The biggest history news of the last seven days, including a rethink on the evolution of the human stride, an answer to the origin of some ancient treasure, and a look at the world’s oldest peace treaty.
Footprints Show Human Gait Evolved Pre-Homo genus
3.6-million-year-old footprints suggest early hominins may have made the transition from ape like shuffling to upright walking much earlier than thought.
“Fossil footprints are truly the only direct evidence of walking in the past,” said David Raichlen, PhD, associate professor at the University of Arizona, in a press release. Raichlen is part of a team analysing the footprints discovered in Laetoli, Tanzania.
“By 3.6 million years ago, our data suggest that if you can account for differences in size, hominins were walking in a way that is very similar to living humans. While there may have been some nuanced differences, in general, these hominins probably looked like us when they walked.”
It is generally considered that hominins, the name given to human ancestors prior to the homo genus, began walking on two legs around seven million years ago. However, it is also assumed that they had a crouched, bent legged posture while walking.
Raichlen and colleagues used footprints and skeletons to reconstruct how these early hominins walked. These tests included comparing the Laetoli footprints with those of eight volunteers walking in an upright or ‘stooped’ (i.e. bent knees) posture. It was found that the volunteers walking upright left footprints closer to those at Laetoli.
“This work suggests that, by 3.6 million years ago, climate and habitat changes likely led to the need for ancestral hominins to walk longer distances during their daily foraging bouts,” said Raichlen.
“Selection may have acted at this time to improve energy economy during locomotion, generating the human-like mechanics we employ today.”
Raichlen recently presented his research at the American Association of Anatomists annual meeting.
Origins of the Carambolo Treasure
Scientists claim to have found the source of the gold used to create the Carambolo Treasure.
Currently housed in the Seville Archaeological museum, the Carambolo Treasure is a selection of gold items from 650 BCE. Discovered by chance in 1958, the Treasure comprises 16 rectangular plates, two breastpieces or pendants, a necklace and two bracelets.
The items were discovered hidden inside an oval structure which also contained numerous animal bones and ceramics, leading archaeologists to conclude it was a place of ritual or worship.
Ever since its discovery, archaeologists have debated the origins of the Bronze Age treasure. Now, using isotope and chemical analysis, a team of scientists from the UPV/EHU’s Geochronology and Isotopic Geochemistry Service – Ibercron, have concluded that the gold originated from a deposit 2km away from the site of the discovery, and not thousands of kilometres away has been suggested.
The scientists behind the study deployed an innovative method to avoid damaging the priceless artefacts. Using a form of laser ablation, they made a hole of around 0.1mm in size in the gold, in order to analyse it.
This laser ablation is combined with plasma mass spectrometry, “with which we not only do isotope analyses but also elemental analyses directly on solid samples with the minimum possible impact”, according to Dr Sonia García de Madinabeitia, who worked on the study.
“We base ourselves on a kind of footprint of the lead,” explained the researcher. “The isotope ratios of lead vary in terms of the function of the materials used and the age of the materials, and we determine the isotope ratio that the lead has. The fact is that there are considerable differences between some mineral deposits and others.”
In addition, the scientists also carried out ‘trace and ultratrace’ analyses on the Carambolo Treasure, “because we know that mines, however much they may be gold or silver mines, never consist of pure materials, but have a series of trace and ultratrace elements that subsequently allow links between the archaeological materials and the geological materials to be established,” added García de Madinabeitia.
Lessons From the World’s Oldest Peace Treaty
‘The world’s oldest peace treaty’ is challenging our image of antiquity and shedding new light on ancient conflicts.
In preparation for a new exhibition at the Berlin Pergamon Museum, archaeologists have been analysing a 3,200-year-old peace treaty between Ramesses II and Ḫattušili III. They claim that contrary to the popular idea that ancient conflicts were settled through the total humiliation of the loser, complex negotiations were in fact at play.
“More than 3,200 years ago, Egyptians and Hittites ensured each other mutual support in the treaty; neither of them triumphed. This must have been preceded by much negotiating, as is evidenced by extensive correspondence between the rulers”, write Director Prof. Dr Achim Lichtenberger and Curator Dr Helge Nieswandt of the University of Münster’s Archaeological Museum, in a press release.
“Although the ‘victorious peace’ dominates over the ‘peace of reconciliation’ in peace images of antiquity, our research shows that the latter also existed.”
In addition, the researchers claim that many ancient peace images were actually created in times of conflict. They cite the example of the Roman goddess of peace, Pax, who was present on Roman coins even at times of war.
“Despite the glorification of war in antiquity, which undoubtedly existed and alienates us: images of the ideal of peace were particularly widespread during wars,” says Nieswandt.
“When the order of the Roman Empire fell apart in the 3rd century AD, and when mostly short-lived soldier emperors took turns, there was an ‘inflation of peace’ on coins.”
The exhibition, entitled Frieden. Von der Antike bis heute (Peace: From Antiquity to the Present Day), opened on 28th April at the Berlin Pergamon Museum.
Featured Image: Footprints from (A) a modern human walking normally, (B) a modern human walking with a stooped posture known as the “bent knees, bent hip,” or BKBH, posture, and (C) 3.6 million-year-old hominin footprints found in Laetoli, Tanzania. The team’s analysis suggests ancient hominins probably walked in a way that is very similar to modern humans. Credit: David Raichlen, University of Arizona.