Aggiornamento 30 dicembre


Assessment of Accumulation Processes at the Middle Pleistocene Site of Ambrona (Soria, Spain). Density and Orientation Patterns in Spatial Datasets Derived from Excavations Conducted from the 1960s to the Present, di L. Sánchez-Romero , A. Benito-Calvo, A. Pérez-González, M. Santonja, December 21, 2016,  - open access -

The Middle Pleistocene site of Ambrona (Soria, Spain) is a major reference for European Acheulean studies. The origin of the lithic and fauna accumulations at this site was first thought to be anthropogenic, but later studies showed that it was mainly natural. The first person to conduct excavations at the Ambrona site was the Marquis of Cerralbo, in 1914; other research groups followed in more recent times (the Howell & Freeman team and the Santonja & Pérez-González team). The digs yielded a great amount of information, but until now it had never been unified. In this paper, we compile all the available published and unpublished excavation documentation from the 1960s to the present. We use these maps and sections to present our spatial study of the LSM (Lower Stratigraphic Member) at the Ambrona site, combining stratigraphic criteria with GIS density and orientation analysis. This study enabled us to define the main concentrations of the LSM, providing an initial contribution to an assessment of their accumulation processes. Most of the concentrations preserved in the ancient shore area of the site display marked orientation patterns which coincide with the direction of the main water flows into the Ambrona wetland. However, random orientation patterns were observed in the central part of the site (Alpha concentration); they may be mostly preserved without undergoing transport processes, as previous taphonomic studies also confirm. (...)


The plant component of an Acheulian diet at Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel, di Y. Melamed, M. E. Kislev, E. Geffen, S. Lev-Yadun, N. Goren-Inbar, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", 20 December 2016, vol. 113, no. 51, pp. 14674–14679

Diet is central for understanding hominin evolution, adaptation, and environmental exploitation, but Paleolithic plant remains are scarce. A unique macrobotanical assemblage of 55 food plant taxa from the Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel includes seeds, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and plants producing underground storage organs. The food plant remains were part of a diet that also included aquatic and terrestrial fauna. This diverse assemblage, 780,000 y old, reflects a varied plant diet, staple plant foods, environmental knowledge, seasonality, and the use of fire in food processing. It provides insight into the wide spectrum of the diet of mid-Pleistocene hominins, enhancing our understanding of their adaptation from the perspective of subsistence. Our results shed light on hominin abilities to adjust to new environments, facilitating population diffusion and colonization beyond Africa. We reconstruct the major vegetal foodstuffs, while considering the possibility of some detoxification by fire. The site, located in the Levantine Corridor through which several hominin waves dispersed out of Africa, provides a unique opportunity to study mid-Pleistocene vegetal diet and is crucial for understanding subsistence aspects of hominin dispersal and the transition from an African-based to a Eurasian diet.


Direct isotopic evidence for subsistence variability in Middle Pleistocene Neanderthals (Payre, southeastern France), di H. Bocherens et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 154, 15 December 2016, Pages 226–236

The site of Payre (SE France) is presented as a case study to decipher possible changes in subsistence and land-use strategies during the middle Pleistocene in Europe. This study applies carbon and oxygen isotopic data (δ13C and δ18O) in dental tooth enamel from four distinct Middle Pleistocene Neanderthals coming from two phases of occupation. This allows us to test if these different Neanderthals were similar in their subsistence strategies and mobility during their childhood, and to compare them with terrestrial predators and to herbivores dwelling in different areas around the cave. The results show that Neanderthals were exploiting the environment differently over time in the absence of a significant environmental change. This change of environment exploitation coincides with different durations of occupation. The age of the individuals allows us to discuss the mobility of young Neanderthals and the topographies they lived on before arriving in the cave. The combination of results obtained from various approaches throws a new light on the investigation of Neanderthal ecosystem and land-use patterns during the Early Middle Palaeolithic in Southeastern France.


The MIS 5.5 terraced deposit of Fosso del Cupo (Montecelio, Central Italy) and its Mousterian lithic assemblage: Re-evaluation of a nineteenth-century discovery, di P. Ceruleo, F. Marra, L. Pandolfi, C. Petronio, L. Salari, "Quaternary International", Volume 425, 15 December 2016, Pages 224–236

By means of a geomorphological study and the correlation with the geochronologically constrained terraced deposits of the greater area of Rome, we attribute to the aggradational phase during marine isotopic stage (MIS) 5.5 a terraced deposit firstly described in the earliest local geological reports of the 19th century, in which a small set of lithic artifacts and vertebrate fossil remains was recovered. After this correlation, the sedimentary deposit of Fosso del Cupo represents the only inland occurrence of an aggradational deposit of MIS 5.5 so far recognized in the area of Rome, where a rich record of lithic industries and faunal assemblages has been yielded by the sedimentary successions deposited in response to deglaciation during sea-level rises of MIS 15 through MIS 7. We have implemented the lithic and faunal assemblages through a collection during the geological survey performed in the area where the terraced deposit crops out. With an age tightly constrained around 125 ka, the lithic industry and the faunal assemblage from Fosso del Cupo, although limited in number, represent an important witness of the early development of the local Pontinian culture and should be considered a regional marker, which may concur to improve the knowledge on the Mousterian of Central Italy.


Mechanical characterization of raw material quality and its implication for Early Upper Palaeolithic Moravia, di M. Moník, H. Hadraba, "Quaternary International", Volume 425, 15 December 2016, Pages 425–436

Raw material mechanical tests were conducted to answer the question whether differences in raw material procurement among Early Upper Palaeolithic populations in Moravia (Czech Republic) may have been driven by different mechanical properties of those materials. Characterization of mechanical properties of erratic flints and Krumlovský les I type chert show that the relatively finer-grained erratic flints, preferred by local Aurignacian populations, are more easily and probably also predictably knapped at higher speeds, such as reached with soft (antler, wood) percussors, whereas cherts of Krumlovský les I type, exploited by both Szeletian and Aurignacian populations, are more resistant to fracture propagation. This implies the suitability of the former material for fine blade and bladelet production, and of the latter to projectile (e.g. Szeletian leaf points) manufacture, and possibly explains the export of leaf points from Szeletian areas (the Krumlov Forest) to Bohunician and Aurignacian sites within Moravia. Exploitation of erratic flints was easier as regards Aurignacian, and probably entire Upper Palaeolithic knapping technology. Certain tasks, however, were better met with other raw materials, thus reflecting the relativity of chipped stone raw material quality perception in the Palaeolithic.


A reexamination of the Middle Paleolithic human remains from Riparo Tagliente, Italy, di J. Arnaud et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 425, 15 December 2016, Pages 437–444

Despite new discoveries of human fossil remains, some aspects of paleoanthropological research are biased by the poor sample size, which limits our understanding of intra-species variability among the different hominin species. In this context, continuous assessment and reassessment of human fossil remains discovered decades ago, and often unknown to the scientific community, represent an opportunity to address this issue. Moreover, deciduous teeth are less studied than permanent dentitions, an aspect which contributes to limit our understanding. In the present study, we provide a detailed description of Tagliente 3 (upper right second deciduous molar) and Tagliente 4 (lower left deciduous canine), two deciduous teeth from Riparo Tagliente (Stallavena di Grezzana, Verona) attributed to Homo neanderthalensis. In terms of morphology and size, Tagliente 3 presents typical Neandertal derived features (e.g., likely large hypocone and complex topography of the enamel-dentine junction). Although deciduous canines usually do not provide substantial morphologically diagnostic information, Tagliente 4 falls in the upper range of the Neandertal variability for its bucco-lingual diameter. In terms of tissue proportions both teeth fall within the Neandertal range of variation: Tagliente 3 for the enamel thickness distribution and Tagliente 4 for the volume of the crown dentine. This work contributes to increase our knowledge on the variability of Neandertal deciduous dentition.


New footprints from Laetoli (Tanzania) provide evidence for marked body size variation in early hominins, di F. T Masao et alii, December 14, 2016, DOI:  - open access -

Laetoli is a well-known palaeontological locality in northern Tanzania whose outstanding record includes the earliest hominin footprints in the world (3.66 million years old), discovered in 1978 at Site G and attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. Here, we report hominin tracks unearthed in the new Site S at Laetoli and referred to two bipedal individuals (S1 and S2) moving on the same palaeosurface and in the same direction as the three hominins documented at Site G. The stature estimates for S1 greatly exceed those previously reconstructed for Au. afarensis from both skeletal material and footprint data. In combination with a comparative reappraisal of the Site G footprints, the evidence collected here embodies very important additions to the Pliocene record of hominin behaviour and morphology. Our results are consistent with considerable body size variation and, probably, degree of sexual dimorphism within a single species of bipedal hominins as early as 3.66 million years ago. (...)

· Nuove orme scoperte a Laetoli cambiano lo scenario su Lucy & famiglia, "Le Scienze", 14 dicembre 2016

· Meet Chewie, the biggest Australopithecus on record, di E. Callaway, "Nature News", 14 December 2016


Raw foodies: Europe's earliest humans did not use fire, 14-DEC-2016

Studying dental plaque from a 1.2 million year old hominin (early human species), recovered by the Atapuerca Research Team in 2007 in Sima del Elefante in northern Spain, archaeologists extracted microfossils to find the earliest direct evidence of food eaten by early humans. These microfossils included traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules indicating consumption of grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine, insect fragments and a possible fragment of a toothpick. All detected fibres were uncharred, and there was also no evidence showing inhalation of microcharcoal - normally a clear indicator of proximity to fire. The timing of the earliest use of fire for cooking is hotly contested, with some researchers arguing habitual use started around 1.8 million years ago while others suggest it was as late as 300,000-400,000 years ago. Possible evidence for fire has been found at some very early sites in Africa. However, the lack of evidence for fire at Sima del Elefante suggests that this knowledge was not carried with the earliest humans when they left Africa. The earliest definitive evidence in Europe for use of fire is 800,000 years ago at the Spanish site of Cueva Negra, and at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, Israel, a short time later. (...)


Identifying Major Transitions in the Evolution of Lithic Cutting Edge Production Rates, di A. Muller, C. Clarkson, December 9, 2016, - open access -

The notion that the evolution of core reduction strategies involved increasing efficiency in cutting edge production is prevalent in narratives of hominin technological evolution. Yet a number of studies comparing two different knapping technologies have found no significant differences in edge production. Using digital analysis methods we present an investigation of raw material efficiency in eight core technologies broadly representative of the long-term evolution of lithic technology. These are bipolar, multiplatform, discoidal, biface, Levallois, prismatic blade, punch blade and pressure blade production. Raw material efficiency is assessed by the ratio of cutting edge length to original core mass. We also examine which flake attributes contribute to maximising raw material efficiency, as well as compare the difference between expert and intermediate knappers in terms of cutting edge produced per gram of core. We identify a gradual increase in raw material efficiency over the broad sweep of lithic technological evolution. The results indicate that the most significant transition in efficiency likely took place with the introduction of small foliate biface, Levallois and prismatic blade knapping, all introduced in the Middle Stone Age / Middle Palaeolithic among early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. This suggests that no difference in raw material efficiency existed between these species. With prismatic blade technology securely dated to the Middle Palaeolithic, by including the more recent punch and pressure blade technology our results dispel the notion that the transition to the Upper Palaeolithic was accompanied by an increase in efficiency. However, further increases in cutting edge efficiency are evident, with pressure blades possessing the highest efficiency in this study, indicating that late/epi-Palaeolithic and Neolithic blade technologies further increased efficiency. (...)


New approaches to the study of Quartz lithic industries, "Quaternary International", Volume 424, Pages 1-250 (7 December 2016). Edited by Arturo de Lombera-Hermida and Carlos Rodríguez-Rellán.

Articles 18


New investigations at the Middle Stone Age site of Pockenbank Rockshelter, Namibia, di I. Schmidt et alii, "Antiquity-Project Gallery", Issue 354, December 2016 - open access -

In southern Africa, Middle Stone Age sites with long sequences have been the focus of intense international and interdisciplinary research over the past decade (cf. Wadley 2015). Two techno-complexes of the Middle Stone Age—the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort—have been associated with many technological and behavioural innovations of Homo sapiens. The classic model argues that these two techno-complexes are temporally separated ‘horizons’ with homogenous material culture (Jacobs et al. 2008), reflecting demographic pulses and supporting large subcontinental networks. This model was developed on the basis of evidence from southern African sites regarded as centres of subcontinental developments. (...)


The archaeology of persistent places: the Palaeolithic case of La Cotte de St Brelade, Jersey, di A. Shaw, M. Bates, C. Conneller, C. Gamble, "Antiquity", Volume 90, Issue 354 December 2016, pp. 1437-1453

Excavations at the Middle Pleistocene site of La Cotte de St Brelade, on the island of Jersey in the English Channel, have revealed a long sequence of occupation. The continued use of the site by Neanderthals throughout an extended period of changing climate and environment reveals how, despite changes in the types of behaviour recorded at the site, La Cotte emerged as a persistent place in the memory and landscape of its early hominin inhabitants. The site's status as a persistent place for these people suggests a level of social and cognitive development permitting reference to and knowledge of places distant in time and space as long ago as at least MIS 7.


Neanderthal and Homo sapiens subsistence strategies in the Cantabrian region of northern Spain, di J. Yravedra-Sainz de los Terreros et alii, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", December 2016, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 779–803

The Iberian Peninsula is key for the study of the transition from the Middle to the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe, as well as for the replacement of Neanderthals by anatomically modern humans (AMH). On this subject, the most widespread misconception assumed that both human species coexisted during a certain period of time, after which Homo sapiens imposed on Neanderthals who finally got extinct. However, recent proposals based on improved dating methods, discuss this possibility, arguing that the arrival of AMH was marked by the complete absence of Homo neanderthalensis in this territory. In that way, new theories deny the possibility of coexistence and the disappearance of Neanderthals by cultural displacement. Covalejos Cave (Velo, Pielagos, Cantabria), one of the few settlements in the northern Peninsula with Final Mousterian and Early Aurignacian levels, supports this hypothesis. Nevertheless, in this paper, we try to avoid a direct discussion about this question in order to centre our analysis on identifying possible different subsistence strategies between H. neanderthalensis and anatomically modern humans in the north of the Iberian Peninsula. Our zooarchaeological and taphonomic studies reflect that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans exploited the same faunal species, pointing out that there does not seem to be significant differences in their behaviour in Covalejos Cave.


Tropical forests and the genus Homo, di P. Roberts, N. Boivin, J. Lee-Thorp, M. Petraglia, J. Stock, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 25, Issue 6, November/December 2016, Pages 306–317

Tropical forests constitute some of the most diverse and complex terrestrial ecosystems on the planet. From the Miocene onward, they have acted as a backdrop to the ongoing evolution of our closest living relatives, the great apes, and provided the cradle for the emergence of early hominins, who retained arboreal physiological adaptations at least into the Late Pliocene. There also now exists growing evidence, from the Late Pleistocene onward, for tool-assisted intensification of tropical forest occupation and resource extraction by our own species, Homo sapiens. However, between the Late Pliocene and Late Pleistocene there is an apparent gap in clear and convincing evidence for the use of tropical forests by hominins, including early members of our own genus. In discussions of Late Pliocene and Early Pleistocene hominin evolution, including the emergence and later expansion of Homo species across the globe, tropical forest adaptations tend to be eclipsed by open, savanna environments. Thus far, it is not clear whether this Early-Middle Pleistocene lacuna in Homo-rainforest interaction is real and representative of an adaptive shift with the emergence of our species or if it is simply reflective of preservation bias.

  Paléolithique supérieur, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 120, Issue 5, Pages 441-634 (December 2016)

- De la géographie sociale en archéologie paléolithique: concepts et apports du Magdalénien des Pyrénées, di Kathleen Sterling

- Quand le renne entra au panthéon du Paléolithique supérieur ?, di M. Martin

- Objets d’art gravettiens en stéatite du Massif de l’Estérel. Étude descriptive et technologique et corrélations chrono-culturelles, di G. Onoratini, A. Raux, G. Giacobini, G. Malerba

- Nouvelles données sur le Magdalénien inférieur de la Région Cantabrique: le Niveau F de la grotte de El Cierro (Ribadesella, Asturies, Espagne), di E. Álvarez-Fernández et alii

- Le comportement symbolique des derniers chasseurs cueilleurs paléolithiques : regard sur l’art rupestre du Magdalénien cantabrique, di A. Ruiz-Redondo

- Temps et réseaux de l’art paléolithique : la grotte de La Covaciella (Asturies, Espagne), di M. García-Diez et alii

- La fin du Paléolithique dans la Catalogne méridionale ibérique revisitée : nouvelles réponses pour anciennes questions, di D. Roman et alii


Faunal evidence for a difference in clothing use between Neanderthals and early modern humans in Europe, di M. Collard, L. Tarle, D. Sandgathe, A. Allan, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 44, Part B, December 2016, Pages 235–246

In this paper we report a study designed to shed light on the possibility that clothing differences played a role in the replacement of the Neanderthals by early modern humans. There is general agreement that early modern humans in Europe utilized specialized cold weather clothing, but the nature of the clothing used by Neanderthals is debated. Some researchers contend that they did not use clothes. Others argue that they were limited to cape-like clothing. Still others aver that their clothing was not substantively different in terms of thermal effectiveness from that of early modern humans. To test among these hypotheses, we employed a novel line of evidence—the bones of animals whose skins may have been made into clothing. We used an ethnographic database to identify mammalian families that were used to create cold weather clothing in the recent past. We then compared the frequency of occurrence of these families in European archaeological deposits associated with early modern humans and Neanderthals. We obtained two main results. One is that mammalian families used for cold weather clothing occur in both early modern human- and Neanderthal-associated strata. The other is that three of the families—leporids, canids, and mustelids—occur more frequently in early modern human strata than in Neanderthal strata. There is reason to believe that the greater frequency of canid and mustelid remains in early modern human strata reflects the use of garments with fur trim. Thus, these findings are most consistent with the hypothesis that Neanderthals employed only cape-like clothing while early modern humans used specialized cold weather clothing. We end by discussing the implications of this hypothesis for the debate about the replacement of the Neanderthals by early modern humans.


Small mammal utilization by Middle Stone Age humans at Die Kelders Cave 1 and Pinnacle Point Site 5-6, Western Cape Province, South Africa, di A. Armstrong, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 101, December 2016, Pages 17–44

Reported here are the results of a taphonomic analysis of the small mammals (between 0.75 kg and 4.5 kg adult body weight) and size 1 bovids (≤20 kg adult body weight) from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites of Die Kelders Cave 1 (DK1) and Pinnacle Point Site 5-6 (PP5-6), Western Cape Province, South Africa. This study provides a comprehensive taphonomic analysis of MSA small mammals with a focus on discerning the role of humans in their accumulation and the implications for human behavioral adaptations. Based on comparisons with control assemblages of known accumulation, it is evident that humans accumulated many of the Cape dune mole-rats, hares, and size 1 bovids at DK1. The patterning of cut-marked and burned mole-rat remains at DK1 provides evidence in the MSA for the systematic utilization of small mammals for their skins and as a protein source. Unlike DK1, small mammals and size 1 bovids constitute only a small portion of the PP5-6 mammals and they exhibit little evidence of human accumulation. Nocturnal and diurnal raptors accumulated most of the small fauna at PP5-6. The nominal presence of small mammals in the PP5-6 fauna is atypical of MSA sites in the Cape Floristic Region, where they are abundant and often constitute large portions of MSA archaeofaunas. DK1 humans maximized the environmental yield by exploiting low-quality resources, a strategy employed possibly in response to localized environmental conditions and to greater human population densities. In comparison, the MIS5-4 humans at PP5-6 did not exploit small mammals and instead focused on higher-quality resources like shellfish and large ungulates. Humans and predators accumulated few small mammals at PP5-6, suggesting that these taxa may have been less abundant near the site and/or that humans could afford to concentrate on high-quality resources, perhaps because of a higher-yield local environment. This study suggests that an adaptive response to the environmental conditions of MIS4 was to maximize the resource yield of local habitats to include lower-quality resources when necessary. The incorporation of these resources in the face of changing environmental and perhaps population pressures is a subsistence adaptation that played a crucial role in the population stability and expansion evidenced by the number of sites in the Cape dating to MIS4.


Early modern human lithic technology from Jerimalai, East Timor, di B. Marwick, C. Clarkson, S. O'Connor, S. Collins, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 101, December 2016, Pages 45–64

Jerimalai is a rock shelter in East Timor with cultural remains dated to 42,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest known sites of modern human activity in island Southeast Asia. It has special global significance for its record of early pelagic fishing and ancient shell fish hooks. It is also of regional significance for its early occupation and comparatively large assemblage of Pleistocene stone artefacts. Three major findings arise from our study of the stone artefacts. First, there is little change in lithic technology over the 42,000 year sequence, with the most noticeable change being the addition of new artefact types and raw materials in the mid-Holocene. Second, the assemblage is dominated by small chert cores and implements rather than pebble tools and choppers, a pattern we argue pattern, we argue, that is common in island SE Asian sites as opposed to mainland SE Asian sites. Third, the Jerimalai assemblage bears a striking resemblance to the assemblage from Liang Bua, argued by the Liang Bua excavation team to be associated with Homo floresiensis. We argue that the near proximity of these two islands along the Indonesian island chain (c.100 km apart), the long antiquity of modern human occupation in the region (as documented at Jerimalai), and the strong resemblance of distinctive flake stone technologies seen at both sites, raises the intriguing possibility that both the Liang Bua and Jerimalai assemblages were created by modern humans.


The earliest modern Homo sapiens in China?, di V. Michel et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 101, December 2016, Pages 101–104

The origin of modern humans continues to be one of the most heavily debated topics within paleoanthropology. Eastern Asia, and particularly China, is a geographic region that is taking on increasing importance in resolving some of these debates (Stringer, 2002; Wu, 2004; Trinkaus, 2005; Norton and Jin, 2009; Bae, 2010; Liu et al., 2010a,b). The region is growing in importance because it clearly served as the stepping off point for major human dispersals to Australasia, Japan, the Americas, and eventually Oceania (O'Connell and Allen, 2004; Goebel et al., 2008; Norton et al., 2010). Finding modern Homo sapiens (MHS) fossils from securely dated stratigraphic positions in eastern Asia can, thus, clearly contribute to knowledge of the timing and nature of the entrance of modern humans into the region. In fact, there are a number of studies documenting dated evidence for the appearance of MHS in China, suggesting they arrived between ~70 and 130 thousands of years ago (ka) (Shen et al., 2002, 2007, 2013; Bae et al., 2014) (Table 1, Fig. 1). (...)


Limb Bone Structural Proportions and Locomotor Behavior in A.L. 288-1 ("Lucy"), di C. B. Ruff , M. L. Burgess, R. A. Ketcham, J. Kappelman, November 30, 2016, - open access -

While there is broad agreement that early hominins practiced some form of terrestrial bipedality, there is also evidence that arboreal behavior remained a part of the locomotor repertoire in some taxa, and that bipedal locomotion may not have been identical to that of modern humans. It has been difficult to evaluate such evidence, however, because of the possibility that early hominins retained primitive traits (such as relatively long upper limbs) of little contemporaneous adaptive significance. Here we examine bone structural properties of the femur and humerus in the Australopithecus afarensis A.L. 288–1 ("Lucy", 3.2 Myr) that are known to be developmentally plastic, and compare them with other early hominins, modern humans, and modern chimpanzees. Cross-sectional images were obtained from micro-CT scans of the original specimens and used to derive section properties of the diaphyses, as well as superior and inferior cortical thicknesses of the femoral neck. A.L. 288–1 shows femoral/humeral diaphyseal strength proportions that are intermediate between those of modern humans and chimpanzees, indicating more mechanical loading of the forelimb than in modern humans, and by implication, a significant arboreal locomotor component. Several features of the proximal femur in A.L. 288–1 and other australopiths, including relative femoral head size, distribution of cortical bone in the femoral neck, and cross-sectional shape of the proximal shaft, support the inference of a bipedal gait pattern that differed slightly from that of modern humans, involving more lateral deviation of the body center of mass over the support limb, which would have entailed increased cost of terrestrial locomotion. There is also evidence consistent with increased muscular strength among australopiths in both the forelimb and hind limb, possibly reflecting metabolic trade-offs between muscle and brain development during hominin evolution. Together these findings imply significant differences in both locomotor behavior and ecology between australopiths and later Homo.  (...)

· La predilezione per gli alberi degli australopitechi, "Le Scienze", 01 dicembre 2016


The wanderers, di A. Gibbons, "Science", 25 Nov 2016, Vol. 354, Issue 6315, pp. 958-961

The famous site of Dmanisi, Georgia, offers an unparalleled glimpse into a harsh early chapter in human evolution, when primitive members of our genus Homo struggled to survive in a new land far north of their ancestors' African home, braving winters without clothes or fire and competing with fierce carnivores for meat. The 4-hectare site has yielded beautifully preserved fossils that are the oldest hominins known outside of Africa, including five skulls, about 50 skeletal bones, and an as-yet-unpublished pelvis unearthed 2 years ago. These fossils are showing that the first hominins to leave Africa were startlingly primitive, with small bodies about 1.5 meters tall, simple tools, and brains one-third to one-half the size of modern humans'.


MesoLife: A Mesolithic perspective on Alpine and neighbouring territories, "Quaternary International", Volume 423, Pages 1-314 (22 November 2016). Edited by Federica Fontana, Davide Visentin and Ursula Wierer

Articles 21


Testing Dietary Hypotheses of East African Hominines Using Buccal Dental Microwear Data, di L. Mónica Martínez, F. Estebaranz-Sánchez, J. Galbany, A. Pérez-Pérez, November 16, 2016, - open access -

There is much debate on the dietary adaptations of the robust hominin lineages during the Pliocene-Pleistocene transition. It has been argued that the shift from C3 to C4 ecosystems in Africa was the main factor responsible for the robust dental and facial anatomical adaptations of Paranthropus taxa, which might be indicative of the consumption of fibrous, abrasive plant foods in open environments. However, occlusal dental microwear data fail to provide evidence of such dietary adaptations and are not consistent with isotopic evidence that supports greater C4 food intake for the robust clades than for the gracile australopithecines. We provide evidence from buccal dental microwear data that supports softer dietary habits than expected for P. aethiopicus and P. boisei based both on masticatory apomorphies and isotopic analyses. On one hand, striation densities on the buccal enamel surfaces of paranthropines teeth are low, resembling those of H. habilis and clearly differing from those observed on H. ergaster, which display higher scratch densities indicative of the consumption of a wide assortment of highly abrasive foodstuffs. Buccal dental microwear patterns are consistent with those previously described for occlusal enamel surfaces, suggesting that Paranthropus consumed much softer diets than previously presumed and thus calling into question a strict interpretation of isotopic evidence. On the other hand, the significantly high buccal scratch densities observed in the H. ergaster specimens are not consistent with a highly specialized, mostly carnivorous diet; instead, they support the consumption of a wide range of highly abrasive food items. (...)


Neanderthal inheritance helped humans adapt to life outside of Africa, November 10, 2016

As the ancestors of modern humans made their way out of Africa to other parts of the world many thousands of years ago, they met up and in some cases had children with other forms of humans, including the Neanderthals and Denisovans. Scientists know this because traces of those meetings remain in the human genome. Now, researchers find more evidence that those encounters have benefited humans over the years. (...)


The fate of Neanderthal genes, 8-NOV-2016

The Neanderthals disappeared about 30,000 years ago, but little pieces of them live on in the form of DNA sequences scattered through the modern human genome. A new study by geneticists at the University of California, Davis, shows why these traces of our closest relatives are slowly being removed by natural selection. "On average, there has been weak but widespread selection against Neanderthal genes," said Graham Coop, professor in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology and Center for Population Biology, and senior author on a paper describing the work published Nov. 8 in the journal PLOS Genetics. That selection seems to be a consequence of a small population of Neanderthals mixing with a much larger population of modern humans. Neanderthals split from our African ancestors over half a million years ago, and lived in Europe and Central Asia until a few tens of thousands of years ago. Archaeological discoveries have shown that they had quite a sophisticated culture, Coop said. Thanks to DNA samples retrieved from a number of fossils, we have enough data on the Neanderthal genome to identify their genes among ours. (...)


Evolution purged many Neanderthal genes from human genome, 8-NOV-2016

Neanderthal genetic material is found in only small amounts in the genomes of modern humans because, after interbreeding, natural selection removed large numbers of weakly deleterious Neanderthal gene variants, according to a study by Ivan Juric and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, published November 8th, 2016 in PLOS Genetics. Humans and Neanderthals interbred tens of thousands of years ago, but today, Neanderthal DNA makes up only 1-4% of the genomes of modern non-African people. To understand how modern humans lost their Neanderthal genetic material and how humans and Neanderthals remained distinct, Juric and colleagues developed a novel method for estimating the average strength of natural selection against Neanderthal genetic material. They found that natural selection removed many Neanderthal alleles from the genome that might have had mildly negative effects. The scientists estimate that these gene variations were able to persist in Neanderthals because Neanderthals had a much smaller population size than humans. Once transferred into the human genome, however, these alleles became subject to natural selection, which was more effective in the larger human populations and has removed these gene variants over time. (...)

  Retour sur le site de Moulin Quignon, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 120, Issue 4, Pages 297-438 (October 2016):

- Retourner à Moulin Quignon, di A. Hurel, J. J. Bahain, A. Froment, M. H. Moncel, A. Vialet

- Moulin Quignon 1863–1864: détours inédits et bilan historiographique, di A. Hurel, N. Coye

- Réexamen du contexte géologique, chrono- et biostratigraphique du site de Moulin Quignon à Abbeville (Vallée de la Somme, France), di J. J. Bahain, N. Limondin-Lozouet, P. Antoine, P. Voinchet

- La séquence de Moulin Quignon est-elle une séquence archéologique ?, di M. H. Moncel, R. Orliac, P. Auguste, C. Vercoutère

- Nouvel examen des ossements humains de Moulin Quignon (Somme, France). Étude anthropologique, taphonomique et première datation par le radiocarbone, di A. Vialet et alii

- Moulin Quignon : la redécouverte d’un site, di Arnaud Hurel et alii


Aggiornamento 4 novembre

  Looking at handaxes from another angle: Assessing the ergonomic and functional importance of edge form in Acheulean bifaces, di A. J. M. Key, T. Proffitt, E. Stefani, S. J. Lycett, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 44, Part A, December 2016, Pages 43–55

Edge angle is widely considered to be a morphological attribute that influences the functional performance of lithic technologies. However, the comparative performance capabilities of handaxes that vary in terms of edge angles has never been investigated under experimental conditions. Similarly, detailed accounts of Acheulean handaxe angle variation from archaeological examples have not been reported in the literature. Consequently, it has not previously been possible to assess the extent to which Palaeolithic individuals adhered to specific edge angle ranges during handaxe production or whether resultant artifactual properties may have been in response to varying rates of utility. Here, using a substantial experimental program (n = 500 handaxes), we investigate the impact that edge angle variation has on the cutting efficiency of handaxes at a “whole tool” and “edge-point localized” level. We then examine edge angles in a temporally and geographically wide range of handaxes (n = 643) and assess the extent to which hominins were likely altering tool production choices in response to functional pressures. Our experimental results demonstrate that, up to a certain value, higher edge angles in handaxes can actually increase functional performance. Furthermore, results indicate that edges in the proximal portion of handaxes have the greatest influence over efficiency rates. Combined with examination of archaeological specimens, these results suggest that hominins actively pursued the production of more obtuse edges in the proximal (butt) portion of handaxes in order to increase ergonomic features that facilitated greater efficiency during use. Edge angle values in the proximal portion of the archaeological handaxes were, however, consistently found to be below an efficiency threshold identified at ∼70 degrees, above which, an edge’s ability to effectively be applied to cutting tasks decreases markedly. This further suggests that the proximal edges of handaxes, at least occasionally, were required as a functional working edge.

  On the origin of the European Acheulian, di K. Martínez, J. G. Garriga, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 44, Part A, December 2016, Pages 87–104

The Mode 1 to Mode 2 transition in Europe has become a key research debate on early hominins. In this paper, the available data are used to propose a new interpretation of the origin of the Acheulian by analysing the transition through the lithic industry at key circum-Mediterranean sites with Early-Middle Pleistocene chronology: Vallparadís, Gran Dolina TD6, Barranc de la Boella, and Caune de l’Arago ‘P’ levels. Regarding these lithic records, we propose here the hypothesis based on an evolution of new technological behaviours in Europe before 0.5 Myr carried out from autochthonous populations with Mode 1 industries, combined with external adaptive and technological influences. We interpret the chronology and lithic assemblages of these sites within the transition process towards Acheulian, in which structural continuity of Mode 1 is complemented with the gradual appearance of some foreign innovations (bifacial technology). This technological transition is envisaged as a historical process: the outcome of the cultural evolution resulted from contacts and exchanges between hominin groups from western Eurasia with different social and technological adaptations, in contact and competition with each other. This historical process would explain the time lag between Africa, Levant, and Europe in the spread of the Acheulian, as well as a technological evolution of the European Mode 1 and the gradual expansion of the Acheulian across Europe.


Examining Fluvial Stratigraphic Architecture Using Ground-Penetrating Radar at the Fanta Stream Fossil and Archaeological Site, Central Ethiopia, di P. Lanzarone, E. Garrison, R. Bobe, A. Getahun, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 31, Issue 6, November/December 2016, Pages 577–591

The Fanta Stream site is an archaeological and paleontological locality in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The site contains a rich assemblage of fossil mammals and Acheulean artifacts of approximately 600 ka located in a rare high-altitude context. A ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey was conducted in order to provide three-dimensional imaging of the subsurface, which the authors use to interpret the geometry and distribution of fossil-containing stratigraphic units. Utilizing the stream's natural cut bank exposure, we calibrate GPR data to known geologic units through radar facies analysis. Shallow, high-amplitude coherent reflection geometries are attributed to volcanic tuff deposits, as these units exhibit subparallel continuous reflections consistent with planar stratified sedimentary deposition. Deeper, discontinuous reflection packages are interpreted as conglomeritic, fossil-containing deposits. The results of the GPR survey outline the location of the Fanta Stream's paleodepositional features as well as suggest the extent of fossiliferous stratigraphic units for use in future excavations.


Humankind and the avian world: archaeological and zooarchaeological evidence for inferring behavioural evolutionary signatures, "Quaternary International", Volume 421, Pages 1-270 (9 November 2016). Edited by Ruth Blasco and Marco Peresani:

- Human-bird interactions in Prehistory, di R. Blasco, M. Peresani

- Potential exploitation of avian resources by fossil hominins: An overview from ethnographic and historical data, di J. J. Negro, R. Blasco, J. Rosell, C. Finlayson

- First report on the birds (Aves) from level TE7 of Sima del Elefante (Early Pleistocene) of Atapuerca (Spain), di C. Núñez-Lahuerta, G. Cuenca-Bescós, R. Huguet

- Birds as indicators of high biodiversity zones around the Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel, di A. Sánchez-Marco, R. Blasco, J. Rosell, A. Gopher, R. Barkai

- Using birds as indicators of Neanderthal environmental quality: Gibraltar and Zafarraya compared, di C. Finlayson et alii

- What is the taphonomic agent responsible for the avian accumulation? An approach from the Middle and early Late Pleistocene assemblages from Payre and Abri des Pêcheurs (Ardèche, France), di A. Rufà, R. Blasco, T. Roger, M. H. Moncel

- Pigeons and choughs, a usual resource for the Neanderthals in Gibraltar, di R. Blasco, J. Rosell, A. Rufà, A. Sánchez Marco, C. Finlayson

- The birdmen of the Pleistocene: On the relationship between Neanderthals and scavenging birds, di S. Finlayson, C. Finlayson

- Bird consumption in the final stage of Cova Negra (Xátiva, Valencia), di R. Martínez Valle, P. M. Guillem Calatayud, V. Villaverde Bonilla

- Who eats whom? Taphonomic analysis of the avian record from the Middle Paleolithic site of Teixoneres Cave (Moià, Barcelona, Spain), di A. Rufà, R. Blasco, F. Rivals, J. Rosell

- Who brought the bird remains to the Middle Palaeolithic site of Les Fieux (Southwestern, France)? Direct evidence of a complex taphonomic story, di V. Laroulandie, J. P. Faivre, M. Gerbe, V. Mourre

- From feathers to food: Reconstructing the complete exploitation of avifaunal resources by Neanderthals at Fumane cave, unit A9, di I. Fiore, M. Gala, M. Romandini, E. Cocca, A. Tagliacozzo, M. Peresani

- Neanderthal scraping and manual handling of raptors wing bones: Evidence from Fumane Cave. Experimental activities and comparison, di M. Romandini, I. Fiore, M. Gala, M. Cestari, G. Guida, A. Tagliacozzo, M. Peresani

- New data on the avifauna from the Middle Stone Age layers of Sibudu Cave, South Africa: Taphonomic and palaeoenvironmental implications, di A. Val

- Bird remains from Dolni Vestonice I and Predmosti I (Pavlovian, the Czech Republic), di K. Wertz, J. Wilczyński, T. Tomek, M. Roblickova, M. Oliva

- Eating crow or a feather in one's cap: The avifauna from the Magdalenian sites of Gönnersdorf and Andernach-Martinsberg (Germany), di M. Street, E. Turner

- Anthropic fractures and human tooth marks: An experimental approach to non-technological human action on avian long bones, di A. J. Romero, J. Carlos Díez, L. Rodríguez, D. Arceredillo

- Bird-bone modifications by Iberian lynx: A taphonomic analysis of non-ingested red-legged partridge remains, di A. Rodríguez-Hidalgo, P. Saladié, J. Marín, A. Canals

- Experimental study of the aerophone of Isturitz: Manufacture, use-wear analysis and acoustic tests, di C. García Benito, M. Alcolea, C. Mazo

- Characterising the exploitation of avian resources: An experimental combination of lithic use-wear, residue and taphonomic analyses, di A. Pedergnana, R. Blasco

  Middle Stone Age Ochre Processing and Behavioural Complexity in the Horn of Africa: Evidence from Porc-Epic Cave, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, di D. E. Rosso, A. Pitarch Martí, F. d’Errico, November 2, 2016, - open access -

Ochre is a common feature at Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites and has often been interpreted as a proxy for the origin of modern behaviour. However, few ochre processing tools, ochre containers, and ochre-stained artefacts from MSA contexts have been studied in detail within a theoretical framework aimed at inferring the technical steps involved in the acquisition, production and use of these artefacts. Here we analyse 21 ochre processing tools, i.e. upper and lower grindstones, and two ochre-stained artefacts from the MSA layers of Porc-Epic Cave, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, dated to ca. 40 cal kyr BP. These tools, and a large proportion of the 4213 ochre fragments found at the site, were concentrated in an area devoted to ochre processing. Lower grindstones are made of a variety of raw materials, some of which are not locally available. Traces of use indicate that different techniques were employed to process ochre. Optical microscopy, XRD, μ-Raman spectroscopy, and SEM-EDS analyses of residues preserved on worn areas of artefacts show that different types of ferruginous rocks were processed in order to produce ochre powder of different coarseness and shades. A round stone bearing no traces of having been used to process ochre is half covered with residues as if it had been dipped in a liquid ochered medium to paint the object or to use it as a stamp to apply pigment to a soft material. We argue that the ochre reduction sequences identified at Porc-Epic Cave reflect a high degree of behavioural complexity, and represent ochre use, which was probably devoted to a variety of functions. (...)
  Perline di gusci di uova di struzzo nella grotta di Denisova, NOVEMBRE 2, 2016

Gli archeologi stanno scoprendo diverse perline fatte con gusci di uova di struzzo nella grotta di Denisova, sui Monti Altai in Russia. Le perline misurano al massimo un centimetro di diametro e risalirebbero tra i 45 e i 50.000 anni fa. «sono un autentico capolavoro», dice il ricercatore Maxim Kozlikin dell’Istituto di Archeologia e Etnografia di Novosibirsk. «Il guscio di uovo di struzzo è un materiale piuttosto robusto, i buchi devono essere stati fatti con un buon trapano di pietra». Le perline avrebbero potuto far parte di una collana o di un braccialetto, oppure cucite sugli abiti. È curioso trovare delle perline di struzzo nella Siberia di 50.000 anni fa, eppure i ricercatori ne stanno trovando un’intera collezione a cui ne hanno appena aggiunta una. Misura un cm di diametro, con un buco di poco più di un mm. «Per quell’epoca la consideriamo una raffinata opera di gioielleria di un artista molto dotato», dice Kozlikin. (...)

  A MIS 15-MIS 12 record of environmental changes and Lower Palaeolithic occupation from Valle Giumentina, central Italy, di V. Villa et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 151, 1 November 2016, Pages 160–184

An integrated geological study, including sedimentology, stable isotope analysis (δ18O, δ13C), geochemistry, micromorphology, biomarker analysis, 40Ar/39Ar geochronology and tephrochronology, was undertaken on the Quaternary infill of the Valle Giumentina basin in Central Italy, which also includes an outstanding archaeological succession, composed of nine human occupation levels ascribed to the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. 40Ar/39Ar dating, and other palaeoenvironmental and tephrochronological data, constrain the sedimentary history of the whole succession to the MIS 15-MIS 12 interval, between 618 ± 13 ka and 456 ± 2 ka. Palaeoenvironmental proxies suggest that over this time interval of about 150 ka, sedimentary and pedogenic processes were mainly influenced by climatic changes, in particular by the pulsing of local mountain glaciers of the Majella massif. Specifically, the Valle Giumentina succession records glacio-fluvial and lacustrine sedimentation during the colder glacial periods and pedogenesis and/or alluvial sedimentation during the warmer interglacial and/or interstadial periods. During this interval, tectonics played a negligible role as a driving factor of local morphogenesis and sedimentation, whereas the general regional uplift experienced in the Middle Pleistocene led to capture of the basin and its definitive extinction after MIS 12. These data substantially improve previous knowledge of the chronology and sedimentary evolution of the succession, providing for the first time, a well constrained chronological and palaeoenvironmental framework for the archaeological and human palaeoecological record of Valle Giumentina.


Last Neanderthals and first Anatomically Modern Humans in the NW Iberian Peninsula: Climatic and environmental conditions inferred from the Cova Eirós small-vertebrate assemblage during MIS 3, di I. Rey-Rodríguez et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 151, 1 November 2016, Pages 185–197

Cova Eirós is emerging as a reference site in the northwestern Iberian Peninsula for the study of the development of the last Neanderthal populations and the first populations of Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) in MIS 3. Cova Eirós is an archaeological site (with Middle and Upper Palaeolithic levels) located in Cancelo, Triacastela (Lugo, northwestern Iberian Peninsula), which has been systematically excavated from 2008 onwards. The small-vertebrate assemblage analysed came from the archaeo-palaeontological field seasons that took place from 2009 to 2014. At least 18 small-vertebrate taxa have been identified: 1 frog (Rana temporaria), 1 snake (Vipera sp.), 4 insectivores (Sorex minutus, Sorex sp., Talpa cf. occidentalis and Erinaceus europaeus), 4 chiropters (Myotis myotis/blythii, cf. Miniopterus sp., Myotis sp. and Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) and 8 rodents (Apodemus sylvaticus, Arvicola amphibius, Arvicola sapidus, Chionomys nivalis, Microtus (Terricola) lusitanicus, Microtus agrestis, Microtus arvalis and Microtus oeconomus). Using the Habitat Weighting method to reconstruct the palaeoenvironment, we reconstruct a landscape for MIS 3 characterized by open woodland formations. The Mutual Ecogeographic Range (MER) method and the Bioclimatic Model (BM) used for the palaeoclimatic reconstruction show lower temperatures and higher precipitation than at present in the region. Our results from Cova Eirós are compared with the data obtained from several other sites in the Iberian Peninsula; it can be said that Neanderthals and AMH were well adapted to the territory that they occupied, as well as to the surrounding environment and the climatic conditions prevalent in the unstable context of MIS 3 in the Iberian Peninsula.


The apportionment of tooth size and its implications in Australopithecus sediba versus other Plio-pleistocene and recent African hominins, di J. D. Irish, B. E. Hemphill, D. J. de Ruiter, L. R. Berger, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 161, Issue 3, November 2016, Pages 398–413

Australopithecus sediba is characterized further by providing formerly unpublished and refined mesiodistal and buccolingual crown measurements in the MH1 and MH2 specimens. After size correction, these data were compared with those in other fossil and recent samples to facilitate additional insight into diachronic hominin affinities.
Six comparative samples consist of fossil species: A. africanus, A. afarensis, Homo habilis, Paranthropus robustus, P. boisei, and H. erectus. Others comprise H. sapiens and Pan troglodytes. Re-estimates of “actual” dimensions in damaged A. sediba teeth were effected through repeated measurements by independent observers. X-ray synchrotron microtomography allowed measurement of crowns obscured by matrix and noneruption. Tooth size apportionment analysis, an established technique for intraspecific comparisons, was then applied at this interspecific level to assess phenetic affinities using both within- and among-group data.
Comparison of these highly heritable dimensions identified a general trend for smaller posterior relative to larger anterior teeth (not including canines), contra Paranthropus, that allies A. sediba with other australopiths and Homo; however, specific reductions and/or shape variation in the species’ canines, third premolars, and anterior molars relative to the other teeth mirror the patterning characteristic of Homo.
Of all samples, including east African australopiths, A. sediba appears most like H. habilis, H. erectus and H. sapiens regarding how crown size is apportioned along the tooth rows. These findings parallel those in prior studies of dental and other skeletal data, including several that suggest A. sediba is a close relative of, if not ancestral to, Homo.


Middle paleolithic human deciduous incisor from Grotta del Cavallo, Italy, di P. F. Fabbri, D. Panetta, L. Sarti, F. Martini, P. A. Salvadori, D. Caramella, M. Fedi, S. Benazzi, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 161, Issue 3, November 2016, Pages 506–512

In this contribution, we present a morphological description and comparative morphometric analysis of Cavallo D, a human tooth unearthed from the Mousterian FIII sublayer of Grotta del Cavallo (Apulia, Italy).
We used microCT data to provide a detailed morphological description and morphometric analysis of the Cavallo D human tooth based on traditional diameter measurements and 3D enamel thickness. Moreover, new AMS radiocarbon dating of charcoals from layers FII was carried out.
Morphological features observed in Cavallo D align the tooth to Neandertals. Similarly, the large size of the tooth (e.g., BL diameter) and the relatively thinner enamel thickness are typical Neandertal traits. 14C datings of layer FII attribute the tooth to a time range of 45,600–42,900 cal BP (at 68% level of probability).
Up to now, the Rdi1 Cavallo D represents the most recent Neandertal human remain in southern Italy related to a radiocarbon dated stratigraphy. Moreover, since deciduous teeth have been less investigated than the permanent ones, this contribution brings new data to increase our knowledge on the variability of the Neandertal deciduous dentition


Dentognathic remains of Australopithecus afarensis from Nefuraytu (Woranso-Mille, Ethiopia): Comparative description, geology, and paleoecological context, di Y. Haile-Selassie et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 100, November 2016, Pages 35–53

Australopithecus afarensis is the best-known and most dimorphic species in the early hominin fossil record. Here, we present a comparative description of new fossil specimens of Au. afarensis from Nefuraytu, a 3.330–3.207 million-years-old fossil collection area in the Woranso-Mille study area, central Afar, Ethiopia. These specimens include NFR-VP-1/29, one of the most complete mandibles assigned to the species thus far and among the largest mandibles attributed to Au. afarensis, likely representing a male individual. NFR-VP-1/29 retains almost all of the distinctive archaic features documented for Au. afarensis. These features include a posteriorly sloping symphysis, a low and rounded basally set inferior transverse torus, anterosuperiorly opening mental foramen, a lateral corpus hollow bound anteriorly by the C/P3 jugae and posteriorly by the lateral prominence, and the ascending ramus arising high on the corpus. Dental morphology and metrics of the Nefuraytu specimens also falls within the range of Au. afarensis. The presence of this species at Woranso-Mille between 3.330 and 3.207 million years ago confirms the existence of this species in the area in close spatial and temporal proximity to other middle Pliocene hominin taxa such as the one represented by the Burtele foot (BRT-VP-2/73) and the recently named species Australopithecus deyiremeda. This has important implications for our understanding of middle Pliocene hominin diversity.


Mandibular ramus shape of Australopithecus sediba suggests a single variable species, di T. B. Ritzman, C. E. Terhune, P. Gunz, C. A. Robinson, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 100, November 2016, Pages 54–64

The fossils from Malapa cave, South Africa, attributed to Australopithecus sediba, include two partial skeletons—MH1, a subadult, and MH2, an adult. Previous research noted differences in the mandibular rami of these individuals. This study tests three hypotheses that could explain these differences. The first two state that the differences are due to ontogenetic variation and sexual dimorphism, respectively. The third hypothesis, which is relevant to arguments suggesting that MH1 belongs in the genus Australopithecus and MH2 in Homo, is that the differences are due to the two individuals representing more than one taxon. To test these hypotheses, we digitized two-dimensional sliding semilandmarks in samples of Gorilla, Pan, Pongo, and Homo, as well as MH1 and MH2. We document large amounts of shape variation within all extant species, which is related neither to ontogeny nor sexual dimorphism. Extant species nevertheless form clusters in shape space, albeit with some overlap. The shape differences in extant taxa between individuals in the relevant age categories are minimal, indicating that it is unlikely that ontogeny explains the differences between MH1 and MH2. Similarly, the pattern of differences between MH1 and MH2 is inconsistent with those found between males and females in the extant sample, suggesting that it is unlikely that sexual dimorphism explains these differences. While the difference between MH1 and MH2 is large relative to within-species comparisons, it does not generally fall outside of the confidence intervals for extant intraspecific variation. However, the MH1-MH2 distance also does not plot outside and below the between-species confidence intervals. Based on these results, as well as the contextual and depositional evidence, we conclude that MH1 and MH2 represent a single species and that the relatively large degree of variation in this species is due to neither ontogeny nor sexual dimorphism.


OH-65: The earliest evidence for right-handedness in the fossil record, di D. W. Frayer, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 100, November 2016, Pages 65–72

Labial striations on the anterior teeth have been documented in numerous European pre-Neandertal and Neandertal fossils and serve as evidence for handedness. OH-65, dated at 1.8 mya, shows a concentration of oblique striations on, especially, the left I1 and right I1, I2 and C1, which signal that it was right-handed. From these patterns we contend that OH-65 was habitually using the right hand, over the left, in manipulating objects during some kind of oral processing. In living humans right-handedness is generally correlated with brain lateralization, although the strength of the association is questioned by some. We propose that as more specimens are found, right-handedness, as seen in living Homo, will most probably be typical of these early hominins.


Comparative biomechanics of Australopithecus sediba mandibles, di D. J. Daegling, K. J. Carlson, P. Tafforeau, D. J. de Ruiter, R. Berger, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 100, November 2016, Pages 73–86

Fossils attributed to Australopithecus sediba are described as having phylogenetic affinities with early Homo to the exclusion of other South African australopiths. With respect to functional anatomy of mastication, one implication of this hypothesis is that A. sediba mandibles should exhibit absolutely and relatively reduced stiffness and strength in comparison to Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus jaws. Examination of cortical bone distribution in the MH 1 and MH 2 mandibles of A. sediba (evaluated against samples of Pan, early and modern Homo as well as A. africanus and P. robustus) indicate that the A. sediba mandibular corpus was geometrically similar to other South African australopiths. In particular, enhanced torsional rigidity is characteristic of all South African australopiths including A. sediba. These findings are consistent with a hypothesis that masticatory mechanics may have been similar to other australopiths (and distinct from exemplars of early Homo), and as such suggest that A. sediba's mandibles were functionally suited to consume hard and tough objects. Recent mechanical modeling of the A. sediba cranium, however, has been interpreted as indicating that this species was relatively poorly adapted to produce large bite forces and likely experienced relatively modest strains in its facial skeleton. This paradox – that the cranium signals a departure from the australopith morphotype whereas the mandibles conform to a hypodigm of australopith grade – can be resolved, in part, if it is acknowledged that mechanical performance variables offer imperfect insight into what constitutes feeding adaptations.


Master and apprentice: Evidence for learning in palaeolithic portable art, di O. Rivero, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 75, November 2016, Pages 89–100

This paper presents the results of the statistical analysis of 280 pieces of Cantabrian and Pyrenean Middle Magdalenian portable art. Particular technical traces left on the medium by the act of engraving were identified through microscopic analysis and used to build a quantitative estimation of the overall technical aptitude of the engraver. Some traces considered as accidents or errors in the tracing were counted negatively, whereas others reflecting control of the tool and mastership in the use of various techniques were counted positively. A multivariate analysis based on this quantitative index, along with criteria including the type of medium was carried out using Correspondence Factor Analysis and completed with relevant statistical tests. The analysis clearly distinguishes three groups of pieces: those with a negative index, those that present a low positive index resulting from a balance between positive and negative traces, and those with a highly positive index. These different categories of pieces may be tentatively assigned to different levels of experience in tool control and engraving techniques. The mean value of the technical index seems to be correlated with the type of medium and differs significantly in the various sites studied in the corpus. These data allow us to pose some hypotheses concerning the transmission of knowledge in Magdalenian societies, such as differential access to raw materials according to the engraver's experience, and different functionality of sites based on their production of decorated objects.


Rénovation du Musée de Paléontologie Humaine de Terra Amata - Nice - Provence - Côte d'azur. Des Homo erectus à Nice il y a 400 000 ans. Un musée construit sur un ancien site préhistorique. Nouvelle muséographie 2016.


Neanderthals on cold steppes also ate plants, October 27, 2016

Neanderthals in cold regions probably ate a lot more vegetable food than was previously thought. This is what archaeologist Robert Power has discovered based on new research on ancient Neanderthal dental plaque. (...)


Scoperte 50 eccezionali incisioni rupestri in Spagna, OTTOBRE 24, 2016

Nella grotta di Armintxe, nel nord della Spagna, sono state trovate circa 50 nuove incisioni rupestri. Risalgono al Paleolitico superiore, tra i 12 e i 14.500 anni fa. Le immagini includono bisonti, capre e cavalli, uno dei quali misura ben un metro e mezzo. I ricercatori hanno anche identificato due leoni, finora mai rinvenuti nei Paesi Baschi, e dei semicerchi e delle linee simili a quelle trovate nei Pirenei francesi. «È una meraviglia, un tesoro dell’umanità», ha commentato Unai Rementeria, deputato generale della Biscaglia. Le incisioni rupestri sono state scoperte vicino alla città di Lekeitio. Gli esperti le hanno definite l’insieme “più spettacolare e impressionante” del suo genere mai fatto nella penisola iberica. Risale alla stessa epoca delle pitture rupestri di Santimamiñe e delle rappresentazioni trovate recentemente nella grotta di Atxurra. Le incisioni si trovano a circa 50 metri dall’ingresso della grotta. Per l’esattezza risalgono al magdaleniano, l’ultima cultura del Paleolitico superiore europeo. (...)

  Early Evidence for the Extensive Heat Treatment of Silcrete in the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter (Layer PBD, 65 ka), South Africa, di A. Delagnes et alii, October 19, 2016, doi: - open access -

Heating stone to enhance its flaking qualities is among the multiple innovative adaptations introduced by early modern human groups in southern Africa, in particular during the Middle Stone Age Still Bay and Howiesons Poort traditions. Comparatively little is known about the role and impact of this technology on early modern human behaviors and cultural expressions, due, in part, to the lack of comprehensive studies of archaeological assemblages documenting the heat treatment of stone. We address this issue through an analysis of the procedure used for heating and a technological analysis of a lithic assemblage recovered from one Howiesons Poort assemblage at Klipdrift Shelter (southern Cape, South Africa). The resulting data show extensive silcrete heat treatment, which adds a new dimension to our understanding of fire-related behaviors during the Howiesons Poort, highlighting the important role played by a heat treatment stage in the production of silcrete blades. These results are made possible by our new analytical procedure that relies on the analysis of all silcrete artifacts. It provides direct evidence of a controlled use of fire which took place during an early stage of core exploitation, thereby impacting on all subsequent stages of the lithic chaîne opératoire, which, to date, has no known equivalent in the Middle Stone Age or Middle Paleolithic record outside of southern Africa. (...)

  Wild monkeys flake stone tools, di T. Proffitt et alii, Nature (2016), 19 October 2016, doi:10.1038/nature20112

Our understanding of the emergence of technology shapes how we view the origins of humanity. Sharp-edged stone flakes, struck from larger cores, are the primary evidence for the earliest stone technology. Here we show that wild bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) in Brazil deliberately break stones, unintentionally producing recurrent, conchoidally fractured, sharp-edged flakes and cores that have the characteristics and morphology of intentionally produced hominin tools. The production of archaeologically visible cores and flakes is therefore no longer unique to the human lineage, providing a comparative perspective on the emergence of lithic technology. This discovery adds an additional dimension to interpretations of the human Palaeolithic record, the possible function of early stone tools, and the cognitive requirements for the emergence of stone flaking.

· Le schegge dei cebi e le industrie litiche umane, "Le Scienze", 19 ottobre 2016

  A pulse of mid-Pleistocene rift volcanism in Ethiopia at the dawn of modern humans, di W. Hutchison et alii, "Nature Communications" 7, Article number: 13192 (2016), 18 October 2016,  doi:10.1038/ncomms13192 - open access -

The Ethiopian Rift Valley hosts the longest record of human co-existence with volcanoes on Earth, however, current understanding of the magnitude and timing of large explosive eruptions in this region is poor. Detailed records of volcanism are essential for interpreting the palaeoenvironments occupied by our hominin ancestors; and also for evaluating the volcanic hazards posed to the 10 million people currently living within this active rift zone. Here we use new geochronological evidence to suggest that a 200 km-long segment of rift experienced a major pulse of explosive volcanic activity between 320 and 170 ka. During this period, at least four distinct volcanic centres underwent large-volume (>10 km3) caldera-forming eruptions, and eruptive fluxes were elevated five times above the average eruption rate for the past 700 ka. We propose that such pulses of episodic silicic volcanism would have drastically remodelled landscapes and ecosystems occupied by early hominin populations. (...)

· Gli antichi vulcani etiopi che cambiarono il destino dell'umanità, "Le Scienze", 19 ottobre 2016

  Early cave art and ancient DNA record the origin of European bison, di J. Soubrier, G. Gower, A. Cooper, "Nature Communications" 7, Article number: 13158 (2016), 18 October 2016, doi:10.1038/ncomms13158 - open access -

The two living species of bison (European and American) are among the few terrestrial megafauna to have survived the late Pleistocene extinctions. Despite the extensive bovid fossil record in Eurasia, the evolutionary history of the European bison (or wisent, Bison bonasus) before the Holocene (<11.7 thousand years ago (kya)) remains a mystery. We use complete ancient mitochondrial genomes and genome-wide nuclear DNA surveys to reveal that the wisent is the product of hybridization between the extinct steppe bison (Bison priscus) and ancestors of modern cattle (aurochs, Bos primigenius) before 120 kya, and contains up to 10% aurochs genomic ancestry. Although undetected within the fossil record, ancestors of the wisent have alternated ecological dominance with steppe bison in association with major environmental shifts since at least 55 kya. Early cave artists recorded distinct morphological forms consistent with these replacement events, around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ~21–18 kya). (...)

Genomic analyses inform on migration events during the peopling of Eurasia, di L. Pagani et alii, Nature 538, 13 October 2016, pp. 238–242

High-coverage whole-genome sequence studies have so far focused on a limited number1 of geographically restricted populations2, 3, 4, 5, or been targeted at specific diseases, such as cancer6. Nevertheless, the availability of high-resolution genomic data has led to the development of new methodologies for inferring population history7, 8, 9 and refuelled the debate on the mutation rate in humans10. Here we present the Estonian Biocentre Human Genome Diversity Panel (EGDP), a dataset of 483 high-coverage human genomes from 148 populations worldwide, including 379 new genomes from 125 populations, which we group into diversity and selection sets. We analyse this dataset to refine estimates of continent-wide patterns of heterozygosity, long- and short-distance gene flow, archaic admixture, and changes in effective population size through time as well as for signals of positive or balancing selection. We find a genetic signature in present-day Papuans that suggests that at least 2% of their genome originates from an early and largely extinct expansion of anatomically modern humans (AMHs) out of Africa. Together with evidence from the western Asian fossil record11, and admixture between AMHs and Neanderthals predating the main Eurasian expansion12, our results contribute to the mounting evidence for the presence of AMHs out of Africa earlier than 75,000 years ago.

· La complessa genetica delle prime migrazioni dall'Africa, "Le Scienze", 22 settembre 2016

  New Experiments and a Model-Driven Approach for Interpreting Middle Stone Age Lithic Point Function Using the Edge Damage Distribution Method, di B. J. Schoville, K. S. Brown, J. A. Harris, Jayne Wilkins, October 13, 2016, doi: - open access -

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) is associated with early evidence for symbolic material culture and complex technological innovations. However, one of the most visible aspects of MSA technologies are unretouched triangular stone points that appear in the archaeological record as early as 500,000 years ago in Africa and persist throughout the MSA. How these tools were being used and discarded across a changing Pleistocene landscape can provide insight into how MSA populations prioritized technological and foraging decisions. Creating inferential links between experimental and archaeological tool use helps to establish prehistoric tool function, but is complicated by the overlaying of post-depositional damage onto behaviorally worn tools. Taphonomic damage patterning can provide insight into site formation history, but may preclude behavioral interpretations of tool function. Here, multiple experimental processes that form edge damage on unretouched lithic points from taphonomic and behavioral processes are presented. These provide experimental distributions of wear on tool edges from known processes that are then quantitatively compared to the archaeological patterning of stone point edge damage from three MSA lithic assemblages—Kathu Pan 1, Pinnacle Point Cave 13B, and Die Kelders Cave 1. By using a model-fitting approach, the results presented here provide evidence for variable MSA behavioral strategies of stone point utilization on the landscape consistent with armature tips at KP1, and cutting tools at PP13B and DK1, as well as damage contributions from post-depositional sources across assemblages. This study provides a method with which landscape-scale questions of early modern human tool-use and site-use can be addressed. (...)
  Morphology and function of Neandertal and modern human ear ossicles, di A. Stoessel, R. David, P. Gunz, T. Schmidt, F. Spoor, J. J. Hublin, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", October 11, 2016, vol. 113, no. 41, pp. 11489–11494 - open access -

The diminutive middle ear ossicles (malleus, incus, stapes) housed in the tympanic cavity of the temporal bone play an important role in audition. The few known ossicles of Neandertals are distinctly different from those of anatomically modern humans (AMHs), despite the close relationship between both human species. Although not mutually exclusive, these differences may affect hearing capacity or could reflect covariation with the surrounding temporal bone. Until now, detailed comparisons were hampered by the small sample of Neandertal ossicles and the unavailability of methods combining analyses of ossicles with surrounding structures. Here, we present an analysis of the largest sample of Neandertal ossicles to date, including many previously unknown specimens, covering a wide geographic and temporal range. Microcomputed tomography scans and 3D geometric morphometrics were used to quantify shape and functional properties of the ossicles and the tympanic cavity and make comparisons with recent and extinct AMHs as well as African apes. We find striking morphological differences between ossicles of AMHs and Neandertals. Ossicles of both Neandertals and AMHs appear derived compared with the inferred ancestral morphology, albeit in different ways. Brain size increase evolved separately in AMHs and Neandertals, leading to differences in the tympanic cavity and, consequently, the shape and spatial configuration of the ossicles. Despite these different evolutionary trajectories, functional properties of the middle ear of AMHs and Neandertals are largely similar. The relevance of these functionally equivalent solutions is likely to conserve a similar auditory sensitivity level inherited from their last common ancestor. (...)

  Late Pleistocene climate drivers of early human migration, di A. Timmermann, T. Friedrich, "Nature" 538, pp. 92–95 (06 October 2016)

On the basis of fossil and archaeological data it has been hypothesized that the exodus of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into Eurasia between ~50–120 thousand years ago occurred in several orbitally paced migration episodes. Crossing vegetated pluvial corridors from northeastern Africa into the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant and expanding further into Eurasia, Australia and the Americas, early H. sapiens experienced massive time-varying climate and sea level conditions on a variety of timescales. Hitherto it has remained difficult to quantify the effect of glacial- and millennial-scale climate variability on early human dispersal and evolution. Here we present results from a numerical human dispersal model, which is forced by spatiotemporal estimates of climate and sea level changes over the past 125 thousand years. The model simulates the overall dispersal of H. sapiens in close agreement with archaeological and fossil data and features prominent glacial migration waves across the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant region around 106–94, 89–73, 59–47 and 45–29 thousand years ago. The findings document that orbital-scale global climate swings played a key role in shaping Late Pleistocene global population distributions, whereas millennial-scale abrupt climate changes, associated with Dansgaard–Oeschger events, had a more limited regional effect.

  Palaeoproteomic evidence identifies archaic hominins associated with the Châtelperronian at the Grotte du Renne, di F. Welker et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", October 4, 2016, vol. 113, no. 40, pp. 11162–11167

In Western Europe, the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition is associated with the disappearance of Neandertals and the spread of anatomically modern humans (AMHs). Current chronological, behavioral, and biological models of this transitional period hinge on the Châtelperronian technocomplex. At the site of the Grotte du Renne, Arcy-sur-Cure, morphological Neandertal specimens are not directly dated but are contextually associated with the Châtelperronian, which contains bone points and beads. The association between Neandertals and this “transitional” assemblage has been controversial because of the lack either of a direct hominin radiocarbon date or of molecular confirmation of the Neandertal affiliation. Here we provide further evidence for a Neandertal–Châtelperronian association at the Grotte du Renne through biomolecular and chronological analysis. We identified 28 additional hominin specimens through zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (ZooMS) screening of morphologically uninformative bone specimens from Châtelperronian layers at the Grotte du Renne. Next, we obtain an ancient hominin bone proteome through liquid chromatography-MS/MS analysis and error-tolerant amino acid sequence analysis. Analysis of this palaeoproteome allows us to provide phylogenetic and physiological information on these ancient hominin specimens. We distinguish Late Pleistocene clades within the genus Homo based on ancient protein evidence through the identification of an archaic-derived amino acid sequence for the collagen type X, alpha-1 (COL10α1) protein. We support this by obtaining ancient mtDNA sequences, which indicate a Neandertal ancestry for these specimens. Direct accelerator mass spectometry radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modeling confirm that the hominin specimens date to the Châtelperronian at the Grotte du Renne.

  Manual Loading Distribution During Carrying Behaviors: Implications for the Evolution of the Hominin Hand, di A. J. M. Key, October 3, 2016, doi:  - open access -

The human hand is unparalleled amongst primates in its ability to manipulate objects forcefully and dexterously. Previous research has predominantly sought to explain the evolution of these capabilities through an adaptive relationship between more modern human-like anatomical features in the upper limb and increased stone tool production and use proficiency. To date, however, we know little about the influence that other manipulatively demanding behaviors may have had upon the evolution of the human hand. The present study addresses one aspect of this deficiency by examining the recruitment of the distal phalanges during a range of manual transportation (i.e., carrying) events related to hominin behavioral repertoires during the Plio-Pleistocene. Specifically, forces on the volar pad of each digit are recorded during the transportation of stones and wooden branches that vary in weight and size. Results indicate that in most instances, the index and middle fingers are recruited to a significantly greater extent than the other three digits during carrying events. Relative force differences between digits were, however, dependent upon the size and weight of the object transported. Carrying behaviors therefore appear unlikely to have contributed to the evolution of the robust thumb anatomy observed in the human hand. Rather, results suggest that the manual transportation of objects may plausibly have influenced the evolution of the human gripping capabilities and the 3rd metacarpal styloid process. (...)
  Lion des cavernes (Leo Pantera spelaeus), 1/10/2016

Si actuellement l’image du lion est uniquement synonyme de savane africaine, ce n’était pas le cas aux temps préhistoriques. On peut même dire que ce grand carnivore avait les plaines glacées de l’hémisphère nord comme terrain de chasse, de l’Eurasie à l’Alaska. C’était probablement, jusqu’à son extinction, le plus grand prédateur du Paléolithique supérieur, choisissant ses proies parmi les troupeaux de rennes qui traversaient la steppe.
Les hommes préhistoriques devaient rencontrer les lions des cavernes, ou plutôt les éviter, pour ne pas finir comme plat de résistance. La chasse aux lions ayant peu de chance d’aboutir, ils préféraient les peindre ou les graver sur les parois des grottes ou sur d’autres supports, comme sur de l’ivoire de mammouth. Petit détail, ce grand félin doit son nom au fait qu’un grand nombre d’ossements ont été trouvés dans des cavernes, et non pas au fait que l’animal y séjournait, ce qui n’est absolument pas prouvé! (...)

  I sette scheletri più famosi (e perché sono famosi), di S. Worrall

Cosa rende un fossile antico come Lucy una celebrità? Lydia Pyne, scrittrice e storica, lo racconta nel suo ultimo libro “Seven Skeletons: The Evolution of the World’s Most Famous Human Fossils”. La risposta a questa domanda, spiega, non riguarda solo gli scienziati ma l’intera ricerca delle origini dell’umanità. (...)

  Spatial determinants of the mandibular curve of Spee in modern and archaic Homo, di M. F. Laird, N. E. Holton, J. E. Scott, R. G. Franciscus, S. D. Marshall, T. E. Southard, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 161, Issue 2, October 2016, Pages 226–236

The curve of Spee (COS) is a mesio-distally curved alignment of the canine through distal molar cusp tips in certain mammals including modern humans and some fossil hominins. In humans, the alignment varies from concave to flat, and previous studies have suggested that this difference reflects craniofacial morphology, including the degree of alveolar prognathism. However, the relationship between prognathism and concavity of the COS has not been tested in craniofacially variant populations. We tested the hypothesis that greater alveolar prognathism covaries with a flatter COS in African-American and European-American populations. We further examined this relationship in fossil Homo including Homo neanderthalensis and early anatomically modern Homo sapiens, which are expected to extend the amount of variation in the COS from the extant sample.

  New Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites in the eastern Aegean: the Karaburun Archaeological Survey Project, di Ç. Çilingiroğlu, B. Dinçer, A. Uhri, C. Gürbıyık, İ. Baykara & C. Çakırlar, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 353, October 2016

Despite ongoing fieldwork focusing on the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods of the Aegean, the eastern part of this region, especially western Turkey, remains almost entirely unexplored in terms of early prehistory. There is virtually no evidence from this area that can contribute to broader research themes such as the dispersal of early hominins, the distribution of Early Holocene foragers and early forager-farmer interactions. The primary aim of the Karaburun Archaeological Survey Project is to address this situation by collecting data from the eastern side of the Aegean Sea, thereby contributing to the currently debated issues of Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean prehistory.
  New investigations at the Middle Stone Age site of Pockenbank Rockshelter, Namibia, di I. Schmidt et alii, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 353, October 2016

In southern Africa, Middle Stone Age sites with long sequences have been the focus of intense international and interdisciplinary research over the past decade (cf. Wadley 2015). Two techno-complexes of the Middle Stone Age—the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort—have been associated with many technological and behavioural innovations of Homo sapiens. The classic model argues that these two techno-complexes are temporally separated ‘horizons’ with homogenous material culture (Jacobs et al. 2008), reflecting demographic pulses and supporting large subcontinental networks. This model was developed on the basis of evidence from southern African sites regarded as centres of subcontinental developments.

  Doctors, chefs or hominin animals? Non-edible plants and Neanderthals, di K. Hardy, S. Buckley, M. Huffman, "Antiquity", Volume 90, Issue 353, October 2016, pp. 1373-1379

In 2013, Hardy et al. offered a broad behavioural context for the hypothesis that the ingestion of non-nutritional plants (yarrow and camomile) by Neanderthals was for the purpose of self-medication. Chemical traces of these plants had been detected in samples of dental calculus from Neanderthals at the site of El Sidrón, Spain, along with traces of bitumen and wood smoke, as well as starch granules that showed evidence of roasting (Hardy et al.2012). Subsequently, the presence of traces of resin and a piece of non-edible conifer wood were also identified from these samples (Radini et al.2016). Although not rejecting our interpretation for the presence of these two non-edible plants as evidence of medicinal plant use, two recent articles offer alternative scenarios for why and how those plants may have reached the mouth and, eventually, the dental calculus of the individual concerned. Buck and Stringer (2014) suggest that the plants were not deliberately ingested, and that the traces of yarrow and camomile were in fact embedded in the chyme, or stomach contents, of herbivore prey. Krief et al. (2015) propose two hypotheses: first, they suggest that the plants could have been used to flavour meat; second, while not ruling out the possibility that they could be medicinal, they argue on a technical point that the plants were not self-administered but were provided by a caregiver. Here, we examine these suggestions and consider their probability and feasibility as alternatives to our original proposal of self-medication.

  Ochre Provenance and Procurement Strategies During The Middle Stone Age at Diepkloof Rock Shelter, South Africa, di L. Dayet, F.X. Le Bourdonnec, F. Daniel, G. Porraz, P.J. Texier, "Archaeometry", Volume 58, Issue 5, October 2016, Pages 807–829

Usually referred to in archaeological contexts simply as ‘ochre’, ferruginous rocks were commonly used during the Middle Stone Age (MSA) in South Africa. While ochre use by early modern humans has often been interpreted as reflecting complex behaviours, related procurement strategies and selection criteria remain poorly documented. Eight ochre sources from the surroundings of Diepkloof rock shelter in South Africa and 28 ochre pieces from the site's MSA levels were studied by XRD, ICP–OES and ICP–MS. Mineralogical and geochemical data demonstrate that ochre was both locally procured and transported to the site from more distant sources. Here, we investigate the reasons underlying the choice of particular local and non-local ochre sources exploited at Diepkloof, emphasizing differences in their physico-chemical properties. Regardless of the motivations behind ochre selection, our data shed new light on the behavioural complexity of MSA societies and suggest that ochre procurement strategies may be independent of subsistence concerns.

  Walking in a Winter Wonderland? Strategies for Early and Middle Pleistocene Survival in Midlatitude Europe, di R. Hosfield, "Current Anthropology", Volume 57, Number 5, October 2016

Any occupation of northern Europe by Lower Paleolithic hominins, even those occurring during full interglacials, must have addressed the challenges of marked seasonality and cold winters. These would have included the problems of windchill and frostbite; duration, distribution, and depth of snow cover; reduced daylight hours; and distribution and availability of animal and plant foods. Solutions can essentially be characterized as a “stick or twist” choice, that is, year-round presence on a local scale versus extensive annual mobility. However, these options—and the interim strategies that lie between them—present various problems, including maintaining core body temperature, meeting the energetic demands of mobility, coping with reduced resource availability and increasing patchiness, and meeting nutritional requirements. The feasibility of different winter survival strategies are explored with reference to Lower Paleolithic paleoenvironmental reconstructions and on-site behavioral evidence. Emphasis is placed on possible strategies for (i) avoiding the excessive lean meat protein problem of “rabbit starvation” (e.g., through exploitation of “residential” species with significant winter body fat and/or by targeting specific body parts, following modern ethnographic examples, supplemented by the exploitation of winter plants) and (ii) maintaining body temperatures (e.g., through managed pyrotechnology and/or other forms of cultural insulation). The paper concludes with a suggested winter strategy.

  Chronostratigraphic constraints on Middle Pleistocene faunal assemblages and Acheulian industries from the Cretone lacustrine basin, central Italy, di F. Marra, P. Ceruleo, B. Jicha, L. Pandolfi, C. Petronio, L. Salari, B. Giaccio, G. Sottili, "Journal of Quaternary Science", Volume 31, Issue 7, October 2016, Pages 641–658

Integrated 40Ar/39Ar, trace-element, stratigraphic, palaeontological and palaethnological data provide geochronological and biochronological constraints for the sedimentary and tectonic history of a Middle Pleistocene fluvial–lacustrine basin near Rome (Cretone Basin, central Italy), which has yielded a significant record of mammal fossil remains and Palaeolithic industry. This work is a case study of the interplay between tectonics and glacio-eustacy, which strongly influenced the evolution of the Tyrrhenian Sea margin of central Italy. Dating of tephra layers interbedded within the Cretone Basin lacustrine succession and reconstruction of relict terraced surfaces allow correlation with similar, geochronologically constrained, marine isotopic stages (MIS) 15–5 terraced deposits along the coast. Coupled extensional tectonics and regional uplift over the last 600 ka caused the progressive uplifting and westward migration of the main fluvial–lacustrine basin and the formation of a smaller satellite basin at its eastern margin. Here, stable environmental conditions during MIS 13–5 indicated continuous human and large mammal frequentation, as testified by lithic industry and fossil remains ascribable to the Acheulean and later early Middle Palaeolithic technocomplexes and Galerian–Aurelian mammal faunas, respectively. In addition to providing independent age constraints to glacial sea-level oscillations of this region, the reconstructed chronostratigraphic setting for the Cretone Basin provides evidence for one of the oldest Acheulean lithic assemblage of central Italy, as well as new biochronological and palaeobiogeographical data for some Middle Pleistocene mammal species of Italy.


Virtual reconstruction of the Australopithecus africanus pelvis Sts 65 with implications for obstetrics and locomotion, di A. G. Claxton, A. S. Hammond, J. Romano, E. Oleinik, J. M. DeSilva, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 99, October 2016, Pages 10–24

Characterizing australopith pelvic morphology has been difficult in part because of limited fossilized pelvic material. Here, we reassess the morphology of an under-studied adult right ilium and pubis (Sts 65) from Member 4 of Sterkfontein, South Africa, and provide a hypothetical digital reconstruction of its overall pelvic morphology. The small size of the pelvis, presence of a preauricular sulcus, and shape of the sciatic notch allow us to agree with past interpretations that Sts 65 likely belonged to a female. The morphology of the iliac pillar, while not as substantial as in Homo, is more robust than in A.L. 288-1 and Sts 14. We created a reconstruction of the pelvis by digitally articulating the Sts 65 right ilium and a mirrored copy of the left ilium with the Sts 14 sacrum in Autodesk Maya. Points along the arcuate line were used to orient the ilia to the sacrum. This reconstruction of the Sts 65 pelvis looks much like a “classic” australopith pelvis, with laterally flared ilia and an inferiorly deflected pubis. An analysis of the obstetric dimensions from our reconstruction shows similarity to other australopiths, a likely transverse or oblique entrance of the neonatal cranium into the pelvic inlet, and a cephalopelvic ratio similar to that found in humans today.

  Dietary flexibility of Australopithecus afarensis in the face of paleoecological change during the middle Pliocene: Faunal evidence from Hadar, Ethiopia, di J. G. Wynn et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 99, October 2016, Pages 93–106

One approach to understanding the context of changes in hominin paleodiets is to examine the paleodiets and paleohabitats of contemporaneous mammalian taxa. Recent carbon isotopic studies suggest that the middle Pliocene was marked by a major shift in hominin diets, characterized by a significant increase in C4 foods in Australopithecus-grade species, including Australopithecus afarensis. To contextualize previous isotopic studies of A. afarensis, we employed stable isotopes to examine paleodiets of the mammalian fauna contemporaneous with A. afarensis at Hadar, Ethiopia. We used these data to inform our understanding of paleoenvironmental change through the deposition of the Hadar Formation. While the majority of the taxa in the Hadar fauna were C4 grazers, most show little change in the intensity of C4 food consumption over the 0.5 million-year interval sampled. Two taxa (equids and bovins) do show increases in C4 consumption through the Hadar Formation and into the younger, overlying Busidima Formation. Changes in the distributions of C4-feeders, C3-feeders and mixed-C3/C4-feeders in the sampled intervals are consistent with evidence of dietary reconstructions based on ecomorphology, and with habitats reconstructed using community structure analyses. Meanwhile, A. afarensis is one of many mammalian taxa whose C4 consumption does not show directional change over the intervals sampled. In combination with a wide range of carbon and oxygen isotopic composition for A. afarensis as compared to the other large mammal taxa, these results suggest that the C3/C4 dietary flexibility of A. afarensis was relatively unusual among most of its mammalian cohort.


Direct evidence for human exploitation of birds in the Middle Stone Age of South Africa: The example of Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal, di A. Val, P. de la Peña, L. Wadley, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 99, October 2016, Pages 107–123

Here, we present direct taphonomic evidence for the exploitation of birds by hunter-gatherers in the Middle Stone Age of South Africa as far as ∼77 ka. The bird assemblage from Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal, was analysed for bone surface modifications. Cut-marks associated with skinning, defleshing, and disarticulation, perforations on distal humeri produced during disarticulation of the forewing, peeling, and human tooth marks were observed on bird bones (i.e., mostly pigeons, doves, Galliformes, waders, and raptors) recovered from pre-Still Bay, Still Bay, Howiesons Poort, and post-Howiesons Poort techno-complexes. We conducted experiments to butcher, disarticulate, cook, and consume pigeon and dove carcasses, in order to create a comparative collection of bone surface modifications associated with human consumption of these birds. Human/bird interactions can now be demonstrated outside of Europe and prior to 50 ka. The evidence sheds new light on Middle Stone Age subsistence strategies in South Africa and introduces a fresh argument to the debate regarding the early emergence of behaviours usually associated with Later Stone Age hunter-gatherers.


Assessing the function of pounding tools in the Early Stone Age: A microscopic approach to the analysis of percussive artefacts from Beds I and II, Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania), di A. Arroyo, I. de la Torre, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 74, October 2016, Pages 23–34

This study explores the function of quartzite pounding tools from Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) using microscopic and use wear spatial distribution analysis. A selection of pounding tools from several Bed I and II assemblages excavated by Mary Leakey (1971) were studied under low magnification (<100×), and the microscopic traces developed on their surfaces are described. Experimental data and results obtained from analysis of the archaeological material are compared in order to assess activities in which pounding tools could have been involved. Results show that experimental anvils used for meat processing, nut cracking and/or bone breaking have similar wear patterns as those observed on archaeological percussive artefacts. This is the first time that a microscopic analysis is applied to Early Stone Age pounding artefacts from Olduvai Beds I and II, and this paper highlights the importance that percussive activities played during the Early Pleistocene, suggesting a wider range of activities in addition to knapping and butchering.


Lithic raw material units based on magnetic properties: A blind test with Armenian obsidian and application to the Middle Palaeolithic site of Lusakert Cave 1, di E. Frahm, J. M. Feinberg, G. F. Monnier, G. B. Tostevin, B. Gasparyan, D. S. Adler, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 74, October 2016, Pages 102–123

Classification of lithic artifacts’ raw materials based on macroscopic attributes (e.g., color, luster, texture) has been used to pull apart knapping episodes in palimpsest assemblages by attempting to identify artifacts produced through the reduction of an individual nodule. These classes are termed “raw material units” (RMUs) in the Old World and “minimum analytical nodules” in the New World. RMUs are most readily defined for lithic artifacts in areas with distinctive cherts and other siliceous raw materials, allowing pieces from different nodules to be recognized visually. Opportunities to apply RMUs, however, are strongly limited at sites where lithic material visual diversity is low. The magnetic properties of obsidian, which result from the presence of microscopic iron oxide mineral grains, vary spatially throughout a flow. Consequently, obsidian from different portions of a source (i.e., different outcrops or quarries) can vary in magnetic properties. This raises the possibility that magnetic-based RMUs (mRMUs) for obsidian artifacts could be effective to distinguish individual scatters from multiple production episodes and offer insights into spatial patterning within a site or specific occupation periods. First, we assess the potential of mRMUs using obsidian pebbles from Gutansar volcano in Armenia. Second, we evaluate the validity of this approach based on a double-blind test involving an experimental assemblage of Gutansar obsidian flakes. Cluster analysis can successfully discern flakes from obsidian specimens containing high concentrations of iron oxides. Obsidian with more magnetic material has more opportunities for that material to vary in unique ways (e.g., grain size, morphology, physical arrangement). Finally, we apply the mRMU approach to obsidian artifacts from the Middle Palaeolithic site of Lusakert Cave 1 in Armenia and compare the results to traditional RMU studies at contemporaneous sites in Europe. In particular, we seek – but do not find – differences between retouch flakes (which reflect rejuvenation of tools) and the other small debris (which reflect other reduction activities). This result likely reflects the local landscape, specifically the abundance of obsidian and, thus, little pressure to curate and retouch tools. As this approach is applied to additional sites, such findings will play a central role in regional assessments about the nature and timing of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic “transition” and the relationship, or lack thereof, between technological behaviors and presumed population dynamics.


Painting Altamira Cave? Shell tools for ochre-processing in the Upper Palaeolithic in northern Iberia, di D. Cuenca-Solana, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 74, October 2016, Pages 135–151

Much of our knowledge of the symbolic world of Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers is based on the study of the graphic representations found in Western European caves. However, to date, few studies have been conducted on rock art apart from chronological and stylistic characterisation. Altamira Cave (northern Iberia) is characterised by an outstanding rock art ensemble, whose representations cover practically the whole Upper Palaeolithic. The site is equally important for the rich Upper Palaeolithic deposits in the cave entrance, which contain large shell assemblages. Traditionally, the presence of shells in hunter-fisher-gatherer settlements has been interpreted as part of the diet and/or the symbolic world (through the creation of ornaments) of these groups, regardless of their possible use as an instrument. In this paper we utilise use-wear methodology, chemical analysis and analytical experimentation to verify the initial hypothesis that shells in the archaeological deposits of Altamira were used to obtain the ochre powder utilised to produce the magnificent and diverse rock art ensemble in the cave. The results provide new information on the process of obtaining pigments for the realisation of paintings and confirm that the use of shells to obtain ochre was a systematic activity throughout the whole study period. Finally, our conclusions support the explanatory model that highlights the role played by marine resources for Upper Palaeolithic human populations.

  Advances in Palimpsest Dissection, "Quaternary International", Volume 417, Pages 1-122 (28 September 2016), Edited by Carolina Mallol and Cristo Hernández:

- The larger mammal palimpsest from TK (Thiongo Korongo), Bed II, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, di J. Yravedra et alii

- Formation processes and stratigraphic integrity of the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic sequence at Cova Gran de Santa Linya (Southeastern Prepyrenees of Lleida, Iberian Peninsula), di A. Polo-Díaz, A. Benito-Calvo, J. Martínez-Moreno, R. Mora Torcal

- Is it possible to identify temporal differences among combustion features in Middle Palaeolithic palimpsests? The archaeomagnetic evidence: A case study from level O at the Abric Romaní rock-shelter (Capellades, Spain), di Á. Carrancho, J. J. Villalaín, J. Vallverdú, E. Carbonell

- Puzzling out a palimpsest: Testing an interdisciplinary study in level O of Abric Romaní, di A. Bargalló, M. Joana Gabucio, F. Rivals

- Temporal frameworks to approach human behavior concealed in Middle Palaeolithic palimpsests: A high-resolution example from El Salt Stratigraphic Unit X (Alicante, Spain), di J. Machado, L. Pérez

- From site formation processes to human behaviour: Towards a constructive approach to depict palimpsests in Roca dels Bous, di J. Martínez-Moreno, R. Mora Torcal, M. Roy Sunyer, A. Benito-Calvo

- Site formation dynamics and human occupations at Bolomor Cave (Valencia, Spain): An archaeostratigraphic analysis of levels I to XII (100–200 ka), di P. Sañudo, R. Blasco, J. Fernández Peris

- Between hearths and volcanic ash: The SU 13 palimpsest of the Oscurusciuto rock shelter (Ginosa – Southern Italy): Analytical and interpretative questions, di V. Spagnolo, G. Marciani, D. Aureli, F. Berna, P. Boscato, F. Ranaldo, A. Ronchitelli

  Fu Homo sapiens a far estinguere gli Hobbit?, 26 settembre 2016

Sull'isola di Flores, nella stessa grotta in cui sono stati scoperti nel 2003 i resti di H. floresiensis, ribattezzato Hobbit per le sue piccole dimensioni, sono stati scoperti anche due denti attribuibili a Homo sapiens. La differenza di appena 4000 anni nelle datazioni dei reperti fa pensare che siano stati gli esseri umani a causare la scomparsa dell'ominide, probabilmente nella competizione per accaparrarsi le scarse risorse dell'isola. (...)

  Neandertals made jewelry, proteins confirm, di L. Wade, "Science", 23 Sep 2016, Vol. 353, Issue 6306, pp. 1350

The "necklaces" are tiny: beads of animal teeth, shells, and ivory no more than a centimeter long. But they provoked an outsized debate that has raged for decades. Found in the Grotte du Renne cave at Arcy-sur-Cure in central France, they were reportedly found in the same layers as fossils from Neandertals. Some archaeologists credited the artifacts, described as part of the Châtelperronian culture, to our archaic cousins. But others argued that Neandertals were incapable of the kind of symbolic expression reflected in jewelry and insisted that modern humans must have been the creators. Now, a pioneering study uses ancient proteins to identify Neandertal bone fragments from Grotte du Renne for direct radiocarbon dating. The team finds that the link between the archaic humans and the artifacts is real.

  Human remains found in hobbit cave, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 21 September 2016

A pair of 46,000-year-old human teeth has been discovered in Liang Bua, a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores that was once home to the 1-metre-tall ‘hobbit’ species Homo floresiensis. The teeth are slightly younger than the known hobbit remains, which strengthens the case that humans were responsible for the species’ demise. A team led by archaeologist Thomas Sutikna and geochronologist Richard Roberts, both at the University of Wollongong, Australia, reported the discovery of the teeth in a talk on 17 September at the annual meeting of the European Society for the study of Human Evolution in Madrid. The 2003 discovery of H. floresiensis puzzled researchers, in part because some of the remains were carbon dated to 11,000 years ago1–3. By then, Homo sapiens had colonized southeast Asia, and few scientists could imagine them having co-existed with hobbits for thousands of years. But this year, re-dating work in the cave pushed the extinction of hobbits back to around 50,000 years ago4. Roberts, who led that study, noted that humans were known to be already living in southeast Asia around that time. “It’s a smoking gun for modern human interaction, but we haven’t yet found the bullet,” he told Nature when the paper was published in March 2016. (...)


A New Chronology for Rhafas, Northeast Morocco, Spanning the North African Middle Stone Age through to the Neolithic, di N. Doerschner et alii, September 21, 2016, doi: - open access -

Archaeological sites in northern Africa provide a rich record of increasing importance for the origins of modern human behaviour and for understanding human dispersal out of Africa. However, the timing and nature of Palaeolithic human behaviour and dispersal across north-western Africa (the Maghreb), and their relationship to local environmental conditions, remain poorly understood. The cave of Rhafas (northeast Morocco) provides valuable chronological information about cultural changes in the Maghreb during the Palaeolithic due to its long stratified archaeological sequence comprising Middle Stone Age (MSA), Later Stone Age (LSA) and Neolithic occupation layers. In this study, we apply optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating on sand-sized quartz grains to the cave deposits of Rhafas, as well as to a recently excavated section on the terrace in front of the cave entrance. We hereby provide a revised chronostratigraphy for the archaeological sequence at the site. We combine these results with geological and sedimentological multi-proxy investigations to gain insights into site formation processes and the palaeoenvironmental record of the region. The older sedimentological units at Rhafas were deposited between 135 ka and 57 ka (MIS 6 –MIS 3) and are associated with the MSA technocomplex. Tanged pieces start to occur in the archaeological layers around 109 ka, which is consistent with previously published chronological data from the Maghreb. A well indurated duricrust indicates favourable climatic conditions for the pedogenic cementation by carbonates of sediment layers at the site after 57 ka. Overlying deposits attributed to the LSA technocomplex yield ages of ~21 ka and ~15 ka, corresponding to the last glacial period, and fall well within the previously established occupation phase in the Maghreb. The last occupation phase at Rhafas took place during the Neolithic and is dated to ~7.8 ka. (...)

  Fire Usage and Ancient Hominin Detoxification Genes: Protective Ancestral Variants Dominate While Additional Derived Risk Variants Appear in Modern Humans, di J. M. Aarts, G. M. Alink, F. Scherjon, K. MacDonald, A. C. Smith, H. Nijveen, W. Roebroeks, September 21, 2016, doi: - open access -

Studies of the defence capacity of ancient hominins against toxic substances may contribute importantly to the reconstruction of their niche, including their diets and use of fire. Fire usage implies frequent exposure to hazardous compounds from smoke and heated food, known to affect general health and fertility, probably resulting in genetic selection for improved detoxification. To investigate whether such genetic selection occurred, we investigated the alleles in Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans at gene polymorphisms well-known to be relevant from modern human epidemiological studies of habitual tobacco smoke exposure and mechanistic evidence. We compared these with the alleles in chimpanzees and gorillas. Neanderthal and Denisovan hominins predominantly possess gene variants conferring increased resistance to these toxic compounds. Surprisingly, we observed the same in chimpanzees and gorillas, implying that less efficient variants are derived and mainly evolved in modern humans. Less efficient variants are observable from the first early Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers onwards. While not clarifying the deep history of fire use, our results highlight the long-term stability of the genes under consideration despite major changes in the hominin dietary niche. Specifically for detoxification gene variants characterised as deleterious by epidemiological studies, our results confirm the predominantly recent appearance reported for deleterious human gene variants, suggesting substantial impact of recent human population history, including pre-Holocene expansions. (...)
  Neandertals made their own jewelry, new method confirms, di L. Wade, "Science-News", Sep. 16, 2016

The “necklaces” are tiny: beads of animal teeth, shells, and ivory no more than a centimeter long. But they provoked an outsized debate that has raged for decades. Found in the Grotte du Renne cave at Arcy-sur-Cure in central France, they accompanied delicate bone tools and were found in the same layers as fossils from Neandertals—our archaic cousins. Some archaeologists credited the artifacts—the so-called Châtelperronian culture—to Neandertals. But others argued that Neandertals were incapable of the kind of symbolic expression reflected in the jewelry and insisted that modern humans must have been the creators. Now, a study uses a new method that relies on ancient proteins to identify and directly date Neandertal bone fragments from Grotte du Renne and finds that the connection between the archaic humans and the artifacts is real. Ross Macphee, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who has worked with ancient proteins in other studies, calls it “a landmark study” in the burgeoning field of paleoproteomics. And others say it shores up the picture of Neandertals as smart, symbolic humans. (...)

  Extensive Paleolithic Flint Extraction and Reduction Complexes in the Nahal Dishon Central Basin, Upper Galilee, Israel, di M. Finkel, A. Gopher, R. Barkai, "Journal of World Prehistory", September 2016, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 217–266

Recently found open-air flint extraction and workshop sites in the Eastern Galilee, Israel, are the focus of this paper. Lithic assemblages from among a few of the thousands of tailing piles documented in a field survey, indicate mostly late Lower Palaeolithic/Middle Palaeolithic and rarely Neolithic/Chalcolithic affinities. These discoveries substantially increase our knowledge of the scope of lithic extraction and reduction in northern Israel in these periods. The new sites are located on a 25 km2 outcrop of flint-bearing Eocene limestone indicating intensive extraction of large amounts of flint, possibly beyond immediate local consumption requirements. After describing the new sites, we discuss their relation to nearby Middle and Lower Palaeolithic sites; possible resource management scenarios; chronology and duration of the extraction and reduction activity; and the sites as possible landmarks. A key question is the extent of the flint distribution area, or, more precisely, whether this region was a dominant mega-quarry for northern Israel and/or Southern Lebanon in the periods discussed.

  Magdatis project: Hunter-gatherers and environmental change in the Aquitaine basin during the Magdalenian, Special Section, Quaternary International, Volume 414, Pages 1-350 (1 September 2016). Edited by J-M. Pétillon, V. Laroulandie, S. Costamagno, and M. Langlais

Aggiornamento 7 settembre


The environment of the Ethiopian highlands at the Mid Pleistocene Transition: Fauna, flora and hominins in the 850-700 ka sequence of Gombore II (Melka Kunture), di M. Mussi, F. Altamura, R. Bonnefille, D. De Rita, R.T. Melis, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 149, 1 October 2016, Pages 259–268

Environment, climatic change and human evolution have been debated over the last 50 years giving special attention to the Plio-Pleistocene sites of the Rift Valley. In this paper we discuss the environment and the limits of hominin adaptability based on evidence from Melka Kunture, at 2000 m asl on the Ethiopian highlands, and specifically on the ∼850 ka to ∼700 ka sequence at sub-site Gombore II. Human fossils and multiple Acheulean occurrences, as well as hippo remains and footprints, combined with palynological analysis, provide a highly detailed chronological resolution of the changing local environmental conditions during the last ∼150 ka of the MPT (Mid Pleistocene Transition), including the sequence of events after a volcanic eruption. Layers containing footprints and fossils are evidence of near-continuous occupation by hippos and their recolonization of the area after a disruptive volcanic eruption. Conversely, Acheulean implements and human fossils suggest that peopling by hominins occurred at a different and discontinuous pace even when the flora and fauna were re-established and the environment was rather stable. Most notably, the assembled evidence points to the limits of Homo erectus s.l. adaptability. Apparently, this hominin could no longer live at 2000 m asl when the climate deteriorated during glacial isotopic stage 20, becoming markedly colder than it is today, but re-colonized the area when the climate turned warmer again during isotopic stage 19.


Palaeoenvironment and dating of the Early Acheulean localities from the Somme River basin (Northern France): New discoveries from the High Terrace at Abbeville-Carrière Carpentier, di P. Antoine et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 149, 1 October 2016, Pages 338–371

Dating the earliest human occupations in Western Europe and reconstructing links with climatic and environmental constraints is a central issue in Quaternary studies. Amongst the discovery of Palaeolithic artefacts ascribed to the Early Pleistocene in southeast Britain and central France the Somme Basin, where the Acheulean type-site Amiens Saint-Acheul is located, is a key area for addressing this topic. Research undertaken over the past 20 years on both Quaternary fluvial and loess sequences of this area has provided a unique dataset for the study of the relations between human occupations and environmental variations. Studies based on an interdisciplinary approach combining sedimentology, palaeontology and geochronology have highlighted the impact of the 100 kyrs cycles on terrace formation during the last million years. In this terrace system, the earliest in situ Acheulean settlements known in the 1990s were dated to early MIS 12 (±450 ka), but new field discoveries, at Amiens “Rue du Manège”, dated to ± 550 ka, significantly increase the age of the oldest human occupation in the area. In this context, new fieldwork has been undertaken in Abbeville at the Carrière Carpentier site, famous for its White Marl deposit attributed to the Cromerian and in the same terrace level where the former discoveries of “Abbevillian bifaces” were made by d'Ault du Mesnil. This research is based on an interdisciplinary approach, combining sedimentology, paleontology, dating (ESR on quartz and ESR/U-series on teeth) and archaeology. According to the various bio-proxies (molluscs, large vertebrates, small mammals), the White Marl was deposited during the early part of an interglacial phase in an aquatic slow-flowing environment, as emphasized by the development of oncoliths and the presence of fish and aquatic molluscs. The landscape was composed of a mosaic of open bush and forest areas, in which wet and grassy vegetation developed on riverbanks. On the basis of terrace stratigraphy, ESR and ESR/U-series dating results, and biostratigraphic data, the fluvial deposits of the White Marl can be securely attributed to MIS 15. In addition, some Acheulean bifaces were discovered at the base of the slope deposits, directly overlying the fluvial sequence. These artefacts are most likely coeval with the end of MIS 15 or an early stage of MIS 14, between 550 and 500 ka, and represent, together with the artefacts from Amiens “Rue du Manège”, the oldest in situ evidence of Acheulean occupation in Northern France. However, no unquestionable artefacts have been discovered in the White Marl or in the underlying gravel layer. These discoveries contribute to the chronology of the earliest evidence of hominin occupations in north-western Europe which may be related to Homo heidelbergensis.

  Did Homo erectus kill a Pelorovis herd at BK (Olduvai Gorge)? A taphonomic study of BK5, di E. Organista et alii, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", September 2016, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 601–624

New research and excavations at Bell Korongo (BK, Olduvai Gorge, Upper Bed II) have uncovered a dense concentration of megafauna that contributes to our understanding of Homo erectus subsistence strategies around 1.34 Ma. Recent work has yielded clear taphonomic evidence for the exploitation of large-sized animals. The frequency and distribution of cut marks, for example, indicates that hominins enjoyed early access to substantial amounts of meat. This degree of carcass processing, particularly megafauna, suggests that the human group(s) exploiting them were large and had significant nutritional needs. Here, we build upon this work by presenting the first comprehensive taphonomic analysis of the faunal material excavated by the Leakeys at BK between 1952 and 1957 corresponding to 24 Pelorovis oldowayensis. Leakey’s assemblage was biased due to selective collection of the most readily identifiable specimens, among which long bone shafts were not included. The recent assemblage reflects the relevance of using long bone shafts to overcome the equifinality of the alternative scenarios proposed to explain the accumulation of Pelorovis. The analysis of The Olduvai Paleoanthropology and Paleoecology Project’s (TOPPP) recent assemblage sheds light on the reconstruction of hominin strategies of carcass acquisition at BK.

  Reflections on Gravettian firewood procurement near the Pavlov Hills, Czech Republic, di A.J.E. Pryor, A. Pullen, D.G. Beresford-Jones, J.A. Svoboda, C.S. Gamble, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 43, September 2016, Pages 1–12

This paper draws attention to firewood as a natural resource that was gathered, processed and consumed on a daily basis by Palaeolithic groups. Using Gravettian occupation of the Pavlovské Hills as a case study (dated to around 30,000 years BP), we investigate firewood availability using archaeological, palaeoenvironmental and ecological data, including making inferences from charcoal in Pavlovian hearths. The collated evidence suggests that while dead wood was likely readily available in woodland areas where humans had not recently foraged, longer term occupations – or repeated occupation of the same area by different groups – would have quickly exhausted naturally occurring supplies. Once depleted, the deadwood pool may have taken several generations (∼40–120 years) to recover enough to provide fuel for another base camp occupation. Such exhaustion of deadwood supplies is well attested ethnographically. Thus, we argue that Pavlovian groups likely managed firewood supplies using methods similar to those used by recent hunter–gatherers: through planned geographic mobility and by deliberately killing trees years in advance of when wood was required, so leaving time for the wood to dry out. Such management of fuel resources was, we argue, critical to human expansion into these cold, hitherto marginal, ecologies of the Upper Palaeolithic.

  Perimortem fractures in Lucy suggest mortality from fall out of tall tree, di J. Kappelman et alii, Nature (2016), 29 August 2016, doi:10.1038/nature19332 - open access -

The Pliocene fossil ‘Lucy’ (Australopithecus afarensis) was discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 1974 and is among the oldest and most complete fossil hominin skeletons discovered. Here we propose, on the basis of close study of her skeleton, that her cause of death was a vertical deceleration event or impact following a fall from considerable height that produced compressive and hinge (greenstick) fractures in multiple skeletal elements. Impacts that are so severe as to cause concomitant fractures usually also damage internal organs; together, these injuries are hypothesized to have caused her death. Lucy has been at the centre of a vigorous debate about the role, if any, of arboreal locomotion in early human evolution. It is therefore ironic that her death can be attributed to injuries resulting from a fall, probably out of a tall tree, thus offering unusual evidence for the presence of arborealism in this species. (...)

· Did famed human ancestor ‘Lucy’ fall to her death? di A. Gibbons, "Science News", Aug. 29, 2016

· Fossil Sleuthing Hints at What Killed “Lucy,” Our Iconic Ancestor, "Scientific American", August 29, 2016


Print your own 3D Lucy to work out how the famous hominin died, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 29 August 2016

The world’s most famous fossil is now open source. 3D scans of Lucy — a 3.18-million-year-old hominin found in Ethiopia — were released on 29 August, allowing anyone to examine her arm, shoulder and knee bones and even make their own 3D-printed copies. The scans accompany a Nature paper that argues that Lucy, a human relative belonging to the species Australopithecus afarensis, died after falling from a tree (J. Kappelman et al. Nature; 2016). The team behind the paper also made the scans available to the public and is eager for other researchers to test the hypothesis by printing out the bones. “It’s one thing for me to describe it in detail in paper, but it’s another thing to hold these things, to be able to print them out, look at them and put them together,” says team leader John Kappelman, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin. His team received approval from the National Museum of Ethiopia and the country’s government to make the models of Lucy public. “My sense from the Ethiopians is that Lucy is not only their national treasure, but they see her as a treasure for humankind,” says Kappelman, who hopes that the country will soon release digital scans of the rest of Lucy and that other countries may follow suit with other hominin fossils. (...)

  Tool or weapon? New research throws light on stone artifacts' use as ancient projectiles, 18-AUG-2016

A team of psychologists, kinesiologists and archaeologists at Indiana University and elsewhere are throwing new light on a longstanding archaeological mystery: the purpose of a large number of spherical stone artifacts found at a major archaeological site in South Africa. IU Bloomington professor Geoffrey Bingham and colleagues in the United Kingdom and United States contend that the stones -- previously thought by some to be used as tools -- served instead as weapons for defense and hunting. The research, which combines knowledge about how modern humans perceive an object's "throwing affordance" with mathematical analysis and evaluation of these stones as projectiles for throwing, appears in the journal Scientific Reports. "Our study suggests that the throwing of stones played a key role in the evolution of hunting," said Bingham, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and an author on the study. "We don't think that throwing is the sole, or even primary, function of these spheroids, but these results show that this function is an option that warrants reconsidering as a potential use for this long-lived, multipurpose tool." (...)


The Acheulian and Early Middle Paleolithic in Latium (Italy): Stability and Innovation, di P. Villa et alii, August 15, 2016, - open access-

We present here the results of a technological and typological analysis of the Acheulian and early Middle Paleolithic assemblages from Torre in Pietra (Latium, Italy) together with comparisons with the Acheulian small tools of Castel di Guido. The assemblages were never chronometrically dated before. We have now 40Ar/39Ar dates and ESR-U-series dates, within a geomorphological framework, which support correlations to marine isotope stages. The Acheulian (previously correlated to MIS 9) is now dated to MIS 10 while the Middle Paleolithic is dated to MIS 7. Lithic analyses are preceded by taphonomic evaluations. The Levallois method of the Middle Paleolithic assemblage is an innovation characterized by the production of thin flake blanks without cortex. In contrast, the small tool blanks of the Acheulian were either pebbles or thick flakes with some cortex. They provided a relatively easy manual prehension. The choice of Levallois thin flake blanks in the Middle Paleolithic assemblage suggest that the new technology is most likely related to the emergence of hafting. Accordingly, the oldest direct evidence of hafting technology is from the site of Campitello Quarry in Tuscany (Central Italy) where birch-bark tar, found on the proximal part of two flint flakes, is dated to the end of MIS 7. Nevertheless, a peculiar feature of the Middle Paleolithic at Torre in Pietra is the continuous presence of small tool blanks on pebbles and cores and on thick flake albeit at a much lower frequency than in the older Acheulian industries. The adoption of the new technology is thus characterized by innovation combined with a degree of stability. The persistence of these habits in spite of the introduction of an innovative technique underlies the importance of cultural transmission and conformity in the behavior of Neandertals. (...)


Measure, Then Show: Grasping Human Evolution Through an Inquiry-Based, Data-driven Hominin Skulls Lab, di C. N. Bayer, M. Luberda, August 11, 2016, - open access -

Incomprehension and denial of the theory of evolution among high school students has been observed to also occur when teachers are not equipped to deliver a compelling case also for human evolution based on fossil evidence. This paper assesses the outcomes of a novel inquiry-based paleoanthropology lab teaching human evolution to high-school students. The inquiry-based Be a Paleoanthropologist for a Day lab placed a dozen hominin skulls into the hands of high-school students. Upon measuring three variables of human evolution, students explain what they have observed and discuss findings. In the 2013/14 school year, 11 biology classes in 7 schools in the Greater New Orleans area participated in this lab. The interviewed teacher cohort unanimously agreed that the lab featuring hominin skull replicas and stimulating student inquiry was a pedagogically excellent method of delivering the subject of human evolution. First, the lab’s learning path of transforming facts to data, information to knowledge, and knowledge to acceptance empowered students to themselves execute part of the science that underpins our understanding of deep time hominin evolution. Second, although challenging, the hands-on format of the lab was accessible to high-school students, most of whom were readily able to engage the lab’s scientific process. Third, the lab’s exciting and compelling pedagogy unlocked higher order thinking skills, effectively activating the cognitive, psychomotor and affected learning domains as defined in Bloom’s taxonomy. Lastly, the lab afforded students a formative experience with a high degree of retention and epistemic depth. Further study is warranted to gauge the degree of these effects. (...)

  Study reveals culprit behind Piltdown Man, one of science’s most famous hoaxes, di M. Price, "Science News", Aug. 9, 2016

The big-brained, ape-jawed Piltdown Man was hailed as a major missing link in human evolution when he was discovered in a gravel pit outside a small U.K. village in 1912. The find set the pace for evolutionary research for decades and established the United Kingdom as an important site in human evolution. The only problem? Piltdown Man turned out to be one of the most famous frauds in scientific history—a human cranium paired with an orangutan’s jaw and teeth. Now, scientists think they’ve figured out once and for all that a single hoaxer was responsible, not a duplicitous cabal. The saga of Piltdown started in 1907. That year, a sand mine worker in Germany discovered the jaw bone of Homo heidelbergensis—a 200,000-to-600,000-year-old hominin now recognized as a likely common ancestor to both modern humans and Neandertals. The find, compounded by rising national tensions that would eventually lead to World War I, sparked something of an inferiority complex among U.K. naturalists. So it seemed fortuitous when, 5 years later, Charles Dawson, a professional lawyer and amateur fossil hunter in Sussex, U.K. (now East Sussex, U.K.), wrote to his friend, paleontologist Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, announcing that he had uncovered a “thick portion of a human(?) skull which will rival H. heidelbergensis in solidity” near the Sussex village of Piltdown. (...)

  Archaeological excavations at the site of At (Vršac, Serbia), di W. Chu, D. Mihailović, I. Pantović, C. Zeeden, T. Hauck & F. Lehmkuhl, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 352, August 2016

Between 2014 and 2015, the Universities of Cologne and Belgrade, and the Vršac Museum, conducted small-scale excavations at the site of At in Vršac, north-western Serbia (Figure 1). Part of the larger site-complex of Crvenka-At, the site of At is the closest Early Upper Palaeolithic site to Peștera cu Oase in Romania, where the oldest directly dated modern human remains in Europe were found (Trinkhaus et al. 2012). The wider site complex of Crvenka-At was previously known from lithic artefacts collected during sand-quarrying in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Mihailović 1992), and from a small archaeological excavation in 1984 (Radovanović 1986); additionally, excavations during the 1970–1980s located late Vinča (c. 5500–4500 BC) settlements and sporadic Starčevo (c. 6200–5500 BC) finds. The purpose of our excavations was to locate and study intact archaeological deposits associated with these early settlements. (...)

  The Pontinian open-air project (PONT-AIR), Lazio, Italy, di M. Gatta, K. F. Achino, M. La Rosa, P. Ceruleo, L. Silvestri, M. F. Rolfo, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 352, August 2016

Over the last 70 years, more than 100 Middle Palaeolithic open-air sites of abundant lithic industry have been identified along the coastal plains of Lazio. As a result, the region now has one of the highest densities of known Neanderthal sites in Italy (Aureli et al. 2011) (Figure 1). The recent re-dating to 295 000–220 000 BP of several Middle Palaeolithic sites in this area has further illustrated that this region was also host to the earliest Neanderthal population in the Italian peninsula (Marra et al. 2015). Despite the importance of this archaeological evidence, the role of such sites in their regional context has never been investigated, and techno-economical analyses of the available lithic industry are still missing. The current project aims to fill this knowledge gap and to provide new insights into the Middle Palaeolithic stratigraphies of Lazio. (...)

  Fossil skulls reveal that blood flow rate to the brain increased faster than brain volume during human evolution, di R. S. Seymour, V. Bosiocic, E. P. Snelling, 31 August 2016, DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160305 - open access -

The evolution of human cognition has been inferred from anthropological discoveries and estimates of brain size from fossil skulls. A more direct measure of cognition would be cerebral metabolic rate, which is proportional to cerebral blood flow rate (perfusion). The hominin cerebrum is supplied almost exclusively by the internal carotid arteries. The sizes of the foramina that transmitted these vessels in life can be measured in hominin fossil skulls and used to calculate cerebral perfusion rate. Perfusion in 11 species of hominin ancestors, from Australopithecus to archaic Homo sapiens, increases disproportionately when scaled against brain volume (the allometric exponent is 1.41). The high exponent indicates an increase in the metabolic intensity of cerebral tissue in later Homo species, rather than remaining constant (1.0) as expected by a linear increase in neuron number, or decreasing according to Kleiber's Law (0.75). During 3 Myr of hominin evolution, cerebral tissue perfusion increased 1.7-fold, which, when multiplied by a 3.5-fold increase in brain size, indicates a 6.0-fold increase in total cerebral blood flow rate. This is probably associated with increased interneuron connectivity, synaptic activity and cognitive function, which all ultimately depend on cerebral metabolic rate. (...)


Bondi Cave and the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition in western Georgia (south Caucasus), di D. Pleurdeau et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 146, 15 August 2016, Pages 77–98

The late Pleistocene expansion of anatomically modern humans (AMHs) into Eurasia and the concurrent demise of the Neanderthals appears to be a complex and regionally variable process. The southern Caucasus region, with its rich cave-sites, has recently provided important results regarding this process. In this paper we report on the results of fieldwork in Bondi Cave, Western Georgia, providing a new radiocarbon chronology, stratigraphic observations, analyses of lithic technology and provenance, faunal and floral remains as well as paleoenvironmental data. The cave includes Middle Palaeolithic (ca, 45,000 ka cal. BP) cultural horizons and a long Upper Palaeolithic sequence (ca. 40,000–27,000 cal. BP from layer V to IV). A modern human tooth was found in layer Vb. We estimate its age at 39,000–35,800 Cal BP (95.4%), based on the Bayesian age model we built. If the context of the tooth is reliable, as we think it is, this would make it the oldest morphologically modern human in the Caucasus. Upper Palaeolithic hunting of tur and bison, as well as the collection of various plants including flax is attested. Mobile Upper Palaeolithic foragers inhabited the cave in generally cold and dry periods, but a mosaic of environments, including forests and meadows, was nonetheless available to them. The archaeological sequence of Bondi and adjacent sites indicates a substantial time gap between the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic occupations, thus disproving Neanderthal-AMH interaction in this area and lending support to a replacement scenario in the southern Caucasus, assuming of course that the Early Upper Palaeolithic (EUP) is related to the arrival of AMHs.


Cueva Antón: A multi-proxy MIS 3 to MIS 5a paleoenvironmental record for SE Iberia, di J. Zilhão et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 146, 15 August 2016, Pages 251–273

Overlying a palustrine deposit of unknown age (complex FP), and protected from weathering and erosion inside a large cave/rock-shelter cavity, the sedimentary fill of Cueva Antón, a Middle Paleolithic site in SE Spain, corresponds in most part (sub-complexes AS2-to-AS5) to a ca.3 m-thick Upper Pleistocene terrace of the River Mula. Coupled with the constraints derived from the deposit’s paleoclimatic proxies, OSL dating places the accumulation of this terrace in MIS 5a, and radiocarbon dates from the overlying breccia cum alluvium (sub-complex AS1) fall in the middle part of MIS 3; the intervening hiatus relates to valley incision and attendant erosion. The two intervals represented remain largely unknown in Iberia, where the archeology of the early-to-middle Upper Pleistocene is almost entirely derived from karst sites; Cueva Antón shows that this dearth of data, often interpreted in demographic terms, has depositional underpinnings ultimately determined by past climate variation. In early MIS 5a, the paleobotanical evidence indicates climate conditions similar to present, albeit wetter, followed by progressive cooling, reflected in the replacement of Aleppo pine by black pine and, at the very end, juniper-dominated landscapes — the latter characterizing also mid-MIS 3 times. The variation in sedimentary facies and composition of the mollusk assemblages reflects the changing position of the river channel relative to the back wall of the cave. Such changes represented the major constraint for the occupation of the site — most of the time inaccessible to terrestrial mammals, it was used throughout by the eagle-owl, explaining the abundance of rabbit bones. Human occupation occurred during a few, short windows of availability, and is reflected in well-preserved living floors defined by hearths, artefact scatters, and the remains of hunted herbivores. The stone tool assemblages are Middle Paleolithic, which, in Europe, implies a Neandertal identity for their makers and, hence, that Neandertals persisted in the region until GI 8. Cueva Antón’s high-resolution record provides unique, critical information on the paleoenvironments and adaptations of humans in two short windows of time during which wetter conditions existed in SE Iberia, where arid or semi-arid climates prevailed through most of the Upper Pleistocene and the Holocene.


The evolutionary relationships and age of Homo naledi: An assessment using dated Bayesian phylogenetic methods, di M. Dembo et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 97, August 2016, Pages 17–26

Homo naledi is a recently discovered species of fossil hominin from South Africa. A considerable amount is already known about H. naledi but some important questions remain unanswered. Here we report a study that addressed two of them: “Where does H. naledi fit in the hominin evolutionary tree?” and “How old is it?” We used a large supermatrix of craniodental characters for both early and late hominin species and Bayesian phylogenetic techniques to carry out three analyses. First, we performed a dated Bayesian analysis to generate estimates of the evolutionary relationships of fossil hominins including H. naledi. Then we employed Bayes factor tests to compare the strength of support for hypotheses about the relationships of H. naledi suggested by the best-estimate trees. Lastly, we carried out a resampling analysis to assess the accuracy of the age estimate for H. naledi yielded by the dated Bayesian analysis. The analyses strongly supported the hypothesis that H. naledi forms a clade with the other Homo species and Australopithecus sediba. The analyses were more ambiguous regarding the position of H. naledi within the (Homo, Au. sediba) clade. A number of hypotheses were rejected, but several others were not. Based on the available craniodental data, Homo antecessor, Asian Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Homo floresiensis, Homo sapiens, and Au. sediba could all be the sister taxon of H. naledi. According to the dated Bayesian analysis, the most likely age for H. naledi is 912 ka. This age estimate was supported by the resampling analysis. Our findings have a number of implications. Most notably, they support the assignment of the new specimens to Homo, cast doubt on the claim that H. naledi is simply a variant of H. erectus, and suggest H. naledi is younger than has been previously proposed.


The altitudinal mobility of wild sheep at the Epigravettian site of Kalavan 1 (Lesser Caucasus, Armenia): Evidence from a sequential isotopic analysis in tooth enamel, di C. Tornero et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 97, August 2016, Pages 27–36

Kalavan 1 is an Epigravettian hunting campsite in the Aregunyats mountain chain in northeastern Armenia (Lesser Caucasus). The site lies at an elevation of 1640 m in a bottleneck that controls the descent into the Barepat Valley from the alpine meadows above. The lithic and faunal assemblages show evidence of the production of hunting weapons, the hunting and targeting of wild sheep (Ovis orientalis), and the constitution of animal product reserves. A seasonal occupation of the site was proposed within a model of occupation by Epigravettian hunter-gatherers that involved a search for obsidian resources in high altitude sources from the spring to the summer and settling at Kalavan 1 at the end of summer or during autumn to coincide with the migration of wild herds from the alpine meadows to the valley. A key parameter of this model is wild sheep ethology, with a specifically seasonal vertical mobility, based on observations from contemporary mouflon populations from the surrounding areas. In this study, the vertical mobility of Paleolithic wild sheep was directly investigated through sequential isotope analysis (δ18O, δ13C) in teeth. A marked seasonality of birth is suggested that reflects a physiological adaptation to the strong environmental constraints of this mountainous region. Most importantly, a recurrent altitudinal mobility was demonstrated on a seasonal basis, which confirms that wild sheep migrated from lowland areas that they occupied in the winter and then moved to higher altitude meadows during the summer. Last, low inter-individual variability in the stable isotope sequences favors a hypothesis of accumulation for these faunal remains over a short time period. Overall, this new dataset strengthens the previous interpretations for Kalavan 1 and contributes to an understanding of the pattern of occupation of mountain territories by Epigravettian communities.


Cutmark data and their implications for the planning depth of Late Pleistocene societies, di M. C. Souliera, E. Morin, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 97, August 2016, Pages 37–57

Cutmarks provide empirical evidence for the exploitation of animal resources by past human groups. Their study may contribute substantially to our knowledge of economic behavior, including the procurement of prey and the analysis of butchery sequences. Butchering practices can be investigated using cutmark illustrations recorded on bone templates. In this paper, quantitative data on cutmarks were derived from published and unpublished cutmark drawings for 27 French assemblages dated between the late Middle Paleolithic and the final Upper Paleolithic. The analysis of cutmark data on meaty long bones (humerus, radio-ulna, femur, tibia) highlights strong variations in cutmark length and orientation in the sample that potentially reflect significant shifts in meat processing strategies during the Late Pleistocene. The present study shows that long longitudinal cutmarks are considerably more frequent during the Late Glacial Maximum than in the early Upper Paleolithic. Although the number of studies is small, actualistic data generated in controlled settings indicate that long longitudinal cutmarks are commonly produced during filleting, an activity closely associated with meat preservation, as is the case with drying and smoking. Because they provide information on possible changes in the capacity for anticipation, these results have potentially important implications for the logistical and economic organization of Paleolithic hominins.


Reevaluating the functional implications of Australopithecus afarensis navicular morphology, di T. C. Prang, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 97, August 2016, Pages 73–85

The longitudinal arch is a unique characteristic of the human foot, yet the timing and pattern of its evolution remain controversial, in part due to the disagreement among researchers over which skeletal traits are the best indicators of its presence or absence. The small size of the human navicular tuberosity has previously been linked to the presence of a longitudinal arch, implying that the large tuberosity of early hominins such as Australopithecus afarensis reflects a flat foot. However, this hypothesis is at odds with other evidence of pedal form and function, such as metatarsal, tarsal, and footprint morphology, which show that a longitudinal arch was probably present in A. afarensis. This study reevaluates the morphometric affinities of the A. afarensis naviculars among other Plio-Pleistocene fossil hominins and anthropoid primates (N = 170). Multivariate cluster analyses show that all fossil hominin naviculars, including those attributed to A. afarensis, are most similar to modern humans. A measure of navicular tuberosity size quantified as the ratio of the tuberosity volume to the surface area of the talar facet shows that Ateles has the largest navicular tuberosity among the anthropoid sample and that there is no difference between highly arboreal and terrestrial taxa in this metric (e.g., Hylobates and Gorilla beringei). Instead, a relatively large navicular tuberosity may reflect the development of leg musculature associated with ankle plantarflexion. The functional inferences derived from the morphology of the A. afarensis naviculars are consistent with the morphology of the Laetoli footprints.


Trabecular architecture in the StW 352 fossil hominin calcaneus, di A. Zeininger, B. A. Patel, B. Zipfel, K. J. Carlson, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 97, August 2016, Pages 145–158

Australopithecus africanus has been interpreted as having a rigid lateral foot. One mechanism contributing to a rigid foot during push-off in humans is a calcaneocuboid joint (CCJ) with limited dorsiflexion and a “close-packed” talocalcaneal joint (TCJ). In contrast, apes likely have a greater CCJ range of motion and lack a close-packed TCJ. Differences in tarsal arthrokinematics may result in different joint loading environments. In Homo sapiens, we tested the hypothesis that dorsal and plantar CCJ and the TCJ show evidence of predictable habitual loading. In Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, Gorilla beringei, and Papio ursinus, we tested the hypothesis that only the dorsal CCJ shows evidence of predictable loading. Specifically, we predicted similarity in trabecular properties across the dorsal and plantar CCJ in H. sapiens, but dissimilarity in non-humans. Additionally, we investigated trabecular properties of an A. africanus calcaneus (StW 352) to evaluate joint loading patterns in this hominin and ultimately address the evolution of these properties in H. sapiens. Contrary to predictions, the H. sapiens dorsal CCJ has a significantly higher elongation index, bone volume fraction, trabecular thickness, and trabecular number than the plantar CCJ, while trabecular properties in non-humans do not always differ as predicted between regions. H. sapiens exhibits trabecular morphology indicative of less variable TCJ loading than other groups, having the most anisotropic and rod-like struts oriented in line with predicted principal loads. Multivariate analysis shows that the StW 352 dorsal CCJ matches P. ursinus best, while the plantar CCJ matches G. beringei best and the TCJ matches that of G. gorilla best. Overall patterns suggest that the StW 352 calcaneus experienced more variable loading than H. sapiens, but less variable loading than P. troglodytes, G. gorilla, G. beringei, and P. ursinus, consistent with a large range of foot movements, probably reflecting locomotor kinematics that are unlike those of living humans or apes.

  Archeological insights into hominin cognitive evolution, di T. Wynn, F. L. Coolidge, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 25, Issue 4, July/August 2016, Pages 200–213

How did the human mind evolve? How and when did we come to think in the ways we do? The last thirty years have seen an explosion in research related to the brain and cognition. This research has encompassed a range of biological and social sciences, from epigenetics and cognitive neuroscience to social and developmental psychology. Following naturally on this efflorescence has been a heightened interest in the evolution of the brain and cognition. Evolutionary scholars, including paleoanthropologists, have deployed the standard array of evolutionary methods. Ethological and experimental evidence has added significantly to our understanding of nonhuman brains and cognition, especially those of nonhuman primates.[1, 2] Studies of fossil brains through endocasts and sophisticated imaging techniques have revealed evolutionary changes in gross neural anatomy.[3, 4] Psychologists have also gotten into the game through application of reverse engineering to experimentally based descriptions of cognitive functions. For hominin evolution, there is another rich source of evidence of cognition, the archeological record. Using the methods of Paleolithic archeology and the theories and models of cognitive science, evolutionary cognitive archeology documents developments in the hominin mind that would otherwise be inaccessible.

  Fires at Neumark-Nord 2, Germany: An analysis of fire proxies from a Last Interglacial Middle Palaeolithic basin site, di E. Pop et alii, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 41, 2016 - Issue 5, Page 603-617

Few sites with evidence for fire use are known from the Last Interglacial in Europe. Hearth features are rarely preserved, probably as a result of post-depositional processes. The small postglacial basins (<300m in diameter) that dominate the sedimentary context of the Eemian record in Europe are high-resolution environmental archives often containing charcoal particles. This case study presents the macroscopic charcoal record of the Neumark-Nord 2 basin, Germany, and the correlation of this record with the distinct find levels of the basin margin that also contain thermally altered archaeological material. Increased charcoal quantities are shown to correspond to phases of hominin presence—a pattern that fits best with recurrent anthropogenic fires within the watershed. This research shows the potential of small basin localities in the reconstruction of local fire histories, where clear archaeological features like hearths are missing.

  Depuis l’Est? Nouvelles perspectives sur les premières dynamiques de peuplement en Europe, di R. Rocca, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 120, Issue 3, Pages 209-296 (June–August 2016), Pages 209-236

Les modèles de diffusion de l’Homme hors d’Afrique considèrent que les premiers groupes humains ont peuplé l’Europe selon deux vagues correspondant chacune à une culture et à une technique différente. Les premiers peuplements, qui remontent au million d’années, se caractérisent par des productions d’éclats, associées à des outils sur galets. La deuxième vague serait porteuse de l’Acheuléen, puisque les premières industries comprenant des bifaces en Europe sont datées d’environ 0,7 millions d’années. Or, les données présentes en Europe centrale ont bien du mal à entrer dans ce cadre théorique. Pourtant sur le chemin des premiers peuplements hors d’Afrique, cette région n’a pas livré les données archéologiques auxquelles on aurait pu s’attendre. Les premiers indices d’occupation humaine antérieurs à 0,5 Ma sont rarissimes, les bifaces sont absents durant toute la durée du Paléolithique inférieur et les industries présentes sont originales. L’Europe centrale est-elle une aire culturelle spécifique au Paléolithique inférieur ? Ou est-ce que ce sont nos propres outils méthodologiques qui doivent être interrogés pour répondre à cet apparent paradoxe ? C’est à travers l’étude de l’industrie lithique de quatre sites que nous avons tenté de répondre à ces questions. Les deux premiers assemblages (Korolevo VI en Ukraine et Kärlich-Seeufer en Allemagne) sont datés aux environs de 0,5 Ma et ont livré une industrie basée sur la production d’éclats variés. Les deux autres collections, datées autour de 0,4–0,3 Ma (Vértesszölös en Hongrie et Bilzingsleben en Allemagne) se caractérisent au contraire par une industrie basée sur la confection de petits supports sélectionnés. Les résultats de l’étude des premières industries en Europe centrale, nous invitent donc à reconsidérer la question du peuplement de l’Europe et à nous interroger sur les critères pris en compte dans la définition des entités culturelles et des systèmes techniques au Paléolithique inférieur.


Menez-Dregan 1 (Plouhinec, Finistère, France) : un site d’habitat du Paléolithique inférieur en grotte marine. Stratigraphie, structures de combustion, industries riches en galets aménagés, di J. L. Monnier et alii, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 120, Issue 3, Pages 209-296 (June–August 2016), Pages 237-262

Le gisement paléolithique inférieur de Menez-Dregan1 fait l’objet d’une fouille importante et d’un programme interdisciplinaire depuis 1991. Il s’agit d’une ancienne grotte marine dont le toit s’est progressivement effondré. Le remplissage témoigne d’un bilan sédimentaire assez faible, dominé par les dépôts littoraux anciens avec de nombreux hiatus d’érosion. Trois unités stratigraphiques principales séparées par des dépôts littoraux correspondant à des phases d’interruption majeure de la présence humaine, renferment des niveaux d’occupation. Les datations par résonance paramagnétique électronique (RPE) placeraient la première occupation humaine vers le stade 12 ou la fin du 13 (vers 465 000 ans). Les datations RPE obtenues sur la base de la couche 5 situeraient les occupations vers la fin du stade 11 (vers 380 000 ans). Les études géologiques (sédimentologie, corrélations stratigraphiques à courte distance) tendent à confirmer ces datations. Notre connaissance des groupes humains qui se sont succédés à Menez-Dregan repose essentiellement sur les outils lithiques qu’ils y ont abandonnés. L’industrie des niveaux supérieurs (couche 5) correspond à la définition du Colombanien. À côté de nombreux éclats et nucléus, existent des galets aménagés (choppers essentiellement), des galets fracturés et des galets à enlèvements isolés sur des roches variées, quelques hachereaux et de rares bifaces. S’y ajoute un outillage léger dominé par les denticulés et les encoches, et comprenant également des racloirs peu variés typologiquement. Cet outillage « léger » est surtout en silex, mais on y trouve aussi un peu de quartz et de grès lustré. La dernière couche d’occupation (couche 4) pourrait marquer la transition entre le Paléolithique inférieur et le Paléolithique moyen. Si l’on peut parler de faciès régional pour les industries à galets aménagés du littoral sud-armoricain, il est difficile de le distinguer totalement de l’Acheuléen du nord de la France. Ces industries armoricaines pourraient en effet correspondre à des aires d’activités spécialisées, comme cela a été démontré pour certains groupes à galets aménagés attribués au Paléolithique moyen. La notion de cultures, qui pourrait également être mise en avant pour expliquer cette variabilité, doit être abordée avec une extrême prudence, car elle ne serait guère fondée que sur la présence (ou l’absence) d’un seul type d’outil (le biface).


Le site acheuléen d’Erg Tihodaïne: caractéristiques technologiques de l’industrie lithique du Pléistocène moyen (Sahara central, Algérie), di S. Hocine, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 120, Issue 3, Pages 209-296 (June–August 2016), Pages 263-284

Depuis plus d’un siècle, le site acheuléen de l’Erg Tihodaïne a fait l’objet de plusieurs travaux de recherches qui ont permis la récolte d’un matériel lithique très abondant en surface et dans l’unité morphostratigraphique rattachée au Pléistocène moyen. Malgré l’importance de cette industrie lithique, aucune analyse technologique d’ensemble n’a été réalisée. Dans cet article, nous fournissons les caractéristiques d’une stratégie de production lithique à travers l’analyse technologique de trois séries dans le but de tenter de cerner les comportements techniques essentiels des hominidés acheuléens installés sur les bords de l’ancien lac de l’Erg Tihodaïne.


Caractéristiques techno-économiques de l’industrie lithique d’un site acheuléen de surface: Aïn Dfali, Ouazzane, Maroc, di M. Arzarello et alii, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 120, Issue 3, Pages 209-296 (June–August 2016), Pages 285-295

Le site d’Aïn Dfali se trouve au sud de la ville d’Ouazzane et au Nord-ouest du village Aïn Defali. Cette zone se situe à l’extrémité ouest de la plaine du Gharb dans la zone sud des nappes pré-rifaines. Les formations quaternaires sont localisées sur la rive droite de l’oued Redat. Les grandes collines, à l’ouest du village d’Aïn Dfali, sont constituées d’alluvions à cailloutis et à graviers attribuées au Quaternaire ancien. Au piémont de ces collines, le Quaternaire moyen prend place avec un relief atténué. La matière première exploitée pour la confection de l’industrie trouvée sur le site est constituée essentiellement de quartzite avec un choix des supports de taille moyenne à grande. Les chaînes opératoires ne sont pas complètes comme démontré par l’absence de la composante relative aux éclats de mise en forme et de petites dimensions. Les chaînes opératoires de façonnage et de débitage coexistent. Le façonnage est essentiellement représenté par des bifaces et des chopper-nucléus. Les bifaces sont souvent façonnés sur une face et montrent d’importants résidus corticaux ; il s’agit de bifaces sur éclats ou sur galets allongés et aplatis. Les éclats utilisés comme support sont généralement corticaux. Les chopper-nucléus sont exploités par débitage unipolaire unifacial (de 3 à 5 enlèvements) et montrent un tranchant sinueux probablement non fonctionnel. Les méthodes de débitage sont Levallois (récurrent et linéale), discoïde unifaciale et bifaciale et SSDA. Le débitage SSDA voit l’exploitation de 2/4 plans de frappe par une méthode unipolaire pour l’obtention d’éclats de grandes/moyennes dimensions de formes irrégulières et souvent à résidus corticaux latéraux. Très peux produit retouché ont été trouvé. Le débitage Levallois est fait sur des galets aplatis et ronds, la mise en forme de la surface Levallois est réalisée par des enlèvements centripètes et le plan de débitage montre soit le détachement d’un éclat préférentiel de forme ronde soit une exploitation récurrente centripète ou récurrente unipolaire ; documentée aussi par la production des pointes Levallois. Le débitage discoïde, sur galets arrondis, est surtout de type unifacial et voit l’exploitation préférentielle d’une convexité prononcée ou l’exploitation alternée de deux convexités opposées. Les produits obtenus sont épais et ont une forme triangulaire/quadrangulaire avec des négatifs convergents. Le matériel retrouvé à Aïn Dfali est le résultat d’un transport sélectif et se trouve en position secondaire mais permet d’attester une importante occupation préhistorique acheuléenne dans la région.

  Cancer on a Paleo-diet? Ask someone who lived 1.7 million years ago, 28-JUL-2016

Johannesburg, South Africa - an international team of researchers led by scientists from the University of the Witwatersrand's Evolutionary Studies Institute and the South African Centre for Excellence in PalaeoSciences today announced in two papers, published in the South African Journal of Science, the discovery of the most ancient evidence for cancer and bony tumours yet described in the human fossil record. The discovery of a foot bone dated to approximately 1.7 million years ago from the site of Swartkrans with definitive evidence of malignant cancer, pushes the oldest date for this disease back from recent times into deep prehistory. Although the exact species to which the foot bone belongs is unknown, it is clearly that of a hominin, or bipedal human relative. In an accompanying paper appearing in the same journal, a collaborating team of scientists identify the oldest tumour ever found in the human fossil record, a benign neoplasm found in the vertebrae of the well-known Australopithecus sediba child, Karabo from the site of Malapa, and dated to almost two million years in age. The oldest previously demonstrated possible hominin tumour was found in the rib of a Neanderthal and dated to around 120,000 years old. (...)

  How rope was made 40,000 years ago, July 22, 2016

Rope and twine are critical components in the technology of mobile hunters and gatherers. In exceptional cases impressions of string have been found in fired clay and on rare occasions string was depicted in the contexts of Ice Age art, but on the whole almost nothing is known about string, rope and textiles form the Paleolithic. Researchers have now discovered a tool used to make early rope. (...)

  How China is rewriting the book on human origins, "Nature-News Feature", 12 July 2016

On the outskirts of Beijing, a small limestone mountain named Dragon Bone Hill rises above the surrounding sprawl. Along the northern side, a path leads up to some fenced-off caves that draw 150,000 visitors each year, from schoolchildren to grey-haired pensioners. It was here, in 1929, that researchers discovered a nearly complete ancient skull that they determined was roughly half a million years old. Dubbed Peking Man, it was among the earliest human remains ever uncovered, and it helped to convince many researchers that humanity first evolved in Asia. Since then, the central importance of Peking Man has faded. Although modern dating methods put the fossil even earlier — at up to 780,000 years old — the specimen has been eclipsed by discoveries in Africa that have yielded much older remains of ancient human relatives. Such finds have cemented Africa's status as the cradle of humanity — the place from which modern humans and their predecessors spread around the globe — and relegated Asia to a kind of evolutionary cul-de-sac. (...)

· Come la Cina sta riscrivendo il libro delle origini dell'uomo, "Le Scienze", 23 luglio 2016

  Footprints reveal direct evidence of group behavior and locomotion in Homo erectus, di K. G. Hatala et alii, "Scientific Reports" 6, 12 July 2016, doi:10.1038/srep28766 - open access -

Bipedalism is a defining feature of the human lineage. Despite evidence that walking on two feet dates back 6–7 Ma, reconstructing hominin gait evolution is complicated by a sparse fossil record and challenges in inferring biomechanical patterns from isolated and fragmentary bones. Similarly, patterns of social behavior that distinguish modern humans from other living primates likely played significant roles in our evolution, but it is exceedingly difficult to understand the social behaviors of fossil hominins directly from fossil data. Footprints preserve direct records of gait biomechanics and behavior but they have been rare in the early human fossil record. Here we present analyses of an unprecedented discovery of 1.5-million-year-old footprint assemblages, produced by 20+ Homo erectus individuals. These footprints provide the oldest direct evidence for modern human-like weight transfer and confirm the presence of an energy-saving longitudinally arched foot in H. erectus. Further, print size analyses suggest that these H. erectus individuals lived and moved in cooperative multi-male groups, offering direct evidence consistent with human-like social behaviors in H. erectus. (...)

  The role of small prey in human subsistence strategies from Early Upper Palaeolithic sites in Iberia: the rabbits from the Evolved Aurignacian level of Arbreda Cave, di L. Lloveras et alii, "Journal of Quaternary Science", Volume 31, Issue 5, July 2016, Pages 458–471

In the western Mediterranean, changes in hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies have been identified from the Early Upper Palaeolithic. These changes are characterized by broadening of diet and intensification of small prey exploitation. In the Iberian Peninsula region, intensified small prey exploitation is evidenced by the hunting of large quantities of European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which are usually a ubiquitous feature of faunal assemblages from archaeological sites. Before interpretations of the significance of such assemblages can proceed, however, it is necessary to confirm their anthropic origin, as a wide range of predators are agents of accumulation. The taphonomic signatures observed for predators are here applied to the analysis of leporid (rabbits and hares) remains from the Evolved Aurignacian layer of Arbreda Cave (north-east Iberia). The aims of this work are two-fold: (i) to identify the agent/s of accumulation; and (ii) to assess possible changes in small prey use during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition. Our results suggest that rabbit assemblages were probably hunted and consumed by humans and that rabbits became a primary resource in hunter-gatherer diet from the Early Upper Palaeolithic.


Aggiornamento 9 luglio


The Hoslteinian period in Europe (MIS 11-9), edited by M. H. Moncel, M. Arzarello, C. Peretto, "Quaternary International", Volume 409, Part B, Pages 1-270 (21 July 2016):

- The Hoslteinian period in Europe (MIS 11-9), di M. H. Moncel, M. Arzarello, C. Peretto

- The end of the Lower Paleolithic in the Levant: The Acheulo-Yabrudian lithic technology at Misliya Cave, Israel, di Y. Zaidner, M. Weinstein-Evron

- The Lower to Middle Paleolithic transition and the diversification of Levallois technology in the Southern Levant: Evidence from Tabun Cave, Israel, di R. Shimelmitz, M. Weinstein-Evron, A. Ronen, S. L. Kuhn

- The human occupation of Britain during the Hoxnian Interglacial, di N. Ashton

- Acheulean of the Somme basin (France): Assessment of lithic changes during MIS 12 to 9, di A. Lamotte, A. Tuffreau

- A new key-site for the end of Lower Palaeolithic and the onset of Middle Palaeolithic at Etricourt-Manancourt (Somme, France), di D. Hérisson et alii

- Menez-Dregan I, layer 4: A transitional layer between the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic in Brittany, di A. L. Ravon, J. L. Monnier, M. Laforge

- Lost and found: Technological trajectories within Lower/Middle Paleolithic transition in Western Europe, North of the Pyrenees, di A. Malinsky-Buller

- Acheulean technical behaviors in Aldène cave (Cesseras, Hérault, France), di E. Rossoni-Notter, O. Notter, S. Simone, P. Simon

- Bifaces used for percussion? Experimental approach to percussion marks and functional analysis of the bifaces from Terra Amata (Nice, France), di C. Viallet

- Preliminary data from Valle Giumentina Pleistocene site (Abruzzo, Central Italy): A new approach to a Clactonian and Acheulian sequence, di E. Nicoud et alii

- Bone retouchers from Lower Palaeolithic sites: Terra Amata, Orgnac 3, Cagny-l'Epinette and Cueva del Angel, di A. M. Moigne et alii

- First settlements in Central Europe: Between originality and banality, di R. Rocca

- The Pre-Mousterian industrial complex in Europe between 400 and 300 ka: Interpreting its origin and spatiotemporal variability, di V. Doronichev

- MIS 11-locality of Medzhibozh, Ukraine: Archaeological and paleozoological evidence, di V.N. Stepanchuk, A.M. Moigne

- Palaeoclimatic changes in the Holsteinian Interglacial (Middle Pleistocene) on the basis of indicator-species method – Palynological and macrofossils remains from Nowiny Żukowskie site (SE Poland), di A. Hrynowiecka, H. Winter


Refining upon the climatic background of the Early Pleistocene hominid settlement in western Europe: Barranco León and Fuente Nueva-3 (Guadix-Baza Basin, SE Spain), di H. A. Blain et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 144, 15 July 2016, Pages 132–144

The Early Pleistocene sites of Barranco León and Fuente Nueva-3 (Guadix-Baza Basin, SE Spain) have yielded thousands of Mode 1 or Oldowan lithic artifacts (both sites) and one tooth (in layer D, formerly 5 of Barranco León), today considered to be some of the earliest evidence of humans in western Europe at ca. 1.2–1.5 Ma. Previous quantitative paleoclimatic reconstructions based on herpetile assemblages indicated that, during the formation of these two sites, the mean annual temperature and mean annual precipitation were higher than they are now in the southeastern Iberian Peninsula, with lower continentality. Here, we propose new climatic reconstructions where the mean monthly temperature and precipitation and the difference between the four driest months and the four rainiest months are estimated. Climatograms are built in order to specify the distribution and variation of temperature and precipitation during the year, and the Aridity Indices of Gaussen, Lautensach-Mayer, Dantin-Revenga and De Martonne are used to characterize ombroclimatic differences. According to these new climatic parameters, rainfall distribution through the year shows considerably higher precipitation in every season except summer and early autumn, which remain drier and thus consistent with a Mediterranean climate pattern. No change is observed in the duration of the aridity period, which remains four months long. However, the value of the Aridity Index of De Martonne is higher than 20 (subhumid climate) in Barranco León and Fuente Nueva-3, whereas today it is lower than 20 (semi-arid climate), suggesting major changes in the ombroclimatic type. These results yield a more precise scenario for the paleoclimatic conditions that prevailed during the late Early Pleistocene in the Guadix-Baza Basin and permit us to contrast the ages obtained from numerical dating and biochronology. The very warm and humid climate reconstructed for both Barranco León and Fuente Nueva-3 suggests that, in accordance with the numerical dating, these two sites are contemporaneous with the particularly warm interglacial peaks of Marine Isotope Stages 43–49 (i.e. between 1.35 and 1.47 Ma). The similarity between reconstructed climates, the high overlap between their estimated precipitation and between the difference of the driest from the rainiest season suggest that these sites may correspond to the same part of a climatic glacial/interglacial cycle, but because the evolutionary degree of the rodent Mimomys savini shows a slightly more derived state for Fuente Nueva-3 than for Barranco León (i.e a short chronological difference between the two sites), they may correspond to two consecutive warm interglacial peaks.


Palaeohydrological corridors for hominin dispersals in the Middle East ~250–70,000 years ago, di P. S. Breeze et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 144, 15 July 2016, Pages 155–185

The timing and extent of palaeoenvironmental connections between northeast Africa, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula during the Middle and Late Pleistocene are critical to debates surrounding dispersals of hominins, including movements of Homo sapiens out of Africa. Although there is evidence that synchronous episodes of climatic amelioration during the late Middle and Late Pleistocene may have allowed connections to form between northern Africa and western Asia, a number of palaeoclimate models indicate the continued existence of an arid barrier between northern Arabia and the Levant. Here we evaluate the palaeoenvironmental setting for hominin dispersals between, and within, northeast Africa and southwest Asia during Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 7–5 using reconstructions of surface freshwater availability as an environmental proxy. We use remotely sensed data to map palaeohydrological features (lakes, wetlands and rivers) across the presently hyper-arid areas of northern Arabia and surrounding regions, integrating these results with palaeoclimate models, palaeoenvironmental proxy data and absolute dating to determine when these features were active. Our analyses suggest limited potential for dispersals during MIS 7 and 6, but indicate the formation of a palaeohydrological corridor (the ‘Tabuk Corridor’) between the Levant and the Arabian interior during the MIS 6-5e glacial–interglacial transition and during MIS 5e. A recurrence of this corridor, following a slightly different route, also occurred during MIS 5a. These palaeohydrological and terrestrial data can be used to establish when proposed routes for hominin dispersals became viable. Furthermore, the distribution of Arabian archaeological sites with affinities to Levantine assemblages, some of which are associated with Homo sapiens fossils, and the relative density of Middle Palaeolithic assemblages within the Tabuk Corridor, are consistent with it being utilised for dispersals at various times.

  The Middle Palaeolithic in the Desert II, edited by J. Blinkhorn, E. Scerri, H. Groucutt , A. Delagnes, "Quaternary International", Volume 408, Part B, Pages 1-152 (15 July 2016):

- The Middle Palaeolithic in the Desert II, di J. Blinkhorn, E. Scerri, H. Groucutt , A. Delagnes

- The Middle Palaeolithic of West Africa: Lithic techno-typological analyses of the site of Tiemassas, Senegal, di K. Niang, M. Ndiaye

- The Middle Stone Age archaeology of the Senegal River Valley, di E. M. L. Scerri, J. Blinkhorn, H. S. Groucutt, K. Niang

- West African Palaeolithic history: New archaeological and chronostratigraphic data from the Falémé valley, eastern Senegal, di B. Chevrier et alii

- Middle Stone Age reduction strategies at the desert's edge: A multi-site comparison across the Gebel Akhdar of northeast Libya, di S. C. Jones

- Dispersals Out of Africa and Back to Africa: Modern origins in North Africa, di E.A.A. Garcea

- Optimal adjustment or cultural backwardness? New data on the latest Levallois industries in the Nile Valley
, di P. Osypiński, M. Osypińska

- Assessing long-term habitability at an eastern Sahara oasis: ESR dating of molluscs and herbivore teeth at Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt, di M.R. Kleindienst et alii

- “Diffusion with modifications”: Nubian assemblages in the central Negev highlands of Israel and their implications for Middle Paleolithic inter-regional interactions, di M. Goder-Goldberger, N. Gubenko, E. Hovers

- Playas and Middle Paleolithic settlement of the Iranian Central Desert: The discovery of the Chah-e Jam Middle Paleolithic site, di H. Vahdati Nasab, M. Hashemi


Marine mollusc exploitation as evidenced by the Gorham's Cave (Gibraltar) excavations 1998–2005: The Middle–Upper Palaeolithic transition, di D. Andrew Fa et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 407, Part B, 8 July 2016, Pages 16–28

There is increasing evidence that humans have exploited intertidal and shallow-water species for much longer than has been previously considered, and certainly not restricted to Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH). One of the principal reasons for the lack of evidence up till recently has been a lack of consideration for the temporal and spatial backdrop to such activities throughout human evolution, in particular related to changes in sea-level during the Pleistocene (Bailey et al., 2008). This study reports on the marine molluscs excavated from Gorham's Cave between 1998 and 2005, focussing in particular between levels III and IV, corresponding to the Upper (AMH) and Middle Palaeolithic (Neanderthals), respectively. Given that Gorham's Cave was never more than approximately 2 km away from the coastline, it still preserves evidence of exploitation of marine molluscs for food by Neanderthals and in this article the data obtained are compared across the Middle–Upper Palaeolithic transition. The results obtained suggest a high degree of consistency in the mode of marine mollusc exploitation between levels, and comparisons with extant communities supports the contention that marine molluscs were exploited in direct proportion to their relative abundance and accessibility. Patterns in shell size distributions for some of the main species exploited are discussed, as are possible anthropic valve selection and the marine climatic signals that can be extracted from such data. The main difference that emerges between Upper and Middle Palaeolithic levels was a lack of evidence of collection for decoration in Middle Palaeolithic levels, but even here the relatively small size of the Level IV sample precluded totally excluding this possibility based only on absence of evidence.


Neanderthal retouched shell tools and Quina economic and technical strategies: An integrated behaviour, di F. Romagnoli, J. Baena, L. Sarti, "Quaternary International", Volume 407, Part B, 8 July 2016, Pages 29–44

Neanderthal shell tools have been discovered in several coastal sites along the Mediterranean Sea in the past 50 years. These technological artefacts have rarely been investigated, and only typological considerations have been published. Recent studies have investigated retouched shell tools at Grotta del Cavallo with a new multidisciplinary methodology, and they have found that the use of Callista chione valves was not related to subsistence strategies but rather to the search for a specific cutting edge, reconstructing the whole chaîne opératoire. In this paper, we focus on some technical aspects of shell tool production that have not been investigated to date: (i) the technical reaction of the shell to retouching on the basis of its microstructural and physical properties, (ii) the identification of technical gestures used during production and (iii) the economic value of shell technology from a technical perspective. The experiments were conducted along with the analysis of the whole lithic assemblage and the economic, technological and technical characteristics of the lithic techno-complex are presented. The results of shell analysis and shell integration within the stone tool techno-economical strategies clearly show that at Grotta del Cavallo, this Neanderthal technical adaptation to coastal resources could be considered an expression of the Quina system. The data presented in this study are discussed in relation to Middle Palaeolithic behavioural variability, and we emphasise four primary, strictly interdependent concepts: mobility strategies, flexibility of the Quina techno-economic system, social organisation and cognitive features of human groups. The Quina shell technology is the result of a complex modality of adaptation to environmental diversity, and it is related to the Neanderthal capacity for innovation. In this paper, we discuss how and why the innovation of shell technology might have occurred within the Quina system. The data presented in this study represent the first investigation of the technical modalities of Neanderthal adaptation to the seashore.


Food and ornaments: Diachronic changes in the exploitation of littoral resources at Franchthi Cave (Argolid, Greece) during the Upper Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic(39,000–7000 cal BC), di C. Perlès, "Quaternary International", Volume 407, Part B, 8 July 2016, Pages 45–58

The long Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sequence of Franchthi Cave is often quoted for the importance of its marine resources. The first coastal resources to be exploited, from the very beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic, were ornamental shell species. Fish was captured since at least the 13th millennium cal BC, and Franchthi is well known for the episode of intense tuna fishing in the Upper Mesolithic (8th millennium cal BC). Shellfish, which include mostly gastropods, were introduced in the diet a millennium after fish, but were most intensely exploited during the Final Mesolithic (ca 7000 cal BC). With abundant marine remains and a distance to the coast that never exceeded 4 km, less than 2 km in the Mesolithic, Franchthi is thus an ideal site to study the patterns of littoral exploitation and their variations throughout the Upper Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic. The successive introduction of the various marine resources was not correlated to sea level variations and the distance from the cave to the sea. The number of remains for each category varies importantly from phase to phase. To compensate for differences in the duration of each phase and frequency of occupation, I have standardized the numbers of remains for each category of coastal resource by the volume of sediment. This reveals that fish, shellfish and ornamental species were exploited independently, with important variations in intensity of deposition along the sequence. Except for two phases of more intense fishing, the exploitation of edible marine resources remained, however, rather modest. Terrestrial resources, game and plants, appear to have been predominant in most phases of occupation and terrestrial gastropods largely supersede marine gastropods in all phases from the Late Upper Palaeolithic to the Upper Mesolithic.

  Climate, Environment and Early Human Innovation: Stable Isotope and Faunal Proxy Evidence from Archaeological Sites (98-59ka) in the Southern Cape, South Africa, di P. Roberts et alii, July 6, 2016, doi: - open access -

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) of southern Africa, and in particular its Still Bay and Howiesons Poort lithic traditions, represents a period of dramatic subsistence, cultural, and technological innovation by our species, Homo sapiens. Climate change has frequently been postulated as a primary driver of the appearance of these innovative behaviours, with researchers invoking either climate instability as a reason for the development of buffering mechanisms, or environmentally stable refugia as providing a stable setting for experimentation. Testing these alternative models has proved intractable, however, as existing regional palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental records remain spatially, stratigraphically, and chronologically disconnected from the archaeological record. Here we report high-resolution records of environmental shifts based on stable carbon and oxygen isotopes in ostrich eggshell (OES) fragments, faunal remains, and shellfish assemblages excavated from two key MSA archaeological sequences, Blombos Cave and Klipdrift Shelter. We compare these records with archaeological material remains in the same strata. The results from both sites, spanning the periods 98–73 ka and 72–59 ka, respectively, show significant changes in vegetation, aridity, rainfall seasonality, and sea temperature in the vicinity of the sites during periods of human occupation. While these changes clearly influenced human subsistence strategies, we find that the remarkable cultural and technological innovations seen in the sites cannot be linked directly to climate shifts. Our results demonstrate the need for scale-appropriate, on-site testing of behavioural-environmental links, rather than broader, regional comparisons. (...)

  Neandertal cannibalism and Neandertal bones used as tools in Northern Europe, di H. Rougier et alii, "Scientific Report"s 6, n. 29005 (2016), 06 July 2016, doi:10.1038/srep29005 - open access -

Almost 150 years after the first identification of Neandertal skeletal material, the cognitive and symbolic abilities of these populations remain a subject of intense debate. We present 99 new Neandertal remains from the Troisième caverne of Goyet (Belgium) dated to 40,500–45,500 calBP. The remains were identified through a multidisciplinary study that combines morphometrics, taphonomy, stable isotopes, radiocarbon dating and genetic analyses. The Goyet Neandertal bones show distinctive anthropogenic modifications, which provides clear evidence for butchery activities as well as four bones having been used for retouching stone tools. In addition to being the first site to have yielded multiple Neandertal bones used as retouchers, Goyet not only provides the first unambiguous evidence of Neandertal cannibalism in Northern Europe, but also highlights considerable diversity in mortuary behaviour among the region’s late Neandertal population in the period immediately preceding their disappearance. (...)


Neandertals' large lower thorax may represent adaptation to high protein diet, di M. Ben-Dor, A. Gopher, R. Barkai, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 160, Issue 3, pages 367–378, July 2016

Humans are limited in their capacity to convert protein into energy. We present a hypothesis that a “bell” shaped thorax and a wide pelvis evolved in Neandertals, at least in part, as an adaptation to a high protein diet. A high protein diet created a need to house an enlarged liver and urinary system in a wider lower trunk. To test the hypothesis, we applied a model developed to identify points of nutritional stress. A ratio of obligatory dietary fat to total animal fat and protein sourced calories is calculated based on various known and estimated parameters. Stress is identified when the obligatory dietary fat ratio is higher than fat content ratios in available prey. The model predicts that during glacial winters, when carbohydrates weren't available, 74%−85% of Neandertals' caloric intake would have had to come from animal fat. Large animals contain around 50% fat calories, and their fat content is diminished during winter, so a significant stressful dietary fat deficit was identified by the model. This deficit could potentially be ameliorated by an increased capability to convert protein into energy. Given that high protein consumption is associated with larger liver and kidneys in animal models, it appears likely that the enlarged inferior section of the Neandertals thorax and possibly, in part, also his wide pelvis, represented an adaptation to provide encasement for those enlarged organs. Behavioral and evolutionary implications of the hypothesis are also discussed. Am J Phys Anthropol 160:367–378, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


Neanderthal genomics suggests a pleistocene time frame for the first epidemiologic transition, di C. J. Houldcroft, S. J. Underdown, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 160, Issue 3, pages 379–388, July 2016

High quality Altai Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes are revealing which regions of archaic hominin DNA have persisted in the modern human genome. A number of these regions are associated with response to infection and immunity, with a suggestion that derived Neanderthal alleles found in modern Europeans and East Asians may be associated with autoimmunity. As such Neanderthal genomes are an independent line of evidence of which infectious diseases Neanderthals were genetically adapted to. Sympathetically, human genome adaptive introgression is an independent line of evidence of which infectious diseases were important for AMH coming in to Eurasia and interacting with Neanderthals. The Neanderthals and Denisovans present interesting cases of hominin hunter-gatherers adapted to a Eurasian rather than African infectious disease package. Independent sources of DNA-based evidence allow a re-evaluation of the first epidemiologic transition and how infectious disease affected Pleistocene hominins. By combining skeletal, archaeological and genetic evidence from modern humans and extinct Eurasian hominins, we question whether the first epidemiologic transition in Eurasia featured a new package of infectious diseases or a change in the impact of existing pathogens. Coupled with pathogen genomics, this approach supports the view that many infectious diseases are pre-Neolithic, and the list continues to expand. The transfer of pathogens between hominin populations, including the expansion of pathogens from Africa, may also have played a role in the extinction of the Neanderthals and offers an important mechanism to understand hominin–hominin interactions well back beyond the current limits for aDNA extraction from fossils alone. Am J Phys Anthropol 160:379–388, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


Conarticular congruence of the hominoid subtalar joint complex with implications for joint function in Plio-Pleistocene hominins, di T. C. Prang, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 160, Issue 3, pages 446–457, July 2016

The purpose of this study is to test the hypothesis that conarticular surfaces areas and curvatures are correlates of mobility at the hominoid talocalcaneal and talonavicular joints. Articular surface areas and curvatures of the talonavicular, anterior talocalcaneal, and posterior talocalcaneal joints were quantified using a total of 425 three-dimensional surface models of extant hominoid and fossil hominin tali, calcanei, and naviculars. Quadric surface fitting was used to calculate curvatures, pairwise comparisons were used to evaluate statistical differences between taxa, and regression was used to test for the effects of allometry. Pairwise comparisons show that the distributions of values for joint curvature indices follow the predicted arboreal-terrestrial morphocline in hominoid primates with no effect of body mass (PGLS p > 0.05). OH 8 (Homo habilis) and LB 1 (Homo floresiensis) can be accommodated within the range of human variation for the talonavicular joint, whereas MH2 (Australopithecus sediba) falls within the ranges of variation for Pan troglodytes and Gorilla gorilla in measures of posterior talocalcaneal joint congruity. Joint curvature indices are better discriminators than joint surface area indices, which may reflect a greater contribution of rotation, rather than translation, to joint movement in plantigrade taxa due to discrepancies in conarticular congruence and the “convex-concave” rule. The pattern of joint congruence in Au. sediba contributes to other data on the foot and ankle suggesting that the lateral side of the foot was more mobile than the medial side, which is consistent with suggestions of increased medial weight transfer associated with hyperpronation. Am J Phys Anthropol 160:446–457, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


The endocast of the one-million-year-old human cranium from Buia (UA 31), Danakil Eritrea, di E. Bruner et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 160, Issue 3, pages 458–468, July 2016

The Homo erectus-like cranium from Buia (UA 31) was found in the Eritrean Danakil depression and dated to 1 million years. Its outer morphology displays archaic traits, as well as distinctive and derived characters. The present study provides the description and metric comparison of its endocranial anatomy. UA 31 was originally filled by a diffuse concretion. Following its removal and cleaning, the endocast (995 cc) was reconstructed after physical molding and digital scan. Its morphology is here compared with specimens belonging to different human taxa, taking into account endocranial metrics, cortical traits, and craniovascular features. The endocast is long and narrow when compared to the H. erectus/ergaster hypodigm, although its proportions are compatible with the morphology displayed by all archaic and medium-brained human species. The occipital areas display a pronounced bulging, the cerebellum is located in a posterior position, and the middle meningeal vessels are more developed in the posterior regions. These features are common among specimens attributed to H. erectus s.l., particularly the Middle Pleistocene endocasts from Zhoukoudian. The parietal lobes are markedly bossed. This lateral bulging is associated with the lower parietal circumvolutions, as in other archaic specimens. This pronounced parietal curvature is apparently due to a narrow cranial base, more than to wider parietal areas. The endocast of UA 31 shows a general plesiomorphic phenotype, with some individual features (e.g., dolichocephaly and rounded lower parietal areas) which confirm a remarkable degree of morphological variability within the H. erectus/ergaster hypodigm. Am J Phys Anthropol 160:458–468, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


Climate-mediated shifts in Neandertal subsistence behaviors at Pech de l'Azé IV and Roc de Marsal (Dordogne Valley, France), di J. Hodgkins, C. W. Marean, A. Turq, D. Sandgathe, S. J.P. McPherron, H. Dibble, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 96, July 2016, Pages 1–18

Neandertals disappeared from Europe just after 40,000 years ago. Some hypotheses ascribe this to numerous population crashes associated with glacial cycles in the late Pleistocene. The goal of this paper is to test the hypothesis that glacial periods stressed Neandertal populations. If cold climates stressed Neandertals, their subsistence behaviors may have changed—requiring intensified use of prey through more extensive nutrient extraction from faunal carcasses. To test this, an analysis of Neandertal butchering was conducted on medium sized bovid/cervid remains composed of predominately red deer (Cervus elaphus), reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), and roe deer (Capreolus caprelous) deposited during global warm and cold phases from two French sites: Pech de l'Azé IV (Pech IV, Bordes' excavation) and Roc de Marsal (RDM). Analysis of surface modification on high survival long bones and proximal and middle phalanges demonstrates that skeletal elements excavated from the cold levels (RDM Level 4, Pech IV Level I2) at each cave have more cut marks and percussion marks than elements from the warm levels (RDM Level 9, Pech IV Level Y-Z) after controlling for fragment size. At both sites, epiphyseal fragments are rare, and although this pattern can result from carnivore consumption, carnivore tooth marks are almost nonexistent (<0.1%). Alternatively, processing epiphyseal ends for bone grease may have been a Neandertal survival strategy, and epiphyses were more intensively percussed in cold levels than in warm levels at both RDM and Pech IV. The exploitation of low marrow yield elements such as phalanges does not show a consistent pattern relating to climate, but may have been a general Neandertal behavioral characteristic, suggesting that these hominids were regularly on the edge of sufficient nutrient availability even during interglacials. Overall, the faunal assemblages from Roc de Marsal and Pech IV provide some support for the hypothesis that Neandertals were processing faunal remains more heavily during glacial periods, suggesting a response to increased nutritional stress during colder time periods.


Going the distance: Mapping mobility in the Kalahari Desert during the Middle Stone Age through multi-site geochemical provenancing of silcrete artefacts, di D. J. Nash, S. Coulson, S. Staurset, J. S. Ullyott, M. Babutsi, M. P. Smith, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 96, July 2016, Pages 113–133

This study utilises geochemical provenancing of silcrete raw materials, in combination with chaîne opératoire analyses, to explore lithic procurement and behavioural patterns in the northern Kalahari Desert during the Middle Stone Age (MSA). New data from the sites of Rhino Cave, Corner Cave, and ≠Gi in northwest Botswana, combined with earlier results from White Paintings Shelter, reveal that the long distance transport of silcrete for stone tool manufacture was a repeated and extensively used behaviour in this region. Silcrete was imported over distances of up to 295 km to all four sites, from locations along the Boteti River and around Lake Ngami. Significantly, closer known sources of silcrete of equivalent quality were largely bypassed. Silcrete artefacts were transported at various stages of production (as partially and fully prepared cores, blanks, and finished tools) and, with the exception of ≠Gi, in large volumes. The import occurred despite the abundance of locally available raw materials, which were also used to manufacture the same tool types. On the basis of regional palaeoenvironmental data, the timing of the majority of silcrete import from the Boteti River and Lake Ngami is constrained to regionally drier periods of the MSA. The results of our investigation challenge key assumptions underlying predictive models of human mobility that use distance–decay curves and drop-off rates. Middle Stone Age peoples in the Kalahari appear to have been more mobile than anticipated, and repeatedly made costly choices with regard to both raw material selection and items to be transported. We conclude that (i) base transport cost has been overemphasised as a restrictive factor in predictive models, and (ii) factors such as source availability and preference, raw material quality, and potential sociocultural influences significantly shaped prehistoric landscape use choices.

  Scoperte in Eritrea impronte fossili di Homo erectus, 16 giugno 2016

Paleoantropologi della Sapienza Università di Roma hanno scoperto nel sito di Aalad-Amo, in Eritrea orientale, i resti fossili di sedimenti che 800.000 anni fa furono attraversati da alcuni Homo erectus. Si tratta di una testimonianza cruciale per ricostruire l'anatomia del piede e il tipo di deambulazione di questa specie, che costituisce una tappa fondamentale dell'evoluzione umana. (...)

  Journal of Anthropological Sciences,  volume 94 (2016) - open access -

- The place of Homo floresiensis in human evolution, di K. Baab

- Early hominin diversity and the emergence of genus Homo
, di W. Harcourt Smith

- Oldowan hominin behavior and ecology at Kanjera South, Kenya
, di T. Plummer, L. C. Bishop

- Filling the gap. Human cranial remains from Gombore II (Melka Kunture, Ethiopia; ca. 850 ka) and the origin of Homo heidelbergensis
, di A. Profico, F. Di Vincenzo, L. Gagliardi, M. Piperno, G. Manzi

- What constitutes Homo sapiens? Morphology versus received wisdom
, di J. H. Schwartz

- Visuospatial integration and human evolution: the fossil evidence, di E. Bruner, M. Lozano, C. Lorenzo

- Evolution of brain and culture: the neurological and cognitive journey from Australopithecus to Albert Einstein, di D. Falk

- The false dichotomy: a refutation of the Neandertal indistinguishability claim, di T. Wynn, K. A. Overmann, F. L. Coolidge

- New Evaluation of the Castel di Guido ‘Hyoid’, di L. Capasso, R. D’Anastasio, L. Mancini, C. Tuniz, D. W. Frayer


Paleo. Revue d'archéologie préhistorique, 26-2015

- Le « type 2a », plus ancien modèle de propulseur paléolithique : une nouvelle pièce dans le Magdalénien moyen d’Isturitz (Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France) et ses implications, di P. Cattelain, J. M. Pétillon

- Le Laborien récent de la grotte-abri de Peyrazet (Creysse, Lot, France). Nouvelles données pour la fin du Tardiglaciaire en Quercy, di M. Langlais et alii

- Nouveaux restes humains provenant du gisement de Regourdou (Montignac-sur-Vézère, Dordogne, France), di B. Maureille et alii

- Importance des données de terrain pour la compréhension d’un potentiel dépôt funéraire moustérien : le cas du squelette de Regourdou 1 (Montignac-sur-Vézère, Dordogne, France), di B. Maureille et alii

- Lièvre et lapin à Regourdou (Montignac-sur-Vézère, Dordogne, France) : études paléontologique et taphonomique de deux accumulations osseuses d’origine naturelle, di M. Pelletier, A. Royer, T. Holliday, B. Maureille

Du nouveau aux Combarelles I (Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne, France), di E. Man-Estier, E. Deneuve, P. Paillet, L. Loiseau, C. Cretin

- Nouvelles découvertes d’art mobilier dans le Magdalénien de Bourrouilla (Arancou, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France), di F. Plassard, L. Aurière, F. X. Chauvière, C. Fritz, M. Dachary


Home-range size in large-bodied carnivores as a model for predicting neandertal territory size, di S. Emilio Churchill, C. Scott Walker, A. Michael Schwartz, "Evolutionary Anthropology",Volume 25, Issue 3, pages 117–123, May/June 2016

Adult human foragers expend roughly 30–60 kcal per km in unburdened walking at optimal speeds.1,2 In the context of foraging rounds and residential moves, they may routinely travel distances of 50–70 km per week, often while carrying loads.3 Movement on the landscape, then, is arguably the single most expensive item in the activity budgets of hunter-gatherers. Mobility costs may have been greater still for Neandertals. They had stocky, short-limbed physiques that were energetically costly to move4 and lived in relatively unproductive Pleistocene environments5 that may have required greater movement to deal with problems of biodepletion and resource patchiness.6 But just how mobile were the Neandertals?


Time and space in the middle paleolithic: Spatial structure and occupation dynamics of seven open-air sites, di A. E. Clark, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 25, Issue 3, pages 153–163, May/June 2016

The spatial structure of archeological sites can help reconstruct the settlement dynamics of hunter-gatherers by providing information on the number and length of occupations. This study seeks to access this information through a comparison of seven sites. These sites are open-air and were all excavated over large spatial areas, up to 2,000 m2, and are therefore ideal for spatial analysis, which was done using two complementary methods, lithic refitting and density zones. Both methods were assessed statistically using confidence intervals. The statistically significant results from each site were then compiled to evaluate trends that occur across the seven sites. These results were used to assess the “spatial consistency” of each assemblage and, through that, the number and duration of occupations. This study demonstrates that spatial analysis can be a powerful tool in research on occupation dynamics and can help disentangle the many occupations that often make up an archeological assemblage.


Hunter-gatherer mobility and embedded raw-material procurement strategies in the mediterranean upper paleolithic, di A. Tomasso, G. Porraz, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 25, Issue 3, pages 164–174, May/June 2016

Since the early 1980s, the sourcing of lithic raw materials has become central to studies of the territorial range and mobility strategies of Pleistocene foraging societies. Results have been fruitful but somehow repetitive. We will discuss the embedded procurement strategy, which presumes that raw material acquisition was part of other subsistence activities rather than an autonomous technological task. We argue that this theoretical assumption, when taken as dogma, restricts the role of technology in human history and also underestimates the way some lithic resources may have affected the organization of past hunter-gatherers. We base our discussion on the Upper Paleolithic (UP) from the Liguro-Provençal arc, with examples from the Proto-Aurignacian and the Epigravettian. Our regional record shows that in this context the movement of rocks over distances greater than 100 km was the norm rather than the exception. We argue that these long-distance procurements mirror technical needs that were oriented toward the selection of high-quality flints. We support the hypothesis that indirect procurement was an important component of regional socio-economic networks.


Aggiornamento 12 giugno


On the ecological context of the earliest human settlements in Europe: Resource availability and competition intensity in the carnivore guild of Barranco León-D and Fuente Nueva-3 (Orce, Baza Basin, SE Spain), di G. Rodríguez-Gómez et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 143, 1 July 2016, Pages 69–83

With an age of ~1.4 Ma, the Early Pleistocene archaeopaleontological sites of Barranco León and Fuente Nueva-3 (Orce, Baza Basin, SE Spain) provide the oldest evidence on human presence in Western Europe, including the finding of a deciduous tooth of Homo sp., huge lithic assemblages of Oldowan tradition and abundant cut-marks on large mammal bones. Here we use a mathematical approach based on Leslie matrices to quantify for the large mammal species preserved at the sites the biomass of primary consumers available, the distribution of meat resources among the secondary consumers and the competition intensity within the carnivore guild. The results obtained show a community of large mammals with a high diversity of secondary consumers that would satisfy slightly less than half of their dietary requirements under optimal ecological conditions. In the case of Homo sp., and considering that flesh resources were obtained through the scavenging of ungulate carcasses, the model indicates that the ecosystems of the basin could hold 10–14 individuals per 100 km2 during a year, a value that is close to the mean population density of recent hunter-gatherers. These density estimates decrease slightly when a mixed hunting-scavenging strategy is considered and even more in the case of a strict hunting behavior. In addition, the value of the species competition index obtained for Homo sp. is among the lowest of the carnivore guild. These results suggest that the hominin populations that inhabited Southeast Spain during the Early Pleistocene behaved more as opportunistic scavengers than as active predators.

  The Lithic Issues of the Gravettian, edited by G. Lengyel, J. Wilczyński, "Quaternary International", Volume 406, Part A, Pages 1-194 (25 June 2016)

- The Lithic Issues of the Gravettian, di G. Lengyel, J. Wilczyński

- Lithic technological adaptation within the Gravettian of the Iberian Atlantic region: Results from two case studies, di M. Bradtmöller, J. Marreiros, T. Pereira, N. Bicho

- Lithic cultural variability during the Gravettian in the Cantabrian Region and the western Pyrenees: State of the art, di A. Calvo, M. Bradtmöller, L. Martínez, Á. Arrizabalaga

- Open-air Gravettian lithic assemblages from Northeast Portugal: The Foz do Medal site (Sabor valley), di R. Gaspar, J. Ferreira, J. Carrondo, M. João Silva, F. J. García-Vadillo

- Technical diversity within the tanged-tool Gravettian: New results from Belgium, di O. Touzé, D. Flas, D. Pesesse

- Did prehistoric foragers behave in an economically irrational manner? Raw material availability and technological organisation at the early Gravettian site of Willendorf II (Austria), di L. Moreau, M. Brandl, P. R. Nigst

- Pavlov I: A large Gravettian site in space and time, di J. Svoboda, M. Novák, S. Sázelová, J. Demek

- The Gravettian lithic industry at Krems-Wachtberg (Austria), di R. Thomas, M. Brandl, U. Simon

- Gravettian lithics assemblages from Lubná (Bohemia), di P. Šída

- Variability of Late Gravettian lithic industries in southern Poland: A case study of the Kraków Spadzista and Jaksice II sites, di J. Wilczyński

- Gravettian and Epigravettian lithics in Slovakia, di L. Kaminská

- Long thin blade production and Late Gravettian hunter-gatherer mobility in Eastern Central Europe, di G. Lengyel, W. Chu

- The Late Gravettian and Szeleta Cave, northeast Hungary, di G. Lengyel, Z. Mester, P. Szolyák

- Mohelno – A terminal Last Glacial Maximum industry with microlithic tools made on carenoidal blanks, di P. Škrdla et alii


Not the brain alone: The nutritional potential of elephant heads in Paleolithic sites, di A. Agam, R. Barkai, "Quaternary International", Volume 406, Part B, 25 June 2016, Pages 218–226

The presence of elephants, and specifically of elephant head remains, is well demonstrated in many Paleolithic sites in Europe, Africa, and Asia. However, the possible mechanisms for the exploitation of this enormous body part are rarely discussed, and it is often suggested that elephants' heads were exploited specifically for the extraction and consumption of the brain. In this paper, we discuss the nutritional potential that lies within elephants' heads as implied by ethnographic and zoological literature, and present archaeological evidence from Paleolithic sites for the exploitation of proboscideans' heads. The data show that the prevailing view should be re-evaluated, and that the nutritional potential within the elephant's head extends far beyond the brain. We suggest that organs such as the temporal gland, the trunk, the tongue, the mandible and the skull itself were exploited routinely as an integral part of early humans' diet. The nutritional potential of the elephant head provides a parsimonious explanation for the investment early humans put into transporting and exploiting this specific body part at open-air sites but particularly at cave sites, and serves as a significant beacon in understanding Paleolithic human behavior in relation to proboscidean remains.


The use of elephant bones for making Acheulian handaxes: A fresh look at old bones, di K. Zutovski, R. Barkai, "Quaternary International", Volume 406, Part B, 25 June 2016, Pages 227–238

In this study, we examine Lower Paleolithic archaeological assemblages that contain bifaces (handaxes) made of elephant bones from Africa, Europe, and the Levant. The aims of this paper are to summarize the available evidence of elephant bone tools manufacturing in the Acheulian, and to analyze patterns of elephant bone tool industry compared to stone tool industries and other taxa bone industries. We will focus on the association between stone and elephant bone bifaces at several Acheulian sites, and will present a new perspective on the connections between bifaces made of the two materials at these sites. Based on the long-term interaction between humans and elephants in Paleolithic times, the human dependence on elephant meat and fat for survival, and many lines of resemblance between elephants and humans, we propose that Lower Paleolithic elephant bone bifaces were not manufactured solely for functional purposes, and suggest that there were some cosmological, cultural and symbolic properties reflected in the production of Acheulian bifaces from elephant bones.


The genetic history of Ice Age Europe, di Q. Fu et alii, Nature 534, 200–205 (09 June 2016)

Modern humans arrived in Europe ~45,000 years ago, but little is known about their genetic composition before the start of farming ~8,500 years ago. Here we analyse genome-wide data from 51 Eurasians from ~45,000–7,000 years ago. Over this time, the proportion of Neanderthal DNA decreased from 3–6% to around 2%, consistent with natural selection against Neanderthal variants in modern humans. Whereas there is no evidence of the earliest modern humans in Europe contributing to the genetic composition of present-day Europeans, all individuals between ~37,000 and ~14,000 years ago descended from a single founder population which forms part of the ancestry of present-day Europeans. An ~35,000-year-old individual from northwest Europe represents an early branch of this founder population which was then displaced across a broad region, before reappearing in southwest Europe at the height of the last Ice Age ~19,000 years ago. During the major warming period after ~14,000 years ago, a genetic component related to present-day Near Easterners became widespread in Europe. These results document how population turnover and migration have been recurring themes of European prehistory.


Homo floresiensis-like fossils from the early Middle Pleistocene of Flores, di G. D. van den Bergh et alii, Nature 534, 245–248 (09 June 2016)

The evolutionary origin of Homo floresiensis, a diminutive hominin species previously known only by skeletal remains from Liang Bua in western Flores, Indonesia, has been intensively debated. It is a matter of controversy whether this primitive form, dated to the Late Pleistocene, evolved from early Asian Homo erectus and represents a unique and striking case of evolutionary reversal in hominin body and brain size within an insular environment1, 2, 3, 4. The alternative hypothesis is that H. floresiensis derived from an older, smaller-brained member of our genus, such as Homo habilis, or perhaps even late Australopithecus, signalling a hitherto undocumented dispersal of hominins from Africa into eastern Asia by two million years ago (2 Ma)5, 6. Here we describe hominin fossils excavated in 2014 from an early Middle Pleistocene site (Mata Menge) in the So’a Basin of central Flores. These specimens comprise a mandible fragment and six isolated teeth belonging to at least three small-jawed and small-toothed individuals. Dating to ~0.7 Ma, these fossils now constitute the oldest hominin remains from Flores7. The Mata Menge mandible and teeth are similar in dimensions and morphological characteristics to those of H. floresiensis from Liang Bua. The exception is the mandibular first molar, which retains a more primitive condition. Notably, the Mata Menge mandible and molar are even smaller in size than those of the two existing H. floresiensis individuals from Liang Bua. The Mata Menge fossils are derived compared with Australopithecus and H. habilis, and so tend to support the view that H. floresiensis is a dwarfed descendent of early Asian H. erectus. Our findings suggest that hominins on Flores had acquired extremely small body size and other morphological traits specific to H. floresiensis at an unexpectedly early time.


Age and context of the oldest known hominin fossils from Flores, di A. Brumm et alii, Nature 534, 249–253 (09 June 2016)

Recent excavations at the early Middle Pleistocene site of Mata Menge in the So’a Basin of central Flores, Indonesia, have yielded hominin fossils1 attributed to a population ancestral to Late Pleistocene Homo floresiensis2. Here we describe the age and context of the Mata Menge hominin specimens and associated archaeological findings. The fluvial sandstone layer from which the in situ fossils were excavated in 2014 was deposited in a small valley stream around 700 thousand years ago, as indicated by 40Ar/39Ar and fission track dates on stratigraphically bracketing volcanic ash and pyroclastic density current deposits, in combination with coupled uranium-series and electron spin resonance dating of fossil teeth. Palaeoenvironmental data indicate a relatively dry climate in the So’a Basin during the early Middle Pleistocene, while various lines of evidence suggest the hominins inhabited a savannah-like open grassland habitat with a wetland component. The hominin fossils occur alongside the remains of an insular fauna and a simple stone technology that is markedly similar to that associated with Late Pleistocene H. floresiensis.

  Ha 700.000 anni l'antenato dell'Hobbit di Flores, 08 giugno 2016

L'Isola di Flores, in Indonesia, era abitata già un milione di anni fa da piccoli ominidi, lontani antenati di Homo floresiensis, il minuscolo "hobbit" scoperto nel 2003. Nuove analisi dei resti di tre individui ritrovati nel sito di Mata Menge ne hanno infatti stabilito l'età a 700.000 anni fa, mentre i reperti litici documentano una presenza sull'isola di altri ominidi precedente di circa 300.000 anni. La specie, ancora non ben identificata dal punto di vista tassonomico, si sarebbe evoluta da una popolazione di Homo erectus. (...)

· Hobbit’ relatives found after ten-year hunt, di E. Callaway, "Nature-news", 08 June 2016

· Tiny jaw reveals dawn of the hobbit, di E. Culotta, "Science-news", Jun. 8, 2016

· Fossils Hint at Long-Sought Ancestor of Weirdest Human Species, di K. Wong, "Scientific American", June 9, 2016

  A Critical Evaluation of the Down Syndrome Diagnosis for LB1, Type Specimen of Homo floresiensis, di K. L. Baab et alii, June 8, 2016 - open access -

The Liang Bua hominins from Flores, Indonesia, have been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate since their initial description and classification in 2004. These remains have been assigned to a new species, Homo floresiensis, with the partial skeleton LB1 as the type specimen. The Liang Bua hominins are notable for their short stature, small endocranial volume, and many features that appear phylogenetically primitive relative to modern humans, despite their late Pleistocene age. Recently, some workers suggested that the remains represent members of a small-bodied island population of modern Austro-Melanesian humans, with LB1 exhibiting clinical signs of Down syndrome. Many classic Down syndrome signs are soft tissue features that could not be assessed in skeletal remains. Moreover, a definitive diagnosis of Down syndrome can only be made by genetic analysis as the phenotypes associated with Down syndrome are variable. Most features that contribute to the Down syndrome phenotype are not restricted to Down syndrome but are seen in other chromosomal disorders and in the general population. Nevertheless, we re-evaluated the presence of those phenotypic features used to support this classification by comparing LB1 to samples of modern humans diagnosed with Down syndrome and euploid modern humans using comparative morphometric analyses. We present new data regarding neurocranial, brain, and symphyseal shape in Down syndrome, additional estimates of stature for LB1, and analyses of inter- and intralimb proportions. The presence of cranial sinuses is addressed using CT images of LB1. We found minimal congruence between the LB1 phenotype and clinical descriptions of Down syndrome. We present important differences between the phenotypes of LB1 and individuals with Down syndrome, and quantitative data that characterize LB1 as an outlier compared with Down syndrome and non-Down syndrome groups. Homo floresiensis remains a phenotypically unique, valid species with its roots in Plio-Pleistocene Homo taxa. (...)

  Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene Migratory Behavior of Ungulates Using Isotopic Analysis of Tooth Enamel and Its Effects on Forager Mobility, di S. E. Pilaar Birch, P. T. Miracle, R. E. Stevens, T. C. O’Connell, June 8, 2016, - open access -

Zooarchaeological and paleoecological investigations have traditionally been unable to reconstruct the ethology of herd animals, which likely had a significant influence on the mobility and subsistence strategies of prehistoric humans. In this paper, we reconstruct the migratory behavior of red deer (Cervus elaphus) and caprids at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in the northeastern Adriatic region using stable oxygen isotope analysis of tooth enamel. The data show a significant change in δ18O values from the Pleistocene into the Holocene, as well as isotopic variation between taxa, the case study sites, and through time. We then discuss the implications of seasonal faunal availability as determining factors in human mobility patterns. (...)


Neonatal postcrania from Mezmaiskaya, Russia, and Le Moustier, France, and the development of Neandertal body form, di Timothy D. Weaver et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 7, 2016, vol. 113, no. 23, pp. 6472–6477

Neandertal and modern human adults differ in skeletal features of the cranium and postcranium, and it is clear that many of the cranial differences—although not all of them—are already present at the time of birth. We know less, however, about the developmental origins of the postcranial differences. Here, we address this deficiency with morphometric analyses of the postcrania of the two most complete Neandertal neonates—Mezmaiskaya 1 (from Russia) and Le Moustier 2 (from France)—and a recent human sample. We find that neonatal Neandertals already appear to possess the wide body, long pubis, and robust long bones of adult Neandertals. Taken together, current evidence indicates that skeletal differences between Neandertals and modern humans are largely established by the time of birth.


The Pliocene hominin diversity conundrum: Do more fossils mean less clarity?, di Y. Haile-Selassie, S. M. Melillo, D. F. Su, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 7, 2016, vol. 113, no. 23, pp. 6364–6371 - open access -

Recent discoveries of multiple middle Pliocene hominins have raised the possibility that early hominins were as speciose as later hominins. However, debates continue to arise around the validity of most of these new taxa, largely based on poor preservation of holotype specimens, small sample size, or the lack of evidence for ecological diversity. A closer look at the currently available fossil evidence from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Chad indicate that Australopithecus afarensis was not the only hominin species during the middle Pliocene, and that there were other species clearly distinguishable from it by their locomotor adaptation and diet. Although there is no doubt that the presence of multiple species during the middle Pliocene opens new windows into our evolutionary past, it also complicates our understanding of early hominin taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships. (...)


Neandertals revised, di W. Roebroeks, M. Soressi, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 7, 2016, vol. 113, no. 23, pp. 6372–6379 - open access -

The last decade has seen a significant growth of our knowledge of the Neandertals, a population of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers who lived in (western) Eurasia between ~400,000 and 40,000 y ago. Starting from a source population deep in the Middle Pleistocene, the hundreds of thousands of years of relative separation between African and Eurasian groups led to the emergence of different phenotypes in Late Pleistocene Europe and Africa. Both recently obtained genetic evidence and archeological data show that the biological and cultural gaps between these populations were probably smaller than previously thought. These data, reviewed here, falsify inferences to the effect that, compared with their near-modern contemporaries in Africa, Neandertals were outliers in terms of behavioral complexity. It is only around 40,000 y ago, tens of thousands of years after anatomically modern humans first left Africa and thousands of years after documented interbreeding between modern humans, Neandertals and Denisovans, that we see major changes in the archeological record, from western Eurasia to Southeast Asia, e.g., the emergence of representational imagery and the colonization of arctic areas and of greater Australia (Sahul). (...)


Ancient DNA and human history, di M. Slatkin, F. Racimo, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 7, 2016, vol. 113, no. 23, pp. 6380–6387  - open access -

We review studies of genomic data obtained by sequencing hominin fossils with particular emphasis on the unique information that ancient DNA (aDNA) can provide about the demographic history of humans and our closest relatives. We concentrate on nuclear genomic sequences that have been published in the past few years. In many cases, particularly in the Arctic, the Americas, and Europe, aDNA has revealed historical demographic patterns in a way that could not be resolved by analyzing present-day genomes alone. Ancient DNA from archaic hominins has revealed a rich history of admixture between early modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans, and has allowed us to disentangle complex selective processes. Information from aDNA studies is nowhere near saturation, and we believe that future aDNA sequences will continue to change our understanding of hominin history. (...)


Neogene biomarker record of vegetation change in eastern Africa, di K. T. Uno, P. J. Polissar, K. E. Jackson, P. B. deMenocal, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 7, 2016, vol. 113, no. 23, pp. 6355–6363 - open access -

The evolution of C4 grassland ecosystems in eastern Africa has been intensely studied because of the potential influence of vegetation on mammalian evolution, including that of our own lineage, hominins. Although a handful of sparse vegetation records exists from middle and early Miocene terrestrial fossil sites, there is no comprehensive record of vegetation through the Neogene. Here we present a vegetation record spanning the Neogene and Quaternary Periods that documents the appearance and subsequent expansion of C4 grasslands in eastern Africa. Carbon isotope ratios from terrestrial plant wax biomarkers deposited in marine sediments indicate constant C3 vegetation from ∼24 Ma to 10 Ma, when C4 grasses first appeared. From this time forward, C4 vegetation increases monotonically to present, with a coherent signal between marine core sites located in the Somali Basin and the Red Sea. The response of mammalian herbivores to the appearance of C4 grasses at 10 Ma is immediate, as evidenced from existing records of mammalian diets from isotopic analyses of tooth enamel. The expansion of C4 vegetation in eastern Africa is broadly mirrored by increasing proportions of C4-based foods in hominin diets, beginning at 3.8 Ma in Australopithecus and, slightly later, Kenyanthropus. This continues into the late Pleistocene in Paranthropus, whereas Homo maintains a flexible diet. The biomarker vegetation record suggests the increase in open, C4 grassland ecosystems over the last 10 Ma may have operated as a selection pressure for traits and behaviors in Homo such as bipedalism, flexible diets, and complex social structure. (...)

  Inbred Neanderthals left humans a genetic burden, 6-JUN-2016

The Neanderthal genome included harmful mutations that made the hominids around 40% less reproductively fit than modern humans, according to estimates published in the latest issue of the journal GENETICS. Non-African humans inherited some of this genetic burden when they interbred with Neanderthals, though much of it has been lost over time. The results suggest that these harmful gene variants continue to reduce the fitness of some populations today. The study also has implications for management of endangered species. "Neanderthals are fascinating to geneticists because they provide an opportunity to study what happens when two groups of humans evolve independently for a long time--and then come back together," says study leader Kelley Harris, of Stanford University. "Our results suggest that inheriting Neanderthal DNA came at a cost." Previous studies of DNA extracted from Neanderthal remains revealed that these Eurasian hominids were much more inbred and less genetically diverse than modern humans. For thousands of years, the Neanderthal population size remained small, and mating among close relatives seems to have been common. (...)

  The African Quaternary: environments, ecology and humans Inaugural AFQUA conference, edited by B. Chase, K. Kirsten, L. Quick, "Quaternary International", Volume 404, Part B, Pages 1-214 (6 June 2016)

  Special Section on Innovation in the production and use of equipment in hard animal materials: Origins and consequences in prehistoric societies, from the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic, edited by: A. Averbouh, J. M. Tejero, N. Goutas, M. Christensen, "Quaternary International", Volume 403, Pages 1-250 (1 June 2016)

- Processing technology for the objects of mobile art in the Upper Paleolithic of Siberia (the Malta site), di L. Lbova, P. Volkov

- Bone and antler working at Grotta Paglicci (Rignano Garganico, Foggia, southern Italy), di V. Borgia, F. Boschin, A. Ronchitelli

- F-content variation in mammoth ivory from Aurignacian contexts: Preservation, alteration, and implications for ivory-procurement strategies, di C. Heckel, K. Müller, R. White, S. Wolf, N.J. Conard, C. Normand, H. Floss, I. Reiche

- The incised bone points from the Early Aurignacian of Potočka zijalka (Slovenia), hafting system or ornament? di C. Jéquier

- Rod debitage by extraction: An overview of different cases identified for the Upper Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic in Europe, di Aline Averbouh, di N. Goutas, B. Marquebielle

- Of horse metapodials debitage during the Upper Magdalenian in Europe: An overview of techniques, methods and operational sequences, di O. Bignon-Lau, M. Lázničková-Galetová

- Osseous technology as a reflection of chronological, economic and sociological aspects of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers: Examples from key Aurignacian and Gravettian sites in South-West Europe, di N. Goutas, J. M. Tejero

- The osseous industry from Manot Cave (Western Galilee, Israel): Technical and conceptual behaviours of bone and antler exploitation in the Levantine Aurignacian, di J. M. Tejero, R. Yeshurun, O. Barzilai, M. Goder-Goldberger, I. Hershkovitz, R. Lavi, N. Schneller-Pels, O. Marder

- A newly discovered antler flint-knapping hammer and the question of their rarity in the Palaeolithic archaeological record: Reality or bias?, di S. M. Bello, G. Delbarre, I. De Groote, S. A. Parfitt

- Debitage by fracturing in the osseous industry of Cova del Parpalló (Gandía-Valencia, Spain): A preliminary study, di M. Borao Álvarez, V. Villaverde Bonilla, J. E. A. Tortosa

  Comparative analysis of dentognathic pathologies in the Dmanisi mandibles, di A. Margvelashvili et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 160, Issue 2, pages 229–253, June 2016

Due to the scarcity of the fossil record, in vivo changes in the dentognathic system of early Homo are typically documented at the level of individual fossil specimens, and it remains difficult to draw population-level inferences about dietary habits, diet-related activities and lifestyle from individual patterns of dentognathic alterations. The Plio-Pleistocene hominin sample from Dmanisi (Georgia), dated to 1.77 million years ago, offers a unique opportunity to study in vivo changes in the dentognathic system of individuals belonging to a single paleodeme of early Homo.
We analyze dentognathic pathologies in the Dmanisi sample, and in comparative samples of modern Australian and Greenlander hunter-gatherer populations, applying clinical protocols of dentognathic diagnostics.
The Dmanisi hominins exhibit a similarly wide diversity and similar incidence of dentognathic pathologies as the modern human hunter-gatherer population samples investigated here. Dmanisi differs from the modern population samples in several respects: At young age tooth wear is already advanced, and pathologies are more prevalent. At old age, hypercementosis is substantial.
Results indicate that dentognathic pathologies and disease trajectories are largely similar in early Homo and modern humans, but that the disease load was higher in early Homo, probably as an effect of higher overall stress on the dentognathic system. Am J Phys Anthropol 160:229–253, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

  Expanding the geography of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition: Foradada Cave (Calafell, Spain), a new site on the Iberian Mediterranean coastline,
di J. I. Morales et alii, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 351, June 2016

The accidental discovery of the remains of a third-millennium BC collective burial in the cave led to the launch of an archaeological project in 1997. To date, 12 non-consecutive field seasons have been carried out within the main chamber of the system: a small space of 10–12m2. During this time, including the most recent 2015 field season, a complex 3m-thick stratigraphy has been uncovered. This sequence displays a succession of evidence for human use of the cave for funerary practices during the third millennium and Early Neolithic (layers IA and IB), and a succession of very brief human activities during the Late Magdalenian (layer II) and between, at least, Heinrich events three and four. The earliest evidence of human frequentation has been documented in the litho-stratigraphic layers III-n, III and IV (top to base). Layer III-n has been only partially preserved in a small sector of the cave with excavations of about 2m2. A perforated and ochred shell of Homalopoma sanguineum provides a first approximation of the layer chronology to 30–31 kyr cal BP. (...)




The Middle Palaeolithic/Middle Stone Age site of Al Jamrab in central Sudan, di A. Zerboni, D. Usai, M. Meyer,  "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 351, June 2016

Sudan represents a key region for the investigation of important issues related to human evolution, including the dispersal of Homo out of Africa (e.g. Van Peer 1998). Few investigations in this country, however, have focused specifically on the Palaeolithic period (although see McDermott et al. 1996; Van Peer et al. 2003; Rose 2004; Abbate et al. 2010). In central Sudan, the Palaeolithic record is restricted mainly to surface evidence (Salvatori et al. 2014; Carlson 2015), but a preliminary exploration at Al Jamrab has revealed an in situ stratified Middle Palaeolithic site (Figure 1). The site has yielded handaxes associated with single or opposed platform core exploitation technology, as well as rare evidence of Levallois elements. (...)

  Combustion at the late Early Pleistocene site of Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Murcia, Spain), di M.J. Walker et alii, "Antiquity", Volume 90, Issue 351, June 2016, pp 571-589

Control of fire was a hallmark of developing human cognition and an essential technology for the colonisation of cooler latitudes. In Europe, the earliest evidence comes from recent work at the site of Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar in south-eastern Spain. Charred and calcined bone and thermally altered chert were recovered from a deep, 0.8-million-year-old sedimentary deposit. A combination of analyses indicated that these had been heated to 400–600°C, compatible with burning. Inspection of the sediment and hydroxyapatite also suggests combustion and degradation of the bone. The results provide new insight into Early Palaeolithic use of fire and its significance for human evolution.

  A spotted hyaena den in the Middle Palaeolithic of Grotta Paglicci (Gargano promontory, Apulia, Southern Italy), di J. Crezzini, P. Boscato, S. Ricci, A. Ronchitelli, V. Spagnolo, F. Boschin, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", June 2016, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 227-240

The Palaeolithic sequence of Grotta Paglicci (Gargano promontory, Apulia, Southern Italy) is one of the most important in the Mediterranean area: It comprises the whole Upper Palaeolithic cultural sequence known for the region, as well as Early Middle Palaeolithic and Lower Palaeolithic levels. These earlier phases are best represented in a collapsed room located outside the present-day cave (the so called “external rock shelter”). In this area, a new excavation, started in 2004, brought to light Middle Palaeolithic animal remains associated with evidence of spotted hyaena (SU 64 and 53). The spatial distribution analysis of remains from SU 53 revealed the presence of a bone accumulation area and a wider dispersal of hyaena coprolites. Three main ungulate species (aurochs, fallow deer and red deer) as well as carnivores (spotted hyaena, wolf, fox, wild cat and lynx) and lagomorphs have been identified. The majority of aurochs remains are located in the main accumulation; among these specimens, a complete metatarsal connected with three tarsal bones has been found; a talus and a complete tibia, probably belonging to the same limb, have also been identified. The multidisciplinary study carried out in this paper highlights a specific bone accumulation and scattering pattern in a spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) den. In addition, taphonomy of lagomorph remains indicates the presence of other depositional agents.


Increasing Behavioral Flexibility? An Integrative Macro-Scale Approach to Understanding the Middle Stone Age of Southern Africa, di A. W. Kandel et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", June 2016, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 623-668

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) of southern Africa represents a period during which anatomically modern humans adopted a series of diverse cultural innovations. Researchers generally attribute these behavioral changes to environmental, neurological, or demographic causes, but none of these alone offers a satisfactory explanation. Even as patterns at site level come into focus, large-scale trends in cultural expansions remain poorly understood. This paper presents different ways to view diachronic datasets from localities in southern Africa and specifically tests hypotheses of environmental and cultural causality. We employ an array of analyses in an attempt to understand large-scale variability observed during the MSA. We evaluated the diversity of stone tool assemblages to model site use, examined transport distances of lithic raw materials to understand patterns of movement, assessed the cultural capacities required to manufacture and use different sets of tools, applied stochastic models to examine the geographic distribution of sites, and reconstructed biome classes and climatic constraints. Our large-scale analysis allowed the research team to integrate different types of information and examine diachronic trends during the MSA. Based on our results, the range of cultural capacity expanded during the MSA. We define cultural capacity as the behavioral potential of a group expressed through the problem-solution distance required to manufacture and use tools. Our dataset also indicates that the actual behavior exhibited by MSA people, their cultural performance as expressed in the archaeological record, is not equivalent to their cultural capacity. Instead we observe that the main signature of the southern African MSA is its overall variability, as demonstrated by changing sets of cultural performances. Finally, at the scale of resolution considered here, our results suggest that climate is not the most significant factor driving human activities during the MSA. Instead, we postulate that behavioral flexibility itself became the key adaptation.


Can Lithic Attribute Analyses Identify Discrete Reduction Trajectories? A Quantitative Study Using Refitted Lithic Sets, di E. M. L. Scerri, B. Gravina, J. Blinkhorn, A. Delagnes, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", June 2016, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 669-691

Quantitative, attribute-based analyses of stone tools (lithics) have been frequently used to facilitate large-scale comparative studies, attempt to mitigate problems of assemblage completeness and address interpretations of the co-occurrence of unrelated technological processes. However, a major barrier to the widespread acceptance of such methods has been the lack of quantified experiments that can be externally validated by theoretically distinct approaches in order to guide analysis and confidence in results. Given that quantitative, attribute-based studies now underpin several major interpretations of the archaeological record, the requirement to test the accuracy of such methods has become critical. In this paper, we test the utility of 31 commonly used flake attribute measurements for identifying discrete reduction trajectories through three refitted lithic sets from the Middle Palaeolithic open-air site of Le Pucheuil, in northern France. The experiment had three aims: (1) to determine which, if any, attribute measurements could be used to separate individual refitted sets, (2) to determine whether variability inherent in the assemblage was primarily driven by different reduction trajectories, as represented by the refitted sets, or other factors, and (3) to determine which multivariate tests were most suitable for these analyses. In order to test the sensitivity of the sample, we ran all analyses twice, the first time with all the available lithics pertaining to each refitted set and the second time with randomly generated 75 % subsamples of each set. All results revealed the consistent accuracy of 16 attribute measurements in quadratic and linear discriminant analyses, principal component analyses and dissimilarity matrices. These results therefore provide the first quantified attribute formula for comparative analyses of Levallois reduction methods and a basis from which further experiments testing core and retouch attributes may be conducted.


Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc (Ardèche) : évolution morphosédimentaire de l’entrée. Implication sur les occupations et sur la conservation des vestiges, di É. Debard, C. Ferrier, B. Kervazo, vol. 27/1 | 2016 : Volume 27 Numéro 1

The exceptional preservation of the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave, world famous for its paintings, is partly due to the early closure of the entrance. This study shows that the phenomena does not only result of the collapse of the cliff overhanging, but occurs in a long morphological and sedimentological evolution. Filling up begins with cryoclastic deposits, spreading inside the cavity by solifluction. Among them, the lower scree contains a layer with aurignacian charcoals. Then a polyphase collapse of the cliff obstructs definitively the cave about 21.5 ± 1 ka. Sedimentation then result of run off, building an alluvial fan in the Brunel Room, and, since the Glacial – Post-Glacial transition, carbonated deposits which superimposed on all facies. During the Aurignacian, humans and animals enter in the cavity through a wide open access, whereas during the Gravettian, they enter only through the eastern part due to the partial filling of the entrance. Once the cave closed, palaeolihic floors located in the Wallows Room were only little disturbed and conserved their archaeological remains on their surface, while the ones in the Brunel Room were covered by alluvium.

  Middle Pleistocene sea-crossings in the eastern Mediterranean?, di D. Howitt-Marshall, C. Runnels, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 42, June 2016, Pages 140–153

Lower and Middle Palaeolithic artifacts on Greek islands separated from the mainland in the Middle and Upper Pleistocene may be proxy evidence for maritime activity in the eastern Mediterranean. Four hypotheses are connected with this topic. The first is the presence of archaic hominins on the islands in the Palaeolithic, and the second is that some of the islands were separated from the mainland when hominins reached them. A third hypothesis is that archaic hominin technological and cognitive capabilities were sufficient for the fabrication of watercraft. Finally, the required wayfinding skills for open sea-crossings were within the purview of early humans. Our review of the archaeological, experimental, ethno-historical, and theoretical evidence leads us to conclude that there is no a priori reason to reject the first two hypotheses in the absence of more targeted archaeological surveys on the islands, and thus the latter two hypotheses should be tested by future research.


Venturing out safely: The biogeography of Homo erectus dispersal out of Africa, di F. Carotenuto, N. Tsikaridze, L. Rook, D. Lordkipanidze, L. Longo, S. Condemi, P. Raia, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 95, June 2016, Pages 1–12

The dispersal of Homo erectus out of Africa at some 1.9 million years ago is one of the most important, crucial, and yet controversial events in human evolution. Current opinions about this episode expose the contrast between those who see H. erectus as a highly social, cooperative species seeking out new ecological opportunities to exploit, and those preferring a passive, climate driven explanation for such an event. By using geostatistics techniques and probabilistic models, we characterised the ecological context of H. erectus dispersal, from its East African origin to the colonization of Eurasia, taking into account both the presence of other large mammals and the physical characteristics of the landscape as potential factors. Our model indicated that H. erectus followed almost passively the large herbivore fauna during its dispersal. In Africa, the dispersal was statistically associated with the presence of large freshwater bodies (Rift Valley Lakes). In Eurasia, the presence of H. erectus was associated with the occurrence of geological outcrops likely yielding unconsolidated flint. During the early phase of dispersal, our model indicated that H. erectus actively avoided areas densely populated by large carnivores. This pattern weakened as H. erectus dispersed over Europe, possibly because of the decreasing presence of carnivores there plus the later acquisition of Acheulean technology. During this later phase, H. erectus was associated with limestone and shaley marl, and seems to have been selecting for high-elevation sites. While our results do not directly contradict the idea that H. erectus may have been an active hunter, they clearly point to the fact that predator avoidance may have conditioned its long-distance diffusion as it moved outside Africa. The modelled dispersal route suggests that H. erectus remained preferentially associated with low/middle latitude (i.e., comparatively warm) sites throughout its colonization history.


The Châtelperronian conundrum: Blade and bladelet lithic technologies from Quinçay, France, di M. Roussel, M. Soressi, J. J. Hublin, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 95, June 2016, Pages 13–32

The discovery of an almost complete Neanderthal skeleton in a Châtelperronian context at Saint-Césaire 35 years ago changed our perspective on the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe. Since then, the Châtelperronian has generally been considered a “transitional” industry rather than an Upper or a Middle Paleolithic industry because of its chronological position, and the association of Neanderthal remains with blades, bone tools and personal ornaments. Several competing hypotheses have been proposed to explain the association between Neanderthals and these types of artefacts including post-depositional mixing, acculturation from anatomically modern human populations, or an independent technological evolution by local Neanderthal populations. Quinçay Cave is the only Châtelperronian site where personal ornaments have been found that does not contain an overlying Upper Paleolithic layer. This means that the post-depositional mixing of later elements into the Châtelperronian may not be used as an explanation for the presence of these materials. We report here on a detailed technological analysis of lithic artefacts from the three Châtelperronian layers at Quinçay Cave. We compare our results with the technology of Mousterian blade industries dating to OIS (oxygen isotope stage) 5, the Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition type B, and the Proto-Aurignacian. We show that the Châtelperronian is sufficiently divergent from the Middle Paleolithic to be classified as a fully Upper Paleolithic industry, with a focus on blade and bladelet production. We also show that the Quinçay Châtelperronian includes retouched bladelets that resemble those found in the Proto-Aurignacian, but were produced in a different manner. We argue that a technological convergence cannot account for these behaviors, since the specific type of retouched bladelet associated with the Châtelperronian was also regularly used by Proto-Aurignacian of neighboring regions. We suggest that the idea of retouched bladelets may have diffused from the northern Proto-Aurignacian to the Quinçay Châtelperronian and that the transmission of the morphology of this desired end-product without the transmission of its manufacturing process may point toward a low degree of social intimacy between these groups. We conclude that the apparent paradox of the Châtelperronian is the result of the complexity of interaction between Neanderthal and anatomically modern human groups in western Europe between 45,000 and 40,000 years ago.


Adult Neandertal clavicles from the El Sidrón site (Asturias, Spain) in the context of Homo pectoral girdle evolution, di A. Rosas et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 95, June 2016, Pages 55–67

We undertook a three-dimensional geometric morphometric (3DGM) analysis on 12 new Neandertal clavicle specimens from the El Sidrón site (Spain), dated to 49,000 years ago. The 3DGM methods were applied in a comparative framework in order to improve our understanding of trait polarity in features related to Homo pectoral girdle evolution, using other Neandertals, Homo sapiens, Pan, ATD6-50 (Homo antecessor), and KNM-WT 15000 (Homo ergaster/erectus) in the reference collection. Twenty-nine homologous landmarks were measured for each clavicle. Variation and morphological similarities were assessed through principal component analysis, conducted separately for the complete clavicle and the diaphysis. On average, Neandertal clavicles had significantly larger muscular entheses, double dorsal curvature, clavicle torsion, and cranial orientation of the acromial end than non-Neandertal clavicles; the El Sidrón clavicles fit this pattern. Variation within the samples was large, with extensive overlap between Homo species; only chimpanzee specimens clearly differed from the other specimens in morphometric terms. Taken together, our morphometric analyses are consistent with the following phylogenetic sequence. The primitive condition of the clavicle is manifest in the cranial orientation of both the acromial and sternal ends. The derived condition expressed in the H. sapiens + Neandertal clade is defined by caudal rotation of both the sternal and acromial ends, but with variation in the number of acromia remaining in a certain cranial orientation. Finally, the autapomorphic Neandertal condition is defined by secondarily acquired primitive cranial re-orientation of the acromial end, which varies from individual to individual. These results suggest that the pace of phylogenetic change in the pectoral girdle does not seem to follow that of other postcranial skeletal features.


The age of three Middle Palaeolithic sites: Single-grain optically stimulated luminescence chronologies for Pech de l'Azé I, II and IV in France, di Z. Jacobs et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 95, June 2016, Pages 80–103

Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) measurements were made on individual, sand-sized grains of quartz from Middle Palaeolithic deposits at three sites (Pech de l'Azé I, II and IV) located close to one another in the Dordogne region of southwest France. We were able to calculate OSL ages for 69 samples collected from these three sites. These ages reveal periods of occupation between about 180 and 50 thousand years ago. Our single-grain OSL chronologies largely support previous age estimates obtained by thermoluminescence dating of burnt flints at Pech IV, electron spin resonance dating of tooth enamel at Pech I, II and IV and radiocarbon dating of bone at Pech I and IV, but provide a more complete picture due to the ubiquitous presence of sand-sized quartz grains used in OSL dating. These complete chronologies for the three sites have allowed us to compare the single-grain ages for similar lithic assemblages among the three sites, to test the correlations among them previously proposed by Bordes in the 1970s, and to construct our own correlative chronological framework for the three sites. This shows that similar lithic assemblages occur at around the same time, and that where a lithic assemblage is unique to one or found at two of the Pech sites, there are no deposits of chronologically equivalent age at the other Pech site(s). We interpret this to mean that, at least for these Pech de l'Azé sites, the Mousterian variants show temporal ordering. Whether or not this conclusion applies to the wider region and beyond, the hypothesis that Mousterian industrial variation is temporally ordered cannot be refuted at this time.

  The technology of the earliest European cave paintings: El Castillo Cave, Spain, di F. d'Errico et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 70, June 2016, Pages 48–65

The red disks from El Castillo Cave are among the earliest known cave paintings. Here, we combine the morphometric and technological study of red disks from two areas located at the end of the cave with the microscopic, elemental, and mineralogical analysis of the pigment and compare the results obtained with observations derived from experimental replication. Ergonomic constraints imply that a number of disks were made by adults, and the differences in pigment texture and composition suggest that they correspond to an accumulation through time of panels made by different persons who shared neither the same technical know-how nor, very possibly, the same symbolic system.


Back to the future: Space-age exploration for pre-historic bones, 30-MAY-2016

The extremely difficult conditions in which University of the Witwatersrand's (Wits) Professor Lee Berger's Rising Star team was forced to work, gave rise to the use of space-age technology to map the Dinaledi chamber and Rising Star Cave, in which over 1500 Homo naledi fossils were found. Ashley Kruger, a PhD candidate in Palaeoanthropology at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits, who was part of Berger's initial Rising Star Expedition team, roped in the use of high-tech laser scanning, photogrammetry and 3D mapping technology to bring high resolution digital images to Berger and team members on an almost real-time basis in order to make vital decisions regarding the underground excavations. "This is the first time ever, where multiple digital data imaging collection has been used on such a sale, during a hominin excavation," says Kruger. In 2013, after the discovery of the hominin assemblage, Berger put a call out for "skinny" explorers to join him on the expedition to excavate what became known as the Dinaledi Chamber, a cave system near the Sterkfontein Caves, about 40km North West of Johannesburg in South Africa. An all-female team of six "underground astronauts" were selected to undertake the underground excavation, due to the challenge of navigating a 12 meter vertical Chute, and passing through an 18 centimeter gap. (...)

  Nell'arte rupestre europea le origini della scrittura, di H. Pringle, 30 maggio 2016

Per decenni, i ricercatori hanno studiato le immagini spettacolari di cavalli al galoppo e bisonti in corsa lasciati da artisti dell'Era glaciale oltre 10.000 anni fa sulle pareti di grotte europee come quella di Lascaux, prestando meno attenzione ai semplici disegni geometrici che le accompagnavano. Nessuno è mai riuscito a decifrarli, quindi quei segni sono stati finora relegati al ruolo di mere decorazioni. Ora però la paleoantropologa Genevieve von Petzinger, studentessa di dottorato alla University of Victoria in Canada nonché National Geographic Emerging Explorer, li ha esaminati in uno studio che si spinge fino a ipotizzare il loro possibile scopo. In un libro di prossima uscita intitolato The First Signs, von Petzinger spiega che gli europei dell'Era glaciale, nel corso di 30.000 anni, avrebbero fatto ricorso a 32 diversi tipi di simboli geometrici con "l'intenzione di trasmettere informazioni": un primo passo nel lungo viaggio dell'umanità verso la scrittura. (...)


Migration back to Africa took place during the Paleolithic, 26-MAY-2016

The Palaeogenomics study conducted by the Human Evolutionary Biology group of the Faculty of Science and Technology, led by Concepción de la Rua, in collaboration with researchers in Sweden, the Netherlands and Romania, has made it possible to retrieve the complete sequence of the mitogenome of the Pestera Muierii woman(PM1)using two teeth. This mitochondrial genome corresponds to the now disappeared U6 basal lineage, and it is from this lineage that the U6 lineages, now existing mainly in the populations of the north of Africa, descend from. (...)


The Magdalenian sequence at Coímbre cave (Asturias, Northern Iberian Peninsula): Adaptive strategies of hunter–gatherer groups in montane environments, di D. Álvarez-Alonso, J. Yravedra, J. F. Jordá Pardo, A. Arrizabalaga, "Quaternary International", Volume 402, 26 May 2016, Pages 100–111

The cave of Coímbre contains an important archaeological deposit divided into two different zones, of which most of the excavations carried out to date have taken place in Zone B. Coímbre B displays a full and very interesting Magdalenian sequence (with Lower, Middle and Upper Magdalenian levels), in addition to a Gravettian layer. The excavations were performed from 2008 to 2012. The hunter–gatherers who lived in Coímbre in the Upper Palaeolithic made use of several adaptation strategies allowing them to exploit all the abiotic and animal resources the environment afforded them. In this way, the faunal assemblage includes remains of ibex and chamois, associated with the mountains and crags in the immediate surroundings of the site, and also red deer, roe deer, aurochs and horses, indicating the exploitation of the animal resources living in the Besnes valley, at the foot of Sierra del Cuera. When the faunal remains in the Magdalenian levels, and those in the Gravettian layer, are analysed in greater detail, significant differences indicate a differential use of the terrain. Thus, in the Gravettian, the preferential hunting of aurochs and red deer suggests the valleys in the vicinity were exploited while steeper and more mountainous areas were visited less. In contrast, in the Magdalenian, the most common faunal remains belong to ibex, which was the most hunted species. Together with ibex, chamois is also very common, whereas bovids are found in very small numbers in the Magdalenian levels. These patterns reflect a change in the hunting behaviour of the occupants of the cave, in which the hunting of valley resources was transformed into a more intensive use of animals in more rugged areas, such as ibex and chamois. This paper presents the preliminary results of the study of Magdalenian occupations in Coímbre, following the excavations in Zone B, one of the most important places of Magdalenian human activities in Western Cantabria (northern Iberia).


Missing elements in the cultural understanding of the hydrothermal landscape of the Carpathians in the Middle Paleolithic, di M. Cieśla, P. Valde-Nowak, "Quaternary International", Volume 402, 26 May 2016, Pages 112–116

As soon as in 1950′, when the excavations at Middle Paleolithic sites in Slovakia such as Ganovce, Horka-Ondrej, Beharovce or Bešenova had begun, the correlation between archeological inventories connected with microlithic Taubachian and presence of travertine (sedimentary rock, formation of which in many cases is related to hydrothermal activity) was observed. Connection between two phenomena, cultural and geological, has never played a major role in the discussion of Neanderthal presence in Central Europe, as many sites outside of the Carpathians have not displayed any connection with travertine or thermal waters. Nevertheless, new analysis of data leads to the conclusion, that in light of some new evidence, this problem should be discussed again, especially in context of layer XIX of Obłazowa Cave in Polish Carpathians and layer 11 of the Kůlna Cave in Moravia.


Neanderthals built cave structures — and no one knows why, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 25 May 2016

Neanderthals built one of the world’s oldest constructions — 176,000-year-old semicircular walls of stalagmites in the bowels of a cave in southwest France. The walls are currently the best evidence that Neanderthals built substantial structures and ventured deep into caves, but researchers are wary of concluding much more. “The big question is why they made it,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, a palaeoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany who was not involved in the study, which is published online in Nature on 25 May. “Some people will come up with interpretations of ritual or religion or symbolism. Why not? But how to prove it?” Speleologists first discovered the structures in Bruniquel Cave in the early 1990s. They are located about a third of a kilometre from the cave entrance, through a narrow passage that at one point requires crawling on all fours. Archaeologists later found a burnt bone from an herbivore or cave bear nearby and could detect no radioactive carbon left in it — a sign that the bone was older than 50,000 years, the limit of carbon dating. But when the archaeologist leading the excavation died in 1999, work stopped. Then a few years ago, Sophie Verheyden, a palaeoclimatologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels and a keen speleologist, became curious about the cave after buying a holiday home nearby. She assembled a team of archaeologists, geochronologists and other experts to take a closer look at the mysterious structures. (...)

· Mysterious underground rings built by Neandertals, di S. Perkins, "Science news", May. 25, 2016

· Le enigmatiche costruzioni sotterranee dei Neanderthal, "Le Scienze", 26 maggio 2016

· Les constructions de Néandertal à Bruniquel, "Hominides", 26/05/16

· Quei costruttori dei Neandertal, "National Geographic Italia", 26 maggio 2016

· Early Neanderthal constructions deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwestern France, di J. Jaubert et alii, "Nature", 534, pp. 111–114 (02 June 2016)

  Art pariétal : découverte de nouvelles figures au pays basque espagnol, 25/05/16

C’est dans la grotte d’Atxurra qu’une équipe a découvert des figures d’animaux datées entre 12 500 et 14 500 ans, à la fin du Paléolithique supérieur.

Quando dall'Europa tornammo in Africa, 20 maggio 2016

L'analisi del DNA mitocondriale ricavato dai resti di un essere umano moderno scoperto nella grotta di Pestera Muierii, in Romania, e vissuto 35.000 anni fa suggerisce che si tratti di un individuo appartenente a una popolazione che attraversò l'Europa sudorientale per fare ritorno in Nord Africa nel primo Paleolitico superiore. (...)


Morphometric Assessment of Convergent Tool Technology and Function during the Early Middle Palaeolithic: The Case of Payre, France, di M. G. Chacón, F. Détroit, A. Coudenneau, M. H. Moncel, May 18, 2016, DOI:  - open access -

There appears to be little doubt as to the existence of an intentional technological resolve to produce convergent tools during the Middle Palaeolithic. However, the use of these pieces as pointed tools is still subject to debate: i.e., handheld tool vs. hafted tool. Present-day technological analysis has begun to apply new methodologies in order to quantify shape variability and to decipher the role of the morphology of these pieces in relation to function; for instance, geometric morphometric analyses have recently been applied with successful results. This paper presents a study of this type of analysis on 37 convergent tools from level Ga of Payre site (France), dated to MIS 8–7. These pieces are non-standardized knapping products produced by discoidal and orthogonal core technologies. Moreover, macro-wear studies attest to various activities on diverse materials with no evidence of hafting or projectile use. The aim of this paper is to test the geometric morphometric approach on non-standardized artefacts applying the Elliptical Fourier analysis (EFA) to 3D contours and to assess the potential relationship between size and shape, technology and function. This study is innovative in that it is the first time that this method, considered to be a valuable complement for describing technological and functional attributes, is applied to 3D contours of lithic products. Our results show that this methodology ensures a very good degree of accuracy in describing shape variations of the sharp edges of technologically non-standardized convergent tools. EFA on 3D contours indicates variations in deviations of the outline along the third dimension (i.e., dorso-ventrally) and yields quantitative and insightful information on the actual shape variations of tools. Several statistically significant relationships are found between shape variation and use-wear attributes, though the results emphasize the large variability of the shape of the convergent tools, which, in general, does not show a strong direct association with technological features and function. This is in good agreement with the technological context of this chronological period, characterized by a wide diversity of non-standardized tools adapted to multipurpose functions for varied subsistence activities. (...)

  Student deciphers 'cave art': 'Stone age art' in Upper Franconian cave not an archaeological sensation after all, May 12, 2016

The Mäanderhöhle cave near Bamberg was previously regarded as an archaeological sensation. It was thought to contain some of the oldest cave art in Germany. However, a researcher has demonstrated that the markings discovered inside the cave in 2005 are not fertility symbols carved by humans as previously thought. In fact, these lines occurred as a result of natural processes, the archaeologist says. (...)


Researchers prove humans in Southern Arabia 10,000 years earlier than first thought, 11-MAY-2016

THE last Ice Age made much of the globe uninhabitable, but there were oases - or refugia - where people 20,000 years ago were able to cluster and survive. Researchers at the University of Huddersfield, who specialise in the analysis of human DNA, have found new evidence that there was one or more of these shelters in what is now Southern Arabia. Once the Ice Age receded - with the onset of the Late Glacial period about 15,000 years ago - the people of this refugium then dispersed and populated Arabia and the Horn of Africa, and might also have migrated further afield. The view used to be that people did not settle in large numbers in Arabia until the development of agriculture, around 10-11,000 years ago. Now, the findings by members of the University of Huddersfield's Archaeogenetics Research Group demonstrate that modern humans have dwelt in this territory for far longer than previously thought. The new genetic data and analysis bolsters a theory that has long been held by archaeologists, although they had little evidence to support it until now. (...)


Le « type 2a », plus ancien modèle de propulseur paléolithique : une nouvelle pièce dans le Magdalénien moyen d’Isturitz (Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France) et ses implications, di P. Cattelain, J. M. Pétillon, "Paleo", 26-2015 - open access -

This paper presents a spearthrower made of reindeer antler from the Middle Magdalenian of Isturitz (Layer II, Saint-Périer’s 1932 excavations in the Great Hall of the cave). This object, now almost complete, was only restored recently in 2008 when two fragments preserved in various museums were joined. Its morphometric and technical characteristics remind a group of 14 other spearthrowers from the sites of El Castillo (1), El Mirón (1), Roc de Marcamps (3), Combe Saunière I (1), Placard (6) and Garenne (2). We suggest to name this group ‘Type 2a’, defined by five criteria: a short spearthrower; usually made from an antler splinter, rather than from an antler’s section; generally with a single-bevelled proximal end; with a hook of a specific shape, resulting from a specific shaping process; bearing no decoration, except occasionally short and straight incisions. Thus, the spearthrower of type 2a differs from the other spearthrowers of type 2 and types 1, 3 and 4 by the typological and technological aspects as well as its geographical distribution. In chronological terms, it seems to be older and may well be the first known model of spearthrower dating from the Palaeolithic. Its precise dating remains difficult for several sites, but in some cases (El Mirón, Le Roc de Marcamps, La Garenne), it probably dates back to the 19,000-18,000 cal BP phase (around 15,500-15,000 BP). Depending on the region and the research traditions, this phase has received many names: Cantabrian Lower Magdalenian, Magdalenian III, Magdalénien à navettes, Magdalenian with Lussac-Angles points, and the most recent, Early Middle Magdalenian. (...)


Le Laborien récent de la grotte-abri de Peyrazet (Creysse, Lot, France). Nouvelles données pour la fin du Tardiglaciaire en Quercy, di M. Langlais et alii, "Paleo", 26-2015 - open access -

Discovered in 1990, Peyrazet cave-rock shelter (Creysse, Lot) lies in the Haut-Quercy region at the limits of the Martel limestone plateau, several hundred meters from the current Dordogne River valley. Excavations begun in 2008 produced a Late Glacial archaeo-sequence that sheds new light on several still poorly understood aspects of the archeological record in both the Haut-Quercy region and southwestern France in general. The level overlying the Late Magdalenian occupation produced limited evidence for the Azilian and is stratigraphically separated from the Laborian. This latter techno-complex, dated to the end of the Pleistocene and early Holocene, remains poorly documented in the region, having only been previously identified from two sites in the Quercy. The discovery of a recent Laborian (Epilaborian) occupation at Peyrazet presented the ideal occasion for a collaborative study of the diverse archaeological material recovered from this well-understood archaeo-stratigraphic context. A geoarchaeological analysis produced evidence for both surface runoff and the accumulation of coarse deposits (éboulis) as the principal site formation processes. In the southwest area of the site, a reworked lithofacies demonstrates substantial bioturbation in connection with animal burrowing. Although the presence of rodent, bird, fish, and medium-sized mammals (except hare) cannot be definitively connected to human activity, they nevertheless provide important information concerning the environments exploited by hunter-gatherer groups. Larger species are dominated by red deer whose carcasses were partially processed before being introduced to the site, where meat was subsequently removed and marrow consumed. A functional analysis combined with a typo-technological study of the primarily locally- and regionally-procured lithic material revealed evidence for diverse activities having taken place on-site. An ochre fragment, several bone tools and ornaments equally indicate a large variety of tasks to have been carried out during a single, long occupation or several successive visits. A typo-technological comparison of hunting weaponry (microliths) from sites across a substantial area suggests the assemblage to represent either a Laborian/Epilaborian mix or a unique Epilaborian occupation. This latter case would indicate the persistence of older morphotypes alongside the development of new tools forms, a situation already identified at Borie del Rey in the Haut-Agenais but which requires more detailed study supported by new discoveries. (...)


Nouveaux restes humains provenant du gisement de Regourdou (Montignac-sur-Vézère, Dordogne, France), di Bruno Maureille et alii, "Paleo", 26-2015 - open access -

In an article published in Paleo number 20 (Madelaine et al. 2008), we announced the discovery of a new series of 11 human remains that we associated with Regourdou individual number 1 (Vandermeersch and Trinkaus 1995), a specimen first brought to light in September 1957. Some of these new bones, in particular the larger ones (femur, tibia, fibula) represent or make more complete skeletal elements that were presumed to have been missing as the result of funerary acts (Bonifay et al. 2007). In this contribution, we increase the skeletal representation of Regourdou 1 with additional new pieces. These come in part from the site’s faunal collections (property of the Musée national de Préhistoire since 2002), but also from the collections of the Musée d’Art et d’Archéologie de Périgueux. In addition, two pieces: a left femoral diaphysis and the proximal half of a tibia come from the collection of the Constant family, but the morphology of the latter does not appear to be that of a Neandertal. These new discoveries increase our knowledge of Neandertal anatomical variability and the history of the site’s occupation, and also permit us to confirm the presence of at least one second adult Mousterian-associated individual, who is thus far represented solely by a right calcaneus. They also allow us to revisit an interesting hypothesis regarding the taphonomic history of the most complete individual from the site (Regourdou 1), a hypothesis we put forth in 2008 that now turns out to be false. Finally, the origin of the individual represented by the tibia (which evinces modern morphology) is unknown. We will therefore need to obtain an absolute direct date on it. (...)


Importance des données de terrain pour la compréhension d’un potentiel dépôt funéraire moustérien : le cas du squelette de Regourdou 1 (Montignac-sur-Vézère, Dordogne, France), di Bruno Maureille et alii,  "Paleo", 26-2015 - open access -

Excepté dans les travaux de E. Bonifay (pour l’un des plus récents, voir Bonifay et al. 2007) et dans différentes contributions qui ont repris ces derniers (p. ex. Binant 1991 ; Defleur 1993 ; Maureille et Vandermeersch 2007 ; Pettitt 2011 voir aussi l’analyse plus critique de May 1986), la position in situ des restes humains de Regourdou 1, provenant de la couche 4 du site n’a jamais été discutée ni sur la base de l’opération de sauvetage réalisée en octobre 1957 (opération dirigée par E. Bonifay et G. Laplace-Jauretche, sous l’autorité administrative de F. Bordes), ni suite aux fouilles programmées dirigées par E. Bonifay entre 1961 et 1964. Après une synthèse des informations disponibles contenues dans de nombreux documents inédits (minutes de terrain de François Bordes, dessins réalisés lors de l’opération de sauvetage, photographies réalisées en 1957 puis en 1961 et 1962, base de données des fouilles 1961-1964) et d’un nouvel inventaire des restes humains (connus et nouvellement découverts), les ossements de Regourdou 1 ont pu être en majorité repositionnés au sein d’un système orthonormé. Ces nouveaux documents permettent de supposer que la concentration de vestiges mis au jour lors de l’opération de sauvetage se situait dans le carré G2 du carroyage des fouilles débutées en 1961. Ils mettent également en évidence que, même si pratiquement aucune connexion anatomique n’est décelée avec certitude et malgré des perturbations très importantes (la totalité des ossements se répartit in fine sur près de neuf carrés : G1 à G3, F1 à F3, E1, E2 et D2), ces restes se distribuent surtout en G2 et en G3 en respectant la logique anatomique du corps humain. Ces observations permettent de suggérer que Regourdou 1 était plutôt en position allongée, la tête à l’ouest - peut-être ramenée sur le tronc - à proximité de la paroi de la cavité. Ce résultat est donc différent de l’hypothèse de la position fœtale proposée dans Bonifay et al. (2007). De plus, de nombreuses perturbations post-dépositionnelles du dépôt initial humain durant le Pléistocène se sont produites probablement en liaison avec la fréquentation de la cavité par l’Ours brun et les lagomorphes. Nous espérons que de nouvelles fouilles du site, et particulièrement l’étude du rôle de l’Homme dans l’accumulation des vestiges de la couche 4 (selon la stratigraphie de Bonifay 1964), nous permettront de discuter des causes de la présence de ce néandertalien et, peut-être, de l’absence de sa boîte crânienne. (...)


Aggiornamento 10 maggio


Kantis: A new Australopithecus site on the shoulders of the Rift Valley near Nairobi, Kenya, di E. Mbua et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 94, May 2016, Pages 28–44

Most Plio-Pleistocene sites in the Gregory Rift Valley that have yielded abundant fossil hominins lie on the Rift Valley floor. Here we report a new Pliocene site, Kantis, on the shoulder of the Gregory Rift Valley, which extends the geographical range of Australopithecus afarensis to the highlands of Kenya. This species, known from sites in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and possibly Kenya, is believed to be adapted to a wide spectrum of habitats, from open grassland to woodland. The Kantis fauna is generally similar to that reported from other contemporaneous A. afarensis sites on the Rift Valley floor. However, its faunal composition and stable carbon isotopic data from dental enamel suggest a stronger C4 environment than that present at those sites. Although the Gregory Rift Valley has been the focus of paleontologists' attention for many years, surveys of the Rift shoulder may provide new perspective on African Pliocene mammal and hominin evolution.

· Il gusto per i viaggi di Australopithecus afarensis, "Le Scienze", 29 marzo 2016


The oldest hominin butchery in European mid-latitudes at the Jaramillo site of Untermassfeld (Thuringia, Germany), di G. Landeck, J. Garcia Garriga, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 94, May 2016, Pages 53–71

The late Early Pleistocene site of Untermassfeld, dated to the Jaramillo subchron (ca. 1.07 millions of years ago), is well known for its rich Epivillafranchian fauna. It has also recently yielded stone artefacts attesting hominin occupation. Now, we report here, for the first time, evidence of hominin butchery such as cut marks and intentional hammerstone-related bone breakage. This probable subsistence behaviour was detected in a small faunal subsample recovered from levels with Mode 1 stone tools. The butchered faunal assemblage was found during fieldwork and surveying in fluvial riverbanks (Lower Fluviatile Sands) and channel erosion sediments (Upper Fluviatile Sands). The frequent occurrence of butchery traces on bones of large-sized herd animals (i.e., Bison) may imply a greater need for meat in seasonal habitats characterised by a depletion of nutritive plants in winter. Early access to carcasses, before their consumption by carnivores, provided hominins with sufficient quantities of meat. This access was acquired with a Mode 1 lithic industry, to ensure food procurement and survival at high latitudes in Europe. Stone tools and faunal remains with signs of anthropic intervention recovered at Untermassfeld are evidence of the oldest hominin settlement at continental mid-latitudes (50° N).

  Shoot first, ask questions later: Interpretative narratives of Neanderthal hunting, di M. White, P. Pettitt, D. Schreve, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 140, 15 May 2016, Pages 1–20

This paper examines the hunting strategies employed by Neanderthals at a series of kill or near-kill sites from the Middle Palaeolithic of Europe (Mauran, La Borde, Taubach, Zwoleń and Salzgitter Lebenstedt). Using palaeolandscape reconstructions and animal ethology as our context, we adopt a multifaceted approach that views hunting as a chaîne opératoire involving the decisions and actions of both the hunter and the hunted, which together help reconstruct a forensic picture of past events as they unfolded. Our conclusions indicate that Neanderthals did not necessarily pre-select individuals from a herd, who they then isolated, pursued and killed, but rather ambushed whole groups, which they slaughtered indiscriminately. There is strong evidence, however, that Neanderthals were highly selective in the carcasses they then chose to process. Our conclusions suggest that Neanderthals were excellent tacticians, casual executioners and discerning diners.

  The genetic history of Ice Age Europe, di Q. Fu et alii, Nature (2016), 02 May 2016, DOI: 10.1038/nature17993

Modern humans arrived in Europe ~45,000 years ago, but little is known about their genetic composition before the start of farming ~8,500 years ago. Here we analyse genome-wide data from 51 Eurasians from ~45,000–7,000 years ago. Over this time, the proportion of Neanderthal DNA decreased from 3–6% to around 2%, consistent with natural selection against Neanderthal variants in modern humans. Whereas there is no evidence of the earliest modern humans in Europe contributing to the genetic composition of present-day Europeans, all individuals between ~37,000 and ~14,000 years ago descended from a single founder population which forms part of the ancestry of present-day Europeans. An ~35,000-year-old individual from northwest Europe represents an early branch of this founder population which was then displaced across a broad region, before reappearing in southwest Europe at the height of the last Ice Age ~19,000 years ago. During the major warming period after ~14,000 years ago, a genetic component related to present-day Near Easterners became widespread in Europe. These results document how population turnover and migration have been recurring themes of European prehistory. (...)

  First evidence of a Late Upper Palaeolithic human presence in Ireland, di M. Dowd, R. F. Carden, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 139, 1 May 2016, Pages 158–163

The colonisation of North West Europe by humans and fauna following the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) has been the subject of considerable discussion in recent decades and within multiple disciplines. Here we present new evidence that pushes back the date of human footfall in Ireland by up to 2500 cal BP to the Upper Palaeolithic. An assemblage of animal bones recovered from a cave in the west of Ireland during antiquarian excavations in 1903 included a butchered brown bear bone (patella) which was recently subjected to two independent radiocarbon dating processes; the resultant dates were in agreement: 12,810–12,590 cal BP and 12,810–12,685 cal BP. This find rewrites the antiquity of human occupation of Ireland and challenges the traditional paradigm that certain biota may have naturally colonised the island prior to human arrival.


A possible Palaeolithic hand axe from Cyprus, di T. F. Strasser, C. Runnels, C. Vita-Finzi, "Antiquity-Project Gallery", Issue 350, April 2016

Forty-three years ago, artefacts of apparent Lower or Middle Palaeolithic type were reported in red beds overlying a fossil beach—arguably last Interglacial in age—at Zygi on the south-central coast of Cyprus (Vita-Finzi 1973). There has been speculation ever since about the possibility of Palaeolithic activity on Cyprus, although due scepticism has prevailed because unequivocal evidence has been elusive (Knapp 2010, 2013: 43–48). New finds from the Greek islands of Crete, Gavdos, Melos and Naxos (Chelidonio 2001; Mortensen 2008; Strasser et al. 2010, 2011; Carter et al. 2014; Runnels 2014; Runnels et al. 2014a & b) suggest that it is time for a research strategy, targeting Middle and early Late Pleistocene geological deposits on Cyprus, to settle the question. New evidence from Cyprus is a hand axe (biface) from the site of Kholetria-Ortos. The Canadian Palaipaphos Survey Project discovered the site in 1983 (Fox 1987: 19) and, subsequently, S. Swiny, then director of the Cyprus-American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), collected the hand axe in 1992 from the surface near the site. In the CAARI catalogue, the artefact is described as being of ‘Palaeolithic hand axe type’ (Figure 1). Our description is based on the first-hand inspection and examination of a three-dimensional printed replica, which is in turn based on photorealistic three-dimensional digital images by Brandon Olson (see Olson et al. 2014). The hand axe is made of Lefkara chert, a commonly exploited lithic resource on Cyprus. It is an amygdaloid, or sub-triangular, hand axe with a converging tip. It is 140mm in length, 85mm in width and 55mm in thickness (Figures 2–4). The dihedral butt and sinuous edges are typical of Acheulean bifaces in south-west Asia (e.g. Shea 2013: 70–79), as is the deep, invasive flaking covering both faces. The piece has a thick patina, clearly visible where recent accidental flakes cut through it, suggesting a considerable age for the artefact. (...)


Re-evaluating the traditional models of prehistoric human occupation in central Italy: the case-study of Grotta Mora Cavorso, di K. F. Achino, M. Gatta, L. Silvestri, M. F. Rolfo, "Antiquity-Project Gallery",Issue 350, April 2016

As a stepping stone between the Balkans and south-western Europe, the Italian peninsula has long facilitated social and cultural contact between distant human groups. This is clear from at least the late Upper Palaeolithic, with evidence of strong affinities between the Epigravettian lithic industries from these two sides of the European continent (Kozlowski 1999). With the beginning of the Holocene, the Adriatic Sea became one of the main routes for contact and exchange, documented through the diffusion of material culture such as impressed pottery, in a south-east to north-west direction towards the Tyrrhenian Sea, and from there to southern France. Long-established models of prehistoric human occupation consider Apennine central Italy as marginal in the context of the framework discussed above. The cave site of Grotta Mora Cavorso has the potential to challenge this assumption. Through ongoing excavations and multidisciplinary analyses, this site has already proved to be an important crossroads between the Adriatic and the Tyrrhenian coasts, in an area—the Aniene Valley—that would have been attractive to large human groups. The study of this cave will contribute to the reinterpretation of central-Italian prehistoric settlement and society. (...)

  Neanderthals, trees and dental calculus: new evidence from El Sidrón, di A. Radini, S. Buckley, A. Rosas, A. Estalrrich, Marco de la Rasilla, K. Hardy, "Antiquity",Volume 90, Issue 350, April 2016, pp 290-301

Analysis of dental calculus is increasingly important in archaeology, although the focus has hitherto been on dietary reconstruction. Non-edible material has, however, recently been extracted from the dental calculus of a Neanderthal population from the 49 000-year-old site of El Sidrón, Spain, in the form of fibre and chemical compounds that indicate conifer wood. Associated dental wear confirms that the teeth were being used for non-dietary activities. These results highlight the importance of dental calculus as a source of wider biographical information, and demonstrate the need to include associated data within research, in particular tooth wear, to maximise this valuable resource.


The Middle Palaeolithic of the Nejd, Saudi Arabia, di H. S. Groucutt et alii, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 41, Issue 2, 2016

The Pleistocene archaeological record of the Arabian Peninsula is increasingly recognized as being of great importance for resolving some of the major debates in hominin evolutionary studies. Though there has been an acceleration in the rate of fieldwork and discovery of archaeological sites in recent years, little is known about hominin occupations in the Pleistocene over vast areas of Arabia. Here we report on the identification of five new Middle Palaeolithic sites from the Nejd of central Arabia and the southern margins of the Nefud Desert to the north. The importance of these sites centers on their diversity in terms of landscape positions, raw materials used for lithic manufacture, and core reduction methods. Our findings indicate multiple hominin dispersals into Arabia and complex subsequent patterns of behavior and demography.


Recent discoveries of Aurignacian and Epigravettian sites in Albania, di T. C. Hauck, R. Ruka, I. Gjipali, J. Richter, O. Vogels, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 41, Issue 2, 2016

Albania is a possible stepping-stone for the dispersal of Homo sapiens into Europe, since Palaeolithic traces (namely from the so-called Uluzzian culture) have been discovered in neighboring Greece and Italy. After two years of searching for evidence of modern humans in Albania we here report on excavated test trenches representing two time slices: an Aurignacian open-air site from southern Albania and two Epigravettian cave sites in central and northern Albania—areas heretofore archaeologically unknown. The new Albanian data fill a gap in the eastern Adriatic archaeological record for Marine Isotope Stages 3 and 2. Adding current knowledge of Late Pleistocene landscape evolution, a “contextual area model” can be constructed describing the habitats of these human populations.


Late Middle Palaeolithic occupations in Ciemna Cave, southern Poland, di P. Valde-Nowak et alii, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 41, Issue 2, 2016

Recent excavations in Ciemna Cave in the Prądnik valley near Ojców, southern Poland have brought to light new stratigraphic and techno-typological evidence concerning Late Middle Palaeolithic groups and their cultural affinities. In 2007, excavations began in the hitherto-unexplored main chamber of Ciemna Cave, with the goal of clarifying the results of previous work in other parts of the cave. During excavation the rocky floor of the cave was reached. About 1000 stone artifacts have been collected to date. Three cultural traditions have been documented: Mousterian, Taubachian, and Micoquian. Within the Micoquian tradition, three cultural levels were observed, which enriches the previous understanding of occupational phases at the site. These findings permit revision of the traditional terms “Prądnik industry” and “Prądnik technique.”


The development of a new geospatial framework for the palaeoanthropological site of the Sterkfontein Caves, Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng, South Africa,
di D. Stratford, S. Merlo, S. Brown, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 41, Issue 2, 2016

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) provide an essential element in modern paleoanthropological inquiry through their ability to integrate a diverse range of data within a multidimensional spatial framework which can be used for data storage, analysis and modeling. One of the challenges of creating such a framework is the integration of legacy and new data (collected with digital technologies) at large sites with a long history of research. The Sterkfontein Caves, located in the Cradle of Humankind, is the richest Australopithecus-bearing locality in the world and has been the focus of intense palaeoanthropological research for the past 80 years. A diverse range of spatial data has been collected over this history and future integrative research necessitates the development of a unified, cohesive 3D GIS framework. In this paper we describe three phases of work undertaken to implement such a framework and discuss the next steps in its development and utilization for spatial analyses.


What do cranial bones of LB1 tell us about Homo floresiensis?, di A. Balzeau, P. Charlier, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 93, April 2016, Pages 12–24

Cranial vault thickness (CVT) of Liang Bua 1, the specimen that is proposed to be the holotype of Homo floresiensis, has not yet been described in detail and compared with samples of fossil hominins, anatomically modern humans or microcephalic skulls. In addition, a complete description from a forensic and pathological point of view has not yet been carried out. It is important to evaluate scientifically if features related to CVT bring new information concerning the possible pathological status of LB1, and if it helps to recognize affinities with any hominin species and particularly if the specimen could belong to the species Homo sapiens. Medical examination of the skull based on a micro-CT examination clearly brings to light the presence of a sincipital T (a non-metrical variant of normal anatomy), a scar from an old frontal trauma without any evident functional consequence, and a severe bilateral hyperostosis frontalis interna that may have modified the anterior morphology of the endocranium of LB1. We also show that LB1 displays characteristics, related to the distribution of bone thickness and arrangements of cranial structures, that are plesiomorphic traits for hominins, at least for Homo erectus s.l. relative to Homo neanderthalensis and H. sapiens. All the microcephalic skulls analyzed here share the derived condition of anatomically modern H. sapiens. Cranial vault thickness does not help to clarify the definition of the species H. floresiensis but it also does not support an attribution of LB1 to H. sapiens. We conclude that there is no support for the attribution of LB1 to H. sapiens as there is no evidence of systemic pathology and because it does not have any of the apomorphic traits of our species.


Premolar root and canal variation in South African Plio-Pleistocene specimens attributed to Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus, di N. C. Moore, J. F. Thackeray, J. J. Hublin, M. M. Skinner, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 93, April 2016, Pages 46–62

South African hominin fossils attributed to Australopithecus africanus derive from the cave sites of Makapansgat, Sterkfontein, and Taung, from deposits dated between about 2 and 3 million years ago (Ma), while Paranthropus robustus is known from Drimolen, Kromdraai, and Swartkrans, from deposits dated between about 1 and 2 Ma. Although variation in the premolar root complex has informed taxonomic and phylogenetic hypotheses for these fossil hominin species, traditionally there has been a focus on external root form, number, and position. In this study, we use microtomography to undertake the first comprehensive study of maxillary and mandibular premolar root and canal variation in Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus (n = 166 teeth) within and between the species. We also test for correlations between premolar size and root morphology as predicted under the ‘size/number continuum’ (SNC) model, which correlates increasing root number with tooth size. Our results demonstrate previously undocumented variation in these two fossil hominin species and highlight taxonomic differences in the presence and frequency of particular root types, qualitative root traits, and tooth size (measured as cervix cross-sectional area). Patterns of tooth size and canal/root number are broadly consistent with the SNC model, however statistically significant support is limited. The implications for hominin taxonomy in light of the increased variation in root morphology documented in this study are discussed.


Ecological niche of Neanderthals from Spy Cave revealed by nitrogen isotopes of individual amino acids in collagen, di Yuichi I. Naito et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 93, April 2016, Pages 82–90

This study provides a refined view on the diet and ecological niche of Neanderthals. The traditional view is that Neanderthals obtained most of their dietary protein from terrestrial animals, especially from large herbivores that roamed the open landscapes. Evidence based on the conventional carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of bulk collagen has supported this view, although recent findings based on plant remains in the tooth calculus, microwear analyses, and small game and marine animal remains from archaeological sites have raised some questions regarding this assumption. However, the lack of a protein source other than meat in the Neanderthal diet may be due to methodological difficulties in defining the isotopic composition of plants. Based on the nitrogen isotopic composition of glutamic acid and phenylalanine in collagen for Neanderthals from Spy Cave (Belgium), we show that i) there was an inter-individual dietary heterogeneity even within one archaeological site that has not been evident in bulk collagen isotopic compositions, ii) they occupied an ecological niche different from those of hyenas, and iii) they could rely on plants for up to ∼20% of their protein source. These results are consistent with the evidence found of plant consumption by the Spy Neanderthals, suggesting a broader subsistence strategy than previously considered.


Earliest evidence of personal ornaments associated with burial: The Conus shells from Border Cave, di F. d'Errico, L. Backwell, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 93, April 2016, Pages 91–108

The four to six month old infant from Border Cave, found with a perforated Conus shell in a pit excavated in Howiesons Poort (HP) layers dated to 74 ± 4 BP, is considered the oldest instance of modern human burial from Africa, and the earliest example of a deceased human interred with a personal ornament. In this article we present new data retrieved from unpublished archives on the burial excavation, and conduct an in-depth analysis of the Conus found with the infant, and a second similar Conus that probably originates from the same layer. Based on morphological, morphometric and ecological evidence we assign these two shells to Conus ebraeus Linnaeus 1758, a tropical species still living on the nearest coastline to Border Cave, in northern KwaZulu-Natal. This attribution changes the paleoclimatic setting inferred from the previous ascription of these shells to Conus bairstowi, a species endemic to the Eastern Cape and adapted to colder sea surface temperatures. Reconstructions of 74 ka sea surface temperatures along the southern African east coast are consistent with our reassignment. Analysis of shell thanatocoenoses and biocoenosis from the KwaZulu-Natal coast, including microscopic study of their surfaces, reveals that complete, well preserved living or dead Conus, such as those found at Border Cave, are rare on beaches, can be collected at low tide at a depth of c. 0.5–2 m among the rocks, and that the archeological shells were dead when collected. We demonstrate that the perforations at the apex were produced by humans, and that traces of wear due to prolonged utilization as an ornament are present. SEM-EDX analysis of patches of red residue on the Conus found in the pit with the infant indicates that it is composed of iron, phosphorus, silicon, aluminium, and magnesium. Results indicate that, at least in some areas of southern Africa, the use of marine gastropods as ornaments, already attested in Still Bay, extended to the first phases of the HP.


Direct U-series analysis of the Lezetxiki humerus reveals a Middle Pleistocene age for human remains in the Basque Country (northern Iberia), di C, de-la-Rúa, J. Altuna, M. Hervella, L. Kinsley, R. Grün, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 93, April 2016, Pages 109–119

In 1964, a human humerus was found in a sedimentary deposit in Lezetxiki Cave (Basque Country, northern Iberia). The first studies on the stratigraphy, associated mammal faunal remains and lithic implements placed the deposits containing the humerus into the Riss glacial stage. Direct chronometric evidence has so far been missing, and the previous chronostratigraphic framework and faunal dating gave inconsistent results. Here we report laser ablation U-series analyses on the humerus yielding a minimum age of 164 ± 9 ka, corresponding to MIS 6. This is the only direct dating analysis of the Lezetxiki humerus and confirms a Middle Pleistocene age for this hominin fossil. Morphometric analyses suggest that the Lezetxiki humerus has close affinities to other Middle Pleistocene archaic hominins, such as those from La Sima de los Huesos at Atapuerca. This emphasizes the significance of the Lezetxiki fossil within the populations that predate the Neanderthals in south-western Europe. It is thus an important key fossil for the understanding of human evolution in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene, a time period when a great morphological diversity is observed but whose phylogenetic meaning is not yet fully understood.


A wolf in dog's clothing: Initial dog domestication and Pleistocene wolf variation, di A. Perri, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 68, April 2016, Pages 1–4

The process and timing of initial dog domestication is an important topic in human evolution and one which has inspired much recent debate. Findings of putative domesticated dogs have recently been reported from two Gravettian sites by Germonpré et al. (2015a), joining a handful of other reputed “Paleolithic dogs” dating to before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Though these findings have been challenged previously, this paper draws attention to the most significant shortcoming in claims of early domesticated dogs – a lack of data on Pleistocene wolf variation. Without comprehensive data on the range of variation within Pleistocene wolf populations, the identification of domesticated dogs from prior to the Late Upper Paleolithic cannot be conclusively accepted or rejected.

  Neandertal versus Modern Human Dietary Responses to Climatic Fluctuations, di S. El Zaatari, F. E. Grine, P. S. Ungar, J. J. Hublin, April 27, 2016, DOI:  - open access -

The Neandertal lineage developed successfully throughout western Eurasia and effectively survived the harsh and severely changing environments of the alternating glacial/interglacial cycles from the middle of the Pleistocene until Marine Isotope Stage 3. Yet, towards the end of this stage, at the time of deteriorating climatic conditions that eventually led to the Last Glacial Maximum, and soon after modern humans entered western Eurasia, the Neandertals disappeared. Western Eurasia was by then exclusively occupied by modern humans. We use occlusal molar microwear texture analysis to examine aspects of diet in western Eurasian Paleolithic hominins in relation to fluctuations in food supplies that resulted from the oscillating climatic conditions of the Pleistocene. There is demonstrable evidence for differences in behavior that distinguish Upper Paleolithic humans from members of the Neandertal lineage. Specifically, whereas the Neandertals altered their diets in response to changing paleoecological conditions, the diets of Upper Paleolithic humans seem to have been less affected by slight changes in vegetation/climatic conditions but were linked to changes in their technological complexes. The results of this study also indicate differences in resource exploitation strategies between these two hominin groups. We argue that these differences in subsistence strategies, if they had already been established at the time of the first contact between these two hominin taxa, may have given modern humans an advantage over the Neandertals, and may have contributed to the persistence of our species despite habitat-related changes in food availabilities associated with climate fluctuations. (...)

  Pleistocene Hominins as a Resource for Carnivores: A c. 500,000-Year-Old Human Femur Bearing Tooth-Marks in North Africa (Thomas Quarry I, Morocco), di C. Daujeard, D. Geraads, R. Gallotti, D. Lefèvre, A. Mohib, J. P. Raynal, J. J. Hublin, April 27, 2016 DOI:  - open access -

In many Middle Pleistocene sites, the co-occurrence of hominins with carnivores, who both contributed to faunal accumulations, suggests competition for resources as well as for living spaces. Despite this, there is very little evidence of direct interaction between them to-date. Recently, a human femoral diaphysis has been recognized in South-West of Casablanca (Morocco), in the locality called Thomas Quarry I. This site is famous for its Middle Pleistocene fossil hominins considered representatives of Homo rhodesiensis. The bone was discovered in Unit 4 of the Grotte à Hominidés (GH), dated to c. 500 ky and was associated with Acheulean artefacts and a rich mammalian fauna. Anatomically, it fits well within the group of known early Middle Pleistocene Homo, but its chief point of interest is that the diaphyseal ends display numerous tooth marks showing that it had been consumed shortly after death by a large carnivore, probably a hyena. This bone represents the first evidence of consumption of human remains by carnivores in the cave. Whether predated or scavenged, this chewed femur indicates that humans were a resource for carnivores, underlining their close relationships during the Middle Pleistocene in Atlantic Morocco.

  A high-precision chronological model for the decorated Upper Paleolithic cave of Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, Ardèche, France, di A. Quiles et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", April 26, 2016, vol. 113, no. 17, pp. 4670–4675

Radiocarbon dates for the ancient drawings in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave revealed ages much older than expected. These early ages and nature of this Paleolithic art make this United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site indisputably unique. A large, multidisciplinary dating program has recently mapped the anthropological evolution associated with the cave. More than 350 dates (by 14C, U-Th, TL and 36Cl) were obtained over the last 15 y. They include 259 radiocarbon dates, mainly related to the rock art and human activity in the cave. We present here more than 80 previously unpublished dates. All of the dates were integrated into a high-precision Bayesian model based on archaeological evidence to securely reconstruct the complete history of the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave on an absolute timescale. It shows that there were two distinct periods of human activity in the cave, one from 37 to 33,500 y ago, and the other from 31 to 28,000 y ago. Cave bears also took refuge in the cave until 33,000 y ago.

· Diecimila anni in più per le pitture rupestri di Chauvet, "Le Scienze", 13 aprile 2016

  Novel collagen fingerprinting identifies a Neanderthal bone among 2,000 fragments, April 22, 2016

Scientists from the universities of Oxford and Manchester have used a new molecular fingerprinting technique to identify one Neanderthal bone from around 2,000 bone fragments. All the tiny pieces of bone were recovered from a key archaeological site, Denisova Cave in Russia, with the remaining fragments found to be from animal species like mammoths, woolly rhino, wolf and reindeer. It is the first time that researchers have identified traces of an extinct human from an archaeological site using a technique called 'Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry' or ZooMS. From just a microscopic sample of bone, their analysis revealed the collagen peptide sequences in the bone that mark out one species from another. (...)

  Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia, di T. Sutikna et alii, "Nature" 532, pp. 366–369 (21 April 2016)

Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin species discovered in Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia), has generated wide interest and scientific debate. A major reason this taxon is controversial is because the H. floresiensis-bearing deposits, which include associated stone artefacts and remains of other extinct endemic fauna, were dated to between about 95 and 12 thousand calendar years (kyr) ago. These ages suggested that H. floresiensis survived until long after modern humans reached Australia by ~50 kyr ago. Here we report new stratigraphic and chronological evidence from Liang Bua that does not support the ages inferred previously for the H. floresiensis holotype (LB1),~18 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (kyr cal. BP), or the time of last appearance of this species (about 17 or 13–11 kyr cal. BP). Instead, the skeletal remains of H. floresiensis and the deposits containing them are dated to between about 100 and 60 kyr ago, whereas stone artefacts attributable to this species range from about 190 to 50 kyr in age. Whether H. floresiensis survived after 50 kyr ago—potentially encountering modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through southeast Asia, such as Denisovans—is an open question.

· Una nuova datazione "invecchia" l'Hobbit di Flores, "Le Scienze", 30 marzo 2016

  Middle Paleolithic sites of Katta Sai in western Tian Shan piedmont, Central Asiatic loess zone: Geoarchaeological investigation of the site formation and the integrity of the lithic assemblages, di M. T. Krajcarz et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 399, 18 April 2016, Pages 136–150

This paper presents the results of a large-scale fieldwork project of interdisciplinary studies on the Middle Paleolithic settlement in the western Tian Shan piedmont. A complex of newly discovered “loess Paleolithic” open-air sites near Yangiobod (Uzbekistan), Katta Sai, was excavated. The excavations allowed identification of a new variant of human adaptation in the regional Middle Paleolithic. In the light of the newest anthropological and genetic data, this new archaeological sites fit to the current studies on the relations between different human species during the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic in Central Asia. Geoarchaeological investigation of the sites has shown that the Paleolithic assemblages of Katta Sai are not preserved in situ. Cultural levels suffered from rill erosion, and most of the artifacts were re-deposited by water flow, and accumulated in secondary positions on the bottom of the branched rill system. This paper aims to reconstruct the subsequent processes of the site formation and to present the complicated geological situation of the studied sites of the Katta Sai complex, with implication for the archaeological interpretation of Paleolithic assemblages of the region.

  Vladimir is thrilled by the Sungarian man, 14-APR-2016

Archaeologists from the Lomonosov Moscow State University studied the objects made of bone, antler and ivory, that were found at the Sungir archaeological site. They managed to learn how the Homo sapiens processed solid organic materials and produced tools and ornamentals. The work was published in a specialized digest Hugo Obermaier Society for Quaternary Research and Archaeology of the Stone Age. Scientists from the MSU studied the objects found on the Sungir site. The work has allowed to establish that Sungir was the base camp for an ancient man -- in contrast to the encampement Rusaniha located 8 km away from Sungir. One of the authors, Taisiya Soldatova (Ph.D., Faculty of Foreign Languages and Regional Studies, MSU), also reports that further study of the items found in the standmay help to determine the place of the monument in the Upper Paleolithic of Europe. (...)

  Debate Erupts over Strange New Human Species, di K. Wong, "Scientific American", April 8, 2016

When scientists unveiled the fossil remains of a newly discovered human species from South Africa called Homo naledilast September, the find electrified audiences around the world. It was an astonishing haul: some 1,550 specimens representing at least 15 individuals, recovered over just a few weeks of intensive excavation from the Rising Star Cave system outside Johannesburg. But it was the researchers’ favored explanation for how the remains ended up in the cave, more than the fossils themselves, that captured the public imagination and jolted the paleoanthropology community. They proposed that this creature—whose geologic age is unknown but who was clearly primitive; it had a brain the size of an orange—had deliberately disposed of its dead there. Many experts consider this behavior exclusive to our own far brainier species, H. sapiens. (...)

  The Divergence of Neandertal and Modern Human Y Chromosomes, di F. L. Mendez, G. D. Poznik, S. Castellano, C. D. Bustamante, "The American Journal of Human Genetics", Volume 98, Issue 4, pp. 728–734, 7 April 2016  - open access -

A central goal of human population genetics and paleoanthropology is to elucidate the relationships among ancient populations. Before the emergence of anatomically modern humans in the Middle Pleistocene ~200 thousand years ago (kya), archaic humans lived across Africa, Europe, and Asia in highly differentiated populations. Modern human populations that expanded out of Africa in the Upper Pleistocene received a modest genetic contribution from at least two archaic hominin groups, the Neandertals and Denisovans. Especially in light of hypothesized genetic incompatibilities between Neandertals and modern humans,6 it is important to characterize differentiation between their ancestral populations and to investigate potential barriers to gene flow. (...)

· La scomparsa del cromosoma Y neanderthaliano, "Le Scienze", 07 aprile 2016


State of the art of the multidisciplinary research at the Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel, 2015, "Quaternary International", Volume 398, Pages 1-258 (4 April 2016) - Edited by Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai:

- State of the art of the multidisciplinary research at Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel, 2015 – An introduction

- New ESR/U-series dates in Yabrudian and Amudian layers at Qesem Cave, Israel

- Amudian versus Yabrudian under the rock shelf: A study of two lithic assemblages from Qesem Cave, Israel

- Regional variability in late Lower Paleolithic Amudian blade technology: Analyzing new data from Qesem, Tabun and Yabrud I

- Raw material choices in Amudian versus Yabrudian lithic assemblages at Qesem Cave: A preliminary evaluation

- Knowledge transmission and apprentice flint-knappers in the Acheulo-Yabrudian: A case study from Qesem Cave, Israel

- A scraper's life history: Morpho-techno-functional and use-wear analysis of Quina and demi-Quina scrapers from Qesem Cave, Israel

- On Quina and demi-Quina scraper handling: Preliminary results from the late Lower Paleolithic site of Qesem Cave, Israel

- Spatial aspects as seen from a density analysis of lithics at Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave: Preliminary results and observations

- On anachronism: The curious presence of Spheroids and Polyhedrons at Acheulo–Yabrudian Qesem Cave, Israel

- Dental calculus reveals potential respiratory irritants and ingestion of essential plant-based nutrients at Lower Palaeolithic Qesem Cave Israel

- How did the Qesem Cave people use their teeth? Analysis of dental wear patterns

- New Middle Pleistocene dental remains from Qesem Cave (Israel)

- The Qesem Cave hominin material (part 1): A morphometric analysis of the mandibular premolars and molar

- The Qesem Cave hominin material (part 2): A morphometric analysis of dm2-QC2 deciduous lower second molar

- What happens around a fire: Faunal processing sequences and spatial distribution at Qesem Cave (300 ka), Israel

- Mammalian mitochondrial capture, a tool for rapid screening of DNA preservation in faunal and undiagnostic remains, and its application to Middle Pleistocene specimens from Qesem Cave (Israel)

- Palaeoecological and biostratigraphical implications of the microvertebrates of Qesem Cave in Israel

- The microvertebrates of Qesem Cave: A comparison of the two concentrations

- Paleolithic caves and hillslope processes in south-western Samaria, Israel: Environmental and archaeological

  Our ancestors may have mated more than once with mysterious ancient humans, di L. Wade, "Science-News", Mar, 28, 2016

It looked like an ordinary finger bone. But when researchers sequenced its DNA in 2010, they uncovered the existence of a group of ancient humans no one had seen before: the Denisovans. Then came an even bigger surprise. Some modern humans also carry Denisovan DNA, meaning that at some point in the ancient past, Denisovans and modern humans mated and had children. Now, a new study concludes that all that free love had some dark consequences, including male offspring that were likely sterile. In the absence of much fossil evidence, the best way to study Denisovans is through the genes they left behind in modern humans. So population geneticists Sriram Sankararaman at the University of California (UC), Los Angeles, and David Reich at Harvard University sifted through 257 genomes of present-day people from 120 non-African populations around the world. (Africans, whose ancestors didn’t leave Homo sapiens’s original home, do not have any Denisovan heritage.) They confirmed an earlier finding that among humans living today, people from Papua New Guinea, Australia, and other parts of Oceania have the most Denisovan ancestry, between 3% and 6% of their genomes. This compares with about 2% from Neandertals for all non-African genomes. (...)
  Impact of meat and Lower Palaeolithic food processing techniques on chewing in humans, di K. D. Zink, D. E. Lieberman, "Nature" 531, pp. 500–503 (24 March 2016)

The origins of the genus Homo are murky, but by H. erectus, bigger brains and bodies had evolved that, along with larger foraging ranges, would have increased the daily energetic requirements of hominins. Yet H. erectus differs from earlier hominins in having relatively smaller teeth, reduced chewing muscles, weaker maximum bite force capabilities, and a relatively smaller gut. This paradoxical combination of increased energy demands along with decreased masticatory and digestive capacities is hypothesized to have been made possible by adding meat to the diet6,  by mechanically processing food using stone tools, or by cooking. Cooking, however, was apparently uncommon until 500,000 years ago, and the effects of carnivory and Palaeolithic processing techniques on mastication are unknown. Here we report experiments that tested how Lower Palaeolithic processing technologies affect chewing force production and efficacy in humans consuming meat and underground storage organs (USOs). We find that if meat comprised one-third of the diet, the number of chewing cycles per year would have declined by nearly 2 million (a 13% reduction) and total masticatory force required would have declined by 15%. Furthermore, by simply slicing meat and pounding USOs, hominins would have improved their ability to chew meat into smaller particles by 41%, reduced the number of chews per year by another 5%, and decreased masticatory force requirements by an additional 12%. Although cooking has important benefits, it appears that selection for smaller masticatory features in Homo would have been initially made possible by the combination of using stone tools and eating meat.

  Nuclear DNA sequences from the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos hominins, di M. Meyer et alii, "Nature" 531, pp. 504–507 (24 March 2016)

A unique assemblage of 28 hominin individuals, found in Sima de los Huesos in the Sierra de Atapuerca in Spain, has recently been dated to approximately 430,000 years ago1. An interesting question is how these Middle Pleistocene hominins were related to those who lived in the Late Pleistocene epoch, in particular to Neanderthals in western Eurasia and to Denisovans, a sister group of Neanderthals so far known only from southern Siberia. While the Sima de los Huesos hominins share some derived morphological features with Neanderthals, the mitochondrial genome retrieved from one individual from Sima de los Huesos is more closely related to the mitochondrial DNA of Denisovans than to that of Neanderthals2. However, since the mitochondrial DNA does not reveal the full picture of relationships among populations, we have investigated DNA preservation in several individuals found at Sima de los Huesos. Here we recover nuclear DNA sequences from two specimens, which show that the Sima de los Huesos hominins were related to Neanderthals rather than to Denisovans, indicating that the population divergence between Neanderthals and Denisovans predates 430,000 years ago. A mitochondrial DNA recovered from one of the specimens shares the previously described relationship to Denisovan mitochondrial DNAs, suggesting, among other possibilities, that the mitochondrial DNA gene pool of Neanderthals turned over later in their history.

· Chi era l'uomo di Sima de los Huesos, "Le Scienze", 14 marzo 2016


Rich sexual past between modern humans and Neandertals revealed, di A. Gibbons, "Science-News", Mar. 17, 2016

Only a bit of the DNA coiled inside the cells of Europeans and Asians comes from Neandertals, but those snippets have sparked a flurry of research. In the past few years, researchers have traced them to one or two ancient encounters with our extinct cousins. Now, a report published online in Science this week details a far richer sexual past for modern humans and their archaic cousins, one that played out at multiple times and places over the past 60,000 years. By developing powerful new statistical methods, an international team has identified how often and on which continents modern humans, Neandertals, and a second kind of archaic human called Denisovans met and mated. The researchers conclude that if you’re an East Asian, you have three Neandertals in your family tree; Europeans and South Asians have two, and Melanesians only one. (Africans, whose ancestors did not mate with Neandertals, have none.) Add in two additional liaisons known only from fossil DNA, and the ancestors of modern humans and Neandertals mixed it up at least five times. (Any matings that produced no offspring can’t be traced.) Meanwhile, the Denisovans bred at least once with Melanesians. “It was apparently separate events, so not just one single happy party at some point,” says evolutionary biologist Alan 
Cooper of the University of Adelaide in Australia, who was not part of the new study. (...)

  Dietary options and behavior suggested by plant biomarker evidence in an early human habitat, di C. R. Magill, G. M. Ashley, M. Domínguez-Rodrigo, K. H. Freeman, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", March 15, 2016, vol. 113, no. 11, pp. 2874–2879

The availability of plants and freshwater shapes the diets and social behavior of chimpanzees, our closest living relative. However, limited evidence about the spatial relationships shared between ancestral human (hominin) remains, edible resources, refuge, and freshwater leaves the influence of local resources on our species’ evolution open to debate. Exceptionally well-preserved organic geochemical fossils—biomarkers—preserved in a soil horizon resolve different plant communities at meter scales across a contiguous 25,000 m2 archaeological land surface at Olduvai Gorge from about 2 Ma. Biomarkers reveal hominins had access to aquatic plants and protective woods in a patchwork landscape, which included a spring-fed wetland near a woodland that both were surrounded by open grassland. Numerous cut-marked animal bones are located within the wooded area, and within meters of wetland vegetation delineated by biomarkers for ferns and sedges. Taken together, plant biomarkers, clustered bone debris, and hominin remains define a clear spatial pattern that places animal butchery amid the refuge of an isolated forest patch and near freshwater with diverse edible resources.


A method for finding stratified sites: Early Upper Palaeolithic sites in southern Moravia, di P. Škrdla, L. Nejman, T. Rychtaříková, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 41, Issue 1, 2016

There are several hundred recorded Early Upper Palaeolithic sites in Moravia, most of which are surface sites. The majority were exposed by agricultural plowing and subsequently discovered by pedestrian surveys whereas most of the stratified sites were found accidentally. Numerous unsystematic attempts in the past to find stratified remnants of sites disturbed by plowing have been unsuccessful. Here we present a methodology for locating stratified Early Upper Palaeolithic cultural contexts based on distribution of surface scatters. This involves pedestrian surveys guided by background research. All Palaeolithic artifacts were recorded using a handheld GPS with particular attention to calcium carbonate crust on artifact surfaces, which can be indicators of nearby stratified deposits. Exploratory test pits were then excavated followed by systematic excavations if the potential for stratified cultural deposits was deemed high.


New Middle Palaeolithic sites from the Mani Peninsula, Southern Greece, di V. Tourloukis et alli, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 41, Issue 1, 2016

We here report the first results from a systematic research project in Mani (Southern Greece), which includes survey and test excavations. Forty-six caves, rockshelters and open-air sites in lowland settings were surveyed. Geomorphological data were collected in order to assess how geological processes affect the preservation of sites and bias site distribution patterns. Artifacts manufactured from non-local rock indicate potential raw material transfers and suggest links among the different regions of Mani, related to mobility patterns. Our research in the Mani has nearly doubled the number of known Middle Palaeolithic sites from the region and confirmed that the peninsula has the strongest ‘Neanderthal signal’ identified to date in Greece. Almost all sites are located at coastal areas. Despite the influence of Pleistocene landscape dynamics, this distribution emerges as a persistent pattern, perhaps indicating a preference for coastal locations. The Neanderthal occupation of Mani can illuminate important aspects of Middle Palaeolithic adaptation in one of the southernmost coastal regions of Europe.


The Muddle in the Middle Pleistocene: The Lower–Middle Paleolithic Transition from the Levantine Perspective, di A. Malinsky-Buller, "Journal of World Prehistory", March 2016, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 1-78

The terms Lower Palaeolithic and Middle Palaeolithic represent research constructs within which cultural evolution and prehistoric hominin behaviours can be studied, with the transition usually understood as marking a watershed in our evolution: an adaptation with a million-year record of success that gives way to something new. The interpretation of the Lower Palaeolithic Acheulian technocomplex is usually understood as a period of cultural stasis that extends over much of Africa and Eurasia, principally associated with Homo erectus. Those innovations that can be observed occur widely separated from one another in space and time. Yet a closer and more detailed examination of the Middle Pleistocene records from East Africa, southern Africa, Europe and the Levant reveals significant variation in cultural repertoires. A kind of paradox emerges, in which an Old World Lower Palaeolithic, apparently lacking an overall dynamic of distinctive and directed change in terms of cumulative variation over time, nevertheless culminates in a transition which sees the universal appearance of the Middle Palaeolithic. The two main hypotheses that have been advanced to explain the global transition, which happens essentially synchronously, appear mutually exclusive and contradictory. One view is that altered climatic-environmental constraints enabled and encouraged an ‘Out-of-Africa’ dispersal (or dispersals) of a new type of genus Homo. This cultural replacement model has been challenged more recently by the alternative hypothesis of accumulating but unrelated and temporally non-linked regional, and in fact potentially autochthonous, processes. The Levant, by virtue of its position bridging Africa and Eurasia (thus being the region into which any out-of-Africa groups would have had first to disperse into), must be seen as a critical region for assessing the relative merits of these competing hypotheses. This paper deals with the Lower–Middle Paleolithic boundary in the Levant within a long temporal perspective. The Middle Pleistocene record in the Levant enables us to examine the amplitude of variation within each techno-complex, as well as to question whether there are diachronic changes in the amplitude of techno-typological variations as well as changes in the manner by which they appear in the record. The results carry significant implications for understandings of demographic and societal processes during the Lower–Middle Paleolithic transition in the Levant.

  Site formation and chronology of the new Paleolithic site Sima de Las Palomas de Teba, southern Spain, di M. Kehl et alii, "Quaternary Research", Volume 85, Issue 2, March 2016, Pages 313–331

The newly identified Paleolithic site Sima de Las Palomas de Teba hosts an almost seven-m-thick sediment profile investigated here to elucidate the rock shelter's chronostratigraphy and formation processes. At its base, the sediment sequence contains rich archeological deposits recording intensive occupation by Neanderthals. Luminescence provides a terminus ante quem of 39.4 ± 2.6 ka or 44.9 ± 4.1 ka (OSL) and 51.4 ± 8.4 ka (TL). This occupation ended with a rockfall event followed by accumulation of archeologically sterile sediments. These were covered by sediments containing few Middle Paleolithic artifacts, which either indicate ephemeral occupation by Neanderthals or reworking as suggested by micromorphological features. Above this unit, scattered lithic artifacts of undiagnostic character may represent undefined Paleolithic occupations. Sediment burial ages between about 23.0 ± 1.5 ka (OSL) and 40.5 ± 3.4 ka (pIRIR) provide an Upper Paleolithic chronology for sediments deposited above the rockfall. Finally, a dung-bearing Holocene layer in the uppermost part of the sequence contains a fragment of a human mandible dated to 4032 ± 39 14C yr BP. Overall, the sequence represents an important new site for studying the end of Neanderthal occupation in southern Spain.


The role of neurocranial shape in defining the boundaries of an expanded Homo erectus hypodigm, di K. L. Baab, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 92, March 2016, Pages 1–21

The main goals of this study were to evaluate the distinctiveness of Homo erectus neurocranial shape relative to other closely related species, and assess the likelihood that particular fossils were correctly attributed to H. erectus given how shape variation related to geography, time and brain size. This was accomplished through analyses of several sets of landmarks designed to maximize the fossil sample, including 24 putative H. erectus fossils. The question of taxonomic differentiation was initially assessed for the type specimen (Trinil II) and morphologically similar Sangiran fossils and subsequently for increasingly inclusive definitions of H. erectus. Results indicated that H. erectus fossils from China, Indonesia, Georgia and East Africa shared a neurocranial shape that was distinct from that of other Plio-Pleistocene Homo taxa, a pattern only partially accounted for by brain size. Early Indonesian H. erectus formed a morphological “bridge” between earlier and later populations assigned to H. erectus from Africa and Asia, respectively. These results were combined with discrete characters to create a more complete species definition for H. erectus. There were two notable exceptions to the general pattern of H. erectus uniqueness. The 0.8–1.0 Ma (millions of years ago) Daka calvaria from Ethiopia consistently grouped with mid-Pleistocene Homo, including Bodo and Kabwe, rather than African or Asian H. erectus. In addition, Daka also exhibited several traits derived for mid-Pleistocene Homo, and its scaling pattern mirrored mid-Pleistocene Homo rather than H. erectus. Daka may have belonged to an “advanced” H. erectus population close to the root of Homo heidelbergensis sensu lato (s.l.), or to an early population of H. heidelbergensis s.l.. The 1.5 Ma KNM-ER 42700 specimen from Kenya exhibited a unique calvarial shape distinct from H. erectus despite the exclusion of problematic landmarks from the frontal bone. These unique aspects of shape were not present in two other subadult fossils, KNM-WT 15000 and D2700.


Brain, calvarium, cladistics: A new approach to an old question, who are modern humans and Neandertals?, di A. Mounier, A. Balzeau, M. Caparros, D. Grimaud-Hervé, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 92, March 2016, Pages 22–36

The evolutionary history of the genus Homo is the focus of major research efforts in palaeoanthropology. However, the use of palaeoneurology to infer phylogenies of our genus is rare. Here we use cladistics to test the importance of the brain in differentiating and defining Neandertals and modern humans. The analysis is based on morphological data from the calvarium and endocast of Pleistocene fossils and results in a single most parsimonious cladogram. We demonstrate that the joint use of endocranial and calvarial features with cladistics provides a unique means to understand the evolution of the genus Homo. The main results of this study indicate that: (i) the endocranial features are more phylogenetically informative than the characters from the calvarium; (ii) the specific differentiation of Neandertals and modern humans is mostly supported by well-known calvarial autapomorphies; (iii) the endocranial anatomy of modern humans and Neandertals show strong similarities, which appeared in the fossil record with the last common ancestor of both species; and (iv) apart from encephalisation, human endocranial anatomy changed tremendously during the end of the Middle Pleistocene. This may be linked to major cultural and technological novelties that had happened by the end of the Middle Pleistocene (e.g., expansion of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) in Africa and Mousterian in Europe). The combined study of endocranial and exocranial anatomy offers opportunities to further understand human evolution and the implication for the phylogeny of our genus.


Comparative perspective on antemortem tooth loss in Neandertals, di C. C. Gilmore, T. D. Weaver, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 92, March 2016, Pages 80–90

Neandertal specimens with severe antemortem (before death) tooth loss (AMTL) are sometimes interpreted as evidence for human-like behaviors in Neandertals, such as conspecific care or cooking, although it is uncertain whether AMTL frequencies in Neandertals are similar to those in modern humans and exceed those in non-human primates. This study characterizes AMTL (all tooth types) in Neandertals relative to recent human hunter-gatherers and several non-human primate taxa using binomial-normal regression models fit in a Bayesian framework to a sample of 25 Neandertals, 310 recent human hunter-gatherers, 61 chimpanzees, 38 orangutans, and 75 baboons. The probability that a tooth is lost antemortem is modeled to depend on tooth class, taxon, and estimated age at death. Neandertals have odds of AMTL above orangutans and baboons, similar to or somewhat lower than chimpanzees, and below recent humans, if we assume a human-like rate of senescence; or intermediate between chimpanzees and recent humans, if we assume a faster rate of senescence. These findings suggest that Neandertals can only be considered to have frequencies of AMTL above non-human primates if they had more rapid life histories than modern humans. Either Neandertals are not human-like in their life history or their frequency of AMTL. These interpretations are complicated, however, by the substantial inter-population variation in AMTL among recent humans, with some populations having odds of AMTL as low as in non-human primates. These results, together with theoretical considerations, suggest that only high frequencies of AMTL are diagnostic of behavior. Consequently, the behavioral implications of low frequencies of AMTL, such as those found in Neandertals, are ambiguous. Low frequencies in Neandertals could be because they had a low risk of AMTL rather than because they had high mortality from AMTL relative to an average modern human of similar age.


Aggiornamento 8 marzo

  The Oldest Evidence for Human Habitation in the Baltic Region: A Preliminary Report on the Chronology and Archaeological Context of the Riadino-5 Archaeological Site, di O. Druzhinina, A. Molodkov, A. Bitinas, E. Bregman, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 31, Issue 2, pages 156–164, March/April 2016

We report the discovery of the oldest evidence for human presence in the southeastern Baltic Sea region. This paper presents an overview of the Riadino-5 archaeological site in the lower course of the Šešupė River (Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia) and direct infrared stimulated luminescence (IRSL) ages for the culture-bearing sediments from the site, which place the time of occupation well within the range of Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3 (ca 57–26 ka). Luminescence ages were determined using the multiple-aliquot additive-dose technique, applied to sand-sized potassium feldspar. Four of the six IRSL samples from the site come from the cultural deposits, while two are from the surrounding sediments. The luminescence age of the deposits implies that human occupation of the southeastern Baltic Sea region occurred at least between 50 ka and 44 ka during the first half of MIS 3 and the Middle-Upper Paleolithic.

  Making Sense of Residues on Flaked Stone Artefacts: Learning from Blind Tests, di  V. Rots, E. Hayes, D. Cnuts, C. Lepers, R. Fullagar, March 1, 2016, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150437  - open access -

Residue analysis has become a frequently applied method for identifying prehistoric stone tool use. Residues adhering to the stone tool with varying frequencies are interpreted as being the result of an intentional contact with the worked material during use. Yet, other processes during the life cycle of a stone tool or after deposition may leave residues and these residues may potentially lead to misinterpretations. We present a blind test that was designed to examine this issue. Results confirm that production, retouch, prehension, hafting, various incidental contacts during use and deposition may lead to residue depositions that significantly affect the accurateness of identifications of tool-use. All currently applied residue approaches are concerned. We therefore argue for a closer interaction with independent wear studies and a step-wise procedure in which a low magnification of wear traces is used as a first step for selecting potentially used flakes in archaeological contexts. In addition, residue concentrations on a tool’s edge should be sufficiently dense before linking them with use. (...)


The Initial Magdalenian mosaic: New evidence from Urtiaga cave, Guipúzcoa, Spain, di L. M. Fontes, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 41, March 2016, Pages 109–131

Transitional moments in prehistory are of broad interest in archaeology. Immediately following the Last Glacial Maximum, two technological shifts occurred in SW Europe: in France, at ~18,000 uncal. BP, an industry characterized by large Solutrean projectiles was replaced by the well-defined Badegoulian industry; a thousand years later in Vasco-Cantabrian Spain, Solutrean technologies were gradually replaced by Magdalenian antler point (sagaie) and lithic inset composite weapons. The Solutrean–Magdalenian transition remains ill-defined in Vasco-Cantabria, where very few “transitional” assemblages dating to the c. 17–16,000 uncal. BP interval have been identified, leaving questions as to how the changes occurred and what kinds of relationships existed between French and Spanish groups during this period. Urtiaga cave (Guipúzcoa) Level F (17,050 ± 140 uncal. BP) contributes a new Initial Magdalenian archaeological sample to the discussion of Last Glacial behavioral change during a technological transition. This paper synthesizes the results of a detailed lithic analysis with findings from previous studies of fauna and osseous industry from Urtiaga Level F. Then, the analysis explores Initial Magdalenian organizational behaviors through a series of lithic procurement/mobility models that show dynamic land use in eastern Vasco-Cantabria. Finally, Urtiaga Level F was compared to four other Initial Magdalenian occupations in the region, demonstrating that lithic maintenance—in manufacture, use, and rejuvenation—was a significant factor in how Initial Magdalenian groups organized their landscape-level behavioral strategies. The archaeological assemblages from Urtiaga cave are important contributions to archaeological questions surrounding the Solutrean–Magdalenian transition, providing further evidence for in situ technological change in Vasco-Cantabria. Additionally, the economic analyses discussed in this paper provide new attributes that archaeologists can use to identify Initial Magdalenian sites on the landscape. This study develops a methodological procedure that is broadly applicable to archaeological studies related to prehistoric cultural transitions and to those studies that apply data from collections recovered during the early 20th century to modern interpretive frameworks.


The lithic assemblage from Pont-de-Lavaud (Indre, France) and the role of the bipolar-on-anvil technique in the Lower and Early Middle Pleistocene technology, di A. de Lombera-Hermida et alii, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 41, March 2016, Pages 159–184

The lithic assemblage of the Pont-de-Lavaud site (Indre, France) shows a technical choice within the Lower Pleistocene European Mode 1 sites, which is defined by the widespread use of the bipolar-on-anvil knapping technique. Although it is traditionally considered an expedient percussion method, in this lithic assemblage a selective technical behavior regarding the reduction methods and raw material is identified. In this respect, different knapping methods are applied in accordance with a combination of the percussion axis and the recurrence of the reduction series. These features are also observed in the archaeological record from other Lower and Middle Pleistocene sites, which are discussed in the text. The role of this knapping technique in the hominin technology is, in our opinion, greater than previously believed. Its implementation cannot be considered as proof of opportunistic or expedient activities. The bipolar-on-anvil technique is applied in different contexts, on different raw materials and as a technical choice or gesture in the reduction sequences. Because of its low technical requirements, it can be considered as a successful technological strategy for overcoming raw material constraints for producing some specific types of pieces. Its ubiquitous presence, both from a diachronic and geographical point of view, is proof of its considerable technical versatility and, hence, of Mode 1 hominin technological flexibility and capabilities.


Distribution patterns of stone-tool reduction: Establishing frames of reference to approximate occupational features and formation processes in Paleolithic societies, di J. I. Morales, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 41, March 2016, Pages 231–245

The main goal of this work is to illustrate the interpretative potential of regionally oriented tool-use-life approaches to infer patterns of mobility, occupational intensity, and assemblage formation processes. We apply a wide reduction analysis to 15 Late Upper Paleolithic lithic assemblages. We perform an exploratory data analysis to observe reduction intensity tendencies among the different assemblages, and we characterize reduction distribution patterns using Weibull probability distribution functions. To avoid sampling effects, resampling and bootstrapping were performed. The Weibull profiles of the analyzed data show different degrees of occupational intensity and/or length that are not observable through the classical techno-typological approaches. A referential reduction space is also simulated to create a frame to interpret our results in a more absolute scale.

  Neandertals may have used chemistry to start fires, di L. Wade, "Science News", Feb. 29, 2016

Scientists know a lot about Neandertals these days, from their hair color to their mating habits. Still, a basic mystery remains: Did they know how to start a fire? Archaeologists have long known that Neandertals, like the family pictured in this artist’s representation, used fire, but they could have merely taken advantage of naturally occurring lightning strikes and forest fires to supply the flames. Now, a new hypothesis about some odd Neandertal artifacts suggests that our distant cousins could indeed spark a fire from scratch. Excavations at the 50,000-year-old site Pech-de-l’Azé I in southwestern France have yielded blocks of manganese dioxide, which is abundant in the region’s limestone formations. Archaeologists previously thought that Neandertals used the substance as a black pigment to decorate their bodies. But a new team of researchers points out that charcoal and soot from their campfires would have made for easier and more accessible body paint. Plus, the Neandertals at Pech-de-l’Azé I appeared to have strongly preferred manganese dioxides to the other manganese oxides available in their environment, even though all of the closely related chemicals would have yielded the same color pigment. So what can manganese dioxide do that its relatives can’t? Start fires. Noticing signs of abrasion on some of the Pech-de-l’Azé I blocks, the scientists ground up bits of them to produce a powder. When they sprinkled that powder on a pile of wood, it lowered the temperature needed to initiate combustion to 250°C, making it much easier to start a fire, they report today in Scientific Reports. (Untreated wood failed to ignite at temperatures up to 350°C.) The researchers can’t rule out other possible Neandertal uses for manganese dioxide, including body decoration. But based on their experiments, they suggest adding fire-starting to the list.

  Ancient gene flow from early modern humans into Eastern Neanderthals, di M. Kuhlwilm et alii, "Nature" 530, pp. 429–433 (25 February 2016)

It has been shown that Neanderthals contributed genetically to modern humans outside Africa 47,000–65,000 years ago. Here we analyse the genomes of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan from the Altai Mountains in Siberia together with the sequences of chromosome 21 of two Neanderthals from Spain and Croatia. We find that a population that diverged early from other modern humans in Africa contributed genetically to the ancestors of Neanderthals from the Altai Mountains roughly 100,000 years ago. By contrast, we do not detect such a genetic contribution in the Denisovan or the two European Neanderthals. We conclude that in addition to later interbreeding events, the ancestors of Neanderthals from the Altai Mountains and early modern humans met and interbred, possibly in the Near East, many thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

· Più di 100.000 anni fa l'incrocio tra sapiens e Neanderthal, Le Scienze, 18 febbraio 2016

  A simple rule governs the evolution and development of hominin tooth size, di A. R. Evans et alii, "Nature" 530, 477–480 (25 February 2016)

The variation in molar tooth size in humans and our closest relatives (hominins) has strongly influenced our view of human evolution. The reduction in overall size and disproportionate decrease in third molar size have been noted for over a century, and have been attributed to reduced selection for large dentitions owing to changes in diet or the acquisition of cooking. The systematic pattern of size variation along the tooth row has been described as a ‘morphogenetic gradient’ in mammal, and more specifically hominin, teeth since Butler and Dahlberg. However, the underlying controls of tooth size have not been well understood, with hypotheses ranging from morphogenetic fields to the clone theory. In this study we address the following question: are there rules that govern how hominin tooth size evolves? Here we propose that the inhibitory cascade, an activator–inhibitor mechanism that affects relative tooth size in mammals, produces the default pattern of tooth sizes for all lower primary postcanine teeth (deciduous premolars and permanent molars) in hominins. This configuration is also equivalent to a morphogenetic gradient, finally pointing to a mechanism that can generate this gradient. The pattern of tooth size remains constant with absolute size in australopiths (including Ardipithecus, Australopithecus and Paranthropus). However, in species of Homo, including modern humans, there is a tight link between tooth proportions and absolute size such that a single developmental parameter can explain both the relative and absolute sizes of primary postcanine teeth. On the basis of the relationship of inhibitory cascade patterning with size, we can use the size at one tooth position to predict the sizes of the remaining four primary postcanine teeth in the row for hominins. Our study provides a development-based expectation to examine the evolution of the unique proportions of human teeth.

· Dall'evoluzione dei denti all'evoluzione di Homo, Le Scienze, 25 febbraio 2016

  An ecocultural model predicts Neanderthal extinction through competition with modern humans, di W. Gilpin, M. W. Feldman, K. Aoki, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", February 23, 2016, vol. 113, no. 8, pp. 2134-2139  - open access -

Archaeologists argue that the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans was driven by interspecific competition due to a difference in culture level. To assess the cogency of this argument, we construct and analyze an interspecific cultural competition model based on the Lotka−Volterra model, which is widely used in ecology, but which incorporates the culture level of a species as a variable interacting with population size. We investigate the conditions under which a difference in culture level between cognitively equivalent species, or alternatively a difference in underlying learning ability, may produce competitive exclusion of a comparatively (although not absolutely) large local Neanderthal population by an initially smaller modern human population. We find, in particular, that this competitive exclusion is more likely to occur when population growth occurs on a shorter timescale than cultural change, or when the competition coefficients of the Lotka−Volterra model depend on the difference in the culture levels of the interacting species. (...)

  Dietary options and behavior suggested by plant biomarker evidence in an early human habitat, di C. R. Magill, G. M. Ashley, M. Domínguez-Rodrigo, K. H. Freeman, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences-Early Edition",February 22, 2016, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1507055113

The availability of plants and freshwater shapes the diets and social behavior of chimpanzees, our closest living relative. However, limited evidence about the spatial relationships shared between ancestral human (hominin) remains, edible resources, refuge, and freshwater leaves the influence of local resources on our species’ evolution open to debate. Exceptionally well-preserved organic geochemical fossils—biomarkers—preserved in a soil horizon resolve different plant communities at meter scales across a contiguous 25,000 m2 archaeological land surface at Olduvai Gorge from about 2 Ma. Biomarkers reveal hominins had access to aquatic plants and protective woods in a patchwork landscape, which included a spring-fed wetland near a woodland that both were surrounded by open grassland. Numerous cut-marked animal bones are located within the wooded area, and within meters of wetland vegetation delineated by biomarkers for ferns and sedges. Taken together, plant biomarkers, clustered bone debris, and hominin remains define a clear spatial pattern that places animal butchery amid the refuge of an isolated forest patch and near freshwater with diverse edible resources.

· L'habitat degli antichi ominidi di Olduvai, "Le Scienze", 24 febbraio 2016

  Evidence mounts for interbreeding bonanza in ancient human species, di E. Callaway, "Nature News", 17 February 2016

The discovery of yet another period of interbreeding between early humans and Neanderthals is adding to the growing sense that sexual encounters among different ancient human species were commonplace throughout their history. “As more early modern humans and archaic humans are found and sequenced, we’re going to see many more instances of interbreeding,” says Sergi Castellano, a population geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. His team discovered the latest example, which they believe occurred around 100,000 years ago, by analysing traces of Homo sapiens DNA in a Neanderthal genome extracted from a toe bone found in a cave in Siberia. “There is this joke in the population genetics community — there’s always one more interbreeding event," Castellano says. So before researchers discover the next one, here’s a rundown of the interbreeding episodes that they have already deduced from studies of ancient DNA. (...)

  Neanderthals mated with modern humans much earlier than previously thought, study finds, 17-FEB-2016

Cold Spring Harbor, NY - Using several different methods of DNA analysis, an international research team has found what they consider to be strong evidence of an interbreeding event between Neanderthals and modern humans that occurred tens of thousands of years earlier than any other such event previously documented. Today in Nature the team publishes evidence of interbreeding that occurred an estimated 100,000 years ago. More specifically the scientists provide the first genetic evidence of a scenario in which early modern humans left the African continent and mixed with archaic (now-extinct) members of the human family prior to the migration "out of Africa" of the ancestors of present-day non-Africans, less than 65,000 years ago. "It's been known for several years, following the first sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, that Neanderthals and humans must have interbred," says Professor Adam Siepel, a co-team leader and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) quantitative biologist. "But the data so far refers to an event dating to around 47,000-65,000 years ago, around the time that human populations emigrated from Africa. The event we found appears considerably older than that event." (...)
  Fossil analysis pushes back human split from other primates by two million years, February 16, 2016

A common ancestor of apes and humans, Chororapithecus abyssinicus, evolved in Africa, not Eurasia, two million years earlier than previously thought, a new paper suggests.


The prehistory of the Land of Nineveh, di C. C. Barbaro, A. Zerboni, D. Moscone, M. Cremaschi, M. Iamoni, A. Savioli, D. M. Bonacossi, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 349, February 2016

Since the middle of the last century, when Ralph Solecki excavated the Neanderthals at Shanidar and Robert Braidwood began his work at Jarmo, the ‘hilly flanks of the Zagros’ have been a mythical place for the study of prehistory (Braidwood & Howe 1960; Solecki 1971). Despite its crucial importance for early human history and its high archaeological potential, this extensive region—encompassing parts of Iraq, Iran and Turkey—has, until the recent establishment of several research projects, not been subject to systematic exploration. In September 2015, a joint team from the universities of Udine, Rome (‘La Sapienza’) and Milan initiated a field project focused on the prehistory of the provinces of Nineveh (Mosul) and Dohuk, in the northernmost part of Iraqi Kurdistan. The purpose of this study is to outline the main chrono-cultural aspects of the region’s prehistory, from the Lower Palaeolithic to the early Chalcolithic, and to relate them to environmental changes that have occurred since the Middle Pleistocene. This research is part of the broader ‘Land of Nineveh Archaeological Project’, led by Udine University, that has been running since 2012 with the aim of understanding the formation and evolution of the cultural and natural landscape of this region from the Palaeolithic to the Islamic period (Morandi Bonacossi & Iamoni 2015). (...)


Migrations and interactions in prehistoric Beringia: the evolution of Yakutian lithic technology, di Y. A. Gómez Coutouly, "Antiquity", Volume 90, Issue 349, February 2016, pp. 9-31

Flaked-tool technology can provide insights into social and cultural changes and interregional connections. This study of changing tool production covers the Upper Palaeolithic to the Late Neolithic in the Yakutia region of eastern Siberia. This region is home to the Palaeolithic Dyuktai complex, the Mesolithic Sumnagin complex and Neolithic traditions; it thus enables a better understanding of the material culture of these societies in Siberia and improves our knowledge of the complex migration processes towards the New World.


First Palaeolithic rock art in Germany: engravings on Hunsrück slate, di W. Welker, "Antiquity", Volume 90, Issue 349, February 2016, pp. 32-47

The engravings discovered on a slate rock face near the village of Gondershausen in the Hunsrück Mountains in 2010 represent the northernmost example of open-air Palaeolithic rock art in Europe, and the first in Germany. Analysis of the style and technique of the Hunsrück images reveals significant parallels with Palaeolithic cave art from other parts of Europe, most notably France. The oldest of the images at Gondershausen—three horses in particular—may be attributed to the Aurignacian or Gravettian. The survival of these Palaeolithic engravings through the Last Glacial Maximum is testimony to the unusual circumstances of their preservation.

  Identification of Late Epigravettian hunting injuries: Descriptive and 3D analysis of experimental projectile impact marks on bone, di R. Duches et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 66, February 2016, Pages 88–102

The search for diagnostic criteria useful in hunting lesions identification is a new branch of investigation. Though recently there has been an increase in studies focused on this issue, no experimental works exist that analyze marks left by backed, morphologically standardized lithic projectiles like those used by the hunter-gatherers that peopled a large part of Europe during the Late Glacial. As such, this paper aims to provide comparison data for identifying archaeological Late Epigravettian projectile impact marks. At the same time, the potential of 3D scanning microscopy to distinguish hunting injuries from other taphonomic marks is assessed. The morphometric analyses, based on the descriptive criteria developed from other recent studies, highlight the presence of peculiar features of experimentally produced drag and puncture marks. These data are interpreted as a result of the specific design of Late Epigravettian lithic projectiles. The outcomes of 3D digital analysis confirm the crucial role of this methodological approach in taphonomic study, offering new clues in PIMs (Projectile Impact Marks) archaeological identification and distinction from cut marks, carnivore tooth marks and corrosion cavities.

  The first peopling of Europe and technological change during the Lower-Middle Pleistocene transition, "Quaternary International", Volume 393, Pages 1-184 (30 January 2016). Edited by D. Barsky, M. Mosquera, A. Ollé and X.P. Rodríguez-Álvarez:

- The first peopling of Europe and technological change during the Lower-Middle Pleistocene transition

- Structural continuity and technological change in Lower Pleistocene toolkits

- Modelling human presence and environmental dynamics during the Mid-Pleistocene Revolution: New approaches and tools

- Bois-de-Riquet (Lézignan-la-Cèbe, Hérault): A late Early Pleistocene archeological occurrence in southern France

- The first European peopling and the Italian case: Peculiarities and “opportunism”

- The Early Pleistocene site of Kermek in western Ciscaucasia (southern Russia): Stratigraphy, biotic record and lithic industry (preliminary results)

- Lithic materials in high fluvial terraces of the central Pyrenean piedmont (Ebro Basin, Spain)

- The Lower Palaeolithic site Alto de las Picarazas (Andilla-Chelva, Valencia)

- The Early Acheulean technology of Barranc de la Boella (Catalonia, Spain)

- The Acheulean workshop of la Noira (France, 700 ka) in the European technological context

- The Middle Pleistocene site of La Cansaladeta (Tarragona, Spain): Stratigraphic and archaeological succession

- Assessment of the Acheulean in Southern Italy: New study on the Atella site (Basilicata, Italy)

- Mode 1 or mode 2? “Small tools” in the technical variability of the European Lower Palaeolithic: The site of Ficoncella (Tarquinia, Lazio, central Italy)


Paleoenvironmental reconstruction of a paleosol catena, the Zinj archeological level, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, di S. G. Driese, G. M. Ashley, "Quaternary Research", Volume 85, Issue 1, January 2016, Pages 133–146

Paleosols record paleoclimatic processes in the Earth's Critical Zone and are archives of ancient landscapes associated with archeological sites. Detailed field, micromorphologic, and bulk geochemical analysis of paleosols were conducted near four sites at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania within the same stratigraphic horizon as the Zinjanthropus (Paranthropus) boisei archeological site. Paleosols are thin (< 35 cm), smectitic, and exhibit Vertisol shrink–swell features. Traced across the paleolandscape over 1 km and just beneath Tuff IC (1.845 Ma), the paleosols record a paleocatena in which soil moisture at the four sites was supplemented by seepage additions from adjacent springs, and soil development was enhanced by this additional moisture. Field evidence revealed an abrupt lateral transition in paleosol composition at the PTK site (< 1.5 m apart) in which paleosol B, formed nearest the spring system, is highly siliceous, vs. paleosol A, formed in smectitic clay. Thin-section investigations combined with mass-balance geochemistry, using Chapati Tuff as parent material and assuming immobile Ti, show moderately intense weathering. Pedotransfer functions indicate a fertile soil system, but sodicity may have limited some plant growth. Paleosol bulk geochemical proxies used to estimate paleoprecipitation (733–944 mm/yr), are higher than published estimates of 250–700 mm/yr using δD values of lipid biomarkers.


Geochemical “fingerprints” for Olduvai Gorge Bed II tuffs and implications for the Oldowan–Acheulean transition, di L. J. McHenry, J. K. Njau, I. de la Torre, Michael C. Pante, "Quaternary Research",Volume 85, Issue 1, January 2016, Pages 147–158

Bed II is a critical part of early Pleistocene Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Its deposits include transitions from humid to more arid conditions (with associated faunal changes), from Homo habilis to erectus, and from Oldowan to Acheulean technology. Bed II (~ 1.8–1.2 Ma) is stratigraphically and environmentally complex, with facies changes, faulting, and unconformities, making site-to-site correlation over the ~ 20 km of exposure difficult. Bed II tuffs are thinner, less evenly preserved, and more reworked than those of Bed I. Five marker tuffs (Tuffs IIA–IID, Bird Print Tuff (BPT)), plus local tephra, were collected from multiple sites and characterized using stratigraphic position, mineral assemblage, and electron probe microanalysis of phenocryst (feldspar, hornblende, augite, titanomagnetite) and glass (where available) composition. Lowermost Bed II tuffs are dominantly nephelinitic, Middle Bed II tuffs (BPT, Tuff IIC) have basaltic components, and upper Bed II Tuff IID is trachytic. The BPT and Tuff IID are identified widely using phenocryst compositions (high-Ca plagioclase and high-Ti hornblende, respectively), though IID was originally (Hay, 1976) misidentified as Tuff IIC at Loc 91 (SHK Annexe) in the Side Gorge. This work helps establish a high-resolution basin-wide paleolandscape context for the Oldowan–Acheulean transition and helps link hominin, faunal and archaeological records.


Aggiornamento del 12 febbraio

  Demography and the Palaeolithic Archaeological Record, di J. C. French, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", March 2016, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 150-199

Demographic change has recently re-emerged as a key explanation for socio-cultural changes documented in the prehistoric archaeological record. While the majority of studies of Pleistocene demography have been conducted by geneticists, the archaeological records of the Palaeolithic should not be ignored as a source of data on past population trends. This paper forms both a comprehensive synthesis and the first critical review of current archaeological research into Palaeolithic demography. Within prevailing archaeological frameworks of dual inheritance theory and human behavioural ecology, I review the ways in which demographic change has been used as an explanatory concept within Palaeolithic archaeology. I identify and discuss three main research areas which have benefitted from a demographic approach to socio-cultural change: (1) technological stasis in the Lower Palaeolithic, (2) the Neanderthal-Homo sapiens transition in Europe and (3) the emergence of behavioural modernity. I then address the ways in which palaeodemographic methods have been applied to Palaeolithic datasets, considering both general methodological concerns and the challenges specific to this time period. Finally, I discuss the ability of ethnographic analogy to aid research into Palaeolithic demography.


A Statistical Examination of Flake Edge Angles Produced During Experimental Lineal Levallois Reductions and Consideration of Their Functional Implications, di M. I. Eren, S. J. Lycett, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", March 2016, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 379-398

Recent studies have indicated that Levallois-style core reduction offered potential practical benefits to hominin populations. However, none of these studies have yet considered one of the most important functional attributes of flake tools, which is edge angle. To address this shortcoming, we statistically examined flakes produced experimentally during “classic” or “lineal” Levallois core production and reduction. The primary aim of our analyses was to statistically test the null hypothesis of “no difference” between the edge angles of “Levallois” products and the flakes involved in their production. We employ existing edge angle analytical techniques and develop new comparative methodologies to assess flake blank standardization through the case of Levallois core reduction. Having determined the statistical properties of our experimental Levallois reductions, we thereafter evaluated to what extent edge angles produced may, or may not, have been useful to prehistoric hominins. Our analyses demonstrated that the experimentally produced Levallois edge angles were indeed statistically different from the flakes involved in their production. These differences were evident both in terms of relatively higher (i.e., more obtuse) edge angles than debitage flakes and in being significantly less variable around their higher mean edge angles compared to debitage flakes. However, based on current knowledge of how flake edge angle properties relate to issues of functionality, such differences would not have been detrimental to their functionality. Indeed, the edge angle properties they possess would have provided distinct benefits to hominins engaged in their manufacture. Most notably, Levallois-style core organization and reduction would have provided hominins with a reliable means of consistently producing flakes (i.e., “Levallois flakes”) possessing average flake angles that are beneficial in terms of providing a viable cutting edge yet not being so acute as to be friable upon application. Hence, edge angle properties join an array of other features that provide logical motive for why hominins may have organized core production and reduction around Levallois-style patterns at various times and places during the Mid-Late Pleistocene.

  The phenotypic legacy of admixture between modern humans and Neandertals, di C. N. Simonti et alii, "Science", 12 Feb 2016, Vol. 351, Issue 6274, pp. 737-741 - open access -

Many modern human genomes retain DNA inherited from interbreeding with archaic hominins, such as Neandertals, yet the influence of this admixture on human traits is largely unknown. We analyzed the contribution of common Neandertal variants to over 1000 electronic health record (EHR)–derived phenotypes in ~28,000 adults of European ancestry. We discovered and replicated associations of Neandertal alleles with neurological, psychiatric, immunological, and dermatological phenotypes. Neandertal alleles together explained a significant fraction of the variation in risk for depression and skin lesions resulting from sun exposure (actinic keratosis), and individual Neandertal alleles were significantly associated with specific human phenotypes, including hypercoagulation and tobacco use. Our results establish that archaic admixture influences disease risk in modern humans, provide hypotheses about the effects of hundreds of Neandertal haplotypes, and demonstrate the utility of EHR data in evolutionary analyses. (...)

  Why Was Silcrete Heat-Treated in the Middle Stone Age? An Early Transformative Technology in the Context of Raw Material Use at Mertenhof Rock Shelter, South Africa, di P. Schmidt, A. Mackay, February 11, 2016, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0149243  - open access -

People heat treated silcrete during the Middle Stone Age (MSA) in southern Africa but the spatial and temporal variability of this practice remains poorly documented. This paucity of data in turn makes it difficult to interrogate the motive factors underlying the application of this technique. In this paper we present data on heat treatment of silcrete through the Howiesons Poort and post-Howiesons Poort of the rock shelter site Mertenhof, located in the Western Cape of South Africa. In contrast to other sites where heat treatment has been documented, distance to rock source at Mertenhof can be reasonably well estimated, and the site is known to contain high proportions of a diversity of fine grained rocks including silcrete, hornfels and chert at various points through the sequence. Our results suggest the prevalence of heat treatment is variable through the sequence but that it is largely unaffected by the relative abundance of silcrete prevalence. Instead there is a strong inverse correlation between frequency of heat treatment in silcrete and prevalence of chert in the assemblage, and a generally positive correlation with the proportion of locally available rock. While it is difficult to separate individual factors we suggest that, at Mertenhof at least, heat treatment may have been used to improve the fracture properties of silcrete at times when other finer grained rocks were less readily available. As such, heat treatment appears to have been a component of the MSA behavioural repertoire that was flexibly deployed in ways sensitive to other elements of technological organisation. (...)

  Mechanical evidence that Australopithecus sediba was limited in its ability to eat hard foods, di J. A. Ledogar et alii, "Nature Communications" 7, 08 February 2016, doi:10.1038/ncomms10596  - open access -

Australopithecus sediba has been hypothesized to be a close relative of the genus Homo. Here we show that MH1, the type specimen of A. sediba, was not optimized to produce high molar bite force and appears to have been limited in its ability to consume foods that were mechanically challenging to eat. Dental microwear data have previously been interpreted as indicating that A. sediba consumed hard foods, so our findings illustrate that mechanical data are essential if one aims to reconstruct a relatively complete picture of feeding adaptations in extinct hominins. An implication of our study is that the key to understanding the origin of Homo lies in understanding how environmental changes disrupted gracile australopith niches. Resulting selection pressures led to changes in diet and dietary adaption that set the stage for the emergence of our genus. (...)

  Functional Analyses of Transcription Factor Binding Sites that Differ between Present-Day and Archaic Humans, di S. Weyer, S. Pääbo, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 33, Issue 2, February 2016  - open access -

We analyze 25 previously identified transcription factor binding sites that carry DNA sequence changes that are present in all or nearly all present-day humans, yet occur in the ancestral state in Neandertals and Denisovans, the closest evolutionary relatives of humans. When the ancestral and derived forms of the transcription factor binding sites are tested using reporter constructs in 3 neuronal cell lines, the activity of 12 of the derived versions of transcription factor binding sites differ from the respective ancestral variants. This suggests that the majority of this class of evolutionary differences between modern humans and Neandertals may affect gene expression in at least some tissue or cell type. (...)


Cranial base topology and basic trends in the facial evolution of Homo, di M. Bastir, A. Rosas, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 91, February 2016, Pages 26–35

Facial prognathism and projection are important characteristics in human evolution but their three-dimensional (3D) architectonic relationships to basicranial morphology are not clear. We used geometric morphometrics and measured 51 3D-landmarks in a comparative sample of modern humans (N = 78) and fossil Pleistocene hominins (N = 10) to investigate the spatial features of covariation between basicranial and facial elements. The study reveals complex morphological integration patterns in craniofacial evolution of Middle and Late Pleistocene hominins. A downwards-orientated cranial base correlates with alveolar maxillary prognathism, relatively larger faces, and relatively larger distances between the anterior cranial base and the frontal bone (projection). This upper facial projection correlates with increased overall relative size of the maxillary alveolar process. Vertical facial height is associated with tall nasal cavities and is accommodated by an elevated anterior cranial base, possibly because of relations between the cribriform and the nasal cavity in relation to body size and energetics. Variation in upper- and mid-facial projection can further be produced by basicranial topology in which the midline base and nasal cavity are shifted anteriorly relative to retracted lateral parts of the base and the face. The zygomatics and the middle cranial fossae act together as bilateral vertical systems that are either projected or retracted relative to the midline facial elements, causing either midfacial flatness or midfacial projection correspondingly. We propose that facial flatness and facial projection reflect classical principles of craniofacial growth counterparts, while facial orientation relative to the basicranium as well as facial proportions reflect the complex interplay of head-body integration in the light of encephalization and body size decrease in Middle to Late Pleistocene hominin evolution. Developmental and evolutionary patterns of integration may only partially overlap morphologically, and traditional concepts taken from research on two-dimensional (2D) lateral X-rays and sections have led to oversimplified and overly mechanistic models of basicranial evolution.


The Uluzzian technology of Grotta di Fumane and its implication for reconstructing cultural dynamics in the Middle–Upper Palaeolithic transition of Western Eurasia, di M. Peresani, E. Cristiani, M. Romandini, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 91, February 2016, Pages 36–56

From the intricate ensemble of evidence related to the Middle–Upper Palaeolithic transition and the presumed first spread of anatomically modern humans in Europe, the Uluzzian has attracted major attention in the past few years. Although the Uluzzian has been viewed as a supposed product of modern humans settling in Mediterranean Europe, the techno–cultural complex has been the subject of few investigations aiming to clarify its chronology, bone industry, and settlement dynamics. Further, little is known of its technological structure. This article presents the results of an extensive study of the lithic and bone technologies from assemblages recovered at Fumane Cave in the north of Italy. Results confirm that the Uluzzian is a flake-dominated industry that brings together a set of technological innovations. The Levallois is the most used method in the initial phase, which is replaced by more varied flaking procedures and an increase in bladelets and flake-blades. Sidescrapers and points also represent a Mousterian feature in the initial phase, while splintered pieces, backed knives and other Upper Palaeolithic tools increase in the later phase. Our results suggest that the Uluzzian is rooted in the Mousterian lithic technological context and cannot be viewed as a proxy for anatomically modern humans, the carriers of the abrupt cultural changes related to the Aurignacian.


Virtual ancestor reconstruction: Revealing the ancestor of modern humans and Neandertals, di A. Mounier, M. Mirazón Lahr, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 91, February 2016, Pages 57–72

The timing and geographic origin of the common ancestor of modern humans and Neandertals remain controversial. A poor Pleistocene hominin fossil record and the evolutionary complexities introduced by dispersals and regionalisation of lineages have fuelled taxonomic uncertainty, while new ancient genomic data have raised completely new questions. Here, we use maximum likelihood and 3D geometric morphometric methods to predict possible morphologies of the last common ancestor of modern humans and Neandertals from a simplified, fully resolved phylogeny. We describe the fully rendered 3D shapes of the predicted ancestors of humans and Neandertals, and assess their similarity to individual fossils or populations of fossils of Pleistocene age. Our results support models of an Afro-European ancestral population in the Middle Pleistocene (Homo heidelbergensis sensu lato) and further predict an African origin for this ancestral population.


Middle Palaeolithic toolstone procurement behaviors at Lusakert Cave 1, Hrazdan valley, Armenia, di E. Frahm et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 91, February 2016, Pages 73–92

Strategies employed by Middle Palaeolithic hominins to acquire lithic raw materials often play key roles in assessing their movements through the landscape, relationships with neighboring groups, and cognitive abilities. It has been argued that a dependence on local resources is a widespread characteristic of the Middle Palaeolithic, but how such behaviors were manifested on the landscape remains unclear. Does an abundance of local toolstone reflect frequent encounters with different outcrops while foraging, or was a particular outcrop favored and preferentially quarried? This study examines such behaviors at a finer geospatial scale than is usually possible, allowing us to investigate hominin movements through the landscape surrounding Lusakert Cave 1 in Armenia. Using our newly developed approach to obsidian magnetic characterization, we test a series of hypotheses regarding the locations where hominins procured toolstone from a volcanic complex adjacent to the site. Our goal is to establish whether the cave's occupants procured local obsidian from preferred outcrops or quarries, secondary deposits of obsidian nodules along a river, or a variety of exposures as encountered while moving through the river valley or across the wider volcanic landscape during the course of foraging activities. As we demonstrate here, it is not the case that one particular outcrop or deposit attracted the cave occupants during the studied time intervals. Nor did they acquire obsidian at random across the landscape. Instead, our analyses support the hypothesis that these hominins collected obsidian from outcrops and exposures throughout the adjacent river valley, reflecting the spatial scale of their day-to-day foraging activities. The coincidence of such behaviors within the resource-rich river valley suggests efficient exploitation of a diverse biome during a time interval immediately preceding the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic “transition,” the nature and timing of which has yet to be determined for the region.


The pattern of emergence of a Middle Stone Age tradition at Gademotta and Kulkuletti (Ethiopia) through convergent tool and point technologies, di K. Douze, A. Delagnes, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 91, February 2016, Pages 93–121

The Gademotta and Kulkuletti site complex, located in the central part of the Main Ethiopian Rift, is known to be one of the richest early Middle Stone Age (MSA) sequences in East Africa. The technological assessment of three main sites provides evidence of major changes in the production of convergent tools over a period from before 280 ka (thousands of years ago) to ca. 100 ka. Important diachronic changes are identified in the manufacturing process of convergent tools, by shaping or retouching of predetermined points, and in the core reduction process that produced the corresponding blanks. These are: 1) the development of specific Levallois methods for the production of points (classical Levallois point production and Nubian type 1 core reduction); and 2) the shift from uni-bifacial invasive shaping of convergent tools to localized slight retouch of predetermined points. These technological changes in convergent tool production reveal the gradual emergence of a new set of technological behaviors that can be considered specific to the MSA. While the eastern African MSA is often considered as stable over time with minimal innovation, our results provide an insight into local behavioral mechanisms that have given rise to changes in technological systems during the early MSA.

  Grotta del Cavallo. Fra Neanderthal e Homo sapiens, di L. Sarti, F. Martini, "Archeologia Viva", n. 175 – gennaio/febbraio 2016, pp. 16-27

La ripresa delle indagini in questo antro della provincia di Lecce consente di mettere a fuoco uno dei passaggi più importanti dell’intera preistoria europea quando fra Paleolitico medio e superiore l’intero continente passò dalla presenza incontrastata dei Neandertaliani alla supremazia dell’Uomo anatomicamente moderno
  The acheulean handaxe: More like a bird's song than a beatles' tune?, di R. Corbey, A. Jagich, K. Vaesen, M. Collard, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 25, Issue 1, pages 6–19, January/February 2016

The goal of this paper is to provoke debate about the nature of an iconic artifact—the Acheulean handaxe. Specifically, we want to initiate a conversation about whether or not they are cultural objects. The vast majority of archeologists assume that the behaviors involved in the production of handaxes were acquired by social learning and that handaxes are therefore cultural. We will argue that this assumption is not warranted on the basis of the available evidence and that an alternative hypothesis should be given serious consideration. This alternative hypothesis is that the form of Acheulean handaxes was at least partly under genetic control.

  Error found in study of first ancient African genome, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News", 29 January 2016

An error has forced researchers to go back on their claim that humans across the whole of Africa carry DNA inherited from Eurasian immigrants. This week the authors issued a note explaining the mistake in their October 2015 Science paper on the genome of a 4,500-year-old man from Ethiopia1 — the first complete ancient human genome from Africa. The man was named after Mota Cave, where his remains were found. Although the first humans left Africa some 100,000 years ago, a study published in 2013 found that some came back again around 3,000 years ago; this reverse migration has left its trace in African genomes. In the Science paper, researchers confirmed this finding. The paper also suggested that populations across the continent still harbour significant ancestry from the Middle Eastern farmers who were behind the back-migration. Populations in East Africa, including Ethiopian highlanders who live near Mota Cave, carried the highest levels of Eurasian ancestry. But the team also found vestiges of the ‘backflow’ migration in West Africans and in a pygmy group in Central Africa, the Mbuti. Andrea Manica, a population geneticist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who co-led the study, says the team made a mistake in its conclusion that the backflow reached western and central Africa. “The movement 3,000 years ago, or thereabouts, was limited to eastern Africa,” he says. (...)

  Quantifying Oldowan Stone Tool Production at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, di Jay S. Reti, January 25, 2016, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147352  - open access -

Recent research suggests that variation exists among and between Oldowan stone tool assemblages. Oldowan variation might represent differential constraints on raw materials used to produce these stone implements. Alternatively, variation among Oldowan assemblages could represent different methods that Oldowan producing hominins utilized to produce these lithic implements. Identifying differential patterns of stone tool production within the Oldowan has implications for assessing how stone tool technology evolved, how traditions of lithic production might have been culturally transmitted, and for defining the timing and scope of these evolutionary events. At present there is no null model to predict what morphological variation in the Oldowan should look like. Without such a model, quantifying whether Oldowan assemblages vary due to raw material constraints or whether they vary due to differences in production technique is not possible. This research establishes a null model for Oldowan lithic artifact morphological variation. To establish these expectations this research 1) models the expected range of variation through large scale reduction experiments, 2) develops an algorithm to categorize archaeological flakes based on how they are produced, and 3) statistically assesses the methods of production behavior used by Oldowan producing hominins at the site of DK from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania via the experimental model. Results indicate that a subset of quartzite flakes deviate from the null expectations in a manner that demonstrates efficiency in flake manufacture, while some basalt flakes deviate from null expectations in a manner that demonstrates inefficiency in flake manufacture. The simultaneous presence of efficiency in stone tool production for one raw material (quartzite) and inefficiency in stone tool production for another raw material (basalt) suggests that Oldowan producing hominins at DK were able to mediate the economic costs associated with stone tool procurement by utilizing high-cost materials more efficiently than is expected and low-cost materials in an inefficient manner. (...)

  Artists complete replica of Lascaux cave paintings, 29 January 2016

Three years of work has gone into creating a true-to-life replica of renowned Stone Age cave paintings in southwestern France, and the 46 segments are ready to be transported and installed in a hillside near the original site in Montignac, in the Dordogne, about 500 kilometres south-southwest of Paris. The International Centre of Parital Art, 150 metres long and 9 metres high, will open by the end of the year. The original cave, discovered in 1940 and closed to the public since 1963, contains nearly 2,000 Upper Palaeolithic wall paintings depicting rhinos, horses, bison, deer and panthers - Europe's most important collection of prehistoric art, by the oldest known modern humans, who came to Europe from Africa via Asia. A limited set of reproductions have been on display since 1983. The 57 million-euro project to replicate the entire set unites technology with a desire for the utmost authenticity. (...)
  New findings on prehistoric stone tool industry in Italy, 17 January 2016

A newly released study suggests that the Uluzzian stone tool industry, generally associated with anatomically modern humans, has its roots in the Mousterian industry, usually associated with Neanderthals. The Uluzzian is a flake-dominated industry that exhibits various technological innovations, most of which are associated with the kinds of technology that anatomically modern humans brought to Europe during the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition, arguably sometime between 40,000 and 50,000 years BP. In the study, Marco Peresani of the University of Ferrara, Italy, and colleagues conducted an extensive examination of the lithic and bone technologies from assemblages recovered from the Fumane Cave in northern Italy. (...)
  Grisly find suggests humans inhabited Arctic 45,000 years ago, di A. Gibbons, Jan. 14, 2016

In August of 2012, an 11-year-old boy made a gruesome discovery in a frozen bluff overlooking the Arctic Ocean. While exploring the foggy coast of Yenisei Bay, about 2000 kilometers south of the North Pole, he came upon the leg bones of a woolly mammoth eroding out of frozen sediments. Scientists excavating the well-preserved creature determined that it had been killed by humans: Its eye sockets, ribs, and jaw had been battered, apparently by spears, and one spear-point had left a dent in its cheekbone—perhaps a missed blow aimed at the base of its trunk. When they dated the remains, the researchers got another surprise: The mammoth died 45,000 years ago. That means that humans lived in the Arctic more than 10,000 years earlier than scientists believed, according to a new study. The find suggests that even at this early stage, humans were traversing the most frigid parts of the globe and had the adaptive ability to migrate almost everywhere. Most researchers had long thought that big-game hunters, who left a trail of stone tools around the Arctic 12,500 years ago, were the first to reach the Arctic Circle. These cold-adapted hunters apparently traversed Siberia and the Bering Straits at least 15,000 years ago (and new dates suggest humans may have been in the Americas as early as 18,500 years ago). (...)

· Early human presence in the Arctic: Evidence from 45,000-year-old mammoth remains, di Vladimir V. Pitulko et alii, "Science", 15 Jan 2016, Vol. 351, Issue 6270, pp. 260-263

  Ancient tools may shed light on the mysterious ‘hobbit’, di E. Culotta, Jan. 13, 2016

The “hobbit” had neighbors. Back in 2004, researchers announced the discovery of this tiny, ancient human, which apparently hunted dwarf elephants with stone tools on the Indonesian island of Flores 18,000 years ago. Its discoverers called the 1-meter-tall creature Homo floresiensis, but skeptics wondered whether it was just a stunted modern human. In the years since, researchers have debunked many of the “sick hobbit” hypotheses. Yet scientists have continued to wonder where the species came from. Now, an international team originally led by the hobbit discoverer reports stone tools, dated to 118,000 to 194,000 years ago, from another Indonesian island, Sulawesi, likely made by another archaic human—or possibly by other hobbits. “It shows that on another island we have evidence of a second archaic early human,” says paleoanthropologist Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, who was not involved with the work. The discovery makes the original hobbit claim appear more plausible, he says, by suggesting that human ancestors may have island-hopped more often than had been thought. After international debate over the hobbit’s origins, co-discoverer Michael Morwood—then an archaeologist at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in Australia—set out to search other islands from which the tiny humans may have come. Java—more than 800 kilometers west of Flores but with a chain of islands in between—was already known to be the ancient home of the human ancestor H. erectus, a globe-trotting species that dates as far back as 1.7 million years ago. But Morwood instead set out for Sulawesi, 400 kilometers to the north, because powerful ocean currents sweep southward from this island toward Flores. Researchers had already found some simple stone tools on Sulawesi, but they couldn’t date the artifacts because they were found on the ground rather than buried with datable minerals. (...)

  A 36,000-Year-Old Volcanic Eruption Depicted in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave (Ardèche, France)?, di S. Nomade et alii, January 8, 2016, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0146621  - open access -

Among the paintings and engravings found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave (Ardèche, France), several peculiar spray-shape signs have been previously described in the Megaloceros Gallery. Here we document the occurrence of strombolian volcanic activity located 35 km northwest of the cave, and visible from the hills above the cave entrance. The volcanic eruptions were dated, using 40Ar/39Ar, between 29 ± 10 ka and 35 ± 8 ka (2σ), which overlaps with the 14C AMS and thermoluminescence ages of the first Aurignacian occupations of the cave in the Megaloceros Gallery. Our work provides the first evidence of an intense volcanic activity between 40 and 30 ka in the Bas-Vivarais region, and it is very likely that Humans living in the Ardèche river area witnessed one or several eruptions. We propose that the spray-shape signs found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave could be the oldest known depiction of a volcanic eruption, predating by more than 34 ka the description by Pliny the Younger of the Vesuvius eruption (AD 79) and by 28 ka the Çatalhöyük mural discovered in central Turkey. (...)

  Genomic Signatures of Selective Pressures and Introgression from Archaic Hominins at Human Innate Immunity Genes, di M. Deschamps et alii, "The American Journal of Human Genetics", Volume 98, Issue 1, pp. 5–21, 7 January 2016

Human genes governing innate immunity provide a valuable tool for the study of the selective pressure imposed by microorganisms on host genomes. A comprehensive, genome-wide study of how selective constraints and adaptations have driven the evolution of innate immunity genes is missing. Using full-genome sequence variation from the 1000 Genomes Project, we first show that innate immunity genes have globally evolved under stronger purifying selection than the remainder of protein-coding genes. We identify a gene set under the strongest selective constraints, mutations in which are likely to predispose individuals to life-threatening disease, as illustrated by STAT1 and TRAF3. We then evaluate the occurrence of local adaptation and detect 57 high-scoring signals of positive selection at innate immunity genes, variation in which has been associated with susceptibility to common infectious or autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, we show that most adaptations targeting coding variation have occurred in the last 6,000–13,000 years, the period at which populations shifted from hunting and gathering to farming. Finally, we show that innate immunity genes present higher Neandertal introgression than the remainder of the coding genome. Notably, among the genes presenting the highest Neandertal ancestry, we find the TLR6-TLR1-TLR10 cluster, which also contains functional adaptive variation in Europeans. This study identifies highly constrained genes that fulfill essential, non-redundant functions in host survival and reveals others that are more permissive to change—containing variation acquired from archaic hominins or adaptive variants in specific populations—improving our understanding of the relative biological importance of innate immunity pathways in natural conditions.

  Introgression of Neandertal- and Denisovan-like Haplotypes Contributes to Adaptive Variation in Human Toll-like Receptors, di M. Dannemann, A. M. Andrés, J. Kelso, "The American Journal of Human Genetics", Volume 98, Issue 1, p22–33, 7 January 2016 - open access -

Pathogens and the diseases they cause have been among the most important selective forces experienced by humans during their evolutionary history. Although adaptive alleles generally arise by mutation, introgression can also be a valuable source of beneficial alleles. Archaic humans, who lived in Europe and Western Asia for more than 200,000 years, were probably well adapted to this environment and its local pathogens. It is therefore conceivable that modern humans entering Europe and Western Asia who admixed with them obtained a substantial immune advantage from the introgression of archaic alleles. Here we document a cluster of three Toll-like receptors (TLR6-TLR1-TLR10) in modern humans that carries three distinct archaic haplotypes, indicating repeated introgression from archaic humans. Two of these haplotypes are most similar to the Neandertal genome, and the third haplotype is most similar to the Denisovan genome. The Toll-like receptors are key components of innate immunity and provide an important first line of immune defense against bacteria, fungi, and parasites. The unusually high allele frequencies and unexpected levels of population differentiation indicate that there has been local positive selection on multiple haplotypes at this locus. We show that the introgressed alleles have clear functional effects in modern humans; archaic-like alleles underlie differences in the expression of the TLR genes and are associated with Increased microbial resistance and increased allergic disease in large cohorts. This provides strong evidence for recurrent adaptive introgression at the TLR6-TLR1-TLR10 locus, resulting in differences in disease phenotypes in modern humans. (...)

  Le specie umane estinte commettevano omicidi?, 06 gennaio 2016

L'accumulo di resti fossili di Homo naledi trovati in una grotta quasi inaccessibile fa sospettare che non si trattasse di una sepoltura intenzionale, come suggeriscono gli autori della scoperta, ma che qualcuno vi abbia gettato delle vittime di omicidi, combattimenti o sacrifici. (...)

  Vertebral numbers and human evolution, di S. A. Williams, E. R. Middleton, C. I. Villamil, M. R. Shattuck, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 159, Issue S61, pages S19–S36, January 2016

Ever since Tyson (1699), anatomists have noted and compared differences in the regional numbers of vertebrae among humans and other hominoids. Subsequent workers interpreted these differences in phylogenetic, functional, and behavioral frameworks and speculated on the history of vertebral numbers during human evolution. Even in a modern phylogenetic framework and with greatly expanded sample sizes of hominoid species, researchers’ conclusions vary drastically, positing that hominins evolved from either a “long-backed” (numerically long lumbar column) or a “short-backed” (numerically short lumbar column) ancestor. We show that these disparate interpretations are due in part to the use of different criteria for what defines a lumbar vertebra, but argue that, regardless of which lumbar definition is used, hominins are similar to their great ape relatives in possessing a short trunk, a rare occurrence in mammals and one that defines the clade Hominoidea. Furthermore, we address the recent claim that the early hominin thoracolumbar configuration is not distinct from that of modern humans and conclude that early hominins show evidence of “cranial shifting,” which might explain the anomalous morphology of several early hominin fossils. Finally, we evaluate the competing hypotheses on numbers of vertebrae and argue that the current data support a hominin ancestor with an African ape-like short trunk and lower back. Am J Phys Anthropol 159:S19–S36, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

  The bony labyrinth of the middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos hominins (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), di R. Quam, C. Lorenzo, I. Martínez, A. Gracia-Téllez, J. L. Arsuaga, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 90, January 2016, Pages 1–15

We performed 3D virtual reconstructions based on CT scans to study the bony labyrinth morphology in 14 individuals from the large middle Pleistocene hominin sample from the site of the Sima de los Huesos (SH) in the Sierra de Atapuerca in northern Spain. The Atapuerca (SH) hominins represent early members of the Neandertal clade and provide an opportunity to compare the data with the later in time Neandertals, as well as Pleistocene and recent humans more broadly. The Atapuerca (SH) hominins do not differ from the Neandertals in any of the variables related to the absolute and relative sizes and shape of the semicircular canals. Indeed, the entire Neandertal clade seems to be characterized by a derived pattern of canal proportions, including a relatively small posterior canal and a relatively large lateral canal. In contrast, one of the most distinctive features observed in Neandertals, the low placement of the posterior canal (i.e., high sagittal labyrinthine index), is generally not present in the Atapuerca (SH) hominins. This low placement is considered a derived feature in Neandertals and is correlated with a more vertical orientation of the ampullar line (LSCm < APA), posterior surface of the petrous pyramid (LSCm > PPp), and third part of the facial canal (LSCm < FC3). Some variation is present within the Atapuerca (SH) sample, however, with a few individuals approaching the Neandertal condition more closely. In addition, the cochlear shape index in the Atapuerca (SH) hominins is low, indicating a reduction in the height of the cochlea. Although the phylogenetic polarity of this feature is less clear, the low shape index in the Atapuerca (SH) hominins may be a derived feature. Regardless, cochlear height subsequently increased in Neandertals. In contrast to previous suggestions, the expanded data in the present study indicate no difference across the genus Homo in the angle of inclination of the cochlear basal turn (COs < LSCm). Principal components analysis largely confirms these observations. While not fully resolved, the low placement of the posterior canal in Neandertals may be related to some combination of absolutely large brain size, a wide cranial base, and an archaic pattern of brain allometry. This more general explanation would not necessarily follow taxonomic lines, even though this morphology of the bony labyrinth occurs at high frequencies among Neandertals. While a functional interpretation of the relatively small vertical canals in the Neandertal clade remains elusive, the relative proportions of the semicircular canals is one of several derived Neandertal features in the Atapuerca (SH) crania. Examination of additional European middle Pleistocene specimens suggests that the full suite of Neandertal features in the bony labyrinth did not emerge in Europe until perhaps <200 kya.

  Dental size reduction in Indonesian Homo erectus: Implications for the PU-198 premolar and the appearance of Homo sapiens on Java, di J. M. Polanski, H. E. Marsh, S. D. Maddux, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 90, January 2016, Pages 49–54

The recent recovery of a hominin maxillary third premolar, PU-198, within the faunal collections from Punung Cave (East Java) has led to assertions that Homo sapiens appeared on Java between 143,000 and 115,000 years ago. The taxonomic assignment of PU-198 to H. sapiens was based predominantly on the small size of the specimen, following an analysis which found little to no overlap in premolar size between Homo erectus and terminal Pleistocene/Holocene H. sapiens. Here, we re-evaluate the use of size in the taxonomic assignment of PU-198 in light of 1) new buccolingual and mesiodistal measurements taken on the fossil, 2) comparisons to a larger sample of H. erectus and H. sapiens maxillary third premolars, and 3) evidence of a diachronic trend in post-canine dental size reduction among Javan H. erectus. Our results demonstrate PU-198 to be slightly larger than previously suggested, reveal substantial overlap in premolar size between H. erectus and H. sapiens, and indicate a statistically significant reduction in premolar size between early and late Javan H. erectus. Our findings cast doubt on the assignment of PU-198 to H. sapiens, and accordingly, question the appearance of H. sapiens on Java between 143,000 and 115,000 years ago.


Fossil hominin radii from the Sima de los Huesos Middle Pleistocene site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), di L. Rodríguez et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 90, January 2016, Pages 55–73

Complete radii in the fossil record preceding recent humans and Neandertals are very scarce. Here we introduce the radial remains recovered from the Sima de los Huesos (SH) site in the Sierra de Atapuerca between 1976 and 2011 and which have been dated in excess of 430 ky (thousands of years) ago. The sample comprises 89 specimens, 49 of which are attributed to adults representing a minimum of seven individuals. All elements are described anatomically and metrically, and compared with other fossil hominins and recent humans in order to examine the phylogenetic polarity of certain radial features. Radial remains from SH have some traits that differentiate them from those of recent humans and make them more similar to Neandertals, including strongly curved shafts, anteroposterior expanded radial heads and both absolutely and relatively long necks. In contrast, the SH sample differs from Neandertals in showing a high overall gracility as well as a high frequency (80%) of an anteriorly oriented radial tuberosity. Thus, like the cranial and dental remains from the SH site, characteristic Neandertal radial morphology is not present fully in the SH radii. We also analyzed the cross-sectional properties of the SH radial sample at two different levels: mid-shaft and at the midpoint of the neck length. When standardized by shaft length, no difference in the mid-shaft cross-sectional properties were found between the SH hominins, Neandertals and recent humans. Nevertheless, due to their long neck length, the SH hominins show a higher lever efficiency than either Neandertals or recent humans. Functionally, the SH radial morphology is consistent with more efficient pronation-supination and flexion-extension movements. The particular trait composition in the SH sample and Neandertals resembles more closely morphology evident in recent human males.


The subtalar joint complex of Australopithecus sediba, di T. C. Prang, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 90, January 2016, Pages 105–119

The hominin talus has figured prominently in previous studies of the functional morphology of the talocrural joint, but the talocalcaneal and talonavicular joints have received comparatively less attention despite their functional importance as components of the subtalar joint complex. An associated complete talus and calcaneus attributed to the Malapa Hominin 2 (MH2) individual of Australopithecus sediba offers the opportunity to evaluate the subtalar joint complex in an early hominin. Furthermore, detailed morphological comparisons of A. sediba to other fossil hominins such as Australopithecus africanus have not yet been conducted. Here I quantify joint curvatures and angular measurements among extant hominoids and fossil hominins to evaluate the functional morphology of the subtalar joint complex of A. sediba. Australopithecus sediba uniquely combines talocalcaneal joint morphology indicative of mobility with specializations of the talonavicular joint that provide medial midtarsal stabilization. Multivariate analyses of talus and calcaneus variables show that A. sediba is most similar to extant gorillas in the morphology of the subtalar joint complex. In contrast, other hominins, such as OH 8, are more similar to modern humans. The morphological similarity between MH2 (U.W. 88-98/99) and specimens from Sterkfontein, Member 4 (StW 88, StW 102, StW 352) in morphologies of the talonavicular and talocalcaneal joints suggests that A. sediba may have possessed a foot that was functionally similar to that of A. africanus. This combination of morphologies in the A. sediba foot is probably derived among hominins and suggests that arboreality may have been adaptively significant for southern African Australopithecus.


Cranial vault thickness in primates: Homo erectus does not have uniquely thick vault bones, di L. E. Copes, W. H. Kimbel, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 90, January 2016, Pages 120–134

Extremely thick cranial vaults have been noted as a diagnostic characteristic of Homo erectus since the first fossil of the species was identified, but relatively little work has been done on elucidating its etiology or variation across fossils, living humans, or extant non-human primates. Cranial vault thickness (CVT) is not a monolithic trait, and the responsiveness of its layers to environmental stimuli is unknown. We obtained measurements of cranial vault thickness in fossil hominins from the literature and supplemented those data with additional measurements taken on African fossil specimens. Total CVT and the thickness of the cortical and diploë layers individually were compared to measures of CVT in extant species measured from more than 500 CT scans of human and non-human primates. Frontal and parietal CVT in fossil primates was compared to a regression of CVT on cranial capacity calculated for extant species. Even after controlling for cranial capacity, African and Asian H. erectus do not have uniquely high frontal or parietal thickness residuals, either among hominins or extant primates. Extant primates with residual CVT thickness similar to or exceeding H. erectus (depending on the sex and bone analyzed) include Nycticebus coucang, Perodicticus potto, Alouatta caraya, Lophocebus albigena, Galago alleni, Mandrillus sphinx, and Propithecus diadema. However, the especially thick vaults of extant non-human primates that overlap with H. erectus values are composed primarily of cortical bone, while H. erectus and other hominins have diploë-dominated vault bones. Thus, the combination of thick vaults comprised of a thickened diploë layer may be a reliable autapomorphy for members of the genus Homo.


Cochlear labyrinth volume in Krapina Neandertals, di M. E. Beals, D. W. Frayer, J. Radovčić, C. A. Hill, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 90, January 2016, Pages 176–182

Research with extant primate taxa suggests that cochlear labyrinth volume is functionally related to the range of audible frequencies. Specifically, cochlear volume is negatively correlated with both the high and low frequency limits of hearing so that the smaller the cochlea, the higher the normal range of audible frequencies. The close anatomical relationship between the membranous cochlea and the bony cochlear labyrinth allows for the determination of cochlear size from fossil specimens. This study compares Krapina Neandertal cochlear volumes to extant taxa cochlear volumes. Cochlear volumes were acquired from high-resolution computed tomography scans of temporal bones of Krapina Neandertals, chimpanzees, gorillas, and modern humans. We find that Krapina Neandertals' cochlear volumes are similar to modern Homo sapiens and are significantly larger than chimpanzee and gorilla cochlear volumes. The measured cochlear volume in Krapina Neandertals suggests they had a range of audible frequencies similar to the modern human range.


Chronology for the Cueva Victoria fossil site (SE Spain): Evidence for Early Pleistocene Afro-Iberian dispersals, di L. Gibert et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 90, January 2016, Pages 183–197

Cueva Victoria has provided remains of more than 90 species of fossil vertebrates, including a hominin phalanx, and the only specimens of the African cercopithecid Theropithecus oswaldi in Europe. To constrain the age of the vertebrate remains we used paleomagnetism, vertebrate biostratigraphy and 230Th/U dating. Normal polarity was identified in the non-fossiliferous lowest and highest stratigraphic units (red clay and capping flowstones) while reverse polarity was found in the intermediate stratigraphic unit (fossiliferous breccia). A lower polarity change occurred during the deposition of the decalcification clay, when the cave was closed and karstification was active. A second polarity change occurred during the capping flowstone formation, when the upper galleries were filled with breccia. The mammal association indicates a post-Jaramillo age, which allows us to correlate this upper reversal with the Brunhes–Matuyama boundary (0.78 Ma). Consequently, the lower reversal (N-R) is interpreted as the end of the Jaramillo magnetochron (0.99 Ma). These ages bracket the age of the fossiliferous breccia between 0.99 and 0.78 Ma, suggesting that the capping flowstone was formed during the wet Marine Isotopic Stage 19, which includes the Brunhes–Matuyama boundary. Fossil remains of Theropithecus have been only found in situ ∼1 m below the B/M boundary, which allows us to place the arrival of Theropithecus to Cueva Victoria at ∼0.9–0.85 Ma. The fauna of Cueva Victoria lived during a period of important climatic change, known as the Early-Middle Pleistocene Climatic Transition. The occurrence of the oldest European Acheulean tools at the contemporaneous nearby site of Cueva Negra suggest an African dispersal into SE Iberia through the Strait of Gibraltar during MIS 22, when sea-level was ∼100 m below its present position, allowing the passage into Europe of, at least, Theropithecus and Homo bearing Acheulean technology.

  An experimental approach to distinguishing different stone artefact transport patterns from debitage assemblages, di K. Ditchfield, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 65, January 2016, Pages 44–56

This paper experimentally demonstrates the ability of a set of indices to distinguish between different stone artefact transport patterns represented in debitage assemblages. Stone artefacts were transported extensively in the past and this is an important component of technological organisation. However, most stone artefacts occur as part of debitage assemblages. From these assemblages, where mostly non-transported artefacts remain, it can be challenging to identify what artefacts, if any, were transported in anticipation of future use. A series of indices; the cortex ratio, volume ratio, flake to core ratio, non-cortical to cortical flake ratio and flake/core diminution tests are presented to meet this challenge. These are tested on an experimental assemblage where three different transport scenarios are simulated. Results suggest that the indices are sensitive to artefact transport and are capable of empirically distinguishing between the three transport scenarios, even when raw material form varies. The results also indicate that artefact transport is capable of exerting a significant influence on stone artefact assemblage formation.



Index di antiqui Sommario bacheca