Articles tagged as: archaeology

February 12, 2014

Ancient Skeleton Proves Settlers Came From Asia, Not Europe

The first genome sequencing of the Ice Age skeletal remains of a 1-year-old boy has given scientists definitive proof that the first human settlers in North America were from Asia and not Europe, and that these people were the direct ancestors of modern Native Americans, according to research that includes a Texas A&M University professor.

Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of First Americans at Texas A&M, is part of an international team of researchers who had their work published in the current issue of Nature magazine.

the burial mound at the Anzick site

Photo: Texas A&M University

In 1968, the skeletal remains of a Clovis child were found near a rock cliff in central Montana, along with more than 100 burial artifacts found with the boy such as spear points and antler tools. The remains are 12,600 years old, the oldest such remains fully sequenced.

Several years ago, Waters contacted the group that owns the skeleton and asked for permission to perform genetic testing on the remains. The area where the remains were found is now known as the Anzick site, named after the family who own the land where the site is located.

It is the oldest known human burial from North America and it is the only Clovis-era burial site ever found.

“We were able to extract DNA from the bones and show that the ancestors of this boy originated from Asia. These people eventually migrated to North America, settled the continent, and gave rise to Clovis,” Waters explains.

Native Americans from Montana, led by the Crow Tribe, will oversee the reburial of the remains in accordance with Native rituals in the near future, Waters said.

“We hope that this study leads to more cooperation between Native Americans and scientists. This is just one human genome. We need to know the genetic story of modern Native peoples and derive more genetic data from ancient remains to fully understand the origins and movements of the First Americans and their descendants,” Waters adds.

artifacts from the Anzick site

Photo: Texas A&M University

He said the skeleton and burial artifacts were covered with red ochre, a type of mineral. The ochre was powdered and used in the burial ceremony. Ochre was often used in prehistoric times as a pigment and in burials.

While not the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, Clovis is the first widespread prehistoric culture that first appeared 13,000 years ago. Clovis originated south of the large Ice Sheets that covered Canada at that time and are the direct descendants of the earliest people who arrived in the New World around 15,000 years ago.

Clovis people fashioned their stone spear tips with grooved, or fluted, bases. They invented the ‘Clovis point,’ a spear-shaped weapon made of stone that is found in Texas and other portions of the United States and northern Mexico. These weapons were used to hunt animals, including mammoths and mastodons, from 13,000 to 12,600 years ago.

Waters, who has worked on many Clovis and older sites, says, “It is gratifying to see the genetic evidence meshing with the archaeological evidence.  These two methods together will tell the story of the earliest settlers of the Americas.

“The genetic information provided by the Anzick boy is also part of the larger story of modern humans. We know that modern humans originated in Africa and then around 50,000 years ago spread rapidly over Europe and Asia.  The last continent explored and settled by modern humans were the Americas.  In essence, the Anzick boy tells us about the epic journey of our species,” he adds.

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Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or Mike Waters at (979) at 845-5246

October 18, 2012

Liberal Arts Prof Mike Waters Is A True Newsmaker

One thing Texas A&M University anthropology professor Mike Waters has learned through the years is this: if you have a good story to tell, the world will want to hear about it.

That nugget of advice comes from someone who should know. When the media needs to dig up a story, so to speak, Waters is often the man for the job. In the past several years, he has become the focus of hundreds of media interviews for his quite literal groundbreaking work on when the first settlers arrived in Texas. By uncovering artifacts from a remote area near Austin known as the Friedkin site, Waters learned that the first settlers came about 2,500 years earlier than previously believed – meaning they came at least 15,000 years ago, and his work was detailed in a major Science magazine article.

Michael Waters

Michael Waters

Several months later, Waters’ research confirmed evidence that hunters were present in Washington State at least 800 years earlier than Clovis people, who were previously believed to be the first to populate North America. In addition, he is actively involved in restoring Camp Hearne, which was the largest World War II prisoner-of-war camp in Texas and one of the largest in the country, and his book Lone Star Stalag is considered the most complete history of the site located outside the nearby city of Hearne.

For these and other efforts, Waters has been named the 2012 recipient of Texas A&M’s Newsmaker Image Award, presented annually by the Division of Marketing and Communications.

The award goes to a faculty member who has “gone the extra mile”  in assisting Texas A&M with its media efforts and for helping to promote a positive image of the university by demonstrating the highest ideals and goals of the institution.

Previous winners of the Texas A&M Newsmaker Image Award include John Moroney, professor of economics; Bonnie Beaver, professor of veterinary medicine; and Dean Bresciani, former vice president for Student Affairs. Also, group awards were presented to members of the College of Architecture’s Hazard Recovery and Reduction Center and to five entities (Department of Oceanography, Texas Sea Grant College Program, Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG), The Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M University at Galveston) for their efforts in responding to the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Last year’s winner was John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences and State Climatologist, who handled hundreds of media requests during the historic 2011 Texas drought.

Jason Cook, vp for marketing and communications, presents 2012 Newsmaker Award to Mike Waters

Jason Cook, Vice President for Marketing and Communications, presents 2012 Newsmaker Award to Mike Waters

“Dr. Waters has received national and international media coverage in the past year for his discoveries, and he is always accommodating to the media and never says no to a media request,” says Jason Cook, vice president for marketing and communication, in presenting the Newsmaker Award to Waters.

“He’s always sees to it that students are involved at research sites as much as possible because he knows this can be a great learning experience for them. He’s a great asset to Texas A&M and is certainly very deserving of this award.”

Waters says he’s more than happy to help the media for several reasons.

“First, I believe we as faculty have an obligation to share what we have learned in our research,” he says.

“After all, the public is usually funding our projects through such groups as the National Science Foundation and others. So the taxpayers are providing us with lab space and the time and materials we need.

“And also, we are in the knowledge business and we should try to convey what we have discovered, either in the classroom or to the general public. If people want to know about my research, I think it is my duty to tell them about it. And too, I think news stories get young people excited about discovery and science. News stories about what we do might inspire a young person.”

Waters says that during the past year, he has been interviewed by all the major news outlets, such as CNN, FOX News, the New York Times, MSNBC, the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle and numerous others. “Any time you get an interview request from the New York Times, that is a big deal,” he confirms.

“I also enjoyed doing some of the radio interviews, such as with the BBC folks, and NPR (National Public Radio) and even German Public Radio. All of those have a huge worldwide audience to help get the message out.”

Any tips for other faculty members who might get besieged by media requests?

“I think the trick is to try to tell your story in a way that is as clear and concise as possible,” he notes. “You want to tell what you have done in a way that people can understand, as if you were talking directly to a freshman in an introductory class. At least that has worked for me.”

Several hundred news clips proves he is right on target.

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Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 945-4664

February 27, 2012

Texas A&M Prof Preserving POW Camp Hearne

Many Texans may not know it, but the state was home to more than 50,000 prisoners of war — more than any other state — in about 70 POW sites during World War II, and Camp Hearne was among the largest, housing almost 5,000 POWS in its brief tenure. A Texas A&M University researcher is helping to preserve the memory of the camp and its colorful history.

Mike Waters, professor of anthropology who has conducted research at Camp Hearne over the past 15 years, has helped to archive documents and preserve artifacts related to the camp, located in the city of Hearne, about 20 miles north of the Texas A&M campus. His book Lone Star Stalag details life at the camp and its unique place in Texas history.

a restored barrack at Camp Hearne

A recreation of one of the barracks at Camp Hearne.

Waters says Hearne city leaders petitioned the government to build the camp as a means of boosting the local economy, which it did. The Army bought 720 acres outside of town and construction started in 1942. The camp opened in early 1943 and was equipped to handle 4,800 prisoners.

“Most of the POWS there were non-commissioned officers, and according to the Geneva Convention, non-coms were not required to work,” Waters says of the facility.

“So only a few hundred prisoners did any actual work while the rest spent the day reading, listening to music, woodworking or playing recreational sports.  For them, it was almost a country-club type existence, and many of them later said their time at Camp Hearne was one of the best times of their lives. The local citizens often referred to the camp as the ‘Fritz Ritz.’”

The camp may have been one of the most cultured in the U.S. Some of Camp Hearne’s residents were musicians and part of the famed Afrika Korps under the command of legendary German general Erwin Rommel, known as the “Desert Fox.” Not considered military threats, the musicians were allowed to keep their instruments when captured and frequently gave concerts at Camp Hearne, playing for fellow camp inmates or anyone who would listen.

In fact, quite a few of the camp’s prisoners were part of Rommel’s elite Afrika Korps captured in Tunisia. Rommel himself was later involved in a failed plot to kill Hitler and was allowed to commit suicide.

“Camp Hearne is considered a good representation of a typical POW camp in the U.S.,” Waters notes.

historical marker at Camp Hearne

The camp is commemorated with a Texas historical marker.

“It was a central post office for all of the other POW camps in the country then, and at one time, there were more than 400,000 POWS scattered all over the U.S. in various camps. The Camp Hearne inmates were taught skills, many learned how to speak English and they were healthy and well-fed, and when they returned home when the war was over, they were in much better shape than most people in Germany.”

Waters says that in early 1943, there was a struggle for power between the Nazi and anti-Nazi elements at the camp that culminated with a murder in December of that year.

“After that, the Nazi element was in charge, and while this created a tense atmosphere, most of the prisoners tried to steer clear of trouble and spent their day reading or engaging in other activities,” he says. “By 1945, the camp had a very nice library of several thousand books.”

The number of prisoners at the camp — reaching between 4,800 and 5,000 before it was closed — far outnumbered the population of the town at the time, which was about 3,500, Waters says.

When Germany surrendered in 1945, the prisoners were gradually shipped out and the camp was dismantled, with many of its buildings sold to local businesses for warehouses, offices and even a home for a local pastor.

interior of the museum at Camp Hearne

The site now has a museum telling the Camp Hearne story.

Waters says it is important to keep Camp Hearne’s memory alive, especially “for students today, so they can see what a real POW camp was like. Camp Hearne now has museum built on the site and it gets quite a few visitors every year. We are trying to do preservation work, and there is a walking tour of the site which is quite interesting.

“I think anyone who likes Texas or World War II history would enjoy a visit to Camp Hearne.”

For more information, go to http://camphearne.com/

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Media contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or Mike Waters at (979) 845-5246

November 2, 2011

Prof Helping To Unravel Causes Of Ice Age Extinctions

Did climate change or humans cause the extinctions of the large-bodied Ice Age mammals (commonly called megafauna) such as the woolly rhinoceros and woolly mammoth? Scientists have for years debated the reasons behind the Ice Age mass extinctions, which caused the loss of a third of the large mammals in Eurasia and two thirds of the large mammals in North America, and now, an inter-disciplinary team from more than 40 universities around the world led by Professor Eske Willerslev and his group from the Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, have tried to answer the contentious question in one of the biggest studies of its kind ever.

The study by the team, which includes two Texas A&M University professors, is published online today in the journal Nature and reveals dramatically different responses of Ice Age species to climate change and human impact. Using ancient DNA, species distribution models and the human fossil record, the findings indicate that neither climate nor humans alone can account for the Ice Age mass extinctions.

artist's rendering of wooly mammoths“Our findings put a final end to the single-cause theories of these extinctions,” says Willserslev. “Our data suggest care should be taken in making generalizations regarding past and present species extinctions; the relative impacts of climate change and human encroachment on species extinctions really depend on which species we’re looking at.”

The study reports that climate alone caused extinctions of woolly rhinoceros and musk ox in Eurasia, but a combination of climate and humans played a part in the loss of bison in Siberia and wild horse. While the reindeer remain relatively unaffected by any of these factors, the reasons causes of the extinction of the mammoth remain unresolved.

The study also reports that climate change has been intrinsically linked with major population size changes over the past 50,000 years, supporting the view that populations of many species will decline in the future owing to climate change and habitat loss. Finally, the authors find no clear pattern in their data distinguishing species that went extinct from species that survived.

Eline Lorenzen, professor at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the study, said, “The fact that we couldn’t pinpoint what patterns characterize extinct species — despite the large and varying amount of data analyzed — suggests that it will be challenging for experts to predict how existing mammals will respond to future global climate change. Which species will go extinct and which will survive?

“The bottom line is that we really don’t know why some of these ancient species became extinct,” adds Ted Goebel, researcher in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M and affiliated with the Center for the Study of First Americans.

artist's rendering of prehistoric reindeer“Now we can better predict what might happen to animals in the future as climate change occurs. What happens to species when their ranges are significantly diminished, and why do some animals adapt successfully while others become extinct?  We now have a genetic roadmap to follow in our efforts to protect sensitive animal populations – especially in drastically impacted regions like the Arctic.”

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About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $630 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.

Copenhagen Contacts: Prof. Director Eske Willerslev, Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen. Øster Voldgade 5-7DK-1350, Denmark; Phone: +45 35321309/ +45 28751309; E-mail: ewillerslev@gmail.com, ewillerslev@snm.ku.dk, http://geogenetics.ku.dk/

Dr. Eline Lorenzen Centre for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen, Oester Voldgade 5-7 DK-1350; Denmark Office: +45 35 321225 Mobile: +45 26 701024; Email: elinelorenzen@gmail.com or edlorenzen@snm.ku.dk

Texas A&M Contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or Ted Goebel, Department of Anthropology, (979) 862-4544

October 20, 2011

Texas A&M Study: Hunters Present At Least 800 Years Earlier Than Previously Thought

The tip of a bone point fragment found embedded in a mastodon rib from an archaeological site in Washington state shows that hunters were present in North America at least 800 years before Clovis, confirming that the first inhabitants arrived earlier to North America than previously thought, says a team of researchers led by a Texas A&M University archaeologist.

Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, and colleagues from Colorado, Washington and Denmark believe the find at the Manis site in Washington demonstrates that humans were in the area around 13,800 years ago, or 800 years earlier than was believed. Their work is published in the current issue of Science magazine.

In the late 1970s, an adult male mastodon was excavated from a pond at the Manis site. The distribution of the bones and the discovery that some of the bones were broken suggested that the elephant had been killed and butchered by human hunters, Waters explains. However, no stone tools or weapons were found at the site. The key artifact from the site was what appeared to be a bone point sticking out of one of the ribs, but the artifact and the age of the site were disputed.

ct scan showing the embedded spear point

A CT scan showing the embedded spear point.

Waters contacted team member and original excavator, Carl Gustafson, about performing new tests on the rib with the bone point. New radiocarbon dates confirmed that the site was 13,800 years old. High resolution CT scanning and three-dimensional modeling confirmed that the embedded bone was a spear point, and DNA and bone protein analysis showed that the bone point was made of mastodon bone.

“The Manis site is an early kill site” Waters says.

“The evidence from the Manis site shows that people were hunting mastodons with bone weapons before the Clovis stone spear point.”

The new evidence from Manis supports extinction theories of large mammals at the end of the last Ice Age, Waters says. During the last cold period, herds of mammoth, mastodon, camels, horses and other animals roamed Texas and North America. At the end of the Ice Age, these animals became extinct.

“While these animals were stressed by the changing climate and vegetation patterns at the end of the Ice Age, it is now clear from sites like Manis that humans were also hunting these animals and may have been a factor in their demise,” Waters adds. He also notes that “there are at least two other pre-Clovis kill sites in Wisconsin where hunters killed mammoths.”

‘Clovis’ is the name given to the distinctive tools made by people starting around 13,000 years ago. The Clovis people invented the ‘Clovis point’, a spear-shaped weapon made of stone that is found in Texas and the rest of the United States and northern Mexico. These weapons were used to hunt animals, including mammoths and mastodons, from 13,000 to 12,700 years ago.

Waters says that “the evidence from the Manis site is helping to reshape our understanding of the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, the last continent to be occupied by modern humans.”

The mastodon rib with the spear point protruding out of it

The mastodon rib with the spear point protruding.

The study was funded by the North Star Archaeological Research Program at Texas A&M University.

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Media contact:  Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or Mike Waters at (979) 845-5246

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