Aggiornamento 31 dicembre

 
 

An alternative interpretation of the Australopithecus scapula, di S. M. Melillo, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", December 29, 2015, vol. 112, no. 52

In PNAS, Young et al. conclude that the scapula of the last common ancestor (LCA) of chimpanzees and humans was African ape-like, supporting what they call the “African ape” model. This model was favored over the “ape convergence” model, in which the ancestral condition was more primitive and some morphological similarities shared among modern apes would reflect convergent evolution. The authors suggest that less ape-like morphology in Australopithecus afarensis reflects an adaptive trade-off between arboreality and tool use (1).

     
 

Reply to Melillo: Woranso-Mille is consistent with an australopithecine shoulder intermediate between African apes and Homo, di N. M. Young, T. D. Capellini, N. T. Roach, Z. Alemseged, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", December 29, 2015, vol. 112 no. 52

In reference to our recent paper, Melillo makes three claims: (i) the adult Woranso-Mille (KSD-VP-1/1) scapula, which we did not consider in our analyses, suggests Australopithecus afarensis shoulders may be more derived than we report; (ii) our reconstructions indicate homoplasy, consistent with an “ape convergence” model; and (iii) Australopithecus shoulder shape is best explained by “committed terrestriality” and tool use and not a trade-off with arboreal efficiency.

     
 

Dog has been man's best friend for 33,000 years, 24 December 2015

Dogs became self-domesticated as they slowly evolved from wolves who joined humans in the hunt, according to the first study of dog genomes. And it shows that the first domesticated dogs came about 33,000 years ago and migrated to Europe, rather than descending from domesticated European wolves 10,000 years ago as had previously been thought. Scientists have long puzzled over how man's best friend came into existence but there is conflicting evidence on when and where wild wolves were first tamed. So in one of the largest studies of its kind Professor Peter Savolainen and colleagues sequenced the genomes of 58 members of the dog family including grey wolves, dogs from south-east and north-east Asia, from Nigeria, and a collection of breeds from the rest of the world. The DNA analysis found those from south-east Asia had a higher degree of genetic diversity, and were most closely related to grey wolves from which domestic dogs evolved. Prof Savolainen, of the Royal Institute of Technology, Solna, Sweden, said this indicates "an ancient origin of domestic dogs in southern East Asia 33,000 years ago." (...)

     
  Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences from two Denisovan individuals, di S. Sawyer et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", December 22, 2015, vol. 112, no. 5, pp. 15696–15700

Denisovans, a sister group of Neandertals, have been described on the basis of a nuclear genome sequence from a finger phalanx (Denisova 3) found in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains. The only other Denisovan specimen described to date is a molar (Denisova 4) found at the same site. This tooth carries a mtDNA sequence similar to that of Denisova 3. Here we present nuclear DNA sequences from Denisova 4 and a morphological description, as well as mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data, from another molar (Denisova 8) found in Denisova Cave in 2010. This new molar is similar to Denisova 4 in being very large and lacking traits typical of Neandertals and modern humans. Nuclear DNA sequences from the two molars form a clade with Denisova 3. The mtDNA of Denisova 8 is more diverged and has accumulated fewer substitutions than the mtDNAs of the other two specimens, suggesting Denisovans were present in the region over an extended period. The nuclear DNA sequence diversity among the three Denisovans is comparable to that among six Neandertals, but lower than that among present-day humans.

     
  The Unknown Oldowan: ~1.7-Million-Year-Old Standardized Obsidian Small Tools from Garba IV, Melka Kunture, Ethiopia, di R. Gallotti, M. Mussi, December 21, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0145101  - open access -

The Oldowan Industrial Complex has long been thought to have been static, with limited internal variability, embracing techno-complexes essentially focused on small-to-medium flake production. The flakes were rarely modified by retouch to produce small tools, which do not show any standardized pattern. Usually, the manufacture of small standardized tools has been interpreted as a more complex behavior emerging with the Acheulean technology. Here we report on the ~1.7 Ma Oldowan assemblages from Garba IVE-F at Melka Kunture in the Ethiopian highland. This industry is structured by technical criteria shared by the other East African Oldowan assemblages. However, there is also evidence of a specific technical process never recorded before, i.e. the systematic production of standardized small pointed tools strictly linked to the obsidian exploitation. Standardization and raw material selection in the manufacture of small tools disappear at Melka Kunture during the Lower Pleistocene Acheulean. This proves that 1) the emergence of a certain degree of standardization in tool-kits does not reflect in itself a major step in cultural evolution; and that 2) the Oldowan knappers, when driven by functional needs and supported by a highly suitable raw material, were occasionally able to develop specific technical solutions. The small tool production at ~1.7 Ma, at a time when the Acheulean was already emerging elsewhere in East Africa, adds to the growing amount of evidence of Oldowan techno-economic variability and flexibility, further challenging the view that early stone knapping was static over hundreds of thousands of years. (...)
     
  A Hominin Femur with Archaic Affinities from the Late Pleistocene of Southwest China, di D. Curnoe, X. Ji, W. Liu, Z. Bao, P. S. C. Taçon, L. Ren, December 17, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143332 - open access -

The number of Late Pleistocene hominin species and the timing of their extinction are issues receiving renewed attention following genomic evidence for interbreeding between the ancestors of some living humans and archaic taxa. Yet, major gaps in the fossil record and uncertainties surrounding the age of key fossils have meant that these questions remain poorly understood. Here we describe and compare a highly unusual femur from Late Pleistocene sediments at Maludong (Yunnan), Southwest China, recovered along with cranial remains that exhibit a mixture of anatomically modern human and archaic traits. Our studies show that the Maludong femur has affinities to archaic hominins, especially Lower Pleistocene femora. However, the scarcity of later Middle and Late Pleistocene archaic remains in East Asia makes an assessment of systematically relevant character states difficult, warranting caution in assigning the specimen to a species at this time. The Maludong fossil probably samples an archaic population that survived until around 14,000 years ago in the biogeographically complex region of Southwest China. (...)

     
 

Exploring the Potential of Laser Ablation Carbon Isotope Analysis for Examining Ecology during the Ontogeny of Middle Pleistocene Hominins from Sima de los Huesos (Northern Spain), di N. Garcia, R. S. Feranec, B. H. Passey, T. E. Cerling, J- Luis Arsuaga, December 16, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0142895 - open access -

Laser ablation of tooth enamel was used to analyze stable carbon isotope compositions of teeth of hominins, red deer, and bears from middle Pleistocene sites in the Sierra de Atapuerca in northern Spain, to investigate the possibility that this technique could be used as an additional tool to identify periods of physiological change that are not detectable as changes in tooth morphology. Most of the specimens were found to have minimal intra-tooth variation in carbon isotopes (< 2.3‰), suggesting isotopically uniform diets through time and revealing no obvious periods of physiological change. However, one of the two sampled hominin teeth displayed a temporal carbon isotope shift (3.2‰) that was significantly greater than observed for co-occurring specimens. The δ13C value of this individual averaged about -16‰ early in life, and -13‰ later in life. This isotopic change occurred on the canine crown about 4.2 mm from the root, which corresponds to an approximate age of two to four years old in modern humans. Our dataset is perforce small owing to the precious nature of hominid teeth, but it demonstrates the potential utility of the intra-tooth isotope profile method for extracting ontogenetic histories of human ancestors. (...)

     
  The cave art of Cosquer, 9 December 2015

The Cosquer Cave (near Marseille, France) was discovered in 1985 by scuba diver Henri Cosquer, but its paintings were not mentioned until 1991. Formerly several kilometres from the shore in an area of limestone hills, the cave's original entrance is now about 35 metres below sea level. From there, a gallery slopes upwards for about 110 metres, reaching a huge chamber that partly remained above the sea and where many prehistoric paintings and engravings are preserved, as well as charcoal from fires and torches, and a few flint tools. This is the only painted cave in the world with an entrance below present-day sea level where cave art has been preserved from rising sea levels following the last ice age. Located in an area where no Palaeolithic art had ever been discovered, Cosquer's remaining riches highlight the disappearance of uncounted prehistoric caves all along the Mediterranean and other shores. Cosquer is among the few caves where more than 150 animal figures have been found. There are representations of many sea animals, and unusually numerous ibex and chamois. Known hand stencils now total 65, the third highest concentration in Europe. (...)

     
  Ontogeny of the maxilla in Neanderthals and their ancestors, di R. S. Lacruz et alii, "Nature Communications" n. 6, 7 December 2015, doi:10.1038/ncomms9996 - open access -

Neanderthals had large and projecting (prognathic) faces similar to those of their putative ancestors from Sima de los Huesos (SH) and different from the retracted modern human face. When such differences arose during development and the morphogenetic modifications involved are unknown. We show that maxillary growth remodelling (bone formation and resorption) of the Devil’s Tower (Gibraltar 2) and La Quina 18 Neanderthals and four SH hominins, all sub-adults, show extensive bone deposition, whereas in modern humans extensive osteoclastic bone resorption is found in the same regions. This morphogenetic difference is evident by ~5 years of age. Modern human faces are distinct from those of the Neanderthal and SH fossils in part because their postnatal growth processes differ markedly. The growth remodelling identified in these fossil hominins is shared with Australopithecus and early Homo but not with modern humans suggesting that the modern human face is developmentally derived. (...)

     
  Refining Our Understanding of Howiesons Poort Lithic Technology: The Evidence from Grey Rocky Layer in Sibudu Cave (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), di P. de la Peña, December 3, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143451 - open access -

The detailed technological analysis of the youngest Howiesons Poort occupation in Sibudu Cave, layer Grey Rocky, has shown the importance of blade production (with different knapping methods involved), but also of flaking methods in coarse grained rock types. Moreover, new strategies of bifacial production and microlithism were important. Grey Rocky lithic technology shows a really versatile example of reduction strategies that were highly influenced by the characteristics of the rock types. This lithic assemblage is another example of the technological variability linked to the Howiesons Poort technocomplex. The reasons for this variability are still difficult to elucidate. Discrepancies between sites might be for different reasons: diachronic variations, functional variations, organizational variations or maybe different regional variations within what has been recognized traditionally and typologically as Howiesons Poort. The technological comparison of the Grey Rocky assemblage with assemblages from other Howiesons Poort sites demonstrates that there are common technological trends during the late Pleistocene, but they still need to be properly circumscribed chronologically. On the one hand, Howiesons Poort characteristics such as the bifacial production in quartz are reminiscent of production in some Still Bay or pre-Still Bay industries and the flake production or the prismatic blade production described here could be a point in common with pre-Still Bay and post-Howiesons Poort industries. On the other hand, the detailed analysis of the Grey Rocky lithics reinforces the particular character of this Howiesons Poort technocomplex, yet it also shows clear technological links with other Middle Stone Age assemblages. (...)

     
 

Looking at the Camp: Paleolithic Depiction of a Hunter-Gatherer Campsite, di M. García-Diez, M. Vaquero, December 2, 2015, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0143002 - open access -

Landscapes and features of the everyday world were scarcely represented in Paleolithic art, especially those features associated with the human landscape (huts and campsites). On the contrary, other figurative motifs (especially animals) and signs, traditionally linked to the magic or religious conceptions of these hunter-gatherer societies, are the predominant themes of Upper Paleolithic art. This paper seeks to present an engraved schist slab recently found in the Molí del Salt site (North-eastern Iberia) and dated at the end of the Upper Paleolithic, ca. 13,800 years ago. This slab displays seven semicircular motifs that may be interpreted as the representation of dome-shaped huts. The analysis of individual motifs and the composition, as well as the ethnographic and archeological contextualization, suggests that this engraving is a naturalistic depiction of a hunter-gatherer campsite. Campsites can be considered the first human landscape, the first area of land whose visible features were entirely constructed by humans. Given the social meaning of campsites in hunter-gatherer life-styles, this engraving may be considered one of the first representations of the domestic and social space of a human group. (...)

     
 

How rare was human presence in Europe during the Early Pleistocene?, di J. Rodríguez, A. Mateos, J. A. Martín-González, G. Rodríguez-Gómez, "Quaternary International", Volume 389, 2 December 2015, Pages 119–130

Beneath the hot debate about the tempo and mode of the first human colonization of Europe is the perception that the record of human presence in the Early Pleistocene is sparse and fragmented. As a result, it is often implicitly assumed that hominins, if present, were scarce in the Early Pleistocene European ecosystems. Here we present a quantitative assessment of the rarity and commonness of the European large mammal species during the 1.4–0.8 Ma period, including hominins. Considering the palaeontological record only, Homo was not one of the most common species in Europe, but it may not be considered a rare species. In contrast, taking into consideration the archaeological record, hominins exhibit a wide geographical distribution and a high frequency of occurrence (occupancy) in comparison with other large mammals. It is speculated that hominins were frequent but not abundant in Europe during the late Early Pleistocene.

     
 

Revisiting the ESR chronology of the Early Pleistocene hominin occupation at Vallparadís (Barcelona, Spain), di M. Duval et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 389, 2 December 2015, Pages 213–223

ESR dating was applied to fossil teeth and optically bleached quartz grain samples from two units of the sequence at Vallparadís (Barcelona, Spain): weighted mean ESR age estimates of 858 ± 87 ka and 849 ± 48 ka were obtained for EVT-7, which includes the archaeological level 10, and EVT-8, respectively. These results are in good agreement with the existing magneto-biostratigraphic framework that constrain these deposits between 780 and 990 ka, and indicate that Vallparadís EVT-7 has a chronology very close to that of Atapuerca Gran Dolina TD-6 (Spain).

     
  Eat a Paleo peach: First fossil peaches discovered in southwest China, di P. State, 1-DEC-2015

The sweet, juicy peaches we love today might have been a popular snack long before modern humans arrived on the scene. Scientists have found eight well-preserved fossilized peach endocarps, or pits, in southwest China dating back more than two and a half million years. Despite their age, the fossils appear nearly identical to modern peach pits. The findings, reported last week in Scientific Reports, suggest that peaches evolved through natural selection well before humans domesticated the fruit. It's the first discovery of fossilized peaches, and it sheds new light on the evolutionary history of the fruit, which has not been well understood. "The peach is an important part of human history, and it's important to understand how it became what it is today," said Peter Wilf, a professor of paleobotany at Penn State and co-author of the article. "If we know the origins of our resources we can make better use of them." (...)
     
  The Interpretation of Bipolar Knapping in African Stone Age Studies, di P. de la Peña, "Current Anthropology", Vol. 56, No. 6 (December 2015), pp. 911-923

Bipolar knapping is presented as a case study for the interpretation of African prehistory. Bipolar knapping was first thought of as a typological marker, but lately it has been referred to as a technological marker. I challenge the idea that the technological change represented by bipolar knapping should be understood as a technological marker, because to do so is simply a translation of an outdated typological definition taken unconsciously from evolutionary schemes. Bipolar knapping, as with many other technological traits belonging to the Final Pleistocene, appears and disappears probably for different cultural and economic reasons. An example of Howiesons Poort bipolar knapping is presented here to highlight the prominence of this technique in the Middle Stone Age, notwithstanding its underrecognition in published lithic analyses.

     
  Hommes et environnements au Paléolithique supérieur en Ukraine continentale et en Crimée, "L'Anthropologie". Volume 118, Issue 5, Pages 479-598 (November–December 2014). Rédacteurs invités : Stéphane Péan et Sandrine Prat:

Hommes et environnements au Paléolithique supérieur en Ukraine continentale et en Crimée: introduction, di S. Péan, S. Prat

Codes mythiques du Mézinien, di M. Otte

Analyse du débitage laminaire du site de Mezhyrich : habitations no 1, 2 et 3, di V. M. Lozovski, O. V. Lozovskaya

Isotopes stables (13C, 15N) du collagène des mammouths de Mezhyrich (Epigravettien, Ukraine): implications paléoécologiques, di D. G. Drucker, H. Bocherens, S. Péan

Analyse des micromammifères du site épigravettien de Mezhyrich (Ukraine), di L. Rekovets, D. Nowakowski, K. Lech

Les assemblages lithiques du site épigravettien de Buzhanka 2 (Ukraine), di D. Stupak

Les occupations gravettiennes de Buran-Kaya III (Crimée): contexte archéologique, di A. Yanevich

Stress physiologique et état de santé des plus anciens Hommes anatomiquement modernes du sud-est de l’Europe (données dentaires, couche 6-1, Buran-Kaya III, Crimée), di S. Prat

Comportements de subsistance au Paléolithique supérieur en Crimée: analyse archéozoologique des couches 6-2, 6-1 et 5-2 de Buran-Kaya III, di L. Crépin, S. Péan, M. Lázničková-Galetová

     
 

Paleolithic elephant butchering site found in Greece, November 25, 2015

A new Lower Paleolithic elephant butchering site has been discovered in Megalopolis, Greece. The site has yielded stratified stone artifacts in association with a nearly complete skeleton of Elephas antiquus.

     
  Human nature's dark side helped us spread across the world, 24-NOV-2015

Human nature's dark side helped us spread across the world. New research by an archaeologist at the University of York suggests that betrayals of trust were the missing link in understanding the rapid spread of our own species around the world. Dr Penny Spikins, of the University's Department of Archaeology, says that the speed and character of human dispersals changed significantly around 100,000 years ago. Before then, movement of archaic humans were slow and largely governed by environmental events due to population increases or ecological changes. Afterwards populations spread with remarkable speed and across major environmental barriers. But Dr Spikins, a senior lecturer in the Archaeology of Human Origins, relates this change to changes in human emotional relationships. In research published in Open Quaternary, she says that neither population increase nor ecological changes provide an adequate explanation for patterns of human movement into new regions which began around 100,000 years ago. She suggests that as commitments to others became more essential to survival, and human groups ever more motivated to identify and punish those who cheat, the 'dark' side of human nature also developed. Moral disputes motivated by broken trust and a sense of betrayal became more frequent and motivated early humans to put distance between them and their rivals. According to Dr Spikins, the emotional bonds which held populations together in crisis had a darker side in heartfelt reactions to betrayal which we still feel today. Larger social networks made it easier to find distant allies with whom to start new colonies, and more efficient hunting technology meant that anyone with a grudge was a danger but it was human emotions which provided the force of repulsion from existing occupied areas which we do not see in other animals. (...)

     
  Chronology, palaeoenvironments and subsistence in the Acheulean of western Europe (Special Issue), October 2015, Volume 30, Issue 7, Pages 585–730, Issue edited by: Danielle Schreve, Marie-Hélène Moncel, David Bridgland

Editorial: Chronology, palaeoenvironments and subsistence in the Acheulean of western Europe (pages 585–592), di D. Schreve, M. H. Moncel, D. Bridgland

MIS 13–12 in Britain and the North Atlantic: understanding the palaeoclimatic context of the earliest Acheulean (pages 593–609), di I. Candy, D. Schreve, T. S. White

New chronological data (ESR and ESR/U-series) for the earliest Acheulian sites of north-western Europe (pages 610–622), di P. Voinchet et alii

Chronological variations in handaxes: patterns detected from fluvial archives in north-west Europe (pages 623–638), di D. R. Bridgland, M. J. White

The earliest securely dated hominin fossil in Italy and evidence of Acheulian occupation during glacial MIS 16 at Notarchirico (Venosa, Basilicata, Italy) (pages 639–650), di A. Pereira et alii

Barranc de la Boella (Catalonia, Spain): an Acheulean elephant butchering site from the European late Early Pleistocene (pages 651–666), di M. Mosquera et alii

The continental record of Marine Isotope Stage 11 (Middle Pleistocene) on the Iberian Peninsula characterized by herpetofaunal assemblages (pages 667–678), di H. A. Blain, I. Lozano-Fernández, A. Ollé, J. Rodríguez, M. Santonja, A. Pérez-González

Hominin subsistence and site function of TD10.1 bone bed level at Gran Dolina site (Atapuerca) during the late Acheulean (pages 679–701), di A. Rodríguez-Hidalgo, P. Saladié, A. Ollé, E. Carbonell

North-West European MIS 11 malacological successions: a framework for the timing of Acheulean settlements (pages 702–712), di N. Limondin-Lozouet, P. Antoine, J.-J. Bahain, D. Cliquet, S. Coutard, J. Dabkowski, B. Ghaleb, J.-L. Locht, E. Nicoud, P. Voinchet

The morphological affinities of the Middle Pleistocene hominin teeth from Pontnewydd Cave, Wales (pages 713–730), di T. Compton, C. Stringer

     
  The Grotta Guattari mandibular remains in the Italian human evolutionary context: A morphological and morphometrical overlook of the Neanderthal jaw, di J. Arnaud, C. Peretto, D. Grimaud-Hervé, "Quaternary International", Volume 388, 19 November 2015, Pages 206–217

Within the Italian human fossil record, the mandibular remains Guattari 2 and Guattari 3 are representatives of Neanderthal populations living in the Italian peninsula from the beginning of the MIS 3. These were recovered from the Mount Circeo and date between ca. 57 and 51 B.P. The integrity and the contemporaneity of these two human remains make them suitable candidates for intraspecific variability investigation. In the present study, we provide a detailed morphological and morphometrical description of these specimens. This is supported by an analysis and comparison of the symphysis profile with a reference collection composed of modern human, Neanderthals and Middle Pleistocene hominins. In terms of morphology, both specimens show Neanderthal derived features such as a wide retromolar space and an anterior position of the mental foramen with, however, some inter-individual differences in terms of expression of features. Guattari 2 shows a general morphology which could be integrated in the range of Neanderthals from MIS3-4. On the other hand, Guattari 3 present a morphology closer to more ancient Neanderthals (MIS4-5). Mandibular remains constitute one of the most variable elements of the skeleton. The reason of such variability could be explained by several factors: sexual dimorphism, inter-individual variability or differences in chronology, which will be tested in this study. The reassessment of Guattari 2 and 3 has the potential to shed new light on the morphology of mandibular fossil specimens from the Italian peninsula, and increase our knowledge of the mandibular variability of the Neanderthals.

 

Aggiornamento 23 novembre

 
  In situ study of the Gravettian individual from Cussac cave, locus 2 (Dordogne, France), di S. Villotte, F. Santos, P. Courtaud, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 158, Issue 4, pages 759–768, December 2015

Cussac cave, discovered in 2000, is characterized by the exceptional presence of monumental engravings and human remains deposited in bear nests. Both the style of the art and a direct radiocarbon date indicate a Gravettian age. As the cave is protected as a national heritage site, only very limited access to and restricted direct interventions involving the human remains are possible. Here, we present the results of observations and measurements of Cussac L2A, represented by a virtually complete skeleton covered with a layer of clay. A portion of the clay that covered some bones was removed in order to undertake a study of the skeleton in situ. The age-at-death was assessed using several indicators, especially changes on the auricular surface of the ilium. The sex was assessed using the morphology and morphometrics of the coxal bones. Cussac L2A stature, humero-femoral index, and crural index were also estimated. The dimensions of the Cussac L2A skeletal remains are compared with the other European Gravettian and Late Upper Paleolithic human remains using adjusted Z-Scores. The analysis indicates that Cussac L2A is probably a male who died aged between 20 and 50 years. If the sex assessment is correct, with an averaged estimated stature of 1.64 m, Cussac L2A would be one of the shorter Gravettian males.

     
 

Neanderthal Use of Callista chione Shells as Raw Material for Retouched Tools in South-east Italy: Analysis of Grotta del Cavallo Layer L Assemblage with a New Methodology, di F. Romagnoli, F. Martini, L. Sarti, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", December 2015, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 1007-1037

Neanderthal retouched tools made of marine shells have been reported in several sites in southern peninsular Europe. They are an adaptation to the coastal marine environment. Most important are the non-lithic tools that mark Mediterranean technical behaviour. Tool production is related to human needs, available resources, technical and social knowledge and innovation. The wide diffusion of shell tools makes them interesting items for investigating the variability of technology and contact among Neanderthal groups. Although these tools were first identified in the last 1950s, they still have not been considered in sufficient detail. In particular, this technology is handicapped by the lack of detailed description and references for technological analysis. This research proposes an original method aimed at reconstructing the process of production and use of these tools. It was conceived for future comparisons, both between shell tool assemblages and between lithic and shell tools, creating a common vocabulary and a set of analytical principles borrowed from lithic analysis, with which to think systematically beyond single cases. The analytical method is organised in five parts: taxonomy, morphometrical analysis, technical analysis of the retouched cutting edge, taphonomy and experimental archaeology. Thereafter, we present data on the shell tools of Grotta del Cavallo, coming from a recent excavation in layer L. It is the first detailed case study of Neanderthal non-lithic artefacts, applied to an assemblage with a significant number of well-preserved elements and with a certain stratigraphic context, and represents a constructive framework for the knowledge of the local adaptation to this raw material and of variability of Neanderthal technical behaviour.

     
 

Is Loading a Significantly Influential Factor in the Development of Lithic Microwear? An Experimental Test Using LSCM on Basalt from Olduvai Gorge, di A. J. M. Key, W. J. Stemp, M. Morozov, T. Proffitt, I. de la Torre, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", December 2015, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 1193-1214

Lithic microwear develops as a result of abrasive friction between a stone tool’s working edge and the surface of a worked material. Variation in the loading (i.e. force) applied to a stone tool during its use alters the amount of friction created between these two materials and should subsequently affect the level of any wear accrued. To date, however, no comprehensive account of the interaction between variable working loads and wear development has been undertaken. If such a relationship does exist, it may be possible to calculate the loading levels applied to stone tool artefacts during their use. Here, we use 30 basalt flakes knapped from raw materials collected in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, in a controlled experimental cutting task of standardized duration. Loading levels are recorded throughout with each flake being used with a predetermined load, ranging between 150 g and 4.5 kg. Laser scanning confocal microscopy (LSCM), coupled with the relative area (Srel) algorithm, is used to mathematically document the surface texture of the flakes to determine whether variation in loading does in fact significantly affect the amount of wear on the flake surfaces. Results indicate that working load does play a role in the development of lithic microwear; however, its interaction with other variables, including the naturally rough surface of basalt, may reduce the likelihood of its accurate determination on tools recovered from archaeological deposits.

     
  Reintroduction of a Homocysteine Level-Associated Allele into East Asians by Neanderthal Introgression, di Y. Hu, Q. Ding, Y. He, S. Xu, L. Jin, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 32, Issue 12, December 2015, pp. 3108-3113

In this study, we present an analysis of Neanderthal introgression at the dipeptidase 1 gene, DPEP1. A Neanderthal origin for the putative introgressive haplotypes was demonstrated using an established three-step approach. This introgression was under positive natural selection, reached a frequency of >50%, and introduced a homocysteine level- and pigmentation-associated allele (rs460879-T) into East Asians. However, the same allele was also found in non-East Asians, but not from Neanderthal introgression. It is likely that rs460879-T was lost in East Asians and was reintroduced subsequently through Neanderthal introgression. Our findings suggest that Neanderthal introgression could reintroduce an important previously existing allele into populations where the allele had been lost. This study sheds new light on understanding the contribution of Neanderthal introgression to the adaptation of non-Africans.

     
 

The Early Acheulian of north-western Europe, di M. H. Moncel, N. Ashton, A. Lamotte, A. Tuffreau, D. Cliquet, J. Despriée, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 40, December 2015, Pages 302–331

The introduction of biface technology in the Lower Palaeolithic arguably marked a fundamental change in how early hominins dealt with their world. It is suggested to reflect changes not just in tool form and innovative shaping, but also in planning depth, landscape use and social structures. This paper examines in detail the chronology of the first Acheulian industries in north-west Europe with the earliest sites from c. 700 ka through to later sites at c. 400 ka. It asks whether evidence from these sites can further our understanding of how the Acheulian and the bifacial technology emerged in this region, but more critically whether it was the underlying behavioural changes that enabled the more sustained occupation of northern latitudes. In particular the paper assesses whether cultural signatures can be identified and whether this reflects changes in group dynamics and social structures that could be a fundamental aspect of surviving in more seasonal, cooler climates. To achieve this, the industries are examined in their chronological and biogeographical framework and compared over time and with the south European sites. The study discusses the influencing factors on variability such as raw material, site function, palaeogeography and questions regarding the background conditions for the introduction of the bifacial technology in Europe. The flexibility in behaviour makes the identification of cultural traditions across Europe difficult due to the situational responses of the early hominins. The large geographical area, the long time period, the fragmented record and a chronology, that still needs improvement, all mean that only glimpses of traditions can be identified, usually at a very local level. However, due to the more extreme climatic cycles of northern Europe, compared to southern Europe, it seems inevitable that populations colonized repeatedly from south to north as climate warmed and retreated or populations became locally extinct as climate cooled. Although there are broad similarities in technology, attempts to identify cultural links have been hampered by the greater variety of raw materials in the south compared to the generally better quality siliceous raw materials in the north. Broad patterns over time might be discernible, with perhaps a refinement through time, but there are also many exceptions to this observation. What seems clearer are other technological innovations from 600 to 500 ka that seem part of an Acheulian package and might reflect other changes in human cultures and societies. It is suggested that these developments were a critical part of more sustained occupation of northern latitudes.

     
 

Investigating maintenance and discard behaviours for osseous projectile points: A Middle to Late Magdalenian (c. 19,000–14,000 cal. BP) example, di M. C. Langley, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology",Volume 40, December 2015, Pages 340–360

The importance of investigating maintenance and discard behaviours in Palaeolithic osseous technological systems is only now becoming clear, thanks to recent advances in our understanding of how these implements were repaired in various techno-complexes. While significant work has been completed on European assemblages, the issues of maintenance and discard behaviour have generally received only passing mention, and thus, the nature and frequency of Palaeolithic osseous projectile point rejuvenation and discard remains largely unknown. This paper presents the trace and formal analysis of more than 4400 Middle–Late Magdalenian antler projectile point artefacts excavated from two central datasets (Isturitz, Pyrénées-Atlantiques and La Vache, Ariège), and complemented by examination of a further 22 collections recovered from throughout France and southern Germany. Analysis of individual artefacts, collections, and regional samples resulted in significant new insights into the use life of the iconic Magdalenian barbed point, as well as single and double bevel based point technologies. These insights concern not only how the projectile points were resharpened, reworked, and reused, but also cultural ideals concerning point form, and even potential differences in functionality.

     
 

The public and private use of space in Magdalenian societies: Evidence from Oelknitz 3, LOP (Thuringia, Germany), di S. Gaudzinski-Windheuser, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 40, December 2015, Pages 361–375

The site of Oelknitz (Thuringia, Germany) is among the largest and in terms of spatial organisation most complex Magdalenian open air sites known to date, rich in evident structures. The current paper reports evidence from the youngest, latest phase of occupation at Oelknitz Structure 3. It is demonstrated that this structure represents a dwelling construction characterised by different spatially distinct activity zones. Several hypotheses can be drawn from this evidence in order to understand basic principles on Magdalenians’ settlement behaviour and their social cohesion.

     
  A new age within MIS 7 for the Homo neanderthalensis of Saccopastore in the glacio-eustatically forced sedimentary successions of the Aniene River Valley, Rome, di F. Marra, P. Ceruleo, B. Jicha, L. Pandolfi, C. Petronio, L. Salari, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 129, 1 December 2015, Pages 260–274

Field observations as well as borehole, sedimentological and geochronologic data allow us to reconstruct the geologic setting of the Aniene River Valley in northern Rome, framing it within the recently recognized picture of temporally constrained, glacio-eustatically forced aggradational successions of this region. The sedimentary successions cropping out in this area include those described in the literature of the early 20th century in Saccopastore, where two skulls of Homo neanderthalensis were recovered. Based on the geometry, elevation and sedimentologic features of the investigated sedimentary deposits, the stratigraphic record of Saccopastore is correlated with the aggradational succession deposited in response to sea-level rise during glacial termination III at the onset of MIS 7 (i.e. ∼250 ka), corresponding to the local Vitinia Formation, as opposed to previous correlation with the MIS 5 interglacial and a locally defined “Tyrrhenian” stage (∼130 ka). This previous attribution was based on the interpretation of the sedimentary succession of Saccopastore, occurring between 15 and 21 m a.s.l., as a fluvial terrace formed around 130 ka during the Riss-Würm interglacial, ca. 6 m above the present-day alluvial plain of the Aniene River. In contrast to this interpretation, a 40Ar/39Ar age of 129 ± 2 ka determined for this study on a pyroclastic-flow deposit intercalated in a fluvial-lacustrine sequence forming a terrace ∼37 m a.s.l. near the coast of Rome constrains the aggradational succession in this area to MIS 5, precluding the occurrence of an equivalent fluvial terrace at lower elevation in the inland sector of Saccopastore. We therefore interpret the stratigraphic record of Saccopastore as the basal portion of the aggradational succession deposited in response to sea-level rise during MIS 7, whose equivalent fluvial terrace occurs around 55 m a.s.l. in this region. We also review the published paleontological and paleoethnological records recovered in Saccopastore and demonstrate their compatibility with the faunal assemblages and lithic industries occurring in the sedimentary deposits of the Vitinia Formation, while we show the lack of any unequivocal Late Pleistocene (MIS 5) affinity. We therefore propose that the chronostratigraphic position of the Saccopastore deposits containing the two skulls should be around 250,000 years, as opposed to a previously preferred age of 130,000 years. The revised age makes these skulls the oldest Italian occurrences of H. neanderthalensis and provides evidence for a substantially coeval appearance and evolutionary path with respect to central-northern Europe.

     
  Techno-Cultural Characterization of the MIS 5 (c. 105 – 90 Ka) Lithic Industries at Blombos Cave, Southern Cape, South Africa, di K. Douze, S. Wurz, C. Stuart Henshilwood, November 18, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0142151 - open access -

Blombos Cave is well known as an important site for understanding the evolution of symbolically mediated behaviours among Homo sapiens during the Middle Stone Age, and during the Still Bay in particular. The lower part of the archaeological sequence (M3 phase) contains 12 layers dating to MIS 5 with ages ranging from 105 to 90 ka ago (MIS 5c to 5b) that provide new perspectives on the technological behaviour of these early humans. The new data obtained from our extensive technological analysis of the lithic material enriches our currently limited knowledge of this time period in the Cape region. By comparing our results with previously described lithic assemblages from sites south of the Orange River, we draw new insights on the extent of the techno-cultural ties between these sites and the M3 phase at Blombos Cave and highlight the importance of this phase within the Middle Stone Age cultural stratigraphy. (...)
     
  Unique Dental Morphology of Homo floresiensis and Its Evolutionary Implications, di Y. Kaifu, R. T. Kono, T. Sutikna, E. Wahyu Saptomo, J. Rokus Due Awe, November 18, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141614 - open access -

Homo floresiensis is an extinct, diminutive hominin species discovered in the Late Pleistocene deposits of Liang Bua cave, Flores, eastern Indonesia. The nature and evolutionary origins of H. floresiensis’ unique physical characters have been intensively debated. Based on extensive comparisons using linear metric analyses, crown contour analyses, and other trait-by-trait morphological comparisons, we report here that the dental remains from multiple individuals indicate that H. floresiensis had primitive canine-premolar and advanced molar morphologies, a combination of dental traits unknown in any other hominin species. The primitive aspects are comparable to H. erectus from the Early Pleistocene, whereas some of the molar morphologies are more progressive even compared to those of modern humans. This evidence contradicts the earlier claim of an entirely modern human-like dental morphology of H. floresiensis, while at the same time does not support the hypothesis that H. floresiensis originated from a much older H. habilis or Australopithecus-like small-brained hominin species currently unknown in the Asian fossil record. These results are however consistent with the alternative hypothesis that H. floresiensis derived from an earlier Asian Homo erectus population and experienced substantial body and brain size dwarfism in an isolated insular setting. The dentition of H. floresiensis is not a simple, scaled-down version of earlier hominins. (...)

     
  Upper Palaeolithic genomes reveal deep roots of modern Eurasians, di E. R. Jones et alii, "Nature Communications" 6, 16 November 2015, doi:10.1038/ncomms9912

We extend the scope of European palaeogenomics by sequencing the genomes of Late Upper Palaeolithic (13,300 years old, 1.4-fold coverage) and Mesolithic (9,700 years old, 15.4-fold) males from western Georgia in the Caucasus and a Late Upper Palaeolithic (13,700 years old, 9.5-fold) male from Switzerland. While we detect Late Palaeolithic–Mesolithic genomic continuity in both regions, we find that Caucasus hunter-gatherers (CHG) belong to a distinct ancient clade that split from western hunter-gatherers ~45 kya, shortly after the expansion of anatomically modern humans into Europe and from the ancestors of Neolithic farmers ~25 kya, around the Last Glacial Maximum. CHG genomes significantly contributed to the Yamnaya steppe herders who migrated into Europe ~3,000 BC, supporting a formative Caucasus influence on this important Early Bronze age culture. CHG left their imprint on modern populations from the Caucasus and also central and south Asia possibly marking the arrival of Indo-Aryan languages.

· Il contributo delle tribù del Caucaso al genoma degli europei, "Le Scienze", 18 novembre 2015

     
  Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences from two Denisovan individuals, di S. Sawyer et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences-Early edition", November 16, 2015, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1519905112

Denisovans, a sister group of Neandertals, have been described on the basis of a nuclear genome sequence from a finger phalanx (Denisova 3) found in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains. The only other Denisovan specimen described to date is a molar (Denisova 4) found at the same site. This tooth carries a mtDNA sequence similar to that of Denisova 3. Here we present nuclear DNA sequences from Denisova 4 and a morphological description, as well as mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data, from another molar (Denisova 8) found in Denisova Cave in 2010. This new molar is similar to Denisova 4 in being very large and lacking traits typical of Neandertals and modern humans. Nuclear DNA sequences from the two molars form a clade with Denisova 3. The mtDNA of Denisova 8 is more diverged and has accumulated fewer substitutions than the mtDNAs of the other two specimens, suggesting Denisovans were present in the region over an extended period. The nuclear DNA sequence diversity among the three Denisovans is comparable to that among six Neandertals, but lower than that among present-day humans.

· Sempre più preciso l'identikit dell'uomo di Denisova, "Le Scienze", 17 novembre 2015

     
  Reconstruction of the Neanderthal and Modern Human landscape and climate from the Fumane cave sequence (Verona, Italy) using small-mammal assemblages, di J. M. López-García, C. dalla Valle, M. Cremaschi, M. Peresani, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 128, 15 November 2015, Pages 1–13

Fumane cave, located at an altitude of 350 m.a.s.l. in the Monti Lessini in the Veneto Pre-Alps, northeastern Italy, is a reference site for southern Europe for the study of the behaviour of Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) from Marine Isotope Stages 5 to 2 (MIS5-MIS2). It is one of the few well-dated and closely studied sites in the Italian Peninsula, with a finely layered sedimentary sequence from the Mousterian to Gravettian. In this paper we present for the first time a palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstruction of the MIS3 and MIS2 sequence based on the small mammal (insectivore, bat and rodent) assemblages. The environmental and climatic results, coupled with the radiocarbon dating together with previous studies on large mammals, birds and charcoal and other studies on small mammals and pollen for the same time-span in Italy, enable us clearly to identify distinct climatic periods within our data: Heinrich Event 5 in units A7 to A6, Greenland Interstadial 12 in units A5 + A6 to A4, Heinrich Event 4 in units A3 to A1, and Heinrich Event 3 in unit D1e. Finally, the study shows that Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans were well adapted to the different climatic and environmental conditions of MIS3 at the foot of the Alps.

     
  Les tectiformes. Signes indéchiffrés de l'art pariétal préhistorique, Novembre 2015

Parmi les différents signes de l'art pariétal préhistorique, le tectiforme a une place un peu à part. C'est une figure assez travaillée, construite graphiquement, qui provoque immédiatement chez le « lecteur » un besoin de comprendre et de comparer. Les traits qui constituent le tectiforme, droits ou courbes, évoquent toujours une structure géométrique complexe. On recherche alors une analogie et l'on retombe assez rapidement sur des formes connues. C'est en 1902 que les premiers tectiformes gravés sont identifiés dans la grotte des Combarelles par Henri Breuil et Louis Capitan. La forme générale évoquant « la charpente d'un toit de maison ou une hutte », les préhistoriens les nomment tectiformes (en forme de toit). En 1903, les mêmes découvrent avec Denis Peyronydes signes semblables, mais cette fois-ci, dans la grotte de Bernifal, ils sont peints ou gravés à côté, ou sur, des représentations d'animaux. (...)

     
 

Spinal cord evolution in early Homo, di M. R. Meyer, M. Haeusler, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 88, November 2015, Pages 43–53

The discovery at Nariokotome of the Homo erectus skeleton KNM-WT 15000, with a narrow spinal canal, seemed to show that this relatively large-brained hominin retained the primitive spinal cord size of African apes and that brain size expansion preceded postcranial neurological evolution. Here we compare the size and shape of the KNM-WT 15000 spinal canal with modern and fossil taxa including H. erectus from Dmanisi, Homo antecessor, the European middle Pleistocene hominins from Sima de los Huesos, and Pan troglodytes. In terms of shape and absolute and relative size of the spinal canal, we find all of the Dmanisi and most of the vertebrae of KNM-WT 15000 are within the human range of variation except for the C7, T2, and T3 of KNM-WT 15000, which are constricted, suggesting spinal stenosis. While additional fossils might definitively indicate whether H. erectus had evolved a human-like enlarged spinal canal, the evidence from the Dmanisi spinal canal and the unaffected levels of KNM-WT 15000 show that unlike Australopithecus, H. erectus had a spinal canal size and shape equivalent to that of modern humans. Subadult status is unlikely to affect our results, as spinal canal growth is complete in both individuals. We contest the notion that vertebrae yield information about respiratory control or language evolution, but suggest that, like H. antecessor and European middle Pleistocene hominins from Sima de los Huesos, early Homo possessed a postcranial neurological endowment roughly commensurate to modern humans, with implications for neurological, structural, and vascular improvements over Pan and Australopithecus.

     
 

A geometric morphometric study of a Middle Pleistocene cranium from Hexian, China, di Y. Cui, X. Wu, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 88, November 2015, Pages 54–69

The Hexian calvarium is one of the most complete and well-preserved Homo erectus fossils ever found in east Asia, apart from the Zhoukoudian specimens. Various methods bracket the age of the Hexian fossil to between 150 and 412 ka (thousands of years ago). The Hexian calvarium has been considered to be H. erectus given its morphological similarities to Zhoukoudian and Javan H. erectus. However, discussion continues regarding the affinities of the Hexian specimen with other H. erectus fossils. The arguments mainly focus on its relationships to other Asian H. erectus fossils, including those from both China and Java. To better determine the affinities of the Hexian cranium, our study used 3D landmark and semilandmark geometric morphometric techniques and multivariate statistical analyses to quantify the shape of the neurocranium and to compare the Hexian cranium to other H. erectus specimens. The results of this study confirmed the morphological similarities between Hexian and Chinese H. erectus in overall morphology, and particularly in the structure of the frontal bone and the posterior part of the neurocranium. Although the Hexian specimen shows the strongest connection to Chinese H. erectus, the morphology of the lateral neurocranium resembles early Indonesian H. erectus specimens, possibly suggesting shared common ancestry or gene flow from early Indonesian populations. Overall cranial and frontal bone morphology are strongly influenced by geography. Although geographically intermediate between Zhoukoudian and Indonesian H. erectus, the Hexian specimen does not form part of an obvious morphological gradient with regard to overall cranial shape.

     
 

Bovid ecomorphology and hominin paleoenvironments of the Shungura Formation, lower Omo River Valley, Ethiopia, di T. W. Plummer et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 88, November 2015, Pages 108–126

The Shungura Formation in the lower Omo River Valley, southern Ethiopia, has yielded an important paleontological and archeological record from the Pliocene and Pleistocene of eastern Africa. Fossils are common throughout the sequence and provide evidence of paleoenvironments and environmental change through time. This study developed discriminant function ecomorphology models that linked astragalus morphology to broadly defined habitat categories (open, light cover, heavy cover, forest, and wetlands) using modern bovids of known ecology. These models used seven variables suitable for use on fragmentary fossils and had overall classification success rates of >82%. Four hundred and one fossils were analyzed from Shungura Formation members B through G (3.4–1.9 million years ago). Analysis by member documented the full range of ecomorph categories, demonstrating that a wide range of habitats existed along the axis of the paleo-Omo River. Heavy cover ecomorphs, reflecting habitats such as woodland and heavy bushland, were the most common in the fossil sample. The trend of increasing open cover habitats from Members C through F suggested by other paleoenvironmental proxies was documented by the increase in open habitat ecomorphs during this interval. However, finer grained analysis demonstrated considerable variability in ecomorph frequencies over time, suggesting that substantial short-term variability is masked when grouping samples by member. The hominin genera Australopithecus, Homo, and Paranthropus are associated with a range of ecomorphs, indicating that all three genera were living in temporally variable and heterogeneous landscapes. Australopithecus finds were predominantly associated with lower frequencies of open habitat ecomorphs, and high frequencies of heavy cover ecomorphs, perhaps indicating a more woodland focus for this genus.

     
  The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China, di W. Liu et alii, "Nature" 526, pp. 696–699 (29 October 2015)

The hominin record from southern Asia for the early Late Pleistocene epoch is scarce. Well-dated and well-preserved fossils older than ~45,000 years that can be unequivocally attributed to Homo sapiens are lacking1, 2, 3, 4. Here we present evidence from the newly excavated Fuyan Cave in Daoxian (southern China). This site has provided 47 human teeth dated to more than 80,000 years old, and with an inferred maximum age of 120,000 years. The morphological and metric assessment of this sample supports its unequivocal assignment to H. sapiens. The Daoxian sample is more derived than any other anatomically modern humans, resembling middle-to-late Late Pleistocene specimens and even contemporary humans. Our study shows that fully modern morphologies were present in southern China 30,000–70,000 years earlier than in the Levant and Europe5, 6, 7. Our data fill a chronological and geographical gap that is relevant for understanding when H. sapiens first appeared in southern Asia. The Daoxian teeth also support the hypothesis that during the same period, southern China was inhabited by more derived populations than central and northern China. This evidence is important for the study of dispersal routes of modern humans. Finally, our results are relevant to exploring the reasons for the relatively late entry of H. sapiens into Europe. Some studies have investigated how the competition with H. sapiens may have caused Neanderthals’ extinction (see ref. 8 and references therein). Notably, although fully modern humans were already present in southern China at least as early as ~80,000 years ago, there is no evidence that they entered Europe before ~45,000 years ago. This could indicate that H. neanderthalensis was indeed an additional ecological barrier for modern humans, who could only enter Europe when the demise of Neanderthals had already started.

· Homo sapiens era in Cina già 80.000 anni fa, "Le Scieze", 15 ottobre 2015

     
  Paleolithic occupations of the Göllü Dağ, Central Anatolia, Turkey, di S. L. Kuhn, B. Dinçer, N. Balkan-Atlı, M. Korhan Erturaç, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 40, Issue 5 (October 2015), pp. 581-602

Systematic archaeological surface reconnaissance of the Göllü Dağ volcanic complex from 2007 to 2012 documented more than 230 findspots with Paleolithic artifacts, ranging from isolated finds to extensive and dense scatters of artifacts. Most of the activities represented relate to exploitation of the rich obsidian resources in the region. Paleolithic artifacts are attributed mainly to the Middle Paleolithic based on the presence of Levallois technology but there is a substantial Lower Paleolithic component represented by handaxes and other large bifacial tools. Upper and Epipaleolithic sites and artifacts are scarce or absent in the survey sample. The distributions of handaxes and Levallois elements differ substantially, reflecting differences in site preservation and exposure as well as organization of prehistoric activities. Multiple variants of Levallois are represented but centripetal preferential and unipolar flake production dominate. The frequent co-occurrence of different Levallois forms suggests flexible reduction strategies. Distributions of different classes of artifact across the survey area indicate that the Middle Paleolithic occupations of Göllü Dağ were not entirely oriented toward workshop activities.

     
  Environmental Variability and Hominin Dispersal, "Journal of Human Evolution", edited by Ariane Burke and Matt Grove, Volume 87, Pages 1-106 (October 2015):

Environmental variability and hominin dispersal, di M. Grove, A. Burke

Alternating high and low climate variability: The context of natural selection and speciation in Plio-Pleistocene hominin evolution, di R. Potts, J. Tyler Faith

Episodes of environmental stability versus instability in Late Cenozoic lake records of Eastern Africa, di M. H. Trauth et alii

Climatic variability, plasticity, and dispersal: A case study from Lake Tana, Ethiopia, di M. Grove et alii

Evolution and dispersal of the genus Homo: A landscape approach, di I. C. Winder et alii

Hominin geographical range dynamics and relative brain size: Do non-human primates provide a good analogy? di K. MacDonald, J. B. Smaers, J. Steele

Pliocene hominin biogeography and ecology, di G. A. Macho

Chronological and environmental context of the first hominin dispersal into Western Europe: The case of Barranco León (Guadix-Baza Basin, SE Spain), di J. Agustí et alii

Testing modern human out-of-Africa dispersal models and implications for modern human origins, di H. Reyes-Centeno, M. Hubbe, T. Hanihara, C. Stringer, K. Harvati

     
  Early hominin biogeography in Island Southeast Asia, di R. Larick, R. L. Ciochon, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 24, Issue 5, pages 185–213, September/October 2015

Island Southeast Asia covers Eurasia's tropical expanse of continental shelf and active subduction zones. Cutting between island landmasses, Wallace's Line separates Sunda and the Eastern Island Arc (the Arc) into distinct tectonic and faunal provinces. West of the line, on Sunda, Java Island yields many fossils of Homo erectus. East of the line, on the Arc, Flores Island provides one skeleton and isolated remains of Homo floresiensis. Luzon Island in the Philippines has another fossil hominin. Sulawesi preserves early hominin archeology. This insular divergence sets up a unique regional context for early hominin dispersal, isolation, and extinction. The evidence is reviewed across three Pleistocene climate periods. Patterns are discussed in relation to the pulse of global sea-level shifts, as well as regional geo-tectonics, catastrophes, stegodon dispersal, and paleogenomics. Several patterns imply evolutionary processes typical of oceanic islands. Early hominins apparently responded to changing island conditions for a million-and-a-half years, likely becoming extinct during the period in which Homo sapiens colonized the region.

     
  Pleistocene rainforests: barriers or attractive environments for early human foragers?, di P. Roberts, M. Petraglia, "World Archaeology", Volume 47, Issue 5, 2015, pp. 718-739

In the 1980s, anthropologists argued that tropical rainforests were unattractive environments for long-term human navigation, subsistence and occupation. Meanwhile, archaeologists have traditionally held that Homo sapiens only intensively colonized rainforests during the Holocene, from c. 11 thousand years ago (ka). New discoveries and re-appraisal of Pleistocene (c. 200–12 ka) archaeological sites in Africa, Southeast Asia, Melanesia, and Sri Lanka, have, however, indicated the possibility for human occupation of rainforests from c. 45 ka and, more controversially, c. 200 ka. We critically review the archaeological evidence for Pleistocene human rainforest occupation from several regions. We argue that clear evidence exists for human adaptation to rainforest ecologies from c. 45 ka, with tantalizing hints of even earlier colonization. More research, however, is needed in order to understand the dynamism and diversity of palaeoecologies commonly classified as ‘rainforest’, as well as the regional extent, nature, and longevity of early human rainforest habitations.

 

Aggiornamento 17 ottobre

 
  The Venuses Block From Arlanpe Cave (Northern Iberian Peninsula): Implications for the Origins and Dispersion of Gönnersdorf-Lalinde Style Depictions Throughout the European Magdalenian, di J. Rios-Garaizar, D. Garate, R. Bourrillon, A. Gómez-Olivencia, T. Karampaglidis, "Oxford Journal of Archaeology", Volume 34, Issue 4, pages 321–341, November 2015

In 2011, an engraved limestone block was found in the cave of Arlanpe (Lemoa, northern Iberian Peninsula). One of the figures represented on it was identified as a schematic feminine representation similar to those of the Gönnersdorf-Lalinde style. The stratigraphical position of the block is not totally clear owing to severe disturbance in the Upper Pleistocene deposits located near the entrance sector of the cave. Nevertheless, the most probable stratigraphical correlation is with Level I, which has been dated to the beginning of the Middle Magdalenian. This finding extends the distribution range of this kind of representation to the northern Iberian Peninsula, where, up to now, only two other, less clear, Gönnersdorf-Lalinde style representations have been found. It also extends its chronological range, pushing it back to the beginning of the Middle Magdalenian. In this paper, we present the archaeological context of the engraved block, followed by a detailed description of technological and stylistic features. These data will be used to discuss the implication of this discovery for an understanding of the origins, expansion and diffusion of this kind of feminine representation across Europe.

     
  Examining the Presence of Symmetry within Acheulean Handaxes: A Case Study in the British Palaeolithic, di J. Cole, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 25 / Issue 04 / November 2015, pp 713-732

This paper examines the relationship between the presence of symmetry and the Acheulean biface within a predominantly British Lower Palaeolithic context. There has been a long-standing notion within Palaeolithic studies that Acheulean handaxes are symmetrical and become increasingly so as time progress as a reflection of increasing hominin cognitive and behavioural complexity. Specifically, the presence of symmetry within Acheulean handaxes is often seen as one of the first examples of material culture being used to mediate social relationships. However, this notion has never been satisfactorily tested against a large data set. This paper seeks to address the issue by conducting an analysis of some 2680 bifaces across a chronological and geographical span. The results from the sample presented here are that symmetrical bifaces do not appear to have a particularly strong presence in any assemblage and do not appear to increase as time progress. These results have significant implications for modern researchers assessing the cognitive and behavioural complexities of Acheulean hominins.

     
 

The Evolution of Modern Behaviour and its Implications for Maritime Dispersal During the Palaeolithic, di T. P. Leppard, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 25 / Issue 04 / November 2015, pp 829-846

Oceans and seas are more frequently thought to have been barriers to than enablers of movement for archaic hominins. This interpretation has been challenged by a revisionist model which suggests that bodies of water facilitated the dispersal of pre-moderns. This paper addresses the revisionist model by defining maritime dispersal as a series of cognitive and organizational problems, the capacity to solve which must have arisen during the evolution of Homo. The central question posed is: knowing the type of social and cognitive configuration necessary for strategic maritime dispersal, and knowing the social and cognitive capacities of hominin species implied in the revisionist dispersal model, how likely is it that such species possessed the capacity to undertake purposive maritime colonization? Available data suggest that the evolution of modern cognitive architecture during the Late Pleistocene correlates positively with increasing evidence for maritime dispersal in the Upper Palaeolithic, and that behavioural modernity is implicated in the appearance of strategic maritime dispersal in Homo. Consequently, it is likely that deliberate trans-oceanic seagoing is restricted to Anatomically Modern Humans, and possibly Neanderthals.

     
 

Hunting and Hunting Technologies as Proxy for Teaching and Learning During the Stone Age of Southern Africa, di M. Lombard, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 25 / Issue 04 / November 2015, pp 877-887

Human hunting represents one of the most difficult foraging activities. It is a skill-intensive pursuit with an extended learning process. Different from other animals, Stone Age hunter-gatherers used complex strategies and technologies to outsmart and pursue their prey. Such strategies and technologies were grounded in extensive knowledge that facilitated context-specific solutions during different phases of weapon production and hunting. Apart from subsistence behaviour, Stone Age hunting technologies also inform on a suite of associated skills, behaviours and levels of cognition. At least since the start of the Holocene in southern Africa, and probably much earlier, behaviours associated with hunting permeated almost every sphere of hunter-gatherer life, and I argue that the theme is a suitable angle from which to explore broader aspects of the evolution of teaching and learning. I provide a brief overview and broad timeline of the ‘evolution’ of hunting technologies associated with the southern African Stone Age record and present some ethnographic hunter-gatherer examples of teaching and learning associated with hunting. The aim is to start situating the archaeological and ethnographic data within a theoretical framework of teaching and learning evolution.

     
 

Teaching and Learning Subsistence Skills: Did Premodern Hominins Use Language to Do It?, di R. Botha, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 25 / Issue 04 / November 2015, pp 901-908

Two recent studies—the first by MacDonald & Roebroeks (2013), the second by Tallerman (2013)—draw inferences about the social use of language by premodern hominins from data about the linguistic behaviour of modern hunter-gatherers and other modern people with traditional cultures. Such inferences cannot be sound, though, unless they meet a particular requirement: they need appropriate warrants. These have to serve as conceptual bridges that span the ontological gap between the behaviours and capacities of modern humans and those of the premodern hominins concerned. Interestingly, both MacDonald & Roebroeks and Tallerman make a serious attempt to support their respective inferences with the aid of such conceptual bridges. The present article inquires whether these bridges are strong enough to serve this purpose, and argues that both bridges have components that are harmful to their solidity. In the process of arguing this, the article pursues the question of the conditions under which uniformitarian assumptions can be used as components of the substructure of the conceptual bridges needed for underpinning inferences about the use of language in the teaching and learning of subsistence skills by premodern hominins. More generally, the article elucidates an important limitation of the ethnographic record as a putative window on the evolution of language.

     
  Another window to the subsistence of Middle Pleistocene hominins in Europe: A taphonomic study of Cuesta de la Bajada (Teruel, Spain), di M. Domínguez-Rodrigo, R. Barba, E. Soto, C. Sesé, M. Santonja, A. Pérez-González, J. Yravedra, A. Belén Galán, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 126, 15 October 2015, Pages 67–95

Cuesta de la Bajada is a Middle Pleistocene site (MIS 8–9) in which some of the earliest evidence of Middle Paleolithic stone tool tradition is documented. The small format tool assemblage, dominated by simple flakes and scrapers, is associated to abundant remains of equids and cervids, in which both percussion and cut marks are well represented. The anatomical distribution of these bone surface modifications indicate primary access to fleshed carcasses by hominins. Hunting is further supported by the analysis of age profiles, in which prime adults are predominant both in equids and cervids. The taphonomic analysis of the site adds more information to human predatory behaviors as documented in other Middle Pleistocene sites and is one of the best examples of hunting documented in the Middle Pleistocene European archaeological record.

     
  The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China, di W. Liu et alii, Nature (2015), 14 October 2015, doi:10.1038/nature15696

The hominin record from southern Asia for the early Late Pleistocene epoch is scarce. Well-dated and well-preserved fossils older than ~45,000 years that can be unequivocally attributed to Homo sapiens are lacking1, 2, 3, 4. Here we present evidence from the newly excavated Fuyan Cave in Daoxian (southern China). This site has provided 47 human teeth dated to more than 80,000 years old, and with an inferred maximum age of 120,000 years. The morphological and metric assessment of this sample supports its unequivocal assignment to H. sapiens. The Daoxian sample is more derived than any other anatomically modern humans, resembling middle-to-late Late Pleistocene specimens and even contemporary humans. Our study shows that fully modern morphologies were present in southern China 30,000–70,000 years earlier than in the Levant and Europe5, 6, 7. Our data fill a chronological and geographical gap that is relevant for understanding when H. sapiens first appeared in southern Asia. The Daoxian teeth also support the hypothesis that during the same period, southern China was inhabited by more derived populations than central and northern China. This evidence is important for the study of dispersal routes of modern humans. Finally, our results are relevant to exploring the reasons for the relatively late entry of H. sapiens into Europe. Some studies have investigated how the competition with H. sapiens may have caused Neanderthals’ extinction (see ref. 8 and references therein). Notably, although fully modern humans were already present in southern China at least as early as ~80,000 years ago, there is no evidence that they entered Europe before ~45,000 years ago. This could indicate that H. neanderthalensis was indeed an additional ecological barrier for modern humans, who could only enter Europe when the demise of Neanderthals had already started.

· Teeth from China reveal early human trek out of Africa, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 14 October 2015

· Homo sapiens era in Cina già 80.000 anni fa, "Le Scienze", 15 ottobre 2015

· Trove of teeth from cave represents oldest modern humans in China, di A. Gibbons, "Science-News", 14 October 2015

     
  A Human Deciduous Tooth and New 40Ar/39Ar Dating Results from the Middle Pleistocene Archaeological Site of Isernia La Pineta, Southern Italy, di C. Peretto et alii, "PLoS ONE", October 12, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0140091 - open access -

Isernia La Pineta (south-central Italy, Molise) is one of the most important archaeological localities of the Middle Pleistocene in Western Europe. It is an extensive open-air site with abundant lithic industry and faunal remains distributed across four stratified archaeosurfaces that have been found in two sectors of the excavation (3c, 3a, 3s10 in sect. I; 3a in sect. II). The prehistoric attendance was close to a wet environment, with a series of small waterfalls and lakes associated to calcareous tufa deposits. An isolated human deciduous incisor (labelled IS42) was discovered in 2014 within the archaeological level 3 coll (overlying layer 3a) that, according to new 40Ar/39Ar measurements, is dated to about 583–561 ka, i.e. to the end of marine isotope stage (MIS) 15. Thus, the tooth is currently the oldest human fossil specimen in Italy; it is an important addition to the scanty European fossil record of the Middle Pleistocene, being associated with a lithic assemblage of local raw materials (flint and limestone) characterized by the absence of handaxes and reduction strategies primarily aimed at the production of small/medium-sized flakes. The faunal assemblage is dominated by ungulates often bearing cut marks. Combining chronology with the archaeological evidence, Isernia La Pineta exhibits a delay in the appearance of handaxes with respect to other European Palaeolithic sites of the Middle Pleistocene. Interestingly, this observation matches the persistence of archaic morphological features shown by the human calvarium from the Middle Pleistocene site of Ceprano, not far from Isernia (south-central Italy, Latium). In this perspective, our analysis is aimed to evaluate morphological features occurring in IS42. (...)

     
 

The hand of Homo naledi, di T. L. Kivell et alii, "Nature Communications" 6, Article number: 8431, 06 October 2015, doi:10.1038/ncomms9431  - open access -

A nearly complete right hand of an adult hominin was recovered from the Rising Star cave system, South Africa. Based on associated hominin material, the bones of this hand are attributed to Homo naledi. This hand reveals a long, robust thumb and derived wrist morphology that is shared with Neandertals and modern humans, and considered adaptive for intensified manual manipulation. However, the finger bones are longer and more curved than in most australopiths, indicating frequent use of the hand during life for strong grasping during locomotor climbing and suspension. These markedly curved digits in combination with an otherwise human-like wrist and palm indicate a significant degree of climbing, despite the derived nature of many aspects of the hand and other regions of the postcranial skeleton in H. naledi. (...)

     
 

The foot of Homo naledi, di W. E. H. Harcourt-Smith et alii, "Nature Communications" 6, Article number: 8432, 06 October 2015, doi:10.1038/ncomms9432 - open access -

Modern humans are characterized by a highly specialized foot that reflects our obligate bipedalism. Our understanding of hominin foot evolution is, although, hindered by a paucity of well-associated remains. Here we describe the foot of Homo naledi from Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, using 107 pedal elements, including one nearly-complete adult foot. The H. naledi foot is predominantly modern human-like in morphology and inferred function, with an adducted hallux, an elongated tarsus, and derived ankle and calcaneocuboid joints. In combination, these features indicate a foot well adapted for striding bipedalism. However, the H. naledi foot differs from modern humans in having more curved proximal pedal phalanges, and features suggestive of a reduced medial longitudinal arch. Within the context of primitive features found elsewhere in the skeleton, these findings suggest a unique locomotor repertoire for H. naledi, thus providing further evidence of locomotor diversity within both the hominin clade and the genus Homo. (...)

     
  Dietary change among hominins and cercopithecids in Ethiopia during the early Pliocene, di N. E. Levin, Y. Haile-Selassie, S. R. Frost, B. Z. Saylor, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", October 6, 2015 vol. 112, no. 40, pp. 12304-12309

The incorporation of C4 resources into hominin diet signifies increased dietary breadth within hominins and divergence from the dietary patterns of other great apes. Morphological evidence indicates that hominin diet became increasingly diverse by 4.2 million years ago but may not have included large proportions of C4 foods until 800 thousand years later, given the available isotopic evidence. Here we use carbon isotope data from early to mid Pliocene hominin and cercopithecid fossils from Woranso-Mille (central Afar, Ethiopia) to constrain the timing of this dietary change and its ecological context. We show that both hominins and some papionins expanded their diets to include C4 resources as early as 3.76 Ma. Among hominins, this dietary expansion postdates the major dentognathic morphological changes that distinguish Australopithecus from Ardipithecus, but it occurs amid a continuum of adaptations to diets of tougher, harder foods and to committed terrestrial bipedality. In contrast, carbon isotope data from cercopithecids indicate that C4-dominated diets of the earliest members of the Theropithecus oswaldi lineage preceded the dental specialization for grazing but occurred after they were fully terrestrial. The combined data indicate that the inclusion of C4 foods in hominin diet occurred as part of broader ecological changes in African primate communities.

     
  Another sign of Neanderthal intelligence and resourcefulness, 3 October 2015

It has long been thought that Neanderthals did not possess either the intelligence or the equipment to catch and kill large, fast flying birds. Recent findings, some going back to 2011, show evidence to the contrary. The birds in question can be classed in two categories, raptors (birds of prey) and corvids (carrion scavengers), although some raptors also have corvid habits. The evidence centres around four European sites where talons have been found with marks of working, leading to the assumption that they had been fashioned into jewellery. So how did the Neanderthals catch them? Well, the answer may be simpler than you would think. The evidence that Neanderthals hunted large mammals is undisputed. (...)
     
  Virtual reconstruction of the Neanderthal Amud 1 cranium, di H. Amano et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Volume 158, Issue 2, pages 185–197, October 2015

We describe a new computer reconstruction to obtain complete anatomical information of the ecto- and endocranium from the imperfectly preserved skull of the Neanderthal Amud 1. Data were obtained from computed tomography scans of the fossil cranium. Adhesive and plaster were then virtually removed from the original specimen, and the fragments comprising the fossil cranium were separated. These fragments were then mathematically reassembled based on the smoothness of the joints. Both sides of the cranium were reassembled separately, and then aligned based on bilateral symmetry and the distance between the mandibular fossae obtained from the associated mandible. The position of the isolated maxilla was determined based on the position of the mandible that was anatomically articulated to the mandibular fossae. To restore missing basicranial and damaged endocranial regions, the cranium of Forbes’ Quarry 1 was warped onto that of La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1, and the resulting composite Neanderthal cranium was then warped onto the reconstructed Amud 1 by an iterative thin-plate spline deformation. Comparison of the computer reconstruction with the original indicated that the newly reconstructed Amud 1 cranium was slightly shorter and wider in the anteroposterior and mediolateral directions, respectively, suggesting that it was relatively more brachycephalic. The endocranial volume was estimated to be 1,736 cm3, which was quite similar to the original estimated value of 1,740 cm3.

     
  Body mass estimation from knee breadth, with application to early hominins, di N. Squyres, C. B. Ruff, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 158, Issue 2, pages 198–208, October 2015

The estimation of living body mass from skeletal dimensions is an important component of many studies of early hominins and more recent human archaeological remains. Most previous investigations have concentrated on weight-bearing elements of the lower limb, in particular the femoral head. In this study, we develop new body mass estimation equations derived from measurements of the knee in a modern sample of known body mass, and use them to estimate body mass in 11 fossil hominin specimens (including Au. africanus, Au. afarensis, and early Homo). The reference sample consisted of 100 living subjects who participated in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Mediolateral breadth measurements were taken from radiographs of the knee, and regressed against recorded body weight to generate body mass estimation equations. Knee dimensions were generally found to be good predictors of body mass in the modern human sample, with median absolute percent prediction errors of 7 to 9% (comparable to or better than previously reported equations derived from the femoral head). Taxon-average estimated body masses were 46.1 kg for Au. afarensis, 38.4 kg for Au. africanus, and 53.6 kg for early Homo.

     
  Human occupation of Central Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum: new evidence from Moravia, Czech Republic, di P. Škrdla, L. Nejman, J. Bartík, T. Rychtaříková, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 347, October 2015

This article presents a brief examination of a recently discovered Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) site in Moravia. LGM sites are relatively rare in this part of Europe because it was abandoned by humans at the height of the last Ice Age due to decreasing temperatures and increasing aridity (Verpoorte 2004). Almost all ice sheets were at their LGM positions from 26.5ka to 19–20ka (Clark et al. 2009). One site that does date to this period is Mohelno, located close to the Jihlava River in the Czech-Moravian Highlands (Figure 1). At the time of occupation, it was situated near the bottom of a deeply incised river valley on a plateau c. 15–20m above the original level of the river. Steep slopes shielded the site from the north-east, north and west, forming a natural amphitheatre open to the south. This favourable position, and the heat-accumulating characteristics of the local rocks (orthogneiss, serpentinite), probably provided a ‘micro-oasis’ during the harsh climatic conditions of the LGM. Today, the site is situated below the water level of the Mohelno reservoir (Figure 2), which forms part of the Dalešice pumped-storage hydroelectric power station. Unique lithic artefacts and stone structures, interpreted as the remains of dwellings, reveal the complex character of the LGM occupation of Central Europe. (...)

     
  Did our Late Palaeolithic ancestors use stick shuttles for weaving and netting?, di M. Bless, C. Fernández Narvaiza, J. M. Adovasio, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 347, October 2015

Over a century ago, De Maret (1879) observed similarities between the round reindeer-antler sticks, with two deeply notched ends of Middle Magdalenian (16 700–15 700 BC) date from Le Placard (France), with weaving or netting shuttles (French navettes) still in use in nineteenth-century France (Allain et al. 1985). Then and now, however, practically all stick shuttles are either needle-like or flat, and therefore quite different from the round Magdalenian navettes (Figure 1). Moreover, the term ‘navette’ implied that Late Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers had already developed the technology of weaving or netting. This latter issue explains why later authors dismissed the suggestion that these reindeer-antler sticks might have been used for weaving or netting, even if they continued to refer to these very distinctive artefacts as navettes (Bahn 2001). As the netting- or weaving-shuttle hypothesis had been rejected, the navettes had to be interpreted differently; for example, as intermediate pieces (‘foreshafts’) connecting bone or antler points (‘sagaies’) to wooden shafts (e.g. Kozlowski et al. 1995), or as handles for end scrapers (Allain et al. 1985). And yet the end scrapers from Maszycka (Poland) are too thick to fit into the notches of the navettes from that location (Kozlowski et al. 1995), and it is hard to imagine the curved navette from Le Placard (Figure 2) as the foreshaft for an atlatl. (...)

     
  Denisovan Ancestry in East Eurasian and Native American Populations, di P. Qin, M. Stoneking, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 32, October 2015, Issue 10, pp. 2665-2674

Although initial studies suggested that Denisovan ancestry was found only in modern human populations from island Southeast Asia and Oceania, more recent studies have suggested that Denisovan ancestry may be more widespread. However, the geographic extent of Denisovan ancestry has not been determined, and moreover the relationship between the Denisovan ancestry in Oceania and that elsewhere has not been studied. Here we analyze genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism data from 2,493 individuals from 221 worldwide populations, and show that there is a widespread signal of a very low level of Denisovan ancestry across Eastern Eurasian and Native American (EE/NA) populations. We also verify a higher level of Denisovan ancestry in Oceania than that in EE/NA; the Denisovan ancestry in Oceania is correlated with the amount of New Guinea ancestry, but not the amount of Australian ancestry, indicating that recent gene flow from New Guinea likely accounts for signals of Denisovan ancestry across Oceania. However, Denisovan ancestry in EE/NA populations is equally correlated with their New Guinea or their Australian ancestry, suggesting a common source for the Denisovan ancestry in EE/NA and Oceanian populations. Our results suggest that Denisovan ancestry in EE/NA is derived either from common ancestry with, or gene flow from, the common ancestor of New Guineans and Australians, indicating a more complex history involving East Eurasians and Oceanians than previously suspected.

     
 

Experimental and functional analysis of late Middle Paleolithic flake cleavers from southwestern Europe (France and Spain), di É. Claud, M. Deschamps, D. Colonge, V. Mourre, C. Thiébaut, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 62, October 2015, Pages 105–127

The presence of flake cleavers at the end of the Middle Paleolithic in the Vasco-Cantabria region (southwestern France and northern Spain) is one element of the variability in Mousterian lithic industries in southwestern Europe. Because the function of these tools has rarely been studied, we undertook a use-wear analysis of them in order to gain a better understanding of the technological characteristics of late Middle Paleolithic industries in this geographic zone. We conducted a series of experiments using these tools for activities associated with the processing of animal and vegetal materials. The experimental reference collection thus constituted was subject to a low-power use-wear analysis and served as the basis of our interpretation of the use-wear traces present on the archaeological flake cleavers of several assemblages (Olha I and II, Gatzarria, El Castillo). These flake cleavers revealed similarities with the experimental pieces that were hafted and used for percussion to fell trees and divide carcasses. These data allow us to discuss the role of functional and cultural factors in the development of this tool type.

     
  The Dynamics of Small Postglacial Lake Basins and the Nature of Their Archaeological Record: A Case Study of the Middle Palaeolithic Site Neumark-Nord 2, Germany, di E. Pop, C. Bakels, W. Kuijper, H. Mücher, M. van Dijk, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 30, Issue 5, pages 393–413, September/October 2015

Due to favorable conditions of preservation, sedimentary basins provide rich records of human behavior and its environmental context. The conditions for the preservation of archaeological material however vary between basin types (large, river-fed or small, closed basins), while conditions also differ within a particular basin environment. The goal of this paper is to understand how the dynamics of a small postglacial basin such as Neumark-Nord 2, a context that dominates the Eemian archaeological record, affected the archaeology situated at its basin margin. The approach used here is to correlate the archaeological record with reconstructions of patterns of deposition and the water conditions within the basin, using lithology, micromorphology, pollen, and macroremains from a transect running from the basin center to the margin. The results show that (1) find levels were exposed to overland flow-induced winnowing, which vertically concentrated finds but did not cause significant transport, (2) find levels correspond to phases of increased water presence in the basin, and (3) lateral shifts in hominin activity areas may reflect adjustments in the water level. The research shows the importance of large-scale archaeological excavations and a multidisciplinary sampling strategy that covers both the basin center and the margins, when studying postglacial basin localities like Neumark-Nord 2.

     
  Hommes et environnements au Paléolithique supérieur en Ukraine continentale et en Crimée Rédacteurs invités: Stéphane Péan et Sandrine Prat. "L'Anthropologie", Volume 118, Issue 5, Pages 479-598 (November–December 2014):

- Hommes et environnements au Paléolithique supérieur en Ukraine continentale et en Crimée: introduction

- Codes mythiques du Mézinien

- Analyse du débitage laminaire du site de Mezhyrich: habitations no 1, 2 et 3

- Isotopes stables (13C, 15N) du collagène des mammouths de Mezhyrich (Epigravettien, Ukraine): implications paléoécologiques

- Analyse des micromammifères du site épigravettien de Mezhyrich (Ukraine)

- Les assemblages lithiques du site épigravettien de Buzhanka 2 (Ukraine)

- Les occupations gravettiennes de Buran-Kaya III (Crimée): contexte archéologique

- Stress physiologique et état de santé des plus anciens Hommes anatomiquement modernes du sud-est de l’Europe (données dentaires, couche 6-1, Buran-Kaya III, Crimée)

- Comportements de subsistance au Paléolithique supérieur en Crimée : analyse archéozoologique des couches 6-2, 6-1 et 5-2 de Buran-Kaya III

     
  Multistep food plant processing at Grotta Paglicci (Southern Italy) around 32,600 cal B.P., di M. M. Lippi, B. Foggi, B. Aranguren, A. Ronchitelli, A. Revedin,"Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", September 29, 2015, vol. 112, no. 39, pp. 12075-12080

Residue analyses on a grinding tool recovered at Grotta Paglicci sublayer 23A [32,614 ± 429 calibrated (cal) B.P.], Southern Italy, have demonstrated that early modern humans collected and processed various plants. The recording of starch grains attributable to Avena (oat) caryopses expands our information about the food plants used for producing flour in Europe during the Paleolithic and about the origins of a food tradition persisting up to the present in the Mediterranean basin. The quantitative distribution of the starch grains on the surface of the grinding stone furnished information about the tool handling, confirming its use as a pestle-grinder, as suggested by the wear-trace analysis. The particular state of preservation of the starch grains suggests the use of a thermal treatment before grinding, possibly to accelerate drying of the plants, making the following process easier and faster. The study clearly indicates that the exploitation of plant resources was very important for hunter–gatherer populations, to the point that the Early Gravettian inhabitants of Paglicci were able to process food plants and already possessed a wealth of knowledge that was to become widespread after the dawn of agriculture.

· La prima farina della storia fu prodotta nel Gargano, "Le Scienze", 8/9/2015

     
  Possible Further Evidence of Low Genetic Diversity in the El Sidrón (Asturias, Spain) Neandertal Group: Congenital Clefts of the Atlas, di L. Ríos et alii, "PLoS ONE", September 29, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136550 - open access -

We present here the first cases in Neandertals of congenital clefts of the arch of the atlas. Two atlases from El Sidrón, northern Spain, present respectively a defect of the posterior (frequency in extant modern human populations ranging from 0.73% to 3.84%), and anterior (frequency in extant modern human populations ranging from 0.087% to 0.1%) arch, a condition in most cases not associated with any clinical manifestation. The fact that two out of three observable atlases present a low frequency congenital condition, together with previously reported evidence of retained deciduous mandibular canine in two out of ten dentitions from El Sidrón, supports the previous observation based on genetic evidence that these Neandertals constituted a group with close genetic relations. Some have proposed for humans and other species that the presence of skeletal congenital conditions, although without clinical significance, could be used as a signal of endogamy or inbreeding. In the present case this interpretation would fit the general scenario of high incidence of rare conditions among Pleistocene humans and the specific scenariothat emerges from Neandertal paleogenetics, which points to long-term small and decreasing population size with reduced and isolated groups. Adverse environmental factors affecting early pregnancies would constitute an alternative, non-exclusive, explanation for a high incidence of congenital conditions. Further support or rejection of these interpretations will come from new genetic and skeletal evidence from Neandertal remains. (...)
     
  Early hominin auditory capacities, di Rolf Quam et alii, "Science Advances", 25 Sep 2015, Vol. 1, no. 8

Studies of sensory capacities in past life forms have offered new insights into their adaptations and lifeways. Audition is particularly amenable to study in fossils because it is strongly related to physical properties that can be approached through their skeletal structures. We have studied the anatomy of the outer and middle ear in the early hominin taxa Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus and estimated their auditory capacities. Compared with chimpanzees, the early hominin taxa are derived toward modern humans in their slightly shorter and wider external auditory canal, smaller tympanic membrane, and lower malleus/incus lever ratio, but they remain primitive in the small size of their stapes footplate. Compared with chimpanzees, both early hominin taxa show a heightened sensitivity to frequencies between 1.5 and 3.5 kHz and an occupied band of maximum sensitivity that is shifted toward slightly higher frequencies. The results have implications for sensory ecology and communication, and suggest that the early hominin auditory pattern may have facilitated an increased emphasis on short-range vocal communication in open habitats.

     
  Green Arabia: Human Prehistory at the Cross-roads of Continents, "Quaternary International", Volume 382, Pages 1-302 (24 September 2015). Edited by Michael D. Petraglia, Huw Groucutt, Ash Parton and Abdullah Alsharekh
     
  Fossil hominin shoulders support an African ape-like last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, di N. M. Young, T. D. Capellini, N. T. Roach, Z. Alemseged, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", September 22, 2015 vol. 112 no. 38 11829-11834

Reconstructing the behavioral shifts that drove hominin evolution requires knowledge of the timing, magnitude, and direction of anatomical changes over the past ~6–7 million years. These reconstructions depend on assumptions regarding the morphotype of the Homo–Pan last common ancestor (LCA). However, there is little consensus for the LCA, with proposed models ranging from African ape to orangutan or generalized Miocene ape-like. The ancestral state of the shoulder is of particular interest because it is functionally associated with important behavioral shifts in hominins, such as reduced arboreality, high-speed throwing, and tool use. However, previous morphometric analyses of both living and fossil taxa have yielded contradictory results. Here, we generated a 3D morphospace of ape and human scapular shape to plot evolutionary trajectories, predict ancestral morphologies, and directly test alternative evolutionary hypotheses using the hominin fossil evidence. We show that the most parsimonious model for the evolution of hominin shoulder shape starts with an African ape-like ancestral state. We propose that the shoulder evolved gradually along a single morphocline, achieving modern human-like configuration and function within the genus Homo. These data are consistent with a slow, progressive loss of arboreality and increased tool use throughout human evolution.

     
  Humanity's long, lonely road, di A. Gibbons, "Science", 18 September 2015: Vol. 349 no. 6254 p. 1270

The oldest nuclear DNA ever sequenced from a human ancestor has shaken up our family tree. At a meeting of the European Society for the study of Human Evolution last week, paleogeneticist Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, reported that he and his colleagues have analyzed nuclear DNA from mysterious Spanish fossils thought to be 300,000 to 400,000 years old. The result settles a long-standing puzzle about the identity of the fossils. It also implies that the ancestors of modern humans parted ways with their archaic relatives hundreds of thousands of years earlier than was thought. The finding “resolves one controversy—[the fossils] are in the Neandertal clade,” says paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. “But it's not all good news, from my point of view: It pushes back the origin of Homo sapiens,” presenting him and other experts in human origins with a new puzzle. The thousands of bones and teeth from 28 individuals found in the mid-1990s at Spain's Sima de los Huesos (“pit of bones”) cave had always looked a lot like primitive Neandertals, the archaic humans who inhabited ice-age Europe. But they were so old that researchers had classified them as an earlier species, H. heidelbergensis, which lived about 600,000 to 250,000 years ago in Europe, Africa, and Asia and was seen as a possible common ancestor of Neandertals and modern humans. (...)

     
 

Siberian cave was home to generations of mysterious ancient humans, di A. Gibbons, "Science-News", 15 September 2015

In 2010, scientists discovered a new kind of human by sequencing DNA from a girl’s pinky finger found in Denisova Cave in Siberia. Ever since, researchers have wondered when the girl lived, and if her people, called Denisovans, lingered in the cave or just passed through. But the elusive Denisovans left almost no fossil record—only that bit of bone and a handful of teeth—and they came from a site that was notoriously difficult to date. Now, state-of-the-art DNA analysis on the Denisovan molars and new dates on cave material show that Denisovans occupied the cave surprisingly early and came back repeatedly. The data suggest that the girl lived at least 50,000 years ago and that two other Denisovan individuals died in the cave at least 110,000 years ago and perhaps as early as 170,000 years ago, according to two talks here last week at the meeting of the European Society for the study of Human Evolution. Although the new age estimates have wide margins of error, they help solidify our murky view of Denisovans and provide “really convincing evidence of multiple occupations of the cave,” says paleoanthropologist Fred Spoor of University College London. “You can seriously see it’s a valid species.” (...)

     
  Postcranial morphology of the middle Pleistocene humans from Sima de los Huesos, Spain, di J. L. Arsuaga et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", September 15, 2015, vol. 112, no. 37, pp. 11524-11529

Current knowledge of the evolution of the postcranial skeleton in the genus Homo is hampered by a geographically and chronologically scattered fossil record. Here we present a complete characterization of the postcranium of the middle Pleistocene paleodeme from the Sima de los Huesos (SH) and its paleobiological implications. The SH hominins show the following: (i) wide bodies, a plesiomorphic character in the genus Homo inherited from their early hominin ancestors; (ii) statures that can be found in modern human middle-latitude populations that first appeared 1.6–1.5 Mya; and (iii) large femoral heads in some individuals, a trait that first appeared during the middle Pleistocene in Africa and Europe. The intrapopulational size variation in SH shows that the level of dimorphism was similar to modern humans (MH), but the SH hominins were less encephalized than Neandertals. SH shares many postcranial anatomical features with Neandertals. Although most of these features appear to be either plesiomorphic retentions or are of uncertain phylogenetic polarity, a few represent Neandertal apomorphies. Nevertheless, the full suite of Neandertal-derived features is not yet present in the SH population. The postcranial evidence is consistent with the hypothesis based on the cranial morphology that the SH hominins are a sister group to the later Neandertals. Comparison of the SH postcranial skeleton to other hominins suggests that the evolution of the postcranium occurred in a mosaic mode, both at a general and at a detailed level.
     
 

DNA from Neandertal relative may shake up human family tree, di A. Gibbons, "Science-News", 11 September 2015

In a remarkable technical feat, researchers have sequenced DNA from fossils in Spain that are about 300,000 to 400,000 years old and have found an ancestor—or close relative—of Neandertals. The nuclear DNA, which is the oldest ever sequenced from a member of the human family, may push back the date for the origins of the distinct ancestors of Neandertals and modern humans, according to a presentation here yesterday at the fifth annual meeting of the European Society for the study of human evolution. Ever since researchers first discovered thousands of bones and teeth from 28 individuals in the mid-1990s from Sima de los Huesos (“pit of bones”), a cave in the Atapuerca Mountains of Spain, they had noted that the fossils looked a lot like primitive Neandertals. The Sima people, who lived before Neandertals, were thought to have emerged in Europe. Yet their teeth, jaws, and large nasal cavities were among the traits that closely resembled those of Neandertals, according to a team led by paleontologist Juan-Luis Arsuaga of the Complutense University of Madrid. As a result, his team classified the fossils as members of Homo heidelbergensis, a species that lived about 600,000 to 250,000 years ago in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Many researchers have thought H. heidelbergensis gave rise to Neandertals and perhaps also to our species, H. sapiens, in the past 400,000 years or so. (...)

     
  "Crowdsourcing digs up an early human species", di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 10 September 2015

“Dear colleagues — I need the help of the whole community,” palaeoanthropologist Lee Berger posted on social media on 6 October 2013. Berger, based at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, had just learned of a small underground chamber loaded with early human fossils. He was looking for experienced excavators to collect the delicate remains before they deteriorated further. “The catch is this,” Berger went on. “The person must be skinny and preferably small. They must not be claustrophobic, they must be fit, they should have some caving experience.” Less than two years after he posted this missive, Berger and his team have pieced together more than 1,500 ancient human bones and teeth from the Rising Star cave system — the biggest cache of such material ever found in Africa. The remains belong to at least 15 individuals of a previously undescribed species that the team has dubbed Homo naledi, and they may mark the oldest known deliberate burial in human history, Berger and his colleagues report in eLife1, 2. For Berger, the research marks a milestone in a campaign to transform palaeoanthropology into an open and inclusive field, in which rare fossils are rapidly shared with the scientific world instead of being squirrelled away as an elite few scrutinize them for years. (...)
     
  On the Chronological Structure of the Solutrean in Southern Iberia, di J. Cascalheira, N. Bicho, September 10, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0137308  - open access -

The Solutrean techno-complex has gained particular significance over time for representing a clear demographic and techno-typological deviation from the developments occurred during the course of the Upper Paleolithic in Western Europe. Some of Solutrean’s most relevant features are the diversity and techno-typological characteristics of the lithic armatures. These have been recurrently used as pivotal elements in numerous Solutrean-related debates, including the chronological organization of the techno-complex across Iberia and Southwestern France. In Southern Iberia, patterns of presence and/or absence of specific point types in stratified sequences tend to validate the classical ordering of the techno-complex into Lower, Middle and Upper phases, although some evidence, namely radiocarbon determinations, have not always been corroborative. Here we present the first comprehensive analysis of the currently available radiocarbon data for the Solutrean in Southern Iberia. We use a Bayesian statistical approach from 13 stratified sequences to compare the duration, and the start and end moments of each classic Solutrean phase across sites. We conclude that, based on the current data, the traditional organization of the Solutrean cannot be unquestionably confirmed for Southern Iberia, calling into doubt the status of the classically-defined type-fossils as precise temporal markers. (...)

     
  Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, di L. R Berger et alii, "eLife" 2015, September 10, 2015, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.09560 - open access -

Homo naledi is a previously-unknown species of extinct hominin discovered within the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. This species is characterized by body mass and stature similar to small-bodied human populations but a small endocranial volume similar to australopiths. Cranial morphology of H. naledi is unique, but most similar to early Homo species including Homo erectus, Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis. While primitive, the dentition is generally small and simple in occlusal morphology. H. naledi has humanlike manipulatory adaptations of the hand and wrist. It also exhibits a humanlike foot and lower limb. These humanlike aspects are contrasted in the postcrania with a more primitive or australopith-like trunk, shoulder, pelvis and proximal femur. Representing at least 15 individuals with most skeletal elements repeated multiple times, this is the largest assemblage of a single species of hominins yet discovered in Africa. (...)

· Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, di Paul HGM Dirks et alii, "eLife" 2015, September 10, 2015

· New human species discovered, di A. Gibbons, "Science News", 10 September 2015

· L’Homo naledi a metà tra scimmia antropomorfa e uomo, "Il Fatto Storico", ottobre 11, 2015

· New species of human relative discovered in S.A. cave, "EurekAlert", 10-SEP-2015

· Homo naledi des caractéristiques en mosaïque... mi-homme moderne, mi-australopithèque ! (10/0915)

· Un uomo misterioso, "National Geographic Italia", ottobre 2015

· This Face Changes the Human Story. But How? di J. Shreeve, "National Geographic", SEPTEMBER 10, 2015

     
  Néandertal faisait boullir de l'eau? 08/09/15

Les archéologues ont mis à jour quelques éléments permettant de reconstituer les différentes zones de l’aire d’habitation de Néandertal. Une petite cavité artificielle a peut-être permis de chauffer de l’eau… pour la cuisine ou pour la toilette? (...)
 

Aggiornamento 5 settembre

 
  A one-million-year-old hominid distal ulna from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, di L. J. Hlusko, W. B. Reiner, J. K. Njau, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 158, Issue 1, pages 36–42, September 2015

Our aim was to recover new evidence of the evolution of the hominid lineage. We undertook paleontological fieldwork at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, in one of the richest paleoanthropological sites in the world, documenting the evolution of our lineage and its environmental contexts over the last 2 million years. During field work in 2012, the Olduvai Vertebrate Paleontology Project discovered the distal end of a hominid ulna (OH 82) on the north side of Olduvai Gorge a few meters west of the Third Fault, eroding from Bed III sediments that are ~1 million years in age. The size and morphology of this distal ulna falls within the normal range of variation seen in humans, although at the larger end of the distribution. Am J Phys Anthropol 158:36–42, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

     
  The demography of the Upper Palaeolithic hunter–gatherers of Southwestern France: A multi-proxy approach using archaeological data, di J. C. French, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 39, September 2015, Pages 193–209

Demographic change is increasingly cited as an explanation for many of the patterns seen in the Palaeolithic archaeological record, following the assumption of a relationship between population size and material culture espoused by dual inheritance theory. However, the empirical testing of this relationship relies on the ability to extract information about past population patterns from the archaeological record. Using the extensive and well-studied record of the Upper Palaeolithic (∼39,500–11,500 cal BP) hunter–gatherers of Southwestern France as a case-study, this paper compares the evidence for changes in relative population size as seen in three popular archaeological proxies for demographic change (site counts, site sizes, and occupation intensity estimates). These proxies present conflicting results across the sequence; a finding which is explored through the impact of taphonomic biases and past research agendas. Numbers of sheltered sites and quantities of retouched stone tools are suggested to be the most reliable demographic proxies. The problem of equifinality of interpretation in archaeological proxies for demography is examined for the Aurignacian and Gravettian periods in the region, with changes in lithic raw material, faunal acquisition strategies, and hunter–gatherer mobility all potentially contributing to the patterns documented.

     
  Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 86, Pages 1-146 (September 2015):

Modularity of the anthropoid dentition: Implications for the evolution of the hominin canine honing complex, di L. K. Delezene, Pages 1-12

Influence of Plio-Pleistocene basin hydrology on the Turkana hominin enamel carbonate δ18O values, di R. L. Quinn, Pages 13-31

On the local Mousterian origin of the Châtelperronian: Integrating typo-technological, chronostratigraphic and contextual data, di K. Ruebens, S.J.P. McPherron, J. J. Hublin, Pages 55-91

Chronostratigraphy of KNM-ER 3733 and other Area 104 hominins from Koobi Fora,
di C. J. Lepre, D. V. Kent, Pages 99-111

Taphonomy of fossils from the hominin-bearing deposits at Dikika, Ethiopia,
di J. C. Thompson et alii, Pages 112-135

     
 

Assessing bone and antler exploitation at Riparo Mochi (Balzi Rossi, Italy): implications for the characterization of the Aurignacian in South-western Europe, di J. M. Tejero, S. Grimaldi, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 61, September 2015, Pages 59–77

The Aurignacian typo-technological tradition has long been considered linked with the dispersal of anatomically Modern Humans over western Eurasia at the onset of the Upper Palaeolithic. In Europe it is commonly divided into two main phases, the Proto-Aurignacian and the Early Aurignacian whose definitions is based on the typo-technological features of lithics and some osseous “markers” like the split-based points. The osseous industry has recurrently been cited as a major innovation signaling the transition from Middle to Early Upper Palaeolithic. Nevertheless, recent studies strongly suggest that the real innovation is antler working, as bone working has been found to be similar in the Mousterian and the Early Upper Palaeolithic. Riparo Mochi is among the key Western European sites for assessing the nature of shifts and continuities between the Proto- and Early Aurignacian phases of the technocomplex. These data are significant for the study of the distribution of the first anatomically Modern Humans in Eurasia owing to several factors: (1) preservation of the Proto- and Early Aurignacian levels; (2) their location along the likely southern dispersal route of the Aurignacian; (3) the richness of archaeological evidence; and (4) recent re-evaluation of their chrono-stratigraphy. The study of worked osseous remains allows us to establish the comparative characteristics of animal raw material exploitation within the Riparo Mochi Aurignacian. Results demonstrate that animal raw material exploitation increases from the bottom to the top of the archaeological sequence at this site. Hunting weapons, as well as personal ornaments other than those made on shells, are only present in Early Aurignacian layers. Antler working is not documented in the Proto-Aurignacian, which is consistent with the hypothesis of the appearance of antler hunting weapons only after the Heinrich Stadial 4 and Campanian Ignimbrite climatic events.

     
 

Isotope and faunal evidence for high levels of freshwater fish consumption by Late Glacial humans at the Late Upper Palaeolithic site of Šandalja II, Istria, Croatia, di M. P. Richards, I. Karavanić, P. Pettitt, P. Miracle, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 61, September 2015, Pages 204–212

Here we report on isotope and faunal evidence for intensive use of freshwater resources by Late Upper Palaeolithic humans from the Šandalja II site in Croatia. Carbon and nitrogen bone collagen isotopic analysis of humans and fauna from the site indicate that the main protein source in human diets at this time was freshwater fish, which is in contrast to the vertebrate remains that show a high abundance of large terrestrial herbivores from the Late Upper Palaeolithic levels at the site. These data add to the growing body of research that shows an increasing intensification in the use of aquatic resources in Europe towards the end of the Pleistocene.

     
  Postcranial morphology of the middle Pleistocene humans from Sima de los Huesos, Spain, di Juan Luis Arsuaga et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences-Early edition", August 31, 2015, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1514828112

Current knowledge of the evolution of the postcranial skeleton in the genus Homo is hampered by a geographically and chronologically scattered fossil record. Here we present a complete characterization of the postcranium of the middle Pleistocene paleodeme from the Sima de los Huesos (SH) and its paleobiological implications. The SH hominins show the following: (i) wide bodies, a plesiomorphic character in the genus Homo inherited from their early hominin ancestors; (ii) statures that can be found in modern human middle-latitude populations that first appeared 1.6–1.5 Mya; and (iii) large femoral heads in some individuals, a trait that first appeared during the middle Pleistocene in Africa and Europe. The intrapopulational size variation in SH shows that the level of dimorphism was similar to modern humans (MH), but the SH hominins were less encephalized than Neandertals. SH shares many postcranial anatomical features with Neandertals. Although most of these features appear to be either plesiomorphic retentions or are of uncertain phylogenetic polarity, a few represent Neandertal apomorphies. Nevertheless, the full suite of Neandertal-derived features is not yet present in the SH population. The postcranial evidence is consistent with the hypothesis based on the cranial morphology that the SH hominins are a sister group to the later Neandertals. Comparison of the SH postcranial skeleton to other hominins suggests that the evolution of the postcranium occurred in a mosaic mode, both at a general and at a detailed level.

     
  A taste of an elephant: The probable role of elephant meat in Paleolithic diet preferences, di  H. Reshef, R. Barkai, "Quaternary International" (Mammoths and their Relatives: VIth International Conference, Grevena-Siatista, Greece, part 1), Volume 379, 27 August 2015, Pages 28–34

Taste plays an essential role in human life and has a major impact on people's food preferences. Based on the recent discovery of taste-related genes in a Neanderthal and the assumption that taste preferences are likely to have existed in earlier Paleolithic times also, we believe that this is a potentially useful line of inquiry. Since taste preferences are embedded within social and cultural imprinting, we explore the very long nutritional, cultural and perceptional connection between humans and elephants in the Paleolithic period in order to examine the probable role of taste in decision-making regarding elephant procurement and consumption. The aim of this study is to explore the extent to which taste preference could be detected in relation to elephant consumption. We have compiled ethno-historical accounts of elephant consumption from Africa in an attempt to establish patterns based on taste preferences. We then investigated Paleolithic faunal assemblages that contained elephant remains in an attempt to detect preferences that might have influenced food selection in the deep past. We suggest that early hominins might have had taste preferences and that elephant meat played a significant role in their diet, when available. Furthermore, the archaeological evidence coupled with ethnographic observations and the study of frozen mammoths suggest that juvenile elephants were specifically a delicacy and were hunted intentionally since their specific meat and fat composition seems to have had a better taste and a better nutritional value.

     
  Hunters of the giants: Woolly mammoth hunting during the Gravettian in Central Europe, di P. Wojtal, J. Wilczyński, "Quaternary International" (Mammoths and their Relatives: VIth International Conference, Grevena-Siatista, Greece, part 1), Volume 379, 27 August 2015, Pages 71–81

Between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago, Gravettian hunter-gatherers spread across most of Europe. In Central Europe, large and important sites have been discovered, especially those in the Czech Republic at the base of the Pavlovské (Palava) Hills, and in southern Poland. The remains of different mammalian carnivores and herbivores accumulated in bone assemblages at these Gravettian sites. Mammoth bones and teeth are significant components in them. Mammoths certainly played a significant role in the lifetime of the Central European societies of Gravettian hunter-gatherers. These Pleistocene giants provided not only food, but also raw materials for tools and the production of ornaments. The presence of the remains of many mammoths shows that the Gravettian people were specialized in the hunting of these animals.

     
  La Roque Saint-Christophe. Fort et cité troglodytiques. Peyzac-le-Moustier - Périgord - Dordogne. Une visite pour toute la famille

Nous nous situons sur la route qui mène des Eyzies-de-Tayac à Montignac (Lascaux). A quelques centaines de mètres du gisement mondialement connu du Moustier, la falaise blanche de la Roque Saint-Christophe domine massivement la vallée sur plus de 900 mètres de longueur. A ses pieds coule toujours la Vézère qui, depuis les temps paléolithiques, donnait une raison de plus aux hommes préhistoriques de s’installer sur le site. Sur 80 mètres de hauteur l’eau, le gel et le dégel ont creusé naturellement de longues terrasses aériennes et près d’une centaine d’abris sous roche. A partir de l’époque historique l’homme a modifié, creusé, taillé la pierre pour aménager dans la roche calcaire de véritables villages troglodytiques… On estime qu’au Moyen-Age le grand abri a pu héberger plus de 1 500 personnes. (...)

     
  Earliest modern human-like hand bone from a new >1.84-million-year-old site at Olduvai in Tanzania, di M. Domínguez-Rodrigo et alii, "Nature Communications" 6, Article number: 7987, doi:10.1038/ncomms8987, 18 August 2015

Modern humans are characterized by specialized hand morphology that is associated with advanced manipulative skills. Thus, there is important debate in paleoanthropology about the possible cause–effect relationship of this modern human-like (MHL) hand anatomy, its associated grips and the invention and use of stone tools by early hominins. Here we describe and analyse Olduvai Hominin (OH) 86, a manual proximal phalanx from the recently discovered >1.84-million-year-old (Ma) Philip Tobias Korongo (PTK) site at Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). OH 86 represents the earliest MHL hand bone in the fossil record, of a size and shape that differs not only from all australopiths, but also from the phalangeal bones of the penecontemporaneous and geographically proximate OH 7 partial hand skeleton (part of the Homo habilis holotype). The discovery of OH 86 suggests that a hominin with a more MHL postcranium co-existed with Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis at Olduvai during Bed I times.

· Un "nuovo" ominide con la più antica mano simile alla nostra?, "Le Scienze", 20 agosto 2015

     
  The massive fossil humerus from the Oldowan horizon of Gombore I, Melka Kunture (Ethiopia, >1.39 Ma), di F. Di Vincenzo et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 122, 15 August 2015, Pages 207–221

A well-preserved distal portion of a left humerus was discovered in 1976 during excavations directed by J. Chavaillon at the Gombore I site, in the Melka Kunture area (Ethiopia). The specimen, labelled Gombore IB-7594 (formally Melka Kunture 3, or MK3), was found in situ within unit 2 of level B, which is dated to >1.39 Ma and includes a rich Oldowan Paleolithic assemblage. Although MK3 has never been described in detail, it appeared in the literature several times and, from a taxonomic point of view, has been alternatively regarded as Homo, Australopithecus or Paranthropus. According to our analysis, MK3 exhibits a suite of features that fit the variability of the genus Homo and does not display any clear Australopithecus/Paranthropus affinity. Nevertheless, MK3 adds a great deal of variability to the genus Homo, at least as far as the Early Pleistocene fossil record is concerned. In particular, our quantitative approach, which combines traditional morphometric analyses and geometric morphometrics, highlights traits that are uncommon among the Plio-Pleistocene fossil record, while affinities with Mid-to-Late Pleistocene representatives of Homo are observed. In addition, the large size of MK3 suggests that this humerus belonged to an individual whose body weight approached 90 kg, far from the range of body size known for Homo representatives in the Early Pleistocene and as big as those of extant humans or even gorillas. We suggest that such peculiar features are of interest when regarded from an ecological perspective; thus, dimension and morphology of MK3 may be considered as an exaptation that became useful when early humans dispersed to high altitudes such as those of the upper Awash basin on the Ethiopian plateau, at heights above 2000 m.

     
 

An early modern human from Romania with a recent Neanderthal ancestor, di Q. Fu et alii, Nature 524, pp. 216–219 (13 August 2015)

Neanderthals are thought to have disappeared in Europe approximately 39,000–41,000 years ago but they have contributed 1–3% of the DNA of present-day people in Eurasia1. Here we analyse DNA from a 37,000–42,000-year-old2 modern human from Peştera cu Oase, Romania. Although the specimen contains small amounts of human DNA, we use an enrichment strategy to isolate sites that are informative about its relationship to Neanderthals and present-day humans. We find that on the order of 6–9% of the genome of the Oase individual is derived from Neanderthals, more than any other modern human sequenced to date. Three chromosomal segments of Neanderthal ancestry are over 50 centimorgans in size, indicating that this individual had a Neanderthal ancestor as recently as four to six generations back. However, the Oase individual does not share more alleles with later Europeans than with East Asians, suggesting that the Oase population did not contribute substantially to later humans in Europe.

· Trisavoli neanderthaliani per uno dei primi europei, "Le Scienze", 22 giugno 2015

     
  Dancing to the rhythms of the Pleistocene? Early Middle Paleolithic population dynamics in NW Iberia (Duero Basin and Cantabrian Region), di P. Sánchez Yustos, F. Diez Martín, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 121, 1 August 2015, Pages 75–88

The Northwest of Iberia has yielded one of the most complete European Middle Paleolithic records. Despite this wealth of information, very little is known about population dynamics during this period. For that reason, the main concern of this paper is to provide socio-environmental models that may help explain Early Middle Paleolithic (EMP) population dynamics in NW Iberia, assessing to what extent they were shaped by climate forces. The archaeological record is analyzed on the basis of the heuristics of ecological models, already employed in the European Pleistocene record but never at a regional scale, in order to detect long-term changes in the composition of EMP populations, and the environmental, biological and sociocultural process influencing those changes. According to the models proposed, we have detected a long-term population dynamic between MIS 11 and MIS 6, characterized by low environmental stress, high biological productivity, interaction among populations and sociocultural complexity. Eventually, this population dynamic was broken due to an extreme climate phase in late MIS 6 that had a profound impact on populations and sociocultural structures. As a result, the Upper Pleistocene population of NW Iberia was concentrated in the Cantabrian region. This area became an isolated Neanderthal glacial refugium that hosted a population with different origins and fragile long-term demographic stability.

     
 

The Terminal Late Palaeolithic in Wadi Kubbaniya, Egypt, di K. M. Banks, J. S. Snortland, L. Scott Cummings, M. C. Gatto, D. Usai, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 346, August 2015

In 2014, members of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition Foundation and the Aswan-Kom Ombo Archaeological Project (CPEF/AKAP) undertook investigations at site WK26 in Wadi Kubbaniya, Egypt. The site consists of a lithic scatter on the west side of the wadi, across from the Late Palaeolithic dune field explored by the Combined Prehistoric Expedition between 1978 and 1983 (Wendorf et al. 1980, 1986, 1989) (Figure 1). Based on radiocarbon dates and its stratigraphic position, WK26 dates to the end of the Late Palaeolithic Kubbaniya sequence (Wendorf & Schild 1989). Although sites of the early and middle portions of the sequence are well-documented, few sites dating to the end of the sequence have been identified and explored in the wadi or elsewhere in this area of Upper Egypt. The presence of hearths, postholes and depressions, along with faunal and floral remains, provide an insight into settlement and subsistence at the end of the Late Palaeolithic in the wadi. WK26 was first recorded in 2012 (Figure 2). An ashy area on top of apparent playa silts yielded a radiocarbon date of 12 060 BP +/- 50 RCYBP (Beta-319442). In addition, an Ounan point was found on the surface; such points have been dated elsewhere to the early-mid Holocene (Wendorf et al. 2001; MacDonald 2003; Riemer et al. 2004; Cancellieri & di Lernia 2014). These factors suggested that WK26 dated to the end of the Late Palaeolithic Kubbaniya sequence and was possibly more recent. Due to the potential age of the site, the CPEF/AKAP undertook excavations. (...)

     
 

Late Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic finds from the Pindus Mountains of western Macedonia (Greece), di P. Biagi, R. Nisbet, N. Efstratiou, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 346, August 2015

Fifteen years of surveys and excavations carried out in the highland zone of the Pindus range have greatly improved our knowledge of the exploitation of the high altitudes of north-western Greece. Although greater attention has often been paid to the Middle Palaeolithic Levallois sites, workshops and chert outcrops discovered around the Vlah centre of Samarina (Efstratiou et al. 2006, 2011, 2014), the systematic investigations conducted along the watersheds that surround the aforementioned town, and the slopes of the Gurguliu and Bogdhanis Mountains, have led to the discovery of many sites and isolated finds of Late Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Final Neolithic, Bronze and different historical ages. This paper aims to illustrate the discovery of a few Late Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic tools that, given the location of discovery, represent a unique case in the prehistory of this territory of western Macedonia. Although Late Palaeolithic sites are well attested in neighbouring Epirus (Higgs & Vita-Finzi 1966; Adam 1989; Bailey 1997), nothing was known of their presence at high altitudes in the Pindus range until a few years ago. The Pindus discoveries help interpret the routes followed by Late Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic hunters. They moved along the Samarina watersheds and across their saddles, midway between the lowlands of western Macedonia, east of the Pindos mountains, and Epirus, in the west, during different periods of the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene, when the alpine pastures of the Pindus were already deglaciated (Boenzi et al. 1992; Hughes et al. 2006a, 2006b). (...)

     
 

New Pleistocene evidence from the western coast of Central Italy: a landscape approach, di M. Gatta, M. F. Rolfo, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 346, August 2015

During the Last Glacial, the south-west of the Lazio region of Italy was a very hospitable environment. The Pontine Plain (Agro Pontino), protected by the Apennine Mountains and warmed by the Mediterranean Sea, served as an essential passage for both animals and humans between the north and the south of the Italian Peninsula. Frequent evidence of human presence in this region during the Late Pleistocene attests to its importance during prehistory. Nevertheless, an accurate environmental reconstruction is still to be carried out as many relevant sites were investigated prior to the development of modern and advanced laboratory techniques. (...)

     
 

Tracking in Caves: Experience Based Reading of Pleistocene Human Footprints in French Caves, di  A. Pastoors et alii, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 25 / Issue 03 / August 2015, pp 551-564

Some of the painted caves in southern France preserve human footprints from the Ice Age of 17,000 years ago. Research has so far dealt with them sparsely and through a morphometric approach only. In 2013 three indigenous hunters/trackers from the Kalahari had an opportunity to read several spoor accumulations in four caves on the basis of their indigenous knowledge. As a result of this morpho-classificatory approach to track reading they produced new hypotheses on prehistoric cave visitors. Most spectacular is the narrative which the trackers generated from the footprints not far from the clay bison at Tuc d’Audoubert. Further research is planned to inspect more tracks and look into the epistemological status of the indigenous tracking method.

     
 

Rethinking the Structural Analysis of Palaeolithic Art: New Perspectives on Leroi-Gourhan's Structuralism, di O. Moro Abadía, E. Palacio-Pérez, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 25 / Issue 03 / August 2015, pp 657-672

André Leroi-Gourhan's work is usually considered a paradigmatic example of the application of structuralist ideas to the study of Palaeolithic art. The association between Leroi-Gourhan and structuralism is, however, problematic. Leroi-Gourhan explicitly distinguished his approach from that of Lévi-Strauss. Furthermore, he developed an explanatory model for the analysis of cave and portable art based on a number of postulates that were not necessarily connected to structuralism. We examine Leroi-Gourhan's understanding of Palaeolithic art in order to determine the influence of structuralism upon his work. This examination will help us to consider some alternative perspectives on the so-called structural analysis of Palaeolithic art. Moreover, Leroi-Gourhan's case will allow us to reflect on how archaeologists appropriate theory from other disciplines and how intellectual production in archaeology works.

     
  Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 85, Pages 1-212 (August 2015):

Interpreting human behavior from depositional rates and combustion features through the study of sedimentary microfacies at site Pinnacle Point 5-6, South Africa, di P. Karkanas, K. S. Brown, E. C. Fisher, Z. Jacobs, C. W. Marean, Pages 1-21

A previously undescribed organic residue sheds light on heat treatment in the Middle Stone Age, di P. Schmidt et alii, Pages 22-34

Enamel thickness trends in Plio-Pleistocene hominin mandibular molars, di M. M. Skinner, Z. Alemseged, C. Gaunitz, J. J. Hublin, Pages 35-45

The relative correspondence of cranial and genetic distances in papionin taxa and the impact of allometric adjustments, di H. F. Smith, N. von Cramon-Taubadel, Pages 46-64

Could plant extracts have enabled hominins to acquire honey before the control of fire?, di T. S. Kraft, V. V. Venkataraman, Pages 65-74

Body mass estimates of hominin fossils and the evolution of human body size, di M. Grabowski, K. G. Hatala, W. L. Jungers, B. G. Richmond, Pages 75-93

Complex and changing patterns of natural selection explain the evolution of the human hip, di M. Grabowski, C. C. Roseman, Pages 94-110

New investigations at Kalambo Falls, Zambia: Luminescence chronology, site formation, and archaeological significance, di G. A.T. Duller, S. Tooth, L. Barham, S. Tsukamoto, Pages 111-125

Microbial osteolysis in an Early Pleistocene hominin (Paranthropus robustus) from Swartkrans, South Africa, di F. E. Grine, T. G. Bromage, D. J. Daegling, D. B. Burr, C. K. Brain, Pages 126-135

Using the morphology of the hominoid distal fibula to interpret arboreality in Australopithecus afarensis, di D. Marchi, Pages 136-148

Kinetics of bipedal locomotion during load carrying in capuchin monkeys, di J. B. Hanna et alii, Pages 149-156

Early Upper Paleolithic chronology in the Levant: new ABOx-SC accelerator mass spectrometry results from the Mughr el-Hamamah Site, Jordan, di A. Jonas Stutz et alii, Pages 157-173

Lucy's back: Reassessment of fossils associated with the A.L. 288-1 vertebral column, di M. R. Meyer, S. A. Williams, M. P. Smith, G. J. Sawyer, Pages 174-180

Variability of Australopithecus second maxillary molars from Sterkfontein Member 4, di C. Fornai, F. L. Bookstein, G. W. Weber, Pages 181-192

Neandertal energetics: Uncertainty in body mass estimation limits comparisons with Homo sapiens, di P. Heyes, K. MacDonald, Pages 193-197

Humeral torsion and throwing proficiency in early human evolution, di S. G. Larson, Pages 198-205

Humeral torsion does not dictate shoulder position, but does influence throwing speed, di N. T. Roach, B. G. Richmond, Pages 206-211

     
  The Red Lady of El Mirón Cave': Lower Magdalenian Human Burial in Cantabrian Spain, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 60, Pages 1-138 (August 2015) - Edited by Lawrence Guy Straus, Manuel R. González-Morales and Jose Miguel Carretero
     
  Assessing eye orbits as predictors of Neandertal group size, di S Traynor, A. N. Gurtov, J. Hutton Senjem, J. Hawks, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 157, Issue 4, pages 680–683, August 2015

The objective is to investigate the hypothesis that Neandertal eye orbits can predict group size and social cognition as presented by Pearce et al. (Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 280 (2013) 20130168). We performed a linear regression of known orbital aperture diameter (OAD), neocortex ratio, and group size among 18 extant diurnal primate species. Our data were derived from Kirk (J Hum Evol 51 (2006) 159–170) and Dunbar (J Hum Evol 22 (1992), 469–493; J Hum Evol 28 (1995) 287–296). There is a positive correlation between OAD and group size; a positive correlation between neocortex and group size; and a positive correlation between OAD and neocortex size. The strength of the collinearity between OAD and neocortex ratio accounts for any significance of OAD in a model. The model that best accounts for variation in group size is one that includes only neocortex ratio; including OAD does not strengthen the model. OAD accounts for 29 percent of the variation in group size. Larger orbits are correlated with larger group sizes in primates, although not significantly when controlling for neocortex ratio. Moreover, the amount of variation in group size that can be explained by OAD is negligible. The larger orbits of Neandertals compared to the average modern human population do not permit any interpretation of cognitive ability related to group size. Am J Phys Anthropol 157:680–683, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

     
  Rethinking the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa, di H. S. Groucutt et alii, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 24, Issue 4, pages 149–164, July/August 2015

Current fossil, genetic, and archeological data indicate that Homo sapiens originated in Africa in the late Middle Pleistocene. By the end of the Late Pleistocene, our species was distributed across every continent except Antarctica, setting the foundations for the subsequent demographic and cultural changes of the Holocene. The intervening processes remain intensely debated and a key theme in hominin evolutionary studies. We review archeological, fossil, environmental, and genetic data to evaluate the current state of knowledge on the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa. The emerging picture of the dispersal process suggests dynamic behavioral variability, complex interactions between populations, and an intricate genetic and cultural legacy. This evolutionary and historical complexity challenges simple narratives and suggests that hybrid models and the testing of explicit hypotheses are required to understand the expansion of Homo sapiens into Eurasia.

     
  Middle and Late Pleistocene Landscape Evolution at the Druze Marsh Site in Northeast Jordan: Implications for Population Continuity and Hominin Dispersal, di C. J. H. Ames, C. E. Cordova, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 30, Issue 4, pages 307–329, July/August 2015

The Druze Marsh is a spring-fed wetland in northeast Jordan that dried out completely in the late 1980s. This drying and subsequent drop in the water table permitted study of the marsh stratigraphy and a search for prehistoric occupations. In this paper, we combine detailed sedimentological analysis of eight stratigraphic sections in the bed of the former Druze Marsh to reconstruct the landscapes used by hominins since the Middle Pleistocene. The results show that fluctuation in water availability over the past 350 ka had dramatic impacts on the size and depth of the wetlands. Pleistocene occupations in the Druze Marsh correspond to relatively dry climatic conditions when the wetland was reduced in size, suggesting the Druze Marsh acted as a desert refugium for hominins during adverse climatic conditions. Such refugia have important implications for hominin demography, continuity, and/or extinction in the Syro-Arabian Desert. Moreover, the Druze Marsh is positioned at the north end of the Wadi Sirhan depression that connects the Levantine Corridor to the west and Arabian Peninsula to the southeast. Therefore, during wetter climates, paleolakes and river networks around the Druze Marsh may have provided an additional inland route for hominins dispersing between Africa, Eurasia, and the Arabian Peninsula.

     
  L’homme de Tautavel. Un Homo erectus européen évolué. Homo erectus tautavelensis, di M. A. de Lumley, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 119, Issue 3, June–August 2015, Pages 303–348

Cent quarante-huit restes humains ont été découverts au cours des fouilles effectuées de 1964 à 2014 dans la Caune de l’Arago à Tautavel dans les Pyrénées-Orientales. Ils ont été recueillis dans un contexte stratigraphique précis qui a permis d’individualiser 15 unités archéostratigraphiques avec présence humaine dont l’âge est compris entre 550 ka pour l’unité Q à la base et 400 ka pour l’unité C au sommet (SIO 14 à 10). Pendant cette longue période de temps, l’Homme a connu deux périodes de climat froid et sec (ensemble stratigraphique I et III) séparées par une période tempérée-humide (ensemble stratigraphique II). La majorité des restes humains a été recueillie dans les unités F et G de l’ensemble stratigraphique III du complexe moyen dans un environnement steppique, froid et venté. Les restes humains étaient mêlés individuellement au matériel archéologique et aux déchets de faune chassée et consommée. L’inventaire des restes humains met en évidence une majorité d’éléments crâniens et en particulier, la portion antérieure d’un crâne, Arago XXI, découvert le 22 juillet 1971, qui a fait connaître pour la première fois, l’aspect physique des premiers européens. L’ensemble, 5 mandibules, 123 dents sur arcade alvéolaire ou isolées, quelques fragments de squelette post-crânien : 9 éléments du membre supérieur, 19 éléments du membre inférieur, permet de repérer 30 individus décédés, soit 18 adultes et 12 enfants. L’étude de ces fossiles permet de les rapprocher des formes d’Homo erectus connues en Asie et en Afrique avec lesquels ils partagent des caractères communs. Cette constatation entraîne le questionnement de l’existence de ce groupe en Europe. Ainsi, l’apport de la collection de fossiles humains de l’Arago présente un triple intérêt, paléontologique, populationnel, comportemental. La multiplicité des restes permet d’avoir une estimation de la biodiversité et de la composition de cette petite population. L’attention est attirée par son originalité vis-à-vis de Mauer, l’ancêtre classique européen Homo heidelbergensis. Les fossiles de l’Arago présentent des caractères archaïques, non retrouvés sur la mandibule de Mauer, en particulier, la grande extension antéro-postérieure de l’arcade convexe en avant, la prédominance des dents prémolaires et de la M2, le corps mandibulaire à indice de robustesse élevé, le planum alvéolaire sub-horizontal et la ligne mylohyoïdienne saillante peu inclinée. D’autre part, le crâne n’a pas encore réduit sa face au profit du cerveau, processus qui sera mis en évidence ultérieurement. Le crâne est bas, avec un frontal à grande extension, une face très prognathe et un appareil masticateur puissant avec des crêtes temporales et un torus angularis saillants, qui lui donnent en coupe coronale, une forme pentagonale, contrairement à la convexité régulière observée sur les crânes de La Sima de los Huesos et des Néandertaliens. Une analyse comparée avec la population bien documentée découverte dans La Sima de los Huesos permet de constater un stade plus évolué chez cette dernière qui la rapproche de la forme néandertalienne sans l’éloigner de la mandibule de Mauer. En présence des fossiles humains européens, dont nous disposons, le scénario peut se résumer ainsi. Homo georgicus, une forme proche du groupe habilis-rudolfensis porteur des industries préoldowayennes et oldowayennes, est présent aux portes de l’Europe, il y a 1,8 Ma environ. À partir de 1,2–0,8 Ma, les documents, quoique fragmentaires d’Atapuerca, Elefante, Gran Dolina-TD6, pourraient être rattachés à cette lignée première. Les premiers Homo erectus porteurs des cultures à bifaces qui ont quitté le berceau africain arrivent aux portes de l’Europe, il y a environ 1,2 Ma, comme l’atteste la découverte de la calotte crânienne de Kocabaş en Anatolie, proche des fossiles de Buia en Erythrée et de Daka en Éthiopie, datés eux-mêmes de 1 Ma environ. À partir de 0,55 Ma avec l’ensemble des 148 restes humains et en particulier avec le crâne Arago XXI, nous sommes en présence d’une nouvelle forme (indépendante de Mauer) bien documentée que nous proposons de rattacher au taxon Homo erectus tautavelensis, en attribuant à cette sous-espèce une connotation géographique. Les caractéristiques morpho-fonctionnelles et culturelles d’Homo erectus tautavelensis signent la souche d’une longue lignée européenne, à l’origine de la néandertalisation.

     
  Neanderthals had outsize effect on human biology, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 29 July 2015

Our ancestors were not a picky bunch. Overwhelming genetic evidence shows that Homo sapiens had sex with Neander­thals, Denisovans and other archaic relatives. Now researchers are using large genomics studies to unravel the decidedly mixed contributions that these ancient romps made to human biology — from the ability of H. sapiens to cope with environments outside Africa, to the tendency of modern humans to get asthma, skin diseases and maybe even depression. The proportion of the human genome that comes from archaic relatives is small. The genomes of most Europeans and Asians are 2–4% Neanderthal, with Denisovan DNA making up about 5% of the genomes of Mela­nesians and Aboriginal Australians. DNA slivers from other distant relatives probably pepper a variety of human genomes. But these sequences may have had an outsize effect on human biology. In some cases, they are very different from the corresponding H. sapiens DNA, notes population geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts — which makes it more likely that they could introduce useful traits. “Even though it’s only a couple or a few per cent of ancestry, that ancestry was sufficiently distant that it punched above its weight,” he says. (...)

     
  Pionniers du Paléolithique... Néandertal, l'homme sans parole. Documentaire - Réalisation Rob Hope. Avec Ludovic Slimak, Tom Higham, Eske Willerslev, Laure Metz et Ségolène Vandevelde.

Après 23 années de recherches archéologiques en moyenne vallée du Rhône, une série de découvertes inattendues vient bouleverser nos connaissances sur la Préhistoire du peuplement de l'Europe. Qui était le peuple Néronien : une nouvelle société émergente néandertalienne, ou la première expression connue à ce jour de l'Homme moderne ? Nous suivons une équipe pluridisciplinaire du CNRS dirigée par Ludovic Slimak. Ce documentaire sera diffusé sur Montagne TV en 2015.
     
 

The evolution of human and ape hand proportions, di S. Almécija, J. B. Smaers, W. L. Jungers, Nature Communications" 6, Article number: 7717, doi:10.1038/ncomms8717, 14 July 2015  - open access -

Human hands are distinguished from apes by possessing longer thumbs relative to fingers. However, this simple ape-human dichotomy fails to provide an adequate framework for testing competing hypotheses of human evolution and for reconstructing the morphology of the last common ancestor (LCA) of humans and chimpanzees. We inspect human and ape hand-length proportions using phylogenetically informed morphometric analyses and test alternative models of evolution along the anthropoid tree of life, including fossils like the plesiomorphic ape Proconsul heseloni and the hominins Ardipithecus ramidus and Australopithecus sediba. Our results reveal high levels of hand disparity among modern hominoids, which are explained by different evolutionary processes: autapomorphic evolution in hylobatids (extreme digital and thumb elongation), convergent adaptation between chimpanzees and orangutans (digital elongation) and comparatively little change in gorillas and hominins. The human (and australopith) high thumb-to-digits ratio required little change since the LCA, and was acquired convergently with other highly dexterous anthropoids. (...)

· La mano primitiva dell'uomo moderno, "Le Scienze", 14 luglio 2015

     
 

The Still Bay and Howiesons Poort at Sibudu and Blombos: Understanding Middle Stone Age Technologies, di S. Soriano , P. Villa, A. Delagnes, I. Degano, L. Pollarolo, J. J. Lucejko, C. Henshilwood, L. Wadley, "PLoS ONE",  July 10, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131127 - open access -

The classification of archaeological assemblages in the Middle Stone Age of South Africa in terms of diversity and temporal continuity has significant implications with respect to recent cultural evolutionary models which propose either gradual accumulation or discontinuous, episodic processes for the emergence and diffusion of cultural traits. We present the results of a systematic technological and typological analysis of the Still Bay assemblages from Sibudu and Blombos. A similar approach is used in the analysis of the Howiesons Poort (HP) assemblages from Sibudu seen in comparison with broadly contemporaneous assemblages from Rose Cottage and Klasies River Cave 1A. Using our own and published data from other sites we report on the diversity between stone artifact assemblages and discuss to what extent they can be grouped into homogeneous lithic sets. The gradual evolution of debitage techniques within the Howiesons Poort sequence with a progressive abandonment of the HP technological style argues against the saltational model for its disappearance while the technological differences between the Sibudu and Blombos Still Bay artifacts considerably weaken an interpretation of similarities between the assemblages and their grouping into the same cultural unit. Limited sampling of a fragmented record may explain why simple models of cultural evolution do not seem to apply to a complex reality. (...)

     
  Analysis of Site Formation and Assemblage Integrity Does Not Support Attribution of the Uluzzian to Modern Humans at Grotta del Cavallo, di J. Zilhão, W. E. Banks, F- d’Errico, P. Gioia, "PLoS ONE", July 8, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131181 - open access -

Based on the morphology of two deciduous molars and radiocarbon ages from layers D and E of the Grotta del Cavallo (Lecce, Italy), assigned to the Uluzzian, it has been proposed that modern humans were the makers of this Early Upper Paleolithic culture and that this finding considerably weakens the case for an independent emergence of symbolism among western European Neandertals. Reappraisal of the new dating evidence, of the finds curated in the Taranto Antiquities depot, and of coeval publications detailing the site’s 1963–66 excavations shows that (a) Protoaurignacian, Aurignacian and Early Epigravettian lithics exist in the assemblages from layers D and E, (b) even though it contains both inherited and intrusive items, the formation of layer D began during Protoaurignacian times, and (c) the composition of the extant Cavallo assemblages is influenced in a non-negligible manner by the post-hoc assignment of items to stratigraphic units distinct from that of original discovery. In addition, a major disturbance feature affected the 1960s excavation trench down to Mousterian layer F, this feature went unrecognized until 1964, the human remains assigned to the Uluzzian were discovered that year and/or the previous year, and there are contradictions between field reports and the primary anthropological description of the remains as to their morphology and level of provenience. Given these major contextual uncertainties, the Cavallo teeth cannot be used to establish the authorship of the Uluzzian. Since this technocomplex’s start date is ca. 45,000 calendar years ago, a number of Neandertal fossils are dated to this period, and the oldest diagnostic European modern human fossil is the <41,400 year-old Oase 1 mandible, Neandertal authorship of the Uluzzian remains the parsimonious reading of the evidence. (...)

     
  Human population dynamics in Europe over the Last Glacial Maximum, di M. Tallavaara, M. Luoto, N. Korhonen, H. Järvinen, H. Seppä, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", July 7, 2015 vol. 112 no. 27, pp. 8232-8237

The severe cooling and the expansion of the ice sheets during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), 27,000–19,000 y ago (27–19 ky ago) had a major impact on plant and animal populations, including humans. Changes in human population size and range have affected our genetic evolution, and recent modeling efforts have reaffirmed the importance of population dynamics in cultural and linguistic evolution, as well. However, in the absence of historical records, estimating past population levels has remained difficult. Here we show that it is possible to model spatially explicit human population dynamics from the pre-LGM at 30 ky ago through the LGM to the Late Glacial in Europe by using climate envelope modeling tools and modern ethnographic datasets to construct a population calibration model. The simulated range and size of the human population correspond significantly with spatiotemporal patterns in the archaeological data, suggesting that climate was a major driver of population dynamics 30–13 ky ago. The simulated population size declined from about 330,000 people at 30 ky ago to a minimum of 130,000 people at 23 ky ago. The Late Glacial population growth was fastest during Greenland interstadial 1, and by 13 ky ago, there were almost 410,000 people in Europe. Even during the coldest part of the LGM, the climatically suitable area for human habitation remained unfragmented and covered 36% of Europe.

· La crisi demografica europea durante l'ultima glaciazione, "Le Scienze", 24 giugno 2015

     
 

Core-Shell Processing of Natural Pigment: Upper Palaeolithic Red Ochre from Lovas, Hungary, di I. E. Sajó, J. Kovács, K. E. Fitzsimmons, V. Jáger, G. Lengyel, B. Viola, S. Talamo, J. J. Hublin, "PLoS ONE", July 6, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131762 - open access -

Ochre is the common archaeological term for prehistoric pigments. It is applied to a range of uses, from ritual burials to cave art to medications. While a substantial number of Palaeolithic paint mining pits have been identified across Europe, the link between ochre use and provenance, and their antiquity, has never yet been identified. Here we characterise the mineralogical signature of core-shell processed ochre from the Palaeolithic paint mining pits near Lovas in Hungary, using a novel integration of petrographic and mineralogical techniques. We present the first evidence for core-shell processed, natural pigment that was prepared by prehistoric people from hematitic red ochre. This involved combining the darker red outer shell with the less intensely coloured core to efficiently produce an economical, yet still strongly coloured, paint. We demonstrate the antiquity of the site as having operated between 14–13 kcal BP, during the Epigravettian period. This is based on new radiocarbon dating of bone artefacts associated with the quarry site. The dating results indicate the site to be the oldest known evidence for core-shell pigment processing. We show that the ochre mined at Lovas was exported from the site based on its characteristic signature at other archaeological sites in the region. Our discovery not only provides a methodological framework for future characterisation of ochre pigments, but also provides the earliest known evidence for “value-adding” of products for trade. (...)

     
 

The Geochemistry of Basalt Handaxes from the Lower Palaeolithic Site of Ma‛ayan Baruch, Israel—A Perspective on Raw Material Selection, di D. Rosenberg, R. Shimelmitz, T. M. Gluhak, A. Assaf, "Archaeometry", Volume 57, Issue Supplement S1, pages 1–19, July 2015

The Upper Acheulian site of Ma‛ayan Baruch, northern Israel, is primarily known for its exceptionally large assemblage of thousands of flint handaxes. Within this assemblage, a minute collection of basalt handaxes was retrieved as well, representing particular technological choice within the Upper Acheulian. Using geochemistry, we were able to determine that these basalt handaxes were not made from local basalt, but from different sources. Thus, the use of basalt at the site does not represent an ad hoc choice of using local raw material but, rather, a more complex technological choice pertaining to variability in raw material selection in the Lower Palaeolithic Levant.

     
 

Larnite-Bearing Rock—The Discovery of a New Source of Raw Material in the Production of Neolithic and Chalcolithic Bifacial Tools, di J. Vardi, "Archaeometry", Volume 57, Issue Supplement S1, pages 20–35, July 2015

Recently, large-scale production sites for the production of bifacial tools (axes and adzes) were discovered in the Judean desert. The waste piles have resulted from the numerous knapping procedures carried out at these sites, extend over thousands of square metres and include, in addition to the waste, a profusion of unfinished tools. The raw material procured for their fabrication is larnite-bearing rock. The larnite-bearing rock is extremely rare in the Levant. It occurs only in the exposures of the Hatrurim geological formation. The use of larnite for the production of chipped stone tools was entirely unknown until now. This newly discovered production area produced thousands of bifacial tools, the destination of which is as yet unknown.

     
  Documenting Differences between Early Stone Age Flake Production Systems: An Experimental Model and Archaeological Verification, di D. Presnyakova , W. Archer, D. R. Braun, W. Flear, "PLoS ONE", June 25, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0130732  - open access -

This study investigates morphological differences between flakes produced via “core and flake” technologies and those resulting from bifacial shaping strategies. We investigate systematic variation between two technological groups of flakes using experimentally produced assemblages, and then apply the experimental model to the Cutting 10 Mid -Pleistocene archaeological collection from Elandsfontein, South Africa. We argue that a specific set of independent variables—and their interactions—including external platform angle, platform depth, measures of thickness variance and flake curvature should distinguish between these two technological groups. The role of these variables in technological group separation was further investigated using the Generalized Linear Model as well as Linear Discriminant Analysis. The Discriminant model was used to classify archaeological flakes from the Cutting 10 locality in terms of their probability of association, within either experimentally developed technological group. The results indicate that the selected independent variables play a central role in separating core and flake from bifacial technologies. Thickness evenness and curvature had the greatest effect sizes in both the Generalized Linear and Discriminant models. Interestingly the interaction between thickness evenness and platform depth was significant and played an important role in influencing technological group membership. The identified interaction emphasizes the complexity in attempting to distinguish flake production strategies based on flake morphological attributes. The results of the discriminant function analysis demonstrate that the majority of flakes at the Cutting 10 locality were not associated with the production of the numerous Large Cutting Tools found at the site, which corresponds with previous suggestions regarding technological behaviors reflected in this assemblage. (...)
     
  New chronology for Ksâr ‘Akil (Lebanon) supports Levantine route of modern human dispersal into Europe, di M. D. Bosch et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 23, 2015, vol. 112 no. 25, pp. 7683-7688 - open access -

Modern human dispersal into Europe is thought to have occurred with the start of the Upper Paleolithic around 50,000–40,000 y ago. The Levantine corridor hypothesis suggests that modern humans from Africa spread into Europe via the Levant. Ksâr ‘Akil (Lebanon), with its deeply stratified Initial (IUP) and Early (EUP) Upper Paleolithic sequence containing modern human remains, has played an important part in the debate. The latest chronology for the site, based on AMS radiocarbon dates of shell ornaments, suggests that the appearance of the Levantine IUP is later than the start of the first Upper Paleolithic in Europe, thus questioning the Levantine corridor hypothesis. Here we report a series of AMS radiocarbon dates on the marine gastropod Phorcus turbinatus associated with modern human remains and IUP and EUP stone tools from Ksâr ‘Akil. Our results, supported by an evaluation of individual sample integrity, place the EUP layer containing the skeleton known as “Egbert” between 43,200 and 42,900 cal B.P. and the IUP-associated modern human maxilla known as “Ethelruda” before ∼45,900 cal B.P. This chronology is in line with those of other Levantine IUP and EUP sites and demonstrates that the presence of modern humans associated with Upper Paleolithic toolkits in the Levant predates all modern human fossils from Europe. The age of the IUP-associated Ethelruda fossil is significant for the spread of modern humans carrying the IUP into Europe and suggests a rapid initial colonization of Europe by our species. (...)

     
  Examining the Causes and Consequences of Short-Term Behavioral Change during the Middle Stone Age at Sibudu, South Africa, di N. J. Conard, M. Will, "PLoS ONE", June 22, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0130001  - open access -

Sibudu in KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) with its rich and high-resolution archaeological sequence provides an ideal case study to examine the causes and consequences of short-term variation in the behavior of modern humans during the Middle Stone Age (MSA). We present the results from a technological analysis of 11 stratified lithic assemblages which overlie the Howiesons Poort deposits and all date to ~58 ka. Based on technological and typological attributes, we conducted inter-assemblage comparisons to characterize the nature and tempo of cultural change in successive occupations. This work identified considerable short-term variation with clear temporal trends throughout the sequence, demonstrating that knappers at Sibudu varied their technology over short time spans. The lithic assemblages can be grouped into three cohesive units which differ from each other in the procurement of raw materials, the frequency in the methods of core reduction, the kind of blanks produced, and in the nature of tools the inhabitants of Sibudu made and used. These groups of assemblages represent different strategies of lithic technology, which build upon each other in a gradual, cumulative manner. We also identify a clear pattern of development toward what we have previously defined as the Sibudan cultural taxonomic unit. Contextualizing these results on larger geographical scales shows that the later phase of the MSA during MIS 3 in KwaZulu-Natal and southern Africa is one of dynamic cultural change rather than of stasis or stagnation as has at times been claimed. In combination with environmental, subsistence and contextual information, our high-resolution data on lithic technology suggest that short-term behavioral variability at Sibudu can be best explained by changes in technological organization and socio-economic dynamics instead of environmental forcing. (...)

     
  Paleo, n. 25-2014:

Enquête autour d’un outil : approche techno-économique, fonctionnelle et expérimentale des grattoirs châtelperroniens de Canaule II (Creysse, Dordogne, France), di M.Baillet, F. Bachellerie, J. G. Bordes

Le cadre radiométrique de la séquence solutréo-badegoulienne du Cuzoul de Vers (Lot, France): lecture critique et compléments, di S. Ducasse, J. M. Pétillon, C. Renard

Les parois chauffées de la grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc (Ardèche, France): caractérisation et chronologie, di C. Ferrier et alii

La grotte de Fouvent, dit l’Abri Cuvier (Fouvent-le-Bas, Haute-Saône, France) : analyse taphonomique d’un repaire d’hyènes du Pléistocène supérieur (OIS 3), di J. B. Fourvel, P. Fosse, P. Fernandez, P. O. Antoine

L’industrie lithique du Paléolithique moyen récent de Roc de Combe (Payrignac, Lot, France), un nouvel exemple de Moustérien Discoïde à denticulés, di M. L. Martinez, J. G. Bordes, J. Jaubert

Un visage original du Tardiglaciaire en Bretagne : les occupations aziliennes dans l’abri-sous-roche de Kerbizien à Huelgoat,
di G. Marchand, J. L. Monnier, F. Pustoc’h, L. Quesnel

Les productions à caractère symbolique du site moustérien de La Roche-Cotard à Langeais (Indre-et-Loire, France) dans leur contexte géologique, di J. C. Marquet, M. Lorblanchet, Y. Egels, J. Esquerre-Pourtère, M. S. Hesse

Les soucoupes de l’Observatoire (Principauté de Monaco) : contribution à l’étude du phénomène des grands éclats au Paléolithique ancien, di G. Porraz, É. Nicoud, M. Grenet, P. Simon

Actualisation de l’inventaire des pointes de type Isturitz de la région cantabrique, di J. Rios-Garaizar, D. Garate

L’art mobilier gravettien sur support lithique de la grotte d’Isturitz (Saint-Martin-d’Arberoue, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France): une collection redécouverte, di O. Rivero, D. Garate

Intérêts de l’utilisation des décapages lors des fouilles archéologiques pour l’étude des restes de petits vertébrés, di A. Royer

L’exploitation alimentaire et technique du gibier au début du Paléolithique supérieur aux Abeilles (Haute-Garonne, France), di M. C. Soulier

Quel(s) Aurignacien(s) à l’abri Blanchard (Sergeac, Dordogne, France) ? Données des collections d’industrie osseuse conservées aux États-Unis et retour sur le terrain, di É. Tartar, R. White, L. Chiotti, C. Cretin, R. Mensan

     
  Los significados del arte paleolítico: Una revisión historiográfica y crítica, di A. Lombo Montañés, "Arqueo.Web", Número 16, junio de 2015 - open access -

El tema de los significados de las grafías paleolíticas atraviesa un momento crítico. Los especialistas parecen divididos a favor o en contra de los significados. En el presente artículo estudiamos la historia de los significados del arte paleolítico desde un punto de vista sintético y crítico. Hemos establecido tres fases que señalan tres significados distintos: la ausencia de significado (segunda mitad del siglo XIX), el significado único y sagrado (1903-1990) y la pluralidad de significados (siglo XXI). El estudio de estas fases revela la existencia de un estancamiento teórico, provocado por el reciclaje de interpretaciones tradicionales, así como por el escepticismo hacía este tipo de temas. (...)
     
 

Problematizing Bayesian approaches to prehistoric chronologies, di P. Pettitt, J. Zilhão, "World Archaeology", Special Issue: Prehistoric Bayesian Chronologies, Volume 47, Issue 4, 2015, pages 525-542

In recent years Bayesian exploration of radiocarbon datasets has been employed widely in prehistoric archaeology. Pertinent especially to major biogeographic and behavioural changes such as human dispersals and extinctions, the spread of agriculture and culture change, the method can offer a powerful means to improve considerably the precision of prehistorians’ investigation of some of the most major questions in human prehistory. As such its potential is profound – it has even been regarded as the third radiocarbon revolution – but its appropriateness is dependent on the assumptions that must be made of the samples selected for dating. How sound are these assumptions, and therefore how reliable are Bayesian analyses? Here, we introduce some aspects and assumptions that underline Bayesian modelling of radiocarbon measurements, and we problematize their application in Palaeolithic archaeology. We conclude that many existing models are faulty, and suggest some criteria for quality control in this field.

     
 

Constructing chronologies for the late Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic: limitations and means to overcome them, di W. E. Banks, "World Archaeology", Special Issue: Prehistoric Bayesian Chronologies, Volume 47, Issue 4, 2015, pages 585-600

Improvements in our understandings of the timing and nature of millennial-scale climatic variability combined with improved dating methods and more accurate calibration curves have allowed researchers to better place archaeological cultures within their paleoenvironmental contexts. Since all human cultures operate within an environmental framework, these developments allow researchers to investigate whether and how cultural variability is related to temporal shifts in culture-environment relationships. Studying such relationships, however, is dependent on our ability to construct robust chronologies, and this need has been met by incorporating Bayesian modeling methods into archaeological investigations. This article reviews the assumptions and methods behind this practice and argues that, while site-specific age models are useful, we should also employ methods with which chronological models for broad archaeological cultures can be constructed. Such a combination approach allows one to incorporate available chronological data thoroughly and to build reliable chronologies that are critical to investigations aimed at examining culture-environment relationships.

     
 

In the eye of the beholder: contextual issues for Bayesian modelling at the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition, di E. Discamps, B. Gravina, N. Teyssandier, "World Archaeology", Special Issue: Prehistoric Bayesian Chronologies, Volume 47, Issue 4, 2015, pages 601-621

Refining and interpreting the chronology of the so-called Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition continues to be a contentious issue, polarizing the opinion of archaeologists, anthropologists and dating experts alike. Bayesian modelling has become an important means for organizing and interpreting an increasing number of available radiocarbon dates. Here we address what we consider important oversights in recent models purportedly demonstrating a chronological overlap between the Mousterian and Châtelperronian and a very early appearance of the Aurignacian in Western Europe. When faced with closer scrutiny, the integrity of several dated contexts appears less than ideal, questioning either the reliability of the ages obtained and/or their use in such models. Bayesian modelling can in some instances present an illusion of higher resolution and reliability; however, our comprehension of the chronology of the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition may be in more need of taphonomic revisions of archaeological contexts than it is of new statistical models.

 

Aggiornamento 18 giugno

 
  Human occupation of the Arabian Empty Quarter during MIS 5: evidence from Mundafan Al-Buhayrah, Saudi Arabia, di H. S. Groucutt et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 119, 1 July 2015, Pages 116–135

The Empty Quarter (or Rub' al Khali) of the Arabian Peninsula is the largest continuous sandy desert in the world. It has been known for several decades that Late Pleistocene and Holocene deposits, representing phases of wetter climate, are preserved there. These sequences have yielded palaeontological evidence in the form of a variety of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils and have been dated using various radiometric techniques. However, evidence for human presence during these wetter phases has until now been ephemeral. Here, we report on the first stratified and dated archaeology from the Empty Quarter, recovered from the site of Mundafan Al-Buhayrah (MDF-61). Human occupation at the site, represented by stone tools, has been dated to the later part of Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 using multiple luminescence dating techniques (multigrain and single grain OSL, TT-OSL). The sequence consists primarily of lacustrine and palustrine sediments, from which evidence for changing local environmental conditions has been obtained through analysis of fossil assemblages (phytoliths and non-marine molluscs and ostracods). The discovery of securely-dated archaeological material at ∼100 to 80 ka in the Empty Quarter has important implications for hypotheses concerning the timing and routes of dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa, which have been much debated. Consequently, the data presented here fill a crucial gap in palaeoenvironmental and archaeological understanding of the southern Arabian interior. Fossils of H. sapiens in the Levant, also dated to MIS 5, together with Middle Palaeolithic archaeological sites in Arabia and India are thought to represent the earliest dispersal of our species out of Africa. We suggest that the widespread occurrence of similar lithic technologies across southern Asia, coupled with a growing body of evidence for environmental amelioration across the Saharo-Arabian belt, indicates that occupation of the Levant by H. sapiens during MIS 5 may not have been a brief, localized ‘failed dispersal’, but part of a wider demographic expansion.

     
 

Isotopic evidence for Last Glacial climatic impacts on Neanderthal gazelle hunting territories at Amud Cave, Israel, di G. Hartman, E. Hovers, J. J. Hublin, M. Richards, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 84, July 2015, Pages 71–82

The Middle Paleolithic site of Amud Cave, Israel, was occupied by Neanderthals at two different time periods, evidenced by two chronologically and stratigraphically distinct depositional sub-units (B4 and B2/B1) during MIS 4 and MIS 3, respectively. The composition of both hunted large fauna and naturally-deposited micromammalian taxa is stable at the site over time, despite a ∼10 ky gap between the two occupation phases. However, while gazelle is the most ubiquitous hunted species throughout the occupation, isotopic analysis showed that there is a marked change in Neanderthal hunting ranges between the early (B4) and late (B2/B1) phases. Hunting ranges were reconstructed by comparing oxygen, carbon, and strontium isotopes from gazelle tooth enamel with modern isotope data from the Amud Cave region. This region is characterized by extensive topographic, lithological, and pedological heterogeneity. During the early occupation phase negative oxygen isotope values, low radiogenic 87Sr/86Sr ratios, and low Sr concentrations reveal restricted gazelle hunting in the high elevations west of Amud Cave. In the late occupation phase, hunting ranges became more diverse, but concentrate at low elevations closer to the site. Climatic proxies indicate that conditions were drier in the early occupation phase, which may have pushed gazelle populations into higher, more productive foraging areas. This study showed that Neanderthals adjusted their hunting territories considerably in relation to varying environmental conditions over the course of occupation in Amud Cave. It highlights the utility of multiple isotope analysis in enhancing the resolution of behavioral interpretations based on faunal remains and in reconstructing past hunting behaviors of Paleolithic hominins.

     
 

MTA-B or not to be? Recycled bifaces and shifting hunting strategies at Le Moustier and their implication for the late Middle Palaeolithic in southwestern France, di B. Gravina, E. Discamps, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 84, July 2015, Pages 83–98

Explaining late Middle Palaeolithic industrial variability remains a topic of great interest for researchers focusing on aspects of Neanderthal behavioural complexity and the so-called Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic ‘transition.’ Several sites in southwestern France figure prominently in these discussions, including the eponymous site of Le Moustier (Dordogne, France), one of the ‘key’ sequences used in larger anthropological models. Here we present a re-assessment of this important site based on a technological and taphonomic re-evaluation of previously studied collections combined with an analysis of unpublished archaeological material, which includes both lithic and faunal components. Our study produces a very different interpretation of the 'classic' Le Moustier sequence, challenging previous cultural attributions in a way that significantly impacts current debates surrounding the proposed Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition (MTA) – Châtelperronian affiliation. This new interpretation highlights independent changes in lithic technology and subsistence strategies that were previously undetected as well as a novel aspect of Neanderthal raw material use. Finally, we discuss how this new vision has important ramifications for broader issues connected to the definition of late Mousterian techno-complexes, such as the MTA, and the identification of relationships between technology, subsistence, and mobility strategies.

     
 

Establishing statistical confidence in Cortex Ratios within and among lithic assemblages: a case study of the Middle Paleolithic of southwestern France, di S. C. Lin, S. P. McPherron, H. L. Dibble, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 59, July 2015, Pages 89–109

Recent studies have demonstrated the usefulness of the Cortex Ratio for quantifying the cortex composition in lithic assemblages and as a viable index of prehistoric artifact transport. Yet, the lack of means for assigning statistical confidence to archaeologically observed Cortex Ratios inhibits the approach's utility for objective comparisons and interpretation. Here, we derive statistical confidence for archaeological Cortex Ratios through Monte Carlo and resampling techniques. Experimental data with known geometric properties and measured cortex values were employed as a reference for attaching a probability to an archaeological assemblage's Cortex Ratio. The method is demonstrated on assemblages from the Middle Paleolithic sites of Roc de Marsal, Pech de l'Azé IV, and Combe-Capelle Bas in southwestern France.

     
  Disproportionate Cochlear Length in Genus Homo Shows a High Phylogenetic Signal during Apes’ Hearing Evolution, di J. Braga et alii, "PLoS ONE", June 17, 2015DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0127780  - open access -

Changes in lifestyles and body weight affected mammal life-history evolution but little is known about how they shaped species’ sensory systems. Since auditory sensitivity impacts communication tasks and environmental acoustic awareness, it may have represented a deciding factor during mammal evolution, including apes. Here, we statistically measure the influence of phylogeny and allometry on the variation of five cochlear morphological features associated with hearing capacities across 22 living and 5 fossil catarrhine species. We find high phylogenetic signals for absolute and relative cochlear length only. Comparisons between fossil cochleae and reconstructed ape ancestral morphotypes show that Australopithecus absolute and relative cochlear lengths are explicable by phylogeny and concordant with the hypothetized ((Pan,Homo),Gorilla) and (Pan,Homo) most recent common ancestors. Conversely, deviations of the Paranthropus oval window area from these most recent common ancestors are not explicable by phylogeny and body weight alone, but suggest instead rapid evolutionary changes (directional selection) of its hearing organ. Premodern (Homo erectus) and modern human cochleae set apart from living non-human catarrhines and australopiths. They show cochlear relative lengths and oval window areas larger than expected for their body mass, two features corresponding to increased low-frequency sensitivity more recent than 2 million years ago. The uniqueness of the “hypertrophied” cochlea in the genus Homo (as opposed to the australopiths) and the significantly high phylogenetic signal of this organ among apes indicate its usefulness to identify homologies and monophyletic groups in the hominid fossil record. (...)

     
 

Body composition in Pan paniscus compared with Homo sapiens has implications for changes during human evolution, di A. L. Zihlman, D. R. Bolter, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 16, 2015, vol. 112 no. 24, pp. 7466-7471

The human body has been shaped by natural selection during the past 4–5 million years. Fossils preserve bones and teeth but lack muscle, skin, fat, and organs. To understand the evolution of the human form, information about both soft and hard tissues of our ancestors is needed. Our closest living relatives of the genus Pan provide the best comparative model to those ancestors. Here, we present data on the body composition of 13 bonobos (Pan paniscus) measured during anatomical dissections and compare the data with Homo sapiens. These comparative data suggest that both females and males increased body fat, decreased relative muscle mass, redistributed muscle mass to lower limbs, and decreased relative mass of skin during human evolution. Comparison of soft tissues between Pan and Homo provides new insights into the function and evolution of body composition.

     
 

The role of cryptotephra in refining the chronology of Late Pleistocene human evolution and cultural change in North Africa, di R.N.E. Barton et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 118, 15 June 2015, Pages 151–169

Sites in North Africa hold key information for dating the presence of Homo sapiens and the distribution of Middle Stone Age (MSA), Middle Palaeolithic (MP) and Later Stone Age (LSA) cultural activity in the Late Pleistocene. Here we present new and review recently published tephrochronological evidence for five cave sites in North Africa with long MSA/MP and LSA cultural sequences. Four tephra horizons have been identified at the Haua Fteah (Cyrenaica, Libya). They include cryptotephra evidence for the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption dating to ∼39 ka that allows correlation with other Palaeolithic sequences in the eastern Mediterranean and as far north as Russia. Cryptotephra have also been recorded from the Moroccan sites of Taforalt, Rhafas and Dar es-Soltane 1. At Taforalt the geochemical composition suggests a provenance in the Azores, while examples from Sodmein (Egypt) appear to derive from central Anatolia and another unknown source. In these latter examples chemical compositional data from relevant proximal volcanic centres is currently lacking so the identification of tephra in layers of known age and cultural association provides the first reliable age determinations for distal volcanic events and their geographical extent. The future potential for tephrochronological research in North Africa is also discussed.

     
 

Tephra studies and the reconstruction of Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic cultural trajectories, di F. d'Errico, W. E. Banks, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 118, 15 June 2015, Pages 182–193

This study describes an approach which combines tephra records with archaeological and contextual data in order to propose best fit scenarios for past cultural changes and population events. With this goal in mind, we critically examine the environmental, archaeological, anthropological, and chronometric records of the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic (MUP) Transition (45–35 ka) in Europe and identify a number of shortcomings that make it difficult to correlate and interpret current evidence with respect to historical processes. The utility and limitations of tephra records are highlighted and an heuristic strategy, designed to merge evidence from tephra and other proxies, is described. Such a strategy is used to explore the stratigraphic and chronological relationship between the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption and the cultural changes that occurred during the MUP Transition in Southern Europe. Uncertainties pertaining to the timing of this volcanic event are discussed before summarizing the stratigraphic and cultural sequences of the eleven archaeological sites (Haua Fteah, Kozarnica, Franchthi Cave, Klissoura, Golema Pesht, Cavallo, Serino, Castelcivita, Tabula Traiana, Temnata, Kostenki 14) where the CI tephra has been reliably identified, along with three sites (Uluzzo, Uluzzo C, Bernardini) where such an identification remains tentative. We conclude that if one discards as inconclusive the recent attribution of the Uluzzian to modern humans, the best fit historical scenario that stems from a critical reading of the evidence identifies the Uluzzian as the result of in-situ cultural evolution of late Mousterian populations in this region of Southern Europe. Such evolution, which entails the independent development of cultural innovations typically found in subsequent cultures of the Upper Paleolithic, would have been truncated, before the CI event, by the arrival of modern or Neanderthal-modern hybrid populations bearing the Proto-Aurignacian material culture.

     
 

Evaluating the transitional mosaic: frameworks of change from Neanderthals to Homo sapiens in eastern Europe, di W. Davies, D. White, M. Lewis, C. Stringer, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 118, 15 June 2015, Pages 211–242

Defining varying spatial and temporal analytical scales is essential before evaluating the responses of late Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens to Abrupt Environmental Transitions (AETs) and environmental disasters for the period 130–25 ka. Recent advances in addressing the population histories and interactions (using both genetic and archaeological evidence) of Neanderthals and H. sapiens have encouraged consideration of more subtle dynamics of archaeological change. Descriptions of change based on methodologies pioneered some 160 years ago are no longer adequate to explain the patterning we now see in the record. New chronological results, using multiple dating methods, allow us to begin to unpick the spatial and temporal scales of change. Isochronic markers (such as specific volcanic eruptions) can be used to create temporal frameworks (lattices), and results from other dating techniques compared against them. A combination of chronological lattices and direct dating of diagnostic artefacts and human fossils permits us, for the first time, to have greater confidence in connecting human (recent hominin) species and their behavioural responses to environmental conditions, and in quantifying scales of change over time and space (time-transgression). The timing of innovations, particularly those in bone, antler and ivory, can be directly quantified and tested, and used to re-evaluate longstanding models of cultural change. This paper also uses these new chronologies to explore the ecologies of late Neanderthals and early H. sapiens: their population densities, mobilities, resources exploited and possible interactions. Environmental productivity estimates are used to generate new questions of potential population densities and mobilities, and thus the sensitivity of these groups to environmental perturbations. Scales and intensities of effect on environments from natural disasters and AETs (notably Heinrich Events and the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption) are defined as a scale from “proximal” to “distal,” with local conditions (topographic shelter or exposure) serving to intensify or mitigate those effects.

     
  Taphonomic Analysis of the Faunal Assemblage Associated with the Hominins (Australopithecus sediba) from the Early Pleistocene Cave Deposits of Malapa, South Africa, di A. Val, P. H. G. M. Dirks, L. R. Backwell, F. d’Errico, L. R. Berger, "PLoS ONE", June 10, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126904  - open access -

Here we present the results of a taphonomic study of the faunal assemblage associated with the hominin fossils (Australopithecus sediba) from the Malapa site. Results include estimation of body part representation, mortality profiles, type of fragmentation, identification of breakage patterns, and microscopic analysis of bone surfaces. The diversity of the faunal spectrum, presence of animals with climbing proclivities, abundance of complete and/or articulated specimens, occurrence of antimeric sets of elements, and lack of carnivore-modified bones, indicate that animals accumulated via a natural death trap leading to an area of the cave system with no access to mammalian scavengers. The co-occurrence of well preserved fossils, carnivore coprolites, deciduous teeth of brown hyaena, and some highly fragmented and poorly preserved remains supports the hypothesis of a mixing of sediments coming from distinct chambers, which collected at the bottom of the cave system through the action of periodic water flow. This combination of taphonomic features explains the remarkable state of preservation of the hominin fossils as well as some of the associated faunal material. (...)

     
  New cosmogenic burial ages for Sterkfontein Member 2 Australopithecus and Member 5 Oldowan, di D. E. Granger et alii, "Nature" 522, pp. 85–88 (04 June 2015)

The cave infills at Sterkfontein contain one of the richest assemblages of Australopithecus fossils in the world, including the nearly complete skeleton StW 573 (‘Little Foot’) in its lower section, as well as early stone tools in higher sections. However, the chronology of the site remains controversial owing to the complex history of cave infilling. Much of the existing chronology based on uranium–lead dating and palaeomagnetic stratigraphy has recently been called into question by the recognition that dated flowstones fill cavities formed within previously cemented breccias and therefore do not form a stratigraphic sequence. Earlier dating with cosmogenic nuclides suffered a high degree of uncertainty and has been questioned on grounds of sediment reworking. Here we use isochron burial dating with cosmogenic aluminium-26 and beryllium-10 to show that the breccia containing StW 573 did not undergo significant reworking, and that it was deposited 3.67 ± 0.16 million years ago, far earlier than the 2.2 million year flowstones found within it. The skeleton is thus coeval with early Australopithecus afarensis in eastern Africa. We also date the earliest stone tools at Sterkfontein to 2.18 ± 0.21 million years ago, placing them in the Oldowan at a time similar to that found elsewhere in South Africa at Swartkans and Wonderwerk.

     
  Tracing the Route of Modern Humans out of Africa by Using 225 Human Genome Sequences from Ethiopians and Egyptians, di L. Pagani et alii, "The American Journal of Human Genetics", Volume 96, Issue 6, pp. 986–991, 4 June 2015

The predominantly African origin of all modern human populations is well established, but the route taken out of Africa is still unclear. Two alternative routes, via Egypt and Sinai or across the Bab el Mandeb strait into Arabia, have traditionally been proposed as feasible gateways in light of geographic, paleoclimatic, archaeological, and genetic evidence. Distinguishing among these alternatives has been difficult. We generated 225 whole-genome sequences (225 at 8× depth, of which 8 were increased to 30×; Illumina HiSeq 2000) from six modern Northeast African populations (100 Egyptians and five Ethiopian populations each represented by 25 individuals). West Eurasian components were masked out, and the remaining African haplotypes were compared with a panel of sub-Saharan African and non-African genomes. We showed that masked Northeast African haplotypes overall were more similar to non-African haplotypes and more frequently present outside Africa than were any sets of haplotypes derived from a West African population. Furthermore, the masked Egyptian haplotypes showed these properties more markedly than the masked Ethiopian haplotypes, pointing to Egypt as the more likely gateway in the exodus to the rest of the world. Using five Ethiopian and three Egyptian high-coverage masked genomes and the multiple sequentially Markovian coalescent (MSMC) approach, we estimated the genetic split times of Egyptians and Ethiopians from non-African populations at 55,000 and 65,000 years ago, respectively, whereas that of West Africans was estimated to be 75,000 years ago. Both the haplotype and MSMC analyses thus suggest a predominant northern route out of Africa via Egypt.
     
 

Late Palaeolithic settlement pattern in palaeogeographical context of the river valleys in the Koło Basin (Central Poland), di D. K. Płaza, P. Kittel, J. Petera-Zganiacz, D. A. Dzieduszyńska, J. Twardy, "Quaternary International", Volume 370, 3 June 2015, Pages 40–54

The palaeogeography of the mid-Warta River valley in the Koło Basin in the Alleröd and Younger Dryas periods is well recognised. Record of subfossil trees is evidence of the existence of the riparian pine-birch forest in the valley floor in the Alleröd/Younger Dryas transition and in the early Younger Dryas. In the late Younger Dryas, the flood activity increased, which resulted in covering the valley floor with a thick layer of sandy and silty sandy overbank alluvia. Traces of settlement of people of only one archaeological culture dated to the Late Palaeolithic are recorded in the Koło Basin – i.e. the Tanged Point Complex, called in Polish territories the Sviderian Culture. The sites are camp sites remnants of hunter–gathering groups of the Alleröd and the Younger Dryas. Most sites are situated on dunes, cover sands or edges and slopes of river terraces. This paper focuses on the settlement pattern and the raw material distribution which indicate a highly mobile life-style and significance of human contacts in the Younger Dryas. In the relatively stable environmental conditions of the late Alleröd and in the very beginning of Younger Dryas, when the area was covered by forest, the first Tanged Point Complex communities arrived. The forest landscape was rich in natural resources and suitable for hunting. Later in the Younger Dryas, a climatic change caused the increase of floods, permafrost reactivation and riparian forest extinction. Human groups moved away from the area. The occurrence of exotic raw material confirms migration of hunter groups in the late Younger Dryas in the latitudinal direction. Camp sites were situated on more elevated inland surfaces of terraces and dunes. Most probably at the end of the Younger Dryas, Sviderian hunters migrated from the Koło Basin and followed the herds of animals far north. After the stabilization of environmental conditions, hunters came back to the Koło Basin.

     
  Dating the earliest human occupation of Western Europe: New evidence from the fluvial terrace system of the Somme basin (Northern France), P. Antoine et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 370, 3 June 2015, Pages 77–99

Dating the earliest human occupation of Western Europe and reconstructing its relations with climatic and environmental constrains is becoming a central question, especially with the discovery of Palaeolithic artefacts allocated to the Early Pleistocene in south-east Britain and in Central France. In this context, the Quaternary sequences of the Somme basin, where is located the type-site of the Acheulean, is a key area. Research undertaken for more than 20 years on both fluvial and loess sequences of the Somme basin provide a unique dataset for the study of the relations between human occupations and environmental variations. Studies have been based on an interdisciplinary approach combining sedimentology, palaeontology and geochronology (U-series, ESR and ESR/U-series). Meanwhile, the palaeoenvironmental interpretation of Pleistocene sequences containing Palaeolithic levels has been refined with biological proxies and sedimentological data obtained on both loess and fluvial sequences. Our data have highlighted the impact of the 100 ky cycles on terraces formation since ±1 Ma, and the fluvial terraces system of the Somme basin has become a reference model for the study of the response of fluvial systems to Milankovich cycles in areas characterised by slow continuous uplift. Compilation of the whole results from modern archaeological excavations within this chronoclimatic reference system show that human occupation of this area has been discontinuous and highly influenced by climatic and environmental factors. In the Somme terraces system in situ Acheulean settlements where dated to early MIS 12 at ±450 ka in the 1990s, but new field discoveries allow to increase significantly the age of the oldest human occupation (Early Middle Pleistocene). The first one (Amiens “Rue du Manège” 2007) is dated at ±550 ka using ESR and terrace stratigraphy. The newest findings have been done in 2011–2013 in Abbeville (Carrière Carpentier), where mammal assemblages show that calcareous fluvial deposits have been deposited in an interglacial environment. On the basis of terrace stratigraphy, ESR-quartz dating, and biostratigraphic data, these fluvial deposits are allocated to MIS 15. Handaxes discovered at the base of the slope deposits, directly overlying the fluvial sequence, can be, as a first hypothesis, allocated to MIS 14. They are thus due to Homo heidelbergensis according to the age of the eponymous Mauer site in Germany. Consequently, in the state of knowledge, the “Rue du Manège” and Carrière Carpentier findings represent the oldest in situ evidence of the hominid occupation in the terrace record of Northern France.

     
 

Ancient humans brought tools to Europe, di A. Curry, "Nature-News", 01 June 2015

A collection of 44,000-year-old snail shells and the remains of two humans dubbed Egbert and Ethelruda might have settled an argument about the origins of tool use in Europe. Analysis of these remains suggests that the advanced tool use that characterizes the period known as the Upper Palaeolithic, beginning around 50,000 years ago, was carried with the people who colonized Europe from Africa by way of the eastern Mediterranean region called the Levant. This contradicts an alternative theory that these people invented such tools after they settled in Europe. Egbert and Ethelruda were part of a group of humans who used tools and body ornaments such as shells and teeth, which are similar to artefacts found at early European sites. They were unearthed from a site in Lebanon called Ksar Akil in the 1930s and 1940s. But dating human remains from Ksar Akil has been problematic because bones from the site are so degraded that they do not contain enough organic material to analyse using radiocarbon techniques. (...)

     
  Excavations at the Chagyrskaya Cave, Russia: a Neanderthal Middle Palaeolithic industry in Northern Asia, di A. Derevyanko, S. Markin, S. Gladyshev, K. Kolobova, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 345, June 2015

Recent archaeological, anthropological and palaeogenetic studies in the Altay Mountains, southern Russia, show that the development of different regional middle Palaeolithic industries was more complicated than previously assumed. Through Palaeolithic times, this region has been inhabited by Neanderthals, modern humans and Denisovans (Krause et al. 2010). It is assumed that there had not been a simple successive occupation of the region by different kinds of humans but rather some chronological overlap or co-existence of all these populations. Although palaeogenetic data indicate interbreeding (at least between Neanderthals and Denisovans), the possibility of cultural reciprocity between these populations remains unclear. The cultural affinity of Denisovans and early modern humans attested at the Denisova and Strashnaya Caves is described as a Levallois-based blade industry, while the Neanderthal industries of the Okladnikov and Chagyrskaya Caves demonstrate completely different features (Derevianko et al. 2014). (...)

     
 

An alternative chronology for the art of Chauvet cave, di P. Pettitt, P. Bahn, "Antiquity" / Volume 89 / Issue 345 / June 2015, pp 542-553

It is now 20 years since the discovery of the Grotte Chauvet with its impressive cave art, but controversy continues over the antiquity of the images. Radiocarbon assays have been used to argue that the ‘black series’ charcoal drawings date to the Aurignacian period, more than 20 000 years earlier than traditional stylistic models would suggest. This paper questions the validity of the radiometric dating and cautions against reliance solely on the date of the charcoal. Instead, the authors propose an alternative chronology for the art of Chauvet based on stylistic comparanda, palaeontological remains and stratigraphic evidence.

     
  Paleoenvironmental context of the Middle Stone Age record from Karungu, Lake Victoria Basin, Kenya, and its implications for human and faunal dispersals in East Africa, di J. Tyler Faith et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 83, June 2015, Pages 28–45

The opening and closing of the equatorial East African forest belt during the Quaternary is thought to have influenced the biogeographic histories of early modern humans and fauna, although precise details are scarce due to a lack of archaeological and paleontological records associated with paleoenvironmental data. With this in mind, we provide a description and paleoenvironmental reconstruction of the Late Pleistocene Middle Stone Age (MSA) artifact- and fossil-bearing sediments from Karungu, located along the shores of Lake Victoria in western Kenya. Artifacts recovered from surveys and controlled excavations are typologically MSA and include points, blades, and Levallois flakes and cores, as well as obsidian flakes similar in geochemical composition to documented sources near Lake Naivasha (250 km east). A combination of sedimentological, paleontological, and stable isotopic evidence indicates a semi-arid environment characterized by seasonal precipitation and the dominance of C4 grasslands, likely associated with a substantial reduction in Lake Victoria. The well-preserved fossil assemblage indicates that these conditions are associated with the convergence of historically allopatric ungulates from north and south of the equator, in agreement with predictions from genetic observations. Analysis of the East African MSA record reveals previously unrecognized north–south variation in assemblage composition that is consistent with episodes of population fragmentation during phases of limited dispersal potential. The grassland-associated MSA assemblages from Karungu and nearby Rusinga Island are characterized by a combination of artifact types that is more typical of northern sites. This may reflect the dispersal of behavioral repertoires—and perhaps human populations—during a paleoenvironmental phase dominated by grasslands.

     
  A multi-method luminescence dating of the Palaeolithic sequence of La Ferrassie based on new excavations adjacent to the La Ferrassie 1 and 2 skeletons, di Guillaume Guérin et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 58, June 2015, Pages 147–166

A new interdisciplinary project was initiated to excavate a portion of the Palaeolithic site of La Ferrassie left intact by earlier excavations. One of the aims of this project was to provide chronological information on the succession of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic layers, as well as on the skeletons unearthed by Capitan and Peyrony in the early 1900's. We report here preliminary results on the lithics, faunal remains, site formation processes, and on the stratigraphic context of the La Ferrassie 1 and 2 skeletons that were found adjacent to our excavations. Finally, results from luminescence dating of the sediments and a preliminary set of radiocarbon ages are presented. Quartz OSL, both at the multi-grain and single-grain levels of analysis, and post-IR IRSL of feldspar at various stimulation temperatures are compared. The quartz/feldspar comparison revealed a bleaching problem for the quartz OSL (and the feldspar pIRIR signals) from Layer 2; as a consequence, the age of this Layer was determined using a minimum age model. A Mousterian industry with bifaces, at the base of the sequence, has been dated between 91 ± 9 and 44 ± 3 ka. The Ferrassie Mousterian layers are attributed to MIS 3, between 54 ± 3 and 40 ± 2 ka, and thus appear very late in the final Middle Palaeolithic of the region; furthermore, these ages constrain the chronology of the La Ferrassie 1 and 2 skeletons, which have been attributed to one of these Ferrassie Mousterian layers. The Châtelperronian layer is dated to 42 ± 3 ka and the Aurignacian to 37 ± 2 ka. Implications of the ages for the La Ferrassie 1 and 2 skeletons, and for the variability of late Mousterian, are discussed.

     
  New species from Ethiopia further expands Middle Pliocene hominin diversity, di Y. Haile-Selassie et alii, "Nature" 521, pp. 483–488 (28 May 2015)

Middle Pliocene hominin species diversity has been a subject of debate over the past two decades, particularly after the naming of Australopithecus bahrelghazali and Kenyanthropus platyops in addition to the well-known species Australopithecus afarensis. Further analyses continue to support the proposal that several hominin species co-existed during this time period. Here we recognize a new hominin species (Australopithecus deyiremeda sp. nov.) from 3.3–3.5-million-year-old deposits in the Woranso–Mille study area, central Afar, Ethiopia. The new species from Woranso–Mille shows that there were at least two contemporaneous hominin species living in the Afar region of Ethiopia between 3.3 and 3.5 million years ago, and further confirms early hominin taxonomic diversity in eastern Africa during the Middle Pliocene epoch. The morphology of Au. deyiremeda also reinforces concerns related to dentognathic (that is, jaws and teeth) homoplasy in Plio–Pleistocene hominins, and shows that some dentognathic features traditionally associated with Paranthropus and Homo appeared in the fossil record earlier than previously thought.

· I tanti australopitechi diversi del tempo di Lucy, "Le Scienze", 28 maggio 2015

· Ominidi: un nuovo parente di Lucy, di S. Valesini, "Galileo", 28 Maggio 2015

· New human ancestor was Lucy’s cousin and neighbor, di M. Balter, "Science-News", 27 May 2015

     
  Lethal Interpersonal Violence in the Middle Pleistocene, di N. Sala et alii, "PLoS ONE", May 27, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0126589  - open access -

Evidence of interpersonal violence has been documented previously in Pleistocene members of the genus Homo, but only very rarely has this been posited as the possible manner of death. Here we report the earliest evidence of lethal interpersonal violence in the hominin fossil record. Cranium 17 recovered from the Sima de los Huesos Middle Pleistocene site shows two clear perimortem depression fractures on the frontal bone, interpreted as being produced by two episodes of localized blunt force trauma. The type of injuries, their location, the strong similarity of the fractures in shape and size, and the different orientations and implied trajectories of the two fractures suggest they were produced with the same object in face-to-face interpersonal conflict. Given that either of the two traumatic events was likely lethal, the presence of multiple blows implies an intention to kill. This finding shows that the lethal interpersonal violence is an ancient human behavior and has important implications for the accumulation of bodies at the site, supporting an anthropic origin. (...)

     
 

Palaeoclimates, plasticity, and the early dispersal of Homo sapiens, di M. Grove, "Quaternary International",Volume 369, 22 May 2015, Pages 17–37

The origin and initial dispersal of Homo sapiens out of East Africa and into the Levant remains a major research focus in evolutionary anthropology. There is little doubt that climatic changes played a role in facilitating this dispersal, but the specific dynamics remain poorly understood. This contribution surveys the fossil and genetic evidence for the origin and dispersal of modern humans, and situates this evidence within the context of biological theories of plasticity and dispersal. It is shown that certain climatic and environmental conditions are expected to lead to the evolution of plastic strategies, and that such strategies are characteristic of successfully dispersing species. A model is formulated that allows for the identification of features in climatic records that are conducive to the evolution of plasticity, and thus to the development of dispersal capabilities. Using as an example a palaeoclimatic record from Lake Tana, Ethiopia, the model is used to pinpoint the chronology of likely periods of dispersal from East Africa. Results indicate the presence of a dispersal phase c.97–105 ka, a date that fits well with the initial modern human colonisation of the Levant shortly after 100 ka. Implications of recent genetic chronologies for the origin of non-African modern humans and the archaeological evidence for possible routes out of Africa are discussed in this context.

     
 

3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya, di S. Harmand et alii, "Nature" 521, pp. 310–315 (21 May 2015)

Human evolutionary scholars have long supposed that the earliest stone tools were made by the genus Homo and that this technological development was directly linked to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands. New fieldwork in West Turkana, Kenya, has identified evidence of much earlier hominin technological behaviour. We report the discovery of Lomekwi 3, a 3.3-million-year-old archaeological site where in situ stone artefacts occur in spatiotemporal association with Pliocene hominin fossils in a wooded palaeoenvironment. The Lomekwi 3 knappers, with a developing understanding of stone’s fracture properties, combined core reduction with battering activities. Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution and technological origins, we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record.

· Il genere Homo comparve più di 3 milioni di anni fa?, "Le Scienze", 20 maggio 2015

· Gli utensili sono nati prima del genere Homo, di S. Valesini, "Galileo", 21 Maggio 2015

     
  Ancient DNA pinpoints Paleolithic liaison in Europe, di A. Gibbons, "Science-News", 21 May 2015

A young man who lived in Romania 37,000 to 42,000 years inherited as much as one-tenth of his DNA from a Neandertal ancestor, according to a new study of ancient DNA. Ever since spelunkers found a robust jawbone in a cave in Romania in 2002, some paleoanthropologists have thought that its huge wisdom teeth and other features resembled those of Neandertals even though the fossil was a modern human. Now, by sequencing informative parts of the Romanian man's genome, an international team of researchers has found that he had inherited 4.8% to 11.3% of his genome from a Neandertal who lived only 200 years or so previously, according to a talk this month at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. The finding confirms that Neandertals interbred with modern humans more than once, and it is the first evidence that the two types of humans had a liaison in Europe.

     
  Stone bracelet is oldest ever found, 18 May 2015

Discovered in the Altai Mountains of Siberia in 2008, detailed analysis by Russian experts confirms an intricately made polished green stone bracelet dates to as long ago as 40,000 years. Anatoly Derevyanko, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says: "The bracelet is stunning - in bright sunlight it reflects the sun rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green." Made of chlorite, the bracelet was found inside the famous Denisova Cave, in the same layer as remains of some of the extinct species of humans who were genetically distinct from both Neanderthals and modern humans. Chlorite was not found near the cave, and is thought to have come from a distance of at least 200 kilometres. Inside the cave, 66 different types of mammals have been discovered, and 50 bird species. Further examination of the site found other artefacts dating back as much as 125,000 years. The bracelet is in two fragments, 27 millimetres wide and 9 millimetres thick. The estimated diameter of the complete piece is 70 millimetres. Near one of the broken edges is a drilled hole with a diameter of about 8 millimetres. (...)
     
  More evidence found for Neanderthal adaptability, 17 May 2015

There is a cave in Northern Israel which is known locally as the Amud Cave. This cave was occupied at various times over the millennia but most notably during two Ice Ages, separated by 10,000 years. The caves have previously provided evidence of Neanderthal occupation, including one specimen which had the largest cranial capacity of any Neanderthal found so far. An international group of researchers have been examining the remains of gazelle found in the caves, to gather more information on Neanderthal hunting patterns. The periods they researched covered two distinct Ice Ages. The first is known as Marine Isotope Stage 4 (69,000 - 127,000 BCE) and the second is known as Marine Isotope Stage 3 (55,000 - 68,000 BCE). By analysis of tooth enamel (oxygen, carbon and strontium isotopes) they worked out that the gazelle had grazed on the higher slopes, above the cave, during the earlier Ice Age, which had been drier and so grazing was restricted to higher altitudes, but tat they had foraged much closer, on the lower slopes during the later one, when food was more abundant. Team Leader, Gideon Hartman of the University of Connecticut (USA) is quoted as saying "This study shows that Neanderthals adjusted their hunting territories considerably in relation to varying environmental conditions over the course of occupation in the Amud Caves".
     
  The makers of the Protoaurignacian and implications for Neandertal extinction, di S. Benazzi et alii, "Science" 15 May 2015: Vol. 348 no. 6236 pp. 793-796

The Protoaurignacian culture is pivotal to the debate about the timing of the arrival of modern humans in western Europe and the demise of Neandertals. However, which group is responsible for this culture remains uncertain. We investigated dental remains associated with the Protoaurignacian. The lower deciduous incisor from Riparo Bombrini is modern human, based on its morphology. The upper deciduous incisor from Grotta di Fumane contains ancient mitochondrial DNA of a modern human type. These teeth are the oldest human remains in an Aurignacian-related archaeological context, confirming that by 41,000 calendar years before the present, modern humans bearing Protoaurignacian culture spread into southern Europe. Because the last Neandertals date to 41,030 to 39,260 calendar years before the present, we suggest that the Protoaurignacian triggered the demise of Neandertals in this area.

     
 

A paleoneurological survey of Homo erectus endocranial metrics, di E. Bruner, D. Grimaud-Hervé, X. Wu, J. M. de la Cuétara, R. Holloway, "Quaternary International", Volume 368, 14 May 2015, Pages 80–87

The taxonomic debate on the phylogenetic coherence of Homo erectus as a widespread intercontinental species is constantly put forward, without major agreements. Differences between the African and Asian fossil record as well as differences between the Chinese and Indonesian groups (or even within these two regions) have frequently been used to propose splitting taxonomical alternatives. In this paper, we analyze the endocranial variation of African and Asian specimens belonging to the hypodigm of H. erectus sensu lato, to assess whether or not these groups can be characterized in terms of traditional endocranial metrics. According to the basic endocast proportions, the three geographic groups largely overlap in their phenotypic distribution and morphological patterns. The morphological affinity or differences among the specimens are largely based on brain size. As already evidenced by using other cranial features, traditional paleoneurological metrics cannot distinguish possible independent groups or trends within the Afro-Asiatic H. erectus hypodigm. Endocranial features and variability are discussed as to provide a general perspective on the paleoneurological traits of this taxon.

     
 

The nature of technological changes: The Middle Pleistocene stone tool assemblages from Galería and Gran Dolina-subunit TD10.1 (Atapuerca, Spain), di P. García-Medrano, A. Ollé, M. Mosquera, I. Cáceres, E. Carbonell, "Quaternary International", Volume 368, 14 May 2015, Pages 92–111

This article focuses on the origins for technological variation during the Middle Pleistocene through the analysis of the lithic assemblages from Galería and Gran Dolina-subunit TD10.1 (Atapuerca, Spain). The technological study was organized into three main levels of analysis. The first stage consisted of the technological characterization of the whole assemblage (e.g. the general composition of each sample, the exploitation and shaping methods used, and the characteristics of each item). The second stage involved the morphometric analysis of the large tools, mainly handaxes and cleavers, given the significance of these instruments in Middle Pleistocene assemblages. In this case, we combined traditional technical and metrical analyses with current morphometric methods. Lastly, taking into account the general characteristics of these sites, the third stage consisted of assessing how the different occupational strategies affected the lithic representation. These analyses allowed us to define three technological groups. The first includes unit Galería-GIIa, which corresponds to the appearance of the Acheulean in the Atapuerca caves. The second is represented by the rest of the sequence of the Galería site, mainly the upper part of the sequence (unit GIII). And the third technological corresponds to Gran Dolina-subunit TD10.1. Thus, the Galería sequence shows the technological evolution of the Acheulean over a period of 250 ka. Furthermore, subunit TD10.1 represents a new occupational strategy combining traditional Acheulean tools with more evolved technical strategies.

     
  Early European may have had Neanderthal great-great-grandparent, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 13 May 2015

One of Europe’s earliest known humans had a close Neanderthal ancestor: perhaps as close as a great-great-grandparent. The finding, announced on 8 May at the Biology of Genomes meeting in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, questions the idea that humans and Neanderthals interbred only in the Middle East, more than 50,000 years ago. Qiaomei Fu, a palaeogenomicist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, told the meeting how she and her colleagues had sequenced DNA from a 40,000-year-old jawbone that represents some of the earliest modern-human remains in Europe. They estimate that 5–11% of the bone's genome is Neanderthal, including large chunks of several chromosomes. (The genetic analysis also shows that the individual was a man). By analysing how lengths of DNA inherited from any one ancestor shorten with each generation, the team estimated that the man had a Neanderthal ancestor in the previous 4–6 generations. (...)

     
 

Un débitage lamellaire au Proche-Orient vers 40 000 ans cal BP. Le site d’Umm el Tlel, Syrie centrale, di É. Boëda et alii, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 119, Issue 2, April–May 2015, Pages 141–169

Au Proche-Orient et notamment en Syrie, un certain nombre de sites archéologiques a livré de nouvelles industries attribuables au Paléolithique intermédiaire, plus communément nommées « industries de transition ». Le terme de Paléolithique intermédiaire nous semble mieux approprié en raison de l’apparition de plusieurs faciès avec de nouvelles orientations techniques. Le débitage lamellaire est l’une de ces nouveautés. Parmi les quatre faciès de ce Paléolithique reconnu dans les bassins de Palmyre et d’El Kowm (Syrie centrale), les faciès 3 et 4 restent les plus fréquents et les mieux documentés en termes chrono-stratigraphiques. Cet article porte sur le faciès 3, découvert en stratigraphie sur le site d’Umm el Tlel et qui a fait l’objet de datations et d’analyses tracéologiques. Les couches III2a’ et II base’, retenues pour études et datées aux alentours de 36 000 ± 2500 ans (T.L.), se caractérisent toutes deux par différentes conceptions de tailles (Levallois et non Levallois) ainsi que par des productions d’enlèvements prédéterminés de morphologies variées. Parmi ces productions lithiques, les lamelles, de morphologies et de dimensions variées et issues de deux modes de production – intercalé dans le débitage Levallois et sur nucleus lamellaire spécifiques –, représentent plus du tiers des enlèvements prédéterminés réalisés. Le caractère intentionnel de ces productions est renforcé par la présence sur tous les types de lamelles de diverses microtraces d’usure témoins d’utilisation variées de ces outils tant en ce qui concerne leur fonction et leur mode de fonctionnement que leur possible mode de préhension. Au Levant, une continuité technique apparaît clairement entre les faciès du Paléolithique intermédiaire dont le faciès 3 et les industries du Paléolithique supérieur, l’Ahmarien et l’Aurignacien. Néanmoins, cette nouveauté s’applique de façon distincte selon la période considérée. Durant Paléolithique intermédiaire les façons de faire sont très différentes d’un faciès à l’autre et l’utilisation des lamelles est assez variée. Alors qu’au Paléolithique supérieur il existe une normalisation des techniques et donc des supports mais aussi des fonctions et modes de fonctionnement des lamelles.

     
 

Les industries lithiques moustériennes de la Baume Moula-Guercy (Soyons, Ardèche). Fouilles 1993–1999, di A. Defleur,"L'Anthropologie", Volume 119, Issue 2, April–May 2015, Pages 170–253

Située en moyenne vallée du Rhône, 80 mètres au-dessus du cours actuel du fleuve, entre les montagnes ardéchoises et le massif du Vercors, la Baume Moula-Guercy a livré durant les fouilles réalisées entre 1993 et 1999, 2595 éléments lithiques appartenant à 11 couches archéologiques dont plus de 92 % appartiennent à 4 couches principales : IV, VIII, XIV et XV lesquelles correspondent à des haltes de chasse saisonnières. La séquence stratigraphique se rapporte exclusivement au Paléolithique moyen. Les études paléontologiques et géologiques ont permis de scinder le remplissage, actuellement connu sur plus de 8 mètres, en trois phases climatiques respectivement attribuées au SIM 6 (couches XIX à XVII), SIM 5 (couches XVI à XI) et SIM 4 (couches X à IV). À la base de l’ensemble moyen, la couche XV a livré les restes de 6 Néandertaliens de tous âges, tous cannibalisés. L’étude de l’industrie lithique fait apparaître deux ensembles homogènes correspondant aux deux couches principales de l’ensemble moyen (couche XIV–XV) et de l’ensemble supérieur (couche IV–VIII). Ce fait indique probablement que le même territoire a été parcouru au cours de leurs cycles saisonniers par deux groupes humains porteurs de traditions techniques différentes, à plusieurs dizaines de milliers d’années d’intervalle, dans des contextes climatiques et écologiques très différents. L’étude s’accompagne d’une réflexion sur l’opportunité d’englober le débitage discoïde (sensu Bordes) dans la philosophie générale du débitage Levallois.

     
 

Les hommes de Néandertal du Caucase du Nord : entre l’Ouest et l’Est, di L. V. Golovanova, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 119, Issue 2, April–May 2015, Pages 254–301

Au Paléolithique moyen, le Micoquien est-européen oriental a été développé dans tout l’ensemble du Caucase du Nord-Ouest. La tradition locale de La Micoque a été étroitement liée à l’Europe centrale et orientale. Ce n’est que vers la fin du stade 3 MIS, que le Moustérien Hostinsky arrive de la Transcaucasie dans cette région. Au Nord-Ouest du Caucase, le Moustérien de Zagros est présent dans la grotte Lassok. Ainsi, dès le Paléolithique moyen, il existe des différences significatives au Caucase du Nord dans le développement des régions occidentale et orientale.

     
  Mammoth ivory technologies in the Upper Palaeolithic: a case study based on the materials from Yana RHS, Northern Yana-Indighirka lowland, Arctic Siberia, di V. V. Pitulko, E. Y. Pavlova, P. A. Nikolskiy, "World Archaeology", Volume 47, Issue 3, 2015, pages 333-389, Published online: 23 Apr 2015

Processing of mammoth ivory and manufacturing of diverse ivory artefacts is widely recognized as one of the most important characteristics of the material culture of ancient humans. These technological skills reach their greatest extent and development shortly before the Last Glacial Maximum but are recognizable until the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary across Northern Eurasia in all areas populated by mammoths and humans. As a cultural phenomenon, ivory working is intriguing with respect to flaking technology and especially the production of long ivory shafts. Technological operations in the Upper Palaeolithic of Northern Eurasia have been closely influenced, on the one hand, by the size and shape of the desirable final product and, on the other, by knowledge of raw material properties. Study of the morphology of the artefactual material from the Yana site complex in Arctic Siberia convincingly reveals the technological processes involved. Several technological cycles (chaînes opératoires) can be recognized, including the manufacture of long ivory shafts by exfoliation and wedging. The Yana ivory technology dates roughly to 28,000 bp in radiocarbon years.

     

Aggiornamento 30 aprile

 
  Artifact densities and assemblage formation: Evidence from Tabun Cave, di S. L. Kuhn, A. E. Clark, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 38, June 2015, Pages 8–16

Archaeological assemblages are fundamentally records of discard behavior. Lewis Binford’s pioneering ethnoarchaeological research focused attention on the differing pathways that lead to artifacts being abandoned in different locations on the landscape. Recurring relationships between artifact density and assemblage content at Middle and Upper Paleolithic sites reflect simple behavioral dynamics pertaining to artifact production and discard. In the very long archaeological sequence from A. Jelinek’s excavations at Tabun Cave, Mousterian assemblages show the expected pattern, but earlier Acheulean, Amudian and Yabrudian assemblages do not. In combination with evidence that different classes of artifacts were discarded at different rates, these results suggest that land use and raw material provisioning in the later Middle Pleistocene were organized differently than they were among later populations of Neanderthals and modern humans.

     
  Counting the Children: The Role of Children in the Production of Finger Flutings in Four Upper Palaeolithic Caves, di L. Van Gelder, "Oxford Journal of Archaeology", Volume 34, Issue 2, pages 119–138, May 2015

Children and young adults are believed to have represented up to 40 per cent of Upper Palaeolithic populations, yet little is known of their engagement in deep caves besides evidence of their hand and footprints. In this study we examine finger flutings, lines drawn with fingers in soft surfaces, in 12 Franco-Cantabrian Upper Palaeolithic caves to look for forensic evidence of unique individuals. We find evidence of children as finger fluters in four caves (El Castillo, Las Chimeneas, Rouffignac and Gargas). We discuss the types, locations and frequency of their flutings, as well as the relationship between their flutings and those made by non-children in the same caves and chambers. The small number of participants calls into question past theories of children's engagement in ritual and initiation in these particular caves.

     
  Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 82, Pages 1-198 (May 2015):

Spatial and temporal variation of body size among early Homo, di M. Will, J. T. Stock, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 82, May 2015, Pages 15-33

A geometric morphometric analysis of hominin lower molars: Evolutionary implications and overview of postcanine dental variation, di A. Gómez-Robles et alii, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 82, May 2015, Pages 34-50

A geometric morphometrics comparative analysis of Neandertal humeri (epiphyses-fused) from the El Sidrón cave site (Asturias, Spain), di A. Rosas et alii, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 82, May 2015, Pages 51-66

Variability in Early Ahmarian lithic technology and its implications for the model of a Levantine origin of the Protoaurignacian, di S. Kadowaki, T. Omori, Y. Nishiaki, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 82, May 2015, Pages 67-87

The lithic industry of Sima del Elefante (Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain) in the context of Early and Middle Pleistocene technology in Europe, di A. de Lombera-Hermida et alii, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 82, May 2015, Pages 95-106

La Ferrassie 8 Neandertal child reloaded: New remains and re-assessment of the original collection, di A. Gómez-Olivencia, I. Crevecoeur, A. Balzeau, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 82, May 2015, Pages 107-126

Upper Palaeolithic ritualistic cannibalism at Gough's Cave (Somerset, UK): The human remains from head to toe, di S. M. Bello, P. Saladié, I. Cáceres, A. Rodríguez-Hidalgo, S. A. Parfitt, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 82, May 2015, Pages 170-189

A human deciduous molar from the Middle Stone Age (Howiesons Poort) of Klipdrift Shelter, South Africa, di K. Harvati et alii, Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 82, May 2015, Pages 190-196

     
  Not much size difference between male and female Australopithecines, April 28, 2015

Lucy and other members of the early hominid species Australopithecus afarensis probably were similar to humans in the size difference between males and females, according to new research. (...)
     
  The makers of the Protoaurignacian and implications for Neandertal extinction, di S. Benazzi et alii, "Science-Report", April 23 2015, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa2773

The Protoaurignacian culture is pivotal to the debate about the timing of the arrival of modern humans in Western Europe and the demise of Neandertals. However, which group is responsible for this culture remains uncertain. We investigated dental remains associated with the Protoaurignacian. The lower deciduous incisor from Riparo Bombrini is modern human, based on its morphology. The upper deciduous incisor from Grotta di Fumane contains ancient mitochondrial DNA of a modern human type. These teeth are the oldest human remains in an Aurignacian-related archeological context, confirming that by 41,000 calendar years before the present, modern humans bearing Protoaurignacian culture spread into Southern Europe. Because the last Neandertals date to 41,030 to 39,260 calendar years before the present, we suggest that the Protoaurignacian triggered the demise of Neandertals in this area.

     
 

Accessing Developmental Information of Fossil Hominin Teeth Using New Synchrotron Microtomography-Based Visualization Techniques of Dental Surfaces and Interfaces, di A. Le Cabec, N. Tang, P. Tafforeau, "PLoS ONE", April 22, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123019 - open access -

Quantification of dental long-period growth lines (Retzius lines in enamel and Andresen lines in dentine) and matching of stress patterns (internal accentuated lines and hypoplasias) are used in determining crown formation time and age at death in juvenile fossil hominins. They yield the chronology employed for inferences of life history. Synchrotron virtual histology has been demonstrated as a non-destructive alternative to conventional invasive approaches. Nevertheless, fossil teeth are sometimes poorly preserved or physically inaccessible, preventing observation of the external expression of incremental lines (perikymata and periradicular bands). Here we present a new approach combining synchrotron virtual histology and high quality three-dimensional rendering of dental surfaces and internal interfaces. We illustrate this approach with seventeen permanent fossil hominin teeth. The outer enamel surface and enamel-dentine junction (EDJ) were segmented by capturing the phase contrast fringes at the structural interfaces. Three-dimensional models were rendered with Phong’s algorithm, and a combination of directional colored lights to enhance surface topography and the pattern of subtle variations in tissue density. The process reveals perikymata and linear enamel hypoplasias on the entire crown surface, including unerupted teeth. Using this method, highly detailed stress patterns at the EDJ allow precise matching of teeth within an individual’s dentition when virtual histology is not sufficient. We highlight that taphonomical altered enamel can in particular cases yield artificial subdivisions of perikymata when imaged using X-ray microtomography with insufficient resolution. This may complicate assessments of developmental time, although this can be circumvented by a careful analysis of external and internal structures in parallel. We further present new crown formation times for two unerupted canines from South African Australopiths, which were found to form over a rather surprisingly long time (> 4.5 years). This approach provides tools for maximizing the recovery of developmental information in teeth, especially in the most difficult cases. (...)

     
  Oldest stone tools raise questions about their creators, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 21 April 2015

The oldest stone tools on record may spell the end for the theory that complex toolmaking began with the genus Homo, to which humans belong. The 3.3-million-year-old artefacts, revealed at a conference in California last week, predate the first members of Homo, and suggest that more-ancient hominin ancestors had the intelligence and dexterity to craft sophisticated tools. “This is a landmark discovery pertaining to one of the key evolutionary milestones,” says Zeresenay Alemseged, a palaeoanthropologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, who attended the talk at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society in San Francisco, on 14 April. (...)
     
  Neither chimpanzee nor human, Ardipithecus reveals the surprising ancestry of both, di T. D. White, C. O. Lovejoy, B. Asfaw, J. P. Carlsona, G. Suwa, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", April 21, 2015, vol. 112, no. 16, pp. 4877–4884

Australopithecus fossils were regularly interpreted during the late 20th century in a framework that used living African apes, especially chimpanzees, as proxies for the immediate ancestors of the human clade. Such projection is now largely nullified by the discovery of Ardipithecus. In the context of accumulating evidence from genetics, developmental biology, anatomy, ecology, biogeography, and geology, Ardipithecus alters perspectives on how our earliest hominid ancestors—and our closest living relatives—evolved.

     
 

Palaeoloxodon and Human Interaction: Depositional Setting, Chronology and Archaeology at the Middle Pleistocene Ficoncella Site (Tarquinia, Italy), di D. Aureli et alii, April 21, 2015, "PLoS ONE", DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0124498  - open access -

The Ficoncella site in northern Latium (Italy) represents a unique opportunity to investigate the modalities of a short occupation in an alluvial setting during the Lower Palaeolithic. The small excavation area yielded a lithic assemblage, a carcass of Palaeoloxodon antiquus, and some other faunal remains. The main objectives of the study are to better characterize the depositional context where the Palaeoloxodon and the lithic assemblage occur, and to evaluate with greater precision the occupation dynamics. A 25 m-long well was drilled just above the top of the terrace of the Ficoncella site and faunal and lithic remains were analyzed with current and innovative techniques. The archaeological site contains floodplain deposits as it is located next to a small incised valley that feeds into a larger valley of the Mignone River. A tephra layer capping the site is 40Ar/39Ar dated to 441± 8 ka. Collectively, the geochronologic, tephrochronologic and geologic data, suggest the site was occupied during MIS 13. The new results should prompt further research at Ficoncella in order to improve our understanding of the dynamics of human settlement in Europe during the Early to Middle Pleistocene.

     
  Homo erectus footprints hint at ancient hunting party, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 17 April 2015

A long-past hunting party left a permanent sign of its outing — and it was not empty beer cans. Dozens of 1.5-million-year-old human footprints in Kenya may be evidence of an early antelope hunt, offering a rare look at the lives of ancient humans, researchers reported at a conference in California this week. Footprints are the rarest of human relics. They tend to erode away very quickly; only the choicest of conditions keep them preserved for thousands or millions of years. But unlike collections of bones and tools — which are difficult to link to a single individual or group — footprints offer a snapshot of daily life. (...)

     
 

Natural environment of MIS 5 and soil catena sequence along a loess slope in the Seret River valley: Evidence from the Pronyatyn Palaeolithic site (Ukraine), di Maria Łanczont et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 365, 16 April 2015, Pages 74–97

The Middle Palaeolithic site in Pronyatyn village is situated on the Ternopil Plateau, on the eastern, long and straight slope of the Krucha Gora hill (369.5 m a.s.l.). The structure of loess cover in this area was investigated in the series of archaeological excavations to a depth of 5–6 m in 1977–1985, 2010 and 2011. Lithological, palaeomagnetical and palynological analyses, as well as TL dating were carried out in the selected profiles. In all profiles, under thin cover of loess from the last aeolian deposition sub-cycle (MIS 2), a set of soils of S1 = Gorohiv s.l.; (MIS 5 complex) exists. This complex is composed of interglacial and interstadial units. Forest and forest-steppe vegetation, followed by a rich steppe with the continuous occurrence of trees and shrubs and without subarctic elements, developed during the stages of its formation. Based on the investigations of loess cover carried out over a large area, it was found that all sequences are spatially diversified in the profiles located along and across the slope in the middle part of this area. This diversity resulted from the development of pedogenetic and slope processes, depending on morphological features of individual slope segments. In the southern part of the study area, outside the extent of artifact occurrence, the deposits representing MIS 5 are undisturbed or slightly disturbed and contain a loess-soil sequence, which is composed of the interglacial Cambisol (with evidence for the Blake palaeomagnetic event) and 2–3 interstadial soils. Artifacts were discovered in the northern and northwestern parts of the study area, within a solifluctionally redeposited chernozem occurring on a denuded Luvisol. Based on the analysis of the artifact collection, the flint industry is the Western-Podolian, Levallois, radial-parallel, flakes-and-blades, without two-sided tools and with domination of knife-like products on Levallois blanks. This suggestion of the flint industry age as within the younger part of MIS 5 is supported by TL dates. It is most possible that this settlement took place in MIS 5c. Based on spatial distribution of artifacts, state of their preservation, and the features of solifluction deposits representing the younger part of MIS 5, we conclude that the site was originally located on the slope above the excavation area, about 30–50 m to the west.

     
 

The loess-palaeosol sequence in the Upper Palaeolithic site at Kraków Spadzista: A palaeoenvironmental approach, di Maria Łanczont et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 365, 16 April 2015, Pages 98–113

The Kraków Spadzista open-air site, situated in the loess belt in southern Poland, belongs to the best-known Gravettian sites of Europe. Many years of archaeological studies revealed a wealth of faunal remains (especially mammoths) as well as numerous Aurignacian, Gravettian and Epigravettian stone artefacts in several cultural layers. Field pedogeomorphological investigations (2011–2012) and laboratory analyses (geochemical, granulometric, micromorphological, palynological and IRSL dating) were the basis for palaeogeographical discussion on the conditions of the loess-soil sequence development. Five independent litho- and pedological units, corresponding to MIS 5 to 2, were distinguished. Primary loess layers are relatively thin and contain many hiatuses. Diverse structure and development of intra-loess palaeosols reflect their origin, age and stratigraphic rank. The cultural layers were found in weakly developed soils with the traces of subsequent periglacial, mainly deluvial–solifluction, transformations of different intensity. The palaeosols represent two periods of interglacial rank (Eemian forest palaeosol and the overlying postglacial “modern” soil; MIS 5 and 1, respectively) and two interstadials (subarctic soils with the Gravettian artefacts; MIS 3). One weakly developed gleyic horizon with the features of tundra soil occurs within the loess corresponding to climatic pessimum of Weichselian Glaciation (MIS 2). In the very local (promontory with the site) and micro-regional (Sowiniec horst) scales, the distinguished soils are undoubtedly important palaeogeographical and archaeological key horizons.

     
 

Supra-regional correlations of the most ancient paleosols and Paleolithic layers of Kostenki-Borschevo region (Russian Plain), di Galina M. Levkovskaya et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 365, 16 April 2015, Pages 114–134

The archaeological site Kostenki12, located on the Middle Don River, provides a key stratigraphic profile for regional paleopedological, paleoenvironmental, geological and cultural sequences, containing the oldest known cultural layers of the region (layer V – Paleolithic, layer IV – Upper Paleolithic, layer III – Kostenki-Strelets culture early phase) dating to the early part of MIS3, or, in chronometric terms, to 54–42 ka. Kostenki12 complements Kostenki14 (Markina Gora), which is a key profile for the interval 42–27 ka. The new data from Kostenki12 show that the East European Upper Paleolithic began ∼45 ka. The stratigraphy exhibits similarities to that of Borschevo5. The Kostenki12 pollen diagram is correlated with: 1) other pollen diagrams from Kostenki-Borschevo region; 2) the most detailed climatostratigraphical scale of the Russian Plain Late Pleistocene; 3) 16O/18O Greenland GISP2 scale; 4) 13C/14C record from stalagmite at Villars Cave (France), as well as with pollen records (5–7) from: 5) Lake Monticchio (Italy), 6) southern Black Sea (M72/5-25-GC1) and 7) Glinde and Moershoofd (northern Germany). The results of the supra-regional paleoenvironmental correlations demonstrate that the lowest Paleolithic layer V and paleosol D, characterized by elm dominance, correlate to the second half of the optimum of the Glinde interstadial at 51–48 ka, corresponding to DO 14. The earliest Upper Paleolithic layer IV and paleosol B, characterized by coexistence of elm forests and wet meadows, began to form during the second part of the Moershoofd interstadial optimum at 46–44 ka, correlating with DO 12. Paleosol A and layer III (Kostenki-Strelets culture) began to form after the abrupt end of the Moershoofd interstadial ∼43.5 ka, during unstable conditions, according to pollen and paleozoological data (steppe with horse dominance and later spruce forest tundra with reindeer dominance in paleozoological complex). These correlations provide more accurate dating of the Paleolithic layers and paleosols at Kostenki-Borschevo, suggesting that previously reported radiocarbon dates on units below CI tephra layer are too young, but that the OSL chronology is generally accurate.

     
  World’s oldest stone tools discovered in Kenya, di M. Balter, "Science-News", 14 April 2015

Researchers at a meeting here say they have found the oldest tools made by human ancestors—stone flakes dated to 3.3 million years ago. That’s 700,000 years older than the oldest-known tools to date, suggesting that our ancestors were crafting tools several hundred thousand years before our genus Homo arrived on the scene. If correct, the new evidence could confirm disputed claims for very early tool use, and it suggests that ancient australopithecines like the famed “Lucy” may have fashioned stone tools, too. (...)

· Gli utensili più antichi del mondo, "National Geographic Italia"

     
  Levantine cranium from Manot Cave (Israel) foreshadows the first European modern humans, di I. Hershkovitz et alii, "Nature", n. 520, pp. 216–219 (09 April 2015)

A key event in human evolution is the expansion of modern humans of African origin across Eurasia between 60 and 40 thousand years (kyr) before present (BP), replacing all other forms of hominins. Owing to the scarcity of human fossils from this period, these ancestors of all present-day non-African modern populations remain largely enigmatic. Here we describe a partial calvaria, recently discovered at Manot Cave (Western Galilee, Israel) and dated to 54.7 ± 5.5 kyr BP (arithmetic mean ± 2 standard deviations) by uranium–thorium dating, that sheds light on this crucial event. The overall shape and discrete morphological features of the Manot 1 calvaria demonstrate that this partial skull is unequivocally modern. It is similar in shape to recent African skulls as well as to European skulls from the Upper Palaeolithic period, but different from most other early anatomically modern humans in the Levant. This suggests that the Manot people could be closely related to the first modern humans who later successfully colonized Europe. Thus, the anatomical features used to support the ‘assimilation model’ in Europe might not have been inherited from European Neanderthals, but rather from earlier Levantine populations. Moreover, at present, Manot 1 is the only modern human specimen to provide evidence that during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic interface, both modern humans and Neanderthals contemporaneously inhabited the southern Levant, close in time to the likely interbreeding event with Neanderthals

     
  Quaternary of the Western Pyrenean region, "Quaternary International", Volume 364, Pages 1-312 (7 April 2015). Edited by Alejandro Cearreta, Concepcion de la Rua and Marcos García Diaz:

Preliminary results from new Palaeolithic open-air sites near Bayonne (south-western France), di D. Colonge et alii, Quaternary International, Volume 364, 7 April 2015, Pages 109-125

The human occupation of the northwestern Pyrenees in the Late Glacial: New data from the Arudy basin, lower Ossau valley, di J. M. Pétillon et alii ,Quaternary International, Volume 364, 7 April 2015, Pages 126-143

Epipalaeolithic assemblages in the Western Ebro Basin (Spain): The difficult identification of cultural entities, di A. Soto, A. Alday, L. Montes, P. Utrilla, U. Perales, R. Domingo, Quaternary International, Volume 364, 7 April 2015, Pages 144-152

The past is out there: Open-air Palaeolithic sites and new research strategies in the Cantabrian region (northern Iberia), di A. Arrizabalaga, J. Rios-Garaizar, D. Alvarez-Alonso, Quaternary International, Volume 364, 7 April 2015, Pages 181-187

Recent developments in the study of the Upper Paleolithic of Vasco-Cantabrian Spain, di L. Guy Straus, Quaternary International, Volume 364, 7 April 2015, Pages 255-271

Chronology of western Pyrenean Paleolithic cave art: A critical examination, di B. Ochoa, M. García-Diez, Quaternary International, Volume 364, 7 April 2015, Pages 272-282

At the crossroad: A new approach to the Upper Paleolithic art in the Western Pyrenees, di D. Garate, O. Rivero, A. Ruiz-Redondo, J. Rios-Garaizar, Quaternary International, Volume 364, 7 April 2015, Pages 283-293

Fifty thousand years of prehistory at the cave of Abauntz (Arraitz, Navarre): A nexus point between the Ebro Valley, Aquitaine and the Cantabrian Corridor, di P. Utrilla, C. Mazo, R. Domingo, Quaternary International, Volume 364, 7 April 2015, Pages 294-305

     
  Neolithic Italian farmers defleshed their dead, 2 April 2015

About 7000 years ago in Italy, early farmers practiced a burial ritual known as defleshing. When people died, villagers stripped their bones bare, pulled them apart, and mingled them with animal remains in a nearby cave. The practice was meant to separate the dead from the living, researchers say. "[Defleshing] is something which occurs in burial rites around the world but hasn't been known for prehistoric Europe yet," says John Robb, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge (England) and leader of the research project. Robb and his team examined the scattered bones of at least 22 Neolithic humans who died between 7200 and 7500 years ago. Their remains were buried in Scaloria Cave, a stalactite-filled grotto near Manfredonia (Apulia, Italy), where Robb says that they provide the "first well-documented case for early farmers in Europe of people trying to actively deflesh the dead." Neolithic communities typically buried their dead beneath or beside their homes or on the outskirts of settlements. But in this case, farmers from villages as far as 15 to 20 kilometers away scattered the defleshed bones of their dead in the upper chamber of Scaloria Cave. The cave - sealed off until its discovery in 1931 - was uniquely able to preserve the human remains, which were mixed randomly with animal bones, broken pottery, and stone tools. (...)

     
  New cosmogenic burial ages for Sterkfontein Member 2 Australopithecus and Member 5 Oldowan, di D. E. Granger, R. J. Gibbon, K. Kuman, R. J. Clarke, L. Bruxelles, M. W. Caffee, "Nature-Letter" (2015), 01 April 2015, DOI:10.1038/nature14268

The cave infills at Sterkfontein contain one of the richest assemblages of Australopithecus fossils in the world, including the nearly complete skeleton StW 573 (‘Little Foot’) in its lower section, as well as early stone tools in higher sections. However, the chronology of the site remains controversial owing to the complex history of cave infilling. Much of the existing chronology based on uranium–lead dating and palaeomagnetic stratigraphy has recently been called into question by the recognition that dated flowstones fill cavities formed within previously cemented breccias and therefore do not form a stratigraphic sequence. Earlier dating with cosmogenic nuclides9 suffered a high degree of uncertainty and has been questioned on grounds of sediment reworking. Here we use isochron burial dating with cosmogenic aluminium-26 and beryllium-10 to show that the breccia containing StW 573 did not undergo significant reworking, and that it was deposited 3.67 ± 0.16 million years ago, far earlier than the 2.2 million year flowstones found within it. The skeleton is thus coeval with early Australopithecus afarensis in eastern Africa. We also date the earliest stone tools at Sterkfontein to 2.18 ± 0.21 million years ago, placing them in the Oldowan at a time similar to that found elsewhere in South Africa at Swartkans17 and Wonderwerk.

· New instrument dates old skeleton; 'Little Foot' 3.67 million years old, "EurekaAlert!", 1-APR-2015

· New instrument dates old skeleton before 'Lucy'; 'Little Foot' 3.67 million years old, "ScienceDaily", April 1, 2015

     
  Neanderthal bone flutes’: simply products of Ice Age spotted hyena scavenging activities on cave bear cubs in European cave bear dens, di C. G. Diedrich, "Royal Society Open Science", April 2015, DOI: 10.1098/rsos.140022  - open access -

Punctured extinct cave bear femora were misidentified in southeastern Europe (Hungary/Slovenia) as ‘Palaeolithic bone flutes’ and the ‘oldest Neanderthal instruments’. These are not instruments, nor human made, but products of the most important cave bear scavengers of Europe, hyenas. Late Middle to Late Pleistocene (Mousterian to Gravettian) Ice Age spotted hyenas of Europe occupied mainly cave entrances as dens (communal/cub raising den types), but went deeper for scavenging into cave bear dens, or used in a few cases branches/diagonal shafts (i.e. prey storage den type). In most of those dens, about 20% of adult to 80% of bear cub remains have large carnivore damage. Hyenas left bones in repeating similar tooth mark and crush damage stages, demonstrating a butchering/bone cracking strategy. The femora of subadult cave bears are intermediate in damage patterns, compared to the adult ones, which were fully crushed to pieces. Hyenas produced round–oval puncture marks in cub femora only by the bone-crushing premolar teeth of both upper and lower jaw. The punctures/tooth impact marks are often present on both sides of the shaft of cave bear cub femora and are simply a result of non-breakage of the slightly calcified shaft compacta. All stages of femur puncturing to crushing are demonstrated herein, especially on a large cave bear population from a German cave bear den. (...)

     
  A new Middle Stone Age industry in the Tankwa Karoo, Northern Cape Province, South Africa, di E. Hallinan, M. Shaw, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 344, April 2015

Open-air sites are increasingly recognised as an essential component of the archaeological record for Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherer lifeways. Recent fieldwork has aimed to establish the pattern of landscape use for past humans occupying the understudied Doring River catchment zone, to the east of the Cederberg Mountains across the Tankwa Karoo. Today, this region receives some of the lowest annual rainfall levels in South Africa (<100mm per annum) and is classified as semi-arid desert. Consequently, the landscape is sparsely vegetated, featuring succulents endemic to the Karoo biome. Surveys in August 2014 were centred on a 30km-long segment of the Tankwa River, recording over 7000 artefacts at 45 different localities (sites). One of these sites contained the largest Middle Stone Age unifacial point assemblage reported from either open-air or rockshelter sites in the Western and Northern Cape regions. The specific preferential Levallois strategy used for point production, together with the unusually high use of silcrete, marks this as a site of importance for our understanding of Middle Stone Age adaptations to an arid, marginal environment. (...)

     
  Flavouring food: the contribution of chimpanzee behaviour to the understanding of Neanderthal calculus composition and plant use in Neanderthal diets,
di S. Krief, C. Daujeard, M. H. Moncel, N. Lamon, V. Reynolds, "Antiquity", Volume 89 / Issue 344 / April 2015, pp 464-471

In a recent study, Hardy et al. (2012) examined ten samples of dental calculus from five Neanderthal individuals from El Sidrón in northern Spain (occupation dates between 47300 and 50600 BP). In calculus from a young adult, they discovered the presence of compounds (dihydroazulene, chamazulene and methylherniarin) that occur in yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and camomile (Matriarca chamomilla). In preference to other hypotheses, the authors proposed that these two plants were used for self-medication. In this paper, we do not reject the self-medication hypothesis, but our observations of wild chimpanzees in Uganda, at Sonso in the Budongo Forest Reserve and at Kanyawara and Sebitoli in Kibale National Park (separated by about 150km), as well as ethnological and palaeontological evidence, lead us to propose three other explanations for the presence of these compounds. In addition, data on Neanderthal behaviour suggest that their subsistence and technological strategies were complex.

     
  Use and Sonority of a 23,000-Year-Old Bone Aerophone from Davant Pau Cave (NE of the Iberian Peninsula), di J. J. Ibáñez, J. Salius, I. Clemente-Conte, N. Soler, "Current Anthropology", Vol. 56, No. 2, April 2015, pp. 282-289

The production of sound is a significant human capacity that is used, through the generation of feelings and emotions, for conditioning social and biological reproduction. Despite this elevance and although several hundred instruments have been attributed to the production of sound along the Upper Paleolithic, our knowledge of how and in what contexts music was played during this period is still quite limited. In this paper, the aerophone found in the Davant Pau excavation, in the northeast part of the Iberian Peninsula, dated to 23,000 years cal BP, is studied to infer, through experimentation and microwear analysis, how it was made and used. It is a whistle-type instrument that would have allowed the production of an almost monotonic sound, which could be acutely syncopated, generating a fast rhythm. This is a type of sound most probably used in collective ceremonies in which the coordination of the participants was important, as observed in several ethnographic studies of hunter-gatherer groups.

     
 

The Neandertals of northeastern Iberia: New remains from the Cova del Gegant (Sitges, Barcelona), di R. Quam et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution",Volume 81, April 2015, Pages 13–28

The present study describes a new juvenile hominin mandible and teeth and a new juvenile humerus from level V of the GP2 gallery of Cova del Gegant (Spain). The mandible (Gegant-5) preserves a portion of the right mandibular corpus from the M1 distally to the socket for the dc mesially, and the age at death is estimated as 4.5–5.0 years. Gegant-5 shows a single mental foramen located under the dm1/dm2 interdental septum, a relatively posterior placement compared with recent hominins of a similar developmental age. The mental foramen in Gegant-5 is also placed within the lower half of the mandibular corpus, as in the previously described late adolescent/adult mandible (Gegant-1) from this same Middle Paleolithic site. The Gegant-5 canine shows pronounced marginal ridges, a distal accessory ridge, and a pronounced distolingual tubercle. The P3 shows a lingually-displaced protoconid cusp tip and a distal accessory ridge. The P4 shows a slightly asymmetrical crown outline, a continuous transverse crest, a mesially placed metaconid cusp tip, a slight distal accessory ridge, and an accessory lingual cusp. The M1 shows a Y5 pattern of cusp contact and a well-developed and deep anterior fovea bounded posteriorly by a continuous midtrigonid crest. Gegant-4 is the distal portion of a left humerus from a juvenile estimated to be between 5 and 7 years old at death. The specimen shows thick cortical bone. Although fragmentary, the constellation of morphological and metric features indicates Neandertal affinities for these specimens. Their spatial proximity at the site and similar ages at death suggest these remains may represent a single individual. The addition of these new specimens brings the total number of Neandertal remains from the Cova del Gegant to five, and this site documents the clearest evidence for Neandertal fossils associated with Middle Paleolithic stone tools in this region of the Iberian Peninsula.

     
 

A neonatal perspective on Homo erectus brain growth, di Z. Cofran, J. M. DeSilva, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 81, April 2015, Pages 41–47

The Mojokerto calvaria has been central to assessment of brain growth in Homo erectus, but different analytical approaches and uncertainty in the specimen's age at death have hindered consensus on the nature of H. erectus brain growth. We simulate average annual rates (AR) of absolute endocranial volume (ECV) growth and proportional size change (PSC) in H. erectus, utilizing estimates of H. erectus neonatal ECV and a range of ages for Mojokerto. These values are compared with resampled ARs and PSCs from ontogenetic series of humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas from birth to six years. Results are consistent with other studies of ECV growth in extant taxa. There is extensive overlap in PSC between all living species through the first postnatal year, with continued but lesser overlap between humans and chimpanzees to age six. Human ARs are elevated above those of apes, although there is modest overlap up to 0.50 years. Ape ARs overlap throughout the sequence, with gorillas slightly elevated over chimpanzees up to 0.50 years. Simulated H. erectus PSCs can be found in all living species by 0.50 years, and the median falls below the human and chimpanzee ranges after 2.5 years. H. erectus ARs are elevated above those of all extant taxa prior to 0.50 years, and after two years they fall out of the human range but are still above ape ranges. A review of evidence for the age at death of Mojokerto supports an estimate of around one year, indicating absolute brain growth rates in the lower half of the human range. These results point to secondary altriciality in H. erectus, implying that key human adaptations for increasing the energy budget of females may have been established by at least 1 Ma.

     
 

Associated ilium and femur from Koobi Fora, Kenya, and postcranial diversity in early Homo, di C. V. Ward et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 81, April 2015, Pages 48–67

During the evolution of hominins, it is generally accepted that there was a shift in postcranial morphology between Australopithecus and the genus Homo. Given the scarcity of associated remains of early Homo, however, relatively little is known about early Homo postcranial morphology. There are hints of postcranial diversity among species, but our knowledge of the nature and extent of potential differences is limited. Here we present a new associated partial ilium and femur from Koobi Fora, Kenya, dating to 1.9 Ma (millions of years ago) that is clearly attributable to the genus Homo but documents a pattern of morphology not seen in eastern African early Homo erectus. The ilium and proximal femur share distinctive anatomy found only in Homo. However, the geometry of the femoral midshaft and contour of the pelvic inlet do not resemble that of any specimens attributed to H. erectus from eastern Africa. This new fossil confirms the presence of at least two postcranial morphotypes within early Homo, and documents diversity in postcranial morphology among early Homo species that may reflect underlying body form and/or adaptive differences.

     
 

Late Miocene hominin teeth from the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project area, Afar, Ethiopia, di S. W. Simpson et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 81, April 2015, Pages 68–82

Since 2000, significant collections of Latest Miocene hominin fossils have been recovered from Chad, Kenya, and Ethiopia. These fossils have provided a better understanding of earliest hominin biology and context. Here, we describe five hominin teeth from two periods (ca. 5.4 Million-years-ago and ca. 6.3 Ma) that were recovered from the Adu-Asa Formation in the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project area in the Afar, Ethiopia that we assign to either Hominina, gen. et sp. indet. or Ardipithecus kadabba. These specimens are compared with extant African ape and other Latest Miocene and Early Pliocene hominin teeth. The derived morphology of the large, non-sectorial maxillary canine and mandibular third premolar links them with later hominins and they are phenetically distinguishable and thus phyletically distinct from extant apes.

     
 

Stone-age Italians defleshed their dead, di E. Garry, "Science-News", 27 March 2015

About 7000 years ago in Italy, early farmers practiced an unusual burial ritual known as “defleshing.” When people died, villagers stripped their bones bare, pulled them apart, and mingled them with animal remains in a nearby cave. The practice was meant to separate the dead from the living, researchers say, writing in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity. “[Defleshing] is something which occurs in burial rites around the world but hasn't been known for prehistoric Europe yet," says John Robb, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and leader of the research project. Robb and his team examined the scattered bones of at least 22 Neolithic humans—many children—who died between 7200 and 7500 years ago. Their remains were buried in Scaloria Cave, a stalactite-filled grotto in the Tavoliere region of southeastern Italy, where Robb says that they provide the "first well-documented case for early farmers in Europe of people trying to actively deflesh the dead." (...)

     
  Early Homo at 2.8 Ma from Ledi-Geraru, Afar, Ethiopia, di B. Villmoare et alii, "Science", 20 March 2015, Vol. 347, no. 6228, pp. 1352-1355

Our understanding of the origin of the genus Homo has been hampered by a limited fossil record in eastern Africa between 2.0 and 3.0 million years ago (Ma). Here we report the discovery of a partial hominin mandible with teeth from the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, Ethiopia, that establishes the presence of Homo at 2.80 to 2.75 Ma. This specimen combines primitive traits seen in early Australopithecus with derived morphology observed in later Homo, confirming that dentognathic departures from the australopith pattern occurred early in the Homo lineage. The Ledi-Geraru discovery has implications for hypotheses about the timing and place of origin of the genus Homo.

     
  Late Pliocene fossiliferous sedimentary record and the environmental context of early Homo from Afar, Ethiopia, di E. N. DiMaggio et alii, "Science", 20 March 2015, Vol. 347, no. 6228, pp. 1355-1359

Sedimentary basins in eastern Africa preserve a record of continental rifting and contain important fossil assemblages for interpreting hominin evolution. However, the record of hominin evolution between 3 and 2.5 million years ago (Ma) is poorly documented in surface outcrops, particularly in Afar, Ethiopia. Here we present the discovery of a 2.84– to 2.58–million-year-old fossil and hominin-bearing sediments in the Ledi-Geraru research area of Afar, Ethiopia, that have produced the earliest record of the genus Homo. Vertebrate fossils record a faunal turnover indicative of more open and probably arid habitats than those reconstructed earlier in this region, which is in broad agreement with hypotheses addressing the role of environmental forcing in hominin evolution at this time. Geological analyses constrain depositional and structural models of Afar and date the LD 350-1 Homo mandible to 2.80 to 2.75 Ma.

     
  Did a volcanic cataclysm 40,000 years ago trigger the final demise of the Neanderthals?, 20-MAR-2015

The Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption in Italy 40,000 years ago was one of the largest volcanic cataclysms in Europe and injected a significant amount of sulfur-dioxide (SO2) into the stratosphere. Scientists have long debated whether this eruption contributed to the final extinction of the Neanderthals. This new study by Benjamin A. Black and colleagues tests this hypothesis with a sophisticated climate model. Black and colleagues write that the CI eruption approximately coincided with the final decline of Neanderthals as well as with dramatic territorial and cultural advances among anatomically modern humans. Because of this, the roles of climate, hominin competition, and volcanic sulfur cooling and acid deposition have been vigorously debated as causes of Neanderthal extinction. (...)

     
  Fat Residue and Use-Wear Found on Acheulian Biface and Scraper Associated with Butchered Elephant Remains at the Site of Revadim, di I. Natalya Solodenko, A. Zupancich, S. Nunziante Cesaro, O. Marder, C. Lemorini, R. Barkai, "PLoS ONE", March 18, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118572 - open access -

The archaeological record indicates that elephants must have played a significant role in early human diet and culture during Palaeolithic times in the Old World. However, the nature of interactions between early humans and elephants is still under discussion. Elephant remains are found in Palaeolithic sites, both open-air and cave sites, in Europe, Asia, the Levant, and Africa. In some cases elephant and mammoth remains indicate evidence for butchering and marrow extraction performed by humans. Revadim Quarry (Israel) is a Late Acheulian site where elephant remains were found in association with characteristic Lower Palaeolithic flint tools. In this paper we present results regarding the use of Palaeolithic tools in processing animal carcasses and rare identification of fat residue preserved on Lower Palaeolithic tools. Our results shed new light on the use of Palaeolithic stone tools and provide, for the first time, direct evidence (residue) of animal exploitation through the use of an Acheulian biface and a scraper. The association of an elephant rib bearing cut marks with these tools may reinforce the view suggesting the use of Palaeolithic stone tools in the consumption of large game. (...)
     

Aggiornamento 16 marzo

 
  Caccia coi lupi: come l'uomo moderno ebbe la meglio sui Neandertal, di S. Worrall, 13 marzo 2015

Ancora oggi, nell’immaginario collettivo, i Neandertal sono rappresentati come dei rozzi bruti preistorici, capelloni e corpulenti. In realtà, erano molto più simili a noi di quanto si pensi: erano perfettamente in grado di utilizzare il fuoco, vivevano in gruppi sociali e anche loro, gradivano come noi la carne rossa. Ma allora, perché si sono estinti? Secondo una delle ipotesi più accreditate la loro scomparsa sarebbe legata ai cambiamenti indotti dal raffreddamento climatico che caratterizzò il continente europeo circa 35 mila anni fa. Nel suo ultimo libro, The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction, Pat Shipman, professoressa di antropologia in pensione della Pennsylvania State University, presenta la sua teoria. "Prima dell’arrivo di Homo sapiens, il continente europeo era stato abitato dai Neandertal per quasi 200.000 anni", spiega Shipman. "Ci si è sempre chiesti perché una delle due specie sia sopravvissuta, mentre l’altra no. In fondo erano così simili, producevano strumenti, erano esseri sociali ed abili cacciatori. La questione è interessante anche perché il gruppo che si estinto è quello che da più tempo conosceva i territori e la fauna da cacciare". (...)
     
  Evidence for Neandertal Jewelry: Modified White-Tailed Eagle Claws at Krapina, di D. Radovčić, A. Oros Sršen, J. Radovčić, D. W. Frayer, "PLoS ONE", March 11, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119802 - open access -

We describe eight, mostly complete white-tailed eagle (Haliaëtus [Haliaeetus] albicilla) talons from the Krapina Neandertal site in present-day Croatia, dating to approximately 130 kyrs ago. Four talons bear multiple, edge-smoothed cut marks; eight show polishing facets and/or abrasion. Three of the largest talons have small notches at roughly the same place along the plantar surface, interrupting the proximal margin of the talon blade. These features suggest they were part of a jewelry assemblage, --- the manipulations a consequence of mounting the talons in a necklace or bracelet. An associated phalanx articulates with one of the talons and has numerous cut marks, some of which are smoothed. These white-tailed eagle bones, discovered more than 100 years ago, all derive from a single level at Krapina and represent more talons than found in the entire European Mousterian period. Presence of eight talons indicates that the Krapina Neandertals acquired and curated eagle talons for some kind of symbolic purpose. Some have argued that Neandertals lacked symbolic ability or copied this behavior from modern humans. These remains clearly show that the Krapina Neandertals made jewelry well before the appearance of modern humans in Europe, extending ornament production and symbolic activity early into the European Mousterian. (...)
 

  Lithic Landscapes: Early Human Impact from Stone Tool Production on the Central Saharan Environment, di R. A. Foley, M. Mirazón Lahr, "PLoS ONE", March 11, 2015DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116482 - open access -

Humans have had a major impact on the environment. This has been particularly intense in the last millennium but has been noticeable since the development of food production and the associated higher population densities in the last 10,000 years. The use of fire and over-exploitation of large mammals has also been recognized as having an effect on the world’s ecology, going back perhaps 100,000 years or more. Here we report on an earlier anthropogenic environmental change. The use of stone tools, which dates back over 2.5 million years, and the subsequent evolution of a technologically-dependent lineage required the exploitation of very large quantities of rock. However, measures of the impact of hominin stone exploitation are rare and inherently difficult. The Messak Settafet, a sandstone massif in the Central Sahara (Libya), is littered with Pleistocene stone tools on an unprecedented scale and is, in effect, a man-made landscape. Surveys showed that parts of the Messak Settafet have as much as 75 lithics per square metre and that this fractured debris is a dominant element of the environment. The type of stone tools—Acheulean and Middle Stone Age—indicates that extensive stone tool manufacture occurred over the last half million years or more. The lithic-strewn pavement created by this ancient stone tool manufacture possibly represents the earliest human environmental impact at a landscape scale and is an example of anthropogenic change. The nature of the lithics and inferred age may suggest that hominins other than modern humans were capable of unintentionally modifying their environment. The scale of debris also indicates the significance of stone as a critical resource for hominins and so provides insights into a novel evolutionary ecology. (...)

     
  The Origins of Recycling: A Paleolithic Perspective, "Quaternary International", Volume 361, Pages 1-342 (10 March 2015). Edited by Ran Barkai, Cristina Lemorini and Manuel Vaquero - 28 articles -
     
 

Genome of the Netherlands population-specific imputations identify an ​ABCA6 variant associated with cholesterol levels, di E. M. van Leeuwen et alii, "Nature Communications" 6, Article number: 6065 doi:10.1038/ncomms7065, 09 March 2015 - open access -

Variants associated with blood lipid levels may be population-specific. To identify low-frequency variants associated with this phenotype, population-specific reference panels may be used. Here we impute nine large Dutch biobanks (~35,000 samples) with the population-specific reference panel created by the Genome of the Netherlands Project and perform association testing with blood lipid levels. We report the discovery of five novel associations at four loci (P value <6.61 × 10−4), including a rare missense variant in ​ABCA6 (rs77542162, p.Cys1359Arg, frequency 0.034), which is predicted to be deleterious. The frequency of this ​ABCA6 variant is 3.65-fold increased in the Dutch and its effect (βLDL-C=0.135, βTC=0.140) is estimated to be very similar to those observed for single variants in well-known lipid genes, such as ​LDLR. (...)

     
  Deep roots for the genus Homo, di A. Gibbons, "Science", 6 March 2015, Vol. 347, no. 6226, pp. 1056-1057

In two papers online this week in Science, researchers introduce a partial lower jaw from Ethiopia as the oldest known member of the genus Homo. Radiometrically dated to almost 2.8 million years ago, the jaw is a window on the mysterious time when our genus emerged. With both primitive and more modern traits, it is a bridge between our genus and its ancestors and points to when and where that evolutionary transition took place. Together with a reassessment of known fossils, published in Nature this week by paleontologist Fred Spoor and colleagues, the find is stimulating new efforts to sort out the mixed bag of early Homo remains and to trace how they are related to their australopithecine ancestors.

· Fossil pushes back human origins 400,000 years, di A. Gibbons, "Science-News", 4 March 2015

· Ethiopian jawbone may mark dawn of humankind, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 04 March 2015

· Scoperto il più antico fossile umano, di J. Shreeve, "National Geographic Italia", 04 marzo 2015

· Più antica di 500.000 anni la comparsa del genere Homo, "Le Scienza", 04 marzo 2015

· Scoperto il più antico esemplare di Homo, di A. L. Bonfranceschi, "Galileo", 05 Marzo 2015

     
  Reconstructed Homo habilis type OH 7 suggests deep-rooted species diversity in early Homo, di F. Spoor, P. Gunz, S. Neubauer, S. Stelzer, N. Scott, A. Kwekason, M. C. Dean, "Nature" 519, pp. 83–86 (05 March 2015)

Besides Homo erectus (sensu lato), the eastern African fossil record of early Homo has been interpreted as representing either a single variable species, Homo habilis1, or two species2, 3, 4, 5, 6. In the latter case, however, there is no consensus over the respective groupings, and which of the two includes OH 7, the 1.8-million-year-old H. habilis holotype7. This partial skull and hand from Olduvai Gorge remains pivotal to evaluating the early evolution of the Homo lineage, and by priority names one or other of the two taxa. However, the distorted preservation of the diagnostically important OH 7 mandible has hindered attempts to compare this specimen with other fossils8, 9. Here we present a virtual reconstruction of the OH 7 mandible, and compare it to other early Homo fossils. The reconstructed mandible is remarkably primitive, with a long and narrow dental arcade more similar to Australopithecus afarensis than to the derived parabolic arcades of Homo sapiens or H. erectus. We find that this shape variability is not consistent with a single species of early Homo. Importantly, the jaw morphology of OH 7 is incompatible with fossils assigned to Homo rudolfensis8 and with the A.L. 666-1 Homo maxilla. The latter is morphologically more derived than OH 7 but 500,000 years older10, suggesting that the H. habilis lineage originated before 2.3 million years ago, thus marking deep-rooted species diversity in the genus Homo. We also reconstructed the parietal bones of OH 7 and estimated its endocranial volume. At between 729 and 824 ml it is larger than any previously published value, and emphasizes the near-complete overlap in brain size among species of early Homo. Our results clarify the H. habilis hypodigm, but raise questions about its phylogenetic relationships. Differences between species of early Homo appear to be characterized more by gnathic diversity than by differences in brain size, which was highly variable within all taxa.

     
  Complex History of Admixture between Modern Humans and Neandertals, di B. Vernot, J. M. Akey, "The American Journal of Human Genetics", Volume 96, Issue 3, pp. 448–453, 5 March 2015

Recent analyses have found that a substantial amount of the Neandertal genome persists in the genomes of contemporary non-African individuals. East Asians have, on average, higher levels of Neandertal ancestry than do Europeans, which might be due to differences in the efficiency of purifying selection, an additional pulse of introgression into East Asians, or other unexplored scenarios. To better define the scope of plausible models of archaic admixture between Neandertals and anatomically modern humans, we analyzed patterns of introgressed sequence in whole-genome data of 379 Europeans and 286 East Asians. We found that inferences of demographic history restricted to neutrally evolving genomic regions allowed a simple one-pulse model to be robustly rejected, suggesting that differences in selection cannot explain the differences in Neandertal ancestry. We show that two additional demographic models, involving either a second pulse of Neandertal gene flow into the ancestors of East Asians or a dilution of Neandertal lineages in Europeans by admixture with an unknown ancestral population, are consistent with the data. Thus, the history of admixture between modern humans and Neandertals is most likely more complex than previously thought.

     
  When age matters - The precise dating of ancient charcoal found near a skull is helping reveal a unique period in prehistory, 3-MAR-2015

A partial human skull unearthed in 2008 in northern Israel may hold some clues as to when and where humans and Neanderthals might have interbred. The key to addressing this, as well as other important issues, is precisely determining the age of the skull. A combination of dating methods, one of them performed by Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto, head of the Weizmann Institute's D-REAMS (DANGOOR Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometry) laboratory, has made it possible to define the period of time that the cave was occupied and thus the skull's age. The combined dating provides evidence that Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis could have lived side by side in the area. (...)

     
  Late Pleistocene age and archaeological context for the hominin calvaria from GvJm-22 (Lukenya Hill, Kenya), di C. A. Tryon et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", February 17, 2015, March 3, 2015, vol. 112, no. 9, pp. 2682-2687 - open access -

Kenya National Museums Lukenya Hill Hominid 1 (KNM-LH 1) is a Homo sapiens partial calvaria from site GvJm-22 at Lukenya Hill, Kenya, associated with Later Stone Age (LSA) archaeological deposits. KNM-LH 1 is securely dated to the Late Pleistocene, and samples a time and region important for understanding the origins of modern human diversity. A revised chronology based on 26 accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dates on ostrich eggshells indicates an age range of 23,576–22,887 y B.P. for KNM-LH 1, confirming prior attribution to the Last Glacial Maximum. Additional dates extend the maximum age for archaeological deposits at GvJm-22 to >46,000 y B.P. (>46 kya). These dates are consistent with new analyses identifying both Middle Stone Age and LSA lithic technologies at the site, making GvJm-22 a rare eastern African record of major human behavioral shifts during the Late Pleistocene. Comparative morphometric analyses of the KNM-LH 1 cranium document the temporal and spatial complexity of early modern human morphological variability. Features of cranial shape distinguish KNM-LH 1 and other Middle and Late Pleistocene African fossils from crania of recent Africans and samples from Holocene LSA and European Upper Paleolithic sites. (...)

     
 

World of Gravettian Hunters, "Quaternary International", Volumes 359–360, Pages 1-534 (2 March 2015). Edited by Piotr Wojtal, Gary Haynes and Jarosław Wilczyński - 41 articles -

     
 

Neanderthal firewood management: evidence from Stratigraphic Unit IV of Abric del Pastor (Eastern Iberia), di P. Vidal-Matutano, C. M. Hernández, B. Galván, C. Mallol, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 111, 1 March 2015, Pages 81–93

This paper presents anthracological data from Abric del Pastor (Alcoi, Spain), a Middle Paleolithic rock shelter site. Analysis of 1077 wood charcoal remains from Stratigraphic Unit IV (S.U. IV), collected within archaeological combustion structures and from loose sediment outside of structures, allowed us to characterise the local landscape, as well as to approach the interaction between Neanderthal groups and their local environment. Taxonomic identification suggests that firewood was gathered from nearby sources, with predominance of juniper (Juniperus sp.) followed by thermophilous shrubby taxa. Additional analysis focussing on post-depositional processes affecting charcoal have shown features indicative of biodegradation and mechanical action. The results of this study contribute significant anthracological data towards our understanding of Late Pleistocene Mediterranean landscapes and Neanderthal forest management in this region.

     
  Au cœur de l’Eurasie: un Homo erectus ancien en Turquie. Contexte général: état des connaissances en Turquie, di A. Vialet, mars 2015

On avait beau décrire la Turquie, au carrefour de l’Afrique, l’Europe et l’Asie, comme une zone de passage et une région clé pour comprendre les premiers peuplements humains, peu de découvertes permettaient de l’attester jusqu’à présent. Bien sûr, les nombreux ramassages de surface, effectués en zone côtière, dans la région de Hatay (prolongement du corridor levantin) mais également à certains endroits du plateau central de l’Anatolie, témoignaient du riche potentiel préhistorique de ce pays. (...)

     
  Micro-abrasion of flint artifacts by mobile sediments: a taphonomic approach, di W. Chu, C. Thompson, R. Hosfield, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", March 2015, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 3-11

Fluvial redeposition of stone artifacts is a major complicating factor in the interpretation of Lower Palaeolithic open-air archaeological sites. However, the microscopic examination of lithic surfaces may provide valuable background information on the transport history of artifacts, particularly in low energy settings. Replica flint artifacts were therefore abraded in an annular flume and examined with a scanning electron microscope. Results showed that abrasion time, sediment size, and artifact transport mode were very sensitive predictors of microscopic surface abrasion, ridge width, and edge damage (p < 0.000). These results suggest that patterns of micro-abrasion of stone artifacts may enhance understanding of archaeological assemblage formation in fluvial contexts.

     
 

Division of labor by sex and age in Neandertals: an approach through the study of activity-related dental wear, di A. Estalrrich, A. Rosas, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 80, March 2015, Pages 51–63

The analysis of activity-related dental wear patterns in prehistoric anatomically modern humans and modern hunter-gatherers has shown sex differences attributable to a gendered division of labor. Neandertals are known to have extensive anterior dental wear related to the use of their front teeth as a tool. In this study we analyze the i) cultural striations (scratches on the labial surface of the anterior teeth with a cut-mark morphology), and ii) dental chipping (ante-mortem microfracture involving enamel or both enamel and dentine) in 19 Neandertal individuals from the l'Hortus (France), Spy (Belgium), and El Sidrón (Spain) sites, and compare the characteristics of those traits with the age and sex estimation for the individuals and among samples. The study reveals that all individuals have cultural striations, but those detected on the adult females are longer than the striations found in adult males. Regarding the distribution of dental chipping, the prevalence of this trait is higher in the maxillary dentition of males whereas females have the majority of dental chipping on their mandibular teeth. The differences detected on the overall activity-related dental wear pattern denote a difference or a division of labor by age and sex in Neandertals while using the mouth as a third hand, i.e., in activities other than the provisioning of food, and provide new evidence for the lifestyle of this Pleistocene fossil human species.

     
 

The relevance of the first ribs of the El Sidrón site (Asturias, Spain) for the understanding of the Neandertal thorax, di M. Bastir et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 80, March 2015, Pages 64–73

Reconstructing the morphology of the Neanderthal rib cage not only provides information about the general evolution of human body shape but also aids understanding of functional anatomy and energetics. Despite this paleobiological importance there is still debate about the nature and extent of variations in the size and shape of the Neandertal thorax. The El Sidrón Neandertals can be used to contribute to this debate, providing new costal remains ranging from fully preserved and undistorted ribs to highly fragmented elements. Six first ribs are particularly well preserved and offer the opportunity to analyze thorax morphology in Neandertals. The aims of this paper are to present this new material, to compare the ontogenetic trajectories of the first ribs between Neandertals and modern humans, and, using geometric morphometrics, to test the hypothesis of morphological integration between the first rib and overall thorax morphology. The first ribs of the El Sidrón adult Neandertals are smaller in centroid size and tend to be less curved when compared with those of modern humans, but are similar to Kebara 2. Our results further show that the straightening of the first ribs is significantly correlated with a straightening of the ribs of the upper thorax (R = 0.66; p < 0.0001) in modern humans, suggesting modularity in the upper and lower thorax units as reported in other hominins. It also supports the hypothesis that the upper thorax of Neandertals differs in shape from modern humans with more anteriorly projecting upper ribs during inspiration. These differences could have biomechanical consequences and account for stronger muscle attachments in Neandertals. Different upper thorax shape would also imply a different spatial arrangement of the shoulder girdle and articulation with the humerus (torsion) and its connection to the upper thorax. Future research should address these inferences in the context of Neandertal overall body morphology.

     
 

How much more would KNM-WT 15000 have grown?, di C. B. Ruff, M. Loring Burgess, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 80, March 2015, Pages 74–82

Because of its completeness, the juvenile Homo ergaster/erectus KNM-WT 15000 has played an important role in studies of the evolution of body form in Homo. Early attempts to estimate his adult body size used modern human growth models. However, more recent evidence, particularly from the dentition, suggests that he may have had a more chimpanzee-like growth trajectory. Here we re-estimate his adult stature and body mass using ontogenetic data derived from four African ape taxa: Pan troglodytes troglodytes, Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii, Pan paniscus, and Gorilla gorilla gorilla. The average percentage change in femoral and tibial lengths and femoral head breadth between individuals at the same stage of dental development as KNM-WT 15000 – eruption of M2s but not M3s – and adult individuals with fully fused long bone epiphyses, was determined. Results were then applied to KNM-WT 15000, and his adult size estimated from skeletal dimensions using modern human prediction formulae. Using this approach, adult stature best estimates of 176–180 cm and body mass best estimates of 80–83 kg were obtained. These estimates are close to those estimated directly from longitudinal changes in body length and body mass between 8 and 12 years of age in chimpanzees, the suggested chronological equivalent to KNM-WT 15000's remaining growth period. Thus, even using an African ape growth model, it is likely that KNM-WT 15000 would have attained close to 180 cm in stature (without a slight reduction for his lower cranial height) and 80 kg in body mass as an adult. Other evidence from the East African Early Pleistocene indicates that KNM-WT 15000 was not unusually large-bodied for his time period.

     
 

Clavicle length, throwing performance and the reconstruction of the Homo erectus shoulder, di N. T. Roach, B. G. Richmond, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 80, March 2015, Pages 107–113

Powerful, accurate throwing may have been an important mode of early hunting and defense. Previous work has shown that throwing performance is functionally linked to several anatomical shifts in the upper body that occurred during human evolution. The final shift to occur is the inferior reorientation of the shoulder. Fossil scapulae show the earliest evidence of a more inferior glenoid in Homo erectus. However, where the scapula rests on the thorax is uncertain. The relative length of the clavicle, the only skeletal attachment of the scapula to the torso, is quite variable. Depending on which fossils or skeletal measures are used to reconstruct the H. erectus shoulder, either a novel, anteriorly facing shoulder configuration or a modern human-like lateral orientation is possible. These competing hypotheses have led to very different conclusions regarding the throwing ability and hunting behavior of early Homo. Here, we evaluate competing models of H. erectus shoulder morphology and examine how these models relate to throwing performance. To address these questions, we collected skeletal measures from fossil and extant taxa, as well as anthropometric (N = 36) and kinematic (N = 27) data from Daasanach throwers from northwestern Kenya. Our data show that all H. erectus fossil clavicles fall within the normal range of modern human variation. We find that a commonly used metric for normalizing clavicle length, the claviculohumeral ratio, poorly predicts shoulder position on the torso. Furthermore, no significant relationship between clavicle length and any measure of throwing performance was found. These data support reconstructing the H. erectus shoulder as modern human-like, with a laterally facing glenoid, and suggest that the capacity for high speed throwing dates back nearly two million years.

     
 

Solutrean and Magdalenian ferruginous rocks heat-treatment: accidental and/or deliberate action?, di H. Salomon, C. Vignaud, S. Lahlil, N. Menguy, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 55, March 2015, Pages 100–112

Heating of prehistoric coloring materials can induce radical changes in color indicative of structural matter transformation. For instance, the structure of the yellow iron oxide-rich mineral, goethite, changes into the red iron oxide-rich mineral, hematite, when it is heated to around 250–300 °C. For a long time, heating has been thought to be the reason for the high frequencies of red rocks used in camp sites and the red pigments in rock art paintings. However, records of heat-treatment of coloring materials are usually not well documented; the contextual information is not clear enough to confirm intentional heating. Two Solutrean camp sites (the flint workshop Les Maîtreaux and the hunting site Combe Saunière I) and one middle Magdalenian cave with rock art (Grotte Blanchard, La Garenne) allow us to study the heating process of ferruginous rocks. All three sites, which have been excavated relatively recently, have well-defined archaeological records and strong associations between the ferruginous rocks and other artifacts. With the use of X-ray diffraction and electron µ-diffraction for identifying structural modification and SEM-FEG and TEM-FEG for detecting dehydration nano-pores, we have strong evidence for intentional heat-treatment of yellow goethite-rich materials in two archaeological contexts and one site for unintentional heating, where rocks were only partially transformed. Intentional heating to obtain red hematite from primary goethite would have required ingenious methods of temperature control in fireplace settings and purpose-built ground ovens.

     
 

Breakage patterns in Sima de los Huesos (Atapuerca, Spain) hominin sample, di N. Sala, J. L. Arsuaga, I. Martínez, A. Gracia-Téllez, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 55, March 2015, Pages 113–121

Fracture pattern analysis implement the taphonomic information obtained and it help understanding the largest accumulation of human remains from the Middle Pleistocene known, the Sima de los Huesos (SH) sample. The SH hominin long bones exhibit a fracture pattern characterized especially by the dominance of transverse fractures of the long axis, complete circumferences and fracture edges with right angles and jagged surfaces. These properties are expected for post-depositional fractures and are compatible with collective burial assemblages. The very small proportion of fractures typical of biostratinomic stage could be due to a blunt force trauma produced by a free-fall down the vertical 13 m shaft that constitutes the access to the SH chamber.

     
 

Upper Palaeolithic population histories of Southwestern France: a comparison of the demographic signatures of 14C date distributions and archaeological site counts, di J. C. French, C. Collins, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 55, March 2015, Pages 122–134

Radiocarbon date frequency distributions and archaeological site counts are two popular proxies used to investigate prehistoric demography, following the assumption that variations in these data reflect fluctuations in the relative size and distribution of past populations. However, the two approaches are rarely applied to the same data-set and their applicability is heavily conditioned by the archaeological record in question, particularly research histories, agendas, and funding availability. In this paper we use both types of data to examine the population history of the Upper Palaeolithic hunter–gatherers (∼40 000–12 000 cal BP) of Southwestern France, comparing the demographic signatures generated. Both proxies produce similar signatures across the Upper Palaeolithic sequence of the region, strengthening the interpretation of relative demographic changes as the cause of the pattern. In particular, a marked population decline is seen in both datasets during the Late Gravettian (∼28 000 cal BP), as well as a population increase in the Late Solutrean (∼25 000 cal BP) supporting the notion that the region acted as a population refugium during the Last Glacial Maximum. Where the two proxies diverge in the demographic signatures they produce, the radiocarbon date distribution shows peaks compared to troughs in site counts; the opposite pattern expected given taphonomic issues surrounding cultural carbon. Despite differences in chronological resolution and sampling bias, our data suggest that the two proxies can be considered broadly equivalent; a finding which warrants the investigation of prehistoric demography in regions where either extensive survey data or radiometric dating programmes are unavailable. While some preliminary observations are made, the impact of changing mobility on diachronic patterns seen in both proxies remains, however, difficult to assess.

     
 

A new Cambrian black pigment used during the late Middle Palaeolithic discovered at Scladina Cave (Andenne, Belgium), di D. Bonjean et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 55, March 2015, Pages 253–265

Sedimentary Unit 1A at Scladina Cave, Belgium has yielded archaeological material from a Middle Palaeolithic occupation dating to between 40,210 + 400/−350 BP and 37,300 + 370/−320 BP. Fifty-one fragments of a black, friable rock with a black streak were found in association with 194 burned bone fragments and several thousand lithic artefacts. This black material is interpreted as a pigment brought to the site by Neandertals. The pigment was analysed by petrography, XRD, Raman microspectroscopy, and other geochemical methods. It was identified as a highly siliceous graphitic siltstone. This is a very unique discovery, as European archaeological research has so far only recorded black pigments comprised of manganese oxides from the Middle Palaeolithic. Raman microspectroscopy is a non-destructive method able to distinguish the attributes of black siliceous materials that originate from different tectono-sedimentary contexts. By measuring the degree of alteration of the carbonaceous material, this method allowed for the determination of its geographical and geological origins: a Cambrian formation of very limited extent located near Ottignies, about 40 kilometres north-west of Scladina Cave. The absence of a drainage network connecting the two locations eliminates the possibility of natural transport, and supports its anthropogenic origin.

     
 

Out of Africa: Did humans migrate quickly and all-at-once or in phases based on weather? February 20, 2015

Considerable debate surrounds the migration of human populations out of Africa. Two predominant hypotheses concerning the timing contrast in their emphasis on the role of the Arabian interior and its changing climate. In one scenario, human populations expanded rapidly from Africa to southern Asia via the coastlines of Arabia approx. 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Another model suggests that dispersal into the Arabian interior began much earlier (approx. 75,000 to 130,000 years ago) during multiple phases, when increased rainfall provided sufficient freshwater to support expanding populations. (...)

     
 

Neanderthals disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula earlier than elsewhere, 19 February 2015

Neanderthals could have disappeared between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, according to fossil remains found at sites located from the Black Sea in Russia to the Atlantic coastline of Spain. A new study shows that they could have disappeared closer to 45,000 years ago in the Iberian Peninsula. "Both conclusions are complementary and not contradictory," confirms Bertila Galvan, lead author of the study, and researcher at the Training and Research Unit of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of La Laguna, Tenerife. Until now, there was no direct dating in Spain on the Neanderthal remains which produced recent dates. "The few that provided dates were before 43,000 and 45,000 years ago in all cases," Galvan explains. (...)

     
  Dental Ontogeny in Pliocene and Early Pleistocene Hominins, di T. M. Smith et alii, "PLoS ONE", February 18, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118118 - open access -

Until recently, our understanding of the evolution of human growth and development derived from studies of fossil juveniles that employed extant populations for both age determination and comparison. This circular approach has led to considerable debate about the human-like and ape-like affinities of fossil hominins. Teeth are invaluable for understanding maturation as age at death can be directly assessed from dental microstructure, and dental development has been shown to correlate with life history across primates broadly. We employ non-destructive synchrotron imaging to characterize incremental development, molar emergence, and age at death in more than 20 Australopithecus anamensis, Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus robustus and South African early Homo juveniles. Long-period line periodicities range from at least 6–12 days (possibly 5–13 days), and do not support the hypothesis that australopiths have lower mean values than extant or fossil Homo. Crown formation times of australopith and early Homo postcanine teeth fall below or at the low end of extant human values; Paranthropus robustus dentitions have the shortest formation times. Pliocene and early Pleistocene hominins show remarkable variation, and previous reports of age at death that employ a narrow range of estimated long-period line periodicities, cuspal enamel thicknesses, or initiation ages are likely to be in error. New chronological ages for SK 62 and StW 151 are several months younger than previous histological estimates, while Sts 24 is more than one year older. Extant human standards overestimate age at death in hominins predating Homo sapiens, and should not be applied to other fossil taxa. We urge caution when inferring life history as aspects of dental development in Pliocene and early Pleistocene fossils are distinct from modern humans and African apes, and recent work has challenged the predictive power of primate-wide associations between hominoid first molar emergence and certain life history variables. (...)

     
  Mandibular evidence supports Homo floresiensis as a distinct species, di M. Carrington Westaway, A. C. Durband, C. P. Groves, M. Collard, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", February 17, 2015, vol. 112, no. 7

Henneberg et al. (1) and Eckhardt et al. (2) present another pathology-based alternative to the hypothesis that the “hobbit” fossils from Liang Bua, Indonesia, represent a distinct hominin species, Homo floresiensis. They contend that the Liang Bua specimens are the remains of small-bodied humans and that the noteworthy features of the most complete specimen, LB1, are a consequence of Down syndrome (DS). Here, we show that the available mandibular evidence does not support these claims.

     
 

Reply to Westaway et al.: Mandibular misrepresentations fail to support the invalid species Homo floresiensis, di R. B. Eckhardt, M. Henneberg, S. Chavanaves, A. S. Weller, K. J. Hsü, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", February 17, 2015, vol. 112, no. 7

Flawed arguments (1) ignoring our foundational paper (2) and disparaging “another pathology-based alternative” fail to support an invalidly invented hominin species. Homo floresiensis (Hf) fails scientifically, apart from the biomedical diagnosis of its abnormality (2). Endocranial volume of 380 mL, never duplicated, was >13% too low by identical techniques used to measure 430 mL, ignored until matched by skeptics within 1% (3). Stature of 1.06 m, underestimated by >17% to >27% (2), corrects to within the range of living Rampasasa, affirmed independently (4). Abnormal LB1 craniofacial asymmetry, originally unreported, lacks taphonomic distortion as confirmed even by our critics (3).

     
  Reconstructing diet and behaviour of Neanderthals from Central Italy through dental macrowear analysis, di L. Fiorenza, "Journal of Anthropological Sciences", Vol. 93 (2015), pp. 1-15  - open access -

Neanderthals have been traditionally considered at the top of the food chain with a diet mostly consisting of animal proteins. New findings challenged this view and suggested that Neanderthals living in areas with more favourable climatic conditions exploited various food sources, including plant materials. In this study, the attention is focused on dental macrowear of Neanderthals from Central Italy, whose diet has been largely unexplored. Three-dimensional digital models of teeth have been examined through occlusal fingerprint analysis (OFA), a method used to understand how wear facets are formed. The results show a close similarity between the specimens of Saccopastore 1 and 2, with a wear pattern that indicates the use of diverse sources of food, but with a predominance of animal proteins. On the other hand, the specimens of Guattari 2 and 3 display a slightly different dental wear from each other, which probably reflects the chronological sequence of the Guattari Cave. It appears that at the end of the marine isotope stage (MIS) 5 the occupants of this cave consumed marginally more plant foods, while during MIS 3 they relied more on animal proteins. Finally, a close look at the Saccopastore maxillary molars reveals the presence of a distinct type of wear that has been previously described in some Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens from Near East, and it provides additional information about the culture and lifestyle of these Pleistocene human populations. (...)

     
  The chronology of hand stencils in European Palaeolithic rock art: implications of new U-series results from El Castillo Cave (Cantabria, Spain), di M. García-Diez, D. Garrido, D. L. Hoffmann, P. B. Pettitt, A. W. G. Pike, J. Zilhão, "Journal of Anthropological Sciences", Vol. 93 (2015), pp. 1-18

The hand stencils of European Paleolithic art tend to be considered of pre-Magdalenian age and scholars have generally assigned them to the Gravettian period. At El Castillo Cave, application of U-series dating to calcite accretions has established a minimum age of 37,290 years for underlying red hand stencils, implying execution in the earlier part of the Aurignacian if not beforehand. Together with the series of red disks, one of which has a minimum age of 40,800 years, these motifs lie at the base of the El Castillo parietal stratigraphy. The similarity in technique and colour support the notion that both kinds of artistic manifestations are synchronic and define an initial, non-figurative phase of European cave art. However, available data indicate that hand stencils continued to be painted subsequently. Currently, the youngest, reliably dated examples fall in the Late Gravettian, approximately 27,000 years ago. (...)

     
 

Variation in tibia and fibula diaphyseal strength and its relationship with arboreal and terrestrial locomotion: extending the investigation to non-hominoid primates, di  D. Marchi, "Journal of Anthropological Sciences", Vol. 93 (2015), pp. 1-4

The reason for investigating the relative (to the tibia) fibular diaphyseal strength follows the observation that the non-human primate fibula is more mobile, and therefore probably subjected to greater load, than the human fibula (Barnett & Napier, 1953). Hominoid and non-hominoid primates are also characterized by more mobile ankles and feet (increase in dorsiflexion/plantarflexion and inversion/eversion) than humans, a consequence of their arboreal behaviour (see Marchi, 2007). (...)

     
  Nonhuman Primate Communication, Pragmatics, and the Origins of Language, di T. C. Scott-Phillips, "Current Anthropology", Vol. 56, No. 1, February 2015, pp. 56-80

Comparisons with the cognition and communication of other species have long informed discussions of the origins and evolution of human communication and language. This research has often focused on similarities and differences with the linguistic code, but more recently there has been an increased focus on the social-cognitive foundations of linguistic communication. However, exactly what these comparisons tell us is not clear because the theoretical concepts used in the animal communication literature are different from those used in the corresponding literature on human communication, specifically those used in linguistic pragmatics. In this article, I bridge the gap between these two areas and in doing so specify exactly what great ape communication tells us about the origins of human communication and language. I conclude that great ape communication probably does not share the same social-cognitive foundations as linguistic communication but that it probably does involve the use of metacognitive abilities that, once they evolved to a more sophisticated degree, were exapted for use in what is an evolutionarily novel form of communication: human ostensive communication. This in turn laid the foundations for the emergence of linguistic communication. More generally, I highlight the often-neglected importance of pragmatics for the study of language origins.

     
 

Two Deciduous Human Molars from the Early Pleistocene Deposits of Barranco León (Orce, Spain), di F. Ribot et alii, "Current Anthropology", Vol. 56, No. 1, February 2015, pp. 134-142

Recently Toro-Moyano et al. (2013) reported a deciduous tooth from Barranco León (Spain; BL02-J54-100) and claimed it to be the oldest human fossil in Europe. In that paper, the authors suggest that a previously reported human molar fragment from the same site (BL5-0) was not human but a deciduous molar of Hippopotamus found out of stratigraphic context. Here, we show the stratigraphic and spatial position of BL5-0, and we separate it from deciduous teeth of Hippopotamus. We conclude that two human deciduous molars have been discovered at the Barranco León site. Both teeth were found 9 meters apart, have a similar size, are heavily worn on the occlusal surface, have a nearly identical interstitial contact facet, and in both cases the roots are practically missing due to resorption. These similarities and the proximity of the finds suggest that both molars probably belonged to the same individual.

     
  Evolution of the hominoid vertebral column: The long and the short of it, di S. A. Williams, G. A. Russo, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 24, Issue 1, pages 15–32, January/February 2015

The postcranial axial skeleton exhibits considerable morphological and functional diversity among living primates. Particularly striking are the derived features in hominoids that distinguish them from most other primates and mammals. In contrast to the primitive catarrhine morphotype, which presumably possessed an external (protruding) tail and emphasized more pronograde trunk posture, all living hominoids are characterized by the absence of an external tail and adaptations to orthograde trunk posture. Moreover, modern humans evolved unique vertebral features that satisfy the demands of balancing an upright torso over the hind limbs during habitual terrestrial bipedalism. Our ability to identify the evolutionary timing and understand the functional and phylogenetic significance of these fundamental changes in postcranial axial skeletal anatomy in the hominoid fossil record is key to reconstructing ancestral hominoid patterns and retracing the evolutionary pathways that led to living apes and modern humans. Here, we provide an overview of what is known about evolution of the hominoid vertebral column, focusing on the currently available anatomical evidence of three major transitions: tail loss and adaptations to orthograde posture and bipedal locomotion.

 

Aggiornamento 13 febbraio

 
 

The earliest securely-dated hominin artefact in Anatolia?, di D. Maddy et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 109, 1 February 2015, Pages 68–75

Anatolia lies at the gateway from Asia into Europe and has frequently been favoured as a route for Early Pleistocene hominin dispersal. Although early hominins are known to have occupied Turkey, with numerous finds of Lower Palaeolithic artefacts documented, the chronology of their dispersal has little reliable stratigraphical or geochronological constraint, sites are rare, and the region's hominin history remains poorly understood as a result. Here, we present a Palaeolithic artefact, a hard-hammer flake, from fluvial sediments associated with the Early Pleistocene Gediz River of Western Turkey. This previously documented buried river terrace sequence provides a clear stratigraphical context for the find and affords opportunities for independent age estimation using the numerous basaltic lava flows that emanated from nearby volcanic necks and aperiodically encroached onto the contemporary valley floors. New 40Ar/39Ar age estimates from these flows are reported here which, together with palaeomagnetic measurements, allow a tightly-constrained chronology for the artefact-bearing sediments to be established. These results suggest that hominin occupation of the valley occurred within a time period spanning ∼1.24 Ma to ∼1.17 Ma, making this the earliest, securely-dated, record of hominin occupation in Anatolia.

     
  Lucy” (A.L. 288-1) had five sacral vertebrae, di G. A. Russo, S. A. Williams, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 156, Issue 2, pages 295–303, February 2015

A “long-backed” scenario of hominin vertebral evolution posits that early hominins possessed six lumbar vertebrae coupled with a high frequency of four sacral vertebrae (7:12-13:6:4), a configuration acquired from a hominin-panin last common ancestor (PLCA) having a vertebral formula of 7:13:6-7:4. One founding line of evidence for this hypothesis is the recent assertion that the “Lucy” sacrum (A.L. 288-1an, Australopithecus afarensis) consists of four sacral vertebrae and a partially-fused first coccygeal vertebra (Co1), rather than five sacral vertebrae as in modern humans. This study reassesses the number of sacral vertebrae in Lucy by reexamining the distal end of A.L.288-1an in the context of a comparative sample of modern human sacra and Co1 vertebrae, and the sacrum of A. sediba (MH2). Results demonstrate that, similar to S5 in modern humans and A. sediba, the last vertebra in A.L. 288-1an exhibits inferiorly-projecting (right side) cornua and a kidney-shaped inferior body articular surface. This morphology is inconsistent with that of fused or isolated Co1 vertebrae in humans, which either lack cornua or possess only superiorly-projecting cornua, and have more circularly-shaped inferior body articular surfaces. The level at which the hiatus' apex is located is also more compatible with typical five-element modern human sacra and A. sediba than if only four sacral vertebrae are present. Our observations suggest that A.L. 288-1 possessed five sacral vertebrae as in modern humans; thus, sacral number in “Lucy” does not indicate a directional change in vertebral count that can provide information on the PLCA ancestral condition. Am J Phys Anthropol 156:295–303, 2015. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

     
  Marathousa 1: a new Middle Pleistocene archaeological site from Greece, di E. Panagopoulou et alii, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 343, February 2015

Lower Palaeolithic evidence in Greece is sparse and consists of unprovenanced finds or sites with material deriving from secondary contexts (Tourloukis & Karkanas 2012). The basin of Megalopolis, Greece, has long been known for its Pleistocene fossiliferous sediments (e.g. Melentis 1961). Early human activity is suggested by a hominin tooth collected as a surface find (see Harvati et al. 2009), as well as by observations of lithic artefacts (Darlas 2003. Nevertheless, systematic archaeological research has been lacking to date. Here, we report the first results from the excavation of ‘Marathousa 1’, a primary-context open-air site from Megalopolis. The geological sequence of the basin includes lacustrine and fluvial deposits that are divided into six formations; of particular interest is the Marathousa Member (Choremi Formation), which dates to the Middle Pleistocene and is composed of lacustrine clay, silt and sand beds alternating with lignite seams (Vinken 1965; van Vugt et al. 2000; Figure 1). These deposits represent the environment of a large lake, which mainly covered the western half of the basin (in addition to some other parts) and periodically became a shallow swamp. The detrital beds were most likely formed during cold/dry periods, and they correlate with glacials (or stadials), while the lignite beds represent interglacials (or interstadials). Since 1969, the lignite seams have been exploited via open-cast mines and numerous palaeontological localities have been exposed during mining operations. (...)

     
 

Cleaning the dead: Neolithic ritual processing of human bone at Scaloria Cave, Italy, di J. Robb, E. S. Elster, E. Isetti, C. J. Knüsel, M. A. Tafuri, A. Traverso, "Antiquity", Volume 89, Issue 343,February 2015, pp 39-54

Detailed taphonomic and skeletal analyses document the diverse and often unusual burial practices employed by European Neolithic populations. In the Upper Chamber at Scaloria Cave in southern Italy, the remains of some two dozen individuals had been subjected to careful and systematic defleshing and disarticulation involving cutting and scraping with stone tools, which had left their marks on the bones. In some cases these were not complete bodies but parts of bodies that had been brought to the cave from the surrounding area. The fragmented and commingled burial layer that resulted from these activities indicates complex secondary burial rites effecting the transition from entirely living to entirely dead individuals.

     
 

Assessing the Accidental Versus Deliberate Colour Modification of Shell Beads: a Case Study on Perforated Nassarius kraussianus from Blombos Cave Middle Stone Age levels, di F. d'Errico, M. Vanhaeren, K. Van Niekerk, C. S. Henshilwood, R. M. Erasmus, "Archaeometry", Volume 57, Issue 1, pages 51–76, February 2015

Colour plays an eminent role in beadwork. Colour modifications are reported on early shell beads from Middle Stone Age sites. However, identifying the colouring agent and demonstrating the intentional nature of the colouring process is not straightforward. Here, we provide analytical data on colour and structural modifications observed on Nassarius kraussianus (Nk) collected in modern thanatocoenoses and on shells of the same species experimentally heated in oxidizing and reductive atmospheres. Comparison with Nk shell beads from the 72 ka old Middle Stone Age levels of Blombos Cave, South Africa, and contextual analysis of other malacological remains from the same levels that were not used as ornaments identify the mechanisms responsible for the change of colour in modern Nk thanatocoenoses and heated shells, and show that although some Nk shell beads were heated, intentional heat treatment of shell beads is not demonstrated.

     
  Special Issue: Ancient DNA and Human Evolution, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 79, Pages 1-158 (February 2015), Edited by George Perry and Ludovic Orlando
     
 

Heating of flint debitage from Upper Palaeolithic contexts at Manot Cave, Israel: changes in atomic organization due to heating using infrared spectroscopy, di S. Weiner, V. Brumfeld, O. Marder, O. Barzilai, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 54, February 2015, Pages 45–53

The heat treatment of flint is known to change its mechanical properties and improve its fracture behaviour during knapping. Here we examine 20 flint artifacts from Upper Paleolithic contexts from Manot Cave, Israel, using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and compare them to geogenic flint beds from the walls inside the cave and from outcrops just above the cave. We show that the 512 and 467 cm−1 peaks are broader in most of the flint debitage pieces as compared to the geogenic flint, and that broadening of these peaks occurs when geogenic flint from the cave wall is heated. We also present an empirical simple method to monitor these changes.

     
 

Improved high-resolution GPR imaging and characterization of prehistoric archaeological features by means of attribute analysis, di W. Zhao, E. Forte, S. T. Levi, M. Pipan, G. Tian, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 54, February 2015, Pages 77–85

We propose a novel procedure for the analysis and interpretation of Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) data from archaeological data and we test the method in challenging conditions at a prehistoric settlement on the Stromboli Island (Italy). The main objective of the proposed procedure is to enhance the GPR capability of identifying and characterizing small-size and geometrically irregular archaeological remains buried beneath rough topographic surface conditions. After the basic GPR processing sequence, including topographic correction using a high-resolution Digital Elevation Model acquired from 3-D Laser Scanner, the procedure encompasses a multi-attribute analysis and iso-attribute surfaces calculation with different volume extraction solutions to emphasize vertical and lateral variations within GPR data cubes. The test was performed in cooperation with the archaeological team to calibrate the results and to provide detailed information about buried targets of potential archaeological interests to plan further excavations. The results gave evidence of localized buried remains and allowed detailed pre-excavation planning. The archaeological excavations validated the results obtained from the GPR survey. The research demonstrates that the proposed GPR procedure enhances the ability to identify and characterize archaeological remains with high accuracy even in complex surface and subsurface conditions. Such logistical situation is very common, particularly in prehistoric sites, which are often characterized by discontinuous, small and irregular targets that cannot be identified by standard processing and analysis strategies.

     
 

Testing of a single grain OSL chronology across the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition at Les Cottés (France), di Z. Jacobs, B. Li, N. Jankowski, M. Soressi, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 54, February 2015, Pages 110–122

The timing of the Middle Palaeolithic to Upper Palaeolithic transition in France is important to help understand when, where and how Neanderthals have been replaced by Homo sapiens. Radiocarbon dating has been the dating workhorse in constructing the chronological framework pertinent to these questions. In this study, we are testing whether single grain OSL dating has the accuracy and precision to be useful as a complementary dating method. The site of Les Cottés provides an ideal testing ground because of its stratigraphic integrity and reliable radiocarbon chronology. We applied single grain OSL dating of quartz to 19 samples and multi-aliquot MET-pIRIR dating of potassium-rich feldspar grains to 5 samples to explicitly test assumptions of pre-depositional resetting of the OSL signal and post-depositional exposure to variable beta dose rates. The good agreement between the single grain OSL and the multi-aliquot MET pIRIR ages suggest that the optical signals of both quartz and feldspar grains were reset prior to deposition and that much of the extra scatter observed in the equivalent dose distribution of quartz grains are likely due to the small-scale differences in beta dose delivered to individual grains. Both the quartz OSL and feldspar MET-pIRIR ages show great consistency with the 14C ages on bone collected from the same units. This gives confidence in the measurement and analytical approaches used to derive both the equivalent dose and dose rate, the numerator and denominator, respectively, of the luminescence age equation. These results suggest that a systematic and detailed single grain OSL dating study can have the accuracy and precision that is necessary to play a powerful role in the dating of the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic transition and other questions of importance in this time range and geographical area.

     
 

Palaeolithic dogs and Pleistocene wolves revisited: a reply to Morey (2014), di M. Germonpré et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 54, February 2015, Pages 210–216

This is a reply to the comments of Morey (2014) on our identification of Palaeolithic dogs from several European Palaeolithic sites. In his comments Morey (2014) presents some misrepresentations and misunderstandings that we remedy here. In contrast to what Morey (2014) propounds, our results suggest that the domestication of the wolf was a long process that started early in the Upper Palaeolithic and that since that time two sympatric canid morphotypes can be seen in Eurasian sites: Pleistocene wolves and Palaeolithic dogs. Contrary to Morey (2014), we are convinced that the study of this domestication process should be multidisciplinary.

     
 

Using ZooMS to identify fragmentary bone from the Late Middle/Early Upper Palaeolithic sequence of Les Cottés, France, di F. Welker, M. Soressi, W. Rendu, J. J. Hublin, M. Collins, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 54, February 2015, Pages 279–286

We report the application of a molecular barcode method (ZooMS) to identify fragmentary bone remains (>2.5 cm) from a Middle to Upper Palaeolithic sequence at Les Cottés, France. ZooMS uses peptide mass fingerprinting of collagen (the most abundant protein in bone) to discriminate fauna (typically to genus level). Using previously reported peptide markers we initially conducted a blind test using 34 morphologically identified bones, followed by the application of ZooMS on 145 morphologically unidentified bone specimens. For the blind test, ZooMS was in agreement with morphological identifications in all cases, but in some instances taxonomic resolution is lower than morphological identifications. Further, 93.8% (136/145) of spectra obtained for morphologically unidentified bone specimens result in identifications that cannot be taxonomically improved by ZooMS. These include ten bone specimens showing signs of carnivore digestion. Focussing on the unidentified bone specimens of the Châtelperronian unit at Les Cottés (US06), ZooMS identified an additional ≈30% of the total number of bones discovered, increasing the total number of identified bone specimens to 61.8%. Further, ZooMS revealed higher taxonomic richness compared to morphological identifications for US06, thereby providing a more informed interpretation of the faunal community present at Les Cottés during the Châtelperronian.

     
 

The Middle Palaeolithic Nahal Mahanayeem Outlet site, Israel: reconstructing the environment of Late Pleistocene wetlands in the eastern Mediterranean from ostracods, di J. Kalbe, S. Mischke, P. Dulskc, G. Sharon, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 54, February 2015, Pages 385–395

We present ostracod data from the Middle Palaeolithic open air site of Nahal Mahanayeem Outlet (NMO) at the southern edge of the Hula Basin, northern Israel. Sediments of two Pleistocene water bodies are exposed at the site. The first one is an archaeologically sterile, light-colored limnic carbonate with an Early Pleistocene age. It contains an ostracod fauna assemblage dominated by Candona neglecta, Candonopsis kingsleii, and Pseudocandona sp., and, in minor abundances, Cypria ophtalmica, Cyprideis sp., Humphcypris sp., Fabaeformiscandona cf. fabaeformis and Ilyocypris sp. These sediments were deposited in a shallow, freshwater to oligohaline lake under stable conditions. Sediments of the second water body are silty and dark-colored with a depositional age of 65 ka, belonging to the Late Pleistocene Ashmura Formation. The unit covers a geologically complex topography of tectonically uplifted limnic deposits and a hill-like gravel bar at the site. The most important archaeological layer is situated at its base, containing a lithic assemblage ascribed primarily to the Middle Palaeolithic Mousterian tradition and very well preserved flora and fauna. In the sediments from the archaeological layers, the brackish water ostracod Cyprideis torosa and the foraminifer Ammonia tepida could be identified. In sediments of the Ashmura Formation taken near the site, C. neglecta, Candona angulata, Ilyocypris sp., C. kingsleii, Pseudocandona sp., C. ophtalmica, Darwinula stevensoni, Trajancypris sp. and Potamocypris smaragdina were found, indicating a freshwater to slightly oligohaline stagnant water body. The ostracod fauna of the NMO site, together with geochemical data, allow us to reconstruct a depositional environment of the margin at a shallow lake with brackish or saline springs nearby during the site's occupation by Middle Palaeolithic humans. Additionally, Candona weltneri, Candona cf. meerfeldiana, C. kingsleii, Cyclocypris laevis, C. ophtalmica, Cyprideis sp., Fabaeformiscandona cf. fabaeformis, P. smaragdina, Pseudocandona depressa, Trajancypris sp, Zonocypris cf. costata and A. tepida could be recorded for the first time for the Pleistocene limnic strata of the Hula Basin.

     
 

Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving, di J. C. A. Joordens et alii, "Nature" 518, pp. 228–231 (12 February 2015)

The manufacture of geometric engravings is generally interpreted as indicative of modern cognition and behaviour1. Key questions in the debate on the origin of such behaviour are whether this innovation is restricted to Homo sapiens, and whether it has a uniquely African origin. Here we report on a fossil freshwater shell assemblage from the Hauptknochenschicht (‘main bone layer’) of Trinil (Java, Indonesia), the type locality of Homo erectus discovered by Eugène Dubois in 1891. In the Dubois collection (in the Naturalis museum, Leiden, The Netherlands) we found evidence for freshwater shellfish consumption by hominins, one unambiguous shell tool, and a shell with a geometric engraving. We dated sediment contained in the shells with 40Ar/39Ar and luminescence dating methods, obtaining a maximum age of 0.54 ± 0.10 million years and a minimum age of 0.43 ± 0.05 million years. This implies that the Trinil Hauptknochenschicht is younger than previously estimated. Together, our data indicate that the engraving was made by Homo erectus, and that it is considerably older than the oldest geometric engravings described so far. Although it is at present not possible to assess the function or meaning of the engraved shell, this discovery suggests that engraving abstract patterns was in the realm of Asian Homo erectus cognition and neuromotor control.

     
  The Lower/early Middle Pleistocene small débitage productions in Western Europe: New data from Isernia La Pineta t.3c (Upper Volturno Basin, Italy), di
R. Gallottia, C. Peretto, "Quaternary International", Volume 357, 30 January 2015, Pages 264–281

Isernia La Pineta archaeological site in Central Italy, dated to about 0.6 Ma, is one of the earliest archaeological sites of the Italian peninsula and one of the key sites for the knowledge of human behaviour during the early Middle Pleistocene in Western Europe. Several archaeostratigraphic units have been recognized and systematically excavated. Core and flake assemblages were studied as a bulk in the Eighties of last century with a typo-metrical approach, not taking into account a precise stratigraphic provenance. Here we present a review of the lithic collection from the lowermost archaeostratigraphic unit (t.3c) which is the first techno-economic analysis based on the concept of chaîne opératoire. Our results contrast with those from previous studies. Our analysis demonstrates that the technical criteria employed in small débitage are not opportunistic and unstructured as previously inferred. By contrast, they correspond to well-established mental templates that led knappers (1) to use mainly a discoid method; (2) to apply this débitage method regardless of the size and shape of the original matrix; (2) to maintain a high productivity; and (3) to produce medium-sized flakes to be turned into small tools. The new data are discussed in the framework of the Lower/early Middle Pleistocene technological complexes of Western Europe, calling into question a number of allegations about the first technical traditions that have been previously accepted without reservation.

     
  Neanderthals gain human neighbour, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 28 January 2015

A 55,000-year-old incomplete skull found in Israel may belong to a human group that interbred with Neanderthals. Discovered deep in a cave by amateur speleologists, the partial cranium also fills a major gap in the fossil record of Homo sapiens’ journey from Africa to Europe. “Here we actually hold a skull of a human being that was living next to the Neanderthals,” says Israel Hershkovitz, the leader of a study published today in Nature. “Potentially he is the one that could interbreed with the Neanderthals,” says Hershkovitz, who is a physical anthropologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel. (...)

· Humans and Neandertals likely interbred in Middle East, di M. Balter, "Science NOW", 28 January 2015

   
 
 

Levantine cranium from Manot Cave (Israel) foreshadows the first European modern humans, di I. Hershkovitz et alii, "Nature-Letters", 28 January 2015, doi:10.1038/nature14134

A key event in human evolution is the expansion of modern humans of African origin across Eurasia between 60 and 40 thousand years (kyr) before present (BP), replacing all other forms of hominins1. Owing to the scarcity of human fossils from this period, these ancestors of all present-day non-African modern populations remain largely enigmatic. Here we describe a partial calvaria, recently discovered at Manot Cave (Western Galilee, Israel) and dated to 54.7 ± 5.5 kyr BP (arithmetic mean ± 2 standard deviations) by uranium–thorium dating, that sheds light on this crucial event. The overall shape and discrete morphological features of the Manot 1 calvaria demonstrate that this partial skull is unequivocally modern. It is similar in shape to recent African skulls as well as to European skulls from the Upper Palaeolithic period, but different from most other early anatomically modern humans in the Levant. This suggests that the Manot people could be closely related to the first modern humans who later successfully colonized Europe. Thus, the anatomical features used to support the ‘assimilation model’ in Europe might not have been inherited from European Neanderthals, but rather from earlier Levantine populations. Moreover, at present, Manot 1 is the only modern human specimen to provide evidence that during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic interface, both modern humans and Neanderthals contemporaneously inhabited the southern Levant, close in time to the likely interbreeding event with Neanderthals.

· Ancient skull proves modern humans colonized Eurasia 60-70,000 years ago, "Eureka Alert", 29-JAN-2015

     
  Human-like hand use in Australopithecus africanus, di M. M. Skinner et alii, "Science", 23 January 2015, Vol. 347, no. 6220, pp. 395-399

The distinctly human ability for forceful precision and power “squeeze” gripping is linked to two key evolutionary transitions in hand use: a reduction in arboreal climbing and the manufacture and use of tools. However, it is unclear when these locomotory and manipulative transitions occurred. Here we show that Australopithecus africanus (~3 to 2 million years ago) and several Pleistocene hominins, traditionally considered not to have engaged in habitual tool manufacture, have a human-like trabecular bone pattern in the metacarpals consistent with forceful opposition of the thumb and fingers typically adopted during tool use. These results support archaeological evidence for stone tool use in australopiths and provide morphological evidence that Pliocene hominins achieved human-like hand postures much earlier and more frequently than previously considered.

· Gli utensili dell'australopiteco, di D. Vergano, "National Geographic Italia", 23 gennaio 2015

     
  Yabba dabba d'oh! Stone Age man wasn't necessarily more advanced than the Neanderthals, 14-Jan-2015

A multi-purpose bone tool dating from the Neanderthal era has been discovered by University of Montreal researchers, throwing into question our current understanding of the evolution of human behaviour. It was found at an archaeological site in France. "This is the first time a multi-purpose bone tool from this period has been discovered. It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens," said Luc Doyon of the university's Department of Anthropology, who participated in the digs. Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia in the Middle Paleolithic between around 250,000 to 28,000 years ago. Homo sapiens is the scientific term for modern man. (...)

     
  Experimental evidence for the co-evolution of hominin tool-making teaching and language, di T. J. H. Morgan et alii, "Nature Communications", 13 January 2015, doi:10.1038/ncomms7029

Hominin reliance on Oldowan stone tools—which appear from 2.5 mya and are believed to have been socially transmitted—has been hypothesized to have led to the evolution of teaching and language. Here we present an experiment investigating the efficacy of transmission of Oldowan tool-making skills along chains of adult human participants (N=184) using five different transmission mechanisms. Across six measures, transmission improves with teaching, and particularly with language, but not with imitation or emulation. Our results support the hypothesis that hominin reliance on stone tool-making generated selection for teaching and language, and imply that (i) low-fidelity social transmission, such as imitation/emulation, may have contributed to the ~700,000 year stasis of the Oldowan technocomplex, and (ii) teaching or proto-language may have been pre-requisites for the appearance of Acheulean technology. This work supports a gradual evolution of language, with simple symbolic communication preceding behavioural modernity by hundreds of thousands of years.

· Human language may have evolved to help our ancestors make tools, di M. Balter, "Science NOW", 13 January 2015

     
 

Les néandertaliens des grottes de Grimaldi (Vintimille, Ligurie, Italie), Janvier 2015

Contribution au panorama Moustérien, les collections du Prince Albert 1er de Monaco E. et O. Notter

     
  The medial pterygoid tubercle in the Atapuerca Early and Middle Pleistocene mandibles: Evolutionary implications, di J. M. Bermúdez de Castro et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 156, Issue 1, pages 102–109, January 2015

Numerous studies have attempted to identify the presence of uniquely derived (autoapomorphic) Neandertal features. Here, we deal with the medial pterygoid tubercle (MTP), which is usually present on the internal face of the ascending ramus of Neandertal specimens. Our study stems from the identification of a hypertrophied tubercle in ATD6-96, an Early Pleistocene mandible recovered from the TD6 level of the Atapuerca-Gran Dolina site and attributed to Homo antecessor. Our review of the literature and study of numerous original fossil specimens and high quality replicas confirm that the MTP occurs at a high frequency in Neandertals (ca. 89%) and is also present in over half (ca. 55%) of the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos (SH) hominins. In contrast, it is generally absent or minimally developed in other extinct hominins, but can be found in variable frequencies (<ca. 25%) in Pleistocene and recent H. sapiens samples. The presence of this feature in ATD6-96 joins other traits shared by H. antecessor, the SH hominins and Neandertals. Since the TD6 hominins have been attributed either to MIS 21 or to MIS 25, it seems that a suite of assumed derived Neandertal features appeared in the Early Pleistocene, and they should be interpreted as synapomorphies shared among different taxa. We suggest that H. antecessor, the SH hominins and Neandertals shared a common ancestor in which these features appeared during the Early Pleistocene. The presence of the MTP in taxa other than H. neanderthalensis precludes this feature from being a Neandertal autapomorphy. Am J Phys Anthropol 156:102–109, 2015 © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

     
 

Neanderthal exploitation of ibex and chamois in southwestern Europe, di J. Yravedra, L. Cobo-Sánchez, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 78, January 2015, Pages 12–32

There is increasing evidence that Neanderthals had a diverse and flexible diet. They exploited a wide range of resources from large proboscideans to small animals like turtles, rabbits, and marine species. Here, we discuss the importance of ibex and chamois in Neanderthal hunting strategies. The exploitation of both animals has traditionally been regarded as typical of Homo sapiens hunting behavior but was not a feature of Neanderthal behavior, which was thought to have focused on other kinds of game like deer, horses or large bovids. Our analysis of an extensive sample of Middle Paleolithic sites with faunal remains in the Iberian Peninsula reveals that Iberian ibex and chamois were frequently present throughout this period. Statistical analyses allowed us to assess the conditions that might have favored the presence or absence of these animals in the sites, while the taphonomic analyses enabled us to address the issue of whether ibex and chamois were indeed hunted by Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula. Our results indicate a better representation of both species in rocky and mountainous areas. The taphonomy of some sites reveals that chamois and ibex were hunted by Neanderthals, who showed great adaptive capacities to a wide variety of environments, including mountainous habitats. In contrast, other sites with favorable ecological conditions for ibex and chamois where these animals were not exploited by Neanderthals, who chose to hunt other species like deer, horses or aurochs, suggest behavioral complexity and large versatility.

     
 

The evolution of the hominin thumb and the influence exerted by the non-dominant hand during stone tool production, di A. J.M. Key, C. J. Dunmore, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 78, January 2015, Pages 60–69 - open access -

Modern humans possess a highly derived thumb that is substantially stronger and more robust than the fingers. Previous hypotheses concerning the evolution of such traits have focused upon the manipulation of hammerstones during stone tool production and of stone tools during their use. To date there has been no research on the manipulative pressures exerted by the non-dominant (core-holding) hand during stone tool production and its potential influence on the evolutionary history of the thumb. Here we provide the first investigation into the frequencies of digit recruitment and the relative manipulative forces experienced in the non-dominant hand during stone tool production. Eight experienced knappers produced flake cutting tools under four distinct conditions while pressure sensors, secured to the volar pads of the thumb, index and middle fingers of the non-dominant hand, recorded manipulative forces. Results indicate that relative to the fingers, the thumb was recruited significantly more frequently and experienced significantly greater manipulative forces during core repositioning events and the securing of the core during flake detachments. Our results support the hypothesis that the robust thumb anatomy observed in the hominin lineage was selected for, at least in part, as a result of more frequent and greater manipulative pressures acting upon the thumb relative to the fingers on the non-dominant hand during stone tool production. (...)

     
 

Early Pleistocene human hand phalanx from the Sima del Elefante (TE) cave site in Sierra de Atapuerca (Spain), di C. Lorenzo et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 78, January 2015, Pages 114–121

In this study, a new Early Pleistocene proximal hand phalanx (ATE9-2) from the Sima del Elefante cave site (TE – Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), ascribed to Homo sp., is presented and comparatively described in the context of the evolution of the genus Homo. The ATE9-2 specimen is especially important because of the paucity of hand bones in the human fossil record during the Early Pleistocene. The morphological and metrical analyses of the phalanx ATE9-2 indicate that there are no essential differences between it and comparator fossil specimens for the genus Homo after 1.3 Ma (millions of years ago). Similar to Sima de los Huesos and Neandertal specimens, ATE9-2 is a robust proximal hand phalanx, probably reflecting greater overall body robusticity in these populations or a higher gracility in modern humans. The age of level TE9 from Sima del Elefante and morphological and metrical studies of ATE9-2 suggest that the morphology of the proximal hand phalanges and, thus, the morphology of the hand could have remained stable over the last 1.2–1.3 Ma. Taking into account the evidence recently provided by a metacarpal from Kaitio (Kenya) from around 1.42 Ma, we argue that modern hand morphology is present in the genus Homo subsequent to Homo habilis.

     
 

Reassessing the Aurignacian of Slovenia: Techno-economic behaviour and direct dating of osseous projectile points, di L. Moreau, B. Odar, T. Higham, A. Horvat, D. Pirkmajer, Peter Turk, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 78, January 2015, Pages 158–180

The Palaeolithic of southern Central Europe has a long history of archaeological research. Particularly, the presence of numerous osseous projectile points in many early Upper Palaeolithic (EUP) assemblages in this region has attracted the attention of the international research community. However, the scarcity of properly identified and well-dated Aurignacian contexts represents an obstacle for investigation of the nature and timing of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition. In this context, the question of whether Neandertals made Aurignacian osseous projectile points, either on their own or as a consequence of cultural interaction with anatomically modern humans (AMH), still remains an open issue. Here we reassess the EUP record of Slovenia by evaluating the Aurignacian character of the assemblages from Potočka zijalka, Mokriška jama and Divje babe I in the light of their suggested roots in the local Mousterian. We provide a comprehensive description of the lithic industry from Potočka zijalka, which represents one of the rare EUP assemblages of southern Central Europe with a representative number of lithic artefacts to be analysed from the perspective of lithic technology and raw material economy. Our re-analysis of the Slovenian assemblages is backed by a series of 11 new ultrafiltered collagen 14C dates obtained directly on associated osseous projectile points from the studied assemblages. The Aurignacian of Potočka zijalka underlines the remarkable consistency of the Early Aurignacian with low typo-technological variability across Europe, resulting from a marked dependence on transported toolkits and raw material conservation. The new radiocarbon determinations for the Aurignacian of Slovenia appear to post-date the 34–32 ka BP (thousands of years before present) threshold for the last Neandertals in the region. Although not falsified, the hypothesis of Aurignacian bone tools in southern Central Europe as a product of late Neandertals is not supported by our re-examination of the EUP record of Slovenia.

     
 

Neanderthal megafaunal exploitation in Western Europe and its dietary implications: A contextual reassessment of La Cotte de St Brelade (Jersey), di G. M. Smith, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 78, January 2015, Pages 181–201 - open access -

The recurrent presence at Middle Palaeolithic sites of megafaunal remains, such as mammoth, elephant and rhinoceros, together with isotope analyses signalling meat as a prominent protein source, have been used to argue that these species played a central role in Neanderthal diet. Key to this model are the bone heap horizons from La Cotte de St Brelade (Jersey), which were previously interpreted as game drive debris resulting from systematic Neanderthal hunting. However, this hypothesis has never been rigorously tested, neither at a site-scale, incorporating taphonomic and contextual data, nor at a wider European scale. First, this paper provides a contextual reassessment of the faunal remains from La Cotte to fully understand Neanderthal behaviour at the site. Second, a comparative database of 30 well-published Middle Palaeolithic sites with megafauna permits a data-driven, broader spatial (European) and diachronic assessment of the role of megafauna in Neanderthal subsistence behaviour. Results suggest initial Neanderthal occupation at La Cotte was intensive although through time site visits became more infrequent, as highlighted by a reduction in cultural debris concurrent with a rise in carnivore presence. While mammoths, just as other large mammals and occasionally carnivores, were clearly butchered at this locality, their acquisition and role in Neanderthal diet remains ambiguous. Broader comparisons across Western Europe indicate a main focus on a range of large herbivores, with only a minor, opportunistic, role for megafauna. Whilst stable isotope analysis suggests that Neanderthal diet was meat-oriented, zooarchaeological data do not support the inference that megafauna were the major contributor of meat. (...)

     
 

Plant-food preparation on two consecutive floors at Upper Paleolithic Ohalo II, Israel, di A. Snir, D. Nadel, E. Weiss, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 53, January 2015, Pages 61–71

The Ohalo II Upper Paleolithic site was inundated for ca. 23,000 years. A unique and diverse assemblage of seeds and fruit was thus excellently preserved on its brush huts floors. Three successive floors were identified in Brush Hut 1; about 55,000 seeds and fruits were found on its lower floor, Floor III. Food preparation features were found on two of these floors: a hearth in the center of Floor III and a grinding stone in the north of Floor II. Here we analyze the spatial distribution of fourteen prominent plant taxa recovered from Floor III, and compare the results with previously published spatial distribution of the same taxa on Floor II. We describe here the plant remains' distribution around food preparation features – grinding stone (floor II) and a central hearth (floor III), and the groups of taxa which appear on both floors. The similarity in taxa as well as their concentrations on both floors indicates similar activities. We also raise the possibility that the two floors represent two different seasons of occupation – Floor III in winter and Floor II in summer.

     
 

Prehistoric bedrock features: recent advances in 3D characterization and geometrical analyses, di D. Nadel, S. Filin, D. Rosenberg, V. Miller, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 53, January 2015, Pages 331–344

Bedrock features such as hewn mortars, cupmarks and cupules are known around the world. In the Levant they first appear in Natufian sites (ca. 15,500–11,500 Cal BP), in large numbers and a wide variety. Traditional archaeological documentation was commonly limited to hand drawing and general photography. In order to better document these features and provide a high-resolution analysis platform, we hereby introduce a protocol based on photogrammetry, 3D modeling and geometrical characterization even of the deepest features. As case studies, we analyze a deep narrow mortar and a bowl-like mortar from the Natufian site of Raqefet Cave, Mt. Carmel, Israel. Using 20 images per feature was sufficient to create a 3D model for each, with a millimeter level of accuracy. We then characterized each by measurements of volume, shape, vertical and horizontal reflective symmetries. The method offers quick and affordable in-field archaeological recording apparatus, facilitating the derivation of high-resolution 3D models. Using the method provides new avenues for bedrock features documentation and analyses, both on intra- and inter-site levels.

     
 

In search of sealed Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites using core sampling: the impact of grid size, meshes and auger diameter on discovery probability, di P. Crombé, J. Verhegge, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 53, January 2015, Pages 445–458

Since the 90s core sampling, particularly within Dutch and Belgian wetland research, has increasingly become important for detecting covered prehistoric hunter-gatherer sites, comprised mainly of scatters of lithic artifacts of variable size and find density. Several methodological studies (Tol et al., 2004; Verhagen et al., 2013) have tried to develop standard sampling protocols differentiating grid size, core diameter and sieving mesh width according to the expected site-types. These studies are all based on a statistical analysis of excavation data, using simulations. However, these theoretical models have never been fully tested against empirical data coming from augering projects. In this paper core sampling data from 11 cored sites, some of which were subsequently excavated, are used in view of developing a core sampling strategy which allows the detection of the broadest possible range of prehistoric sites. The study concludes that in most cases, augering within a 10 m grid with a 10 cm–12 cm core and sieving through 1 mm–2 mm meshes allows the detection of buried sites, eventually even small and low-density ones. In order to further increase the discovery chances a two-step gridding approach is recommended.

 

 


Index di antiqui Sommario bacheca