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CHINA - Prehistory

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Bianca
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« Reply #45 on: May 05, 2009, 11:55:34 am »












Modern semi-aquatic placental mammals (such as beavers and otters), and fully-aquatic placental mammals (such as whales and manatees) did not appear until Eocene to Oligocene (55 - 25 million years ago). By comparison, Castorocauda is at least 164 million year old. So it indicates that primitive docodont mammaliaforms evolved the semi-aquatic swimming independently in the Mesozoic, almost 100 millions years earlier than the Cenozoic placental mammals (beavers, otters, whales and manatees).

Other interesting features of Castorocauda include its teeth and size. Castorocauda developed molars specialized for feeding on small fish and aquatic invertebrates, similar to modern seals or the river otters.

It is also the largest known Jurassic mammaliaform (including mammals).

Most Mesozoic mammals are small (less than 50 grams) and generalized ground-living (terrestrial) mammals. Limited by their small size, and living in the shadow of much larger dinosaurs, most Mesozoic mammals are insectivorous. However, Castorocauda is a significant exception and very different from the typically small and terrestrial Mesozoic mammals. Castorocauda is at least 42.5 cm in body length and more than 6 cm in skull length. Scientists estimate that it weighed about 500 to 800 grams.

"So far, it is the only semi-aquatic mammal from the Jurassic," said Dr. Luo, "and it is also the largest-known Jurassic mammal. Partly because of its larger size, it was possible for Castorocauda to develop fish-eating and swimming adaptations."

The research team was led by Dr. Qiang Ji of Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences (Beijing, China) and Dr. Zhe-Xi Luo of Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh, USA). The art for the Science Magazine cover was created by Mark A. Klingler, scientific illustrator at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Their research was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (USA), National Natural Science Foundation (China), Ministry of Science and Technology (China) (973 project), Ministry of Land Resources (China), National Geographic Society (USA) and Carnegie Museum of Natural History (USA).


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Adapted from materials provided by Carnegie Museum Of Natural History.
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 MLA Carnegie Museum Of Natural History (2006, February 24). Scientists Discover First Swimming Mammal From The Jurassic. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 13, 2009, from



http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2006/02/060224195600.htm
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« Reply #46 on: May 05, 2009, 11:57:52 am »










                      Researchers Discover The Earliest Known Relative Of Marsupial Mammals






ScienceDaily
(Dec. 12, 2003)

— Pittsburgh -- An International team, including scientists from Carnegie Museum of Natural History, have discovered the most primitive and oldest know relative of all marsupial mammals.

In an article published today in Science, the team of American and Chinese scientists describe a 125 million year old fossilized skeleton of Sinodelphys szalayi, ([Sino] - Latin for China, [delphys] - Greek term used for basal marsupial species; [szalayi] - in honor of Professor F.S. Szalay, a leading expert on mammalian skeletal evolution.).

"This mammal could be the great grand aunt or uncle, or it could be the great grandparent of all marsupial mammals," said Dr. Zhe-Xi Luo, curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the lead author of the paper.

Modern marsupials and their extinct relatives make up an important mammalian lineage, known as metatherians, consisting of mammals that are more closely related to modern marsupial mammals (such as opossum, kangaroos and koala) than to placentals (such as humans, rodents and whales). Modern marsupials are a significant part of the larger metatherian mammal group, and are the descendants of the extinct metatherians that lived during the age of dinosaurs, known as the Mesozoic.

With over 270 species, marsupials are the second most diverse mammal group (after placentals with over 4300 species). Marsupials and placentals are both therians mammals characterized by live-birth fetuses, yet they have different reproductive strategies.

Placentals produce better-developed fetuses after longer gestation. In contrast, marsupials give birth the less mature fetuses, and then nurse them for longer periods of time, often in the mother's "marsupial" pouch.

Today marsupials are present mostly in Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea, and in South America. One species, the Virginia opossum, is present in North America. However, in the age of dinosaurs, fossil relatives of marsupials evolved in Asia and North America, before marsupials spread to the rest of the world after the dinosaur extinction.

Prior to the discovery of Sinodelphys, the previously earliest metatherian fossils were some isolated teeth from the 110 million year old sediments of North America. The oldest jaw fragments of metatherians were from deposits of Uzbekistan 90 million years in age. The previously oldest skeletal fossil is from Mongolia and is 75 million years in age.

"The newly discovered Sinodelphys extends the duration for the marsupial lineage by 15 million years, and the earliest record of metatherian skeleton by 50 million years," said Dr. Luo. "This new fossil provided precious, new information about the skeletal anatomy, function, and habits of the earliest metatherians, and sheds light on the evolution of all marsupial mammals."

"The earliest fossils of metatherians are extremely important for scientific studies on the origins of all marsupial mammals, said Dr. John Wible, curator of Mammals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and a co-author of the paper. "Because marsupials and placentals are close to each other and they dominated the world after the extinction of dinosaurs, the earliest metatherian fossils are also relevant for the understanding the divergence of marsupials and placentals, an important event in the history of vertebrate life."

A nearly complete skeleton of Sinodelphys, preserved on a shale slab, was found in the Mesozoic Yixian Formation in western Liaoning Province of China. The fossil is estimated to be 125 million years in geological age. Around the skeleton are well-preserved impressions of fur and some carbonized soft-tissues.
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« Reply #47 on: May 05, 2009, 11:58:55 am »










The mouse-sized animal was about 15 cm (about 6 inches) long and weighed 25 to 30 grams (one ounce). Marsupial-like features can be found in the wrist, anklebones, and in the anterior teeth. The dental features indicate that Sinodelphys ate insects and worms, much like modern-day small mammals.

As with modern tree-dwelling animals, Sinodelphys' shoulder, limbs and feet suggest that it was quite capable of climbing. It was adapted to climbing lower branches of trees and bushes. It lived in woods or shrubs on the lakeshore or riverbank and scurried on uneven surfaces on the ground.

Co-existing with Sinodelphys were the feathered theropod dinosaurs and giant sauropods. There were also pterosaurs, primitive birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects, and diverse plants. Sinodelphys was one of several mammals in the Yixian biota, including: the earliest-known placental-relative Eomaia, the symmetrodonts Zhangheotherium and Maotherium, the eutriconodonts Jeholodens and Repenomamus, and the multituberculate Sinobaatar.

"Interestingly, the more primitive mammals of the Yixian feathered dinosaur fauna were adapted to terrestrial or ground dwelling living," said Dr. Wible. "But only the derived eutherian Eomaia and metatherian Sinodelphys were scansorial or climbing mammals. This suggests that scansorial adaptations were important in the earliest divergence of the modern marsupials and placentals."

A collaborative team of Chinese and American scientists accomplished the discovery and research on Sinodelphys. The Chinese research team was led by Dr. Qiang Ji of Nanjing University and the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences. The American research team includes Dr. Zhe-Xi Luo and Dr. John Wible of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

This research was supported by funding from the Ministry of Land Resources and Ministry of Science and Technology of People's Republic of China (to Prof. Q. Ji), the National Science Foundation of USA (to Z.-X. Luo and J. R. Wible), the National Geographic Society (to Z.-X. Luo), and the funding from Carnegie Museum.


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http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2003/12/031212080417.htm
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« Reply #48 on: May 05, 2009, 12:01:00 pm »











                                      China discovers earliest cave dwelling complex






January 19, 2009
People's Daily Online 
 
Chinese archeologists discovered in Shaanxi Province the earliest known cave dwelling residence complex to date. This large scale ancient complex shows that the history of ancient people living in cave dwellings can be traced as far as 5,500 years ago. The private pottery kilns found at the complex indicate that the concept of private property had already developed by that time.

The Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology recently organized a large scale excavation. During excavation, archeologists discovered that there are 17 relic cave dwellings in total, spread out in rows out to the edge of a cliff near the bank of the Jing River, close to Yangguanzhai Village in Gaoling County of Shaanxi Province in northwestern China. The cave dwellings are part of the cultural heritage from the Banpo phase IV of the Neolithic Age, roughly 5,500 years ago.

A single dwelling covered an area of over 10 square meters, with a simple layout similar to the shape of the Chinese character "吕" (lu). It consisted of a front room and a backroom connected to one another. The front room was an ordinary room, while the backroom was a cave dwelling. Beside the dwellings, archeologists also found pottery kilns and caves used to store potteries where a great number of potteries, greenware sherds and some pottery-making tools were also unearthed.



By People's Daily Online   
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« Reply #49 on: May 05, 2009, 01:34:34 pm »





                           
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« Reply #50 on: May 05, 2009, 01:40:25 pm »




             




                                                           
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« Reply #51 on: May 05, 2009, 01:44:30 pm »





             
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« Reply #52 on: May 05, 2009, 01:49:02 pm »









                       China Exclusive: Archaeologists unearth earliest man-made cave houses 
 
 




www.chinaview.cn 
2009-01-
by Xinhua writers
Fu Shuangqi,
Feng Guo and
Zuo Yuanfeng
XI'AN, Jan. 25
(Xinhua)

-- Archaeologists have unearthed the earliest man-made cave houses and privately-owned pottery workshops in China which date back 5,500 years.

    After four years of excavation, a row of 17 cave houses were found on a cliff along the Jinghe River in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, Wang Weilin, deputy director of the Shaanxi Archaeology Institute and chief archaeologist of the excavation, told Xinhua.

    They were built between 3,500 to 3,000 BC, near the Yangguanzai village of Gaoling county, 20 km away from the provincial capital Xi'an.

    Wang said the row of houses are within a 16,000-square-meter site which is being excavated.

    The cave houses belonged to a late Neolithic culture named Yangshao. It originated in the middle reach of the Yellow River and was considered a main origin of Chinese civilization. Yangshao is best known for red pottery ware with painted patterns and animals.

    Each cave house, with an area of about ten square meters, was divided into two rooms. One was dug into the cliff side, the other, possibly made of wood and mud, was built on the outside of the cave, Wang said.

    Archaeologists also found pottery kilns and caves to store pottery beside the houses as well as pottery wares, fragments and tools.

    "Most of the cave houses had a pottery kiln beside it. We believe these cave houses were homes to families of pottery makers," Wang said.

    In previous excavations of Neolithic settlements in China, one pottery kiln was usually used by all families, he said. "Here we found the earliest evidence that a certain group of people were specialized in making pottery, a sign of division of labor."

    Caves storing pottery also show private ownership of property had emerged, Wang added.
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« Reply #53 on: May 05, 2009, 01:49:59 pm »










North of the cave houses, archaeologists also discovered sections of a moat averaging six to nine meters wide.

    Pottery unearthed from the moat's bottom showed it also belonged to the Yangshao culture from between 4,000 to 3,500 BC.

    "To dig it, lots of laborers must have been mobilized. Without an effective social mechanism, it would be hard to build a project like this," Wang said.

    A area covering 245,000 square meters inside the moat, equal to about the size of 46 American football fields, has not been unearthed.

    "We haven't excavated the settlement inside the moat but its scale was seldom seen at this age," Wang said.

    "As far as I know, the area inside the moat could be the largest and best preserved among settlements of this age," said Prof. Yan Wenming, a history expert with the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University.

    There were several other settlements of the same age nearby the discovery, but they were much smaller.

    "This one was very much likely to be an ancient town," said Wang.

    Archaeologists divide the Yangshao culture into three stages: between 5,000 to 4,000 BC, the middle period from 4,000 to 3,500 BC, and the one from 3,500 to 3,000 BC.

    "We know little about how people lived and were related in the middle stage. The discovery of this settlement offers a very rare and valuable chance to study this stage," said Chen Xingcan, deputy director of the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

    Early Yangshao settlements have mainly been found in Shaanxi, but during the middle stage people spread to nearly half of what's considered today's China. Discoveries have been made in the north near the Great Wall, south to the Yangtze River, east to Shandong Province and west to Gansu and Qinghai provinces, Wang said.

    "This was the first time for cultural integration and might have laid the foundation for today's China. But we still don't know how this happened and why," he said. "We think this settlement is very important to exploring human society at this critical stage."

    The finding at the Yangguanzai site was selected one of the six major archaeological findings of 2008 by the CASS last week.

    Yangshao culture was named after its first settlement at Yangshao village of Henan Province neighboring Shaanxi. It was discovered by Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson and his Chinese colleague Yuan Fuli in 1921. 
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« Reply #54 on: May 05, 2009, 01:54:53 pm »










                      Chinese Used Diamonds To Polish Sapphire-rich Stone In 2500 BC






ScienceDaily
(Feb. 16, 2005)
— CAMBRIDGE, Mass.

-- Researchers have uncovered strong evidence that the ancient Chinese used diamonds to grind and polish ceremonial stone burial axes as long as 6,000 years ago -– and incredibly, did so with a level of skill difficult to achieve even with modern polishing techniques. The finding, reported in the February issue of the journal Archaeometry, places this earliest known use of diamond worldwide thousands of years earlier than the gem is known to have been used elsewhere.

The work also represents the only known prehistoric use of sapphire: The stone worked into polished axes by China's Liangzhu and Sanxingcun cultures around 4000 to 2500 BC has as its most abundant element the mineral corundum, known as ruby in its red form and sapphire in all other colors. Most other known prehistoric artifacts were fashioned from rocks and minerals no harder than quartz.

"The physics of polishing is poorly understood; it's really more an art than a science," says author Peter J. Lu, a graduate student in physics at Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. "Still, it's absolutely remarkable that with the best polishing technologies available today, we couldn't achieve a surface as flat and smooth as was produced 5,000 years ago."

Lu's work may eventually yield new insights into the origins of ancient China's trademark Neolithic artifacts, vast quantities of finely polished jade objects.

Lu began the research in 1999, as a Princeton University undergraduate. He studied four ceremonial axes, ranging in size from 13 to 22 centimeters, found at the tombs of wealthy individuals. Three of these axes, dating to the Sanxingcun culture of 4000 to 3800 BC and the later Liangzhu culture, came from the Nanjing Museum in China; the fourth, discovered at a Liangzhu culture site at Zhejiang Yuhang Wujiabu in 1993, dates roughly to 2500 BC.

"What's most amazing about these mottled brown and grey stones is that they have been polished to a mirror-like luster," Lu says. "It had been assumed that quartz was used to grind the stones, but it struck me as unlikely that such a fine finish could be the product of polishing with quartz sand."

Lu's subsequent X-ray diffraction, electron microprobe analysis, and scanning electron microscopy of the four axes' composition gave more evidence that quartz could not have polished the stones: Fully 40 percent corundum, the second-hardest material on earth, the only material that could plausibly have been used to finish them so finely was diamond.

To further test whether diamond might have been used to polish the axes, Lu subjected samples of the fourth axe, 4,500 years old and from the Liangzhu culture, to modern machine polishing with diamond, alumina, and a quartz-based silica abrasive. Using an atomic force microscope to examine the polished surfaces on a nanometer scale, he determined that the axe's original, exceptionally smooth surface most closely resembled -– although was still superior to -– modern polishing with diamond.

The use of diamond by Liangzhu craftsmen is geologically plausible, as diamond sources exist within 150 miles of where the burial axes studied by Lu were found. These ancient workers might have sorted diamonds from gravel using an age-old technique where wet diamond-bearing gravels are run over a greased surface such as a fatty animal hide; only the diamonds adhere to the grease.

The next known use of diamond occurred around 500 BC; it was used after 250 BC in ancient India to drill beads. The earliest authors to reference what is likely diamond, Manilius and Pliny the Elder, lived in Rome during the first century AD.

Lu's co-authors are Paul M. Chaikin of New York University; Nan Yao of Princeton University; Jenny F. So of the Chinese University of Hong Kong; George E. Harlow of the American Museum of Natural History; and Lu Jianfang and Wang Genfu of the Nanjing Museum. The work was supported primarily by Harvard University's Asia Center, with additional support from MRSEC grants and Princeton University's Department of Physics.


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« Reply #55 on: May 05, 2009, 01:57:06 pm »








The early human species Homo erectus (represented here by a skull found on the Indonesian island of Java) may have existed in its Peking man form in China 200,000 years earlier than previously thought, a March 2009 study says.



Photograph copyright
Russell L. Ciochon
/University of Iowa via Nature
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« Reply #56 on: May 05, 2009, 01:58:22 pm »









                                Peking Man Lived 200,000 Years Earlier Than Thought





Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News

March 12, 2009
Peking man—the group of early humans whose 1920s discovery gave a big boost to the theory of evolution—lived hundreds of thousands of years earlier than previously believed, a new study says.

Some researchers believe the discovery hints at two separate migrations of Homo erectus (of which Peking man is a subspecies) out of Africa: one into northeastern China and another into Southeast Asia.

The new dates would also place Peking man in a more hospitable, cooler time period in China's Zhoukoudian region, which today is the world's foremost source of Homo erectus fossils.

Obtained by measuring the decay of isotopes in buried quartz grains, the data suggest Peking man lived at Zhoukoudian about 750,000 years ago—200,000 years earlier than prior estimates, according to the study, led by Guanjun Shen of China's Nanjing Normal University.
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« Reply #57 on: May 05, 2009, 01:59:16 pm »








Fork in the Road



The findings could redraw the map of Homo erectus's journey out of Africa, suggests anthropologist Russell Ciochon, of the University of Iowa, who published an accompanying analysis of the study (both papers appear in today's issue of the journal Nature).

Based on the new research, Peking man likely inhabited China at roughly the same time as other Homo erectus groups, Ciochon said.

Ciochon hypothesizes that a prolonged mass migration of Homo erectus from Africa, which began about two million years ago, eventually came to something like a fork in the road.

Reaching southern China, the early humans would have come upon a subtropical forest, which would have proved uninviting to Homo erectus, who were accustomed to savanna and open woodlands, Ciochon suggests.

One group probably turned southeast and settled in Southeast Asia, he said.

A second group likely turned northeast and moved into what is now China. Part of the group settled the Zhoukoudian region and eventually evolved into the Peking man subspecies, Homo erectus pekinensis.

The Peking man subspecies is believed to have walked fully upright, used sophisticated stone tools, and sported a brain three-fourths the size of a modern human's.
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« Reply #58 on: May 05, 2009, 02:00:03 pm »









They Came for the Game?



In northeastern China during the newly suggested time period, Homo erectus would have likely found a food-rich region similar to the landscapes the species had been accustomed to.

Before Homo erectus' arrival in the Zhoukoudian region, "we think the climate got cooler and drier and maybe moved more toward grasslands, which would attract more game and, in turn, human hunters," Ciochon said.

"And there is every reason to believe that Peking man was eating meat." Telltale animal bones have been found at Peking man sites, for example.
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« Reply #59 on: May 05, 2009, 02:01:04 pm »









Mystery Solved?



New York University paleoanthropologist Susan Antón said she doesn't believe the new data provide evidence for two migrations into Asia.

"It's certainly possible that there were two migrations—or six or nine," said Antón, who was not involved in the new study.

"But in order to talk about that, you would really need to have some evidence along the routes of those pathways and also some sort of anchor point in Africa" that ties both migrations to a single origination region, she said.

Antón did suggest that, by shifting Peking man to the same, earlier time frame as fellow Homo erectus subspecies, the study helps solve a longstanding scientific mystery.

"It was always a bit puzzling as to why you'd have them persisting until relatively late in continental Asia," she said, "when you didn't really see them persisting, for example, in Africa."   
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