ATLANTA (AP) — At least one of the two American aid workers who were infected with the deadly Ebola virus in Africa has recovered and was to be discharged Thursday from an Atlanta hospital, a spokeswoman for the aid group he was working for said.
BERLIN (AP) Humans and Neanderthals may have coexisted in Europe for more than 5,000 years, providing ample time for the two species to meet and mix, according to new research.
Using new carbon dating techniques and mathematical models, researchers examined about 200 samples found at 40 sites from Spain to Russia, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. They concluded with a high probability that pockets of Neanderthal culture survived until between 41,030 and 39,260 years ago.
Although this puts the disappearance of Neanderthals earlier than some scientists previously thought, the findings support the idea that they lived alongside humans, who arrived in Europe about 45,000-43,000 years ago.
"We believe we now have the first robust timeline that sheds new light on some of the key questions around the possible interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans," said Thomas Higham, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford who led the study.
While it's known that Neanderthal genes have survived in the DNA of many modern humans to this day, suggesting that at least some interbreeding took place, scientists are still unclear about the extent of their contact and the reasons why Neanderthals vanished.
"These new results confirm a long-suspected chronological overlap between the last Neanderthals and the first modern humans in Europe," said Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who wasn't involved in the study.
Apart from narrowing the length of time that the two species existed alongside each other to between 2,600 and 5,400 years, Higham and his colleagues also believe they have shown that Neanderthals and humans largely kept to themselves.
"What we don't see is that there is spatial overlap (in where they settled)," said Higham.
This is puzzling, because there is evidence that late-stage Neanderthals were culturally influenced by modern humans. Samples taken from some Neanderthal sites include artifacts that look like those introduced to Europe by humans migrating from Africa.
This would point to the possibility that Neanderthals - whose name derives from a valley in western Germany - adopted certain human habits and technologies even as they were being gradually pushed out of their territory.
"I think they were eventually outcompeted," said Higham.
Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, cautioned that the study relies to a large decree on testing of stone tools, rather than bones, and these haven't been conclusively linked to particular species, or hominins.
"The results of this impressive dating study are clear, but the assumptions about the association of stone artefact with hominin types underlying the interpretation of the dating results will be undoubtedly rigorously tested in field- and laboratory work over the near future," said Roebroeks, who wasn't involved in the study. "Such testing can now be done with a chronologically clean slate."
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Virginia officials are preparing for the possibility that same-sex couples will be able to wed in the state Thursday by drafting a revised marriage license form for courthouse clerks to use as soon as they open their doors.
The state's ban on same-sex marriages was struck down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided not to delay its ruling while it is appealed. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, same-sex marriages will be legal beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday.
The revised license forms "would reflect the constitutional right of same-sex couples to legally marry in Virginia by asking for the name and gender of each spouse, whereas before, the form required a bride and groom because that was all the Commonwealth could legally recognize," Michael Kelly, a spokesman for the Virginia Attorney General's Office, said in an email to The Associated Press.
The request for a delay will either be considered by Chief Justice John Roberts or the full court. The court has twice granted delays in related cases.
While they wait on a decision, some clerks in urban areas are already preparing for an influx of marriage license applicants.
In northern Virginia, Arlington's circuit court has prepared an overflow room.
In Richmond, deputy clerks will be brought in to assist that city's marriage-license desk in anticipation of a large crowd.
Earlier this year, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated that between 5,487 and 7,122 same-sex Virginia couples would get married within three years of a change in law. That's based on 2010 Census figures showing Virginia had 14,243 same-sex couples and past experiences with Massachusetts after gay marriage was legalized there.
To help as many same-sex couples get married as quickly as possible, a network of religious clergy plans on fanning out to courthouses across the state to begin performing wedding ceremonies on the spot.
"I know many couples who have been together, in some cases decades, who are just waiting for this day," said the Rev. Jim Whalen, of New Life Metropolitan Community Church in Norfolk.
"We expect that there's going to be large numbers initially, and I think it'll be very advantageous to have enough people there to do this in a timely fashion instead of people having to wait hours. ... They've waited long enough."
Whalen is the organizer in the Hampton Roads region for People of Faith for Equality, which has commitments from 49 clergy members from various faiths to be stationed at different courthouses around the state. Another 17 clergy members have offered to be on call if they're needed, including the Rev. Linda Olson Peebles of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington.
Peebles said most same-sex couples in her congregation have already gotten married in Maryland or Washington, D.C., where she has also performed wedding ceremonies. She said her 900-member congregation plans to have a celebration Wednesday night if a stay is not issued.
"It's been a long journey," she said. "We're letting everybody know we're going to be ready to join in Virginia moving forward, letting go of its sad history and moving forward."
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — After days of street battles and weeks of shelling, Ukrainian troops made significant gains Wednesday into rebel-held territory, capturing a large part of the city of Luhansk and nearly encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city, in fighting that left at least 52 dead.
Ukrainian troops have been trying for weeks to drive the rebels out of Luhansk and cut off Donetsk, a city of 1 million that has shrunk by a third as frightened residents fled. In the last few days, several neighborhoods in Donetsk have been hit with artillery fire and fighting on the city's outskirts has become more intense.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council, told reporters Wednesday in Kiev that government forces were now in control of "significant parts" of Luhansk, an eastern city just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Russian border.
Hard-hit Luhansk has been without electricity, running water or phone connections for 18 days due to the fighting between government forces and pro-Russia separatists. Russia has sent a massive aid convoy to help the residents there but it's still stuck at the border, not yet approved by Kiev because its proposed route lies through rebel-held territory.
Ukraine has accused Russia of arming and supporting the rebels, a charge that Russia denies.
Earlier in the day, Luhansk city authorities reported running battles between the two sides.
The death toll mounted quickly Wednesday. In Donetsk, the regional administration said 34 local residents were killed and 29 wounded in the last 24 hours as of noon. Another 9 people were killed and 13 wounded in afternoon shelling, the Donetsk mayor's office said.
Lysenko, the government spokesman, said nine troops were killed and 22 wounded in overnight fighting in Ilovaysk, a town near Donetsk, as the government sought to retake a major railroad and a highway that leads to Russia. He said fighting continued Wednesday in Ilovaysk even though government forces had gained control of the town.
Among those killed in Ilovaysk was a Ukrainian-American known by the nom de guerre of "Franko," said Anton Herashchenko, an adviser to the interior minister. He said Franko was an American citizen with a military background who had been living in eastern Ukraine for 10 years and obtained Ukrainian citizenship before joining the government side.
For several weeks running, Donetsk has come under daily shelling attacks from all sides. The imprecision of the shelling is creating much animosity while seemingly taking a limited toll on rebel forces.
On Wednesday morning, rockets slammed into residential areas, including the suburb of Makiivka.
"I was with my grandmother in the bathroom, because there is a bearing wall in there," said Anna Zyukova, 22. "And then all of sudden, bam-bam."
Many Donetsk residents have been taking refuge in improvised bomb shelters in apartment building basements. Residents in Makiivka huddled in groups near one such shelter Wednesday, chatting and listening as rockets flew in and out several miles away.
At a rebel camp closer to the fighting, a rebel commander who identified himself only as "Chaika" — Russian for seagull — said he was at a loss to explain why army shells were hitting apartments.
"We purposely don't take up positions where people live," he said — a claim that Ukrainian officials have repeatedly dismissed.
The fighting began a month after Russia annexed Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
The Kiev government also is pursuing diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict, which the United Nations says has killed more than 2,000 people and displaced over 340,000 since the fighting began in mid-April.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel this weekend in Kiev before meeting next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
In Moscow on Wednesday, protesters scaled one of the city's famed Stalin-era skyscrapers and painted the Soviet star on its spire in the national colors of Ukraine. They also attached a yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag to the top of the 176-meter (580-foot) building.
While Moscow police detained four suspects and charged them with vandalism, a crime punishable with up to three years in prison, Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, welcomed the flag-hoisting over the skyscraper in a video message, calling it a "symbolic" gesture.
He urged Ukrainians all over the world to fly Ukrainian flags at their homes in celebration of the country's Independence Day holiday on Sunday.
Vasilyeva reported from Kiev, Ukraine. Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration detailed on Wednesday the toll that the escalating cost of fighting forest fires has had on other projects as it pushes Congress to overhaul how it pays for the most severe blazes.
In a new report, the Agriculture Department said that staffing for fighting fires has more than doubled since 1998. Meanwhile, the number of workers who manage National Forest System lands has dropped by about a third.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that accommodating the rapid rise in firefighting costs has harmed an array of conservation efforts. For example, spending that helps restore vegetation and watersheds after a fire has fallen 22 percent since 2001. Another program that partners with states and private landowners to conserve wildlife habitat has been cut by 17 percent during that same period.
The biggest hit has occurred with the maintenance of thousands of recreational sites and buildings managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Vilsack said. Spending on maintenance has decreased by two-thirds.
"That's created, literally, a multi-billion dollar backlog of unfulfilled maintenance, which obviously over time is going to cost us additional resources," Vilsack said. "It really does speak to the need for a new and different way of funding fires, particularly those more intense, more expensive fires.
The administration wants to use an already existing disaster relief fund to cover the expense of the most severe fires.
In a letter to colleagues last month, Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said fighting forest fires should be a funding priority, but the administration's proposal would "lead to higher spending, deficits and debt."