Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Trump Russia claims: FBI’s Comey confirms investigation of election ‘interference’
Media caption What FBI Director Comey said on Trump, Russia and wiretaps

FBI director James Comey has confirmed for the first time that the FBI is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

However, Mr Comey said his agency had seen no evidence to back up President Trump’s claim that his phones had been tapped by the Obama administration.

He was giving evidence to the congressional intelligence committee.

The Trump administration said nothing had changed and there was “no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion”.

Russia has always denied attempting to influence the US presidential election.

The FBI investigation would examine possible links between individuals in the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mr Comey said.

The FBI would also assess whether crimes were committed, he said.

Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion.

“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.

putinImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Mr Putin “hated Mrs Clinton so much” that he had a strong preference for her rival, Mr Comey said

National Security Agency (NSA) chief Admiral Mike Rogers also appeared before the committee.

He said the NSA stood by an intelligence community report published in January, which said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a campaign to harm the campaign of Mr Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.

‘No wiretap on Trump Tower’

Mr Comey said he had no information on unsubstantiated claims tweeted by Mr Trump earlier this month that former president Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower.

This was despite looking carefully for such evidence, he said. The Department of Justice also had no information, he said.


Analysis – BBC North America reporter Anthony Zurcher

FBI Director James Comey (L) and National Security Agency Director Mike RogersImage copyrightAFP

What FBI Director James Comey didn’t say during intelligence hearings today on possible Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was as important as what he did say.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians? No comment. Long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone, who reportedly had communications with individuals who hacked the Democratic National Committee emails? No comment. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after leaked evidence surfaced that he had communicated with a Russian ambassador about US sanctions? No comment.

“I don’t want to answer any questions about a US person,” Mr Comey said.

All of this is evidence that the investigation isn’t just ongoing, it’s substantive and far-reaching.

While Democrats will likely be encouraged by this, it was telling that Republicans pursued the White House line that the topic of greatest concern was the intelligence leaks that put this story in the headlines.

If Mr Trump can consolidate his party’s support, it will go a long way towards insulating the president against any fallout from this investigation.


Meanwhile, Admiral Rogers strongly denied that the NSA had asked Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency to spy on Mr Trump – a claim that had been repeated by Mr Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer.

The allegation “clearly frustrates a key ally of ours”, he added.

GCHQ has described the claim as “utterly ridiculous”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump at a press conferenceImage copyrightREUTERS
Image caption Mr Trump raised eyebrows after he suggested both he and Mrs Merkel had been wiretapped by Mr Obama

Mr Trump’s recent joke about how Mr Obama had wiretapped both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and him “complicates things” with an ally, Admiral Rogers added.

However, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said it was still possible that other surveillance activities had been used against Mr Trump and his associates.

What are the allegations?

In January, US intelligence agencies said Kremlin-backed hackers had broken into the email accounts of senior Democrats and released embarrassing messages in order to help Mr Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

“That was a fairly easy judgement for the community,” Mr Comey said. “Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flipside of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.”

However, late last summer the Russians concluded that Mr Trump had no chance of winning, based on polls at the time, and so focused on undermining Mrs Clinton, Mr Comey said.

Media caption Trump’s wiretap saga explained in two minutes

Both intelligence chiefs said that Russia had made its intervention in last year’s election campaign unusually obvious, perhaps to further its aim of undermining US democracy.

Mr Comey said Russia had succeeded in this goal, by sowing chaos, division and discord.

Mr Trump has since faced allegations that his campaign team had links to Russian officials.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he saw no evidence of any collusion, up until the time he left his post in January.

Which campaign members have been accused of deception?

Two senior officials in the Trump administration have been caught up in the allegations – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.

Mr Flynn was fired last month after he misled the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was appointed national security adviser.

Michael FlynnImage copyright AP
Image caption Michael Flynn encouraged a softer policy on Russia and a harder line on Iran

He allegedly discussed US sanctions with ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Mr Sessions was accused by Democrats of lying under oath during his confirmation hearing in January.

He said he had “no communications with the Russians”, but it later emerged that he had met Mr Kislyak during the campaign.

Mr Sessions denied any wrongdoing, but removed himself from an FBI inquiry into Russia’s alleged interference in the election.

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Hong Kong goes Crazy For ‘Hero’ Policeman

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Hong Kong goes crazy for ‘hero’ policeman

  • From the section Asia
Ifzal Zaffar Image copyright HONG KONG POLICE

A 20-year-old Hong Kong policeman has swept to fame online after he talked a suicidal Pakistani man out of killing himself – in fluent Urdu.

The man had climbed a 20-metre-high (65ft) crane at a construction site, and police were called to the scene.

Ifzal Zaffar, who is of Pakistani descent, duly climbed up too and addressed him in their shared language.

The man agreed to come down, and was taken to hospital.

Constable Zaffer, who also speaks fluent Cantonese, said he was simply following his training.

“I used the techniques we learned at the academy … I think he felt safer knowing that I could talk to him in his own language,” he told Apple Daily.

The young man joined the force just under a year ago, and is said to be the only officer of Pakistani origin in the district.

He arrived via a Hong Kong police scheme to recruit non-Chinese officers, called Operation Gemstone.

Constable Zaffer’s handling of the delicate situation won him praise from superiors – and a social media fan club.

“He is very handsome yet having a golden heart,” gushed Facebook user Nuna Priya.

“Mr IFZAL ZAFFAR, many citizen support you, please keep on serving the society. Thanks!!!” wrote Baba Bebe Wong.

As netizens commended his integrity and professionalism, the Muslim Council of Hong Kong also joined the chorus of support.

“Bravo to this young man and thank you to the HK police force for bringing him in,” it said.

“Hope more such stories can be seen to show HK is indeed a multi-cultural city.”

America’s Spoiled Baby President Has Childish Tantrum: Won’t Attend Correspondents’ Dinner

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

President Trump to skip White House correspondents’ dinner

Donald Trump attends the 101st Annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton on April 25, 2015 in Washington, DCImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Donald Trump has attended the dinner before, including in 2015

US President Donald Trump has announced he will not attend the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on 29 April.

The glitzy event draws celebrities, journalists and politicians, normally including the US president.

Mr Trump said he would not attend a day after the White House excluded several major broadcasters and newspapers from a press briefing.

He has frequently described negative news coverage as “fake”.

The announcement, made via Twitter, comes as relations between the White House and some media outlets continue to deteriorate.

On Friday, media groups including the BBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed, the Daily Mail and Politico were among those barred from an off-camera informal briefing held by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Hours before the briefing, Mr Trump had delivered a strong attack on what he called “fake news” in the media, targeting stories with unnamed sources.

He said “fake news” was the “enemy of the people”.

Mr Trump announced his non-attendance at the correspondents dinner via Twitter.

He wrote: “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”

Bloomberg News and the New Yorker magazine are among media outlets who have said they will not hold their usual after-parties this year.

There have been some calls for journalists to boycott the event itself.

Every sitting president since 1924 has attended the correspondents’ dinner at least once, according to the New York Times.

They traditionally make a light-hearted speech at the annual event. Former US President Barack Obama attended eight times.

Mr Trump has himself attended the dinner in the past

In 2011, Barack Obama joked that Mr Trump would turn the White House into a casino if he became president and made fun of rumours, then propagated by Mr Trump, that President Obama was not born in the US.

Obama sends up Trump’s ambitions at 2011 dinner

The New York businessman was shown on camera sitting stony-faced through a barrage of jokes at his expense, including some from host Seth Meyers, although he said last year that he “loved that dinner”.

In a statement the White House Correspondents’ Association said it took note of the president’s announcement and said the dinner would “continue to be a celebration of the First Amendment and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy republic”.

Related Topics

175 Km Long Crack In Antarctic Ice Shelf: Largest Iceberg In Our Lifetime Is Possible

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Plane flies along Antarctica’s giant Larsen crack

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has released new footage of the ice crack that promises to produce a giant berg.

The 175 km-long fissure runs through the Larsen C Ice Shelf on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

If it propagates just 20km more, a block of ice a quarter the size of Wales will break away into the Weddell Sea.

Scientists gathered the new video while recovering instrumentation that had been placed on the ice shelf.

Uncertainty about the stability of the region means researchers cannot set up camp as they would normally do, and instead make short visits in a Twin Otter plane.

The most recent sortie enabled the researchers also to fly along the length of the crack, which is 400-500m wide in places, to assess its status.

No-one can say for sure when the iceberg will calve, but it could happen anytime.

At 5,000 sq km, it would be one of the biggest ever recorded.

When it splits, interest will centre on how the breakage will affect the remaining shelf structure.

The Larsen B Ice Shelf further to the north famously shattered following a similar large calving event in 2002.

The issue is important because floating ice shelves ordinarily act as a buttress to the glaciers flowing off the land behind them.

In the case of Larsen B, those glaciers subsequently sped up in the absence of the shelf. And it is the land ice – not the floating ice in a shelf – that adds to sea level rise.

If Larsen C were to go the same way it would continue a trend across the Antarctic Peninsula.

In recent decades, a dozen major ice shelves have disintegrated, significantly retreated or lost substantial volume – including Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A, Larsen B, Wordie, Muller, Jones Channel, and Wilkins.

Dr Paul Holland from BAS commented: “Iceberg calving is a normal part of the glacier life cycle, and there is every chance that Larsen C will remain stable and this ice will regrow.

“However, it is also possible that this iceberg calving will leave Larsen C in an unstable configuration. If that happens, further iceberg calving could cause a retreat of Larsen C.

“We won’t be able to tell whether Larsen C is unstable until the iceberg has calved and we are able to understand the behaviour of the remaining ice.”

The removal of the ice would also enable scientists to study the uncovered seabed.

When Larsen B broke away, the immediate investigation chanced upon new species.

Under the Antarctic Treaty, no fishing activity would be permitted in the area for 10 years.

The big bergs that break away from Antarctica are monitored from space.

They will often drift out into the Southern Ocean where they can become a hazard to shipping.

The biggest iceberg recorded in the satellite era was an object called B-15.

Covering an area of some 11,000 sq km, it came away from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000.

Six years later fragments of the super-berg passed by New Zealand.

In 1956, a berg of roughly 32,000 sq km – bigger than Belgium – was spotted in the Ross Sea by a US Navy icebreaker. But there were no satellites at that time to follow-up.

Many of the bergs that break away from the Weddell Sea area of Antarctica get exported into the Atlantic. A good number get caught on the shallow continental shelf around the British overseas territory of South Georgia where they gradually wither away.

The study of the Larsen C Ice Shelf is led by Swansea University through its MIDAS Project, which involves BAS.

South GeorgiaImage copyright THINKSTOCK
Image caption The remnants of many such bergs end up at South Georgia

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U.S. And England Agree On The Need To Be Cautious In Dealing With Russia’s President Putin

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Boris Johnson says US agrees on need for caution over Russia

Boris Johnson

Donald Trump’s new administration understands the need to deal with Russia in a “very guarded way”, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said.

Following his first meeting with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson during the G20 summit in Germany, Mr Johnson, referring to Russia, said “you’ve got to beware of what they are up to”.

Neither side wants to see a return to the days of the Cold War, he said.

But Moscow’s current behaviour cannot be allowed to continue, he added.

Mr Johnson’s comments come amid intense scrutiny in the US of the administration’s attitude to Russia following the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn over his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US before Mr Trump’s inauguration last month.

Mr Johnson told the BBC: “I think Rex Tillerson is absolutely clear in his view, which is the same as mine. You have got to engage with Russia, but you have got to engage in a very guarded way. You have got to beware of what they are up to.

“There is no question that, when you look at Russian activity on the cyber front, when you look at what they are doing in the western Balkans, when you look at what has been happening in the Ukraine, you’ve got to be very, very cautious.

“I think it is entirely right to have a dual track approach.

“We don’t want to get into a new Cold War. That’s something London and Washington are completely at one on. But nor do we want Russian behaviour to continue as it is – and Rex Tillerson has been very clear about that.”

Do The Skulls Of Monkeys And Neanderthals Look More Human Than Our Human Ones Do?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

“It looks like a monkey,” exclaims an excitable young boy, looking at a replica of a skull.

We are standing in a busy gallery at the Natural History Museum in London, UK. Here, a selection of skulls that once belonged to our prehistoric ancestors have been cast in metal and put on display. Children run their hands over the skulls’ heavy brows and protruding jaws.

These reconstructed faces look impassive, but a range of emotions are painted onto the visitors’ faces. One small girl looks shy as she peeks around the legs of an adult. Joy covers the faces of three boys running wildly past, anger flickers onto the face of the teacher who scolds them, and tears flood from another child who was pushed over in their haste.

The children are all living, breathing examples of how extraordinarily expressive our faces are. Human faces convey a huge range of emotion and information through subtle shifts in the muscles around our eyes and mouth. No other animal has such an expressive face.

What’s more, each of us can instantly recognise another member of our species with a glance at their face. No other species shares our flat face, high forehead, small jaw and jutting chin – not even the many human-like species that went before us.

The question is, when did humans start to look like we do today? New scientific techniques and discoveries are starting to provide answers. But they are also revealing that our distinctive facial features may be far older than many anthropologists originally believed.

Our hominin relatives all lived within the last 10 million years (Credit: Richard Gray)

Our hominin relatives all lived within the last 10 million years (Credit: Richard Gray)

“As the last surviving species of humans on the planet, it is tempting to assume our modern faces sit at the tip of our evolutionary branch,” says Chris Stringer, an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London, as he joins me in the gallery.

The Neanderthal face was huge, with an enormous nose

“And for a long time, that has been what the fossils seemed to indicate,” he continues. “Around 500,000 years ago, there was a fairly widespread form of Homo heidelbergensis that has a face somewhat intermediate between that of a modern human and Neanderthals. For a long time, I argued this was our common ancestor with Neanderthals.”

Stringer shows me the cast of a real H. heidelbergensis cranium that was found at Broken Hill in Zambia in the 1920s, and which is now kept safely in the museum’s fossil collection. It is the same skull that the little boy stood in front of earlier.

With a bit of guidance, it is easy to see why this species could be the common ancestor of modern humans and our extinct cousins the Neanderthals, who died out around 40,000 years ago.

The skull of a Homo heidelbergensis (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

The skull of a Homo heidelbergensis (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

Modern humans have small noses and our jaws sit beneath the rest of our skull. Our cheek bones are angled and each cheek has a distinctive hollow beneath the eye socket, known as the canine fossa.

In a sinkhole in the mountains, fragments of a small, flat-faced skull were unearthed

By comparison the Neanderthal face was huge, with an enormous nose and the front of the face pulled forward. Around the cheeks the skull curved outwards, rather than being hollowed out. To our eyes, this would have given them a puffy appearance. They also had a far flatter forehead than we do, while above their eyes was a pronounced double arch of the brow-ridge that hung over the rest of their face.

H. heidelbergensis had a slightly flatter face than the Neanderthal and a smaller nose, but no canine fossa. They also had an even more pronounced brow-ridge than that seen in Neanderthals.

For decades, most anthropologists agreed that Neanderthals had retained many of these features from H. heidelbergensis as they evolved and developed a more protruding jaw, while our own species went in a different direction. That was until the 1990s, when a puzzling discovery was unearthed in the Sierra de Atapuerca region of northern Spain.

Excavations at the Atapuerca site (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

Excavations at the Atapuerca site (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

In a sinkhole in the mountains, fragments of a small, flat-faced skull were unearthed, alongside several other bones. The remains were identified as belonging to a previously unknown species of hominin. It was called Homo antecessor.

It was assumed that it would fill out and grow into something resembling heidelbergensis

The face of this new species of human ancestor appeared to be far more like our own, and even had the distinctive hollowing of the canine fossa. Yet it lived 850,000 years ago, well before H. heidelbergensis.

At first, this apparent contradiction was hand-waved away. The Atapuerca skull belonged to a child, aged around 10 to 12 years old. It is difficult to predict what this youngster’s face would have looked like in adulthood, because as humans age their skulls grow and change shape. “It was assumed that it would fill out and grow into something resembling heidelbergensis,” says Stringer.

However, later discoveries suggest this is not the case. “We now have four fragments from antecessor adult and sub-adult skulls,” says Stringer. “It looks like they maintain the morphology we see in the child’s skull.”

Homo antecessor remains from Atapuerca (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

Homo antecessor remains from Atapuerca (Credit: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)

It is still difficult to make direct comparisons between hominin skulls. For one thing, many are incomplete. But even setting that aside, a phenomenon known as allometry means that changes in size also lead to changes in shape, because different body parts grow at different rates.

It seems the Neanderthals are more evolved in their own direction than modern humans

To get around this problem, Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues have created computer models that let them “grow” skulls virtually.

“When we do this, we can explain the variation in shape between Neanderthals,” says Hublin. “But if we grow a modern human skull to the size of a Neanderthal, we don’t have something that looks like a Neanderthal. You get something different.”

Hublin thinks that modern humans have retained a lot of primitive features from our distant ancestors. “It seems the Neanderthals are more evolved in their own direction than modern humans,” he says. “They would have looked very peculiar to our eyes.”

In other words, the faces of modern humans may not be all that modern at all.

Many hominin species came before us (Credit: Richard Gray)

Many hominin species came before us (Credit: Richard Gray)

“The term ‘modern’ is somewhat misleading,” says Hublin. “When you say ‘modern’, people assume you mean ‘more evolved’, but in fact in our case it may mean ‘more primitive’.”

Our bones are continually renewed and remodelled

Hublin and his team can also use their software to mature the skulls of children, giving an idea of what they would have looked like when they became adults

When they applied it to the skull fragments of H. antecessor, they got something that looked both primitive and modern at the same time.

“The face has more prominence than modern humans,” says Hublin. “But it doesn’t have the derived features we see in the Neanderthal.”

Something even more surprising emerged when the fossilised skulls of H. antecessor were placed under a microscope.

A reconstruction of a Homo antecessor child (Credit: Richard Gray)

A reconstruction of a Homo antecessor child (Credit: Richard Gray)

Throughout life, our bones are continually renewed and remodelled. This leaves distinct patterns on the bone, which can reveal how it grew and formed. In particular, cells that deposit bone, known as osteoblasts, create a smooth surface – whereas those that absorb bone, called osteoclasts, leave it pitted with microscopic craters.

In modern humans, the area beneath the nose and around the upper jaw – known as the maxilla – is rich in cells that absorb bone. But in Neanderthals, H. heidelbergensisand other early hominins like Australopithecus, this area had lots of cells that deposit bone, causing the face to protrude forwards.

We last shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals around 700,000 years ago

“Modern humans show widespread areas of resorption all over the maxilla,” says Rodrigo Lacruz of the New York University College of Dentistry, who has led much of this work with his colleague Timothy Bromage.

“It is this resorption that helps maintain the human face where it is under the cranium, rather than protruding far forward.”

Similar patterns of bone resorption can be seen around the canine fossa in modern humans, whereas Neanderthal skulls show widespread bone deposition.

So when Lacruz, Bromage and their colleagues popped the skull fragments from H. antecessor under the microscope, they were staggered to find that the maxilla and canine fossa were heavily pitted. Not only that, but the pattern of bone reabsorption they noticed was similar to that seen in modern humans.

These similarities suggest that one of the key developmental changes responsible for the characteristic face of modern humans can be traced back to H. antecessor,” says Lacruz. “This is important, because antecessor not only showed this human-like growth pattern, but also shows some human-like morphology around 800,000 years ago.”

The skull of a Homo antecessor (Credit: Richard Gray)

The skull of a Homo antecessor (Credit: Richard Gray)

That date is significant, because the most recent studies of the human family tree suggest that we last shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals around 700,000 years ago – not long after H. antecessor‘s time.

Faced with all these findings, Stringer and many of his colleagues are now reassessing their ideas about the evolution of the human face.

Speaking at a conference in Madrid in September 2016, Stringer and several other leading experts argued that H. antecessor, or a close relative yet to be discovered, may be a better fit as the common ancestor of our species and Neanderthals than H. heidelbergensis.

The skull of a Homo heidelbergensis (Credit: Richard Gray)

The skull of a Homo heidelbergensis (Credit: Richard Gray)

H. antecessor is thought to have appeared at around the time of the first exodus of hominins from Africa, between 1.8 and 0.8 million years ago.

This would mean that our face is actually quite primitive compared to H. heidelbergensis and Neanderthals

Some of the oldest footprints to be found in Europe – discovered at Happisburgh in the UK in 2013 – are thought to have been left by H. antecessor.

Some Spanish remains also initially attributed to H. antecessor – a molar and part of a mandible – have been dated to 1.2 million years ago, although the team that discovered them has since become more cautious about their identity.

Under the new evolutionary tree that is being proposed, our species evolved from H. antecessor. Meanwhile, H, heidelbergensis diverged around 500,000 years ago and evolved independently, leading to Neanderthals.

“This would mean that our face is actually quite primitive compared to H. heidelbergensis and Neanderthals,” says Stringer.

If that is true, it would help to explain many of the differences we see between us and our evolutionary cousins.

The skull of a Neanderthal (Credit: E. R. Degginger/Science Photo Library)

The skull of a Neanderthal (Credit: E. R. Degginger/Science Photo Library)

While modern humans and Neanderthals both evolved big brains, made tools, hunted, used fire, created jewellery and developed culture, our bodies evolved in different ways. Even our brains were different shapes.

Something in those archaic hominins required them to have a large nose

Paul O’Higgins of the University of York, with Ricardo Godinho and Penny Spikins, has tried to unravel why these differences appeared. Using engineering principles, they have analysed the fossilised remains of prehistoric hominins, and modern humans, using 3D computer models.

The team was surprised to find that, despite their big jaws, H. heidelbergensis were much less efficient at biting than modern humans with our smaller, flatter faces. The shape of the H. heidelbergensis skull and the position of its muscles means they cannot physically generate intense bite forces, even though their bones are capable of withstanding them. Similar work has shown the same pattern in Neanderthals.

“The bone in modern humans fractures much earlier,” says O’Higgins. “It suggests efficient biting we get from our flat faces was not the result of natural selection, but something else.”

It now seems that our powerful bites are related to the size of our noses.

Neanderthal (left) and human (right) (Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library)

The skulls of a Neanderthal (left) and modern human (right) (Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library)

“Something in those archaic hominins required them to have a large nose, which requires a large face,” says O’Higgins. “Whether that was energetic demands or climate we are not entirely sure. But when you lose the need for a large nose, we found the face begins to tuck under the brain, and bite force increases incidentally.”

H. heidelbergensis and Neanderthals had gigantic brow ridges

The popular explanation for Neanderthals’ big noses is that they were an adaptation for the cold climates of the Pleistocene ice ages. The large nasal cavity would have warmed the cold air before it reached their lungs.

However, in a 2010 paper Stringer showed that Neanderthal sinuses did not lie outside the size range found in modern European humans. Instead, it appears the large noses seen in H. heidelbergensis and later Neanderthals may have appeared “by accident” through genetic drift, after they split from their common ancestor with modern humans.

Another prominent difference between modern humans and our ancestors may have vanished from our lineage for a different reason.

A reconstruction of a Neanderthal face, with a large brow ridge (Credit: Richard Gray)

A reconstruction of a Neanderthal face, with a large brow ridge (Credit: Richard Gray)

H. heidelbergensis and Neanderthals had gigantic brow ridges,” says O’Higgins. “It was like having a peaked cap on the top of the forehead.”

With big brow ridges, the movement of the eyebrows is limited

In research presented at the Madrid conference, he and his colleagues used their computer models to shave away the brow ridges, then looked at how this affected the structure of the face and skull. They found that the brow ridges did not provide any structural advantage. Instead, they believe these prominent arches of bone above the eyes may have served to signal dominance to other members of the species, much like the huge antlers of modern male moose.

Stringer has also suggested this, comparing ancestral hominins to olive baboons. These monkeys raise their eyebrows as part of their dominance displays. Similarly, mandrills also use bright colours on their eyebrows and snouts to indicate their rank in their group.

At the 2016 meeting, O’Higgins and his colleagues presented preliminary findings suggesting that, when our ancestors lost these aggressive-looking brow ridges, they gained a subtler form of communication.

Olive baboons (Papio anubis) (Credit: Frans Lanting, Mint Images/Science Photo Library)

Olive baboons (Papio anubis) also have large brow ridges (Credit: Frans Lanting, Mint Images/Science Photo Library)

“With big brow ridges, the movement of the eyebrows is limited,” says O’Higgins. But that changes when the ridges disappear. “When you have a flat face, you have a vertical forehead and suddenly you can move your eyebrows up and down. This means you introduce much more nuanced social communication. You can tell if someone is cross, happy or angry.”

Our faces are among our most valuable tools

If that is true, it implies that it was our status as a social, cooperative species that led us to keep our primitive faces.

Our facial expressions form a key part of our social interactions, helping us instinctively work out what someone is feeling or thinking. O’Higgins’s research suggests that we would not be able to do that if we had evolved faces like those of the Neanderthals.

Ultimately, research like this could tell us which of our hominin ancestors were able to smile, frown or show disgust with their faces as we do.

It is also a reminder that our faces are among our most valuable tools. If they were different, we could not communicate with each other as effortlessly as we do.

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Jakarta Indonesia: Hardline Muslims Protest There Being A Chinese Christian Governor

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Jakarta vote: Indonesia hardliners call for Muslim governor

  • 8 hours ago
  • From the section Asia
Islamic hardliners demonstrate against Basuki Tjahaja PurnamaImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Hardline Muslims have been marching against Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese Christian governor for months

Tens of thousands of Indonesians have gathered in Jakarta to urge people to vote for a Muslim candidate to be the capital city’s next governor.

The incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, is an ethnic Chinese Christian currently on trial after being accused of insulting Islam.

Despite the court case, Mr Purnama is still expected to win Wednesday’s vote.

The campaign against him has been led by Muslim hardliners, stoking fears of growing religious intolerance.

Crowds gathered for mass prayers around the city’s Istiqlal Mosque on Saturday, urging people to cast their ballots for Muslim leaders.

Supporters of several Islamic groups held posters with messages such as “I’d prefer if my leader is a Muslim” and “It is forbidden to pick an infidel leader”.

Hardline protesterImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Hardliners insist that the city should be governed by a Muslim
mass prayer at Istiqlal mosqueImage copyright EPA
Image caption The event centred on the Istiqlal Mosque drew tens of thousands of people

The action follows big protests against Mr Purnama in December and a rally that turned violent in November, leaving one man dead and dozens of police and demonstrators injured.

Mr Purnama became Jakarta’s first non-Muslim governor for 50 years and the first ethnic Chinese to hold the position when he took over from Joko Widodo – now the president – in 2014.

He won popularity for his no-nonsense style, as well as his stances against corruption and in favour of public transport and greater access to healthcare and education.

But some Islamists rejected him from the outset because of both his religion and ethnicity.

His position has been undermined by the court case against him, with prosecutors arguing that he insulted Islam by misusing a Koranic verse.

Mr Purnama had said that Islamic groups using a passage of the Koran to urge people not to support him were deceiving voters.

The verse is interpreted by some as prohibiting Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Purnama wept as his trial opened in December

Mr Purnama insisted his comments were aimed at politicians “incorrectly” using the verse against him, not at the verse itself.

Rights groups say the authorities have set a dangerous precedent in which a noisy hardline Islamic minority can influence the legal process.

Mr Purnama is facing two prominent Muslim challengers for the Jakarta governorship.

If none of the contenders gets more than 50%, a run-off election between the two top candidates will take place in April.

Christians represent less than 10% of the country’s 250 million people, and ethnic Chinese about 1%.

In 1998, a wave of anti-Chinese sentiment led to mobs looting and burning Chinese-owned shops and houses, leaving more than 1,000 people dead.

However, Muslims in Indonesia are largely moderate and the country’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, had advised its members not to take part in the recent anti-Ahok protests.

Hundreds Of Pilot Whales Beach Themselves In New Zealand

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

New Zealand whales: Hundreds more stranded at Farewell Spit

  • 7 hours ago
  • From the section Asia
 Media caption Rescuers help whales return to sea, as more become stranded down the coast

The mass stranding of whales on a remote beach in New Zealand has taken a turn for the worse as 240 more arrived.

Earlier on Saturday, volunteers had refloated some 100 of the more than 400 pilot whales which beached on Thursday.

But a human chain, with volunteers wading neck-deep into the water, failed to prevent a fresh pod making landfall.

The whale stranding, at Farewell Spit at the top of South Island, is one of the worst ever in New Zealand. Dozens of volunteers turned out to help.

More than 300 of the 400 original arrivals died while medics and members of the public tried to keep survivors alive by cooling them with water.

It is hoped that those of the new arrivals that survive can be moved back out to sea during the next high tide in daylight on Sunday.

Media captionOne volunteer said “people from all over the world” were helping to try to save the whales

It is not clear why the whales continue to arrive on the 5km long (three mile-long) beach next to Golden Bay.

One theory is that they may have been driven on to land by sharks, after bite marks were found on one of the dead whales.

Herb Christophers of New Zealand’s department of conservation told the BBC that the whales were trying to get round the top of South Island, but if their navigation went wrong they ended up on the beach.

In the shallower waters, the animals’ use of echolocation was impaired.

“It’s a very difficult place if you get lost in there and you are a whale,” he said.

Map showing Golden Bay in New Zealand

Experts say that whales that become beached will send out distress signals attracting other members of their pod, who then also get stranded by a receding tide.

Sometimes the whales are simply old, sick, or injured.

Andrew Lamason, from New Zealand’s department of conservation, said those refloated had been tagged, whereas the latest arrivals were not, indicating that they were a new group.

He said 20 whales had been humanely killed by conservation workers as they were in a poor condition.


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Officials have also been looking into how best to dispose of the whale carcasses.

Mr Lamason said that simply towing them out to sea could be problematic as they may become gaseous and buoyant and float into populated bays.

The latest incident in New Zealand was first reported on Thursday evening, but conditions were too dangerous at the time to launch a rescue operation.

Volunteers hold a pilot whale upright during a second mass stranding of whales in New Zealand, 11 February 2017Image copyright AFP
Image caption Volunteers have been trying to keep the stranded whales upright

New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world, with about 300 dolphins and whales ending up on beaches every year, according to Project Jonah.

Many of these incidents happen at Farewell Spit.

In February 2015 about 200 whales beached themselves at the same location, of which at least half died.

In The Name Of God We Kill You And Your Families!—Really, In The Name Of God?

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

Dozens Dead In Multiple ISIS Bombings Across Baghdad

Bystanders inspect the scene after a car bomb explosion at a crowded outdoor market in the Iraqi capital’s eastern district of Sadr City on Monday.

Karim Kadim/AP

Dozens are dead in Baghdad after bombs were detonated across the city on Monday. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings.

The death toll from the attacks is still climbing.

NPR’s Alice Fordham reported on the bombings, telling our Newscast Unit:

The first attack came in Sadr City on the edge of Baghdad, still reeling from a bombing on Saturday. The bomber pretended to be recruiting casual laborers for the day, so those killed were mainly poor manual workers. The next ones came at roughly the same time near two hospitals in the city, followed by three bombs in the poor Shaab area of the city.

The BBC reported that at least 35 people were killed and at least 61 injured by the blast in Sadr City, which is a “predominantly Shia Muslim” neighborhood. The BBC wrote: “The Sunni jihadist group Islamic State said it had carried out the attack, which ‘targeted a gathering of Shia.’ ”

Reuters reported that “nine of the victims were women in a passing minibus.” The news service wrote: “Their charred bodies were visible inside the burnt-out remains of the vehicle. Blood stained the ground nearby.”

The attacks followed other bombings in the city on Saturday, which killed 28 people, according to the BBC. Reuters wrote also wrote that “an attack near the southern city of Najaf on Sunday left seven policemen dead.”

Monday’s attacks coincide with an Iraq visit by French President Francois Hollande. Hollande gave a press conference with Iraqi prime minister Haider al Abadi, vowing to defeat ISIS.

“The terrorists will attempt to attack civilians in order to make up for their losses, but we assure the Iraqi people and the world that we are able to end terrorism and shorten its life,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said, according to the BBC.

The ISIS bombings come as Iraqi security forces continue their offensive to push the self-proclaimed caliphate from the country. The U.S.-supported offensive was launched in mid-October, as the Two-Way reported, and has recaptured part of the city of Mosul, the terrorist group’s last major stronghold in Iraq.

According to Reuters, “Abadi has said the group will be driven out of the country by April.”

The Religion Of Love Strikes Again: At Least 35 People Murdered At Least 40 Injured

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC NEWS GROUP AND CNN TURK)

 

Istanbul Reina nightclub attack ‘leaves 35 dead’

  • 5 minutes ago
  • From the section Europe
Media caption Emergency services at Istanbul nightclub attack

At least 35 people have lost their lives in an attack on a nightclub in Istanbul, the city’s governor has said.

Among the dead is one police officer, Vasip Sahin stated, adding that it was a terror attack.

At least another 40 were injured in the attack which took place in the Reina nightclub, in the Ortakoy area, at about 01:30 local time (23:30 GMT).

One attacker was involved, the governor said, while CNN Turk reported he was dressed in a Santa Claus costume.

“A terrorist with a long-range weapon … brutally and savagely carried out this incident by firing bullets on innocent people who were there solely to celebrate the New Year and have fun,” Mr Sahin told reporters at the scene of the upmarket Reina nightclub, which sits on the banks of Bosphorus in the city’s European side.

At least 40 people were injured in the attack

There were reportedly as many as 700 people in the nightclub at the time of the attack, some of whom are believed to have jumped into the river to escape.

Dogan news agency reported that some witnesses claimed the attackers were “speaking Arabic” while Turkish television channel NTV said special force police officers were searching the nightclub.

Istanbul was already on high alert with some 17,000 police officers on duty in the city, following a string of terror attacks in recent months.

Many were carried out by so-called Islamic State (IS) or Kurdish rebels.

Ambulances queue up outside the nightclub

Less than a fortnight ago, the Russian ambassador, Andrei Karlov, was shot dead by off-duty Turkish policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas as he gave a speech in the capital Ankara in December.

After the shooting, the killer shouted the murder was in revenge for Russian involvement in the conflict in the Syrian city of Aleppo.


Deadly attacks in Turkey in 2016

Scene of explosion in Ankara's central Kizilay district on 13 March 2016Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionScene of explosion in Ankara’s central Kizilay district on 13 March

10 December: Twin bomb attack outside a football stadium in Istanbul kills 44 people, Kurdish militant group claims responsibility

20 August: Bomb attack on wedding party in Gaziantep kills at least 30 people, IS suspected

30 July: 35 Kurdish fighters who try to storm a military base are killed by the Turkish army

28 June: A gun and bomb attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul kills 41 people, in an attack blamed on IS militants

13 March: 37 people are killed by Kurdish militants in a suicide car bombing in Ankara

17 February: 28 people die in an attack on a military convoy in Ankara


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