13 May 2009

Oldest human hair found in..... Hyena dung

Previously the oldest known human hair belonged to a 9,000-year-old mummy disinterred from an ancient Chilean cemetery. However a recent discovery pushes the record back some 200,000 years.

According to Live Science a team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand, who were excavating in Gladysvale Cave, near Johannesburg, South Africa, discovered an ancient brown-hyena latrine. The coprolites appeared to contain uncannily hair-like structures. Palaeontologist Lucinda Backwell took several coprolites back to the lab for examination. It was found that human hairs best matched these hairs.

The cave's limestone layers showed that the dung had been deposited sometime between 257,000 and 195,000 years ago. During that period, both early Homo sapiens and a relation, H. heidelbergensis, roamed the South African landscape.

How did human hair end up in hyena dung? One shudders to think but Lucinda Backwell thinks it most likely that a brown hyena scavenged an ancestral human's remains rather than taking a lump out of a live one.

Fascinating stuff... well I find it fascinating anyway!

15 comments:

Liz said...

Definitely!

Just catching up and saying hello.

jams o donnell said...

Hi Liz!

CherryPie said...

Fascinating indeed!

jams o donnell said...

Glad it interested you too Cherie!

Sean Jeating said...

Now it becomes clear why and where homo heidelbergiensis disappeared.
And soon we'll get offically proved that this very hyena afterwards evolved and can be nowadays be considered as the archetype of modern homo hyena.
As far as I heard the name for the specific gene which makes the difference between homo sapiens sapiens and homo hyena is already chosen: Monsanto Gene - in order to give credit to the most advanced hyenas of our time.

Claudia said...

I'm never sure about the paleontologists, Jams, but I'm grateful for your link to 'Live Science'. Fascinating stuff to read...stranger than fiction. I wonder what is done with the findings, and whether it improves our present life cycle. I might ask them...

jams o donnell said...

Haha Sean. I always like to compare Monsanto to a bottom feeder. Still I wonder when the genome of Home velocipedius will be determined

It is interesting stuff Claudia. It may never have a practical application. On the other hand this piece of information may be crucial in a future piece of research.. you never know!

Dragonstar said...

Fascinating indeed!

Ardent said...

200,000 years. Wow that is amazing.:)

Sean Jeating said...

Ha ha, Jams, it's high time, isn't it? ... Hm, one didn't hear from deSelby for a while. Is it possible that ...?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Maybe the hyena was dining on the garbage bin of an ancient barbershop? This way, you know, we can start deriving the data about the barbers as one of the oldest professions.

jams o donnell said...

Dragonstar, Ardent it is amazing!

That's true, I hope he hasn't decided to unleash DMP on the world Sean!

That or hyenas were the first barbers Snoopy!

Steve Bates said...

Only when the hair was removed from the hyena dung could it properly be said to have been "disinturd" [sic]...

Claudia said...

Steve - Great pun...

jams o donnell said...

Steve that is a dreadful (ie wonderful) pun!