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News Article | May 23, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Ancient tooth fossils found in Europe may represent a new chapter in the human origin story. The fossils, which date back more than 7 million years, belonged to an ape-like creature named Graecopithecus freybergi, researchers hypothesized in two new papers. A lower jaw bone and upper premolar were found in Greece and Bulgaria, respectively. The findings suggest that humans split off from great apes several hundred thousand years earlier than previously thought, according to research published this week in the journal PLOS ONE. SEE ALSO: Humans may have lived in the Americas 130,000 years ago, far earlier than thought If true, that would mean the first pre-humans developed in Mediterranean Europe — not in sub-Saharan Africa, which is widely considered the birthplace of early humans. Still, the studies alone aren't enough to rewrite the story of humankind's beginnings. Outside experts say they are deeply skeptical of the research. They argue the evidence is still too thin to upend decades' worth of fossil and genetic discoveries in Africa. "The new claims about Graecopithecus need to be treated with a good deal of caution," Darren Curnoe, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales Sydney, wrote in an opinion piece for The Conversation. "I'm open to the idea that early humans lived beyond Africa, but Graecopithecus falls well short of proving it," he said. Many researchers assume that human and ape lineages diverged some 5 to 7 million years ago. Charles Darwin initially surmised that humans evolved in Africa, because that's the home of humans' closest ape relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas. The oldest potential pre-human, a 6- to 7-million-year old named Sahelanthropus, was found in present-day Chad. But the Graecopithecus — nicknamed "El Graeco" — may be even older, according to an international team of researchers. The Bulgarian premolar dates back some 7.24 million years ago, and the Greek jaw fossil dates back 7.175 million years ago, they said. The teams were led by Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment in Germany and Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Researchers used computer tomography to take cross-sections of the two fossils. They found the roots of premolars were widely fused, a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans, and several pre-human ancestors. Great apes, by contrast, have two or three separate and diverging premolar roots. The lower jaw fossil also had additional dental root features that suggested its owner belonged to the pre-human lineage. "We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa," Jochen Fuss, a doctoral student at the University of Tübingen in Germany who conducted this part of the study, said in a press release. But Curnoe, the skeptical professor, said studying just one feature — dental roots — on a small number of fossils wasn't enough to prove El Graeco was on Team Human, not Team Ape. "While our place in the tree of life is now well established — chimpanzees being our closest relatives — the beginning of the human line millions of years ago continues to be shrouded in mystery," he noted.

Aiglstorfer M.,University of Tübingen | Aiglstorfer M.,Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment | Rossner G.E.,SNSB Bayerische Staatssammlung fur Palaontologie und Geologie | Rossner G.E.,Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich | And 3 more authors.
Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments | Year: 2014

One of the rare records of a rich ruminant fauna of late Middle Miocene age (Sarmatian sensu stricto; 12.2-12.0 Ma) was discovered at the Gratkorn locality (Styria, Austria). It comprises, besides Micromeryx flourensianus, ?Hispanomeryx sp., Euprox furcatus, Palaeomerycidae gen. et sp. indet., and Tethytragus sp., one of the oldest records of Dorcatherium naui. Gratkorn specimens of the latter species are in metric and morphologic accordance (e.g. Selenodont teeth, bicuspid p2, non-fusion of malleolus lateralis and tibia) with type material from Eppelsheim (Germany) and conspecific material from Atzelsdorf (Austria), and do not show an intermediate morphology between Late Miocene Dorcatherium naui and Middle Miocene Dorcatherium crassum, thus enforcing the clear separation of the two species. It furthermore confirms the assignation of Dorcatherium naui to a selenodont lineage (together with Dorcatherium guntianum) distinct from a bunoselenodont lineage (including Dorcatherium crassum). The record of ?Hispanomeryx sp. is the first of this genus in Central Europe. While Tethytragus sp. could also be a new bovid representative for the Sarmatian of Central Europe, Micromeryx flourensianus and Euprox furcatus are well-known taxa in the Middle Miocene of Central Europe, but comprise their first records from Styria. Morphological data from this work in combination with isotopic measurements (δ18OCO3, δ13C; Aiglstorfer et al. 2014a, this issue) indicate a niche partitioning for the ruminants from Gratkorn with subcanopy browsing (Euprox furcatus), top canopy browsing (Tethytragus sp.) and even a certain amount of frugivory (Dorcatherium naui and Micromeryx flourensianus). © 2014 Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

TÜBINGEN, 01-Dec-2016 — /EuropaWire/ — Scientists from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen discovered that Neanderthals modified their survival strategies even without external influences, such as environmental or climate changes. Using a new method, the team was able to show by means of carbonate isotopy in fossilized teeth that 250,000 years ago, the ancestors of modern man were more advanced in their development than previously thought. The new results are expected to aid in understanding the development of modern humans. The study was recently published in the scientific journal “Quaternary Science Reviews.” If the climate becomes cooler or warmer, species are forced to adapt their survival strategies – this also holds true for our ancestors, the extinct Neanderthals. “We have now discovered that the Neanderthals were able to advance in their development even in the absence of external influences. Thus, they were more similar to modern humans than we had previously assumed,” explains Professor Dr. Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen. To this end, an international team around the biogeologist from Tübingen used a new method to examine fossils from the excavation site at Payre in southeastern France. “We examined carbonate from the teeth of several Neanderthal children. The results show that 250,000 years ago, our ancestors already developed different survival strategies – even when the environmental and climatic conditions remained constant.” Carbonate is an essential mineral component of the hard tissue in bones and teeth. Among other things, the isotope composition in the carbonate reflects an organism’s drinking and feeding habits. In order to gain insights into the environment these young Neanderthals inhabited, Bocherens and his colleagues also examined the isotope composition in the carbonate from herbivorous and carnivorous large mammals. “The carbon and oxygen isotopes of the horses, red deer, rhinoceroses, wolves and hyenas that lived during this time period were stable. We can therefore assume that no changes in the environmental conditions occurred during that time.” In contrast, the Neanderthal fossils reveal that one group primarily hunted rhinos and horses in the valley, while the other group specialized in hunting red deer on the high plateau. “Around the same time, our ancestors in Schöningen used wooden spears to hunt horses. We can thus recognize three different methods that were used 250,000 years ago to tap into the environmental resources and utilize them. At that time, hominids had reached a point that clearly led to the behavior of modern humans,” adds Bocherens. The method developed by Bocherens and his colleagues of examining carbonate from fossil tooth enamel harbors a great potential. Based on the collagen in bones, it had only been possible to date to gather information on fossils that are younger than 100,000 years. After this time, bones only very rarely contain any usable collagen. However, in the tooth enamel, carbonate and the information contained therein is preserved significantly longer. “I am very curious to see what other insights this method will reveal regarding older hominid fossils,” offers Bocherens in preview. To study and understand nature with its unlimited diversity of living creatures and to preserve and manage it in a sustainable fashion as the basis of life for future generations – that has been the goal of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (Senckenberg Nature Research Society) for almost 200 years. This integrative “geobiodiversity research” and the dissemination of research and science are among Senckenberg’s primary tasks. Three nature museums in Frankfurt, Görlitz and Dresden display the diversity of life and the earth’s development over millions of years. The Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung is a member of the Leibniz Association. The Senckenberg Nature Museum in Frankfurt is supported by the City of Frankfurt am Main as well as numerous other partners. Additional information can be found at www.senckenberg.de. The University of Tübingen Innovative. Interdisciplinary. International. Since its foundation, the University of Tübingen has encompassed these guiding principles in its research and teaching. For more than five centuries, the University of Tübingen has attracted great minds, both from Europe as well as internationally. Time and again, it initiated and effected important new developments in the humanities and natural sciences, in medicine and social science. Tübingen is among the global leaders in the field of neuro-sciences. Along with medical imaging, translational immunology and cancer research, microbiology and infection research as well as molecular biology of plants, this defines Tübingen’s research focus in the field of life sciences. Additional focal points are geological and environmental research; astro-, particle and quantum physics; archeology and anthropology; language and cognition; as well as education and media. The University of Tübingen is among the eleven German universities that were awarded the title “excellent.” It regularly occupies top positions in national and international rankings. In recent decades, this attractive and highly innovative research environment has attracted a number of non-university research institutions and young, ambitious companies with which the university has established a close cooperation. Through a tight interlinking of research and teaching, the University of Tübingen offers ideal conditions for those who come to study here. More than 28,000 students from across the globe are currently matriculated at the University of Tübingen. A wide spectrum of approximately 300 study programs is available to them – from Egyptology to the cellular neuro-sciences.

Aiglstorfer M.,University of Tübingen | Aiglstorfer M.,Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment | Costeur L.,Naturhistorisches Museum Basel
Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments | Year: 2013

The locality of Dorn-Dürkheim houses the youngest record for the family Moschidae in Europe besides Micromeryx mirus from Kohfidisch (Austria; Vislobokova Paleontol J 41(4):451-460, 2007) and Hispanomeryx sp. from Puente Minero (Spain; Sánchez et al. Palaeontology 53(5):1023-1047, 2010). In describing the moschid material from Dorn-Dürkheim, we intend to update the data on the European late Miocene representatives of the family. With a nearly closed anterior valley in p4 and brachy- to mesodont (sensu Damuth and Janis Biol Rev 86(3):733-758, 2011) lower molars, the material of small ruminants from Dorn-Dürkheim shows typical features of the Miocene Moschidae that clearly distinguish them from dental remains of similar sized but more brachydont taxa, such as Lagomeryx (Rössner Palaeontogr A 277:103-112, 2006). Dimensionally, both the teeth and the postcranial material fit well within the variability of the genus Micromeryx. Morphologically, the postcranial material clearly differs from that of Hispanomeryx. Therefore, we assign the material from Dorn-Dürkheim 1 to Micromeryx sp. A brief review of the biochronologic and palaeogeographic range of the European Miocene Moschidae is given. © 2013 Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Gross M.,Universalmuseum Joanneum | Bohme M.,University of Tübingen | Bohme M.,Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment | Havlik P.,University of Tübingen | And 3 more authors.
Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments | Year: 2014

This article summarises the history of research, the geological background and the stratigraphy of the Gratkorn locality (SE Austria). Since its discovery in 2005, 65 vertebrate taxa, comprising fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small and large mammals have been documented, as well as a variety of plant and invertebrate fossils. Due to its origin from a rapidly accumulated floodplain paleosol, time-averaging is low and the taphocoenose reflects well the original vertebrate community. The Gratkorn site is dated by integrated stratigraphy, but independent from vertebrate biochronology, to about 12.2-12.0 Ma (late Middle Miocene). Thus, it probably yields the most diverse, systematically excavated vertebrate fauna of that age in Europe and is an extremely important benchmark for a vertebrate-based, continental biostratigraphy of the Central Paratethyan realm and beyond. © 2014 Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Aiglstorfer M.,University of Tübingen | Aiglstorfer M.,Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment | Bocherens H.,University of Tübingen | Bohme M.,University of Tübingen | Bohme M.,Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment
Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments | Year: 2014

δ18OCO3, δ13C and 87Sr/86Sr measurements were performed on tooth enamel of several species to gain information on the diet and mobility of herbivorous large mammals from Gratkorn (Austria; late Sarmatian sensu stricto; 12.2-12.0 Ma). Except for the tragulid Dorcatherium naui, which was most likely frugivorous to a certain degree, the mean values and the total ranges of δ13C and δ18O of the large mammal taxa are typical for an exclusively C3 vegetation diet and point to predominantly browsing in mesic/woodland environments. Occupation of different ecological niches is indicated by variation in δ18O and δ13C among the taxa, and could be shown to be typical for the species by comparison with other Miocene localities from different areas and ages. The small moschid Micromeryx flourensianus might have occasionally fed on fruits. The cervid Euprox furcatus represents a typical subcanopy browsing taxon. The proboscidean Deinotherium levius vel giganteum browsed on canopy plants in the higher parts of an exclusively C3 vegetation as did the bovid Tethytragus sp. Generally higher values for δ18O and δ13C of Lartetotherium sansaniense indicate feeding in a more open environment. Different ecological niches can be reconstructed for the two suids. While Listriodon splendens was a browsing taxon with a considerable input of fruits and maybe some grass in its diet, Parachleuastochoerus steinheimensis might have included roots. Distinct differences in 87Sr/ 86Sr values indicate that most of the larger mammals (Deinotherium levius vel giganteum, Parachleuastochoerus steinheimensis, Euprox furcatus, Lartetotherium sansaniense and to a minor degree maybe Listriodon splendens) were not permanent residents of the area around Gratkorn but rather inhabited a wider area, most likely including the Styrian Basin and the higher altitudes of the Eastern Alps' palaeozoic basement. © 2014 Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Bohme M.,University of Tübingen | Bohme M.,Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment | Vasilyan D.,University of Tübingen
Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments | Year: 2014

In this paper, we present the ectothermic vertebrate fauna from the late Middle Miocene locality Gratkorn (Austria). In total, 2 fish, 8 amphibian and 17 reptile taxa have been described. Among them reptiles are the most abundant group. Fish remains are very rare and comprise only small-sized cyprinids (Leuciscinae indet.) and gobiids (Gobiidae indet.). Caudates are represented by a small-sized newt (Triturus sp. aff. T. vulgaris), a salamander (Salamandra sansaniensis), and a crocodile newt (Chelotriton aff. paradoxus). Anurans are documented by Rana sp., Pelophylax sp., Latonia sp., Bufotes cf. viridis, and Pelobates sanchizi. The most diverse and numerous ectothermic vertebrate group are scincomorph reptiles (lizards), of which more than 30 bones belonging to six taxa (Scincidae indet., Lacerta s.l. Sp. 1-3, Miolacerta tenuis, ?Edlartetia sp.) have been recognised. Gecko remains (Gekkonidae indet.) are rare. Anguimorphs are represented by a large monitor lizard (Varanus sp.) and a small-size species of Ophisaurus spinari. Four snake taxa are present in Gratkorn: two "small-sized colubrins" Colubrinae sp. 1 and sp. 2, a natricine (Natricinae sp.), and a cobra (Naja sp.). Turtles are represented by two aquatic turtles (Clemmydopsis turnauensis, Chelydropsis murchisonae) and two terrestrial tortoises (Testudo cf. Steinheimensis, Testudo cf. kalksburgensis). The fauna of amphibians and reptiles of Gratkorn (layer 11b) reflects a variety of habitats, relatively sparsely vegetated floodplain with sandy soils, including short-lived ponds, streams or rivulets in the close vicinity, relatively open landscapes, with a dry, semi-arid climate (MAP 486 ± 252 mm). © 2014 Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Aiglstorfer M.,University of Tübingen | Aiglstorfer M.,Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment | Heissig K.,SNSB | Bohme M.,University of Tübingen | Bohme M.,Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment
Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments | Year: 2014

Although quite rare in comparison to other large mammal groups, the Perissodactyla from Gratkorn show a diverse assemblage. Besides the three rhinocerotid species, Aceratherium sp., Brachypotherium brachypus (Lartet, 1837), and Lartetotherium sansaniense (Lartet, in Laurillard 1848), the families Chalicotheriidae and Equidae are represented by Chalicotherium goldfussi Kaup, 1833 and Anchitherium sp., respectively. The perissodactyl assemblage fits well in a late Middle Miocene (Sarmatian) riparian woodland with diverse habitats from active rivers to drier more open environments, as were present at the Gratkorn locality. © 2014 Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

News Article | August 23, 2016
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

Senckenberg scientists have studied the feeding habits of the extinct cave bear. Based on the isotope composition in the collagen of the bears' bones, they were able to show that the large mammals subsisted on a purely vegan diet. In the study, recently published in the scientific publication Journal of Quaternary Science, the international team proposes that it was this inflexible diet that led to the cave bear's extinction approximately 25,000 years ago. Today's brown bears are omnivores. Depending on the time of year, they devour plants, mushrooms, berries and small to larger mammals, but they will also take fish and insects. "The cave bear is a very different story," says Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP) at the University of Tübingen. "According to our newest findings, these extinct relatives of the brown bear lived on a strictly vegan diet." Cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) lived in Europe during the most recent glacial period, approximately 400,000 years ago, until they became extinct about 25,000 years ago. With a length of 3.5 meters and a height of 1.7 meters at the shoulder, these bears, which ranged from Northern Spain to the Urals, were noticeably larger than their modern-day relatives. Despite their name, they did not actually live in caves but only used them for hibernation. Nevertheless, the occasional death of animals in various European caves over several tens of thousands of years eventually led to enormous accumulations of bones and teeth from these large fur-bearing animals. Several of these bones from the Goyet Cave in Belgium have now been examined by the international team around Bocherens, with a special focus on the cave bear's diet. "We were particularly interested in what exactly the cave bears ate, and whether there is a connection between their diet and their extinction," explains the biogeologist from Tübingen. To this end, scientists from Japan, Canada, Belgium and Germany conducted isotope studies on the collagen from the bears' bones. Collagen is an essential organic component of the connective tissue in bones, teeth, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and the skin. The examination of the isotope composition of individual amino acids in the collagen shows that the bears lived on a strictly vegan diet. "Similar to today's giant panda, the cave bears were therefore extremely inflexible in regard to their food," adds Bocherens. "We assume that this unbalanced diet, in combination with the reduced supply of plants during the last ice age, ultimately led to the cave bear's extinction." Previously, there had been much speculation as to the cause of the large bears' disappearance. Was it due to increasing hunting pressure from humans? The changing temperatures, or the lack of food? "We believe that the reliance on a purely vegan diet was a crucial reason for the cave bear's extinction," explains Bocherens. During the investigation, another interesting aspect came to light. Even the collagen of two cave bear cubs indicated a vegan diet – despite the fact that they were suckled by their mother. The scientists interpret this finding as a reflection of the nursing female's diet. "We now intend to examine additional cave bear bones from various European locations with this new method, as well as conducting controlled feeding experiments with modern bears, in order to further solidify our proposition," adds Bocherens.

News Article | March 16, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

The diet of our prehistoric ancestors consisted of 80 percent red meat and 20 percent fruits and vegetables, two new studies revealed. The findings support the idea that at least some paleo diets, which were presumably eaten by ancient humans, relied greatly on red meat, included a few fruits, vegetables and some plant materials, and mostly excluded seafood. Led by Hervé Bocherens from the University of Tübingen, researchers from Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP) performed isotopic analysis on the skeletons of early humans from Asia and Europe. The team also looked at the diet of Stone Age Homo sapiens. "We have taken a detailed look at the Neanderthals' diet," said Bocherens. Bocherens said they were able to find out that the extinct relatives of modern humans primarily ate large herbivorous animals. He and his colleagues examined the remains of Neandarthals and animals from two excavation sites in Belgium. They contrasted the diets of prehistoric humans to the diets of woolly rhinoceroses, mammoths, reindeer, wild horses, European bison, cave hyenas, lions, bears and wolves. It was assumed that ancient humans used the same food sources as these animals, but the study revealed that all predators occupied a very specific niche. Predators preferred smaller prey, but Neanderthals specialized on plant-eaters such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses. Scientists have also found ancient weapons such as spears that are associated with Neanderthals. This meant the prehistoric group must have had a very organized approach to hunting large prey. While Neanderthals were meat-eaters, they also consumed vegetables, fruits and other plants. Bocherens said they were able to determine the proportion of vegetarian food in the diet of late Neanderthals. Similar findings were found from Stone Age humans, he said. Meanwhile, the team hopes that further studies could shed light on what could have led to the disappearance of Neanderthals and their way of life. Modern humans' cultural advances may have driven our prehistoric cousins to extinction, according to a previous study. In any case, it appears the Neanderthals were not starving to death based on their eating habits. "We are accumulating more and more evidence that diet was not a decisive factor in why the Neanderthals had to make room for modern humans," added Bocherens. The findings are featured in the Journal of Human Evolution and the journal Quaternary International.

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