Thursday 28 March 2013

Ice House Earth, Greenhouse Earth and those in-between times ... our planet and its peoples ... summary overview ... part 4/4

While writing these last three posts on our earthly beginnings and our appearance  ... every time I turn round another report comes out saying the scientists have found out more background to life on earth.

Egypt, Phoenicia, Mesopotamia, Assyria:
The Fertile Crescent supported early man and where
Homo Sapiens encountered Neanderthal man

So this summary probably won’t really be a summary  - just a post nattering on about how much has changed over 4.55 billion years of earth, or over the 200,000 odd thousand years Homo Sapiens, as we know him, has been around.

We’ve learnt how earth began – then we’re told the scientists are studying the effects of the world transitioning between glacial periods, through research into the deep frozen cores collected in the Southern Ocean, around Antarctica, by studying the atmospheric carbon dioxide trapped inside them ...

The earliest known life on earth existed between 3.9 and 3.5 billion years ago, when sufficient crust had solidified following earth’s molten beginnings ...  life adapts in incredible ways ...  
Black Smoker
in Atlantic Ocean

... some of which we’re still finding out ... the ongoing investigation into the Mariana Trench – the deepest  part of the world’s oceans – where microbes are found everywhere ... they are very adaptable to conditions and will survive wherever they are ...

... and life lives around the black smoker in the Atlantic Ocean - researchers are still cataloguing ... 

Animals adapted to survive in a semi-frozen hibernative state until conditions are right for them to live again – usually to breed ... and then die, while the new forms start the cycle over again ...  for example the wood frog.

The wood frog - which lives in
North America
Early humans moved as they needed to survive ... sometimes putting roots down for thousands of years, as in Arabia ... before overcrowding sent them off on their travels ... ultimately all around the world.

Early Neanderthals lived in the last glacial period, within the current ice age – which occurred from approximately 110,000 to 10,000 years ago.  Neanderthals would have pushed south away from the European northern hemisphere ice sheets – where they ‘met’ the exploring, population explosion peoples from Africa.

Neanderthal sites marked in red -
including two in west England.
England and Europe are still joined.
It is estimated that the population of Neanderthals was approximately 70,000 at their peak.  Neanderthal fossils have been found south of the European line of glaciations (approximately 50th parallel north) – but none as far south as Africa.

Neanderthal man was better adapted to cold weather than modern humans ... but the ice receded and Homo sapiens marched on and in ...

The Female Perspective -
British Museum's Ice Age Art
The “Ice Age Art – Arrival of the Modern Mind” at the British Museum was incredible – more after the A-Z – but suffice to say that the sculptures portrayed people with muscular legs ... showing that to travel anywhere they had to walk.

We know that there’s more to us ...  than us: Biologists are discovering what a treasure trove the oceans’ coral reefs are in terms of finding potential cures;  animals display hidden intelligence ... perhaps because we haven’t been intelligent enough to realise earlier?!  Animals survive until natural extinction wipes them out – OR man interferes during his stay on earth.

Could a volcano wipe out human life – it is possible ... Mt Toba, in northern Sumatra, some 72,000 years ago erupted in what scientists believe is the upper limit of explosions that can physically occur on earth ...

House of the Centenary -
wealthy resident of Pompeii
a preserved wall painting ...
the earliest representation
of Vesuvius
... anthropologists believe that the event caused a sudden evolutionary bottleneck, with genetic implications that linger to this day.  Humanity was nearly wiped out ... but our ancestors clung on and bequeathed us our current existence.

Recent research into Vesuvius’ eruption in 79AD where the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were annihilated has shown that there were two causes of death ... which explains why the skeletons were so different.

The explosion at Mount St Helen’s gave the scientists their breakthrough ... the different pyroclastic effects were realised – the residents of Herculaneum were killed by a very high temperature gaseous flow, which burnt everything .... while the residents of Pompeii were engulfed in a hot gaseous flow, which killed them – but did not burn them ... they were then entombed under the ash.

British Museum's poster for the Summer Exhibition
Life and Death Pompeii and Herculaneum

The British Museum’s summer exhibition is titled “Life and Death Pompeii and Herculaneum” – it opens today until 29th Sepember.

From the recent Chelyabinsk meteor ... the scientists realised the actual ‘crash’ had much less impact than the ensuing shock wave – giving new possibilities as to the effects of previous meteor collisions.

Chelyanbinsk - Meteor trail burst
after explosion on 15 Feb 2013
Also what was incredible ... was how fast the technical data was correlated from the sightings and observations of the monitoring stations, weather satellites and mobile phone and video recordings ... so that within a month – tv programmes were being aired on its trajectory, impact and effects ...

Then it was 60 years ago that “The Secret of Life” was revealed by the microbiologists Francis Crick and James Watson ... Crick wrote to his son, in language distilled for a 12 year old, telling him to Read this Carefully so You Understand It ....

DNA quadruplex formed by
telomere repeats: see Wiki

... we have built a model for the structure of de-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid, called DNA for short.

To think that in these past 60 years we are understanding so much more – yet realising that we know so much less ...

... we can trace our DNA back 192,000 years to find our origins; we can re-examine Neanderthal man and find new interesting facts; we are on the road to establishing ways to combat various diseases ...

So much has happened to the earth ... the continents going walk about; earth’s mantle exploding in various ways ... volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis ... and we know that mass extinctions of life do occur ... there are two – five major extinction events in the world every million years or so ...

... while the ongoing slow evolution of life – flora and fauna alike – mean that we humans have not been privileged to observe a mass extinction ... hardly surprising, since they would probably occur so slowly as to be barely noticeable.

Mounted Neanderthal
Skeleton - American
Museum of Natural History

So now we move around in wheeled or flying tin boxes ... I can think of an English cousin, whose family were in South Africa when I was there, she met and married a South African, they came here for a while, and now live, with their two children, in Melbourne, Australia - shows us how populations move in today’s age.

To re-enact that 200,000 years ago ... would have taken 10,000 generations of peoples – whereas in the 21st century we can make that change to our habitat in 10 years or less.

The really important fact that comes out of all of this ... is that we are related to each other somewhere along the line ... and we are related to each and every aspect of flora and fauna out there ... SO WE NEED TO CARE FOR EVERYTHING (every living thing) ...

Wired Science – Southern Ocean exploration 

BritishMuseum website – What’s on ...

To all A – Zers ....
Please note that Stephen Tremp has had some hassles with his website – and can now be found here ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday 25 March 2013

Ice House Earth, Greenhouse Earth and those in-between times ... our planet and its peoples ... the male ancestral line ... part 3/4

This is the third extract from the BBC programme "Meet your Ancestors / Meet the Izzards" ...

Central West Africa showing areas where
pygmy peoples are still found

The first man to whom we are related – that deepest branch of Y chromosome possible to trace our ancestry ... goes to the equatorial forests of West Africa – specifically to the Bakola pygmies found in the Cameroons.

I don’t really want to put you off reading more – but we’re all related to each other via our DNA ... minor blips taking that tree of life in different directions ...

Banana tree - NB bananas
grow upside down
... but we are also 98% identical with monkeys and incredibly 40% identical to bananas .... now I know why it takes all sorts to make a world – tiny, local, huge, continental etc etc!!

The first branch split off, recognised via their DNA as the Bakola – who continue to live a late Stone Age existence in the forest.  The Bakola are dark skinned pygmies – adapted in size due to the dense vegetation and low ultra-violet light ... this evolutionary adaption is what has helped other branches stay alive through the epochs to the present day.

Pygmy children

The male branch driven by curiosity, ability and climate change spread out further north, mastering most of the rest of the habitable parts of Africa.

Our Cameroon link takes us back 142,000 years, but the next step forward of 80,000 years was a pivotal moment in human history ... sometime before 60,000 years ago – the male ancestors of recent man left Africa to populate the rest of the world via the Red Sea.

A small genetic group along with our female ancestor’s line moved further north into the Gulf ... from which there was a population explosion ... difficult to imagine possible by early peoples ... how did they cope with the harsh Arabian Desert we know today?

The DNA markers link these extraordinary developments and tell us our prehistory ... about 50,000 years ago numerous other branches developed in the human family tree, indicating a population explosion of some kind ... from here all of our ancestors, who are not of recent African origin, are to be found.

Al Ras, Deira, Dubai - mid 1960s

We can find comparisons in today’s time ... if we look at for instance Dubai today ... there are over 8 million people, yet about 60 years ago Dubai was a desert back-water, when the population was just 70,000 ... but due to the huge technological advances in recent years ... Dubai is a futuristic city forged out of this desert waste-land.

Archaeological evidence appears all over the region, which reflects the technological ingenuity of those very early peoples and the fact that there was a very large shift in climate change.

A selection of stone age tools

The desert was environmentally completely different – Arabia was green and fertile ... and this is where huge caches of pre-historic stone tools are being uncovered.

Monsoons cycled the Indian Ocean which then dumped water all over the interior of Arabia ... it was to this flourishing land  that our early hunter gatherer ancestors flocked, as it provided all the food and water they needed.

Oasis in Israel

70,000 years ago with climate change things started to dry out as the earth was in an early phase of an ice age ... deserts started to form, but humans survived despite being trapped in the interior between impenetrable deserts ...

... it is thought that about 50,000 years ago there was a small period of climate change when the rains came, enabling this early human population to escape out of ‘their desert prison’ ...

Depiction of Neanderthal
burial at Kebara
The next male marker appears in Israel – where it is now thought all ancestral human populations came from ... and it is where, in the Kebara Cave, a recent Neanderthal cousin was found to be living 8 million years ago.

Most of us have a percentage of the Neanderthal DNA genome in our make up ... Eddie Izzard has a high proportion at 2.8%, while a very few have 5% ... the rest of us have a smaller percentage.

1.  Gorilla  2. Astralopithecus
3. Homo erectus  4. Neanderthal
5.  Steinheim Skull  6.  Eurohominid
About 55,000 years ago Eddie’s father’s line would have encountered a population of Neanderthals, and this is where interbreeding occurred ... giving some of us the anatomically different primitive features we can see today.

Neanderthals were fair and white, the Homo sapiens arriving out of Africa would have had dark hair and dark skins ... so the pre-history Middle Eastern peoples would have been a mixture ...

... the adjustment to colder weather as the population moved north, and the fact there was less sunlight necessitated a lower pigmentation ... leading to our skin colour of today, as well as the ginger hair that can be found ...

... this led Eddie to remark that ‘racism is stupid’ ... to think wars are fought over skin colour – when we’re all the same ... as we originate from that one Bushman woman, those two women who journeyed out of Africa into Arabia, and the West African male line.

During this evolutionary period  the Neanderthals blended in with Homo sapiens giving us a lighter skin tone, brown and ginger hair, brown and blue eyes and when the population became too large those curious humans felt the urge to move north ... to new hunting grounds perhaps.

Early bison - cave art

They would have been the first humans to colonise central Europe, travelling up the river valleys.  As this was 25,000 years ago, it would have been before the peak of the last ice age ... when big game was around ... European bison, mammoth, reindeer etc ...

About 20,000 years ago the next tie up in Eddie’s male line matches approximately 10% of European males today ... this common ancestor was about 700 generations ago ...

... both of his parents’ ancestors survived the last ice age ... the ice sheet coming down as far as London, across south of Denmark, north Germany and on ... while the perma frost extended south as far as the Danube ...

very early bone needles

... the perma frost would have pushed any human populations back south to warmer climes ... but it was still about 20 degrees C colder than it is now.

Another tool came to the fore at this time ... early man had furs, but found that using a needle the furs could be turned into wind-proof clothing.  The wind chill factor was appalling ... temperatures could plummet because there were fewer trees, so there was less protection against the northerly winds.
Sami fur skin boots

The bone needle meant clothes could be made, tents, bags, skin shoes ... etc ... allowing the population branches to survive and spread out ...  some along the Danube in a westerly direction, other groups, including Eddie’s ancestors, moved north.

Sami beaded belt, knife, and
antler needle case

The ebb and flow of the ice witnessed another defining moment in man’s history ... protection was sought deep within caves, from the glacial cold.

The British Museum has an exhibition on at the moment – I am going to see it tomorrow – on “Ice Age Art – ‘the arrival of the modern mind’” – an exhibition 40,000 years in the making ... the Guardian stating that ‘not even Leonardo surpassed this’.

British Museum's sculpture advert picture
Ice Age Art - arrival of the human mind

The art created in the caves the programme showed us was from the Pyrenees ... the Izzard father’s line went north ... but it was surreal being shown these caves having seen a programme on the British Museum’s Ice Age Art exhibition only in early February ...

... apparently (and understandably if we get to think about it) the caves were extremely dark and there would only, on occasions, have been a glow of light ... but for a great deal of the time - the art work done 16 – 15,000 years ago was done through feel, and the vibration of the sound as the cave drawings were made; this series of caves showed many animals meticulously drawn – bison, stag, horse etc. ...

Horses found in Chauvet cave, France
 By the end of the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, our ancestors had colonised Europe in various directions ...

Eddie’s father’s next significant marker occurred 4 – 3,000 years ago and is to be found in Lower Saxony, northern Germany ... only about ½% of people in England have this marker.


That need for land meant Eddie’s male line crossed over into Britain probably 1,500 years ago ... and a distant relative can be found in Lincolnshire ... however it looks like this particular genetic branch might die out – as his ancestral cousin, his brother and Eddie himself do not have sons.

The Lower Saxony, German connection is where the branch split – with the Izzards moving into Britain probably around 400 AD in the first wave of migrations from an over-resourced northern Europe;

Eddie Izzard c/o The Guardian

while the other line at the time of exploration, revolutionary technologies and an ability to cross seas left for the new land of north America in the 1800s – where an ancestral cousin of the Izzards is to be found today.

Eddie’s father lives in Bexhill on the Sussex coast and can trace the Izzard records back to 1650.

DNA - see Wikipedia

As more of the science of DNA is revealed we are going to find out so much more about what makes us tick ...

BBC One’s Meet the Izzards – the male line

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday 22 March 2013

Ice House Earth, Greenhouse Earth and those in-between times ... our planet and its peoples ... the female ancestral line ... part 2/4

I watched this two part BBC documentary soon after listening to the Icehouse-Greenhouse Earth radio talk per part 1 of this series ... and as my mind does – thought these journeys would add to the mix ...
Eddie Izzard c/o

... so to set the scene: this may startle some of you – but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole camp effect ... and the genealogy aspects that tie us all in ...

Eddie Izzard is an actor, comedian, transvestite, and marathon runner extraordinaire ... over and above these talents and attributes – he fits the bill of look-a-like ancient man ...

This time instead of going back two to three hundred years through the genealogical records ... Izzard donates some DNA and we leap backwards in time ...

Dark Green hatched - Namibia to the west,
South Africa to the south and east

Locked deep within each of us is a genetic history book of our ancestry and the journey of mankind over the earth ... man’s family tree across the continents.

Using our own DNA it is possible to unlock this genetic history and that route map, which reveals how our ancestors migrated out of Africa to populate the rest of the world.

This is the first time the story has been told (on tv) of where our first mother and father originated ... through DNA and the significant DNA markers found within a number of present day human genetics recorded in a huge database.

Kalahari Desert, Namibia
Eddie’s ancestral lines reach England after the Romans had been and conquered, yet give us all an insight as to how and why our families are where they are now, wherever that might be.

I thought these four posts – earth’s history, woman’s path out of Africa and man’s journey of life also out of Africa, then a summary – seemed to tie in rather well and give me a perspective on this planet and its occupants that I had not really taken account of before.

All of us are descended from one woman and one man ... this is the story of the Izzard strand of the population of the world – yet one our own ancestors travelled too ...

... usually our Y and X chromosomes do not change much over time, but occasionally a significant change, known as a “DNA marker” occurs, which indicates another branch to a family tree as the globe has been populated.

Here we will follow the female line ... all of our lines ... to start with ...

San Bushman
The first woman to whom we are all related was a San Bushman living in the Kalahari Desert, southern Africa – these Bushmen still live as hunter gatherers, much as they did 192,000 years ago when our Homo sapiens lineage began (as distinct from the evolving archaic Homo sapiens).

10,000 generations later the San Bushmen are one of the last remaining peoples to preserve the way of life that predominated our existence in Africa for those first 100,000 years.

Bushmen making fire
By 60,000 years ago humans had colonised the enormous continent of Africa, so fast forwarding 140,000 years from our Homo sapiens origins about 200,000 years ago the necessity to find new land became an imperative. 

The human is a curious creature, and by now had acquired the ability to make fire – which allowed food to be cooked making it easier to eat, while fire kept us protected from other species – the predators.

Africa, at this stage, was ‘over-populated’ with an estimated 20,000 peoples ...

Red Sea narrowing
Scientists have DNA tested traditional communities to help establish how we migrated out across the world ... which has given us a route map of our early journeys ...

It is thought that humans first left Africa across the narrowing of the Red Sea at the Bab-el-Mandeb Straight, via the now salt lake of Assal – which sits 150m below sea level and is saltier than the Dead Sea ... or via ...

Salt Lake, Assal Sea
... Djibouti on the Red Sea ... where “DNA markers” have been found, strongly suggesting that our ancestors passed this way to colonise the rest of the world.

It is where these early peoples were exploiting the marine environment – evidence of this has been found in archaeological sites ...

Yemen is likely to be the next stop – but with today’s politics these links cannot be checked ... however the other route via Bab-el-Mandel Straight is still a highway to Arabia.

Bab-el-Mandel Straight
A glacial age was in progress, so the sea level would have been lower making the crossing easier – this was the time of the exodus of humanity out of Africa ...

... but what is even more remarkable it is thought that only two women gave birth to nearly everyone else in the world (via DNA testing available at present) ... and one of those women went north, the other went off to Australia ...

This is the story of us ‘northerners’ ... as we jump forward another 42,000 years ... to about 18,000 years ago ...

Arabia and the Persian Gulf - south of Turkey

... those early ancestors took advantage of the fertile crescent in the Persian Gulf up into Turkey ... then after ‘settling’ for about 8,000 years, the birth of agriculture as we know it today had commenced.

Farming gave Homo sapiens something else ... that abundance enabled settlers to settle and develop a life-style – so now we also have the birth of civilisation ...

... then the blue eyes DNA marker comes to the fore – the earliest archaeological evidence of domestication of cattle and sheep has been found on the shore of the Black Sea.

Eastern part of Mediterranean Sea:
showing Turkey and Black Sea

With the domesticity of animals came a new food source – milk ... but in those early communities milk’s intolerance showed itself ... but evolutionary genetic modification came to the rescue ... and now many of us can digest milk easily.

Back to blue eyes ... everyone with blue eyes can be traced back to the Black Sea coast of 10,000 years ago ... however, whoever has blue eyes will have been passed the gene by both parents ...

... this anomaly really means the blue gene trait shouldn’t survive ... the supposition is that blue eyes were more desirable: that sexual attraction retained the blue eye gene ...
Depiction showing Dardanelles east of
Aegean Sea, Sea of Marmara and
the Bosphorus (entrance to Black Sea)

The next move north as part of the agricultural revolution occurring in the Middle East was probably routed across the Bosphorous ... much as we travel now – if we don’t fly in.

Now we’re at about 7,500 years ago ... and there were an estimated 8 million people ...

... there are two main routes north – up the river valleys into mid Europe, or along the Mediterranean shores ... one of Eddie’s offshoots journeyed along the southern fringes for the next 5,000 years ...

Map showing River Danube and its catchment
across southern Europe

... and this is where those early great civilisations arose ... the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, etc ...

By 79AD Pompeii was a flourishing city with about 20,000 people living there ... one family of Eddie’s genetic cousins died 2,000 years ago in a sad and tragic story arising from that Pompeii explosion.

Eddie’s direct ancestors took the more northerly route via central Europe on their way to Britain.

In all the scientists found 69 key DNA markers in Eddie’s mother’s DNA line ... and the closer we get to today, the scientists can be more precise as to his ancestral journey.

Roskilde is in the middle, northern part of
Zealand island.  (Roskilde: east of the urban
city of Copenhagen, Denmark)

The 67th marker is less than 100 generations ago, about 2,000 years ago ... so now living relatives can be searched out and matched up ...

... we have arrived at the Viking age, where the search is focused in Scandinavia ... in fact Roskilde, Denmark ...

... about 793 AD the Vikings began to raid Britain – their long-ships rowing and sailing across the North Sea... 

... the shallow keels meant that the long-ships could just row onto the shore – eliminating the need for harbours and giving the invaders the advantage of surprise.  With a fair wind this would take about three days?!

A Viking ship
It is thought that Eddie’s mother’s ancestors came in the second wave of immigration, when the Vikings brought their families to settle ...

The next 68th DNA marker brings us forward to 1,000 to 500 years ago – to two blonde sisters in Northamptonshire (+/- middle of England) ... who had always thought they were Anglo-Saxon in origin ... but no they are Vikings ...

This finishes Eddie’s mother’s ancestral journey, which shows how many of our ancestors would have travelled too – and perhaps why and who we are ...

5 years ago this ground breaking journey would not have been possible ... but through matching these genetic markers, which the scientists have mapped via the testing of saliva swabs taken from communities or peoples around the world.

Eddie Izzard

I expect this has only been possible because Eddie is a celebrity in this country and his features are pronounced, typically Neanderthal-like  ... the low forehead, blue eyes, smallish and stolid in stature, and with reddish hair ...

...  all features found along the Homo-sapiens world route map, which using these unique genetic markers has been possible to unravel.

I know this is long ... but it does set out the route and time frame of us ... and I thought it worth posting about ... next the male line ... 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories