9 Touching Epitaphs Ancient Greeks And Romans Wrote For Their Deceased Dogs

I saw this post/article on my facebook page and had to share it. it shows how much humans have valued their pet dogs and little has changed since the time of the Ancient Greeks. This link will take you to the original post but the title pretty much sums it up: 9 Touching Epitaphs Ancient Greeks And Romans Wrote For Their Deceased Dogs. 

You can learn a bit more about dogs, their evolution and their anatomy through my skull of the month page on the domestic dog. I’ve also written a page about evidence of dog domestication in archaeology which goes quite nicely with the article!

Fashion Can be a Deadly Thing!

A small article by Anne Kingston entitled Deadly Victorian Fashions. To be honest I don’t know a huge amount about the history of fashion but it’s pretty interesting what length people will go to in the name of fashion. Admittedly they may have not known the facts to begin with but it’s still pretty incredible.

I’ve written a small piece in the past about skull modification, including skull binding, if you’re interested in that type of thing! You also only have to think about fashion today and cultures around the world to see what we can put the human body through. The famous and most common examples include tattoos,  Chinese foot binding, and neck rings.

Fashion and body modification are two intertwined and fascinating subjects, and another thing to add to my list of subjects I want to further explore ! 


A Free Tool for Researchers – Osteoware

I can’t quite remember how I came across this website (perhaps through tumblr) but held onto the link and I though it was an important thing to share. Osteoware is a ‘software program designed to assist in the documentation of human skeletal remains.  It provides for the real-time data entry of quantitative and qualitative observations into a structured query language (SQL) relational database.’ It allows for individuals to document human skeletal remains and incorporates Buikstra & Ubelaker Standards for data collection from human remains.

This software was developed by the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution as a data entry system was needed o inventory and document the data from the physical collections of the NMNH. With some adjustments from the original programme over 100,000 data records have been successfully collected at the Smithsonian Institution.

There are guidelines on how to use the system including how to enter the data, and what is included in each section. For example, when entering age and sex data there are many estimation traits and either drop-down boxes or check boxes and data fields for inputting data. There are also reference images included when scoring particular characteristics, e.g. aspects of cranial morphology used to sex individuals. The data entry fields go on to include dental morphology, postcranial metrics and pathology as well as all of the other areas that are needed to fully record a skeleton.

It looks like a simple piece of kit to use and one with obvious benefits. I haven’t tried the software personally but from the website layout and guidelines to using the programme it looks pretty straight forward. Maybe one day if I get the chance to fully document and record my own skeleton I’ll use this programme. Visit the site here.

Aztec dog burial site found in Mexico City

Image from article and released by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History

Image from article and released by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History

Under an apartment building in Mexico City the remains of 12 dogs have been uncovered. Previously dog burials have been found accompanying human remains or as offerings but this is the first group of dogs to be buried together in one site. The remains have been dated between 1350 a 1520 A.D., during the Aztec empire. Research of the bones will be needed to determine the breeds of the dogs and the way in which they were killed. Further excavation will also be needed to attempt to build up context of the burial to try and explain why the dogs were buried there.

Read the full article here.

To find out a little more on dog remains in the archaeological record read my page Archaeological Evidence for Dog Domestication.

Great Adaptations – a children’s book about evolution

Cover of the book, taken from the webstie.

Cover of the book, taken from the webstie.

I really want to promote and share this – not only is it a great idea but my colleague is also the author! It is a book aimed at children to teach them about evolution using rhyme and illustrations. The tag line on the website reads ‘Imagine if Dr. Seuss met Mr. Darwin and wrote a book…’

Now this just isn’t fables or just stories about mythical beasts but stories about the natural world. Tiffnay Taylor is teaming up with real scientists and incredible artists to create ten poems around the subject of evolutionary advantages found in the natural world.

Please follow, share and support this awesome creation! Vist the website to view a video explaining the book and it’s ideas.

Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence

Phylogeny of the great ape family and speciation and divergence times. image taken from paper.

Phylogeny of the great ape family and speciation and divergence times. image taken from paper.


Gorillas are humans’ closest living relatives after chimpanzees, and are of comparable importance for the study of human origins and evolution. Here we present the assembly and analysis of a genome sequence for the western lowland gorilla, and compare the whole genomes of all extant great ape genera. We propose a synthesis of genetic and fossil evidence consistent with placing the human–chimpanzee and human–chimpanzee–gorilla speciation events at approximately 6 and 10 million years ago. In 30% of the genome, gorilla is closer to human or chimpanzee than the latter are to each other; this is rarer around coding genes, indicating pervasive selection throughout great ape evolution, and has functional consequences in gene expression. A comparison of protein coding genes reveals approximately 500 genes showing accelerated evolution on each of the gorilla, human and chimpanzee lineages, and evidence for parallel acceleration, particularly of genes involved in hearing. We also compare the western and eastern gorilla species, estimating an average sequence divergence time 1.75 million years ago, but with evidence for more recent genetic exchange and a population bottleneck in the eastern species. The use of the genome sequence in these and future analyses will promote a deeper understanding of great ape biology and evolution.

Full Citation:

Scally, A., J. Y. Dutheil, et al. (2012). “Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence.” Nature 483(7388): 169-175.

Link to Nature paper: here

BBC Article – ‘Animal Pompeii’

image taken from BBC article.

image taken from BBC article.

A site in north-east China contains a rich bed of fossil animals dating to 120-130 million years ago created by a volcano comparable to the one seen in Pompeii in Roman times. The eruption would have sent a pyroclastic flow across the landscape and killed animals immobilizing them instantly, as did Mount Vesuvius.

Some of these animals found include the first feathered dinosaurs, early mammals, fish and birds. These fossils will be able to shed light on evolution and life during this period were found in positions which suggest that they were moving as their limbs were flexed and spines extended. It was likely that the blast carried the carcasses and deposited them in the same area.

See the full BBC article or the article in Nature Communications for further information.

New Genome Studies – Neanderthals Contributed to Our Genome

Image taken from Gibbons Article in Science Magazine (Vol 343 31st Jan 2014 p.471)

Image taken from Gibbons Article in Science Magazine (Vol 343 31st Jan 2014 p.471)

A recent article from the BBC mentions two studies looking at the Neanderthal genome and it’s influence over present day non-African genes. This strongly indicates that interbreeding did exist between the different species and some fertile offspring had been produced, although the descendents became less fertile over time.

By studying the genome neanderthal versions of genes were present including a gene variant associated with the difficulty to stop smoking. Other genes appeared to give humans an advantage to the cooler conditions including proteins to toughen the skin and hair. However there was also evidence to show that the Neanderthals passed on gene markers that increased and decreased the risk of Crohn’s disease.

More a more detailed review can be found in Science Magazine which is definitely worth a read. See below for the full citations for the genome studies.

A genome sequence of a Neanderthal showing interbreeding:

Prufer, K., F. Racimo, et al. (2014). “The complete genome sequence of a Neanderthal from the Altai Mountains.” Nature 505(7481): 43-49.

Neanderthal genes in modern humans, including contribution to skin pigmentation:

Vernot, B. and J. M. Akey (2014). “Resurrecting Surviving Neandertal Lineages from Modern Human Genomes.” Science.

World’s Oldest-known Living Cancer Dates back 11,000 years

By sequencing the genome of canine transmissible venereal cancer (CTVT) researchers Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have identified the oldest known living cancer. This cancer arose in a single dog and has survived ever since. By decoding this rare cancer and identifying a certain type of mutation could be used as a ‘molecular clock’ to give an origin of 11,000 years ago. Previous studies have estimated that CTVT is between 200 and 70,000 years old, providing a date of origin much older than originally thought.

In addition to the age of the cancer the phenotype of the founder animal was also investigated. Previous analyses were not able to distinguish between a wolf or an ancient-breed dog origin but by comparing genotypes it was indicated that the animal was likely to have been a dog closely clustered with Alaskan malamutes and huskies. This animal was likely to have had a dark coat and be of medium-large size. It also carried alleles which have been linked to dog domestication.

Read the BBC article here and for the original article from Science here.

If you’re interested in other aspects of domestic dog’s evolution head over to my ‘Skull of the Month’ page!

Archaeological Evidence for Dog Domestication – A Quick Look

Double Dog Burial. Image taken from Vellanoweth et al. (2008)

Double Dog Burial. Image taken from Vellanoweth et al. (2008)

A new page added for my skull of the month – the domestic dog. This page quickly discusses some of the archaeological evidence for dog domestication. Have a look here!