Jun. 24th, 2014

brdgt: (Creationist by iconomicon)
A Sunken Kingdom Re-emerges
By Katrin Bennhold, The New York Times, June 23, 2014

BORTH, WALES — There is a poem children in Wales learn about the sunken kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod, swallowed by the sea and drowned forever after. On a quiet night, legend has it, one can hear the kingdom’s church bells ringing.

When the sea swallowed part of Britain’s western coastline this year and then spat it out again, leaving homes and livelihoods destroyed but also a dense forest of prehistoric tree stumps more exposed than ever, it was as if one had caught a faint glimpse of that Welsh Atlantis.

The submerged forest of Borth is not new. First flooded some 5,000 years ago by rising sea levels after the last ice age, it has been there as long as locals remember, coming and going with the tides and occasionally disappearing under the sand for years on end. But the floods and storms that battered Britain earlier this year radically changed the way archaeologists interpret the landscape: A quarter-mile-long saltwater channel cutting through the trees, revealed by erosion for the first time, provided a trove of clues to where human life may have been concentrated and where its traces may yet be found.


Ancient animal footprints on a beach near Borth, Wales. Archaeologists have had to race against time to study and preserve such remains before the sea further eroded them.

“We used to think of this as just as an impenetrable forest — actually this was a complex human environment,” said Martin Bates, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Wales Trinity St. David, who oversees the excavation work in Borth on a beach he played on as a toddler. “The floods have opened our eyes as to what’s really out there.”

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Searching for Answers in Very Old DNA
By Caludia Dreifus, The New York Times, June 23, 2014

As he puts it in the subtitle of his memoir, “Neanderthal Man,” Svante Paabo goes in search of lost genomes. Dr. Paabo, a 59-year-old Swede who leads his own laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, was the first to extract and sequence the genomes of the ancient humans called Neanderthals and Denisovans, and to compare them with those of modern humans. Genes, and the stories they tell, are texts he reads.

We recently spoke for three hours in Washington, and later on the telephone. Here is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Q. DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BE A GENETICIST?

A. I wouldn’t say so. When I was 13, my mother took me to Egypt. That made a big impression; afterward I thought I might become an Egyptian archaeologist. I had a very romantic idea what that would be
like: discovering mummies and pyramids and things like that. I even started studying Egyptology at the university. But there, my romantic ideas caught up with reality. In the 1970s, Swedish Egyptology was very linguistically oriented. It was about ancient word forms and translating hieroglyphics. I couldn’t imagine spending my life with it.

Q. HOW DID YOU COME TO INVENT AN ENTIRELY NEW RESEARCH AREA, THE GENETICS OF ANCIENT HUMANS?

A. In the late 1970s, while I was doing my medical studies [at Uppsala University in Sweden], these new techniques for studying DNA wereintroduced — cloning, sequencing. I was amazed by them and learned how to do them.
And that brought me to thinking again about Egyptian antiquities. I knew that there are hundreds of mummies stored in museums across Europe. Mummies, after all, are the dried-out bodies of dead people or animals. I wondered if in some, their DNA might still be preserved. If it was present, we could study it just as we study the DNA of people alive today.
My thought was, “If we could do this, we can answer many questions in history that we cannot otherwise answer.”

Q. SUCH AS?
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