gennaio-giugno 2012

Aggiornamento 30 dicembre

Les premiers chasseurs, di F. Belnet, 28/12/2012

Bien plus rares qu’on ne le pense, des preuves – directes ou indirectes – suggèrent aux préhistoriens que la famille humaine, pour se procurer les protéines nécessaires à son développement, est passée d’un comportement charognard à un comportement prédateur. La transition est toutefois bien difficile à cerner, tout comme les réelles pratiques de chasse.

Da prateria a foresta, come cambiò in fretta l'ambiente di Homo erectus, 27 dicembre 2012

Quale ruolo ha avuto l'evoluzione ambientale della savana nell'evoluzione umana? La questione è aperta da circa un secolo, e non ha trovato una risposta chiara a causa della difficoltà di caratterizzare gli ecosistemi locali a partire dalle registrazioni degli strati geologici e dei fossili. Gli ultimi dati, pubblicati ora sui “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, tracciano un quadro diverso da quello ritenuto valido finora: proprio in corrispondenza di due passaggi chiave per l'evoluzione umana, avvenuti circa 2 milioni di anni fa, la nascita e la diaspora di Homo erectus, l'ambiente dell'Africa orientale ha subito un notevole cambiamento, passando dalla prateria alle foreste. Lo studio, firmato da Clayton R. Magil e colleghi del Dipartimento di scienze della Terra della Pennsylvania State University, si è basato su tecniche ad alta risoluzione per la rilevazione delle firme isotopiche e alcuni biomarcatori di natura lipidica dei sedimenti lacustri della Gola di Olduvai, in Tanzania, un sito estremamente importante dal punto di vista paleontologico. I dati mostrano una transizione relativamente brusca, durata alcune centinaia di migliaia di anni, dalle praterie alle foreste, in contrasto con il modello in voga da molti anni, secondo cui durante il primo Pleistocene, l'Africa orientale avrebbe conosciuto un processo progressivo e pressoché lineare di inaridimento ed espansione delle praterie. Le attuali teorie sull'influenza dell'ambiente locale sull'evoluzione umana dovranno quindi essere riviste tenendo conto di queste nuove informazioni. Come spiegano gli autori nell'articolo, i fattori ambientali hanno avuto sicuramente un peso nel determinare o nell'indirizzare l'evoluzione dei primi essere umani. Per esempio, la presenza di piante ad alto fusto può aver influenzato la termoregolazione e gli adattamenti alimentari degli ominidi e altri mammiferi terrestri fin dal Pleistocene, a partire cioè da circa 2,6 milioni di anni fa. Purtroppo, in molti casi, le ricostruzioni delle caratteristiche degli ecosistemi sono limitate dalla cattiva conservazione dei reperti e dalla scarsa risoluzione temporale dei metodi a disposizione. Inoltre, nelle sequenze di sedimenti terrestri sono comuni le discontinuità. Come risultato, gran parte del contesto dell'evoluzione umana è stato interpretato sulla base di condizioni regionali e globali ricostruite a partire da registrazioni marine. Un argomento di particolare interesse è l'incerto ruolo che ha giocato la savana nell'evoluzione umana. Da una parte appare difficile la definizione di questo particolare bioma all'interno degli ecosistemi moderni e storici, dall'altra è assai scarsa la possibilità di ricostruire la composizione delle comunità vegetali a partire dai sedimenti. Nel 2011,Thure Cerling dell'Università dello Utah a Salt Lake City e colleghi avevano stimato le composizioni delle comunità vegetali dell'Africa orientale degli ultimi sei milioni di anni sulla base della relazione misurabile attualmente tra copertura boschiva e abbondanze relative degli isotopi del carbonio per carbonati e per materiali organici presenti nel suolo. Il loro studio, dimostrando la validità di questo metodo di ricostruzione degli ecosistemi, aveva offerto numerose nuove informazioni sulle condizioni presenti anticamente nel bacino di Omo-Turkana, in Kenia, importantissimo dal punto di vista paleontologico. In questo sito, infatti, sono stati trovati i resti dello scheletro di un dodicenne, il cosiddetto Ragazzo del Turkana, risalente a 1,6 milioni di anni fa, all'inizio del Pleistocene, e appartenente alla specie Homo erectus. Estendendo l'approccio di Cerling per includere nelle analisi anche i biomarcatori lipidici, Magil e colleghi hanno analizzato i sedimenti lacustri nei siti archeologici presenti nella Gola di Olduvai, un avvallamento che si estende per circa 40 chilometri in Tanzania. L'intervallo di tempo considerato, tra 2,0 e 1,8 milioni di anni fa, è associato, oltre che alla comparsa dell'uomo, a notevoli cambiamenti nel clima tropicale.

· Ecosystem variability and early human habitats in eastern Africa, di C. R. Magilla, G. M. Ashleyb, K. H. Freeman, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences- Early Edition", December 24, 2012

Current multi-disciplinary approaches to deciphering the East and Southeast Asian paleoanthropological record, edited by Christopher J. Bae, Kidong Bae and Wei Wang, "Quaternary International", Volume 281, Pages 1-104 (19 December 2012) 

Forse una svolta nel giallo della beffa di Piltdown, 13 dicembre 2012

Un nuovo gruppo di ricerca del Natural History Museum di Londra si è messo all'opera per cercare di dare finalmente una soluzione a un giallo scientifico che da un secolo assilla i paleontologi, quello della beffa dell'uomo di Piltdown: un finto fossile preparato da mani talmente esperte da riuscire a ingannare la comunità scientifica per quarant'anni. Finora la caccia al colpevole – che ha visto di volta in volta sotto accusa almeno una dozzina di personaggi, fra cui due rispettati curatori proprio del Natural History Museum, il famoso paleontologo (oltre che filosofo) Teilhard de Chardin, e uno dei più stimati collezionisti e mercanti di reperti antichi del tempo – non è giunta a risultati conclusivi. E forse non vi riuscirà neppure questa volta, ma la speranza è quella di capire almeno se la truffa sia stata opera di un singolo o a più mani, magari assolvendo definitivamente qualcuno dei possibili colpevoli e comprendendo come è stato realizzato il finto fossile. Ma ecco la storia. Giusto cento anni fa, nel dicembre del 1912, il curatore della sezione di geologia del Natural History Museum di Londra, Arthur Smith Woodward, annunciò la scoperta – realizzata pochi mesi prima da un collezionista e commerciante di antichità e reperti paleontologici, Charles Dawson - di un antichissimo cranio, pressoché completo, che poteva costituire il perfetto anello evolutivo mancante fra l'uomo e gli altri primati. L'Eoanthropus dawsoni, come lo aveva battezzato Woodward, mostrava una teca cranica, una mandibole e dei denti dotati da un lato di caratteristiche tipicamente umane e dall'altro di netti tratti scimmieschi. Negli anni successivi e fino allo scoppio della prima guerra mondiale, nello stesso sito, una cava di ghiaia nei pressi della cittadina di Piltdown, nell'Essex, furono estratti svariati reperti – sia da Dawson sia da altri paleontologi, fra cui appunto Teilhard de Chardin – compresi manufatti litici che avrebbero testimoniare le capacità tecnologiche dell'”uomo di Piltdown”. 
La scoperta fece scalpore ma, benché accettata dalla maggioranza degli scienziati del tempo, non mancò di suscitare polemiche da parte di una nutrita minoranza. Nei decenni successivi i dubbi si acuirono, dato che nessuno dei fossili dei nostri antenati che venivano via via scoperti nelle più disparate regioni del mondo mostrava qualsiasi punto di contatto con il singolare assortimento di caratteri dell'uomo di Piltdown.  La resa dei conti arrivò solo nel 1950 quando, applicando la tecnica di datazione al radiocarbonio appena introdotta, si scoprì che la mascella dell'Eoantropus non poteva risalire a più di 50.000 anni fa, mentre sulla base di dati stratigrafici, di altri reperti rinvenuti nelle vicinanze del cranio e del suo stato di conservazione, Woodward e Dawson l'avevano datata a ben un milione di anni fa. Nel 1953, successive più accurate analisi svelarono infine che si trattava di una truffa, dato che la mascella e i canini provenivano presumibilmente da un orango e parti della teca cranica da un uomo moderno. Il creatore o i creatori di Eoanthropus e di altri fossili spurii di Piltdown non sono però mai stati identificati con certezza, anche se i maggiori sospetti si appuntano su Dawson. 
Per dipanare l'intricata matassa il gruppo di ricercatori coordinato da Chris Stringer - che firma su “”Nature” una puntuale e divertente ricostruzione della vicenda - si avvarrà oltre che dell'esame microscopico di tutti i reperti rinvenuti a Piltdown, di una nuova datazione al radiocarbonio, che grazie ai progressi tecnologici oggi può dare risultati molto più accurati, di un'analisi del DNA, e anche dell'analisi spettroscopica delle patinature realizzate con esiti molto difformi (tanto da far pensare a più autori di diversa abilita) per anticare alcuni dei fossili. “Indipendentemente da chi ne fu responsabile – osserva Stringer - la beffa di Piltdown è un duro monito per gli scienziati, poiché non l'unico esempio di inganno nei circoli paleontologici e archeologici. In effetti, quello che è successo a Piltdown potrebbe aver accelerato la scoperta, nel 2000, che il famoso archeologo giapponese Shinichi Fujimura stava seppellendo strumenti di pietra che aveva raccolto in scavi precedenti, per poi 'trovarli' come nuovi reperti.” Ma è anche una dimostrazione della capacità del metodo scientifico di arrivare, alla fine, alla verità”.

Isotopic evidence for an early shift to C4 resources by Pliocene hominins in Chad, di J. Lee-Thorp et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", December 11, 2012 vol. 109 no. 50 20369-20372

Foods derived from C4 plants were important in the dietary ecology of early Pleistocene hominins in southern and eastern Africa, but the origins and geographic variability of this relationship remain unknown. Carbon isotope data show that Australopithecus bahrelghazali individuals from Koro Toro in Chad are significantly enriched in 13C, indicating a dependence on C4 resources. As these sites are over 3 million years in age, the results extend the pattern of C4 dependence seen in Paranthropus boisei in East Africa by more than 1.5 million years. The Koro Toro hominin fossils were found in argillaceous sandstone levels along with abundant grazing and aquatic faunal elements that, in combination, indicate the presence of open to wooded grasslands and stream channels associated with a greatly enlarged Lake Chad. In such an environment, the most abundant C4 plant resources available to A. bahrelghazali were grasses and sedges, neither of which is usually considered as standard great ape fare. The results suggest an early and fundamental shift in hominin dietary ecology that facilitated the exploitation of new habitats.

Cavemen Were Better at Depicting Quadruped Walking than Modern Artists: Erroneous Walking Illustrations in the Fine Arts from Prehistory to Today, di G. Horvath, E. Farkas, I. Boncz, M. Blaho, G. Kriska, December 5, 2012

The experts of animal locomotion well know the characteristics of quadruped walking since the pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge in the 1880s. Most of the quadrupeds advance their legs in the same lateral sequence when walking, and only the timing of their supporting feet differ more or less. How did this scientific knowledge influence the correctness of quadruped walking depictions in the fine arts? Did the proportion of erroneous quadruped walking illustrations relative to their total number (i.e. error rate) decrease after Muybridge? How correctly have cavemen (upper palaeolithic Homo sapiens) illustrated the walking of their quadruped prey in prehistoric times? The aim of this work is to answer these questions. We have analyzed 1000 prehistoric and modern artistic quadruped walking depictions and determined whether they are correct or not in respect of the limb attitudes presented, assuming that the other aspects of depictions used to determine the animals gait are illustrated correctly. The error rate of modern pre-Muybridgean quadruped walking illustrations was 83.5%, much more than the error rate of 73.3% of mere chance. It decreased to 57.9% after 1887, that is in the post-Muybridgean period. Most surprisingly, the prehistoric quadruped walking depictions had the lowest error rate of 46.2%. All these differences were statistically significant. Thus, cavemen were more keenly aware of the slower motion of their prey animals and illustrated quadruped walking more precisely than later artists.

L'uomo di Neanderthal abitava la grotta di Tiberio, 5 Dicembre 2012

«Avevo iniziato con il solo personale del Museo una serie di piccoli saggi all’interno della grotta nei punti più distanti dall’ingresso. Sono rimasta colpita dal fatto che la piscina circolare della grotta era stata costruita realizzando un muro contro terra. Questo voleva dire solo una cosa: il terreno era ancora quello originario. Mi sono meravigliata del fatto che un dato così evidente per un archeologo non fosse mai stato notato». Racconta così la direttrice del Museo Archeologico Nazionale, dott.ssa Marisa de’ Spagolis, l’avventura di una delle scoperte più entusiasmanti degli ultimi 50 anni per la Riviera d’Ulisse. L’8 dicembre a Sperlonga, per la prima volta alla presenza della nuova Soprintendente per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio dott.ssa Elena Calandra, verranno esposti i primi materiali relativi all'importante scoperta avvenuta nella grotta di Tiberio, dove saggi archeologici hanno permesso di individuare un giacimento del paleolitico medio musteriano, in gran parte distrutto dagli architetti dell’imperatore Tiberio per la realizzazione della piscina circolare, magna pars dell’allestimento della scenografica grotta-ninfeo. Proprio gli sbancamenti operati all’epoca di Tiberio avevano escluso da parte di studiosi la possibilità di rinvenire tracce preistoriche. Invece resti del giacimento originale sono rimasti miracolosamente conservati in situ. «Si tratta di un momento storico – aggiunge Leone La Rocca, Presidente del Consorzio “Sperlonga Turismo” che sta gestendo l’organizzazione della giornata – a cui siamo orgogliosi di partecipare da protagonisti. Il Museo per noi imprenditori rappresenta, inoltre, la vera sfida alla destagionalizzazione del turismo: qui arrivano visitatori da tutta Europa in ogni stagione». Si unisce al coro delle congratulazioni anche il Vicesindaco del comune di Sperlonga Francesco Faiola: «Innanzitutto complimenti alla dott.ssa de’ Spagnolis che porge questo ennesimo e inestimabile regalo alla nostra comunità Noi le siamo grati e posso dire, in virtù della delega al Turismo conferitami dal Sindaco Cav. Rocco Scalingi, che ci impegneremo nella realizzazione di un’edizione dedicata e nella diffusione del nuovo volume della direttrice del Museo nell’ambito delle nostre attività istituzionali, ma soprattutto per la promozione dell’immenso patrimonio storico della città ai nostri visitatori». L’occasione dell’8 Dicembre, infatti, sarà propizia anche per presentare nel Museo di Sperlonga, a partire dalle ore 16.30, il nuovo libro scritto dalla direttrice dal titolo “La grotta di Tiberio a Sperlonga e le sculture di soggetto omerico”. «Per questa incredibile scoperta – conclude la de’ Spagnolis – devo ringraziare il personale del Museo che ha collaborato agli scavi: i sigg.ri Germani, Favero, Pestillo, Caposecco; ma anche altri che mi hanno aiutato nei rinvenimenti tra cui Giovanni Vastano, Maria Napolitano, Italo Biddittu, Annalisa Zarattini, Gabriele Manarini e Mariannina Rita Di Bianca».

Cervical and crown outline analysis of worn Neanderthal and modern human lower second deciduous molars, di S. Benazzi et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 149, Issue 4, pages 537–546, December 2012

Despite the general increase in digital techniques for dental morphometric analyses, only a few methods are available to study worn teeth. Moreover, permanent dentitions are studied much more frequently than deciduous teeth. In this study, we address both issues by providing a taxonomic classification of Neanderthal and modern human (MH) lower second deciduous molars (dm2s) through the analysis of crown and cervical outlines. Crown and cervical outlines were obtained from a three-dimensional (3D) digital sample of uniformly oriented dm2s. Both outlines were centered on the centroid of their area and represented by 16 pseudolandmarks obtained by equiangularly spaced radial vectors out of the centroid. We removed size information from the oriented and centered outlines with a uniform scaling of the pseudolandmark configurations to unit Centroid Size. Group shape variation was evaluated separately for the dm2 crown and cervical outlines through a shape–space principal component (PC) analysis. Finally, quadratic discriminant analysis of a subset of PCs was used to classify the specimens. Our results demonstrate that both outlines successfully separate the two groups. Neanderthals showed a buccodistal expansion and convex lingual outline shape, whilst MHs have buccodistal reduction and straight lingual outline shape. Therefore, we confirmed that the cervical outline represents an effective parameter for distinguishing between the two taxa when dealing with worn or damaged dm2s. Am J Phys Anthropol 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

SPLASHCOS: Submerged Prehistoric Archaeology and Landscapes of the Continental Shelf, di G. Bailey, D. Sakellariou, members of the SPLASHCOS network, "Antiquity-Project Gallery", issue 334, December 2012

For most of human history on this planet—about 90 per cent of the time—sea levels have been substantially lower than at present, exposing large tracts of territory for human settlement. Europe alone would have had a land area increased by 40 per cent at the maximum sea level regression (Figure 1). Although this has been recognised for many decades, archaeologists have resisted embracing its full implications, barely accepting that most evidence of Palaeolithic marine exploitation must by definition be invisible, believing that nothing has survived or can be found on the seabed, and preferring instead to emphasise the opportunities afforded by lower sea level for improved terrestrial dispersal across land bridges and narrowed sea channels. In the past decade, opinions have begun to change in response to a number of factors: evidence that marine exploitation and seafaring have a much deeper history in the Pleistocene than previously recognised; the steady accumulation of new underwater Stone Age sites and materials, amounting now to over 3000 in Europe, and often with unusual and spectacular conditions of preservation (Figure 2); availability of new technologies and research strategies for underwater exploration; and the growth of targeted underwater research (Erlandson 2001; Bailey & Milner 2002; Anderson et al. 2010; Benjamin et al. 2011).Above all, it has become ever clearer that coastal regions generally support larger concentrations of population than hinterlands, with greater ecological diversity, better groundwater supplies, more equable climatic conditions, more productive conditions for plant and animal life on land, and the availability of marine resources. Since most of the great transformations of world prehistory took place when the sea level was lower than at present—including the global dispersal of archaic and anatomically modern humans, the origins of fishing and seafaring, the origins and dispersal of early farming economies, and the roots of the earliest civilisations such as those of Mesopotamia and the Aegean—it follows that existing syntheses of world prehistory are likely to be seriously incomplete. (...)

Dealul Guran: evidence for Lower Palaeolithic (MIS 11) occupation of the Lower Danube loess steppe, di R. Iovita, K. E. Fitzsimmons, A. Dobos, U. Hambach, A. Hilgers, A. Zander, "Antiquity", Volume: 86, Number: 334, December, Page: 973–989

Owing to a thick blanket of loess and other later geological disruptions, the earliest hominins to reach Europe are hard to find. To a handful of possible sites, our authors add a new assemblage of lithics with a clear local context and corroborated OSL ages. Ancient humans were present in what is now Romania between 300 000 and 400 000 years ago.

New evidence for the processing of wild cereal grains at Ohalo II, a 23 000-year-old campsite on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel, di D. Nadel, D. R. Piperno, I. Holst, A. Snir, E. Weiss, "Antiquity", Volume: 86, Number: 334, December, Page: 990–1003

Traces of starch found on a large flat stone discovered in the hunter-fisher-gatherer site of Ohalo II famously represent the first identification of Upper Palaeolithic grinding of grasses. Given the importance of this discovery for the use of edible grain, further analyses have now been undertaken. Meticulous sampling combined with good preservation allow the authors to demonstrate that the Ohalo II stone was certainly used for the routine processing of wild cereals, wheat, barley and now oats among them, around 23 000 years ago.

Substantial settlement in the European Early Mesolithic: new research at Star Carr, di C. Conneller, N. Milner, B. Taylor, M. Taylor, "Antiquity", Volume: 86, Number: 334, December, Page: 1004–1020

The authors rewrite the character of Early Mesolithic settlement in Europe with their new research at one of its most famous sites. The picture of small mobile pioneering groups colonising new land is thrown into contention: far from being a small hunter-gatherer camp, Star Carr in 9000 cal BC extended for nearly 2ha and involved the construction of an estimated 30m of lakeside waterfront and at least one post-built house. With some justice, they suspect that the ‘small groups’ of Early Mesolithic Europe may have their rationale in the small excavations of archaeologists.

Human Evolution and the Archaeology of the Social Brain, di J. Gowlett, C. Gamble, R. Dunbar, "Current Anthropology", Vol. 53, No. 6, December 2012, pp. 693-722

The picture of human evolution has been transformed by new evidence in recent years, but contributing disciplines seem to have difficulty in sharing knowledge on a common basis. The disciplines producing primary data in paleoanthropology scarcely reach out to a broader picture and are often bypassed by writers in other disciplines. Archaeology is encouraged by its material evidence to project a view that “what you see is what there was”: by definition, there can be only a late flowering of human abilities. Yet there is a vital alternative paleontological record of the early hominins that gives us important information about their brains and suggests that brains become large and complex far earlier than that late material complexity might imply. How, then, to account for the large brains acting far back in time? Evolutionary psychology, in the form of the social brain hypothesis, claims that these large brains were concerned with managing a far-reaching social life. In becoming human, those brains did not merely become larger, but of necessity they took on new socialized perspectives, a domestication of emotional capacities allowing greater insights and collaboration. We argue that there is at least a 2-million-year social record that must be made part of mainstream interpretation.

Human Biology and the Origins of Homo
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, "Current Anthropology", Vol. 53, No. S6, December 2012

New chronology for the Middle Palaeolithic of the southern Caucasus suggests early demise of Neanderthals in this region, R. Pinhasi et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 6, December 2012, Pages 770–780

Neanderthal populations of the southern and northern Caucasus became locally extinct during the Late Pleistocene. The timing of their extinction is key to our understanding of the relationship between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans (AMH) in Eurasia. Recent re-dating of the end of the Middle Palaeolithic (MP) at Mezmaiskaya Cave, northern Caucasus, and Ortvale Klde, southern Caucasus, suggests that Neanderthals did not survive after 39 ka cal BP (thousands of years ago, calibrated before present). Here we extend the analysis and present a revised regional chronology for MP occupational phases in western Georgia, based on a series of model-based Bayesian analyses of radiocarbon dated bone samples obtained from the caves of Sakajia, Ortvala and Bronze Cave. This allows the establishment of probability intervals for the onset and end of each of the dated levels and for the end of the MP occupation at the three sites. Our results for Sakajia indicate that the end of the late Middle Palaeolithic (LMP) and start of the Upper Palaeolithic (UP) occurred between 40,200 and 37,140 cal BP. The end of the MP in the neighboring site of Ortvala occurred earlier at 43,540–41,420 cal BP (at 68.2% probability). The dating of MP layers from Bronze Cave confirms that it does not contain LMP phases. These results imply that Neanderthals did not survive in the southern Caucasus after 37 ka cal BP, supporting a model of Neanderthal extinction around the same period as reported for the northern Caucasus and other regions of Europe. Taken together with previous reports of the earliest UP phases in the region and the lack of archaeological evidence for an in situ transition, these results indicate that AMH arrived in the Caucasus a few millennia after the Neanderthal demise and that the two species probably did not interact.

Modeling Neanderthal clothing using ethnographic analogues, di N. Wales, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 6, December 2012, Pages 781–795

Although direct evidence for Neanderthal clothing is essentially nonexistent, information about Paleolithic clothing could provide insights into the biological, technological, and behavioral capabilities of Neanderthals. This paper takes a new approach to understanding Neanderthal clothing through the collection and analysis of clothing data for 245 recent hunter-gatherer groups. These data are tested against environmental factors to infer what clothing humans tend to wear under different conditions. Beta regression is used to predict the proportion of the body covered by clothing according to a location's mean temperature of the coldest month, average wind speed, and annual rainfall. In addition, logistic regression equations predict clothing use on specific parts of the body. Neanderthal clothing patterns are modeled across Europe and over a range of Pleistocene environmental conditions, thereby providing a new appreciation of Paleolithic behavioral variability. After accounting for higher tolerances to cold temperatures, it is predicted that some Neanderthals would have covered up to 80% of their bodies during the winter, probably with non-tailored clothing. It is also likely that some populations covered the hands and feet. In comparison with Neanderthals, Upper Paleolithic modern humans are found to have worn more sophisticated clothing. Importantly, these predictions shed new light on the relationship between Neanderthal extinction and their simple clothing.

The Oldowan horizon in Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa): Archaeological, geological, paleontological and paleoclimatic evidence, di M. Chazan et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 6, December 2012, Pages 859–866

The First Human Occupation of the Basque Crossroads, di A. Arrizabalaga, J. Rios-Garaizar, "Journal of World Prehistory", December 2012, Volume 25, Issue 3-4, pp 157-181

In the last 15 years, knowledge of the first human occupation of the Basque area has undergone important advances due to the excavation of new deposits and the application of new methodological approaches to previously known sequences. In this paper we present the state of knowledge of the Lower Palaeolithic in this region, outlining the difficulties encountered and the advances made in the last two decades.

Crossing the Line: The Early Expression of Pattern in Middle Stone Age Africa, di H. Anderson, "Journal of World Prehistory", December 2012, Volume 25, Issue 3-4, pp 183-204

This paper provides a synthesis of the currently known evidence for cross-hatch patterning on stone, ochre and ostrich eggshell from Middle Stone Age Africa, between 100,000 and 60,000 BP. The significance of the incised artefacts is that they are used as proxies for an early capacity for symbolic thought, and potentially the emergence of language to convey their meaning. Beyond their significance in theoretical debates, these marked objects demonstrate conjunctions in the expression of design, exhibiting vertical, horizontal and oblique incised or engraved lines, patterns that have been classified as cross-hatching. Yet very little attention has been paid to the patterns themselves. This paper examines the archaeological evidence and looks at why these patterns might be important from a perceptual perspective. Taking a neurological approach, it considers current knowledge of neural, and especially visual, plasticity and the interconnectedness of brain areas relating to vision, learning, memory and emotion.

Late Pleistocene Techno-traditions in Southern Africa: A Review of the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort, c. 75–59 ka, di C. S. Henshilwood, "Journal of World Prehistory", December 2012, Volume 25, Issue 3-4, pp 205-237

The focus of this paper is on two remarkable techno-traditions in the prehistory of southern Africa, the c. 75–71 ka Still Bay and the c. 65–59 ka Howiesons Poort. These were periods when the technological and behavioural repertoire of early Homo sapiens expanded rapidly to include novel technologies such as heat treatment of lithic materials, pressure flaking of stone points, manufacture of complex armatures including the bow and arrow, and the production of symbolic artefacts including shell beads and engraved ochre, bone and ostrich eggshell. In this paper I first review briefly the historical background relating to the recognition of these techno-traditions; second, concentrate on the archaeological sites known to contain these assemblages within southern Africa; and third, discuss aspects of the precocious material culture that appears during these phases.

Paléolithique supérieur (II), "L'Anthropologie", Volume 116, Issue 5, Pages 609-694 (November–December 2012) 

- Le Gravettien ancien d’Europe centrale revisité : mise au point et perspectives
- Les structures d’occupation gravettiennes en Europe centrale : le cas de Grub/Kranawetberg, Autriche
- Nouveautés sur la séquence du Pléistocène final et l’Holocène initial dans le versant méditerranéen de la péninsule Ibérique à travers l’industrie lithique
- La grotte de Niaux, théâtre des illusions

Paléolithique supérieur (I), "L'Anthropologie", Volume 116, Issue 4, Pages 469-608, (September–October 2012) 

- Le plus petit dénominateur commun : réflexion sur la variabilité des ensembles lamellaires du Paléolithique supérieur ancien d’Eurasie. Un bilan autour des exemples de Kozarnika (Est des Balkans) et Yafteh (Zagros central)
- Haltes de chasse du Châtelperronien de la Péninsule Ibérique : Labeko Koba et Ekain (Pays Basque Péninsulaire)
- Le Protoaurignacien de la Grotte La Fabbrica (Grosseto, Italie) dans le contexte de l’arc nord méditerranéen
- L’Aurignacien en Basse Autriche : résultats préliminaires de l’analyse technologique de la couche culturelle 3 de Willendorf II et ses implications pour la chronologie du Paléolithique supérieur ancien en Europe centrale

Les signes géométriques, une introduction 

Le paléolithique supérieur en Europe (de- 40.000 à – 10.000 ans) est une période passionnante de notre histoire. C'est alors que nous rencontrons quelques uns des exemples les plus anciens d' êtres humains se comportant tout comme nous : ils enterraient leurs morts, ils faisaient de la musique, ils taillaient des outils perfectionnés, des bijoux et des figurines dans un grand nombre de matériaux et ils décoraient les grottes et les abris sous roches qu'ils fréquentaient par un riche et impressionnant ensemble de peintures et de gravures. Des trois principales catégories dans lesquelles on divise l'art pariétal ( animaux, êtres humains, signes géométriques ), ce sont les signes qu' André Leroi-Gourhan (1982) considérait comme « le domaine le plus fascinant de l'art paléolithique ». Cependant, alors que lui-même les incluait dans ses recherches, on a, en général, eu tendance à négliger ces marques abstraites en faveur de leurs équivalents figuratifs. (...)

Origin and Diet of the Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers on the Mediterranean Island of Favignana (Ègadi Islands, Sicily), di M. A. Mannino et alii, November 28, 2012 - open access -

Hunter-gatherers living in Europe during the transition from the late Pleistocene to the Holocene intensified food acquisition by broadening the range of resources exploited to include marine taxa. However, little is known on the nature of this dietary change in the Mediterranean Basin. A key area to investigate this issue is the archipelago of the Ègadi Islands, most of which were connected to Sicily until the early Holocene. The site of Grotta d’Oriente, on the present-day island of Favignana, was occupied by hunter-gatherers when Postglacial environmental changes were taking place (14,000-7,500 cal BP). Here we present the results of AMS radiocarbon dating, palaeogenetic and isotopic analyses undertaken on skeletal remains of the humans buried at Grotta d’Oriente. Analyses of the mitochondrial hypervariable first region of individual Oriente B, which belongs to the HV-1 haplogroup, suggest for the first time on genetic grounds that humans living in Sicily during the early Holocene could have originated from groups that migrated from the Italian Peninsula around the Last Glacial Maximum. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses show that the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of Favignana consumed almost exclusively protein from terrestrial game and that there was only a slight increase in marine food consumption from the late Pleistocene to the early Holocene. This dietary change was similar in scale to that at sites on mainland Sicily and in the rest of the Mediterranean, suggesting that the hunter-gatherers of Grotta d’Oriente did not modify their subsistence strategies specifically to adapt to the progressive isolation of Favignana. The limited development of technologies for intensively exploiting marine resources was probably a consequence both of Mediterranean oligotrophy and of the small effective population size of these increasingly isolated human groups, which made innovation less likely and prevented transmission of fitness-enhancing adaptations. (...)

Arrow poisons in the Palaeolithic? di A. A. Evans, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", November 27, 2012, vol. 109 no. 48

In a previous issue of PNAS, d’Errico et al. (1) reported interesting findings from Border Cave in South Africa, including the presentation of a “poison applicator,” directly dated to ∼24,000 y ago. The fragmented wooden stick with perpendicular incisions appears, although smaller in diameter, not too indistinct from some poison applicators recovered in the Kalahari. Residues found on the item were studied using gas chromatography, and the authors interpreted the results as evidence for the toxin ricin. This was used to substantiate the claim that this “applicator” is direct evidence of the use of poisons in hunting.

Les premiers musiciens, di F. Belnet, 24/11/2012

La musique, activité culturelle par excellence... Apparemment absentes des préoccupations des formes pré-humaines ou humaines plus anciennes, les intentions musicales ne sont connues, à la Préhistoire, que chez les Homo du Paléolithique supérieur, qui, selon leur habitude, ne nous en livrent que de maigres indices… 

Handaxes of 1.7 Million Years Ago: 'Trust Rather Than Lust' Behind Fine Details, Nov. 21, 2012

Dr Penny Spikins, from the Department of Archaeology, suggests a desire to prove their trustworthiness, rather than a need to demonstrate their physical fitness as a mate, was the driving force behind the fine crafting of handaxes by Homo erectus/ergaster in the Lower Palaeolithic period. Dr Spikins said: "We sometimes imagine that early humans were self-centred, and if emotional at all, that they would have been driven by their immediate desires. However, research suggests that we have reason to have more faith in human nature, and that trust played a key role in early human societies. Displaying trust not lust was behind the attention to detail and finely made form of handaxes." (...)

Archaeologists identify spear tips used in hunting a half-million years ago, 15-Nov-2012

A University of Toronto-led team of anthropologists has found evidence that human ancestors used stone-tipped weapons for hunting 500,000 years ago – 200,000 years earlier than previously thought. "This changes the way we think about early human adaptations and capacities before the origin of our own species," says Jayne Wilkins, a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and lead author of a new study in Science. "Although both Neandertals and humans used stone-tipped spears, this is the first evidence that the technology originated prior to or near the divergence of these two species," says Wilkins. Attaching stone points to spears – known as 'hafting' – was an important advance in hunting weaponry for early humans. Hafted tools require more effort and foreplanning to manufacture, but a sharp stone point on the end of a spear can increase its killing power. (...)

Archaeologists Identify Spear Tips Used in Hunting a Half-Million Years Ago, Nov. 15, 2012

"This changes the way we think about early human adaptations and capacities before the origin of our own species," says Jayne Wilkins, a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and lead author of a new study in Science. "Although both Neandertals and humans used stone-tipped spears, this is the first evidence that the technology originated prior to or near the divergence of these two species," says Wilkins. Attaching stone points to spears -- known as 'hafting' -- was an important advance in hunting weaponry for early humans. Hafted tools require more effort and foreplanning to manufacture, but a sharp stone point on the end of a spear can increase its killing power. (...)

· Evidence for Early Hafted Hunting Technology, di J. Wilkins, B. J. Schoville, K. S. Brown, M. Chazan, "Science", 16 November 2012: Vol. 338 no. 6109 pp. 942-946 

Goodwill hunting? Debates over the ‘meaning’ of Lower Palaeolithic handaxe form revisited, di P. Spikinsa, "World Archaeology", Volume 44, Issue 3, 2012, 15 Nov 2012, pages 378-392

There has been intense debate over the ‘meaning’ of Lower Palaeolithic handaxe form. Handaxes date from about 1.7 million years onwards, and many show attention to elements of form such as symmetry and a conformity to the ‘golden ratio’ which go beyond immediate function. Our challenge in interpreting such patterning is that we cannot assume a ‘modern’ cognition to the makers of Acheulian handaxes nor capacities to negotiate concepts such as status or symbolism. Existing interpretations of handaxe form have been dominated by the seminal ‘sexy handaxe theory’ (Kohn and Mithen, Antiquity, 1999, 73: 518–26), which envisaged the production of handaxes as driven by sexual selection processes common to all mammal species. By contrast, it is argued here that an emerging concern with reputation building seen amongst higher primates developed within highly collaborative Acheulian societies into a concern with ‘trustworthiness’ and the expression of ‘gestures of goodwill’ to others via handaxe form.

Radiocarbon dates from the Grotte du Renne and Saint-Césaire support a Neandertal origin for the Châtelperronian, di J. J. Hublin, S. Talamo, M. Julien, F. David, N. Connet, P. Bodu, B. Vandermeersch, M. P. Richards, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", November 13, 2012 vol. 109 no. 46 18743-18748

The transition from the Middle Paleolithic (MP) to Upper Paleolithic (UP) is marked by the replacement of late Neandertals by modern humans in Europe between 50,000 and 40,000 y ago. Châtelperronian (CP) artifact assemblages found in central France and northern Spain date to this time period. So far, it is the only such assemblage type that has yielded Neandertal remains directly associated with UP style artifacts. CP assemblages also include body ornaments, otherwise virtually unknown in the Neandertal world. However, it has been argued that instead of the CP being manufactured by Neandertals, site formation processes and layer admixture resulted in the chance association of Neanderthal remains, CP assemblages, and body ornaments. Here, we report a series of accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dates on ultrafiltered bone collagen extracted from 40 well-preserved bone fragments from the late Mousterian, CP, and Protoaurignacian layers at the Grotte du Renne site (at Arcy-sur-Cure, France). Our radiocarbon results are inconsistent with the admixture hypothesis. Further, we report a direct date on the Neandertal CP skeleton from Saint-Césaire (France). This date corroborates the assignment of CP assemblages to the latest Neandertals of western Europe. Importantly, our results establish that the production of body ornaments in the CP postdates the arrival of modern humans in neighboring regions of Europe. This new behavior could therefore have been the result of cultural diffusion from modern to Neandertal groups.

Human Ancestors Were Grass Gourmands, di A. Gibbons, 12 November 2012

There's no accounting for taste—a truism that extends even to the earliest humans. By 3.5 million years ago, some early hominins in the Central African nation of Chad had already developed their own distinct tastes—literally. Three members of the genus Australopithecus—close cousins of the famed Lucy—had a yen for grass and sedges, according to a new study published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The shift suggests that hominins adapted their diet to living in more open terrain, as our ancestors did at some point, earlier than thought. (...)

Qui a chassé le mammouth en France à Changis-sur-Marne? 10/11/2012

Des chercheurs qui travaillaient sur un site archéologique datant de l’époque romaine ont eu la surprise de découvrir dans cette carrière les restes d’un mammouth très bien conservé (c'est le quatrième en France). Si les ossements viennent juste d’être présentés au public, la trouvaille a été faite cet été par les équipes de l’INRAP (Institut de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives). Une fouille de sauvetage a été rapidement mise en place depuis début octobre. (...)

Un'innovazione tecnologica di 71.000 anni fa, 8 novembre 2012

Risale a 71.000 anni fa una serie di piccole pietre scheggiate, o microliti, prodotte in modo da poter essere usate come armi da getto, ossia come punte di lance. La scoperta - avvenuta nel sito di Pinnacle Point vicino a Mossel Bay, in Sudafrica, e descritta su “Nature” in un articolo a prima firma Kyle S. Brown - retrodata notevolmente l’emergere di questa significativa tecnologia litica, mostrando che fin dall'inizio l'Homo sapiens era dotato di capacità ideative superiori, e non vi sarebbe stato - come ipotizzato da alcuni antropologi - un periodo in cui H. sapiens era fisicamente ma non mentalmente moderno. I microliti portati alla luce a Pinnacle Point, insieme ad altri reperti, testimoniano il possesso di una tecnologia avanzata e dimostrano l’esistenza di un pensiero simbolico. Gli antichi abitanti del sito infatti padroneggiavano una tecnologia per la produzione di lunghe lame sottili di pietra, successivamente spuntate da un lato in modo da poterle inserire in fessure intagliate in aste di legno o di osso e quindi creare armi leggeri da getto, come frecce o più probabilmente lance, che fornivano un significativo vantaggio rispetto a una lancia a mano aumentandone la portata e riducendo il rischio di lesioni. Di fatto, questa tecnologia microlitica prese stabilmente piede in altre regioni dell'Africa e dell'Eurasia solo a partire da circa 20.000 anni fa, anche se altre ricerche archeologiche avevano in effetti già dimostrato la sua comparsa tra 65.000 e 60.000 anni fa, durante una fase glaciale che aveva interessato il pianeta. Tuttavia, finora si era sempre trattato di reperti sostanzialmente isolati, che non sembravano poter indicare l’esistenza di una vera “industria” litica, tanto da indurre molti scienziati a ipotizzare che queste tecnologie sarebbero emerse in piccole popolazioni in difficoltà durante periodi più critici legati al clima rigido, per sparire insieme ai singoli artigiani dotati di particolari abilità, seguendo quindi un andamento oscillante. Nel caso dei reperti di Pinnacle Point – un sito che conserva circa 14 metri di sedimenti archeologici che coprono un periodo compreso fra i 90.000 e i 50.000 anni fa circa e che ha già permesso di portare alla luce quasi 200.000 reperti - la documentazione testimonia che la produzione di questi manufatti si è durata per almeno 11.000 anni. "Undicimila anni di continuità rappresentano in effetti un arco di tempo quasi inimmaginabile, durante il quale le persone hanno continuato a produrre strumenti in quello stesso modo. Questo non è certo un andamento oscillante", ha commentato Curtis W. Marean, dell’Arizona State University, che ha partecipato alla ricerca. L’apparente molteplice comparsa e scomparsa di questa tecnologia, osservano gli autori, è molto probabilmente dovuta al semplice fatto che il numero di siti africani adeguatamente studiati è assai limitato, e che ulteriori scavi hanno una elevata probabilità di portare alla luce nuove preziose informazioni.

· An early and enduring advanced technology originating 71,000 years ago in South Africa, di K. S. Brown et alii, "Nature" 491, 590–593 (22 November 2012)

· Early humans tooled up, di K. Smith, "Nature News", 07 November 2012

· Early Humans Handed Down Toolmaking Tech, di T. Watson, 7 November 2012

Massive Volcanic Eruption Puts Past Climate and People in Perspective, Nov. 5, 2012 

The volcano Toba is located in Indonesia on the island Sumatra, which lies close to the equator. The colossal eruption, which occurred 74,000 years ago, left a crater that is about 50 km wide. Expelled with the eruption was 2,500 cubic kilometers of lava -- equivalent to double the volume of Mount Everest. The eruption was 5,000 times larger than the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 in the United States. Toba is the largest volcanic eruption on Earth in the last 2 million years. The volcanic eruption threw huge clouds of ash and sulphuric acid into the atmosphere and up into the stratosphere, from where it spread across the entire globe in both the northern and southern hemispheres and fell down as acid rain. (...)

Capo Mannu Project 2011 - Lithic industry, di S. Caruso, D. D'Errico, D. Maffezzoli, "Traces in time-eJournal", no. 2, 2012

Nel presente contributo preliminare vengono presentati i risultati dell’analisi dell’industria litica di raccolta durante la campagna di ricognizione sistematica nell’area di Capo Mannu di Settembre 2011. In aggiunta sono stati presi in esame altri oggetti, sempre provenienti dalla zona in questione ma relativi a ritrovamenti sporadici effettuati in campagne di scavo e di ricognizione precedente. (...)

Levantine Perspectives on the Middle to Upper Paleolithic “Transition”, di L. Meignen, "Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia", Volume 40, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 12–21

This article presents a synthesis of the presently available data concerning the processes and meaning of the technical changes in lithic productions across the Middle Paleolithic/Upper Paleolithic boundary in the Levant. As a “corridor” between Africa and Eurasia, this area is of first importance in the discussion of Modern Human origins. The results of several new field projects (especially concerning the Initial Upper Paleolithic), the recent lithic technological studies (based on the chaîne opératoire concept) as well as radiometric dating were used here to discuss the rhythms and processes of technical changes at the onset of the Upper Paleolithic, examining carefully the lithic repertoire from the Late Middle Paleolithic through the Initial Upper Paleolithic from Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Israel. This paper puts forward the idea that the emergence of Upper Paleolithic technical characteristics did not occur following a single process, even in the same region (here the Levant), but most probably followed a “mosaic” pattern. However taking into account the data presently available, the main basic scenario for the onset of the Upper Paleolithic in this region would have been the generalization of new technical traits that would have emerged within certain local Late Middle Paleolithic and the following Initial Upper Paleolithic groups. If a diffusion phenomenon should be considered, as claimed by many scholars, the available information suggests that it has functioned more as a stimulus rather than the simplistic scenario of a catastrophic wave of population and the resulting acculturation.

The Importance of Changes to Microrna in the Evolution of Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Denisova, di K.V. Gunbin, D.A. Afonnikov, N.A. Kolchanov, A.P. Derevianko, "Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia", Volume 40, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 22–30

MicroRNA (hereafter, miRNA) genes have an important role in the transcriptional regulation of protein-coding genes, modulation of embryonic development, differentiation of embryonic stem cells, tissue formation and other processes. In this paper, we present an integrated study of the fastest evolving miRNAs in Homo neanderthalensis and Homo denisova, whose genomes have recently been sequenced. It has been demonstrated by the analysis of the functions of genes targeted by these miRNAs and changes in the secondary structures of their precursors that mutations in miRNA genes may have played a major role in the evolution of H. neanderthalensis and H. denisova, especially in the development and function of their brains.

Upper Paleolithic Portable Art in Light of Ethnographic Studies, di Y.S. Volkova, "Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia", Volume 40, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 31–37

This article addresses ethnographic evidence relevant for understanding the meaning of Upper Paleolithic figurines. Certain aspects of Siberian native art may offer new approaches to these works of Paleolithic art.

Aggiornamento 3 novembre

The Mousterian child from Teshik-Tash is a Neanderthal: A geometric morphometric study of the frontal bone, di P. Gunz, E. Bulygina, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 149, Issue 3, pages 365–379, November 2012

n the 1930s subadult hominin remains and Mousterian artifacts were discovered in the Teshik-Tash cave in South Uzbekistan. Since then, the majority of the scientific community has interpreted Teshik-Tash as a Neanderthal. However, some have considered aspects of the morphology of the Teshik-Tash skull to be more similar to fossil modern humans such as those represented at Skhūl and Qafzeh, or to subadult Upper Paleolithic modern humans. Here we present a 3D geometric morphometric analysis of the Teshik-Tash frontal bone in the context of developmental shape changes in recent modern humans, Neanderthals, and early modern humans. We assess the phenetic affinities of Teshik-Tash to other subadult fossils, and use developmental simulations to predict possible adult shapes. We find that the morphology of the frontal bone places the Teshik-Tash child close to other Neanderthal children and that the simulated adult shapes are closest to Neanderthal adults. Taken together with genetic data showing that Teshik-Tash carried mtDNA of the Neanderthal type, as well as its occipital bun, and its shovel-shaped upper incisors, these independent lines of evidence firmly place Teshik-Tash among Neanderthals. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Examining dietary variability of the earliest farmers of South-Eastern Italy, di R. Lelli et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 149, Issue 3, pages 380–390, November 2012

Stable isotope analysis of human remains has been used to address long-standing debates regarding the speed and degree to which the introduction of farming transformed diet. In Europe, this debate has centered on northern and Atlantic regions with much less attention devoted to the arrival of farming across the Mediterranean. This study presents carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of collagen from 19 human and 37 faunal remains from eight sites in the Apulia and Marche regions of south-eastern and central Italy, dating to the early phases of agricultural adoption during the first half of the 6th Millennium BC. Where collagen preservation permitted, sulfur stable isotope analysis was also performed. Overall, there was significant isotopic variation between the different geographic regions, although there was also considerable uncertainty in interpreting these data, especially given heterogeneous isotope values for fauna from site to site. By considering isotope data from each region separately, it was noticeable that the degree of carbon isotope enrichment in humans compared to fauna was higher for individuals buried near the coast, consistent with increased marine consumption. Coastal individuals also had higher sulfur isotope values. Nitrogen isotope values were very variable between individuals and regions and, in some cases, were consistent with very high plant food consumption. Overall, early “farmers” in south-east and central Italy consumed a wide range of foods, including marine, and had much more variable stable isotope values than those observed in central and northern Europe during this period, perhaps indicating a different mode for agricultural adoption. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

"Journal of Human Evolution" Volume 63, Issue 5, Pages 637-758 (November 2012):

- Comparative morphological and morphometric description of the hominin calvaria from Bukuran (Sangiran, Central Java, Indonesia)
di D. Grimaud-Hervé, H. Widianto, F. Détroit, F. Sémah
- Towards the Middle Palaeolithic in Western Europe: The case of Orgnac 3 (southeastern France), di M. H. Moncel, A. M. Moigne, J. Combier
- Long anterior mandibular tooth roots in Neanderthals are not the result of their large jaws, di A. Le Cabec, K. Kupczik, P. Gunz, J. Braga, J. J. Hublin
- Intergroup cannibalism in the European Early Pleistocene: The range expansion and imbalance of power hypotheses, di P. Saladié et alii
- Confirmation of a late middle Pleistocene age for the Omo Kibish 1 cranium by direct uranium-series dating, di M. Aubert et alii
- Some clarifications on the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition in Abric Romaní: Reply to Camps and Higham (2012), di M. Vaquero, E. Carbonell
- Comparative energetics of mammalian locomotion: Humans are not different, di L.G. Halsey, C.R. White
- Middle Pleistocene human facial morphology in an evolutionary and developmental context, di S. E. Freidline, P. Gunz, K. Harvati, J. J. Hublin
- Structural analysis of the Kresna 11 Homo erectus femoral shaft (Sangiran, Java), di L.Puymerail et alii
- Observations on Middle Stone Age human teeth from Klasies River Main Site, South Africa, di F. E. Grine

The great human expansion, di B. M. Henn, L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, M. W. Feldman, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", October 30, 2012 vol. 109 no. 44 17758-17764

Genetic and paleoanthropological evidence is in accord that today’s human population is the result of a great demic (demographic and geographic) expansion that began approximately 45,000 to 60,000 y ago in Africa and rapidly resulted in human occupation of almost all of the Earth’s habitable regions. Genomic data from contemporary humans suggest that this expansion was accompanied by a continuous loss of genetic diversity, a result of what is called the “serial founder effect.” In addition to genomic data, the serial founder effect model is now supported by the genetics of human parasites, morphology, and linguistics. This particular population history gave rise to the two defining features of genetic variation in humans: genomes from the substructured populations of Africa retain an exceptional number of unique variants, and there is a dramatic reduction in genetic diversity within populations living outside of Africa. These two patterns are relevant for medical genetic studies mapping genotypes to phenotypes and for inferring the power of natural selection in human history. It should be appreciated that the initial expansion and subsequent serial founder effect were determined by demographic and sociocultural factors associated with hunter-gatherer populations. How do we reconcile this major demic expansion with the population stability that followed for thousands years until the inventions of agriculture? We review advances in understanding the genetic diversity within Africa and the great human expansion out of Africa and offer hypotheses that can help to establish a more synthetic view of modern human evolution.

Les datations radiocarbone pour rendre à Néandertal ce qui est à Néandertal, 30/10/12

De nouvelles datations ultra précises dans la Grotte du Renne (Arcy-sur-Cure) et sur le site de Saint Cesaire démontrent que c’est bien Néandertal qui a fabriqué les outils et ornements retrouvés… Mais également qu’il a du subir une certaine influence culturelle au contact des premiers Sapiens européens. (...)

Étude géoarchéologique du remplissage quaternaire de la grotte du Vallonnet (Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Alpes-Maritimes, France), di A. Seggaa, S. Abdessadok, S. Laafar, "Quaternaire", vol. 23/3, 2012, pp. 261-275

La grotte du Vallonnet offre un remplissage avec des restes d’activité anthropique bien situés dans la chronologie du Quaternaire ancien (de 1,07 à 0,99 Ma). La problématique posée est de mettre en évidence les caractéristiques de l’évolution du sédiment après sa mise en place et l’impact de l’activité anthropique (apports ou effets sur le sédiment). Les caractéristiques sédimentologiques et micromorphologiques nous révèlent la dominance des apports extérieurs sur la contribution interne. Les éléments exogènes, détritiques et restes osseux, ont été mis en place par phases successives de colluvionnements matérialisées par des alternances de niveaux fins et de niveaux grossiers. Le ruissellement est également présent et il est représenté par le revêtement de grains fins de fines pellicules d’argile rouge. Les phases post-dépositionnelles sont de deux sortes : mécanique avec fragmentation des pierres et des os, et chimique avec altération des éléments calcaires et de quelques ossements, précipitation d’oxyhydroxydes Fe/Mn et de calcite participant ainsi à l’enrichissement de la masse fine en particules sablo-limoneuses.

Australopithecus afarensis Scapular Ontogeny, Function, and the Role of Climbing in Human Evolution, di D. J. Green, Z. Alemseged, "Science", 26 October 2012: Vol. 338 no. 6106 pp. 514-517

Scapular morphology is predictive of locomotor adaptations among primates, but this skeletal element is scarce in the hominin fossil record. Notably, both scapulae of the juvenile Australopithecus afarensis skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia, have been recovered. These scapulae display several traits characteristic of suspensory apes, as do the few known fragmentary adult australopith representatives. Many of these traits change significantly throughout modern human ontogeny, but remain stable in apes. Thus, the similarity of juvenile and adult fossil morphologies implies that A. afarensis development was apelike. Additionally, changes in other scapular traits throughout African ape development are associated with shifts in locomotor behavior. This affirms the functional relevance of those characteristics, and their presence in australopith fossils supports the hypothesis that their locomotor repertoire included a substantial amount of climbing.

· "Lucy's Baby" a Born Climber, Hinting Human Ancestors Lingered in Trees, di J. Owen, "National Geographic News", October 26, 2012

· Lucy, l'arrampicatrice, di M. Saporiti, "Galileo", 26 Ottobre 2012

"Quaternary International": Mammoths and their Relatives 2: Biotopes, Evolution and Human Impact V International Conference, Le Puy-en-Velay, 2010, edited by Frédéric Lacombat and Dick Mol, Volumes 276–277, Pages 1-300 (25 October 2012) 

Grandmas Made Humans Live Longer: Chimp Lifespan Evolves Into Human Longevity, Computer Simulation Shows, Oct. 23, 2012

"Grandmothering was the initial step toward making us who we are," says Kristen Hawkes, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Utah and senior author of the new study published Oct. 24 by the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
The simulations indicate that with only a little bit of grandmothering -- and without any assumptions about human brain size -- animals with chimpanzee lifespans evolve in less than 60,000 years so they have a human lifespan. Female chimps rarely live past child-bearing years, usually into their 30s and sometimes their 40s. Human females often live decades past their child-bearing years. (...)

Metabolic constraint imposes tradeoff between body size and number of brain neurons in human evolution, di K. Fonseca-Azevedo, S. Herculano-Houzel, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - Early Edition", October 22, 2012 - open access -

Despite a general trend for larger mammals to have larger brains, humans are the primates with the largest brain and number of neurons, but not the largest body mass. Why are great apes, the largest primates, not also those endowed with the largest brains? Recently, we showed that the energetic cost of the brain is a linear function of its numbers of neurons. Here we show that metabolic limitations that result from the number of hours available for feeding and the low caloric yield of raw foods impose a tradeoff between body size and number of brain neurons, which explains the small brain size of great apes compared with their large body size. This limitation was probably overcome in Homo erectus with the shift to a cooked diet. Absent the requirement to spend most available hours of the day feeding, the combination of newly freed time and a large number of brain neurons affordable on a cooked diet may thus have been a major positive driving force to the rapid increased in brain size in human evolution. (...)

· Raw Food Not Enough to Feed Big Brains, di A. Gibbons, "Science NOW", 22 October 2012

· What Makes Us Human? Cooking, Study Says, di N. Mott, "National Geographic", October 26, 2012

MtDNA analysis of global populations support that major population expansions began before Neolithic Time, di Hong-Xiang Zheng, Shi Yan, Zhen-Dong Qin, Li Jin, "Scientific Reports" 2, Article number: 745, Published 18 October 2012 - open access -

Agriculture resulted in extensive population growths and human activities. However, whether major human expansions started after Neolithic Time still remained controversial. With the benefit of 1000 Genome Project, we were able to analyze a total of 910 samples from 11 populations in Africa, Europe and Americas. From these random samples, we identified the expansion lineages and reconstructed the historical demographic variations. In all the three continents, we found that most major lineage expansions (11 out of 15 star lineages in Africa, all autochthonous lineages in Europe and America) coalesced before the first appearance of agriculture. Furthermore, major population expansions were estimated after Last Glacial Maximum but before Neolithic Time, also corresponding to the result of major lineage expansions. Considering results in current and previous study, global mtDNA evidence showed that rising temperature after Last Glacial Maximum offered amiable environments and might be the most important factor for prehistorical human expansions. (...)

Le Scienze per l'Archeologia Preistorica
Tavola rotonda sulle discipline di ambito scientifico che contribuiscono alla ricerca archeologica. Una messa a fuoco su potenzialità, criticità e prospettive in vista di un programma di lavoro

Neanderthal trove in Madrid, 13 October 2012

The Lozoya River Valley, in the Madrid mountain range of Guadarrama (Spain), could easily be called "Neanderthal Valley," says the paleontologist Juan Luis Arsuaga. Scientists working in Pinilla del Valle have already found nine Neanderthal teeth, remains of bonfires and thousands of animal fossils, including some from enormous aurochs (the ancestor of cattle, each the length of two bulls), rhinoceros and fallow deer. "There are around 15 [Neanderthal] sites in Spain: in the Cantabrian mountain range, along the eastern Mediterranean coast and in Andalusia, but none on the plateau, where there are no limestone formations and no adequate caves to preserve human remains for thousands of years," says Arsuaga. Pinilla del Valle is an exception to that rule. "There is limestone here. It was like a cap made of stone under which the Neanderthal presumably took refuge to prepare for the hunt, to craft their tools, to eat... probably more like a base camp to take refuge when they needed to." (...)

A High-Coverage Genome Sequence from an Archaic Denisovan Individual, di M. Meyer et alii, "Science", 12 October 2012: Vol. 338 no. 6104 pp. 222-226

We present a DNA library preparation method that has allowed us to reconstruct a high-coverage (30×) genome sequence of a Denisovan, an extinct relative of Neandertals. The quality of this genome allows a direct estimation of Denisovan heterozygosity indicating that genetic diversity in these archaic hominins was extremely low. It also allows tentative dating of the specimen on the basis of “missing evolution” in its genome, detailed measurements of Denisovan and Neandertal admixture into present-day human populations, and the generation of a near-complete catalog of genetic changes that swept to high frequency in modern humans since their divergence from Denisovans.

Neanderthals ... They're Just Like Us? di S. Zielinski, October 12, 2012

For decades after the initial discovery of their bones in a cave in Germany in 1856 Homo neanderthalensis was viewed as a hairy brute who stumbled around Ice Age Eurasia on bent knees, eventually to be replaced by elegant, upright Cro-Magnon, the true ancestor of modern Europeans. Science has long since killed off the notion of that witless caveman, but Neanderthals have still been regarded as quintessential losers—a large-brained, well-adapted species of human that went extinct nevertheless, yielding the Eurasian continent to anatomically modern humans, who began to migrate out of Africa some 60,000 years ago. Lately, the relationship between Neanderthals and modern humans has gotten spicier. According to a new study that analyzed traces of Neanderthal DNA in present-day humans, Neanderthals may have been interbreeding with some of the ancestors of modern Eurasians as recently as 37,000 years ago. And another recent study found that Asian and South American people possess an even greater percentage of Neanderthal genes. (...)

· The Date of Interbreeding between Neandertals and Modern Humans, di S. Sankararaman, N. Patterson, H. Li, S. Pääbo, D. Reich, "PLoS Genetics", Published: October 4, 2012 - open access -

Aggiornamento 5 ottobre

Spatial organization of the Gravettian mammoth hunters' site at Kraków Spadzista (southern Poland), di J. Wilczyński, P. Wojtal, K. Sobczyk, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 12, December 2012, Pages 3627–3642

One of the largest and best known sites of the Central European Gravettian is the Kraków Spadzista site. This article summarizes archaeological, palaeontological, and zooarchaeological data from the site, obtained in the course of more than 40 years of excavations and studies. The site is known mainly from the discovery of the large mammoth bone accumulation in trench B. During field work conducted in a few trenches located close to this assemblage, numerous human artifacts and faunal remains were found. On the basis of analyses of lithic materials, faunal remains, and radiometric data it is concluded that the Krakow Spadzista site was frequently re-occupied during a few weeks or months, by groups of Gravettian hunters in the period 24–22,000 rcyBP This short-term camp site was related to mammoth hunting. The analysis allowed identification of three possible activity zones, characterized by the presence of different groups of flint tools, fireplaces, and different faunal assemblages: a camp area, a lithic workshop, and an animal-processing area, besides the well known accumulation of mammoth bones.

Neandertals, early modern humans, and rodeo riders, di E. Trinkaus, "Journal of Archaeological Science",Volume 39, Issue 12, December 2012, Pages 3691–3693

In 1995 Berger and Trinkaus (J. Archaeol. Sci. 22, 841–852) proposed that the anatomical distribution of Neandertal trauma, with a predominance of upper body lesions, reflected close-quarter ambush hunting as dictated by the available Middle Paleolithic weaponry (the “Rodeo rider” hypothesis). The necessity for mobility among these Late Pleistocene foragers, as a factor possibly reducing the number of preserved lower limb injuries, was considered as an alternative explanation. The accumulating data on Upper Paleolithic injuries and Middle Paleolithic weaponry, considerations of differential skeletal susceptibility of minor trauma, and evidence of interhuman violence, plus the importance of mobility for Late Pleistocene human existence, suggest that hunting injuries may explain only part of the pattern. The purpose of this note is not to resolve to ultimate factors behind the anatomical distribution of traumatic lesions among the Neandertals (or early modern humans). It is 1) to emphasize that there are multiple probable contributing factors other than close-quarter ambush hunting due to the limitations of Middle Paleolithic weaponry, and 2) to open the discussion to alternative interpretations.

Evaluating morphological variability in lithic assemblages using 3D models of stone artifacts, di K. Bretzke, N. J. Conard, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 12, December 2012, Pages 3741–3749

Technological and morphological variability in lithic artifacts is commonly used to identify taxonomic entities in Paleolithic research contexts. Assemblages are mainly studied using either linear distance measurements or qualitative assessments of morphologies. Here, we present a method to quantify morphological variability in lithic artifacts using 3D models of stone artifacts. Our study on the sequence of the Upper Paleolithic layers V–I from the site Yabroud II in western Syria, demonstrates that utilizing 3D models provides a new insight into the variability of lithic technologies. We use quantitative data on convexities, twist and scar patterns on cores and blades, attributes previously not readily quantifiable, to trace technological change through the archaeological sequence. We are able to identify differences and translate these findings into a grouping of the layers. While layers VI–II are characterized by technological continuity and were grouped together, layers V and I can be separated from this group and represent technologically different groups chronologically before and after. Our results demonstrate the potential of 3D models for studying morphological variability in lithic assemblages.

Earliest Porotic Hyperostosis on a 1.5-Million-Year-Old Hominin, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, di M. Domínguez-Rodrigo et alii, "PLoS ONE", October 3, 2012 - open access - 

Meat-eating was an important factor affecting early hominin brain expansion, social organization and geographic movement. Stone tool butchery marks on ungulate fossils in several African archaeological assemblages demonstrate a significant level of carnivory by Pleistocene hominins, but the discovery at Olduvai Gorge of a child's pathological cranial fragments indicates that some hominins probably experienced scarcity of animal foods during various stages of their life histories. The child's parietal fragments, excavated from 1.5-million-year-old sediments, show porotic hyperostosis, a pathology associated with anemia. Nutritional deficiencies, including anemia, are most common at weaning, when children lose passive immunity received through their mothers' milk. Our results suggest, alternatively, that (1) the developmentally disruptive potential of weaning reached far beyond sedentary Holocene food-producing societies and into the early Pleistocene, or that (2) a hominin mother's meat-deficient diet negatively altered the nutritional content of her breast milk to the extent that her nursing child ultimately died from malnourishment. Either way, this discovery highlights that by at least 1.5 million years ago early human physiology was already adapted to a diet that included the regular consumption of meat. (...)

Il cannibalismo preistorico, tra utilitarismo e ritualità, 4 ottobre 2012

14.700 anni fa, nella caverna di Gough, nella contea inglese del Somerset, l’ora di pranzo non era per i deboli di cuore. Nel menù c’erano esseri umani, e a consumarli erano i loro simili. Gli antropologi hanno cercato a lungo le prove del cannibalismo nella documentazione fossile, ma stabilire se avvenisse davvero e perché gli esseri umani si mangiassero reciprocamente non è stato semplice. Una nuova analisi ha permesso ora di arrivare a una maggiore comprensione di come fosse praticato nel sito di Gough, suggerendo inoltre che durante la preistoria il cannibalismo sia stato più comune di quanto si pensasse. Gli studi sui resti fossili del cannibalismo si sono tradizionalmente concentrati sui segni di danni alle ossa causati da strumenti in pietra, come scalfitture dovute al taglio dei muscoli e segni di percussione per estrarne il nutriente midollo, nel tentativo di distinguere le conseguenze dell'attività umana da quella di grandi felini e altri carnivori. Ma capire se un corpo umano è stato scarnificato per motivi rituali oppure alimentari è difficile. Di recente, quindi, gli scienziati hanno iniziato a cercare i segni di denti umani, una traccia che non lascia alcun dubbio sulle intenzioni. Sfruttando i criteri sviluppati da Palmira Saladié e colleghi dell'Istituto catalano di paleoecologia umana ed evoluzione sociale di Tarragona, in Spagna, per individuare segni di denti umani sulle ossa, alcuni ricercatori hanno riesaminato i resti umani della grotta di Gough. In occasione dell’annuale convegno della Società europea per lo studio dell'evoluzione umana che si è tenuto a Bordeaux il 22 settembre la tafonomista Silvia M. Bello [la tafonomia è la branca della paleontologia che studia la formazione dei fossili a partire dai processi di decomposizione, N.d.T.] del Museo di storia naturale di Londra ha presentato i sorprendenti risultati della ricerca. Silvia Bello ha riferito che le ossa della grotta provengono da almeno quattro persone, tra cui un bambino di circa tre anni, e mostrano numerose tracce del rosicchiamento da parte di esseri umani, oltre a chiari segni di taglio con strumenti di pietra. In effetti, la maggior parte delle ossa al di sotto del collo reca rivelatrici tracce di denti. I cannibali sembrano aver sfilettato i muscoli principali con coltelli di pietra per poi strappare con i denti le parti rimaste. Anche le estremità delle falangi e delle costole sono state rosicchiate, forse per poterne aspirare la modesta quantità di midollo presente. Curiosamente, a differenza delle altre, nessuna delle ossa del cranio mostra segni di denti; sono state però scarnificate con grande accuratezza. Ogni frammento di tessuto molle, tra cui occhi, orecchie, guance, labbra e lingua, sembra essere stato meticolosamente rimosso con strumenti di pietra. Tuttavia, i cannibali si sono presi la briga di conservare la calotta cranica, separarla dalla faccia e sagomarne i bordi in modo da produrre ciò la Bello e i suoi colleghi in precedenza avevano indicato come coppe e ciotole di un tipo già noto nei resoconti etnografici. Nel complesso, i dati provenienti dalla grotta di Gough hanno indotto la Bello a ritenere che il cannibalismo avesse uno scopo sia pratico sia rituale. Il cannibalismo per mera sopravvivenza, osserva, sembra improbabile perché il sito contiene un gran numero di resti di animali, indicando che la gente non moriva di fame. Inoltre, se il consumo di carne umana fosse stato dovuto a esigenze alimentari, probabilmente non sarebbe stata applicata tanta cura nel rimuovere il cervello. La Bello ipotizza invece che il cannibalismo fosse una tradizione: gli abitanti di Gough mangiavano i corpi dei loro simili per nutrirsi e non sprecare della buona carne, per poi produrre coppe a scopo rituale con i crani. In definitiva, la Bello sospetta che, alla luce dei vantaggi pratici, in passato il cannibalismo fosse relativamente comune. Nel dibattito seguito alla presentazione della ricerca, rispondendo a chi chiedeva quali prove vi fossero che il modellamento a coppa del cranio fosse rituale e non utilitaristico, la Bello ha fatto notare, tra l'altro, che i resoconti storici indicano che gli aborigeni australiani che usavano i crani per produrre coppe d’uso quotidiano sapevano esattamente da quale individuo proveniva di ognuna di esse. E ha aggiunto che il cranio del bambino, pur non essendo un recipiente utile per contenere liquidi perché le linee di sutura non erano ancora completamente saldate, è stato lavorato esattamente allo stesso modo dei crani adulti: un'altra indicazione che queste coppe avevano un significato rituale. La Bello ha infine osservato che, adesso che esiste un metodo per identificare le tracce di denti umani, sarà possibile scoprire ulteriori prove di cannibalismo nei reperti fossili dei nostri antenati, riesaminando i siti in cui vi sono siti evidenze non certe di cannibalismo e controllando la presenza di morsi umani sulle ossa.

· In Prehistoric Britain Cannibalism Was Practical and Ritualistic, di K. Wong, Scientific American, September 24, 2012

Néandertal, de la légende noire à la légende dorée - Pascal Semonsut

Late Pleistocene climate change and the global expansion of anatomically modern humans, di A. Eriksson et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", October 2, 2012 vol. 109 no. 40 16089-16094

The extent to which past climate change has dictated the pattern and timing of the out-of-Africa expansion by anatomically modern humans is currently unclear [Stewart JR, Stringer CB (2012) Science 335:1317–1321]. In particular, the incompleteness of the fossil record makes it difficult to quantify the effect of climate. Here, we take a different approach to this problem; rather than relying on the appearance of fossils or archaeological evidence to determine arrival times in different parts of the world, we use patterns of genetic variation in modern human populations to determine the plausibility of past demographic parameters. We develop a spatially explicit model of the expansion of anatomically modern humans and use climate reconstructions over the past 120 ky based on the Hadley Centre global climate model HadCM3 to quantify the possible effects of climate on human demography. The combinations of demographic parameters compatible with the current genetic makeup of worldwide populations indicate a clear effect of climate on past population densities. Our estimates of this effect, based on population genetics, capture the observed relationship between current climate and population density in modern hunter–gatherers worldwide, providing supporting evidence for the realism of our approach. Furthermore, although we did not use any archaeological and anthropological data to inform the model, the arrival times in different continents predicted by our model are also broadly consistent with the fossil and archaeological records. Our framework provides the most accurate spatiotemporal reconstruction of human demographic history available at present and will allow for a greater integration of genetic and archaeological evidence.

Revisiting dental fluctuating asymmetry in neandertals and modern humans, di C. K. Barrett, D. Guatelli-Steinberg, P. W. Sciulli, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 149, Issue 2, pages 193–204, October 2012

Previous studies have suggested that Neandertals experienced greater physiological stress and/or were less capable of mitigating stress than most prehistoric modern human populations. The current study compares estimates of dental fluctuating asymmetry (DFA) for prehistoric Inupiat from Point Hope Alaska, the Late Archaic, and Protohistoric periods from Ohio and West Virginia, and a modern sample from Ohio to Neandertals from Europe and Southwest Asia. DFA results from developmental perturbation during crown formation and is thus an indicator of developmental stress, which previous studies have found to be higher in Neandertals than in several modern human populations. Here, we use recent methodological improvements in the analysis of fluctuating asymmetry suggested by Palmer and Strobeck (Annu Rev Ecol Syst 17 (1986) 391–421, Developmental instability: causes and consequences (2003a) v.1–v.36, Developmental instability: causes and consequences (2003b) 279–319) and compare the fit of Neandertal DFA Index values with those of modern humans. DFA estimates for each of the modern population samples exceeded measurement error, with the Inupiat exhibiting the highest levels of DFA for most tooth positions. All significant Neandertal z-scores were positive, exceeding the estimates for each of the modern prehistoric groups. Neandertals exhibited the fewest significant differences from the Inupiat (9.2% of values are significant at P < 0.05), while for the other modern prehistoric groups more than 10% of the Neandertal z-scores are significant at P < 0.05, more than 90% of these significant scores at P < 0.01. These results suggest that the Inupiat experienced greater developmental stress than the other prehistoric population samples, and that Neandertals were under greater developmental stress than all other prehistoric modern human samples. Am J Phys Anthropol 149:193–204, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Volume 63, Issue 4, Pages 577-636 (October 2012) 

- Correlation of the KHS Tuff of the Kibish Formation to volcanic ash layers at other sites, and the age of early Homo sapiens (Omo I and Omo II), di F. H. Brown, I. McDougall, J. G. Fleagle
- Carabelli’s trait revisited: An examination of mesiolingual features at the enamel–dentine junction and enamel surface of Pan and Homo sapiens upper molars, di A. Ortiz, M.M. Skinner, S. E. Bailey, J.J. Hublin
- The enigmatic molar from Gondolin, South Africa: Implications for Paranthropus paleobiology, di F. E. Grine, R. L. Jacobs, K. E. Reed, J. M. Plavcan
- New foot remains from the Gran Dolina-TD6 Early Pleistocene site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain), di A. Pablos et alii
- Neandertal mobility and large-game hunting: The exploitation of reindeer during the Quina Mousterian at Chez-Pinaud Jonzac (Charente-Maritime, France), di L. Niven et alii

Ancient Structure in Africa Unlikely to Explain Neanderthal and Non-African Genetic Similarity, di M. A. Yang, A.S. Malaspinas, E. Y. Durand, M. Slatkin, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 29, Issue 10, October 2012, pp. 987-2995

Neanderthals have been shown to share more genetic variants with present-day non-Africans than Africans. Recent admixture between Neanderthals and modern humans outside of Africa was proposed as the most parsimonious explanation for this observation. However, the hypothesis of ancient population structure within Africa could not be ruled out as an alternative explanation. We use simulations to test whether the site frequency spectrum, conditioned on a derived Neanderthal and an ancestral Yoruba (African) nucleotide (the doubly conditioned site frequency spectrum [dcfs]), can distinguish between models that assume recent admixture or ancient population structure. We compare the simulations to the dcfs calculated from data taken from populations of European, Chinese, and Japanese descent in the Complete Genomics Diversity Panel. Simulations under a variety of plausible demographic parameters were used to examine the shape of the dcfs for both models. The observed shape of the dcfs cannot be explained by any set of parameter values used in the simulations of the ancient structure model. The dcfs simulations for the recent admixture model provide a good fit to the observed dcfs for non-Africans, thereby supporting the hypothesis that recent admixture with Neanderthals accounts for the greater similarity of Neanderthals to non-Africans than Africans.

The significance of stratigraphic discontinuities in Iberian Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transitional sites, di C. Mallol, C. M. Hernández, J. Machado, "Quaternary International", Volume 275, 10 October 2012, Pages 4–13

The extinction of the Neanderthals remains an open question and the current chronological, archaeological and paleoclimatic evidence reflects complex, regionally diverse scenarios. For the Iberian Peninsula, the existence of early Upper Palaeolithic assemblages in the North of Spain raises questions about the influence of incoming Upper Palaeolithic groups on the native Neanderthals. However, this evidence remains unexplained from a historical perspective. At the same time, recent paleoclimatic data suggest that the environmental effects of Heinrich Event 4 entailed a gap in human presence at the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic boundary, casting doubts on the archaeological evidence from the North of Spain. In order to evaluate the evidence of continuity vs discontinuity of human occupation in the Iberian Peninsula at the passage from the Middle to the Upper Palaeolithic, a concise overview was conducted of lithostratigraphic data available in the archaeological literature on Iberian sites known to represent the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic Transition. The bulk of published sites show stratigraphic discontinuity between the latest Middle and earliest Upper Palaeolithic evidence, and in many cases, the sedimentary record reflects cold climatic conditions. This data support the existence of a gap in human presence, in disagreement with theories involving contact and acculturation, and suggesting that climate might have played a significant role in the population dynamics of the Iberian Peninsula at the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic boundary.

Material input rates and dietary breadth during the Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic at Franchthi and Klissoura 1 Caves (Peloponnese, Greece), di M. C. Stiner, N. D. Munro, B. M. Starkovich, "Quaternary International", Volume 275, 10 October 2012, Pages 30–42

Two deeply stratified cave sites in southern Greece show how the relations between material input rates and human prey choice may reflect local site function and regional food supply effects simultaneously. The Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic faunas at Klissoura Cave 1 and Franchthi Cave on the Argolid Peninsula (Peloponnese) provide clear evidence of diet expansion with time, based on increasing use of costly small animals. These cases also reflect, albeit to very different degrees, variation in occupation intensity as determined from sediment and artifact accumulation rates. Centrality is a critical issue for residential sites, and consistency (or the lack of it) in use provides a relative indication of site “importance” in the overall territory of foragers. Changes in site importance explain much of the variation in material inputs in Klissoura Cave 1, with the heaviest use of the site during the Upper Paleolithic and lighter use in the later periods. Small game data from Klissoura 1 nonetheless present a single general trend toward greater resource intensification with time. At Franchthi Cave, the intensity of occupations of the cave increased in tandem with intensified use of animal and plant resources. The parallel trends are explained by greater temporal consistency in the central importance of the latter site on the Pleistocene and early Holocene landscape.

Understanding the ancient habitats of the last-interglacial (late MIS 5) Neanderthals of central Iberia: Paleoenvironmental and taphonomic evidence from the Cueva del Camino (Spain) site, di J. L. Arsuaga et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 275, 10 October 2012, Pages 55–75

The Cueva del Camino site (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid) represents the most complete MIS 5 record from the Iberian Peninsula (away from the Mediterranean margin), including a large accumulation of fossilized remains of small and large vertebrates and two human teeth. The presence of carnivores (mainly hyenas) and humans suggests that the site should be interpreted as a spotted hyena den, a human occupation, or both. During an earlier phase of excavation undertaken during the 1980s, an anthropic origin was suggested for the accumulation at the site. However, research was resumed in 2002, leading to an increase in the number of vertebrate remains recovered, as well as the recognition of new vertebrate species. These have now been incorporated into the site’s list of fauna. In addition, new palaeobotanical, geochronological and stratigraphic data have been recorded and analysed, and the human teeth identified as being of Neanderthal origin. Floristic data (pollen and charcoal remains) obtained for the north sector of this site indicate an open landscape with Pinus sylvestris-nigra as the main arboreal taxon. The available evidence suggests this accumulation to be the result of spotted hyena activity during a warm phase of Marine Isotope Stage 5 (MIS 5) in an environment in which fallow deer was the most abundant herbivore.

Taphonomical study of the anthropological remains from Cova Des Pas (Minorca), di N. Armentano Oller, X. E. Gràcia, D. Nociarová, A. Malgosa Morera, "Quaternary International", Volume 275, 10 October 2012, Pages 112–119

The present research proposes a new way of reconstructing the taphonomic history of the human remains recovered at Cova des Pas (Minorca, Balearic Islands, Spain). The cave was used as a collective burial site during the later stages of the prehistory of the island and contains a minimum of 66 individuals in a strongly flexed position. Environmental conditions in the cave enabled the preservation of organic remains associated with the skeletal remains, unusual in archaeological contexts, such as hair or shrouds. A new taphonomic reconstruction of Cova des Pas is proposed, based on the analysis of cortical surfaces, fractures, and disturbance of human bones. This study shows that the observable taphonomic damage is the result of body modification due to the interrelationship between the perimortem treatment of corpses, burial space and taphonomic agents and processes.

Evidence for dietary change but not landscape use in South African early hominins, di V. Balter, J. Braga, P. Télouk, J. F. Thackeray, " Nature" 489, 558–560 (27 September 2012)

The dichotomy between early Homo and Paranthropus is justified partly on morphology. In terms of diet, it has been suggested that early Homo was a generalist but that Paranthropus was a specialist3. However, this model is challenged and the issue of the resources used by Australopithecus, the presumed common ancestor, is still unclear. Laser ablation profiles of strontium/calcium, barium/calcium and strontium isotope ratios in tooth enamel are a means to decipher intra-individual diet and habitat changes. Here we show that the home range area was of similar size for species of the three hominin genera but that the dietary breadth was much higher in Australopithecus africanus than in Paranthropus robustus and early Homo. We also confirm that P. robustus relied more on plant-based foodstuffs than early Homo. A South African scenario is emerging in which the broad ecological niche of Australopithecus became split, and was then occupied by Paranthropus and early Homo, both consuming a lower diversity of foods than Australopithecus.

Generation times in wild chimpanzees and gorillas suggest earlier divergence times in great ape and human evolution, di K. E. Langergraber et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", September 25, 2012 vol. 109 no. 39 15716-1572

Fossils and molecular data are two independent sources of information that should in principle provide consistent inferences of when evolutionary lineages diverged. Here we use an alternative approach to genetic inference of species split times in recent human and ape evolution that is independent of the fossil record. We first use genetic parentage information on a large number of wild chimpanzees and mountain gorillas to directly infer their average generation times. We then compare these generation time estimates with those of humans and apply recent estimates of the human mutation rate per generation to derive estimates of split times of great apes and humans that are independent of fossil calibration. We date the human–chimpanzee split to at least 7–8 million years and the population split between Neanderthals and modern humans to 400,000–800,000 y ago. This suggests that molecular divergence dates may not be in conflict with the attribution of 6- to 7-million-y-old fossils to the human lineage and 400,000-y-old fossils to the Neanderthal lineage.

La diversificazione dell’uomo prima dell’uscita dall’Africa, 24 settembre 2012

I gruppi etnici subsahariani Khoe e San – due popolazioni che parlano lingue caratterizzate dalle cosiddette consonanti click, prodotte facendo schioccare la lingua contro il palato o contro i denti – sono i discendenti della prima diversificazione nella storia degli esseri umani, avvenuta circa 100.000 anni fa, prima della migrazione dell’uomo al di fuori dell’Africa. A stabilirlo è una ricerca condotta da un gruppo internazionale di antropologi e genetisti diretti da Mattias Jakobsson dell’Università di Uppsala, in Svezia. I ricercatori, che hanno pubblicato il loro lavoro su “Science”, hanno esaminato le varianti genetiche di 220 individui di 11 diverse popolazioni di tutta l'Africa meridionale per individuarne le relazioni. L’analisi, che ha preso in considerazione circa 2,3 milioni di polimorfismi a singolo nucleotide (SNP), è la più ampia mai realizzata in questo ambito di studi. "La più profonda divergenza fra tutti gli esseri umani è avvenuta circa 100.000 anni fa, molto prima che i nostri antenati migrassero dall'Africa ed è circa due volte più antica delle divergenze che hanno separato i Pigmei dell’Africa centrale e i cacciatori-raccoglitori dell’Africa orientale dagli altri gruppi africani", ha osservato Carina Schlebusch, prima firmataria dell'articolo. I modelli di variabilità genetica individuati suggeriscono una storia delle popolazioni africane molto complessa: "La popolazione umana si è strutturata lungo un ampio periodo di tempo ed è possibile che gli esseri umani siano emersi da un gruppo non omogeneo", ha osservato Jakobsson. Lo studio ha anche trovato una notevole stratificazione tra i gruppi Khoe e San: secondo i ricercatori le popolazioni San della Namibia settentrionale e dell’Angola si sarebbero separate dalle popolazioni Khoe e San che vivono in Sudafrica già fra 25.000 e 40.000 anni fa. "La diversità etnica tra i gruppi Khoe e San è sorprendente, e ora siamo riusciti a osservare molti aspetti della loro storia che hanno dato origine a questa diversità nel loro DNA", ha spiegato Schlebusch. Lo studio ha inoltre confermato che la prima pastorizia si sia diffusa nell'Africa australe in relazione con la cultura Khoe. Studi archeologici ed etnografici avevano già suggerito che questa pratica fosse stata introdotta in Sudafrica dai Khoe prima dell'arrivo delle popolazioni di lingua bantu, ma fino a oggi non era chiaro se questo evento avesse avuto anche un impatto genetico. Nama, una sottopopolazione agro-pastorale Khoe della Namibia hanno in effetti mostrato una notevole somiglianza con i gruppi San meridionali, "tuttavia, in questo gruppo abbiamo trovato una componente genetica, piccola ma molto specifica, che è condivisa con gli africani orientali, e che può essere il risultato di un’ascendenza comune dalle comunità pastorali dell'Africa orientale", ha dichiarato Schlebusch. Lo studio ha anche cercato indicatori di antichi adattamenti locali nei diversi gruppi Khoe e San, scoprendo prove dell’azione della selezione naturale in geni coinvolti nella funzione muscolare, nella risposta immunitaria, e nella protezione dai raggi UV, legati agli adattamenti agli ambienti a cui sono stati esposti gli antenati dei Khoe-San e mantenuti nel pool genetico dei gruppi locali. Ma la ricerca ha anche rilevato indizi di adattamenti più antichi, precedenti alla separazione del lignaggio Khoe-San dagli altri esseri umani. In particolare, fra questi sembrano esserci i geni coinvolti nello sviluppo dello scheletro che possono essere stati cruciali nel determinare le caratteristiche degli esseri umani anatomicamente moderni.

· Genomic Variation in Seven Khoe-San Groups Reveals Adaptation and Complex African History, di C. M. Schlebusch et alii, "Science-Express" 20 September 2012

Livre: "François Borde et la Préhistoire" - Editions du C.T.H.S

Livre: "Evolution : l'histoire de l'homme" - Alice Roberts - Editions Delachaux et Niestlé

Livre: "La préhistoire des autres" - Ed INRAP - La découverte

Did Neandertals Truly Bury Their Dead? di M. Balter, "Science", 21 September 2012: Vol. 337 no. 6101 pp. 1443-1444 

During excavations in the French Dordogne beginning more than 100 years ago, French archaeologists discovered the skeletons of seven Neandertals, including four children and infants, and the most complete adult Neandertal skull ever found. They concluded that all were deliberately buried, making this site pivotal to contentions that Neandertals had symbolic capacities. Until now, that is. New excavations at La Ferrassie are in part designed to reexamine this question, which many researchers had long thought was itself dead and buried.

Vestiges chalcolithiques et paléolithiques de Foissac en danger! 19/09/12

"Un projet d'agrandissement d'un élevage de cochons (passant de 1000 à 8000 têtes par an) sur la commune de Causse et Diège met en péril les vestiges archéologiques chalcolithiques et paléolithiques de la grotte de Foissac en Aveyron. (...)

Beeswax as Dental Filling on a Neolithic Human Tooth, di F. Bernardini et alii, "PLoS ONE", September 19, 2012 - open access - 

Evidence of prehistoric dentistry has been limited to a few cases, the most ancient dating back to the Neolithic. Here we report a 6500-year-old human mandible from Slovenia whose left canine crown bears the traces of a filling with beeswax. The use of different analytical techniques, including synchrotron radiation computed micro-tomography (micro-CT), Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating, Infrared (IR) Spectroscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), has shown that the exposed area of dentine resulting from occlusal wear and the upper part of a vertical crack affecting enamel and dentin tissues were filled with beeswax shortly before or after the individual’s death. If the filling was done when the person was still alive, the intervention was likely aimed to relieve tooth sensitivity derived from either exposed dentine and/or the pain resulting from chewing on a cracked tooth: this would provide the earliest known direct evidence of therapeutic-palliative dental filling. (...)

· I dentisti del Neolitico, di A. Danti, "National Geographic Italia"

Adaptive Evolution of the FADS Gene Cluster within Africa, di R. A. Mathias et alii, "PLoS ONE", September 19, 2012 - open access - 

Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) are essential for brain structure, development, and function, and adequate dietary quantities of LC-PUFAs are thought to have been necessary for both brain expansion and the increase in brain complexity observed during modern human evolution. Previous studies conducted in largely European populations suggest that humans have limited capacity to synthesize brain LC-PUFAs such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from plant-based medium chain (MC) PUFAs due to limited desaturase activity. Population-based differences in LC-PUFA levels and their product-to-substrate ratios can, in part, be explained by polymorphisms in the fatty acid desaturase (FADS) gene cluster, which have been associated with increased conversion of MC-PUFAs to LC-PUFAs. Here, we show evidence that these high efficiency converter alleles in the FADS gene cluster were likely driven to near fixation in African populations by positive selection ~85 kya. We hypothesize that selection at FADS variants, which increase LC-PUFA synthesis from plant-based MC-PUFAs, played an important role in allowing African populations obligatorily tethered to marine sources for LC-PUFAs in isolated geographic regions, to rapidly expand throughout the African continent 60–80 kya. (...)

Studies slow the human DNA clock, di E. Callaway, "Nature-news", 18 September 2012 ("Nature" 489, 343–344 - 20 September 2012)

The story of human ancestors used to be writ only in bones and tools, but since the 1960s DNA has given its own version of events. Some results were revelatory, such as when DNA studies showed that all modern humans descended from ancestors who lived in Africa more than 100,000 years ago. Others were baffling, suggesting that key events in human evolution happened at times that flatly contradicted the archaeology. (...)

Skilled Hunters 300,000 Years Ago, "ScienceDaily" (Sep. 17, 2012)

Archeologists from the University of Tübingen have found eight extremely well-preserved spears -- an astonishing 300,000 years old, making them the oldest known weapons anywhere. The spears and other artifacts as well as animal remains found at the site demonstrate that their users were highly skilled craftsmen and hunters, well adapted to their environment -- with a capacity for abstract thought and complex planning comparable to our own. It is likely that they were members of the species Homo heidelbergensis, although no human remains have yet been found at the site. (...)

Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids, di C. Finlayson et alii, "PLoS ONE", September 17, 2012 - open access - 

The hypothesis that Neanderthals exploited birds for the use of their feathers or claws as personal ornaments in symbolic behaviour is revolutionary as it assigns unprecedented cognitive abilities to these hominins. This inference, however, is based on modest faunal samples and thus may not represent a regular or systematic behaviour. Here we address this issue by looking for evidence of such behaviour across a large temporal and geographical framework. Our analyses try to answer four main questions: 1) does a Neanderthal to raptor-corvid connection exist at a large scale, thus avoiding associations that might be regarded as local in space or time?; 2) did Middle (associated with Neanderthals) and Upper Palaeolithic (associated with modern humans) sites contain a greater range of these species than Late Pleistocene paleontological sites?; 3) is there a taphonomic association between Neanderthals and corvids-raptors at Middle Palaeolithic sites on Gibraltar, specifically Gorham's, Vanguard and Ibex Caves? and; 4) was the extraction of wing feathers a local phenomenon exclusive to the Neanderthals at these sites or was it a geographically wider phenomenon?. We compiled a database of 1699 Pleistocene Palearctic sites based on fossil bird sites. We also compiled a taphonomical database from the Middle Palaeolithic assemblages of Gibraltar. We establish a clear, previously unknown and widespread, association between Neanderthals, raptors and corvids. We show that the association involved the direct intervention of Neanderthals on the bones of these birds, which we interpret as evidence of extraction of large flight feathers. The large number of bones, the variety of species processed and the different temporal periods when the behaviour is observed, indicate that this was a systematic, geographically and temporally broad, activity that the Neanderthals undertook. Our results, providing clear evidence that Neanderthal cognitive capacities were comparable to those of Modern Humans, constitute a major advance in the study of human evolution. (...)

Acheuléen, industrie à bifaces - Volume 116, Issue 3, Pages 291-468 (June–August 2012) 

- Comportements de subsistance et modifications osseuses à l’aube de l’Acheuléen à Konso, Éthiopie, di A. Echassoux
- Processus de formation des sites et concept du Tayacien : l’exemple de Fontéchevade (Charente, France), di S. P. McPherron et alii
- La transition entre les Modes 2 et 3 en Europe : le rapport sur les gisements du Plateau Nord (Péninsule Ibérique), di M. Terradillos-Bernal, J.C. Díez-Fernández-Lomana
- Acquisition de supports prédéterminés destinés à la réalisation de bifaces : l’exemple de sites de surfaces du Sud-Est marocain, di L. Boudad, S. Guislain
- La grotte Mézmaiskaya (Caucase de Nord) : exemple de l’utilisation des matières premières lithiques au Paléolithique Moyen et Supérieur, di E. Doronicheva, M. Kulkova, S. Grégoire
- La mise en valeur d’un ancien site éponyme : Eger-Kőporos dans le Paléolithique moyen et supérieur de la Hongrie du nord, di J. K. Kozłowski et alii

Aggiornamento 8 settembre

Radiocarbon dates for the late Middle Palaeolithic at Pech de l'Azé IV, France, di S. P. McPherron et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 11, November 2012, Pages 3436–3442

This paper reports a series of radiocarbon dates on bone samples coming from the Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition (MTA) Layer 3 at the top of the Pech de l'Azé IV (Pech IV, France) Middle Palaeolithic sequence. All of these samples showed evidence of human impact, and they were prepared using current pre-treatment techniques to remove or identify contamination. The results indicate that the MTA at Pech IV started prior to the current limit of radiocarbon calibration (circa 50 ka BP) and ended by 45 ka cal. BP. These dates are supported by additional TL and ESR dates from the sequence, confirm previously suggested correlations between Pech I and IV, and generally fit within the known age range for the MTA. The oldest dates reported here may also lend support to still older TL dates for the MTA that taken together suggest that the MTA extended from late MIS 4 or early OIS 3 through to the end of the Middle Palaeolithic in southwest France.

Temporal and spatial corridors of Homo sapiens sapiens population dynamics during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene, edited by J. Richter, M. Melles, F. Schäbitz, "Quaternary International", Volume 274, Pages 1-272 (1 October 2012) 

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Neanderthal? di Nikhil Swaminathan, "Archaeology", Volume 65, Number 5, September/October 2012

Up until now, it has been believed that only Homo sapiens could have created Paleolithic cave art. Neanderthals, modern humans' closest extinct kin, who died out 30,000 years ago, were thought to be incapable of such activities. But new work coming from sophisticated dating techniques suggests otherwise: Neanderthals may have been artists. In mid-June 2012, a team of European researchers announced the results of a reinvestigation of 50 paintings found in 11 caves on the northwestern coast of Spain. (...)

Geophysical survey reveals first images of lost Roman town, September 5, 2012

An ancient Italian town whose remains are buried beneath the earth has been mapped by a team of researchers, revealing evidence of a bustling social and economic settlement 1,500 years ago. (...)

Middle Paleolithic human remains from the Gruta Da Oliveira (Torres Novas), Portugal, di J.C. Willman, J. Maki, P. Bayle, E.Trinkaus, J. Zilhão, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 149, Issue 1, pages 39–51, September 2012

Additional Middle Paleolithic human remains from layers 17, 18, and 22 of the Gruta da Oliveira, Portugal consist of a proximal manual phalanx 2 (Oliveira 5), a partial postcanine tooth (Oliveira 6), a humeral diaphysis (Oliveira 7), a distal mandibular molar (Oliveira 8), and a mandibular premolar (P3) (Oliveira 9). Oliveira 5, 6, and 8 are unremarkable for Late Pleistocene humans. The Oliveira 7 right humerus is moderately robust or the individual had the stocky body proportions of other European (including Iberian) Neandertals. The Oliveira 9 P3 has a large and symmetrical crown and lacks a distal accessory ridge and accessory lingual cusps, overlapping both Neandertal and recent human ranges of variation. It contrasts with at least recent human P3s in having relatively thin enamel. These join the Oliveira 1 to 4 remains in further documenting early MIS 3 Neandertal morphology in western Iberia. Am J Phys Anthropol 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

The archaeology of Britain's first modern humans, di R. Dinnis, "Antiquity", Volume: 86, Number: 333, September, Page: 627–641

The sites of the first modern humans who occupied what is now Britain have been reduced to a handful by subsequent glaciation and the rise in sea level, and their assemblages have been further depleted because early excavators ignored the microliths. Confronting the challenges of this exiguous material, the author succeeds in painting a vivid picture of Aurignacian hunters following prey down the now submerged Channel River Valley, colonising the preferred hilly zones at the west of Britain. The presence of two types of bladelet manufacture suggests a lengthy or repeated period of subsequent occupation.

The oldest art of the Eurasian Arctic: personal ornaments and symbolic objects from Yana RHS, Arctic Siberia, di V. V. Pitulko, E. Y. Pavlova, P. A. Nikolskiy, V, V. Ivanova, "Antiquity", Volume: 86, Number: 333, September, Page: 642–659 

The excavated site termed Yana RHS is dated to about 28000 BP and contained a stunning assemblage of ornamented and symbolic objects—the earliest art to be excavated in the Arctic zone. Decorated beads, pendants and needles connect the site to the Eurasian Upper Palaeolithic; but other forms and ornaments are unparalleled. Shallow dishes and anthropomorphic designs on mammoth tusks find echoes among hunting practice and shamanistic images of the indigenous Yukaghir people recorded in the early twentieth century.

A 14 000-year-old amber elk and the origins of northern European art, di  S. Veil, K. Breest, P. Grootes, M. J. Nadeau, M, Hüls, "Antiquity", Volume: 86, Number: 333, September, Page: 660–673 

A Late Palaeolithic amber figurine has been skilfully recovered and reassembled from a ploughed open site in northern Germany. Dated between 11 800 and 11 680 cal BC it occupies a key point between the Magdalenian and the Mesolithic. The authors show that the figurine represents a female elk which was probably carried on the top of a wooden staff. They argue for continuity of art but change of belief in this crucial transition period.

Inland human settlement in southern Arabia 55,000 years ago. New evidence from the Wadi Surdud Middle Paleolithic site complex, western Yemen, di A. Delagnes et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 452–474

The recovery at Shi’bat Dihya 1 (SD1) of a dense Middle Paleolithic human occupation dated to 55 ka BP sheds new light on the role of the Arabian Peninsula at the time of the alleged expansion of modern humans out of Africa. SD1 is part of a complex of Middle Paleolithic sites cut by the Wadi Surdud and interstratified within an alluvial sedimentary basin in the foothills that connect the Yemeni highlands with the Tihama coastal plain. A number of environmental proxies indicate arid conditions throughout a sequence that extends between 63 and 42 ka BP. The lithic industry is geared toward the production of a variety of end products: blades, pointed blades, pointed flakes and Levallois-like flakes with long unmodified cutting edges, made from locally available rhyolite. The occasional exploitation of other local raw materials, that fulfill distinct complementary needs, highlights the multi-functional nature of the occupation. The slightly younger Shi’bat Dihya 2 (SD2) site is characterized by a less elaborate production of flakes, together with some elements (blades and pointed flakes) similar to those found at SD1, and may indicate a cultural continuity between the two sites. The technological behaviors of the SD1 toolmakers present similarities with those documented from a number of nearly contemporaneous assemblages from southern Arabia, the Levant, the Horn of Africa and North Africa. However, they do not directly conform to any of the techno-complexes typical of the late Middle Paleolithic or late Middle Stone Age from these regions. This period would have witnessed the development of local Middle Paleolithic traditions in the Arabian Peninsula, which suggests more complex settlement dynamics and possible population interactions than commonly inferred by the current models of modern human expansion out of Africa.

Enamel extension rate patterns in modern human teeth: Two approaches designed to establish an integrated comparative context for fossil primates, di D. Guatelli-Steinberg, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 475–486

Enamel extension rates (EERs), the rates at which ameloblasts differentiate, determine how fast tooth crowns grow in height. Studies of fossil primate (including hominin) enamel microstructure usually focus on species differences in enamel formation time, but they have also begun to address species-level variation in enamel extension rates. To improve our ability to compare EERs among primate species, a better understanding how EERs vary within species is necessary. Using a large and diverse modern human histological sample, we find that initial EERs and patterns of EER change along the enamel-dentine junction (EDJ) vary in relation to EDJ length. We also find that enamel formation time varies in relation to EDJ length, but that it does so independently of initial EERs. These results suggest that EDJ length variation within a species sample can affect interspecific comparisons not only of EERs but also of enamel formation times. Additionally, these results lend within-species support to the hypothesis, based on comparisons among hominin species, that EERs and crown formation times can vary independently (Dean, 2009). In a second approach, we analyzed EER changes specifically in the lateral enamel of two modern human population samples as these changes relate to the distribution of perikymata. As surface manifestations of internal enamel growth increments, perikymata provide a valuable source of information about enamel growth in fossils. We find that EER declines in the lateral enamel are associated with an increase in perikymata density from first to last-formed lateral enamel. Moreover, variation in the extent of EER decline among individuals is associated with variation in the distribution of perikymata along their enamel surfaces. These latter findings suggest that the distribution of perikymata on the enamel surface provides information about rates of EER decline in lateral enamel, at least in modern humans.

A complete second metatarsal (StW 89) from Sterkfontein Member 4, South Africa, di J. M. DeSilva, D. J. Proctorb, B. Zipfel, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 487–496

The functional anatomy of the hominin foot has played a crucial role in studies of locomotor evolution in human ancestors and extinct relatives. However, foot fossils are rare, often isolated, and fragmentary. Here, we describe a complete hominin second metatarsal (StW 89) from the 2.0–2.6 million year old deposits of Member 4, Sterkfontein Cave, South Africa. Like many other fossil foot bones, it displays a mosaic of derived human-like features and primitive ape-like features. StW 89 possesses a domed metatarsal head with a prominent sulcus, indicating dorsiflexion at the metatarsophalangeal joint during bipedal walking. However, while the range of motion at the metatarsophalangeal joint is human-like in dorsiflexion, it is ape-like in plantarflexion. Furthermore, StW 89 possesses internal torsion of the head, an anatomy decidedly unlike that found in humans today. Unlike other hominin second metatarsals, StW 89 has a dorsoplantarly gracile base, perhaps suggesting more midfoot laxity. In these latter two anatomies, the StW 89 second metatarsal is quite similar to the recently described second metatarsal of the partial foot from Burtele, Ethiopia. We interpret this combination of anatomies as evidence for a low medial longitudinal arch in a foot engaged in both bipedal locomotion, but also some degree of pedal, and perhaps even hallucal, grasping. Additional fossil evidence will be required to determine if differences between this bone and other second metatarsals from Sterkfontein reflect normal variation in an evolving lineage, or taxonomic diversity.

A geometric morphometric analysis of hominin upper second and third molars, with particular emphasis on European Pleistocene populations, A. Gómez-Robles, J. María Bermúdez de Castro, M. Martinón-Torres, L. Prado-Simón, Juan Luis Arsuaga,"Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 512–526

The study of dental morphology by means of geometric morphometric methods allows for a detailed and quantitative comparison of hominin species that is useful for taxonomic assignment and phylogenetic reconstruction. Upper second and third molars have been studied in a comprehensive sample of Plio- and Pleistocene hominins from African, Asian and European sites in order to complete our analysis of the upper postcanine dentition. Intraspecific variation in these two molars is high, but some interspecific trends can be identified. Both molars exhibit a strong reduction of the distal cusps in recent hominin species, namely European Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens, but this reduction shows specific patterns and proportions in the three groups. Second molars tend to show four well developed cusps in earlier hominin species and their morphology is only marginally affected by allometric effects. Third molars can be incipiently reduced in earlier species and they evince a significant allometric component, identified both inter- and intraspecifically. European Middle Pleistocene fossils from Sima de los Huesos (SH) show a very strong reduction of these two molars, even more marked than the reduction observed in Neanderthals and in modern human populations. The highly derived shape of SH molars points to an early acquisition of typical Neanderthal dental traits by pre-Neanderthal populations and to a deviation of this population from mean morphologies of other European Middle Pleistocene groups.

First hominine remains from a ~1.0 million year old bone bed at Cornelia-Uitzoek, Free State Province, South Africa, di J. S. Brink et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 527–535

We report here on evidence of early Homo around 1.0 Ma (millions of years ago) in the central plains of southern Africa. The human material, a first upper molar, was discovered during the systematic excavation of a densely-packed bone bed in the basal part of the sedimentary sequence at the Cornelia-Uitzoek fossil vertebrate locality. We dated this sequence by palaeomagnetism and correlated the bone bed to the Jaramillo subchron, between 1.07 and 0.99 Ma. This makes the specimen the oldest southern African hominine remains outside the dolomitic karst landscapes of northern South Africa. Cornelia-Uitzoek is the type locality of the Cornelian Land Mammal Age. The fauna contains an archaic component, reflecting previous biogeographic links with East Africa, and a derived component, suggesting incipient southern endemism. The bone bed is considered to be the result of the bone collecting behaviour of a large predator, possibly spotted hyaenas. Acheulian artefacts are found in small numbers within the bone bed among the fossil vertebrates, reflecting the penecontemporaneous presence of people in the immediate vicinity of the occurrence. The hominine tooth was recovered from the central, deeper part of the bone bed. In size, it clusters with southern African early Homo and it is also morphologically similar. We propose that the early Homo specimen forms part of an archaic component in the fauna, in parallel with the other archaic faunal elements at Uitzoek. This supports an emergent pattern of archaic survivors in the southern landscape at this time, but also demonstrates the presence of early Homo in the central plains of southern Africa, beyond the dolomitic karst areas.

A comparative study of the trabecular bony architecture of the talus in humans, non-human primates, and Australopithecus, di J. M. DeSilva, M. J. Devlin, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 3, September 2012, Pages 536–551

This study tested the hypothesis that talar trabecular microarchitecture reflects the loading patterns in the primate ankle joint, to determine whether talar trabecular morphology might be useful for inferring locomotor behavior in fossil hominins. Trabecular microarchitecture was quantified in the anteromedial, anterolateral, posteromedial, and posterolateral quadrants of the talar body in humans and non-human primates using micro-computed tomography. Trabecular bone parameters, including bone volume fraction, trabecular number and thickness, and degree of anisotropy differed between primates, but not in a manner entirely consistent with hypotheses derived from locomotor kinematics. Humans have highly organized trabecular struts across the entirety of the talus, consistent with the compressive loads incurred during bipedal walking. Chimpanzees possess a high bone volume fraction, consisting of plate-like trabecular struts. Orangutan tali are filled with a high number of thin, connected trabeculae, particularly in the anterior portion of the talus. Gorillas and baboons have strikingly similar internal architecture of the talus. Intraspecific analyses revealed no regional differences in trabecular architecture unique to bipedal humans. Of the 22 statistically significant regional differences in the human talus, all can also be found in other primates. Trabecular thickness, number, spacing, and connectivity density had the same regional relationship in the talus of humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and baboons, suggesting a deeply conserved architecture in the primate talus. Australopithecus tali are human-like in most respects, differing most notably in having more oriented struts in the posteromedial quadrant of the body compared with the posterolateral quadrant. Though this result could mean that australopiths loaded their ankles in a unique manner during bipedal gait, the regional variation in degree of anisotropy was similar in humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas. These results collectively suggest that the microarchitecture of the talus does not simply reflect the loading environment, limiting its utility in reconstructing locomotion in fossil primates.

The Magdalenian Settlement of Europe, edited by L. Guy Straus, T. Terberger, D. Leesch, "Quaternary International", Volumes 272–273, Pages 1-362 (12 September 2012) 

 

 

The environment and chronology of the earliest occupation of north-west Europe: current knowledge, problems and new research directions, edited by K. MacDonald, W. Roebroeks, "Quaternary International", Volume 271, Pages 1-134 (31 August 2012) 

Grotte du Vallonnet. Les ancêtres de l’homm, il y a 1 million d’années, dans le sud de la France 

Livre: "Brassempouy (Landes, France) ou la matrice gravetienne de l'Europe", di Aurélien Simonet 

Après plus de 130 ans de fouilles et de recherches sur ce haut-lieu de la Préhistoire mondiale que représente le site préhistorique de Brassempouy (Landes, France), cette étude propose pour la première fois une vision globale des assemblages gravettiens. Le Gravettien est une culture paléolithique dont ses statuettes féminines, caractérisées par une emphase sur les attributs sexuels (fesses, seins), offrent des images iconiques. Avec les grottes ornées, ces Vénus sont l’autre pendant artistique de la Préhistoire. L’une des statuettes retrouvées à Brassempouy, la « Figurine à la Capuche » est précisément le plus beau visage de la Préhistoire dont l’art laisse généralement la première place aux animaux. Mais la grotte du Pape de Brassempouy, à l’entrée de laquelle la majorité des statuettes a été retrouvée au XIXème siècle, avait-elle livré tous ses secrets ? Quelles informations nous livrent les fouilles récentes ?  (...)

Stone tool production and utilization by bonobo-chimpanzees (Pan paniscus), di I. Roffman et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", September 4, 2012 vol. 109 no. 36 14500-14503

Using direct percussion, language-competent bonobo-chimpanzees Kanzi and Pan-Banisha produced a significantly wider variety of flint tool types than hitherto reported, and used them task-specifically to break wooden logs or to dig underground for food retrieval. For log breaking, small flakes were rotated drill-like or used as scrapers, whereas thick cortical flakes were used as axes or wedges, leaving consistent wear patterns along the glued slits, the weakest areas of the log. For digging underground, a variety of modified stone tools, as well as unmodified flint nodules, were used as shovels. Such tool production and utilization competencies reported here in Pan indicate that present-day Pan exhibits Homo-like technological competencies.

Anatomically modern human in Southeast Asia (Laos) by 46 ka, di F. Demeter et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", September 4, 2012 vol. 109 no. 36 14375-14380

Uncertainties surround the timing of modern human emergence and occupation in East and Southeast Asia. Although genetic and archeological data indicate a rapid migration out of Africa and into Southeast Asia by at least 60 ka, mainland Southeast Asia is notable for its absence of fossil evidence for early modern human occupation. Here we report on a modern human cranium from Tam Pa Ling, Laos, which was recovered from a secure stratigraphic context. Radiocarbon and luminescence dating of the surrounding sediments provide a minimum age of 51–46 ka, and direct U-dating of the bone indicates a maximum age of ∼63 ka. The cranium has a derived modern human morphology in features of the frontal, occipital, maxillae, and dentition. It is also differentiated from western Eurasian archaic humans in aspects of its temporal, occipital, and dental morphology. In the context of an increasingly documented archaic–modern morphological mosaic among the earliest modern humans in western Eurasia, Tam Pa Ling establishes a definitively modern population in Southeast Asia at ∼50 ka cal BP. As such, it provides the earliest skeletal evidence for fully modern humans in mainland Southeast Asia.

New DNA Analysis Shows Ancient Humans Interbred with Denisovans, di K. Harmon, August 30, 2012

Tens of thousands of years ago modern humans crossed paths with the group of hominins known as the Neandertals. Researchers now think they also met another, less-known group called the Denisovans. The only trace that we have found, however, is a single finger bone and two teeth, but those fragments have been enough to cradle wisps of Denisovan DNA across thousands of years inside a Siberian cave. Now a team of scientists has been able to reconstruct their entire genome from these meager fragments. The analysis adds new twists to prevailing notions about archaic human history. (...)

Effect of ancient population structure on the degree of polymorphism shared between modern human populations and ancient hominins, di A. Eriksson, A. Manica, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", August 28, 2012 vol. 109 no. 35 13956-13960

Recent comparisons between anatomically modern humans and ancient genomes of other hominins have raised the tantalizing, and hotly debated, possibility of hybridization. Although several tests of hybridization have been devised, they all rely on the degree to which different modern populations share genetic polymorphisms with the ancient genomes of other hominins. However, spatial population structure is expected to generate genetic patterns similar to those that might be attributed to hybridization. To investigate this problem, we take Neanderthals as a case study, and build a spatially explicit model of the shared history of anatomically modern humans and this hominin. We show that the excess polymorphism shared between Eurasians and Neanderthals is compatible with scenarios in which no hybridization occurred, and is strongly linked to the strength of population structure in ancient populations. Thus, we recommend caution in inferring admixture from geographic patterns of shared polymorphisms, and argue that future attempts to investigate ancient hybridization between humans and other hominins should explicitly account for population structure.

Novità in biblioteca: "Peuplements néandertaliens dans le nord de la France", di Emilie Goval 

Five Decades after and : Landscape Paleoanthropology of Plio-Pleistocene Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, edited by R. J. Blumenschine, F. T. Masao, I. G. Stanistreet, C. C. Swisher, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 2, Pages 247-438 (August 2012) 

Hand to Mouth in a Neandertal: Right-Handedness in Regourdou 1, di V. Volpato, R. Macchiarelli, D. Guatelli-Steinberg, I. Fiore, L. Bondioli, D. W. Frayer, "PLoS ONE", August 22, 2012  - open access - 

We describe and analyze a Neandertal postcranial skeleton and dentition, which together show unambiguous signs of right-handedness. Asymmetries between the left and right upper arm in Regourdou 1 were identified nearly 20 years ago, then confirmed by more detailed analyses of the inner bone structure for the clavicle, humerus, radius and ulna. The total pattern of all bones in the shoulder and arm reveals that Regourdou 1 was a right-hander. Confirmatory evidence comes from the mandibular incisors, which display a distinct pattern of right oblique scratches, typical of right-handed manipulations performed at the front of the mouth. Regourdou's right handedness is consistent with the strong pattern of manual lateralization in Neandertals and further confirms a modern pattern of left brain dominance, presumably signally linguistic competence. These observations along with cultural, genetic and morphological evidence indicate language competence in Neandertals and their European precursors. (...)

Volcanic ash layers illuminate the resilience of Neanderthals and early modern humans to natural hazards, di J. Lowe et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", August 21, 2012 vol. 109 no. 34 13532-13537

Marked changes in human dispersal and development during the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition have been attributed to massive volcanic eruption and/or severe climatic deterioration. We test this concept using records of volcanic ash layers of the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption dated to ca. 40,000 y ago (40 ka B.P.). The distribution of the Campanian Ignimbrite has been enhanced by the discovery of cryptotephra deposits (volcanic ash layers that are not visible to the naked eye) in archaeological cave sequences. They enable us to synchronize archaeological and paleoclimatic records through the period of transition from Neanderthal to the earliest anatomically modern human populations in Europe. Our results confirm that the combined effects of a major volcanic eruption and severe climatic cooling failed to have lasting impacts on Neanderthals or early modern humans in Europe. We infer that modern humans proved a greater competitive threat to indigenous populations than natural disasters.

Lao skull earliest example of modern human fossil in Southeast Asia, 20-Aug-2012

An ancient skull recovered from a cave in the Annamite Mountains in northern Laos is the oldest modern human fossil found in Southeast Asia, researchers report. The discovery pushes back the clock on modern human migration through the region by as much as 20,000 years and indicates that ancient wanderers out of Africa left the coast and inhabited diverse habitats much earlier than previously appreciated.The team described its finding in a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists, who found the skull in 2009, were likely the first to dig for ancient bones in Laos since the early 1900s, when a team found skulls and skeletons of several modern humans in another cave in the Annamite Mountains. Those fossils were about 16,000 years old, much younger than the newly found skull, which dates to between 46,000 and 63,000 years old. (...)

Border Cave and the beginning of the Later Stone Age in South Africa, di P. Villa et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", August 14, 2012 vol. 109 no. 33 13208-13213

The transition from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) to the Later Stone Age (LSA) in South Africa was not associated with the appearance of anatomically modern humans and the extinction of Neandertals, as in the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in Western Europe. It has therefore attracted less attention, yet it provides insights into patterns of technological evolution not associated with a new hominin. Data from Border Cave (KwaZulu-Natal) show a strong pattern of technological change at approximately 44–42 ka cal BP, marked by adoption of techniques and materials that were present but scarcely used in the previous MSA, and some novelties. The agent of change was neither a revolution nor the advent of a new species of human. Although most evident in personal ornaments and symbolic markings, the change from one way of living to another was not restricted to aesthetics. Our analysis shows that: at Border Cave two assemblages, dated to 45–49 and >49 ka, show a gradual abandonment of the technology and tool types of the post-Howiesons Poort period and can be considered transitional industries; the 44–42 ka cal BP assemblages are based on an expedient technology dominated by bipolar knapping, with microliths hafted with pitch from Podocarpus bark, worked suid tusks, ostrich eggshell beads, bone arrowheads, engraved bones, bored stones, and digging sticks;  these assemblages mark the beginning of the LSA in South Africa;  the LSA emerged by internal evolution; and the process of change began sometime after 56 ka.

Early evidence of San material culture represented by organic artifacts from Border Cave, South Africa, di F.d’Errico et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", August 14, 2012 vol. 109 no. 33 13214-13219

Recent archaeological discoveries have revealed that pigment use, beads, engravings, and sophisticated stone and bone tools were already present in southern Africa 75,000 y ago. Many of these artifacts disappeared by 60,000 y ago, suggesting that modern behavior appeared in the past and was subsequently lost before becoming firmly established. Most archaeologists think that San hunter–gatherer cultural adaptation emerged 20,000 y ago. However, reanalysis of organic artifacts from Border Cave, South Africa, shows that the Early Later Stone Age inhabitants of this cave used notched bones for notational purposes, wooden digging sticks, bone awls, and bone points similar to those used by San as arrowheads. A point is decorated with a spiral groove filled with red ochre, which closely parallels similar marks that San make to identify their arrowheads when hunting. A mixture of beeswax, Euphorbia resin, and possibly egg, wrapped in vegetal fibers, dated to ~40,000 BP, may have been used for hafting. Ornaments include marine shell beads and ostrich eggshell beads, directly dated to ~42,000 BP. A digging stick, dated to ~39,000 BP, is made of Flueggea virosa. A wooden poison applicator, dated to ~24,000 BP, retains residues with ricinoleic acid, derived from poisonous castor beans. Reappraisal of radiocarbon age estimates through Bayesian modeling, and the identification of key elements of San material culture at Border Cave, places the emergence of modern hunter–gatherer adaptation, as we know it, to ~44,000 y ago.

Generation Gaps Suggest Ancient Human-Ape Split, di A. Gibbons, "Science NOW", 13 August 2012

We aren’t the only primates with a big generation gap. Human parents are, on average, a whopping 29 years older than their kids. That had been considered unusually long for a primate, but a new study reveals that chimpanzees and gorillas have their own large generation gaps, about 25 years and 19 years, respectively. The findings also indicate that our ancestors split from those of chimpanzees at least 7 million to 8 million years ago, more than 1 million years earlier than previously thought. (...)

Research raises doubts about whether modern humans and Neanderthals interbred, 13-Aug-2012

New research raises questions about the theory that modern humans and Neanderthals at some point interbred, known as hybridisation. The findings of a study by researchers at the University of Cambridge suggests that common ancestry, not hybridisation, better explains the average 1-4 per cent DNA that those of European and Asian descent (Eurasians) share with Neanderthals. It was published today, 13 August, in the journal PNAS. In the last two years, a number of studies have suggested that modern humans and Neanderthals had at some point interbred. Genetic evidence shows that on average Eurasians and Neanderthals share between 1-4 per cent of their DNA. In contrast, Africans have almost none of the Neanderthal genome. The previous studies concluded that these differences could be explained by hybridisation which occurred as modern humans exited Africa and bred with the Neanderthals who already inhabited Europe. (...)

Research Raises Doubts About Whether Modern Humans and Neanderthals Interbred, Aug. 13, 2012

New research raises questions about the theory that modern humans and Neanderthals at some point interbred, known as hybridisation. The findings of a study by researchers at the University of Cambridge suggest that common ancestry, not hybridisation, better explains the average 1-4 per cent DNA that those of European and Asian descent (Eurasians) share with Neanderthals. (...)

La variegata compagnia di Homo erectus, 09 agosto 2012

L'analisi di una serie di fossili venuti alla luce fra il 2007 e il 2009 nell'area di Koobi Fora, sulle sponde del lago Turkana, conferma che agli albori della nostra specie, accanto a H. erectus vivevano almeno due altre specie appartenenti al nostro stesso genere. La scoperta dirime una diatriba iniziata quarant'anni fa. L’analisi di tre nuovi fossili scoperti sulla riva orientale del lago Turkana, nel nord del Kenya, conferma che due milioni di anni fa circa c'erano almeno due specie del genere Homo a fare compagnia ai nostri diretti antenati Homo erectus. A darne notizia è un articolo pubblicato sull'ultimo numero di “Nature”. Esattamente quarant’anni fa, sempre sulla riva est del lago, un team guidato da Richard e Meave Leakey aveva scoperto un enigmatico teschio fossile, conosciuto come KNM-ER 1470, caratterizzato da una cavità cranica in grado di ospitare un grande cervello e da una lunga faccia piatta. La scoperta aveva rinfocolato il dibattito sulla possibilità che altre specie di Homo vivessero a stretto contatto con H. erectus, un'ipotesi emersa negli anni sessanta con il ritrovamento dei primi resti di H. abilis. Secondo alcuni scienziati, l’insolita morfologia di KNM-ER 1470, differente anche da quella di H. abilis, andava attribuita alle differenze sessuali e alle naturali variazioni presenti all'interno di una singola specie, mentre altri la riteneva la prova di una nuova specie, per cui era stato proposto anche un nome: Homo rudolfensis, dal vecchio nome coloniale del lago. La diatriba è durata decenni perché i resti di KNM-ER 1470 non includono due elementi essenziali per una corretta classificazione: i denti e la mandibola; inoltre nonostante le intense ricerche, non era stato rinvenuto alcun altro cranio fossile dalle caratteristiche analoghe. "Per 40 anni abbiamo setacciato a lungo e con fatica la vasta distesa di sedimenti intorno al lago Turkana alla ricerca di fossili che confermassero le caratteristiche uniche del volto di KNM-ER 1470 e ci mostrassero come dovevano essere i suoi denti e la mascella inferiore", ha commentato Meave Leakey. "Finalmente abbiamo le risposte." "Insieme, i tre nuovi reperti offrono un quadro molto più chiaro di come appariva KNM-ER 1470", dice Fred Spoor, responsabile delle analisi scientifiche condotte sui resti. "Come risultato, è ormai chiaro che due altre specie di Homo hanno vissuto fianco a fianco con H. erectus. I nuovi fossili saranno di grande aiuto per chiarire come il nostro ramo evolutivo sia emerso e fiorito quasi due milioni di anni fa." Datati tra 1,78 milioni e 1,95 milioni di anni fa, i tre nuovi fossili sono stati ritrovati a poco più di dieci chilometri di distanza dal sito di scoperta di KNM-ER 1470 e ne ricordano moltissimo i tratti. KNM-ER 62000, scoperto nel 2008, ha la masccella superiore molto ben conservata e con quasi tutti i molari ancora al loro posto, mentre la mandibola di KNM-ER 60000, trovata nel 2009, è la mascella inferiore più completa di uno dei primi Homo mai scoperta. Molto intreressante, secondo i ricercatori, è anche la parte di un'altra mandibola, KNM-ER 62003, trovata nel 2007. Quanto al nome da attribuire alla nuova specie, i ricercatori sono cauti, e osservano che prima di utilizzare H. rudolfensis è opportuno condurre ulteriori studi che permettano di chiarire meglio i rapporti fra le specie dei diversi resti fossili trovati negli ultimi anni.

· New fossils from Koobi Fora in northern Kenya confirm taxonomic diversity in early Homo, di M. G. Leakey et alii, "Nature", 488, 201–204 (09 August 2012)

· New Fossils Put Face on Mysterious Human Ancestor, di A. Gibbons, "Science NOW", 8 August 2012

· Fossils point to a big family for human ancestors, di M.Kaplan, "Nature news", 08 August 2012

· Flat-Faced Early Humans Confirmed—Lived Among Other Human Species, di J. Owen, "National Geographic News", August 8, 2012

· Un nuovo antenato dell'uomo e un vecchio enigma risolto, di J. Owen, "National Geographic Italia News"(09 agosto 2012)

Modern thinking gets older, "Nature" 488, 133 (09 August 2012)

Modern human behaviour underlying cultural innovations such as language and art might have begun in southern Africa thousands of years earlier than assumed. Evidence for symbolic behaviour, such as shell beads, appeared at least 80,000 years ago in southern Africa. This behaviour then seemingly disappeared and did not return until roughly 20,000 years ago — when humans with cultural links to modern San hunter-gatherers began to produce engraved bones and other complex artefacts.

Evidence for dietary change but not landscape use in South African early hominins, di V. Balter et alii, "Nature-Letters", 08 August 2012

The dichotomy between early Homo and Paranthropus is justified partly on morphology. In terms of diet, it has been suggested that early Homo was a generalist but that Paranthropus was a specialist. However, this model is challenged and the issue of the resources used by Australopithecus, the presumed common ancestor, is still unclear. Laser ablation profiles of strontium/calcium, barium/calcium and strontium isotope ratios in tooth enamel are a means to decipher intra-individual diet and habitat changes. Here we show that the home range area was of similar size for species of the three hominin genera but that the dietary breadth was much higher in Australopithecus africanus than in Paranthropus robustus and early Homo. We also confirm that P. robustus relied more on plant-based foodstuffs than early Homo. A South African scenario is emerging in which the broad ecological niche of Australopithecus became split, and was then occupied by Paranthropus and early Homo, both consuming a lower diversity of foods than Australopithecus.

· La dieta eclettica dell'austrolopiteco e quella da predatore di Homo, "Le Scienze", 13 agosto 2012

Aggiornamento 6 agosto

An experimental micromorphological investigation of bedding construction in the Middle Stone Age of Sibudu, South Africa, di C. E. Miller, C. Sievers, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 10, October 2012, Pages 3039–3051

We conducted experiments to compare the micromorphological signatures of modern burnt sedge and grass bedding to laminated layers of carbonized material and phytoliths in Middle Stone Age deposits at the shelter, Sibudu. The experiments were designed to clarify the formation processes associated with the laminated layers and to investigate whether these previously identified layers of bedding were deliberately burned or not. The results indicate that the laminated layers were most likely produced by human activity related to the construction, maintenance and burning of bedding. Furthermore, our experiments demonstrate that large volumes of vegetal material could have produced the relatively thin, archaeological deposits of burnt bedding.

Multi-method (TL and OSL), multi-material (quartz and flint) dating of the Mousterian site of Roc de Marsal (Dordogne, France): correlating Neanderthal occupations with the climatic variability of MIS 5–3, di G. Guérin et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 10, October 2012, Pages 3071–3084

Roc de Marsal has yielded numerous remains of Mousterian occupations, including lithics, fauna and combustion features. It was made famous by the discovery of the skeleton of a Neanderthal child. Given the need to date the sequence, TL and OSL were applied on heated flints and quartz, and OSL on unheated quartz. Chronological results combined with palaeoenvironmental data – faunal remains and micromorphological features in the sediments from the cave, pollen proxies and faunal remains from the region – allowed us to place climate variations in southwest France on a numerical time scale. Denticulate Mousterian occupations were dated to the middle of MIS 4 (65–70 ka) and Quina layers either to the very end of MIS 4 or to MIS 3. Interestingly, a faunal pattern showing a mix of red deer, roe deer and reindeer was found to have occurred during MIS 4, which was shown to be consistent with data from other similar sites in southwest France.

Using 3D scanning in the investigation of Upper Palaeolithic engravings: first results of a pilot study, di A. Güth, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 10, October 2012, Pages 3105–3114

This paper deals with the reinvestigation of selected engravings on slate plaquettes from the Late Upper Palaeolithic site of Gönnersdorf, Germany, by applying new 3D scanning methods for the first time. The aim of this method is to obtain further information about stylistic aspects of the depictions as well as to identify an inner chronology and interrelationship of the lines. In addition new options of 3D photography are tested as a further visual support of investigation and documentation. Previously analyses were subjective whereas the new interpretation uses impartial metric methods. In the future the more objective results will allow the comparison of engravings and their details, with the aim of discerning different artists as well as obtaining a better understanding of the art of former hunter- gatherer societies.

Particle size distribution of lithic assemblages and taphonomy of Palaeolithic sites, di P. Bertran, A. Lenoble, D. Todisco, P. M. Desrosiers, M. Sørensen, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 10, October 2012, Pages 3148–3166

Lithic debris derived from knapping and used tools can be assimilated to simple sedimentary particles that may undergo size sorting when exposed to geomorphic processes such as streamflow or overland flow. Sorting can be identified by comparing the size distribution of archaeological assemblages to that of experimental core reduction sequences. A new database including different types of raw material (mainly flint and quartzite) and Palaeolithic debitage (blade, Levallois, discoid, on anvil, and shaping) has been built for this purpose. Palaeoeskimo data have also been added to illustrate microlithic industries. For all the debitages and raw materials, the particle size of knapping products >2 mm in width fits with a power-law distribution and shows only minor fluctuations, the range of which is always <15% between experiments (all steps of the chaîne opératoire included up to the final tool). A lithic assemblage derived from block/core knapping or blank/preform production will display a particle size distribution close to the experimental distributions if not subsequently modified. Modifications may originate either from sedimentary processes or from anthropogenic factors. To help distinguishing amongst these, data on the impact of both water flows on sedimentary particles or experimental assemblages, and anthropogenic processes such as importation-exportation (of core, preforms or finished tools) or uneven spatial distribution of the different steps in core reduction and tool production within a site, are reviewed. By contrast to anthropogenic modifications, sedimentary processes are generally typified by strong impoverishment in or selective accumulation of fine-grained (<10 mm) artefacts together with a low intra-site variability (spatial homogenization) or a downslope size trend. Archaeological case studies taken from French Palaeolithic site are then detailed. Evidence for lithic redistribution implies that care should be taken in archaeological site analysis since sorting may impact significantly the initial techno-typological balance of the assemblage.

Molar development and crown areas in earlyAustralopithecus, di R. S. Lacruz, F. V. Ramirez Rozzi, B.A. Wood, T. G. Bromage, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 148, Issue 4, pages 632–640, August 2012

Recent studies suggest that the hypodigms representing the two earliest Australopithecus (Au. anamensis and Au. afarensis) form an ancestor-descendant lineage. Understanding the details of this possible transition is important comparative evidence for assessing the likelihood of other examples of ancestor-descendant lineages within the hominin clade. To this end we have analyzed crown and cusp base areas of high resolution replicas of the mandibular molars of Au. anamensis (Allia Bay and Kanapoi sites) and those of Au. afarensis (Hadar, Laetoli, and Maka). We found no statistically significant differences in crown areas between these hypodigms although the mean of M1 crowns was smaller in Au. anamensis, being the smallest of any Australopithecus species sampled to date. Intraspecies comparison of the areas of mesial cusps for each molar type using Wilcoxon signed rank test showed no differences for Au. anamensis. Significant differences were found between the protoconid and metaconid of Au. afarensis M2s and M3s. Furthermore, the area formed by the posterior cusps as a whole relative to the anterior cusps showed significant differences in Au. afarensis M1s and in Au. anamensis M2s but no differences were noted for M3s of either taxon. Developmental information derived from microstructural details in enamel shows that M1 crown formation in Au. anamensis is similar to Pan and shorter than in H. sapiens. Taken together, these data suggests that the overall trend in the Au. anamensis-Au. afarensis transition may have involved a moderate increase in M1 crown areas with relative expansion of distal cusps. Am J Phys Anthropol , 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

The use of geographical information systems software for the spatial analysis of bone microstructure, di D. C. Rose, A. M. Agnew, T. P. Gocha, S. D. Stout, J. S. Field, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 148, Issue 4, pages 648–654, August 2012

Geographic information systems (GIS) software is typically used for analyzing geographically distributed data, allowing users to annotate points or areas on a map and attach data for spatial analyses. While traditional GIS-based research involves geo-referenced data (points tied to geographic locations), the use of this technology has other constructive applications for physical anthropologists. The use of GIS software for the study of bone histology offers a novel opportunity to analyze the distribution of bone nano- and microstructures, relative to macrostructure and in comparison to other variables of interest, such as biomechanical loading history. This approach allows for the examination of characteristics of single histological features while considering their role at the macroscopic level. Such research has immediate promise in examining the load history of bone by surveying the functional relationship between collagen fiber orientation (CFO) and strain mode. The diversity of GIS applications that may be utilized in bone histology research is just beginning to be explored. The goal of this study is to introduce a reliable methodology for such investigation and our objective is to quantify the heterogeneity of bone microstructure over an entire cross-section of bone using ArcGIS v 9.3 (ESRI). This was accomplished by identifying the distribution of remodeling units in a human metatarsal relative to bending axes. One biomechanical hypothesis suggests that CFO, manifested by patterns of birefringence, is indicative of mode of strain during formation. This study demonstrates that GIS can be used to investigate, describe, and compare such patterns through histological mapping. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Partial Genetic Turnover in Neandertals: Continuity in the East and Population Replacement in the West, di L. Dalén et alii, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 29 Issue 8 August 2012, 1893-1897

Remarkably little is known about the population-level processes leading up to the extinction of the neandertal. To examine this, we use mitochondrial DNA sequences from 13 neandertal individuals, including a novel sequence from northern Spain, to examine neandertal demographic history. Our analyses indicate that recent western European neandertals (<48 kyr) constitute a tightly defined group with low mitochondrial genetic variation in comparison with both eastern and older (>48 kyr) European neandertals. Using control region sequences, Bayesian demographic simulations provide higher support for a model of population fragmentation followed by separate demographic trajectories in subpopulations over a null model of a single stable population. The most parsimonious explanation for these results is that of a population turnover in western Europe during early Marine Isotope Stage 3, predating the arrival of anatomically modern humans in the region.

Late Pleistocene lifeways, an African perspective: selected presentations, PAA-Safa 2010, "Quaternary International", edited by Gerrit L. Dusseldorp and Geeske H.J. Langejans Volume 270, Pages 1-156 (23 August 2012) 

The Mysterious Affair at Kents Cavern, "Science NOW", di M. Balter, 3 August 2012

The twee town of Torquay, on England’s Devon coast, has two major claims to fame: It was the birthplace and longtime home of mystery writer Agatha Christie, and it’s the home of Kents Cavern, one of the United Kingdom’s most important archaeological sites. Last year, researchers reported that an upper jaw found in the cave could be the oldest modern human fossil in Europe. But a new study questions that claim, arguing that the date of the jawbone may never be known with certainty. The controversy has an important bearing on debates about the spread of Homo sapiens out of Africa. (...)

Social organization and the evolution of cumulative technology in apes and hominins, di G. R. Pradhan, C. Tennie, C. P. van Schaik, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 1, July 2012, Pages 180–190

Culturally supported accumulation (or ratcheting) of technological complexity is widely seen as characterizing hominin technology relative to that of the extant great apes, and thus as representing a threshold in cultural evolution. To explain this divide, we modeled the process of cultural accumulation of technology, which we defined as adding new actions to existing ones to create new functional combinations, based on a model for great ape tool use. The model shows that intraspecific and interspecific variation in the presence of simple and cumulative technology among extant orangutans and chimpanzees is largely due to variation in sociability, and hence opportunities for social learning. The model also suggests that the adoption of extensive allomaternal care (cooperative breeding) in early Pleistocene Homo, which led to an increase in sociability and to teaching, and hence increased efficiency of social learning, was enough to facilitate technological ratcheting. Hence, socioecological changes, rather than advances in cognitive abilities, can account for the cumulative cultural changes seen until the origin of the Acheulean. The consequent increase in the reliance on technology could have served as the pacemaker for increased cognitive abilities. Our results also suggest that a more important watershed in cultural evolution was the rise of donated culture (technology or concepts), in which technology or concepts was transferred to naïve individuals, allowing them to skip many learning steps, and specialization arose, which allowed individuals to learn only a subset of the population's skills.

Differences between Neandertal and modern human infant and child growth models, di J. A. Martín-González, A. Mateos, I. Goikoetxea, W. R. Leonard, J. Rodríguez, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 1, July 2012, Pages 140–149

Studying the emergence of distinctive human growth patterns is essential to understanding the evolution of our species. The large number of Neandertal fossils makes this species the best candidate for a comparative study of growth patterns in archaic and modern humans. Here, Neandertal height growth during infancy and early childhood is described using a mathematical model. Height growth velocities for individuals five years old or younger are modelled as age functions based on different estimates of height and age for a set of ten Neandertal infants and children. The estimated heights of each Neandertal individual are compared with those of two modern human populations based on longitudinal and cross-sectional data. The model highlights differences in growth velocity during infancy (from the age of five months onward). We find that statural growth in Neandertal infants is much slower than that seen in modern humans, Neandertal growth is similar to modern humans at birth, but decreases around the third or fourth month. The markedly slower growth rates of Neandertal infants may be attributable to ontogenetic constraints or to metabolic stress, and contribute to short achieved adult stature relative to modern humans.

Did a discrete event 200,000–100,000 years ago produce modern humans?, di T. D. Weaver, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 1, July 2012, Pages 121–126

Scenarios for modern human origins are often predicated on the assumption that modern humans arose 200,000–100,000 years ago in Africa. This assumption implies that something ‘special’ happened at this point in time in Africa, such as the speciation that produced Homo sapiens, a severe bottleneck in human population size, or a combination of the two. The common thread is that after the divergence of the modern human and Neandertal evolutionary lineages ∼400,000 years ago, there was another discrete event near in time to the Middle–Late Pleistocene boundary that produced modern humans. Alternatively, modern human origins could have been a lengthy process that lasted from the divergence of the modern human and Neandertal evolutionary lineages to the expansion of modern humans out of Africa, and nothing out of the ordinary happened 200,000–100,000 years ago in Africa. Three pieces of biological (fossil morphology and DNA sequences) evidence are typically cited in support of discrete event models. First, living human mitochondrial DNA haplotypes coalesce ∼200,000 years ago. Second, fossil specimens that are usually classified as ‘anatomically modern’ seem to appear shortly afterward in the African fossil record. Third, it is argued that these anatomically modern fossils are morphologically quite different from the fossils that preceded them. Here I use theory from population and quantitative genetics to show that lengthy process models are also consistent with current biological evidence. That this class of models is a viable option has implications for how modern human origins is conceptualized.

Evolution and homologies of primate and modern human hand and forearm muscles, with notes on thumb movements and tool use, di R. Diogo, B. G. Richmond, B. Wood, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 1, July 2012, Pages 64–78

In this paper, we explore how the results of a primate-wide higher-level phylogenetic analysis of muscle characters can improve our understanding of the evolution and homologies of the forearm and hand muscles of modern humans. Contrary to what is often suggested in the literature, none of the forearm and hand muscle structures usually present in modern humans are autapomorphic. All are found in one or more extant non-human primate taxa. What is unique is the particular combination of muscles. However, more muscles go to the thumb in modern humans than in almost all other primates, reinforcing the hypothesis that focal thumb movements probably played an important role in human evolution. What makes the modern human thumb myology special within the primate clade is not so much its intrinsic musculature but two extrinsic muscles, extensor pollicis brevis and flexor pollicis longus, that are otherwise only found in hylobatids. It is likely that these two forearm muscles play different functional roles in hylobatids and modern humans. In the former, the thumb is separated from elongated digits by a deep cleft and there is no pulp-to-pulp opposition, whereas modern humans exhibit powerful thumb flexion and greater manipulative abilities, such as those involved in the manufacture and use of tools. The functional and evolutionary significance of a third peculiar structure, the intrinsic hand structure that is often called the ‘interosseous volaris primus of Henle’ (and which we suggest is referred to as the musculus adductor pollicis accessorius) is still obscure. The presence of distinct contrahentes digitorum and intermetacarpales in adult chimpanzees is likely the result of prolonged or delayed development of the hand musculature of these apes. In relation to these structures, extant chimpanzees are more neotenic than modern humans.

New postcranial fossils of Australopithecus afarensis from Hadar, Ethiopia (1990–2007), di C. V. Ward, W. H. Kimbel, E. H. Harmon, D. C. Johanson, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 63, Issue 1, July 2012, Pages 1–51

Renewed fieldwork at Hadar, Ethiopia, from 1990 to 2007, by a team based at the Institute of Human Origins, Arizona State University, resulted in the recovery of 49 new postcranial fossils attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. These fossils include elements from both the upper and lower limbs as well as the axial skeleton, and increase the sample size of previously known elements for A. afarensis. The expanded Hadar sample provides evidence of multiple new individuals that are intermediate in size between the smallest and largest individuals previously documented, and so support the hypothesis that a single dimorphic species is represented. Consideration of the functional anatomy of the new fossils supports the hypothesis that no functional or behavioral differences need to be invoked to explain the morphological variation between large and small A. afarensis individuals. Several specimens provide important new data about this species, including new vertebrae supporting the hypothesis that A. afarensis may have had a more human-like thoracic form than previously appreciated, with an invaginated thoracic vertebral column. A distal pollical phalanx confirms the presence of a human-like flexor pollicis longus muscle in A. afarensis. The new fossils include the first complete fourth metatarsal known for A. afarensis. This specimen exhibits the dorsoplantarly expanded base, axial torsion and domed head typical of humans, revealing the presence of human-like permanent longitudinal and transverse arches and extension of the metatarsophalangeal joints as in human-like heel-off during gait. The new Hadar postcranial fossils provide a more complete picture of postcranial functional anatomy, and individual and temporal variation within this sample. They provide the basis for further in-depth analyses of the behavioral and evolutionary significance of A. afarensis anatomy, and greater insight into the biology and evolution of these early hominins.

Neanderthal Shell Tool Production: Evidence from Middle Palaeolithic Italy and Greece, di K. Douka, E. E. Spinapolice, "Journal of World Prehistory", Volume 25, Number 2 (july 2012), 45-79

The vast majority of tools recovered from Palaeolithic sites are made of stone varieties. Only rarely do non-lithic implements come to light, let alone tools produced on marine mollusc shell. Interestingly, a good number of shell implements made on Callista chione and Glycymeris sp. valves have been reported from 13 Middle Palaeolithic (Mousterian) sites in southern peninsular Europe. Of these, more than 300 specimens display evidence of deliberate edge retouch. They are all considered products of Neanderthals and date from ~110 ka BP to perhaps ~50 ka BP. In this paper, we review the evidence for Mousterian shell tool production in Italy and Greece—the only two countries in which such tools have been securely identified—and present experimental results obtained in the effort to understand the production process and typo-functional role(s) of the artefacts. We examine the general provisioning pattern of raw materials, as well as the typological, species-related and chronological data pertinent to the production of shell tools by Neanderthals. The data suggest that the Mousterian shell scrapers are a response to poor availability of lithic raw material in the areas of occurrence, and may be best described as an extension of chipped stone technologies to specific types of marine shell, their form defined by an existing mental template. As such, they constitute evidence for refined adaptation strategies and advanced provisioning of resources amongst Neanderthals, and may lend further support to the idea that these hominids displayed a degree of complex behaviour.

Neanderthal Survival in the North of the Iberian Peninsula? Reflections from a Catalan and Cantabrian Perspective, di J. Garcia Garriga, K. M. Molina, J. Baena Preysler, "Journal of World Prehistory", Volume 25, Number 2 (july 2012), 81-121

In the debate over Western Europe’s Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition we need to consider the importance of both the chronology and the ecological context of the different techno-complexes, as well as the organization of production and consumption activities. In this article we study the adaptative strategies of Middle Palaeolithic human communities based on the information obtained from archaeological sites north of the river Ebro. This transition in the northern part of the peninsula presents a chronological and geographic dichotomy, with the appearance of the Upper Palaeolithic and survival of the Middle Palaeolithic. The geographic distribution appears to indicate intergroup competition and the existence of contact, albeit of an unverified nature. This competition would explain the time that elapsed before one of the cultural, and perhaps biological, groups triumphed over the other in a process culminating in the expansion of Upper Palaeolithic technology.

Une nouvelle mandibule découverte à Tautavel, di F. Belnet, 31/07/12

Vendredi 20 juillet, les spécialistes du Centre européen de recherches préhistoriques de Tautavel ont annoncé avoir dégagé sur ce site une nouvelle mandibule d’Homo heidelbergensis datant d’environ 450 000 ans, repérée un peu plus tôt ce mois-ci. (...)

Later Stone Age Got Earlier Start in South Africa Than Thought, ScienceDaily (July 30, 2012)

The study shows the onset of the Later Stone Age in South Africa likely began some 44,000 to 42,000 years ago, said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and lead study author. The new dates are based on the use of precisely calibrated radiocarbon dates linked to organic artifacts found at Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the border of South Africa and Swaziland containing evidence of hominid occupation going back 200,000 years. (...)

· Border Cave and the beginning of the Later Stone Age in South Africa, di P. Villa et alii,"Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", July 30, 2012

· Early evidence of San material culture represented by organic artifacts from Border Cave, South Africa, di Francesco d’Errico et alii,"Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", July 30, 2012

De nouveaux restes humains au Lazaret, di Patricia Valensi, 30/07/12 

Depuis plus de 50 ans de fouilles, sous la direction d’Henry de Lumley, des équipes de chercheurs et d’étudiants internationaux se succèdent pour mettre au jour les niveaux d’occupations humaines successifs constituant les 6 mètres d’épaisseur de sédiments de la grotte. (...)

Grotte de Bédeilhac. L'art préhistorique sous toutes ses formes, 25/07/12

First Epigravettian Ceramic Figurines from Europe (Vela Spila, Croatia), di R. Farbstein, D. Radić, D. Brajković, P. T. Miracle, "PLoS ONE", July 24, 2012  - open access - 

Recent finds of 36 ceramic artifacts from the archaeological site of Vela Spila, Croatia, offer the first evidence of ceramic figurative art in late Upper Palaeolithic Europe, c. 17,500–15,000 years before present (BP). The size and diversity of this artistic ceramic assemblage indicate the emergence of a social tradition, rather than more ephemeral experimentation with a new material. Vela Spila ceramics offer compelling technological and stylistic comparisons with the only other evidence of a developed Palaeolithic ceramic tradition found at the sites of Pavlov I and Dolní Věstonice I, in the Czech Republic, c. 31,000–27,000 cal BP. Because of the 10,000-year gap between the two assemblages, the Vela Spila ceramics are interpreted as evidence of an independent invention of this technology. Consequently, these artifacts provide evidence of a new social context in which ceramics developed and were used to make art in the Upper Palaeolithic. (...)

Neandertals Didn't Bite the Volcanic Dust, di M. Balter, "Science NOW", 23 July 2012

About 40,000 years ago, a huge volcanic eruption west of what is now Naples, Italy, showered ash over much of central and Eastern Europe. Some researchers have suggested that this super-eruption, combined with a sharp cold spell that hit the Northern Hemisphere at the same time, created a "volcanic winter" that did in the Neandertals. But a new study of microscopic particles of volcanic glass left behind by the explosion concludes that the eruption happened after the Neandertals were already mostly gone, putting the blame for their extinction on competition with modern humans. (...)

La medicina dei Neandertal, di J. Owen, 23 luglio 2012

A El Sidrón, la grotta spagnola nota perché vi sono state rinvenute testimonianze di cannibalismo tra i Neandertal, gli studiosi hanno scoperto ora che i nostri antichi cugini non solo avevano una dieta ricca di vegetali, ma che si curavano con le erbe. Un nuovo studio condotto sui resti ossei rinvenuti nella grotta delle Asturie ha permesso di individuare tracce di cibo e sostanze chimiche nei denti di cinque Neandertal. I campioni di tartaro prelevati dai denti, risalenti a 50.000 anni fa, contenevano microscopici granuli di amido vegetale, i quali a loro volta mostrano fratture che indicano come le piante fossero state precedentemente arrostite; ulteriori analisi hanno rivelato sostanze relative a fumo di legna. Amido e carboidrati nel tartaro mostrano che i Neandertal consumavano una gran varietà di piante, ma lo studio, condotto dall'archeologa Karen Hardy, della Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA) di Barcellona e dall'archeologo chimico Stephen Buckley della University of York, ha rilevato solo poche tracce di proteine o lipidi della carne. (...)

· Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking, and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus, di K. Hardy et alii, "Naturwissenschaften", 18 July 2012

Lucy's relatives walked upright, "Nature" 487, 274 (19 July 2012)

An analysis of bones from the same species as 'Lucy' — a hominin who lived 3.2 million years ago — suggests that this species was more human-like than previously thought. Carol Ward at the University of Missouri in Columbia and her team analysed dozens of Australopithecus afarensis bones (example pictured), unearthed between 1990 and 2007 in Hadar, Ethiopia. The bones have been dated to between 3 million and 3.4 million years ago, and are thought to be from individuals intermediate in size between...

Neandertal Humeri May Reflect Adaptation to Scraping Tasks, but Not Spear Thrusting, di C. N. Shaw, C. L. Hofmann, M. D. Petraglia, J. T. Stock, J. S. Gottschall, "PLoS ONE", July 18, 2012 - open access - 

Unique compared with recent and prehistoric Homo sapiens, Neandertal humeri are characterised by a pronounced right-dominant bilateral strength asymmetry and an anteroposteriorly strengthened diaphyseal shape. Remodeling in response to asymmetric forces imposed during regular underhanded spear thrusting is the most influential explanatory hypothesis. (...)

Early humans settled in Arabia, 14 July 2012

Stone Age tools uncovered in Yemen point to humans leaving Africa and inhabiting Arabia perhaps as far back as 63,000 years ago, archaeologists report. "The expansion of modern humans out of Africa and into Eurasia via the Arabian Peninsula is currently one of the most debated questions in prehistory," begins a report led by Anne Delagnes of France's Université Bordeaux. The archaeologists report from the site of Shi'bat Dihya located in a wadi, or gully, that connects Yemen's highlands to the coastal plains of the Red Sea. (...)

Early Human Ancestor, Australopithecus Sediba, Fossils Discovered in Rock, "ScienceDaily" (July 12, 2012)

Scientists from the Wits Institute for Human Evolution based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg have just announced the discovery of a large rock containing significant parts of a skeleton of an early human ancestor. The skeleton is believed to be the remains of 'Karabo', the type skeleton of Australopithecus sediba, discovered at the Malapa Site in the Cradle of Humankind in 2009. (...)

· Surprise Human-Ancestor Find—Key Fossils Hidden in Lab Rock, di K. Than, "National Geographic News", july 12, 2012

· CT Scans Reveal Early Human Fossils Inside Rock, di K. Wong, "Scientific American blogs", July 13, 2012

· Most complete pre-human skeleton found, "Discovery News", Jul 13, 2012

Arcy-sur-Cure: une occupation humaine sur plus de 300 000 ans...du Moustérien au Néolithique en passant par l'Aurignacien et le Magdalénien

Le Roc-aux-sorciers. Rencontre avec le peuple magdalénien di Jacques Buisson-Catil, Jérôme Primault

Regourdou, site préhistorique néandertalien - Gisement préhistorique néandertalien de 70 000 ans - Le plus ancien Néandertalien d’Europe 

L'homme de Néandertal et l'invention de la culture - Dossier pour la Science, juillet-août 2012, numéro 76 

Marcel Otte, préhistorien, paléoanthropologue - Université de Liège

The diet of Australopithecus sediba, di A. G. Henry et alii, "Nature" 487, 90–93 (05 July 2012)

Specimens of Australopithecus sediba from the site of Malapa, South Africa (dating from approximately 2 million years (Myr) ago)1 present a mix of primitive and derived traits that align the taxon with other Australopithecus species and with early Homo2. Although much of the available cranial and postcranial material of Au. sediba

The status of Homo heidelbergensis (Schoetensack 1908), di C. Stringer, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 21, Issue 3, pages 101–107, May/June 2012

The species Homo heidelbergensis is central to many discussions about recent human evolution. For some workers, it was the last common ancestor for the subsequent species Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis; others regard it as only a European form, giving rise to the Neanderthals. Following the impact of recent genomic studies indicating hybridization between modern humans and both Neanderthals and “Denisovans”, the status of these as separate taxa is now under discussion. Accordingly, clarifying the status of Homo heidelbergensis is fundamental to the debate about modern human origins. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Hominoid dispersal patterns and human evolution, di A. Koenig, C. Borries, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 21, Issue 3, pages 108–112, May/June 2012

Recent advances in DNA and isotope analyses have allowed tentative reconstructions of dispersal strategies of Plio-Pleistocene hominins. Comparing their findings to dispersal patterns of some extant apes and humans suggested groups of related males and unrelated females in Neandertals indicating patrilocality and Pan-like male philopatry in australopiths. Here we review the demographic, ethnographic, and genetic evidence of dispersal patterns in extant apes and humans and compare the results to the suggestions for Plio-Pleistocene hominins. We find that alternative dispersal patterns, for example among gorillas or gibbons, could explain the findings of related or natal males in a confined geographic area. Based on sexual size dimorphism, we speculate that gorillas might currently be the best model for reconstructing dispersal in robust australopiths. Given that the sexual size dimorphism in other australopiths is still hotly debated, the question of which hominoid model best matches their dispersal pattern must remain unanswered. Neandertal dispersal patterns have been compared to patrilocality of modern humans. However, the latter is related to the advent of food production. Consequently, hunter-gatherers exhibiting primarily multilocality appear to be the better comparison for Neandertals. Overall, human-like patrilocality and Pan-like male philopatry appear to be poor models for the reconstruction of dispersal patterns in Plio-Pleistocene hominins. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

The prehistory of the Arabian peninsula: Deserts, dispersals, and demography, di H.S. Groucutt, M. D. Petraglia, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 21, Issue 3, pages 113–125, May/June 2012

As a geographic connection between Africa and the rest of Eurasia, the Arabian Peninsula occupies a central position in elucidating hominin evolution and dispersals. Arabia has been characterized by extreme environmental fluctuation in the Quaternary, with profound evolutionary and demographic consequences. Despite the importance of the region, Arabia remains understudied. Recent years, however, have seen major developments in environmental studies and archeology, revealing that the region contains important records that should play a significant role in future paleoanthropological narratives. The emerging picture of Arabia suggests that numerous dispersals of hominin populations into the region occurred. Populations subsequently followed autochthonous trajectories, creating a distinctive regional archeological record. Debates continue on the respective roles of regional hominin extinctions and population continuity, with the latter suggesting adaptation to arid conditions. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Paleo, Revue d'archéologie préhistorique, 22 - 2011 - open access -

- Norbert Aujoulat (1946-2011)
- Claude Barrière (1924-2011)
- Lewis R. Binford (1931-2011)
- De l’épigravettien à l’ouest du Rhône ?
- Spécificités et parenté du dispositif pariétal de l’abri Reverdit (Sergeac, Dordogne)
- Les mises en forme de grattoirs carénés / nucléus de l’aurignacien ancien de l’abri Castanet (Sergeac, Dordogne)
- Les derniers rennes de Dordogne
- Le Quercy au cœur du dernier maximum glaciaire
- Virtual reconstruction of the Le Moustier 2 newborn skull.
- Une nouvelle sépulture mésolithique
- Gravures sur côtes
- Un nouveau bassin néandertalien
- Le mammouth de la Madeleine (Tursac, Dordogne)
- La pointe des Vachons
- Crache perforée dans le Gravettien du sire (Mirefleurs, Puy-de-Dôme)
- Deux clavicules de marmotte épigravettiennes incisées provenant des grottes Verdi de Pradis (Alpes italiennes)
- Les rongeurs de la grotte Delfour a Sonac (Lot)
- La bonne orthographe du mot taxinomie

Journal of Anthropological Sciences, volume 90 (2012) - open access -

- The first modern Europeans
- The frontal bone in the genus Homo: a survey of functional and phylogenetic sources of variation
- Scratching the Surface? The use of surface scanning in physical and paleoanthropology
- Refined age estimates and Paleoanthropological investigation of the Manyara Beds, Tanzania
- Buccal dental microwear analyses support greater specialization in consumption of hard foodstuffs for Australopithecus anamensis
- Right-handedness, lateralization and language in Neanderthals: A comment on Frayer et al. (2010)
- Replay to Benítez-Burraco & Longa: When is enough, enough?

 

 


Index di antiqui Sommario bacheca