Students dig into the Bronze Age

Students dig into the Bronze Age

Temple students Paige Randazzo, Class of 2017, and Marvin Fequiere, Class of 2015, spent their winter break in northern Oman. While there, the pair unearthed the 5,000-year-old skeleton of a child from a stone tomb atop a cliff on the Arabian Peninsula.

“It was everything I have ever wanted,” Randazzo, an anthropology major from Lafayette, New Jersey, said of the experience. “At the same time, it was scary, because I knew these bones were a person and I was responsible for handling them and that they could break because they were so old.”

The duo were among six undergraduates from Temple who were taking part in bioarchaeology training as part of the Social, Spatial, and Bioarchaeological Histories of Ancient Oman (SoBO) project. Bioarchaeology is the study of human skeletal remains from archaeological sites for the purpose of reconstructing past human activities and health patterns. The SoBo project analyzes the area’s shifting Bronze Age mortuary traditions.

Kimberly Williams, an assistant professor of anthropology and a skeletal biologist, launched the project in 2010 after she received a Temple Faculty Senate Seed Money Fund grant and a National Science Foundation grant, which continues to fund the project and the students’ field experiences.

This year, the SoBO team also included Temple graduate student and research assistant Megan Luthern; the project’s co-director, Lesley Gregoricka, a bioarchaeologist from the University of South Alabama; three of Gregoricka’s students; a resident of an Omani village close to the dig site; and a member of Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

Besides skeletal remains, over the course of five seasons of fieldwork the excavations of more than 20 tombs have uncovered ceramics from Mesopotamia, carnelian beads from southern Asia’s Indus Valley and locally made bronze swords, daggers and personal ornaments.

“The Mesopotamians wanted bronze [a copper alloy]. There is evidence of copper mining and smelting, and of exporting the resulting bronze to Mesopotamia and beyond,” said Williams.

“What’s fascinating is that, at the same time you have great civilizations nearby, this was a not-well-documented hinterland populated by workaday people who, in the grand scheme of history, far outnumber the elite,” she said. “We want to understand the role of these relatively invisible people.”

Williams said the fieldwork trains her students to employ the scientific method in the real world, developing and testing hypotheses and adapting them to the conditions they encounter and the data they generate.

It also allows her students to determine if they have the requisite passion for scientific fieldwork. For example, Fequiere, an anthropology major from northeast Philadelphia, plans to return with Williams to Oman both for a dig in May and one next winter.

Likewise, Nurvidia A. Rosario, Class of 2015, an anthropology major from South Philadelphia, said she found her niche cleaning skeletons in the Oman laboratory. She now intends to pursue a graduate degree in bioarchaeology.

“You start thinking about these people as actual persons, wondering, ‘Who were they and what were they like?’” said Rosario. “From the way they were buried it’s obvious that they had people who cared about them. It also says a lot about the human experience.”

Randazzo, who received a university Creative Arts, Research and Scholarship grant to fund her honors thesis on erosional effects on the tombs, had a similar epiphany: “When I was out there, I knew I had to be a bioarchaeologist. I got this peaceful feeling knowing I was in the right place.”

-Bruce E. Beans

Species Disappearing From Earth

Here’s How Fast Different Animals Are Disappearing From

From red pandas to golden-striped salamanders, Earth’s wildlife is in trouble.

Many scientists believe our planet is in the early stages of a mass extinction, an event defined by a loss of 75% of species on Earth. It will be the sixth one to occur in the planet’s 4.5 billion year history — and the first to be caused by humans.

But just how fast are species disappearing from Earth, and how much should we be worried?

Information recently compiled by the journal Nature, the World Wildlife Fund, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) sheds some light on these questions. It’s not a pretty picture.

Drawing from the IUCN’s “Red List,” a catalogue of species considered in danger of , Nature recently published a detailed analysis of threatened animals on Earth. The report concluded that 26% of all known mammals, 13% of birds, and 41% of amphibians are in jeopardy. Scientists don’t have enough data for fish and reptiles to make an assessment for them, and insects got off comparatively easy — an estimated 0.5% of known species are thought to be facing extinction.

But these are just the species that we know of. There are about 1.7 million species of animals, plants, and fungi that humans are aware of, but scientists estimate there are millions more yet to be discovered, and we have no idea what kind of shape their populations will be in if we ever do discover them before they die off.

Andean FlamingoWikimedia Commons

The Andean flamingo is threatened by habitat destruction.

And there’s more bad news where that came from.

Scientists aren’t completely sure how fast all these species are disappearing from the planet, but the fastest estimates — which suggest 690 extinctions take place every week — indicate that the mass extinction could be complete in the next 200 years. (Slower estimates give us several more hundred years before 75% of life on Earth is gone, and the most conservative guesses allow us thousands.)

In fact, research from the World Wildlife Fund suggests that the number of vertebrates on Earth (excluding humans) is only half what it was 40 years ago.

The Living Planet Index, an assessment of vertebrate populations, shows that between 1970 and 2010, terrestrial and marine vertebrate populations both declined by 39%, and freshwater vertebrates declined by a whopping 76%. Altogether, the total rate of decline for vertebrates was 52%, meaning their populations have been cut in half since 1970.

Brazil RainforestAP Photo/Andre Penner

Deforestation in Brazil. Habitat destruction is a major threat to animals on Earth.

So what’s causing all the trouble, anyway?

The report says that the biggest current threat to animals, accounting for 37% of all threats, is exploitation — hunting, fishing, and other similar activities. Habitat degradation is a close second at 31%, and habitat loss comes in third at 13%.

Other threats include climate change, invasive species, pollution, and disease, although scientists expect climate change to become a much bigger threat as temperatures continue to rise around the globe.

Extinctions are bad news for more than just the species facing them. Ecosystems are inextricably tangled up in the organisms that compose them, meaning if one species die off, others will feel its loss. That means humans, too. For instance, ecologists are gravely concerned over declining honey bees, because they pollinate many of the plants humans rely on for food.

It’s a scary future we’re looking at, given the stats — and, if the sixth extinction really does occur, a lonely one, too.

 

 

Species Are Disappearing From Earth

Here’s How Fast Different Animals Are Disappearing From

From red pandas to golden-striped salamanders, Earth’s wildlife is in trouble.

Many scientists believe our planet is in the early stages of a mass extinction, an event defined by a loss of 75% of species on Earth. It will be the sixth one to occur in the planet’s 4.5 billion year history — and the first to be caused by humans.

But just how fast are species disappearing from Earth, and how much should we be worried?

Information recently compiled by the journal Nature, the World Wildlife Fund, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) sheds some light on these questions. It’s not a pretty picture.

Drawing from the IUCN’s “Red List,” a catalogue of species considered in danger of , Nature recently published a detailed analysis of threatened animals on Earth. The report concluded that 26% of all known mammals, 13% of birds, and 41% of amphibians are in jeopardy. Scientists don’t have enough data for fish and reptiles to make an assessment for them, and insects got off comparatively easy — an estimated 0.5% of known species are thought to be facing extinction.

But these are just the species that we know of. There are about 1.7 million species of animals, plants, and fungi that humans are aware of, but scientists estimate there are millions more yet to be discovered, and we have no idea what kind of shape their populations will be in if we ever do discover them before they die off.

Andean FlamingoWikimedia Commons

The Andean flamingo is threatened by habitat destruction.

And there’s more bad news where that came from.

Scientists aren’t completely sure how fast all these species are disappearing from the planet, but the fastest estimates — which suggest 690 extinctions take place every week — indicate that the mass extinction could be complete in the next 200 years. (Slower estimates give us several more hundred years before 75% of life on Earth is gone, and the most conservative guesses allow us thousands.)

In fact, research from the World Wildlife Fund suggests that the number of vertebrates on Earth (excluding humans) is only half what it was 40 years ago.

The Living Planet Index, an assessment of vertebrate populations, shows that between 1970 and 2010, terrestrial and marine vertebrate populations both declined by 39%, and freshwater vertebrates declined by a whopping 76%. Altogether, the total rate of decline for vertebrates was 52%, meaning their populations have been cut in half since 1970.

Brazil RainforestAP Photo/Andre Penner

Deforestation in Brazil. Habitat destruction is a major threat to animals on Earth.

So what’s causing all the trouble, anyway?

The report says that the biggest current threat to animals, accounting for 37% of all threats, is exploitation — hunting, fishing, and other similar activities. Habitat degradation is a close second at 31%, and habitat loss comes in third at 13%.

Other threats include climate change, invasive species, pollution, and disease, although scientists expect climate change to become a much bigger threat as temperatures continue to rise around the globe.

Extinctions are bad news for more than just the species facing them. Ecosystems are inextricably tangled up in the organisms that compose them, meaning if one species die off, others will feel its loss. That means humans, too. For instance, ecologists are gravely concerned over declining honey bees, because they pollinate many of the plants humans rely on for food.

It’s a scary future we’re looking at, given the stats — and, if the sixth extinction really does occur, a lonely one, too.