America’s oldest dog discovery

❝ Some 10,000 years ago, in what is now Koster, Illinois, a dog died. Its adopted group of hunter gatherers carefully laid the pup to rest in its own grave among their buried human dead, curled on its side as if it were asleep.

Today, this may not seem surprising — after all, modern dogs are often more “fur baby” than pet. But this ancient Illinois dog, and a duo of other canines buried right nearby, are remarkable: They’re the oldest known individually buried canines found anywhere in the world, according to new research on the pre-print server Biorxiv. What’s more, they provide the earliest physical evidence for dogs in the Americas.

❝ The remains of these creatures has also proved key to solving an important canine conundrum: What happened to the dogs of ancient North America? Did they intermix with dogs brought by European settlers? And what breeds today can call them ancestors? A second new study, published in the journal Science, uses a battery of DNA analyses of both modern and ancient canines to search for clues.

Dogs are an important part of my extended family’s life. Lots of reasons. Lots of personal family tales. Many of you probably have similar tales, experiences in your own life.

I can tell you names of dogs living with folks I follow on Twitter – when I can’t recall names of their partners or children. 🙂 Right, Cooper? Right, J.K.Growling?

Archaeologists discover earliest example of a human with cancer


Click to enlarge – Left clavicle with the pathological lesions indicated by arrows

The skeleton of the young adult male was found by a Durham University PhD student in a tomb in modern Sudan in 2013 and dates back to 1200BC.

Analysis has revealed evidence of metastatic carcinoma, cancer which has spread to other parts of the body from where it started, from a malignant soft-tissue tumour spread across large areas of the body, making it the oldest convincing complete example of metastatic cancer in the archaeological record.

The researchers from Durham University and the British Museum say the discovery will help to explore underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations and provide insights into the evolution of cancer in the past. Ancient DNA analysis of skeletons and mummies with evidence of cancer can be used to detect mutations in specific genes that are known to be associated with particular types of cancer.

Even though cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death today, it remains almost absent from the archaeological record compared to other pathological conditions, giving rise to the conclusion that the disease is mainly a product of modern living and increased longevity. These findings suggest that cancer is not only a modern disease but was already present in the Nile Valley in ancient times.

Lead author, Michaela Binder, a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, excavated and examined the skeleton. She said: “Very little is known about the antiquity, epidemiology and evolution of cancer in past human populations apart from some textual references and a small number of skeletons with signs of cancer.

“Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases.

“Our analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones can only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer even though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone…”

Previously, there has only been one convincing, and two tentative, examples of metastatic cancer predating the 1st millennium BC reported in human remains…

The skeleton was examined by experts at Durham University and the British Museum using radiography and a scanning electron microscope (SEM) which resulted in clear imaging of the lesions on the bones. It showed cancer metastases on the collar bones, shoulder blades, upper arms, vertebrae, ribs, pelvis and thigh bones.

The cause of the cancer can only be speculative but the researchers say it could be as a result of environmental carcinogens such as smoke from wood fires, through genetic factors, or from infectious diseases such as schistosomiasis which is caused by parasites.

They say that an underlying schistosomiasis infection seems a plausible explanation for the cancer in this individual as the disease had plagued inhabitants of Egypt and Nubia since at least 1500BC, and is now recognised as a cause of bladder cancer and breast cancer in men.

As our scientific knowledge progresses, I’m confident we’ll discover more and more ailments are as much the result of pollutants from our society as simply advancing age. There have been significant numbers of illnesses reduced if not removed from our life’s experience by an understanding of just how little of one or another chemical or residue can induce ill health.

I’ve witnessed enough of the silliness in the bad old days. Cripes, when I served my apprenticeship at the age of seventeen the factory I worked in still did little custom case-hardening jobs by dropping red-hot steel parts into cyanide powder!

Scans show fetuses yawning in the womb


Starting a lifetime habit

Growing into a fully formed human being is a long process, and scientists have found that unborn babies not only hiccup, swallow and stretch in the womb, they yawn too…

While some scientists have previously suggested that fetuses yawn, others disagree and say it is nothing more than a developing baby opening and stretching its mouth.

But writing in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday, British researchers said their study was able to clearly distinguish yawning from “non-yawn mouth opening” based on how long the mouth was open…

Just in case you’ve been sitting up late at night wondering about a yawning foetus?

Nadja Reissland of Durham University’s department of Psychology, who led the study, said the function and importance of yawning in fetuses is still unknown, but the findings suggest it may be linked to fetal development and could provide a further indication of the health of the unborn baby.

“Unlike us, fetuses do not yawn contagiously, nor do they yawn because they are sleepy,” she said. “Instead, the frequency of yawning in the womb may be linked to the maturing of the brain early in gestation.”

“Yawn contagiously”? That would mean a crowd is needed in there to perpetuate that thesis. Where’s octomom when you need her?