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Neanderthal fossils never frozen?

  1. Feb 27, 2015 #1
    There have been incidences where woolly mammoths were frozen in ice and as a result very well preserved with the brain and hair intact http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/art...-Moscow-39-000-years-trapped-glacial-ice.html. Neanderthals and cro magnon lived in the same icy enviroment, yet no one has discovered a frozen neanderthal/cro magnon. One might argue that this is due to size differences, that is, larger animals like mammoths are preserved more easily in ice while smaller animals are not. On the other hand, it is clearly possible for a human to be preserved in ice (otzi the iceman). My question is why haven't we found frozen human ancestors? Is it because we haven't looked hard enough or because human ancestors can't be preserved in ice like woolly mammoths.
     
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  3. Feb 27, 2015 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Fossils are rare, and preservation in ice rarer.
    Its like asking, after rolling a few dice, why none of them came up 6.
     
  4. Feb 27, 2015 #3
    Thank you Simon. I didn't know that preservation in ice is rarer. I am currently taking an archaeology class at UC Berkeley, and I just noticed that archaeology in icy enviroments has never been mentioned in class.
     
  5. Feb 27, 2015 #4

    Simon Bridge

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    In the long run, ice-preserved bodies defrost ... so you are only looking at last ice age, in places where nobody took shelter from the snows, and there has been no significant thawing since. Hence the Siberian finds. Notice that there is a lack of variation in animal finds in the tundra? No tigers - nothing?

    As far as human remains are concerned - the total fossil[*] documentation so far found would fit in the back of a light pick-up truck, if you weren't fussy about how the bits got mixed up. This whole field is drawing a lot of inferences out of very little data ... and nobody knows how the sample is biased. The upside is that there is room for new major finds. WE do the best we can with what we have.

    * not even sure some fo the remains count as fossil even - just very old bones. That's how come you can get DNA.
     
  6. Mar 1, 2015 #5
    If my memory hasn't betrayed me, fossilization occurs when bone becomes rock. So an ancient skull is a rock in the shape of that skull (and not made of actual bone). The fact that the DNA has been sequenced from a 130,000 year old Neanderthal fossil indicates that there was still organic matter left after that much time?
     
  7. Mar 1, 2015 #6

    Bystander

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    A "fossil" is any remnant of a living organism that can be dug from the ground, muck, sand dune or whatever sedimentary bed. Doesn't have to be mineralized. Organic matter? If we believe reports from Jack Horner's group, there are recognizable chemical residues surviving from the Jurassic. The necessary conditions for such residues are an anaerobic burial, anaerobic conditions since burial, and pains to preserve anaerobic conditions during recovery of specimens. These are unusual criteria and seldom met.
     
  8. Mar 1, 2015 #7

    Simon Bridge

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    off googles dictionary

    Fossil ( n): the remains or impression of a prehistoric plant or animal embedded in rock and preserved in petrified form.

    ... agrees with pocket oxford.

    Petrified (adj) turned into a stoney substance, ossified.

    Ossify (v) 1. turn into bone or boney tissue, 2. stagnate

    You gotta love dictionaries.
     
  9. Mar 1, 2015 #8

    Simon Bridge

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    http://www.fossilmuseum.net/fossilrecord/fossilization/fossilization.htm
    The term “fossil” is used for any trace of past life. Fossils are not only the actual remains of organisms, such as teeth, bones, shell, and leaves (body fossils), but also the results of their activity, such as burrows and foot prints (trace fossils), and organic compounds they produce by biochemical processes (chemical fossils). Occasionally, inorganically produced structures may be confused with traces of life, such as dendrites. These are called pseudofossils. The definitions below explain the types of fossils found in the context of fossilization processes. You will find there is some overlaps in the terminology commonly used in paleontology and geology.
     
  10. Mar 1, 2015 #9

    Simon Bridge

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    ... though that would suggest that a freshly dead corpse would count as a fossil.
     
  11. Mar 1, 2015 #10

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    Not until it's been buried by natural processes (not ritual entombment).
     
  12. Mar 1, 2015 #11

    Simon Bridge

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    So Neanderthal remains discovered to have been ritually buried are not fossils?
    Technically the tomb itself is a fossil of course.

    Most definitions in university courses emphasize that it has to be old (i.e. past geological age) but not that it has to have been buried. It's just that, to survive so long, burial of some kind is pretty much a requirement.

    This is turning out to be less cut-and-dry and more interesting than I thought it would be ... though it's something of a diversion from the original question.

    Let me concede that early human remains can be properly considered fossils using the broad categorization common in the field literature.

    @Calpalned: I recall much the same - but secondary school level courses seem to emphasize mineralised fossils and act like there are no other kind. I think some courses mention tar pits. A quick investigation has shown that this is a much narrower definition than is actually used by researchers in the field.

    The fossil museum link seems to have a decent starting place for the different ways fossils can get created - though I have not examined the rest of the site. Researching this subject online runs into a lot of crackpots so caution caution...

    It seems your question is answered.
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2015
  13. Mar 1, 2015 #12

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    Insert the "antiquities act(s)," and whatever the public land use regulations are that jail people for picking up shed antlers, and it gets really confusing. Ritual burial, other evidence of cultural activity (tools, seeds, middens) turns what any normal person would call "fossils" into "artifacts," and opens a whole new can of worms. Bottles, old steel beer cans, tobacco cans, and what "Woodsy Owl" would call litter, count as "artifacts" these days if found along old trails, or other areas of "historical/heritage" interests.
     
  14. Mar 1, 2015 #13

    Evo

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    Don't forget the bog people.

    The reason, as stated above for why there aren't many frozen bodies as opposed to mammoths, humans would attempt to save another human that had fallen into icy water, or retrieved the dead body, something mammoths couldn't do. Smaller animals might have been able to escape, whereas a heavy mammoth could not. Otzi is a good example, he was apparently alone, being hunted and killed, no one to take his body, so he was left to freeze.
     
  15. Mar 3, 2015 #14
    Thank you, I understand now.
     
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