THE OLDEST METAL OBJECT FOUND TO DATE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
According to Dr. Danny Rosenberg of the University of Haifa’s Zinman Institute of Archeology, the copper awl is a unique and very rare artifact, whose discovery, along with other items during the excavations at Tel Tsaf in the Jordan Valley, indicates that the site was an ancient international commercial center
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton Released: 21-Aug-2014 Citations PLOS One Source Newsroom: University of Haifa
Newswise — A copper awl, the oldest metal object found to date in the Middle East, was discovered during the excavations at Tel Tsaf, according to a recent study published by researchers from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology and the Department of archaeology at the University of Haifa , in conjunction with researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the German Archaeological Institute of Berlin.
According to the study, which appeared in the prestigious journal PLOS One, the awl dates back to the late 6th millennium or the early 5th millennium BCE, moving back by several hundred years the date it was previously thought that the peoples of the region began to use metals.
Tel Tsaf, a Middle Chalcolithic village dated to about 5200-4600 BCE, is located near the Jordan River and the international border with Jordan. The site was first documented in the 1950s and excavations there began at the end of the 1970s.
From the earliest digs nearly 40 years ago, this area, the most important archeological site in the region dated to this period, has been supplying researchers with a great deal of valuable data, and continues to do so during this latest research project led by Dr. Danny Rosenberg of the University of Haifa in conjunction with Dr. Florian Klimscha of the Eurasia Department of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin.
For example, the researchers learned of the community’s great wealth and the long-distance commercial ties it maintained from the large buildings made of mud-bricks and the large number of silos in which wheat and barley were stored on an unprecedented scale.
There were many roasting ovens in the courtyards, all filled with burnt animal bones testifying to the holding of large events and many other findings, among them items made of obsidian (a volcanic glass with origins in Anatolia or Armenia), shells from the Nile River in Egypt and other areas around the Mediterranean, figurines of people and animals, and pottery unlike that found in almost any other location in the region.
But the most important finding to date is only 4 centimeters long. This unique item, a copper awl, which is 1 millimeter thick at the tip that was set in a wooden handle, was actually found during a previous excavation at the site by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University.
The cone-shaped awl was found in a sealed grave of a woman about 40 years old that was dug inside a silo, and around her waist was a belt made of 1,668 ostrich-egg shell beads. The grave was covered with several large stones, and according to Dr. Rosenberg, its location within a silo testifies to both the importance of the deceased and the importance the community ascribed to the facility in which she was buried.
But while the grave, the woman’s skeleton, and the beaded belt were all previously reported in scientific journals, the little awl was only reported on recently, after its chemical components were analyzed by Prof. Sariel Shalev of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa’s.
As noted, the awl was found to made of copper, and according to Dr. Rosenberg, the fact that it was found just above the skeleton ad in a sealed grave, meant that it was buried with the woman, apparently as a burial offering, and may have belonged to her.
This artifact is important because until now, researchers believed that area residents began to use metals only in the Late Chalcolithic period (during the second half of the 5th millennium BCE, so that this finding moves back the appearance of metal in our region by several hundred years. This has significant impact on our understanding of the developing use of complex technologies and the related social contexts.
But this is not the only reason the awl is significant. The chemical examination of the metal shows it may have come from the Caucasus, some 1,000 kilometers from Tel Tsaf.
According to Dr. Rosenberg, while the long-distance commercial ties maintained by village communities in our region were already known from even earlier periods, the import of a new technology combined with the processing of a new raw material coming from such a distant location is unique to Tel Tsaf and provides additional evidence of the importance of this site in the ancient world.
The researchers are still not sure what the awl was used for, but the early use of a metal object, as well as its distant source, also testify to the high social status of the woman and the importance of the building she was buried in.
“The appearance of the item in a woman’s grave, which represents one of the most elaborate burials we have seen in our region from that era, testifies to both the importance of the awl and the importance of the woman, and it is possible that we are seeing here the first indications of social hierarchy and complexity,” said Dr. Rosenberg.
“However, in this area far more is unknown than is known, and although the discovery of the awl at Tel Tsaf constitutes evidence of a peak of technological development among the peoples of the region and is a discovery of global importance, there is a lot of progress still to be made and many parts of the wider picture are still unknown to us.
“It seems that at least some of the questions raised by this unique item will be answered by an interdisciplinary research project we have been conducting at the site since last year,” Dr. Rosenberg continued.
“This project integrates multi-national archeologists and researchers from a variety of other scientific disciplines, who will address the even more complex questions that will undoubtedly arise.”
8,000-YEAR-OLD MUTATION KEY TO HUMAN LIFE AT HIGH ALTITUDES
University of Utah-led study identifies genetic basis for Tibetan adaptation
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton Embargo expired: 17-Aug-2014 Citations Nature Genetics Newsroom: University of Utah Health Sciences
SALT LAKE CITY – In an environment where others struggle to survive, Tibetans thrive in the thin air on the Tibetan Plateau, with an average elevation of 14,800 feet.
A University of Utah led discovery that hinged as much on strides in cultural diplomacy as on scientific advancements, is the first to identify a genetic variation, or mutation, that contributes to the adaptation, and to reveal how it works. The research appears online in the journal Nature Genetics on Aug. 17, 2014.
“These findings help us understand the unique aspects of Tibetan adaptation to high altitudes, and to better understand human evolution,” said Josef Prchal, M.D., senior author and University of Utah professor of internal medicine.
For his research, Prchal needed Tibetans to donate blood, from which he could extract their DNA, a task that turned out to be more difficult than he ever imagined. It took several trips to Asia, meeting with Chinese officials and representatives of exiled Tibetans in India, to get the necessary permissions to recruit subjects for the study. But he quickly learned that official documents would not be enough. Wary of foreigners, the Tibetans refused to participate.
To earn the Tibetans’ trust, Prchal obtained a letter of support from the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
“The Dalai Lama felt that a better understanding of the adaptation would be helpful not only to the Tibetan community but also to humanity at large,” said Prchal.
He also enlisted the help of native Tibetan Tsewang Tashi, M.D., an author and clinical fellow at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. More than 90 Tibetans, both from the U.S. and abroad, volunteered for the study.
Published in Science in 2010, Prchal’s group was the first to establish that there was a genetic basis to Tibetan high altitude adaptation. In the intervening years, first author Felipe Lorenzo, M.D., Ph.D., pioneered new techniques to tease out the secret to one of the adaptations from a “GC-rich” region of the Tibetans’ DNA that was particularly difficult to penetrate.
Their efforts were worth it; the DNA had a fascinating story to tell. About 8,000 years ago, the gene EGLN1 changed by a single DNA base pair. Today, a relatively short time later on the scale of human history, the vast majority of Tibetans – 88 percent – have the genetic variation, and it is virtually absent from closely related lowland Asians. The findings indicate the tiny genetic change endows its carriers with a selective advantage.
Prchal collaborated with experts throughout the world, including co-senior author Peppi Koivunen, Ph.D., from Biocenter Oulu in Finland, to determine that the newly identified genetic variation protects Tibetans by decreasing an aversive over-response to low oxygen. In those without the adaptation, the thin air causes their blood to become thick with oxygen-carrying red blood cells, often causing long-term complications such as heart failure. The EGLN1 variation, together with other unidentified genetic changes, collectively support life at high altitudes.
Prchal says the research also has broader implications. Because oxygen plays a central role in human physiology and disease, a deep understanding of how high altitude adaptations work may lead to novel treatments for various conditions, including cancer.
“There is much more that needs to be done, and this is just the beginning,” he said.
When traveling with Tashi in Asia, Prchal was surprised at how he got Tibetans to grasp the research they were being asked to take part in. Tashi simply helped them realize that their ability to adapt to life at high altitude was unique.
“They usually responded by a little initial surprise quickly followed by agreement,” said Tashi.
“It was as if I made them realize something new, which only then became obvious.”
The research, “A genetic mechanism for Tibetan high-altitude adaptation” is published in Nature Genetics.
ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP EXPOSES HEALTH WORKERS TO HIGH TRICLOSAN LEVELS
UCSF-led study finds exposure to hormone disruptor from soap exceeds that from toothpaste
From FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton Released: 19-Aug-2014
Source Newsroom: University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Citations Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Aug-2014
Newswise — Handwashing with antibacterial soap exposes hospital workers to significant and potentially unsafe levels of triclosan, a widely-used chemical currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a study led by researchers from UC San Francisco.
Triclosan, a synthetic antibacterial agent, is found in thousands of consumer products, including soaps, cosmetics, acne creams and some brands of toothpaste. The FDA is reviewing its safety based on a growing body of research indicating that it can interfere with the action of hormones, potentially causing developmental problems in fetuses and newborns, among other health concerns.
In the current study, published in the August issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers analyzed urine samples from two groups of 38 doctors and nurses – three fourths of them women – at two hospitals, identified as Hospital 1 and Hospital 2. Hospital 1 used an antibacterial soap containing 0.3 percent triclosan, while Hospital 2 used plain soap and water.
Workers at Hospital 1 had significantly higher levels of triclosan in their urine than workers at Hospital 2.
The scientists also asked the study participants if they used a popular commercial toothpaste containing triclosan. While those who did had higher triclosan levels than those who did not, the researchers found that washing with antibacterial soap accounted for even higher triclosan levels than did brushing with the toothpaste.
“Antimicrobial soaps can carry unknown risks, and triclosan is of particular concern,” said co-investigator Paul Blanc, MD, a professor of medicine at UCSF who holds the Endowed Chair in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
“Our study shows that people absorb this chemical at work and at home, depending on the products that they use.”
Blanc recommended that “if non-triclosan-containing soaps are available, use the alternative. This is based on the precautionary principle – that is, if you do not know for certain that something is unsafe, it is better to err on the side of caution.”
The same principle “could be applied more generally in this case,” said Blanc. “It should not be up to the individual to inspect every product for triclosan. Instead, it is the duty of the FDA to carry out a review of this chemical and, if indicated, get it off the market.”
Co-authors of the study are Julia K. MacIsaac, MD, MPH, of UCSF and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Roy G. Gerona, PhD, of UCSF; Latifat Apatira, MD, MPH, of Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, San Francisco; Matthew W. Friesen, of UCSF; Michael Coppolino, MD, of UCSF and Kaiser Permanente; and Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, of UCSF, Kaiser Permanente, and NRDC.
The study was funded in part by the Passport Foundation, Science Innovation Fund, NRDC, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the National Institutes of Health through a UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute grant.
UCSF is the nation’s leading university exclusively focused on health. Now celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding as a medical college, UCSF is dedicated to transforming health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with world-renowned programs in the biological sciences, a pre-eminent biomedical research enterprise and two top-tier hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.
You learn something every day….Back tomorrow Jeanne