker,
It came on my PC.
It plainly marques for my revue
Mistakes I cannot sea.
I’ve run this poem threw it,
I’m sure your please to no.
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

Big Bird

The LA Times carries the LA County Natural History Museum’s announcement of the discovery of the largest fossil bird every found. There was no species name listed in the story, but the fossil skull, discovered in Patagonia, is related to an extinct group of birds known as phorusrhacids – “terror birds.” He has been dated to the Oligocene, 15 million years ago.

I’d like to see one scaled against a moa. This new fellow looks quite a bit more robust than the herbivore moas.