Aggiornamento 10 luglio


Bridging prehistoric caves with buried landscapes in the Swabian Jura (southwestern Germany), di A. Barbieri et alii, "Quaternary International",  Volume 485, 20 August 2018, Pages 23-43

The Ach and Lone valleys of the Swabian Jura represent two key areas for the study of the dispersal of modern humans into central Europe, owing to the presence of numerous cave sites in the region that contain stratigraphic sequences spanning the Middle and Upper Paleolithic. However, despite the relatively complete sequences contained within these caves, previous studies hypothesize that phases of erosion have influenced the preservation of Upper Paleolithic deposits, particularly those dating to the Gravettian. Furthermore, these same studies suggest that during the Late Glacial and Holocene, colluvial sediments subsequently covered these unconformities. In this paper we present a dataset that helps us evaluate how geomorphological processes active at the regional scale around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) have impacted the preservation of the archaeological record within the cave sites of the Ach and Lone valleys. To this end we applied and integrated a variety of methods, including geophysical prospection, coring, micromorphology, Fourier Transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, and radiocarbon dating. Our results show that alternating phases of soil formation, hillside denudation, river valley incision and floodplain aggradation have been the major processes active in Lone and Ach valleys throughout the Pleistocene and Holocene. These processes impacted the formation histories of the caves in the two valleys, thereby significantly influencing how we interpret the archaeological record of the region. In particular our data support the hypothesis arguing for the erosion of Gravettian-aged deposits (which are dated between 29.000 and 27.000 14C BP) from the caves of Bockstein, Hohle Fels and possibly Hohlenstein-Stadel. Shortly after this erosive phase, increased depositional rates of loess nearly free of gravel and reworked soils marked in both the Ach and Lone valleys a shift towards colder and drier conditions corresponding with the LGM. Deteriorating climate likely forced Gravettian groups to abandon the Swabian Jura. The Magdalenian recolonization of the region took place in a cool interstadial (13.500–12.500 14C BP) that was followed by a period of climate deterioration with minor phases of erosion in the caves and bedrock denudation. Towards the beginning of the Holocene the accumulation of frost debris (Bergkies) at the cave entrances marked the cessation of erosion within the caves.


Formation processes at sites with high-resolution sequences in the Crimean Middle Paleolithic: The Kabazi V rock shelter and the open-air site of Kabazi II compared, di T. Uthmeier, V. Chabai, "Quaternary International", Volume 485, 20 August 2018, Pages 44-67

Several Paleolithic sites in the Crimea are characterized by long stratigraphic sequences with numerous thin in-situ archaeological horizons. In this case study, we compare two neighboring sites at Kabazi Mountain, parts of whose sequences are contemporaneous, for similarities and differences in their site formation processes during OIS 3. At Kabazi II, 15 m of mainly colluvial sediments accumulated behind a huge limestone block. Differences in the dynamics of the colluvial sedimentation led to archaeological horizons preserved in situ and assemblages moving downslope into the excavation area. Periods of stability due to vegetation cover upslope made soil formation processes possible. Kabazi V is a buried rock shelter with a different sedimentological setting. Here, sediments were built up by the dissolution of soft nummulitic limestone and influenced by running water, and are in part sandwiched between massive rock fall. Despite the differences in site type, the deposits of both sites are characterized by autochthonous (“inside”) and allochthonous (“outside”) deposits. In both cases, the preservation of deposits is due to their protection by large rock fall. Mean annual sedimentation rates show that the archaeological resolution of the sequences is more a consequence of recurrent human use over long periods than of high absolute sedimentation rates. The average time elapsing in each case between the archaeological layers indicates that the base camp of Kabazi V was more frequently used by Neanderthals than the kill-and butchering site of Kabazi II. This suggests long-term persistence of the site catchment criteria applied at Kabazi Mountain, and an important role for base camps in the Crimean Middle Paleolithic perception of landscape.


Chronology and formation processes of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic deposits of Ifri n'Ammar using multi-method luminescence dating and micromorphology, di N. Klasen et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 485, 20 August 2018, Pages 89-102

The existence of an early Upper Palaeolithic culture at the transition from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Upper Palaeolithic in North African cave sites is currently under debate. We studied Ifri n‘Ammar in North-East Morocco, which is one of the oldest settlement sites of anatomically modern humans (AMH) in the Maghreb and contains several sediment layers which are attributed to Middle and Upper Palaeolithic occupations. In order to investigate processes of sediment accumulation and postdepositional alteration, we studied thin sections from these levels. According to micromorphological analysis, aeolian input considerably contributed to sediment accumulation and postdepositional mixing by bioturbation occurred. We compared multiple and single-grain quartz and multiple-grain feldspar luminescence dating of three samples from corresponding sediment layers to achieve a comprehensive chronology. The single-grain dose distributions scatter strongly and the source of the scatter is unclear. We used an arithmetic mean to calculate the equivalent doses. Archaeological evidence and age control from radiocarbon dating was essential to interpret the data. Quartz and feldspar multiple-grain luminescence ages are between 15 and 80 ka. The central part of the profile shows an intermediate accumulation, which lacks specified lithic artefacts. This supports the idea of an occupational gap between Middle and Upper Palaeolithic layers.


New chronological constraints for Middle Palaeolithic (MIS 6/5-3) cave sequences in Eastern Transylvania, Romania, di D. Veres, "Quaternary International", Volume 485, 20 August 2018, Pages 103-114

The Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition is one of the crucial periods of change in the prehistory of Europe due to the full emergence, continent-wide, of modern human lithic technologies, and detrimental of Neanderthal survival. Knowledge about the transition is growing, however, the evidence for cultural and technological developments for the Middle Palaeolithic in the Carpathian – Lower Danube Basin is still rather sparse. Here we discuss latest findings arising from a chronological investigation of Middle Palaeolithic assemblages within the Varghis karst, Eastern Transylvania, Romania. Combining our first chronological results with information from previous excavations, we can distinguish two main stages of habitation (albeit Middle Palaeolithic lithics and faunal remains appear scattered throughout the investigated profile) within the Abri 122 rock shelter. In order to augment the typological cultural considerations, we applied direct radiocarbon dating on bones and charcoal from within the occupation layers. Radiocarbon dating of bones suggests that the Middle Palaeolithic sequence is older than the upper dating limit of the method, whereas direct luminescence ages on the lowermost productive horizon and immediately above it indicate surprisingly old ages of ca. 106–141 ka (OSL – optically stimulated) or 99–174 ka (IRSL – infrared stimulated). Multiple-protocol dating of charcoal found within the two habitation layers produced ages >38 14C ka BP, also suggesting that the lowermost lithic-rich horizon pertains to the Middle Palaeolithic industries. Overall, the recovered lithics, currently forming one of the most significant collections for Romania, are fully consistent with two main habitation phases connected to Middle Palaeolithic cultural affinities. The occurrence of a volcanic ash layer within Ursului Cave and originating from the Ciomadul volcanic complex (Carpathians) is first reported here. Recently dated to ~ ≥ 43 (−50) ka, it might represent an important marker horizon, providing that it is identified within other Palaeolithic cave assemblages.


Multi-proxy archaeological investigations of a Middle Palaeolithic occupation context in Eastern Transylvania, Romania, di M. Cosac et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 485, 20 August 2018, Pages 115-130

Until recently, the cave-based Middle Palaeolithic in Romania offered almost exclusively archaeological collections without chronological control, the limited number of radiocarbon samples reported usually lacking a precise archaeological context. In an effort to improve such limitations, we initiated an interdisciplinary research of the archaeological profile Abri 122 – Varghis (Vârghiş) Gorges (Romania), a site that so far produced the most important Middle Palaeolithic lithic assemblage in the Carpathian region. Initial archaeological research in the karst system of Varghis Gorges dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. For the most part, the archaeological collections recovered, although consistent, remained unpublished. The lithic analysis presented here discusses one of the richest such collections, hosted in the Székely National Museum and recovered from Abri 122 site during previous excavations, complemented by our own survey during last years. It appears that the main raw material used for tool making was quartzite, followed by lydite, opal, and volcanic rocks. Blank production seems to have favored medium to large size flakes, irrespectively of the chosen raw material. Alongside partially retouched flakes and blades, the formal tools category includes sidescrapers, endscrapers, unifacial and bifacial points. Unlike the majority of the unmodified quartzite blanks, formal tools are mainly made of lydite/opal and basalt/andesite. Albeit the archaeological material appears scattered throughout the entire vertical span, two main clusters of lithics are apparent in the newly surveyed profile. The recovered faunal remains belong to herbivores such as Bos/Bison and Capra, canids (Canis lupus) and cave bears (Ursus spelaeus). Several bone items show traces of defleshing and intentional use. Establishing a reliable chronological framing for the archaeological sequence at Abri 122 proved rather challenging. While radiocarbon dating was complicated by scarcity of collagen in bone remains and age of samples at or beyond the upper limit of the method, the upper span of the Middle Palaeolithic assemblages at Abri 122 likely reaches into Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3. Optically (OSL) and infrared stimulated luminescence (IRSL) dating of silt-sized grains indicate ages of >100 ka for the lowermost cluster of lithics/bones. These ages must be regarded as maximum ages for the Middle Palaeolithic assemblage at Abri 122.


Reconstructing prehistoric settlement models and land use patterns on Mt. Damota/SW Ethiopia, di R. Vogelsang, K. P. Wendt, "Quaternary International", Volume 485, 20 August 2018, Pages 140-149

Although high-altitude mountain habitats are often regarded as unfavorable for human occupation (e.g. Aldenderfer 2014); on the other hand tropical highlands in Africa are suggested as potential refugia during times of environmental stress (e.g. Basell 2008; Brandt et al. 2012). Archaeological investigations on Mount Damota (2908 m a.s.l.), located on the boundary between the Southwest Ethiopian Highlands to the west and the southern Main Ethiopian Rift valley to the east, yielded a large number of archaeological sites from the Middle Stone Age period until historical times. In this paper we try to reconstruct settlement models for the late Pleistocene and Holocene occupation in this area and speculate about potential land use patterns. Such complex topics demand a landscape archaeological approach that includes open-air sites and rock-shelters. The results from our excavations at Mochena Borago Rock-shelter and evidence from open-air-sites that were recorded during intensive surveys on the slopes and plateau of the mountain, allow a first reconstruction of the settlement history of the area.


The Aurignacian way of life: Contextualizing early modern human adaptation in the Carpathian Basin, di T. C. Hauck et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 485, 20 August 2018, Pages 150-166

The culture and dispersal of early modern humans are top priorities of many research agendas. While the debate primarily centers on genetics, dispersal trajectories and points of earliest presence, the context (climate, landscape, demography, culture) of the colonizing process is usually considered in a coarse-grained manner or even ignored. To understand the context of human dispersal and to decipher relevant push and pull factors requires the consideration of multiple environmental proxies and the research on different geographic scales. In this paper, we present the Late Quaternary Carpathian Basin as a specific context area of early modern human dispersal into Europe. The multitude of Early Upper Paleolithic sites in this region suggests that it was part of a major dispersal corridor along the Danube and its catchment area some 40,000 years ago. The Aurignacian land-use model describes the interaction of early modern humans with their environment. One important parameter is the specific distribution of archaeological sites that exemplifies their boundedness to specific eco-zones. To reconstruct the latter, paleo-environmental proxies and archaeological data are examined together in regional vector models and in a GIS based landscape archaeology approach. In the final section, we present the Carpathian Basin as an idiosyncratic habitat that mirrors the dynamics and complexity of early modern human adaptation.


Early Upper Paleolithic surface collections from loess-like sediments in the northern Carpathian Basin, di W. Chu et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 485, 20 August 2018, Pages 167-182

The way in which modern humans first entered Europe has been a recent focus of Upper Paleolithic research. A leading theory posits that the Danube served as a conduit for migration from Southeastern into Central and Western Europe. However, a challenge to this has been the scarcity of Early Upper Paleolithic sites along the Middle Danube (Carpathian) Basin. Though several sites with Early Upper Paleolithic features (Szeletian, Aurignacian) are known from surface prospections, few have been archeologically investigated in detail. Here, our aim is to elucidate this long-standing deficiency by evaluating two unknown and three known sites from the northern Carpathian Basin in Hungary and Slovakia through a series of “keyhole” excavations. The objectives were to see if in situ stratified material still existed and to characterize the sites’ archeological assemblages and sedimentological contexts. To do this, field observations supplemented by granulometry were employed to determine if the surrounding sedimentary matrix was eolian loess and/or if it had been mixed with underlying older deposits. The results indicate that the lithics represent Early Upper Paleolithic assemblages that experienced post-depositional mixing. However, two sites (Seňa I, Nagyréde 1) showed more nuanced site formation processes and may contain in situ artifacts warranting further exploration. These studies highlight the importance of including sedimentological research into archeological investigations, because the paucity of sites may not simply mean a lack of human occupation, but can indicate a dynamic geomorphological evolution of the Pleistocene landscape that may have erased past traces of human settlements through insufficient sedimentation. The results provide new insights into the Early Upper Paleolithic settlement and the sedimentary dynamics of the Carpathian Basin ultimately leading to a greater understanding of the early modern human settlement patterns in Europe.


Reconstruction of LGM faunal patterns using Species Distribution Modelling. The archaeological record of the Solutrean in Iberia, di M. de Andrés-Herrero, D. Becker, Gerd-Ch Weniger, "Quaternary International", Volume 485, 20 August 2018, Pages 199-208

This paper focuses on analyzing the links between archaeological sites and their environments by calculating the catchment areas of Solutrean sites in Iberia and the habitat suitability for the different hunted species in each site. This research uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for calculating the catchment areas and Species Distribution Modelling (SDM) for reconstructing potential distributions of prey species. The results of this modelling for the Solutrean sites were then compared to a database on faunal remains. The SDM results show differences between northern and southern Iberia in the habitat suitability for some species. There are also visible differences between the faunal record and in the subsistence strategies in both areas, which can be linked to the climatic and topographic conditions inferred by means of site catchment analysis and the SDM.


A 3D form comparative analysis of the Neandertal glenoid fossa in the context of the genus Homo, di F. J. Rodriguez-Perez et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 481, 10 July 2018, Pages 91-100

Morphological differences between the Neandertal and modern human glenoid fossa are mostly attributed to functional factors. However, the intimate relationship between the pectoral girdle and the shape of the thorax on which it rests calls for a structural analysis of the morphology of the glenoid fossa. Using both 3D Geometric Morphometric techniques and classical osteometry we carry out an analysis of the morphology of Neandertal scapular glenoid fossa, considering the effects that independent parameters such as allometry, sexual dimorphism and laterality could exert on the glenoid fossa shape. We also discuss how the morphological configuration of the thorax together with other functional factors could explain some of the differences between Neandertals and H. sapiens, and we assess the morphological evolution of this structure in the context of the genus Homo. To this end, 3DGM methods were applied in a comparative framework including the new SD-2101 + specimen from the Sidrón site (Spain) dated to 49,000 years ago, other Neandertal, Homo sapiens, KNM-WT 15000 (Homo ergaster/erectus) and Pan troglodytes specimens. A total of 75 sliding semilandmarks were used to collect the morphology of the glenoid fossa. Morphological comparison and variability were assessed through principal component analysis. Our results confirm the metric and morphological features of the Neandertal scapular glenoid fossa and point to a multifactorial effect in the glenoid morphology. We also detect a morphological trait of the Neandertal glenoid fossa that has not been reported previously: the projection of the upper part of the ventral border shared with modern humans and influenced by structural factors related to the configuration of the rib cage and shoulder. These results are consistent with the evolutionary framework of the hominin glenoid fossa, with some morphological changes being caused by functional factors, and others by structural factors such as the configuration of the thorax.


Palaeoecological implications of Neanderthal occupation at Unit Xb of El Salt (Alcoi, eastern Spain) during MIS 3 using small mammals proxy, A. Fagoaga et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 481, 10 July 2018, Pages 101-112

Nearly 250 small mammal remains from Unit Xb of El Salt Middle Palaeolithic site have been studied in order to reconstruct the palaeoecological conditions during a phase of Neanderthal occupation in this locality at 52.3 ± 4.6 ka. A total of 7rodents (Microtus arvalis, M. agrestis, M. (Terricola) duodecimcostatus, Microtus (Iberomys) cabrerae, Arvicola sapidus, Eliomys quercinus and Apodemus sylvaticus), 4 insectivores (Erinaceus cf. europaeus, Crocidura sp., Sorex sp. and Talpidae indet.) and 1 lagomorph (Oryctolagus cf. cuniculus) have been identified. Applying the Mutual Ecogeographic Range and Habitat Weighting methods, Unit Xb may correspond to a relatively cold (−3.3 °C in comparison with present values) and slightly more humid (+113.3 mm in comparison with present values) period. The environment was mainly composed of open woodlands (58%) followed by dry (20%) and humid (14%) meadows. These results suggest that supramediterranean conditions were present in the surroundings of the site at 52.3 ± 4.6 ka instead of mesomediterranean conditions present today.

  Neandertals practiced close-range hunting 120,000 years ago, 2-JUL-2018

An international team of scientists reports the oldest unambiguous hunting lesions documented in the history of humankind. The lesions were found on skeletons of two large-sized extinct fallow deer killed by Neandertals about 120,000 years ago around the shores of a small lake (Neumark-Nord 1) near present-day Halle in the eastern part of Germany. The study was led by Professor Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser of the Department of Ancient Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and was now published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. The study constitutes a significant step forward in our knowledge of the Neandertal niche. It demonstrates how Neandertals obtained their prey, first and foremost in terms of their much debated hunting equipment while also shedding light on their hunting skills. (...)


Pleistocene paleosol development and paleoenvironmental dynamics in East Africa: A multiproxy record from the Homo-bearing Aalat pedostratigraphic succession, Dandiero basin (Eritrea), di F. Scarciglia et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 191, 1 July 2018, Pages 275-298

The climatic changes during the Early-Middle Pleistocene transition are a key to understand the ecosystem dynamics that involved the Homo erectus-ergaster distribution. The Aalat pedostratigraphic succession represents a continental archive in the African Rift Valley (Eritrea), where remains of Homo around 1 Ma were identified. High-resolution magnetostratigraphy dated this succession between the base of the Jaramillo subchron and the lower Brunhes chron. Despite the present arid, desert climate, the Aalat section records a persistence of water-driven, fluvio-lacustrine environments, which suggests a major tectonic control on sedimentation, although climate changes are clearly overprinted. Macro- and micromorphological, physico-chemical, mineralogical and geochemical features, up to now poorly available for Pleistocene paleosols in East Africa, depict a poor to moderate degree of development, although calcic and petrocalcic/petrogypsic horizons at different stratigraphic heights indicate phases of geomorphic stability. The concurrent alternation of these horizons with iron-stained layers suggests cyclical changes from dry to wet conditions, which fit well with aeolian dust fluxes and marine isotope stages of glacials and interglacials at higher latitudes. Stable isotope data are consistent with these climatic cycles and suggest a succession of monsoonal and non-monsoonal conditions. The Homo erectus settlement lasted apparently for a short time span, because a long, high-discharge fluvial sedimentation (and/or an aridity phase at the base of the fluvial facies) could have made the area less suitable for human settling and could have hindered preservation of fossils and artifacts.


Plant use in the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic: Food, medicine and raw materials, di K. Hardy, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 191, 1 July 2018, Pages 393-405

There is little surviving evidence for plant use in the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic periods yet the evidence there is, clearly indicates the importance of plants in the diet, as medicines and as raw materials. Here, the current evidence for plants is summarised, and the way this can be used to enrich perceptions of the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic are explored. The evidence for plant food fits well with basic nutritional requirements while the presence of medicinal plants correlates with plant-based self-medication by animals. Many plant-based technologies are likely to have developed early in the Palaeolithic. Though investigating this is challenging due to a lack of evidence, the extensive evidence for use of plant materials as tools by chimpanzees provides a broad backdrop. The ecological knowledge carried by all hominins would have provided a safety net when moving into new regions, while varying levels of neophobia would have enabled adaptation to new environments as hominin populations moved and climates changed. Recent plant use among traditional societies in high latitudes shows that even in locations with reduced biodiversity, plant resources can fulfil essential dietary requirements.

  Cave clastic sediments as a tool for refining the study of human occupation of prehistoric sites: insights from the cave site of La Cala (Cilento, southern Italy), di I. Martini et alii, "Journal of Quaternary Science", Volume 33, Issue 5, July 2018, Pages 586-596

La Cala (southern Italy) is an important prehistoric cave site containing a clastic sedimentary infill recording evidence of an almost constant human occupation from the Mousterian to the Copper Age. However, a cultural gap (estimated to be approx. 10.5–6.2 ka) has been identified between the Evolved Gravettian and the Evolved Epigravettian. This study presents a sedimentological and allostratigraphic study of the cave clastic infill. The succession at La Cala can be subdivided into four allostratigraphic units (CC1–4 in stratigraphic order), each one bounded by major erosional surfaces. The most prominent erosional surface (UN1), which separates unit CC1 from CC2, has a channel-like geometry and is directly overlaid by cross-stratified sediments, suggesting deposition in an underground stream setting. This documents an important hydrological change in the cave drainage with the development of an important phase of sediment erosion. The erosional surface UN1 stratigraphically marks the cultural time-gap revealed by the archaeological excavations, suggesting that this hiatus may be due to the erosion of sediments rather than to a lack in human occupation. This study confirms the importance of cave clastic sediments in archaeological cave sites as a helpful tool for refining the timeframe of human presence.

  A nearly complete foot from Dikika, Ethiopia and its implications for the ontogeny and function of Australopithecus afarensis, di J. M. DeSilva et alii, "Science Advances" , 04 Jul 2018: Vol. 4, no. 7, eaar7723

The functional and evolutionary implications of primitive retentions in early hominin feet have been under debate since the discovery of Australopithecus afarensis. Ontogeny can provide insight into adult phenotypes, but juvenile early hominin foot fossils are exceptionally rare. We analyze a nearly complete, 3.32-million-year-old juvenile foot of A. afarensis (DIK-1-1f). We show that juvenile A. afarensis individuals already had many of the bipedal features found in adult specimens. However, they also had medial cuneiform traits associated with increased hallucal mobility and a more gracile calcaneal tuber, which is unexpected on the basis of known adult morphologies. Selection for traits functionally associated with juvenile pedal grasping may provide a new perspective on their retention in the more terrestrial adult A. afarensis.

· La vita sugli alberi della "bambina di Lucy", "Le Scienze", 05 luglio 2018

  Raman spectroscopy of lipid micro-residues on Middle Palaeolithic stone tools from Denisova Cave, Siberia, di L. Bordes et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 95, July 2018, Pages 52-63

Raman spectroscopy is a powerful method for detecting micro-residues on stone tools. To further develop techniques for determining stone tool function, we devised a methodology using Raman microscopy to analyse in situ micro-residues before conventional usewear study. We analysed 18 stone artefacts collected in situ from Denisova Cave in Siberia, where excellent organic residue preservation is expected. We report here details of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids identified on eight stone tools from the Middle Palaeolithic levels. The spatial distribution of smeared fatty acids shows strong correlation with spatial distributions of usewear (particularly use-polish, but also striations, edge rounding and scarring) on each tool, demonstrating that these micro-residues are likely associated with prehistoric tool contact with animal tissue. We compared Raman spectra and the types, abundance and distribution of micro-residues on the Denisova Cave artefacts with those on modern experimental stone tools (with known function). The results provide further support for Middle Palaeolithic processing of animal tissue and probable skin scraping at Denisova Cave.

  New perspectives on Acheulean and Acheulean-like adaptations. Edited by Parth R. Chauhan, August G. Costa. Volume 480, Pages 1-178 (30 June 2018):

- New perspectives on Acheulean and Acheulean-like adaptations, di P. R. Chauhan, A. G. Costa

- The Rietputs 15 site and Early Acheulean in South Africa, di K. Kuman, R. J. Gibbon

- Early Acheulean organised core knapping strategies ca. 1.3 Ma at Rietputs 15, Northern Cape Province, South Africa, di G. M. Leader, K. Kuman, R. J. Gibbon, D. E. Granger

- Handaxes in South Africa: Two case studies in the early and later Acheulean, di H. Li, K. Kuman, G. M. Leader, R. Couzens

- The Acheulean in South Africa, with announcement of a new site (Penhill Farm) in the lower Sundays River Valley, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, di M. G. Lotter, K. Kuman

- Mesowear study of ungulates from the early Pleistocene site of ‘Ubeidiya (Israel) and the implications for early Homo dispersal from Africa, di M. Belmaker, H. D. O'Brien

- Linking environmental changes with human occupations between 900 and 400 ka in Western Europe, di M. H. Moncel et alii

- Ambrona revisited: The Acheulean lithic industry in the Lower Stratigraphic Complex, di M. Santonja et alii

- Well-dated fluvial sequences as templates for patterns of handaxe distribution: Understanding the record of Acheulean activity in the Thames and its correlatives, di M. J. White, D. R. Bridgland, D. C. Schreve, T. S. White, K. E.H. Penkman

  Neanderthal brain organoids come to life, di J. Cohen, "Science", 22 Jun 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6395, pp. 1284

Scientists for the first time have grown Neanderthal "minibrains" in lab dishes. A team led by geneticist Alysson Muotri at the University of California, San Diego, reported at a conference that with the help of the genome editor CRISPR they modified a stem cell to have a Neanderthal version of a gene that is involved with brain development in modern humans. They coaxed these stem cells to grow into pea-size "organoids" with cells that make up the cortex, the front part of the brain. The Neanderthal organoids differed in shape and function from ones made identically with the intact modern human gene.

  How did Homo sapiens evolve?, di J. Galway-Witham, C. Stringer, "Science", 22 Jun 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6395, pp. 1296-1298

Over the past 30 years, understanding of Homo sapiens evolution has advanced greatly. Most research has supported the theory that modern humans had originated in Africa by about 200,000 years ago, but the latest findings reveal more complexity than anticipated. They confirm interbreeding between H. sapiens and other hominin species, provide evidence for H. sapiens in Morocco as early as 300,000 years ago, and reveal a seemingly incremental evolution of H. sapiens cranial shape. Although the cumulative evidence still suggests that all modern humans are descended from African H. sapiens populations that replaced local populations of archaic humans, models of modern human origins must now include substantial interactions with those populations before they went extinct. These recent findings illustrate why researchers must remain open to challenging the prevailing theories of modern human origins.

  Early hominins in north-west Europe: A punctuated long chronology?, di R. Hosfield, J. Cole, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 190, 15 June 2018, Pages 148-160 - open access -

In light of changing views regarding the identity and evolutionary positions of Europe's Lower Palaeolithic hominins, a re-consideration of the hominin occupation of north-west Europe from c. 1 million years ago (mya) to c. 400 thousand years ago (kya) is timely. A change in the scale and character of the overall European Palaeolithic record around c. 800–600 kya has been well documented and argued over since the mid-1990s. Hominin expansion into the European north-west, potentially from southern Europe, Africa or south-western Asia, has been linked to the introduction of a new lithic technology in the form of the biface. We evaluate three potential drivers for this northern range expansion: changing palaeo-climatic conditions, the emergence of an essentially modern human life history, and greater hominin behavioural plasticity. Our evaluation suggests no major changes in these three factors during the c. 800–600 kya period other than enhanced behavioural plasticity suggested by the appearance of the biface. We offer here a model of hominin occupation for north-west Europe termed the ‘punctuated long chronology’ and suggest that the major changes in the European Lower Palaeolithic record that occur at a species-wide level may post-date, rather than precede, the Anglian Glaciation (marine isotope stage (MIS) 12). (...)

  Phytoliths as an indicator of early modern humans plant gathering strategies, fire fuel and site occupation intensity during the Middle Stone Age at Pinnacle Point 5-6 (south coast, South Africa), di I. Esteban, C. W. Marean, E. C. Fisher, P. Karkanas, D. Cabanes, R. M. Albert, June 4, 2018, - open access -

The study of plant remains in archaeological sites, along with a better understanding of the use of plants by prehistoric populations, can help us shed light on changes in survival strategies of hunter-gatherers and consequent impacts on modern human cognition, social organization, and technology. The archaeological locality of Pinnacle Point (Mossel Bay, South Africa) includes a series of coastal caves, rock-shelters, and open-air sites with human occupations spanning the Acheulian through Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA). These sites have provided some of the earliest evidence for complex human behaviour and technology during the MSA. We used phytoliths—amorphous silica particles that are deposited in cells of plants—as a proxy for the reconstruction of past human plant foraging strategies on the south coast of South Africa during the Middle and Late Pleistocene, emphasizing the use and control of fire as well as other possible plant uses. We analysed sediment samples from the different occupation periods at the rock shelter Pinnacle Point 5–6 North (PP5-6N). We also present an overview of the taphonomic processes affecting phytolith preservation in this site that will be critical to conduct a more reliable interpretation of the original plant use in the rock shelter. Our study reports the first evidence of the intentional gathering and introduction into living areas of plants from the Restionaceae family by MSA hunter-gatherers inhabiting the south coast of South Africa. We suggest that humans inhabiting Pinnacle Point during short-term occupation events during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 built fast fires using mainly grasses with some wood from trees and/or shrubs for specific purposes, perhaps for shellfish cooking. With the onset of MIS 4 we observed a change in the plant gathering strategies towards the intentional and intensive exploitation of dry wood to improve, we hypothesise, combustion for heating silcrete. This human behaviour is associated with changes in stone tool technology, site occupation intensity and climate change. (...)

Dentine morphology of Atapuerca-Sima de los Huesos lower molars: Evolutionary implications through three-dimensional geometric morphometric analysis, di H. Hanegraef et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 166, Issue 2, June 2018, Pages 276-295

This study aims to explore the affinities of the Sima de los Huesos (SH) population in relation to Homo neanderthalensis, Arago, and early and contemporary Homo sapiens. By characterizing SH intra-population variation, we test current models to explain the Neanderthal origins.
Three-dimensional reconstructions of dentine surfaces of lower first and second molars were produced by micro-computed tomography. Landmarks and sliding semilandmarks were subjected to generalized Procrustes analysis and principal components analysis.
SH is often similar in shape to Neanderthals, and both groups are generally discernible from Homo sapiens. For example, the crown height of SH and Neanderthals is lower than for modern humans. Differences in the presence of a mid-trigonid crest are also observed, with contemporary Homo sapiens usually lacking this feature. Although SH and Neanderthals show strong affinities, they can be discriminated based on certain traits. SH individuals are characterized by a lower intra-population variability, and show a derived dental reduction in lower second molars compared to Neanderthals. SH also differs in morphological features from specimens that are often classified as Homo heidelbergensis, such as a lower crown height and less pronounced mid-trigonid crest in the Arago fossils.
Our results are compatible with the idea that multiple evolutionary lineages or populations coexisted in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene, with the SH paradigm phylogenetically closer to Homo neanderthalensis. Further research could support the possibility of SH as a separate taxon. Alternatively, SH could be a subspecies of Neanderthals, with the variability of this clade being remarkably higher than previously thought.


Mechanical implications of the mandibular coronoid process morphology in Neandertals, di A. Marom, Y. Rak,  "American Journal of Physical Anthropology",Volume 166, Issue 2, June 2018, Pages 401-407

Among the diagnostic features of the Neandertal mandible are the broad base of the coronoid process and its straight posterior margin. The adaptive value of these (and other) anatomical features has been linked to the Neandertal's need to cope with a large gape. The present study aims to test this hypothesis with regard to the morphology of the coronoid process.
This admittedly simple, intuitive hypothesis was tested here via a comparative finite-element study of the primitive versus modified state of the coronoid process, using two-dimensional models of the mandible.
Our simulations demonstrate that a large gape has an unfavorable effect on the primitive state of the coronoid process: the diagonal, almost horizontal, component of the temporalis muscle resultant (relative to the long axis of the coronoid process) bends the process in the sagittal plane. Furthermore, we show that the modification of the coronoid process morphology alone reduces the process' bending in a wide gape increasing the compression to tension ratio.
These results provide indirect evidence in support of the hypothesis that the modification of the coronoid process in Neandertals is necessary for enabling their mandible to cope with a large gape.


The unique Solutrean laurel-leaf points of Volgu: heat-treated or not?, di P. Schmidt, L. Bellot-Gurlet, H. Floss, "Antiquity", Volume 92, Issue 363, June 2018, pp. 587-602

The laurel-leaf points of the Volgu cache found in eastern France rank among the most remarkable examples of skilled craftsmanship known from the Solutrean period of the Upper Palaeolithic. In addition to pressure flaking, heat treatment may have helped in the making of the points, as both have been previously described in association with Solutrean assemblages. This study presents the results of an infrared spectroscopic analysis of seven artefacts from the Volgu cache conducted to test this assumption. The findings show that heat treatment was not universally applied to this particular tool type, meaning that we must rethink the reasons why such a technique was used.


Portable art and personal ornaments from Txina-Txina: a new Later Stone Age site in the Limpopo River Valley, southern Mozambique, di N, Bicho et alii, Volume 92, Issue 363 June 2018 , e2

This paper reports on preliminary fieldwork at the Later Stone Age site of Txina-Txina in Mozambique. Excavation yielded a long stratigraphic sequence, a large lithic assemblage, a unique decorated gastropod shell fragment and two ostrich eggshell beads—the first of their type recovered from a Stone Age context in Mozambique.


Searching for Lazy People: the Significance of Expedient Behavior in the Interpretation of Paleolithic Assemblages, di M. Vaquero, F. Romagnoli, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", June 2018, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 334–367

A quick glance at the evolution of lithic assemblages throughout prehistory highlights a great variability in the time and effort invested in technological activities. This variability has been related to differences in the technological organization of human groups, giving rise to the distinction proposed by Binford between curated and expedient technologies. Curation has been the subject of much discussion with regard to its definition and archaeological implications, but expediency has received comparatively less interest from researchers. Nevertheless, expedient technologies are ubiquitous in the archaeological record and represent a large proportion of prehistoric lithic assemblages, even becoming clearly dominant in certain chronological and/or regional contexts. The aim of this paper is to characterize expedient technologies as low-cost strategies that can be identified in all the stages of the lithic production sequence, from raw material provisioning to tool manufacture. However, we will focus our attention on core reduction technologies, emphasizing the consequences of distinguishing between expedient and formal reduction strategies. Finally, some implications of expediency in archaeological interpretation will be discussed, focusing on the significance of expedient technologies in the cultural ascription of lithic assemblages.


The Danube Corridor Hypothesis and the Carpathian Basin: Geological, Environmental and Archaeological Approaches to Characterizing Aurignacian Dynamics, di W. Chu, "Journal of World Prehistory", June 2018, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 117–178

Early Upper Paleolithic sites in the Danube catchment have been put forward as evidence that the river was an important conduit for modern humans during their initial settlement of Europe. Central to this model is the Carpathian Basin, a region covering most of the Middle Danube. As the archaeological record of this region is still poorly understood, this paper aims to provide a contextual assessment of the Carpathian Basin’s geological and paleoenvironmental archives, starting with the late Upper Pleistocene. Subsequently, it compiles early Upper Paleolithic data from the region to provide a synchronic appraisal of the Aurignacian archaeological evidence. It then uses this data to test whether the relative absence of early Upper Paleolithic sites is obscured by a taphonomic bias. Finally, it reviews current knowledge of the Carpathian Basin’s archaeological record and concludes that, while it cannot reject the Danube corridor hypothesis, further (geo)archaeological work is required to understand the link between the Carpathian Basin and Central and Southeastern Europe.


Seeking black. Geochemical characterization by PIXE of Palaeolithic manganese-rich lumps and their potential sources, di P. Martí, F. d'Errico, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 50, June 2018, Pages 54-68

Lumps of mineral pigments are the more widespread archaeological remains found at Mousterian sites that may have been used by Neanderthals for symbolic activities. The characterisation of their chemical composition is essential to identify behavioural consistencies in their selection, transformation, and use, reconstruct changes through time in Neanderthals cultural practices, and discuss the emergence of symbolic cultures. In the Dordogne department of France, hundreds of black lumps, often bearing traces of intentional modification, were recovered at Middle (MP) and Upper Palaeolithic (UP) sites. In this paper we apply particle-induced X-ray emission (PIXE) to a representative sample of black lumps recovered at three MP and four UP sites as well as eight geological outcrops from this region with the aim of using major, minor, and trace elements content to identify potential sources and explore intra- and inter-site variability in the use of black colouring matter. Results suggest that MP and UP communities systematically searched for and surveyed Mn-rich formations to collect Mn-rich lumps. Differences in composition indicate that archaeological lumps were collected at a number of different outcrops, not sampled in the present study. A higher compositional variability is observed at UP compared to MP sites with single cultural layers. This suggests that UP modern humans may have, in some cases, exploited a wider range of Mn-rich sources than Mousterian Neanderthals.

  Endocast morphology of Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, di R. L. Holloway et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 29, 2018, 115 (22), pp. 5738-5743 - open access -

Hominin cranial remains from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, represent multiple individuals of the species Homo naledi. This species exhibits a small endocranial volume comparable to Australopithecus, combined with several aspects of external cranial anatomy similar to larger-brained species of Homo such as Homo habilis and Homo erectus. Here, we describe the endocast anatomy of this recently discovered species. Despite the small size of the H. naledi endocasts, they share several aspects of structure in common with other species of Homo, not found in other hominins or great apes, notably in the organization of the inferior frontal and lateral orbital gyri. The presence of such structural innovations in a small-brained hominin may have relevance to behavioral evolution within the genus Homo. (...)

  Symbolic emblems of the Levantine Aurignacians as a regional entity identifier (Hayonim Cave, Lower Galilee, Israel), di J. M. Tejero, A. Belfer-Cohen, O. Bar-Yosef, V. Gutkin, R. Rabinovich, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 15, 2018, 115 (20), pp. 5145-5150

The Levantine Aurignacian is a unique phenomenon in the local Upper Paleolithic sequence, showing greater similarity to the West European classic Aurignacian than to the local Levantine archaeological entities preceding and following it. Herewith we highlight another unique characteristic of this entity, namely, the presence of symbolic objects in the form of notched bones (mostly gazelle scapulae) from the Aurignacian levels of Hayonim Cave, Lower Galilee, Israel. Through both macroscopic and microscopic analyses of the items, we suggest that they are not mere cut marks but rather are intentional (decorative?) human-made markings. The significance of this evidence for symbolic behavior is discussed in its chrono-cultural and geographical contexts. Notched bones are among the oldest symbolic expressions of anatomically modern humans. However, unlike other Paleolithic sites where such findings were reported in single numbers, the number of these items recovered at Hayonim Cave is sufficient to assume they possibly served as an emblem of the Levantine Aurignacian.

  Great ape walking kinematics: Implications for hominoid evolution, di E. M. Finestone, M. H. Brown, S. R. Ross, H. Pontze, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 166, Issue 1, May 2018, Pages 43-55

Great apes provide a point of reference for understanding the evolution of locomotion in hominoids and early hominins. We assessed the extent to which great apes use diagonal sequence, diagonal couplet gaits, like other primates, the extent to which gait and posture vary across great apes, and the role of body mass and limb proportions on ape quadrupedal kinematics.
High-speed digital video of zoo-housed bonobos (Pan paniscus, N = 8), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes, N = 13), lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla, N = 13), and orangutans (Pongo spp. N = 6) walking over-ground at self-selected speeds were used to determine the timing of limb touch-down, take-off, and to measure joint and segment angles at touch-down, midstance, and take-off.
The great apes in our study showed broad kinematic and spatiotemporal similarity in quadrupedal walking. Size-adjusted walking speed was the strongest predictor of gait variables. Body mass had a negligible effect on variation in joint and segment angles, but stride frequency did trend higher among larger apes in analyses including size-adjusted speed. In contrast to most other primates, great apes did not favor diagonal sequence footfall patterns, but exhibited variable gait patterns that frequently shifted between diagonal and lateral sequences.
Similarities in the terrestrial walking kinematics of extant great apes likely reflect their similar post-cranial anatomy and proportions. Our results suggest that the walking kinematics of orthograde, suspensory Miocene ape species were likely similar to living great apes, and highlight the utility of videographic and behavioral data in interpreting primate skeletal morphology.

  Cranial measures and ancient DNA both show greater similarity of Neandertals to recent modern Eurasians than to recent modern sub-Saharan Africans, di J. H. Relethford, F. H. Smith, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 166, Issue 1, May 2018, Pages 170-178

Ancient DNA analysis has shown that present-day humans of Eurasian ancestry are more similar to Neandertals than are present-day humans of sub-Saharan African ancestry, reflecting interbreeding after modern humans first left Africa. We use craniometric data to test the hypothesis that the crania of recent modern humans show the same pattern.
We computed Mahalanobis squared distances between a published Neandertal centroid based on 37 craniometric traits and each of 2,413 recent modern humans from the Howells global data set (N = 373 sub-Saharan Africans, N = 2,040 individuals of Eurasian descent).
The average distance to the Neandertal centroid is significantly lower for Eurasian crania than for sub-Saharan African crania as expected from the findings of ancient DNA (p < 0.001). This result holds when examining distances for separate geographic regions of humans of Eurasian descent (Europeans, Asians, Australasians, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders). Most of these results are also seen when examining distances partitioning size and shape variation.
Our results show that the genetic difference in Neandertal ancestry seen in the DNA of present-day sub-Saharan Africans and Eurasians is also found in patterns of recent modern human craniometric variation.


New archaeozoological and taphonomic analysis on macro-and megafauna remains from the lower palaeolithic site of Ficoncella (Tarquinia, central Italy), di F. Boschin, R. Rocca, D. Aureli, "Quaternaire", vol. 29/1 | 2018 : Volume 29 Numéro 1

The site of Ficoncella is located to the north of Rome (Central Italy). It is an alluvial context where animal bones and lithic remains were buried over a short space of time in a floodplain environment during the Lower Palaeolithic. The main faunal evidence is represented by parts of a straight-tusked elephant carcass, but remains belonging to other ungulate species were also identified e.g. cervid and equid bones, as well as diaphysis fragments belonging to small and middle-sized ungulates. The use-wear analysis of lithic implements revealed traces related to action on materials of soft to medium hardness. These could be the result of carcass processing, although direct interaction between hominins and animals has not as yet been established. New taphonomic and zooarchaeological data are presented in this paper. Cervids and equid bones, as well as diaphysis fragments belonging to small and middle-sized ungulates, were identified. A shaft portion shows green bone fractures and an impact notch. Some bone flakes were identified among the fragments attributed to megafauna. The current results show that the site of Ficoncella was buried over a short space of time in a floodplain environment. This new analysis allows us to identify a broader range of Hominin activities at the site.


Paléolithiques moyen et supérieur à Buraca Escura (Redinha, Pombal, Portugal): comparaisons taphonomique et archéozoologique, di D. Arceredillo, J. B. Peyrouse, T. Aubry, "Quaternaire", vol. 29/1 | 2018 : Volume 29 Numéro 1

The cave of Buraca Escura was occupied during Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. Human occupations were seasonal (spring, summer) and of short durations. They are associated with many birds (corvid dominant), diversified carnivores (Lynx, Canis, Crocuta dominant) and a rich herbivore’ bone accumulations, especially composed of ibex. The objective of this study is to present a comparative study between the main chronocultural phases in order to consider differences and/or similarities about the presence and degree of exploitation of ungulates and into the use of the cave, from multiple agents.


Late neandertals and the exploitation of small mammals in northern Italy: fortuity, necessity or hunting variability?, di M. Romandini et alii, "Quaternaire", vol. 29/1 | 2018 : Volume 29 Numéro 1

This work reviews the anthropogenic exploitation of small mammals during a crucial time span for the reconstruction of human behavior at the dawn of the Middle - Upper Palaeolithic boundary in the Northern Mediterranean region. Data are sourced from faunal assemblages recovered in the final Mousterian levels of Grotta di Fumane (A5-A6 complex) and the Late Mousterian levels of Riparo Tagliente (levels 35 and 36) and Grotta di San Bernardino (units II and IV), in the North of Italy. As a whole, these records mostly comprise ungulates, rather than bird and carnivore bones, and derive from primary accumulation processes more than from post-depositional activities or direct carnivore actions. Broadly, the taphonomic analyses reveal the presence of human modifications referable to different butchering activities on almost all of the ungulates. Small mammal bones are present throughout the late MP sequences in variable quantities, with canids and rodents represented in each of the assemblages. This work highlights new qualitative taphonomic records produced by humans within a large area that reveal Neandertals’ exploitation of small mammals as game. At Grotta di Fumane, foxes have been butchered in order to exploit fur and meat. Similarly, at Grotta Maggiore di San Bernardino and Riparo Tagliente some large rodents bear cut-marks related to the same purposes. Krapina Cave is the only other Mousterian site containing evidence of small game explotation (beaver and marmot) that is in close geographical proximity to the caves analyzed here.


The magdalenian fauna from Roc-aux-Sorciers, a sculpted rock shelter (Vienne, France). Main archaeozoological results, di P. Valensi, N. Boulbes, "Quaternaire", vol. 29/1 | 2018 : Volume 29 Numéro 1

The Roc-aux-Sorciers site, on the townland of Angles-sur-l’Anglin, contains two localities with cave art: Abri Bourdois and Cave Taillebourg. The site is well-known on account of the Middle Magdalenian carved frieze in Abri Bourdois. Excavations by Suzanne de Saint-Mathurin from 1947 to 1964 revealed several occupation levels contemporaneous with the parietal art in Abri Bourdois and Cave Taillebourg. This study focuses on the large mammal remains from these former excavations. The faunal association comprises 20 species, and is characterized by the presence of two dominant species: the reindeer and the horse, followed by two secondary species in terms of abundance: the Saiga antelope and the bison. This site is one of the rare decorated Magdalenian rock shelters with occupation remains associated with the parietal art. The archaeozoological study combines different approaches and brings to light the complex relations between the Magdalenians and fauna. Some species, such as the reindeer, are only a source for basic necessities (food, skin, tendons, and antlers). Others have a more symbolic connotation and are only depicted in parietal art (ibex) or used for portable art or decorative objects (mammoth and carnivores). Lastly, the horse is a symbolic animal and a food source. During the Middle Magdalenian, the Roc-aux-Sorciers could correspond to a residential camp where human groups used the site during long periods of the year, or even for more than a year. This points to semi-sedentary Magdalenian populations with differential resource management during different seasons.


Paleobiology as a clue to paleolithic taphonomy: the case of reindeer hunting in Moldova, di R. Croitor, "Quaternaire", vol. 29/1 | 2018 : Volume 29 Numéro 1

The article proposes an interpretation of hunting strategy of Late Paleolithic hunters from Moldova based on demographic structure of reindeer remains (sex ratio and proportion of juvenile remains) and reindeer paleobiology and ecology. The obtained results demonstrate a flexible strategy of game procurement of Paleolithic hunters ensuring the optimal energy investment/ food gain ratio. The hunting strategy was influenced by prey ecology, seasonal biological cycle, paleogeographic conditions, prey availability, cultural traditions, and available human resources.


Preliminary results from application of GIS to study the distribution of select taphonomic agents and their effects on the faunal remains from 3 colluvium level of Isernia La Pineta, di S. Channarayapatna, G. Lembo, C. Peretto, U. Thun Hohenstein, "Quaternaire", vol. 29/1 | 2018 : Volume 29 Numéro 1

Prehistoric human occupation at the early Middle Pleistocene, Palaeolithic open-air site of Isernia La Pineta (Molise, Italy) is evidenced by an impressive repertoire of lithic tools and faunal remains recovered from four archaeosurfaces, identified in two sectors of the excavation set area within a complex stratigraphic series. Having been extensively excavated, well-documented and inter-disciplinarily researched for over four decades, these archaeosurfaces were ideal for and subjected to GIS-based spatial studies. In the faunal context, maps were designed and developed to analyse the frequency, density and distribution of osseous remains, different species determined and their representative skeletal parts for archaeosurfaces 3c, 3a and 3S10. Recently, 3 colluvium became prominent for its first human remain discovery, a deciduous incisor (dated to 583- 561 ka by 40Ar/39Ar). Updated archaeozoological and taphonomic analyses of this level’s assemblage revealed the dominance of large ungulates. Systematic and intentional carcass utilisation process for nutrition-rich parts by hominins is supported by evidence of anthropic marks, fractures and notches in certain places. Alterations caused by natural agents included trampling, erosion, exfoliation, evidences of different stages of weathering and deposition of concretions as part of their post-depositional history. This paper, hence, aims to make initial attempts of further spatial queries through 2D maps for 3 colluvium faunal remains in conjunction with additional taphonomy variables like weathering, erosion and exfoliation to see if any patterns regarding their effect, emerge. Results show areas of intermittent dense and sparse concentrations of altered and unaltered remains. It is inferred that fewer remains, less distributed in the central part of the excavated area, probably remained exposed to the impact of these taphonomic factors longer than the higher quantity of remains, more densely distributed in the southern, south western and south eastern part which otherwise experienced quicker burial.


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The manual pressures of stone tool behaviors and their implications for the evolution of the human hand, di E. M. Williams-Hatala et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 119, June 2018, Pages 14-26

It is widely agreed that biomechanical stresses imposed by stone tool behaviors influenced the evolution of the human hand. Though archaeological evidence suggests that early hominins participated in a variety of tool behaviors, it is unlikely that all behaviors equally influenced modern human hand anatomy. It is more probable that a behavior's likelihood of exerting a selective pressure was a weighted function of the magnitude of stresses associated with that behavior, the benefits received from it, and the amount of time spent performing it. Based on this premise, we focused on the first part of that equation and evaluated magnitudes of stresses associated with stone tool behaviors thought to have been commonly practiced by early hominins, to determine which placed the greatest loads on the digits. Manual pressure data were gathered from 39 human subjects using a Novel Pliance® manual pressure system while they participated in multiple Plio-Pleistocene tool behaviors: nut-cracking, marrow acquisition with a hammerstone, flake production with a hammerstone, and handaxe and flake use. Manual pressure distributions varied significantly according to behavior, though there was a tendency for regions of the hand subject to the lowest pressures (e.g., proximal phalanges) to be affected less by behavior type. Hammerstone use during marrow acquisition and flake production consistently placed the greatest loads on the digits collectively, on each digit and on each phalanx. Our results suggest that, based solely on the magnitudes of stresses, hammerstone use during marrow acquisition and flake production are the most likely of the assessed behaviors to have influenced the anatomical and functional evolution of the human hand.


Dental calculus indicates widespread plant use within the stable Neanderthal dietary niche, di R. C.Power et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 119, June 2018, Pages 27-41

The ecology of Neanderthals is a pressing question in the study of hominin evolution. Diet appears to have played a prominent role in their adaptation to Eurasia. Based on isotope and zooarchaeological studies, Neanderthal diet has been reconstructed as heavily meat-based and generally similar across different environments. This image persists, despite recent studies suggesting more plant use and more variation. However, we have only a fragmentary picture of their dietary ecology, and how it may have varied among habitats, because we lack broad and environmentally representative information about their use of plants and other foods. To address the problem, we examined the plant microremains in Neanderthal dental calculus from five archaeological sites representing a variety of environments from the northern Balkans, and the western, central and eastern Mediterranean. The recovered microremains revealed the consumption of a variety of non-animal foods, including starchy plants. Using a modeling approach, we explored the relationships among microremains and environment, while controlling for chronology. In the process, we compared the effectiveness of various diversity metrics and their shortcomings for studying microbotanical remains, which are often morphologically redundant for identification. We developed Minimum Botanical Units as a new way of estimating how many plant types or parts are present in a microbotanical sample. In contrast to some previous work, we found no evidence that plant use is confined to the southern-most areas of Neanderthal distribution. Although interpreting the ecogeographic variation is limited by the incomplete preservation of dietary microremains, it is clear that plant exploitation was a widespread and deeply rooted Neanderthal subsistence strategy, even if they were predominately game hunters. Given the limited dietary variation across Neanderthal range in time and space in both plant and animal food exploitation, we argue that vegetal consumption was a feature of a generally static dietary niche.


Microwear textures of Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus molars in relation to paleoenvironment and diet, di A. Peterson, E. F.Abella, F. E. Grine, M. F.Teaford, P. S. Ungar, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 119, June 2018, Pages 42-63

The importance of diet in primate ecology has motivated the use of a variety of methods to reconstruct dietary habits of extinct hominin taxa. Dental microwear is one such approach that preserves evidence from consumed food items. This study is based on 44 specimens of Australopithecus africanus from Makapansgat and Sterkfontein, and 66 specimens of Paranthropus robustus from Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Drimolen. These samples enable examination of potential differences between the two assemblages of A. africanus, and among the various assemblages of P. robustus in relation to the paleoenvironmental reconstructions that have been proffered for each fossil site. Sixteen microwear texture variables were recorded for each specimen from digital elevation models generated using a white-light confocal profiler. Only two of these differ significantly between the Makapansgat and Sterkfontein samples of A. africanus. None of the microwear texture variables differs significantly among the samples of P. robustus. On the other hand, P. robustus has significantly higher values than A. africanus for 11 variables related to feature complexity, size, and depth; P. robustus exhibits rougher surfaces that comprise larger, deeper features. In contrast, A. africanus has smoother, simpler wear surfaces with smaller, shallower and more anisotropic features. As for possible habitat differences among the various sites, only a relatively small number of subtle differences are evident between the specimens of A. africanus from Makapansgat and Sterkfontein, and there are none among the specimens of P. robustus from various deposits. As such, it is reasonable to conclude that, while subtle differences in microwear textures may reflect differences in background habitats, the wear fabric differences between P. robustus and A. africanus are most reasonably interpreted as having been driven by dietary differences.


Reconstruction of the burial position of two hominin skeletons (Australopithecus sediba) from the early Pleistocene Malapa cave site, South Africa, di A. Val, L. R. Backwell, P. H. G. M. Dirks, F. d'Errico, L. R. Berger, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 33, Issue 3, May/June 2018, Pages 291-306

The Malapa site has yielded unusually abundant and well preserved fossils of Australopithecus sediba. While some elements were found in situ during excavation, others were recovered ex situ from blocks of clastic, calcified sediments collected around the site. We have refitted the ex situ elements from Facies D, the sedimentary unit represented by a single debris flow from which most of the Au. sediba remains were collected, with the elements recovered in situ. Results confirm that the fossils in this unit can securely be attributed to two near‐complete skeletons of a juvenile male (MH1), which initially lay in the upper, laminated part of Facies D, and an adult female (MH2), deposited in the lower part of this facies. We propose a description of peri- and postmortem events based on the location and orientation of the fossils, using for the first time a 3D reconstruction of the postulated position in which the two hominins were deposited. Macro-and microscopic modifications of bone surfaces, and degree of preservation confirm that the individuals were washed into the deposit as articulated—or semi-articulated—complete bodies, which were subaerially exposed for some time, and had reached natural mummification before being deposited within a debris flow.


Sediment micromorphology and site formation processes during the Middle to Later Stone Ages at the Haua Fteah Cave, Cyrenaica, Libya, di R. H. Inglis, C. French, L. Farr, C. O. Hunt, S. C. Jones, T. Reynolds, G. Barker, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 33, Issue 3, May/June 2018, Pages 328-348

Understanding the timing, conditions, and characteristics of the Middle to Later Stone Age (MSA/LSA) transition in North Africa is critical for debates regarding the evolution and past population dynamics of Homo sapiens, especially their dispersals within, out of, and back into, Africa. As with many cultural transitions during the Palaeolithic, our understanding is based predominantly on archaeological and paleoenvironmental records preserved within a small number of deep cave sediment sequences. To use such sequences as chronological cornerstones we must develop a robust understanding of the formation processes that created them. This paper utilizes geoarchaeological analyses (field observations, sediment micromorphology, bulk sedimentology) to examine site formation processes and stratigraphic integrity during the MSA/LSA at the Haua Fteah cave, Libya, one of North Africa's longest cultural sequences. The depositional processes identified vary in mode and energy, from eolian deposition/reworking to mass colluvial mudflows. These changing processes impact greatly on the interpretation of the paleoenvironmental and archaeological records, not least in identifying potential colluvial sediment deposition and reworking in layers identified as containing the MSA/LSA transition. This study highlights the importance of developing geoarchaeological analyses of cultural sequences to fully unravel the limitations and potential of their contained archaeological and paleoenvironmental records.

  Middle Palaeolithic stone-tool technology from the Central Balkans: The site of Uzun Mera (eastern Republic of Macedonia), di D. Stojanovski, M. Arzarello, T. Nacev, "Quaternary International", Volume 476, 20 May 2018, Pages 63-69

Whether a refugium, a transit area, or both, the Balkan Peninsula played a crucial role in the population dynamics of Europe during prehistory. However, the Balkans Peninsula is poorly represented in the European archaeological record. This article presents the newly discovered Middle Palaeolithic stone tool assemblage from the Uzun Mera site in the eastern Republic of Macedonia. Following fieldwork that included diverse methods in survey and excavation, as well as techno-economical and taphonomic assessment of the recovered stone tools, Uzun Mera is reported here as a typical Middle Palaeolithic assemblage that follows the pattern of a highly variable Balkan complex. The quality of the raw material reflects a highly selective approach, resulting in relatively low lithological variability where small blocks of raw material used for knapping are still present on site. These results contribute to better understanding the Palaeolithic of the Balkans and inform the population process in a region where little investigation has been previously conducted.

  Speleothem evidence for the greening of the Sahara and its implications for the early human dispersal out of sub-Saharan Africa, di M. I. El-Shenawy, S. T. Kim, H. P.Schwarcz, Y. Asmerom, V. J. Polyak, "Quaternary Science Reviews",  Volume 188, 15 May 2018, Pages 67-76

Although there is a consensus that there were wet periods (greening events) in the Sahara in the past, the spatial extent and the timing of these greening events are still in dispute, yet critical to our understanding of the early human dispersal out of Africa. Our U-series dates of speleothems from the Northeastern Sahara (Wadi Sannur cave, Egypt) reveal that the periods of speleothem growth were brief and restricted to the interglacial Marine Isotope Stages MIS 5.5, MIS 7.3, and the early MIS 9 with a remarkable absence of the Holocene deposition of speleothems. These growth periods of Wadi Sannur cave speleothems correspond to periods of high rainfall and spread of vegetation (green Sahara). Distinct low δ18O values of speleothems indicate a distal moisture source that we interpret to be the Atlantic Ocean. These two lines of evidence from the Wadi Sannur speleothems thus suggest that maximal northward shifts in the West African monsoon system occurred during the growth periods of the speleothems, leading to greening of the Sahara, facilitating human migration into Eurasia. The periods of speleothem growth at Wadi Sannur cave are contemporaneous with important archeological events: (1) the earliest occurrence of the Middle Stone Age assemblages and Homo sapiens in North Africa (Jebel Irhoud), suggesting wide spread of greening conditions over the East–West transect of the Sahara, (2) the sharp technological break between the Acheulo-Yabrudian and the Mousterian industries, and (3) the arrival of Homo sapiens in Levant, indicating a key role of the Sahara route in early human dispersal out of Africa.


The oldest Stone Age occupation of coastal West Africa and its implications for modern human dispersals: New insight from Tiémassas, di K. Niang, J. Blinkhorn, M. Ndiaye, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 188, 15 May 2018, Pages 167-173

Examinations of modern human dispersals are typically focused on expansions from South, East or North Africa into Eurasia, with more limited attention paid to dispersals within Africa. The paucity of the West African fossil record means it has typically been overlooked in appraisals of human expansions in the Late Pleistocene, yet regions such as Senegal occur in key biogeographic transitional zones that may offer significant corridors for human occupation and expansion. Here, we report the first evidence for Middle Stone Age occupation of the West African littoral from Tiémassas, dating to ~44 thousand years ago, coinciding with a period of enhanced humidity across the region. Prehistoric populations mainly procured raw material from exposed Ypresian limestone horizons with Levallois, discoidal and informal reduction sequences producing flake blanks for retouched tools. We discuss this mid-Marine Isotope Stage 3 occupation in the context of the site's unique, ecotonal position amongst Middle Stone Age sites across West Africa, and its significance for Later Stone Age colonization of near coastal forests in the region. The results also support previous suggestions for connections between Middle Stone Age populations in West Africa and the Maghreb, for which the coastline may also have played a significant role.

  From Neandertals to modern humans: New data on the Uluzzian, di P. Villa et alii, May 9, 2018, - open access -

Having thrived in Eurasia for 350,000 years Neandertals disappeared from the record around 40,000–37,000 years ago, after modern humans entered Europe. It was a complex process of population interactions that included cultural exchanges and admixture between Neandertals and dispersing groups of modern humans. In Europe Neandertals are always associated with the Mousterian while the Aurignacian is associated with modern humans only. The onset of the Aurignacian is preceded by “transitional” industries which show some similarities with the Mousterian but also contain modern tool forms. Information on these industries is often incomplete or disputed and this is true of the Uluzzian. We present the results of taphonomic, typological and technological analyses of two Uluzzian sites, Grotta La Fabbrica (Tuscany) and the newly discovered site of Colle Rotondo (Latium). Comparisons with Castelcivita and Grotta del Cavallo show that the Uluzzian is a coherent cultural unit lasting about five millennia, replaced by the Protoaurignacian before the eruption of the Campanian Ignimbrite. The lack of skeletal remains at our two sites and the controversy surrounding the stratigraphic position of modern human teeth at Cavallo makes it difficult to reach agreement about authorship of the Uluzzian, for which alternative hypotheses have been proposed. Pending the discovery of DNA or further human remains, these hypotheses can only be evaluated by archaeological arguments, i.e. evidence of continuities and discontinuities between the Uluzzian and the preceding and succeeding culture units in Italy. However, in the context of “transitional” industries with disputed dates for the arrival of modern humans in Europe, and considering the case of the Châtelperronian, an Upper Paleolithic industry made by Neandertals, typo-technology used as an indicator of hominin authorship has limited predictive value. We corroborate previous suggestions that the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition occurred as steps of rapid changes and geographically uneven rates of spread. (...)

  78,000-year-old record of Middle and Later stone age innovation in an East African tropical forest, di C. Shipton, P. Roberts, N. Boivin, "Nature Communications", volume 9, Article number: 1832 (2018), 09 May 2018, doi:10.1038/s41467-018-04057-3 - open access -

The Middle to Later Stone Age transition in Africa has been debated as a significant shift in human technological, cultural, and cognitive evolution. However, the majority of research on this transition is currently focused on southern Africa due to a lack of long-term, stratified sites across much of the African continent. Here, we report a 78,000-year-long archeological record from Panga ya Saidi, a cave in the humid coastal forest of Kenya. Following a shift in toolkits ~67,000 years ago, novel symbolic and technological behaviors assemble in a non-unilinear manner. Against a backdrop of a persistent tropical forest-grassland ecotone, localized innovations better characterize the Late Pleistocene of this part of East Africa than alternative emphases on dramatic revolutions or migrations. (...)

Can chimpanzee vocalizations reveal the origins of human language? May 8, 2018

Fossil primates provide important clues about human evolution, but the sounds they made and the soft tissue involved in making those sounds weren't preserved. So chimpanzees can provide important points of comparison for inferring the sorts of sounds our early ancestors may have made. (...)


Pleistocene North African genomes link Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African human populations, di  M. van de Loosdrecht et alii, "Science", 04 May 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6388, pp. 548-552

North Africa is a key region for understanding human history, but the genetic history of its people is largely unknown. We present genomic data from seven 15,000-year-old modern humans, attributed to the Iberomaurusian culture, from Morocco. We find a genetic affinity with early Holocene Near Easterners, best represented by Levantine Natufians, suggesting a pre-agricultural connection between Africa and the Near East. We do not find evidence for gene flow from Paleolithic Europeans to Late Pleistocene North Africans. The Taforalt individuals derive one-third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africans, best approximated by a mixture of genetic components preserved in present-day West and East Africans. Thus, we provide direct evidence for genetic interactions between modern humans across Africa and Eurasia in the Pleistocene.


Assessing the significance of Palaeolithic engraved cortexes. A case study from the Mousterian site of Kiik-Koba, Crimea, di A. Majkić, F. d’Errico, V. Stepanchuk, May 2, 2018, - open access -

Twenty-Seven Lower and Middle Paleolithic sites from Europe and the Middle East are reported in the literature to have yielded incised stones. At eleven of these sites incisions are present on flint cortexes. Even when it is possible to demonstrate that the engravings are ancient and human made, it is often difficult to distinguish incisions resulting from functional activities such as butchery or use as a cutting board, from those produced deliberately, and even more difficult to identify the scope of the latter. In this paper we present results of the analysis of an engraved cortical flint flake found at Kiik-Koba, a key Mousterian site from Crimea, and create an interpretative framework to guide the interpretation of incised cortexes. The frame of inference that we propose allows for a reasoned evaluation of the actions playing a role in the marking process and aims at narrowing down the interpretation of the evidence. The object comes from layer IV, the same layer in which a Neanderthal child burial was unearthed, which contains a para-Micoquian industry of Kiik-Koba type dated to between c.35 and 37 cal kyr BP. The microscopic analysis and 3D reconstruction of the grooves on the cortex of this small flint flake, demonstrate that the incisions represent a deliberate engraving made by a skilled craftsman, probably with two different points. The lines are nearly perfectly framed into the cortex, testifying of well controlled motions. This is especially the case considering the small size of the object, which makes this a difficult task. The production of the engraving required excellent neuromotor and volitional control, which implies focused attention. Evaluation of the Kiik-Koba evidence in the light of the proposed interpretative framework supports the view that the engraving was made with a representational intent. (...)


Hominin skeletal part abundances and claims of deliberate disposal of corpses in the Middle Pleistocene, di C. P. Egeland, M. Domínguez-Rodrigo, T. Rayne Pickering, C. G. Menter, J. L. Heaton, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 1, 2018. 115 (18). 4601-4606

Humans are set apart from other organisms by the realization of their own mortality. Thus, determining the prehistoric emergence of this capacity is of significant interest to understanding the uniqueness of the human animal. Tracing that capacity chronologically is possible through archaeological investigations that focus on physical markers that reflect “mortality salience.” Among these markers is the deliberate and culturally mediated disposal of corpses. Some Neandertal bone assemblages are among the earliest reasonable claims for the deliberate disposal of hominins, but even these are vigorously debated. More dramatic assertions center on the Middle Pleistocene sites of Sima de los Huesos (SH, Spain) and the Dinaledi Chamber (DC, South Africa), where the remains of multiple hominin individuals were found in deep caves, and under reported taphonomic circumstances that seem to discount the possibility that nonhominin actors and processes contributed to their formation. These claims, with significant implications for charting the evolution of the “human condition,” deserve scrutiny. We test these assertions through machine-learning analyses of hominin skeletal part representation in the SH and DC assemblages. Our results indicate that nonanthropogenic agents and abiotic processes cannot yet be ruled out as significant contributors to the ultimate condition of both collections. This finding does not falsify hypotheses of deliberate disposal for the SH and DC corpses, but does indicate that the data also support partially or completely nonanthropogenic formational histories.


Integrated geochronology of Acheulian sites from the southern Latium (central Italy): Insights on human-environment interaction and the technological innovations during the MIS 11-MIS 10 period, di A. Pereira et alli, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 187, 1 May 2018, Pages 112-129

We have explored the multimethod approach combining 40Ar/39Ar on single crystal, ESR on bleached quartz, and ESR/U-series on teeth to improve the age of four neighbours “Acheulian” sites of the Frosinone Province (Latium, Italy): Fontana Ranuccio, Cava Pompi (Pofi), Isoletta, and Lademagne. Ages obtained by the three methods are in mutual agreement and confirm the potential of dating with confidence Middle Pleistocene sites of Italy using these methods. At Fontana Ranuccio, the 40Ar/39Ar age (408 ± 10 ka, full external error at 2σ) obtained for the archaeological level (unit FR4) and geochemical analyses of glass shards performed on the Unit FR2a layer allow us to attribute the studied volcanic material to the Pozzolane Nere volcanic series, a well-known caldera-forming event originated from the Colli Albani volcanic district. These new data ascribe the Fontana Ranuccio site, as well as the eponym faunal unit, to the climatic optimum of Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 11. Ages obtained for the Cava Pompi, Isoletta, and Lademagne sites cover a relatively short period of time between 408 ka and 375 ka, spanning MIS 11 climatic optimum to the MIS 11–10 transition. Analysis of small collections of lithic industries, bifacial tools, and small cores technologies from Isoletta, Lademagne, and the neighbour site of Ceprano-Campogrande shows common technical strategies for the period comprised between MIS 11 and MIS 9 (410–325 ka), such as the elaboration of flaked elephant bone industries found over the whole Latium region. However, some features found only in the Frosinone province area, like large-sized bifaces, suggest particular regional behaviours. The presence of one Levallois core in the oldest layer of Lademagne (i.e. > 405 ± 9 ka) suggests a punctual practice of this technology, also proposed as early as MIS 10/11 in the neighbour site of Guado San Nicola (Molise) in central Italy.


Cranial measures and ancient DNA both show greater similarity of Neandertals to recent modern Eurasians than to recent modern sub-Saharan Africans, di J. H. Relethford, F, H. Smith, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 166, Issue 1, May 2018

Ancient DNA analysis has shown that present-day humans of Eurasian ancestry are more similar to Neandertals than are present-day humans of sub-Saharan African ancestry, reflecting interbreeding after modern humans first left Africa. We use craniometric data to test the hypothesis that the crania of recent modern humans show the same pattern.
We computed Mahalanobis squared distances between a published Neandertal centroid based on 37 craniometric traits and each of 2,413 recent modern humans from the Howells global data set (N = 373 sub-Saharan Africans, N = 2,040 individuals of Eurasian descent).
The average distance to the Neandertal centroid is significantly lower for Eurasian crania than for sub‐Saharan African crania as expected from the findings of ancient DNA (p < 0.001). This result holds when examining distances for separate geographic regions of humans of Eurasian descent (Europeans, Asians, Australasians, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders). Most of these results are also seen when examining distances partitioning size and shape variation.
Our results show that the genetic difference in Neandertal ancestry seen in the DNA of present‐day sub‐Saharan Africans and Eurasians is also found in patterns of recent modern human craniometric variation.


Brief communication: Dental microwear and diet of Homo naledi, di P. S. Ungar, L. R. Berger, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 166, Issue 1, May 2018

A recent study of dental chipping suggested that Homo naledi teeth were exposed to “acute trauma” on a regular basis during life, presumably from the consumption of grit-laden foods. This follows debate concerning the etiology of dental chips in South African hominin teeth that dates back more than half a century. Some have argued that antemortem chips result from consumption of hard foods, such as nuts and seeds or bone, whereas others have claimed that exogenous grit on roots and tubers are responsible. Here we examine the dental microwear textures of H. naledi, both to reconstruct aspects of diet of these hominins and to assess the possibility that hard foods (gritty or otherwise) are the culprits for the unusually high antemortem chip incidence reported.
We made high-resolution replicas of original molars and found that ten individuals preserve antemortem wear. These were scanned by white‐light scanning confocal profilometry and analyzed using scale-sensitive fractal analysis. Resulting data were compared with those published for other fossil hominins and extant non-human primates.
Our results indicate that H. naledi had complex microwear textures dominated by large, deep pits. The only known fossil hominin with higher average texture complexity is Paranthropus robustus, and the closest extant primates in a comparative baseline series appear to be the hard-object feeder, Cercocebus atys, and the eurytopic generalist, Papio ursinus.
This study suggests that H. naledi likely consumed hard and abrasive foods, such as nuts or tubers, at least on occasion, and that these might well be responsible for the pattern of chipping observed on their teeth.


Mammoth resources for hominins: from omega-3 fatty acids to cultural objects, di J. L. Guil-Guerrero et alii, "Journal of Quaternary Science", Volume 33, Issue 4, May 2018, Pages 455-463

The mammoth is assessed here both for its cultural significance as well as a source of dietary n-3 (omega-3) fatty acids in Palaeolithic societies. For this, we analysed fats from several frozen mammoths found in the permafrost of Siberia (Russian Federation) and conducted a comprehensive literature review on the relationships of hominins with mammoths throughout the Stone Age. Different mammoth samples were included in this study, all very close to the Upper Palaeolithic. All samples were analysed by gas liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and gas liquid chromatography-flame ionization detection. Hominins consumed mammoths throughout the Palaeolithic, while remains of this animal were used as building materials as well as to fabricate different tools and decorative objects, and thus it is possible to link cultural development and mammoth consumption. Based on the fatty acid profiles found, fat samples from two mammoths were in apparently good preservation, yielding α-linolenic acid percentages very close to values found in extant elephants, thus allowing an assessment of their feasibility as a source of essential fatty acids for Palaeolithic hunters. As demonstrated in this work, mammoths constituted a cultural resource in addition to contributing to fulfilling the n-3 fatty acid needs of Palaeolithic hominins in Europe.

  Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 118, Pages 1-102 (May 2018):

- GPS-identified vulnerabilities of savannah-woodland primates to leopard predation and their implications for early hominins, di Lynne A. Isbell, Laura R. Bidner, Eric K. Van Cleave, Akiko Matsumoto-Oda, Margaret C. Crofoot

- Dental topography and the diet of Homo naledi, di Michael A. Berthaume, Lucas K. Delezene, Kornelius Kupczik

- A new fossil cercopithecid tibia from Laetoli and its implications for positional behavior and paleoecology, di Myra F. Laird, Elaine E. Kozma, Amandus Kwekason, Terry Harrison

- Basicranium and face: Assessing the impact of morphological integration on primate evolution, di Dimitri Neaux et alii

- The biting performance of Homo sapiens and Homo heidelbergensis, di Ricardo Miguel Godinho et alii

- Carrying capacity, carnivoran richness and hominin survival in Europe, di Jesús Rodríguez, Ana Mateos

- Hominin hand bone fossils from Sterkfontein Caves, South Africa (1998–2003 excavations), di Travis Rayne Pickering, Jason L. Heaton, Ron J. Clarke, Dominic Stratford

  Préhistoire de la Roumanie, "L'Antropologie", Volume 122, Issue 2, Pages 87-286 (April–May 2018):

- Nouvelles données sur la chronologie des sites paléolithiques en contexte lœssique du Nord-Est et du Sud-Est de la Roumanie (Périphérie orientale des Carpates), di Sanda Balescu et alii

- L’utilisation de l’obsidienne au Paléolithique supérieur dans le nord-ouest de la Roumanie, di Roxana Dobrescu, Alain Tuffreau, Clive Bonsall

- Le Paléolithique supérieur de la basse vallée de la Bistriţa (Moldavie roumaine): Buda et Lespezi, nouvelles recherches, di Alain Tuffreau, Roxana Dobrescu, Alexandru Ciornei, Loredana Niţă, Antoine Kostek

- Steppe bison hunting in the Gravettian of Buda (lower Bistriţa Valley, eastern Romania), di Valentin Dumitraşcu, Ştefan Vasile

- Le Gravettien et l’Épigravettien de l’Est de la Roumanie: une réévaluation, di Mircea Anghelinu, Loredana Niţă, George Murătoreanu

- Parures et objets d’art du Gravettien récent de Poiana Cireșului-Piatra Neamț (Roumanie), di Marin Cârciumaru et alii

- Coliboaia, art rupestre aurignacien en Roumanie, di Marcel Otte

- The Iron Gates Mesolithic – a brief review of recent developments, di Clive Bonsall, Adina Boroneanț

  Here and now or a previously planned strategy? Rethinking the concept of ramification for micro-production in expedient contexts: Implications for Neanderthal socio-economic behaviour, di F. Romagnoli, B. Gómez de Soler, A. Bargalló, M. Gema Chacón, M. Vaquero, "Quaternary International", Volume 474, Part B, 30 April 2018, Pages 168-181

Ramification is the term used to classify branched productive sequences in which a functional item (the flake) was exploited as a productive item (the core). This technological behaviour was present in Europe and the Levant beginning in the Lower and Early Middle Palaeolithic, but ramified productions were intensely developed in the Late Middle Palaeolithic. Traditionally, ramification has been interpreted as a well-structured behaviour, implying its integration into the provisioning strategies of past humans. This viewpoint has significant implications for the understanding of technological evolution in Neanderthals, suggesting specific cognitive and socio-economic capacities. Ramified procedures were characterised by high flexibility due to the versatile patterns of the core-on-flake and are described in the literature as corresponding to several different knapping concepts and technical procedures. This research aimed to describe the role of ramification in the Late Middle Palaeolithic. We analysed two assemblages from the Abric Romaní site (located in the north-east part of the Iberian Peninsula) characterised by informal, expedient technologies. The focus was on the spatial and temporal fragmentation of the ramified sequences based on the identification of single technical events. The reduction of the scale of analysis and the resulting implementation of temporal resolution of the stone tool assemblages in such expedient contexts allowed us to understand ramification from an innovative perspective, setting aside our bias toward well-defined productive methods associated with preconceived economic and mobility patterns. The results showed that ramification reflected a range of behaviours, implying a variety of planning proficiency, economic strategies and social interactions. This means that ‘ramified production’ is not meaningful unless is linked with a detailed description of human choices and an understanding of temporal and spatial relationships between knapping events. Furthermore, the results showed that, to approach behavioural issues, we as researchers must change our unitary vision of assemblages and enlarge the scope of categories to which we apply that vision.


Searching for a Stone Age Odysseus, di A. Lawler, "Science", 27 Apr 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6387, pp. 362-363

Archaeologists assumed until a decade ago that humans skirted the shores of the Mediterranean Sea before the dawn of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Only then did they set out across its wine-dark seas on voyages reflected in Homer's story of the adventurous sailor Odysseus. So when excavators in 2010 claimed to have found stone tools on the Greek island of Crete dating back at least 130,000 years, they made a big splash. Their colleagues were astonished—but also skeptical. Since then, by exploring that site and others, researchers have quietly built up a convincing case for early seafaring in the Mediterranean, and, even more surprisingly, that at least some of these adventurers were Neandertal. The finds strongly suggest that the urge to go to sea—and the cognitive and technological means to do so—predates modern humans.


Reconstructing the Neanderthal brain using computational anatomy, di T. Kochiyama et alii, "Scientific Reports", volume 8, Article number: 6296 (2018), 26 April 2018, doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-24331-0 - open access -

The present study attempted to reconstruct 3D brain shape of Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens based on computational neuroanatomy. We found that early Homo sapiens had relatively larger cerebellar hemispheres but a smaller occipital region in the cerebrum than Neanderthals long before the time that Neanderthals disappeared. Further, using behavioural and structural imaging data of living humans, the abilities such as cognitive flexibility, attention, the language processing, episodic and working memory capacity were positively correlated with size-adjusted cerebellar volume. As the cerebellar hemispheres are structured as a large array of uniform neural modules, a larger cerebellum may possess a larger capacity for cognitive information processing. Such a neuroanatomical difference in the cerebellum may have caused important differences in cognitive and social abilities between the two species and might have contributed to the replacement of Neanderthals by early Homo sapiens. (...)

· Un cervello diverso. E H. sapiens prese il sopravvento, "Le Scienze", 27 aprile 2018


Neandertals, Stone Age people may have voyaged the Mediterranean, di A. Lawler, "Science News", Apr. 24, 2018

Odysseus, who voyaged across the wine-dark seas of the Mediterranean in Homer’s epic, may have had some astonishingly ancient forerunners. A decade ago, when excavators claimed to have found stone tools on the Greek island of Crete dating back at least 130,000 years, other archaeologists were stunned—and skeptical. But since then, at that site and others, researchers have quietly built up a convincing case for Stone Age seafarers—and for the even more remarkable possibility that they were Neandertals, the extinct cousins of modern humans. The finds strongly suggest that the urge to go to sea, and the cognitive and technological means to do so, predates modern humans, says Alan Simmons, an archaeologist at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas who gave an overview of recent finds at a meeting here last week of the Society for American Archaeology. “The orthodoxy until pretty recently was that you don’t have seafarers until the early Bronze Age,” adds archaeologist John Cherry of Brown University, an initial skeptic. “Now we are talking about seafaring Neandertals. It’s a pretty stunning change.” (...)

  Human-like walking mechanics evolved before the genus Homo, 22-APR-2018

Ever since scientists realized that humans evolved from a succession of primate ancestors, the public imagination has been focused on the inflection point when those ancestors switched from ape-like shuffling to walking upright as we do today. Scientists have long been focused on the question, too, because the answer is important to understanding how our ancestors lived, hunted and evolved. A close examination of 3.6 million year old hominin footprints discovered in Laetoli, Tanzania suggests our ancestors evolved the hallmark trait of extended leg, human-like bipedalism substantially earlier than previously thought. "Fossil footprints are truly the only direct evidence of walking in the past," said David Raichlen, PhD, associate professor at the University of Arizona. "By 3.6 million years ago, our data suggest that if you can account for differences in size, hominins were walking in a way that is very similar to living humans. While there may have been some nuanced differences, in general, these hominins probably looked like us when they walked." (...)

  Is this 100,000-year-old hashtag the first humanmade symbol—or just a pretty decoration?, di M. Erard, "Science News", Apr. 20, 2018

About 100,000 years ago, ancient humans started etching lines and hashtag patterns onto red rocks in a South African cave. Such handiwork has been cited as the first sign our species could make symbols—distinct marks that stand for some meaning—and thus evidence of a sophisticated mind. But a new study, reported here this week at Evolang, a biannual conference on the evolution of language, finds that these markings and others like them lack key characteristics of symbols. Instead, they may have been more for decoration or enjoyment. To come to this conclusion, Kristian Tylén, a cognitive scientist at Aarhus University in Denmark, and his team of cognitive scientists and archaeologists took a closer look at dozens of etched red ochre stones found in the cave, known as Blombos Cave. Some scientists have called the markings early forms of art and even evidence of symbolic behavior, such as full-blown language. Tylén’s group also looked at a set of ostrich egg shells with engraved lines, parallel lines, and ladderlike images found at another site in South Africa. The markings date to between about 52,000 to 109,000 years ago, after the birth of our species but before widespread artistic expression such as cave paintings of animals. (...)


Body size downgrading of mammals over the late Quaternary, di F. A. Smith, R. E. Elliott Smith, S. K. Lyons, J. L. Payne, "Science", 20 Apr 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6386, pp. 310-313

Since the late Pleistocene, large-bodied mammals have been extirpated from much of Earth. Although all habitable continents once harbored giant mammals, the few remaining species are largely confined to Africa. This decline is coincident with the global expansion of hominins over the late Quaternary. Here, we quantify mammalian extinction selectivity, continental body size distributions, and taxonomic diversity over five time periods spanning the past 125,000 years and stretching approximately 200 years into the future. We demonstrate that size-selective extinction was already under way in the oldest interval and occurred on all continents, within all trophic modes, and across all time intervals. Moreover, the degree of selectivity was unprecedented in 65 million years of mammalian evolution. The distinctive selectivity signature implicates hominin activity as a primary driver of taxonomic losses and ecosystem homogenization. Because megafauna have a disproportionate influence on ecosystem structure and function, past and present body size downgrading is reshaping Earth’s biosphere.

· L'Out of Africa e la riduzione delle dimensioni dei mammiferi terrestri, "Le Scienze", 20 aprile 2018


Chronological reassessment of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition and Early Upper Paleolithic cultures in Cantabrian Spain, di A. B. Marín-Arroyo et alii, April 18, 2018, - open access -

Methodological advances in dating the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition provide a better understanding of the replacement of local Neanderthal populations by Anatomically Modern Humans. Today we know that this replacement was not a single, pan-European event, but rather it took place at different times in different regions. Thus, local conditions could have played a role. Iberia represents a significant macro-region to study this process. Northern Atlantic Spain contains evidence of both Mousterian and Early Upper Paleolithic occupations, although most of them are not properly dated, thus hindering the chances of an adequate interpretation. Here we present 46 new radiocarbon dates conducted using ultrafiltration pre-treatment method of anthropogenically manipulated bones from 13 sites in the Cantabrian region containing Mousterian, Aurignacian and Gravettian levels, of which 30 are considered relevant. These dates, alongside previously reported ones, were integrated into a Bayesian age model to reconstruct an absolute timescale for the transitional period. According to it, the Mousterian disappeared in the region by 47.9–45.1ka cal BP, while the Châtelperronian lasted between 42.6k and 41.5ka cal BP. The Mousterian and Châtelperronian did not overlap, indicating that the latter might be either intrusive or an offshoot of the Mousterian. The new chronology also suggests that the Aurignacian appears between 43.3–40.5ka cal BP overlapping with the Châtelperronian, and ended around 34.6–33.1ka cal BP, after the Gravettian had already been established in the region. This evidence indicates that Neanderthals and AMH co-existed <1,000 years, with the caveat that no diagnostic human remains have been found with the latest Mousterian, Châtelperronian or earliest Aurignacian in Cantabrian Spain. (...)


L'evoluzione del volto dagli ominidi all'uomo moderno, 10 aprile 2018

La vistosa riduzione delle dimensioni dell'arcata sopraccigliare negli esseri umani moderni rispetto agli ominidi arcaici sarebbe legata allo sviluppo di una vita sociale più articolata: la maggiore mobilità delle sopracciglia permessa dall'appiattimento dell'arcata consente infatti di comunicare gli stati emotivi in modo molto più sottile. E' questa la conclusione a cui sono giunti ricercatori dell'Università di New York e dell'Università dell'Algarve a Faro, in Portogallo, che illustrano la loro ricerca su "Nature Ecology & Evolution". Per spiegare la vistosa differenza fra l'arcata sopraccigliare di Homo sapiens e quella dei suoi predecessori sono state avanzate delle ipotesi di tipo funzionale. Secondo una di queste, un'arcata massiccia avrebbe avuto un ruolo di protezione del cranio dai possibili danni dovuti a una masticazione con mascelle potenti come quelle degli antichi ominidi. Secondo un'altra, invece, avrebbe risolto i problemi di volumetria facciale dovuti a differenze di crescita e di velocità di crescita delle strutture ossee della calotta cranica e del viso. (...)


Human finger bone points to an early exodus out of Africa, di M. Price, "Science News", Apr. 9, 2018

For more than a decade, a team of archaeologists and anthropologists scoured the Arabian Desert for evidence that some of the earliest members of our species once traversed these formerly green lands. Now, they may have it. An ostensibly modern human finger bone uncovered in Saudi Arabia in 2016 has been dated to about 88,000 years old, making it the oldest directly dated fossil of our species found outside Africa or its immediate vicinity in the eastern Mediterranean. The discovery supports the idea that early modern humans spread into Eurasia earlier and more often than many previously believed. Although some say it’s hard to identify our species, Homo sapiens, by a single bone, the findings appear unimpeachable, says John Shea, an anthropologist at the State University of New York in Stony Brook who studies human origins, but wasn’t involved in the study. “This isn’t one of those cases where someone dashed off into the field, found something after a day or two of fieldwork, and then ran to the media with it,” he says. “They earned this find the old-fashioned way: hard work.” (...)


Il primo Homo sapiens d'Arabia, 09 aprile 2018

È solo una piccola falange di 3,2 centimetri di lunghezza, ma significa molto per la ricostruzione della nostra storia. È il più antico fossile di Homo sapiens scoperto finora al di fuori dell’Africa e del Medio Oriente. È stato trovato ad Al Wusta, nel deserto del Nefud, in un'area centro-settentrionale dell'Arabia Saudita, e suggerisce che le prime migrazioni della nostra specie verso l’Eurasia furono più estese di quanto ritenuto. Huw Groucutt del Max-Planck-Institut per la scienza della storia umana a Jena, in Germania, e colleghi hanno descritto il reperto su “Nature Ecology & Evolution”. Sul fossile, gli autori hanno effettuato scansioni tridimensionali con una tecnica tomografica, poi hanno confrontato i risultati con quelli relativi ad altre ossa dello stesso tipo, appartenuti a primati non umani, ad antichi ominidi, come l’uomo di Neanderthal, e a H. sapiens. Le analisi finali hanno confermato che l’osso è di un individuo della nostra specie. (...)


Blade and bladelet production at Hohle Fels Cave, AH IV in the Swabian Jura and its importance for characterizing the technological variability of the Aurignacian in Central Europe, di G. Bataille, N. J. Conard, April 9, 2018, - open access -

Hohle Fels Cave in the Ach Valley of Southwestern Germany exhibits an Aurignacian sequence of 1 m thickness within geological horizons (GH) 6–8. The deposition of the layers took place during mild and cold phases between at least 42 ka (GI 10) and 36 ka calBP (GI 7). We present below a technological study of blade and bladelet production from AH IV (GH 7) at Hohle Fels. Our analyses show that blade manufacture is relatively constant, while bladelet production displays a high degree of variability in order to obtain different blanks. Knappers used a variety of burins as cores to produce fine bladelets. The results reveal a new variant of the Aurignacian in the Swabian Jura primarily characterized by the production of bladelets and microliths from burin-cores. The artefacts from the Swabian Aurignacian are technologically and functionally more diverse than earlier studies of the Geißenklösterle and Vogelherd sequences have suggested. The technological analyses presented here challenge the claim that the typo-chronological system from Southwestern Europe can be applied to the Central European Aurignacian. Instead, we emphasize the impact of technological and functional variables within the Aurignacian of the Swabian Jura. (...)


Environmental dynamics during the onset of the Middle Stone Age in eastern Africa, di R. Potts et alii, "Science", 06 Apr 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6384, pp. 86-90

Development of the African Middle Stone Age (MSA) before 300,000 years ago raises the question of how environmental change influenced the evolution of behaviors characteristic of early Homo sapiens. We used temporally well-constrained sedimentological and paleoenvironmental data to investigate environmental dynamics before and after the appearance of the early MSA in the Olorgesailie basin, Kenya. In contrast to the Acheulean archeological record in the same basin, MSA sites are associated with a markedly different faunal community, more pronounced erosion-deposition cycles, tectonic activity, and enhanced wet-dry variability. Aspects of Acheulean technology in this region imply that, as early as 615,000 years ago, greater stone material selectivity and wider resource procurement coincided with an increased pace of land-lake fluctuation, potentially anticipating the adaptability of MSA hominins.


Long-distance stone transport and pigment use in the earliest Middle Stone Age, di  A. S. Brooks et alii, "Science", 06 Apr 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6384, pp. 90-94

Previous research suggests that the complex symbolic, technological, and socioeconomic behaviors that typify Homo sapiens had roots in the middle Pleistocene <200,000 years ago, but data bearing on human behavioral origins are limited. We present a series of excavated Middle Stone Age sites from the Olorgesailie basin, southern Kenya, dating from ≥295,000 to ~320,000 years ago by argon-40/argon-39 and uranium-series methods. Hominins at these sites made prepared cores and points, exploited iron-rich rocks to obtain red pigment, and procured stone tool materials from ≥25- to 50-kilometer distances. Associated fauna suggests a broad resource strategy that included large and small prey. These practices imply notable changes in how individuals and groups related to the landscape and to one another and provide documentation relevant to human social and cognitive evolution.


Chronology of the Acheulean to Middle Stone Age transition in eastern Africa, di A. L. Deino et alii, "Science", 06 Apr 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6384, pp. 95-98

The origin of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) marks the transition from a highly persistent mode of stone toolmaking, the Acheulean, to a period of increasing technological innovation and cultural indicators associated with the evolution of Homo sapiens. We used argon-40/argon-39 and uranium-series dating to calibrate the chronology of Acheulean and early MSA artifact–rich sedimentary deposits in the Olorgesailie basin, southern Kenya rift. We determined the age of late Acheulean tool assemblages from 615,000 to 499,000 years ago, after which a large technological and faunal transition occurred, with a definitive MSA lacking Acheulean elements beginning most likely by ~320,000 years ago, but at least by 305,000 years ago. These results establish the oldest repository of MSA artifacts in eastern Africa.


Bone industry of the Lower Magdalenian in Cantabrian Spain: The square-section antler points of El Cierro Cave, di J. Tapia et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 472, Part A, 5 April 2018, Pages 13-22

El Cierro Cave (Asturias, Northern Spain) has been a key site in the regional periodization of the Upper Palaeolithic in the Cantabrian region since its excavation by Jordá-Cerdá in the late 1950s. Lithic and bone artefacts from the Lower Magdalenian layers in this cave have been studied by several scholars from a typological standpoint, discussing their relationship and continuity with the preceding Solutrean occupations in the same cave. This paper analyses red deer antler artefacts from El Cierro, dated in the Lower Madgalenian. The ensemble was retrieved during the 1977–1979 excavations, and the new fieldwork undertaken since 2012 has confirmed the chronological and stratigraphic context of its origin. Within the production sequence of antler spear points, a particular procedure was followed to obtain the most characteristic tools of that period: the square-section antler points.


Our tree-climbing human ancestors could walk upright like us, study of chimps and other primates shows, di A. Gibbons, "Science News", Apr. 2, 2018

With their opposable toes and flat feet, early human ancestors have often been portrayed as weird walkers, swaying from side to side or rolling off the outside edges of their feet. Now, a new study finds that this picture of awkward upright locomotion is wrong: Early members of the human family, or hominins, were already walking upright with an efficient, straight-legged gait some 4.4 million years ago. The study helps settle a long-standing debate about how quickly our ancestors developed a humanlike gait, and shows that ancient hominins didn’t have to sacrifice climbing agility to walk upright efficiently. For years, some paleoanthropologists argued that hominins like the famous 3.1-million-year-old Lucy weren’t graceful on the ground because they retained traits for climbing trees, such as long fingers and toes. In one famous experiment, researchers donned extra-long shoes—one critic called them clown shoes—to mimic walking with longer toes. The scientists stumbled over their long feet and concluded that early hominins would have been just as clumsy. But other researchers argued that natural selection would have quickly favored adaptations for efficient walking given the dangers on the ground, even while hominins were still scurrying up trees. (...)


The antiquity of bow-and-arrow technology: evidence from Middle Stone Age layers at Sibudu Cave, di L. Backwell, J. Bradfield, K. J. Carlson, T. Jashashvili, "Antiquity", Volume 92, Issue 362 April 2018 , pp. 289-303

The bow and arrow is thought to be a unique development of our species, signalling higher-level cognitive functioning. How this technology originated and how we identify archaeological evidence for it are subjects of ongoing debate. Recent analysis of the putative bone arrow point from Sibudu Cave in South Africa, dated to 61.7±1.5kya, has provided important new insights. High-resolution CT scanning revealed heat and impact damage in both the Sibudu point and in experimentally produced arrow points. These features suggest that the Sibudu point was first used as an arrowhead for hunting, and afterwards was deposited in a hearth. Our results support the claim that bone weapon tips were used in South African hunting long before the Eurasian Upper Palaeolithic.


Symmetry is its own reward: on the character and significance of Acheulean handaxe symmetry in the Middle Pleistocene, di M. White, F. Foulds, "Antiquity", Volume 92, Issue 362 April 2018 , pp. 304-319

Bilateral symmetry in handaxes has significant implications for hominin cognitive and socio-behavioural evolution. Here the authors show that high levels of symmetry occur in the British Late Middle Pleistocene Acheulean, which they consider to be a deliberate, socially mediated act. Furthermore, they argue that lithic technology in general, and handaxes in particular, were part of a pleasure-reward system linked to dopamine-releasing neurons in the brain. Making handaxes made Acheulean hominins happy, and one particularly pleasing property was symmetry.


Illuminating the cave, drawing in black: wood charcoal analysis at Chauvet-Pont d'Arc, di I. Théry-Parisot et alii, "Antiquity", Volume 92, Issue 362 April 2018 , pp. 320-333

The Grotte Chauvet is world renowned for the quality and diversity of its Palaeolithic art. Fire was particularly important to the occupants, providing light and producing charcoal for use in motifs. Charcoal samples were taken systematically from features associated with the two main occupation phases (Aurignacian and Gravettian). Analysis showed it to be composed almost entirely of pine (Pinus sp.), indicating the harsh climatic conditions at this period. No distinction in wood species was found between either the two occupation episodes or the various depositional contexts. The results throw new light on the cultural and palaeoenvironmental factors that influenced choices underlying the collection of wood for charcoal production.


The Palaeolithic of Seimarreh Valley in the Central Zagros, Iran, di M. Zeynivand et alii, "Antiquity", Volume 92, Issue 362 April 2018 , e1

Over the past few decades, Iran has frequently been considered the connecting bridge between South-western, South-eastern, Central and Eastern Asia, and a significant migration path for Pleistocene human dispersals (Bar-Yosef 1994; Biglari & Shidrang 2006; Vahdati Nasab et al. 2013). Most studies of Palaeolithic Iran have been carried out by foreign archaeologists, and have concentrated on the Central Zagros (e.g. Braidwood et al. 1961; Hole & Flannery 1967; Mortensen 1993). Although Iranian archaeologists (e.g. Biglari et al. 2000; Roustaei et al. 2004) have followed the same trend in recent decades, there are still unknown prehistoric sites throughout this region. The Seimarreh Valley is one of the least known regions of the Central Zagros, particularly in terms of prehistoric archaeology; compared to other regions, such as Mahidasht and Chamchal, the Seimarreh Valley has been mostly neglected. A survey of the Valley by Zeynivand in 2011 identified a complex of caves and rockshelters containing Palaeolithic artefacts. Consequently, more sites were identified in 2015 after a new approach to surveying was adopted. This provided new data indicating the importance of the Seimarreh Valley during the Pleistocene era. (...)


A possible Late Pleistocene forager site from the Karaburun Peninsula, western Turkey, di Ç. Çilingiroğlu et alii, "Antiquity", Volume 92, Issue 362 April 2018 , e2

Since 2015, the ‘Karaburun Archaeological Survey’ project (KASP) has been generating data on the early prehistory of western Anatolia. A complete lack of information concerning Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene foragers from western Anatolia—and the general scarcity throughout Turkey—creates a data gap that hinders our understanding of forager lifeways or potential forager-farmer encounters in this vast region. The main aim of the KASP is to produce data from pre-Neolithic foragers, and to contribute to the currently debated topics of Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean prehistory. Through the implementation of pedestrian survey methods that record archaeological material from all periods, the project is designed to discover year-round settlements or mounds, as well as evidence for small-scale activity or campsites. In 2016, pedestrian survey along the south-eastern coastline of the Karaburun Peninsula recorded a 0.3ha site (site 35) with a relatively intense distribution of human-made chipped stones over Triassic limestone bedrock (Erdoğan et al. 1990). Located on a west–east oriented slope, the chipped stones extended for approximately 80m along the shore (Figure 1). The area had good surface visibility with partial covering of evergreen shrubs (Figure 2). A team of nine people surveyed the area in 2m transects, collecting over 300 lithics. The only other archaeological find recovered was a corroded Byzantine-era coin. (...)

  The impact of drastic environmental changes in prehistoric hunter-gatherer adaptations, Volume 33, Issue 3, "Journal of Quaternary Science", Pages: i-iii, 255-367, April 2018:

- Global perspectives on the impact of drastic environmental changes in hunter-gatherer technologies, di Nuno Bicho, João Cascalheira

- Ecological risk, demography and technological complexity in the Late Pleistocene of northern Malawi: implications for geographical patterning in the Middle Stone Age, di Jessica C. Thompson et alii

Technological adaptation and the emergence of Levallois in Central Europe: new insight from the Markkleeberg and Zwochau open-air sites in Germany, di Andrea Picin

- Human adaptations to climatic change in Liguria across the Middle–Upper Paleolithic transition, di Julien Riel-Salvatore, Fabio Negrino

- Testing the impact of environmental change on hunter-gatherer settlement organization during the Upper Paleolithic in western Iberia, di João Cascalheira,  Nuno Bicho

- Human response to habitat suitability during the Last Glacial Maximum in Western Europe, di Ariane Burke, Julien Riel-Salvatore, C. Michael Barton

The Pleistocene–Holocene Transition in Cantabrian Spain: current reflections on culture change, di Lawrence Guy Straus


Aggiornamento 2 aprile


What’s the point? Retouched bladelet variability in the Protoaurignacian. Results from Fumane, Isturitz, and Les Cottés, di A. Falcucci, M. Peresani, M. Roussel, C. Normand, M. Soressi, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", April 2018, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 539–554

The Protoaurignacian is considered a cultural proxy for one of the first expansions of anatomically modern humans across Europe. The stabilization of bladelet industries that characterizes this techno-complex is therefore often used as supporting evidence for the break from previous stone knapping traditions and also for the increase of human mobility through wider territories. Despite the cultural importance that bladelets have gained, a careful inter-regional comparison, stressing similarities and differences, has not yet been attempted. Moreover, the use of traditional typologies has blurred the morpho-metrical variability that characterizes lamellar tools. Here, a study has been carried out on retouched bladelets from three pivotal sites: Fumane (northeast Italy), Isturitz (southwest France), and Les Cottés (northern France). By using morphological, dimensional, and retouching attributes, and by evaluating the statistical significance of the main differences, the first detailed analysis of the variability of retouched bladelets within the Protoaurignacian has been documented. The results indicate that the features that best discriminate the bladelet assemblages are the presence and the relative variability of bladelets with convergent retouch, although a reassessment of existing studies and new methodological approaches are required to test the latter hypothesis. Throughout this paper, we demonstrate the merits of using a unified classification of retouched bladelets for comparing behavior in between groups distant in space. We hope that this paper will be a new incentive to develop unified taxonomies for the study of Early Upper Paleolithic lithics in Western Eurasia.


Identifying handedness at knapping; an analysis of the scatter pattern of lithic remains, di A. Bargalló, M. Mosquera, C. Lorenzo, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", April 2018, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 587–598

Determining hand laterality during human evolution is important in order to identify brain hemispheric lateralization for motor tasks and, indirectly, to gain information on the complex cognitive functions of the human brain. In this paper, we present a new method for inferring handedness from lithic evidence. The study is based on an analysis of the scatter patterns of lithic remains from stone-knapping episodes. An experimental programme was carried out by 14 knappers (eight right-handed and six left-handed), ranging from individuals that had never even struck two pebbles together to individuals who were quite familiar with prehistoric tools and had some degree of practice. The results of the experiment show that the material scatter patterns of right- and left-handed knappers at group level are different, but they do overlap at certain intervals. At the individual level, the probability of falsely ascribing left- and right-handedness has also been estimated. In addition, we have adapted this method to be applied to the archaeological record. In this case, only well-preserved knapping events with no post-depositional alterations can be used to assign left- or right-handed knappers, with the former being more reliably detected than the latter.


Reassessment of the Lower Paleolithic (Acheulean) presence in the western Tien Shan, di K. A. Kolobova, D. Flas, A. I. Krivoshapkin, K. K. Pavlenok, D. Vandenberghe, M. De Dapper, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", April 2018, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 615–630

Kulbulak (Uzbekistan) is among the most important Paleolithic sites in Central Asia. Based on excavations from the 1960s to the 1980s, a stratigraphic sequence yielding 46 archeological horizons of the Lower, Middle and Upper Paleolithic has been described. The lowermost 22 layers were at that time defined as Acheulean, both in cultural and chronological aspects. Based on these previous works, Kulbulak has thus often been cited as one of the rarest occurrences of Lower Paleolithic and Acheulean in the region. However, this attribution was debatable. New excavations at Kulbulak in 2007–2010 provided new material and the first reliable dates that permitted us to tackle this issue. Moreover, a reappraisal of the lithic collections and documents from previous excavations was also conducted. These new data clearly indicate the absence of Acheulean or even Lower Paleolithic at Kulbulak. On the contrary, the lithic assemblages from this site only correspond to Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods. The lowermost layers are particularly interesting due to the presence of an early industry with blade and bladelet technology.


Lithic use-wear analysis of the Early Gravettian of Vale Boi (Cape St. Vicente, southern Portugal): insights into human technology and settlement in southwestern Iberia, di J. Marreiros, J. Gibaja, N. Bicho, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", April 2018, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 631–645

During the Upper Paleolithic, lithic variability is one of the most important keys to recognize hunter-gatherer behavior, technology, ecology, and social dynamics. The origin and expansion of Gravettian populations in Eurasia has been seen as one of the most critical episodes in human evolution, argued to be the first clear evidence of the so-called polymorphism among modern human populations. In the case of southern Iberian Peninsula, recent data have shown a new regional and diachronic organization for the Gravettian occupation in this region. Therefore, the interpretation of such variability is one of the most important questions, and functional analysis is a fundamental proxy to recognize human technological, settlement and ecological adaptations as major factors for this polymorphism. This study focused on lithic use-wear analysis of the Early Gravettian of Vale Boi (southern Portugal), in order to understand lithic technological organization and variability within and between occupations at the site. Results show similar patterns between assemblages, showing that different materials were worked at the site, although showing reduced time of work, low variability and percentage of pieces used. Unlike other Gravettian contexts in southern Iberia, the Early Gravettian from Vale Boi is characterized by some variability of backed points, marked by the predominance of bipointed double-backed bladelets. Functional analysis of the Early Gravettian lithic industries of Vale Boi provide a new insight to interpret human technology and settlement strategy during the onset of Upper Paleolithic industries in western Eurasia.


Cross-sectional properties of the lower limb long bones in the Middle Pleistocene Sima de los Huesos sample (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), di L. Rodríguez, J. M. Carretero, R. García-González, J. L. Arsuaga, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 117, April 2018, Pages 1-12

The recovery to date of three complete and five partial femora, seven complete tibiae, and four complete fibulae from the Atapuerca Sima de los Huesos site provides an opportunity to analyze the biomechanical cross-sectional properties in this Middle Pleistocene population and to compare them with those of other fossil hominins and recent modern humans. We have performed direct comparisons of the cross-sectional geometric parameters and reduced major axis (RMA) regression lines among different samples. We have determined that Atapuerca Sima de los Huesos (SH) fossils have significantly thicker cortices than those of recent modern humans for the three leg bones at all diaphyseal levels, except that of the femur at 35% of biomechanical length. The SH bones are similar to those of Neandertals and Middle Pleistocene humans and different from Homo sapiens in their diaphyseal cross-sectional shape and strength parameters. When standardized by estimated body size, both the SH and Neandertal leg bones have in general greater strength than those of H. sapiens from the early modern (EMH), Upper Paleolithic (UP), and recent populations (RH). The Sima de los Huesos human leg bones have, in general terms, an ancestral pattern similar to that of Pleistocene humans and differing from H. sapiens.


La Ferrassie 1: New perspectives on a “classic” Neandertal, di A. Gómez-Olivencia et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 117, April 2018, Pages 13-32

The La Ferrassie 1 (LF1) skeleton, discovered over a century ago, is one of the most important Neandertal individuals both for its completeness and due to the role it has played historically in the interpretation of Neandertal anatomy and lifeways. Here we present new skeletal remains from this individual, which include a complete right middle ear ossicular chain (malleus, incus, and stapes), three vertebral fragments, and two costal remains. Additionally, the study of the skeleton has allowed us to identify new pathological lesions, including a congenital variant in the atlas, a greenstick fracture of the left clavicle, and a lesion in a mid-thoracic rib of unknown etiology. In addition, we have quantified the amount of vertebral pathology, which is greater than previously appreciated. We have complemented the paleopathological analysis with a taphonomic analysis to identify any potential perimortem fractures. The taphonomic analysis indicates that no surface alteration is present in the LF1 skeleton and that the breakage pattern is that of bone that has lost collagen, which would be consistent with the intentional burial of this individual proposed by previous researchers. In this study, we used CT and microCT scans in order to discover new skeletal elements to better characterize the pathological lesions and to quantify the fracture orientation of those bones in which the current plaster reconstruction did not allow its direct visualization, which underlines the broad potential of imaging technologies in paleoanthropological research. A century after its discovery, LF1 is still providing new insights into Neandertal anatomy and behavior.

  Small mammal taxonomy, taphonomy, and the paleoenvironmental record during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic at Geißenklösterle Cave (Ach Valley, southwestern Germany), di S. E. Rhodes, R. Ziegler, B, M. Starkovich, N, J. Conard, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 185, 1 April 2018, Pages 199-221

Geißenklösterle Cave, located in the Ach Valley of the Swabian Alb and one of six Swabian cave sites recently named as a UNESCO World Heritage site, has a long history of archaeological research resulting in a detailed record of human occupation. Sometime around 45,000 years ago Neanderthals seemingly vanished from the Swabian landscape, and after a period of mostly geogenic deposit at Geißenklösterle Cave we find deposits containing characteristically Aurignacian artifacts dating to as early as 42,500 years ago. These Aurignacian groups brought with them complex symbolic expression and communication including bone and ivory beads, musical instruments, and animal and human figurines. This study examines the climatic context of this depopulation through a taxonomic and taphonomic analysis of the rodent and insectivore remains associated with these periods and provides a relatively unbiased climatic record for the period of ∼45,000–36,000 years ago in this region. Taphonomic analysis indicates that primarily the European eagle owl (Bubo bubo) and the kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) were responsible for accumulating the material, and allows us to quantify the potential taxonomic bias resulting from predator behaviour which includes a preference for voles, particularly the water vole (Arvicola terrestris). Additionally, rare taxa (which include species of murids and soricids) may have been present in greater quantities than our sample implies. The assemblage from Geißenklösterle Cave is dominated by the field and common vole (Microtus arvalis/agrestis), the narrow-headed vole (Microtus gregalis), and the root/tundra vole (Microtus oeconomus). Overall, the Middle Paleolithic landscape included significant woodland and forested areas while a high proportion of species restricted to cold tundra environments likely indicate punctuated cold and arid periods. The signal from the nearly geogenic layer overlying the Middle Paleolithic material includes a moderate shift in the proportion of cold tundra adapted species, suggesting that the tundra expanded leading up to the Neanderthal depopulation, but no period of drastic climatic change is recognizable. The Aurignacian was significantly colder and drier than the preceding period, with cold tundra expansion reaching its apex (for the time period studied). Based on these results the Swabian landscape first encountered by Aurignacian groups was significantly less hospitable than that known to the earlier Middle Paleolithic populations. These results correlate well with past paleoenvironmental reconstructions based on sedimentary, botanical, and faunal assemblages. There is no evidence in the small mammal record that climatic pressure drove Neanderthals from the Ach Valley, instead it seems likely they enjoyed a more temperate environment than later Aurignacian groups. Ongoing work focused on greater resolution of these climatic oscillations at similarly well-dated Swabian sites will shed further light on the timing and speed of this climatic shift and the response of the biological communities affected, including early human groups.

  The impact of hydraulic processes in Olduvai Beds I and II, Tanzania, through a particle dimension analysis of stone tool assemblages, di I. de la Torre, A. Benito-Calvo, T. Proffitt, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 33, Issue2, March/April 2018

The effect of post-depositional processes on the formation of Plio-Pleistocene sites at Olduvai Gorge is the subject of considerable debate, due mainly to its implications for the behavioral interpretation of the Beds I and II assemblages. In light of this debate, here we contribute to the discussion that investigates the role of water flow in site formation at Olduvai. This is achieved by assessing the artifact size and shape ranges of lithic assemblages excavated by Mary Leakey from both Oldowan (FLK North Levels 3 and 1, FLK Zinj, FLK North Levels 6-1, Sandy Conglomerate and Deinotherium, HWKE Level 1) and early Acheulean (TK Lower and Upper Floor) sites. We apply grain size and shape statistical techniques to these stone tool assemblages in order to classify sites according to patterns in artifact dimensions. These patterns are then compared to those produced during experimental flaking, thus providing a referential framework against which the archaeological assemblages can be interpreted. Artifact size distribution results show pronounced differences between the archaeological and experimental assemblages. Most of the archaeological assemblages are characterized by a bimodal size trend that is opposed to the dominantly unimodal distribution seen in the flaking experiments. The few archaeological assemblages where the distribution is predominantly unimodal (TF Lower Floor, TK Upper Floor and FLK Zinj) also show a significant underrepresentation of smaller artifacts, when compared to the experimental distributions. Overall, the comparison of archaeological materials with experimental results enables a more accurate assessment of the impact of natural processes over the Bed I and II assemblages, and further, it helps to refine our understanding of taphonomic and behavioral contexts for the Oldowan and early Acheulean sites at Olduvai Gorge.


Reconstructing the genetic history of late Neanderthals, di M. Hajdinjak, Q. Fu, J. Kelso, "Nature", volume 555, pages 652–656 (29 March 2018)

Although it has previously been shown that Neanderthals contributed DNA to modern humans1,2, not much is known about the genetic diversity of Neanderthals or the relationship between late Neanderthal populations at the time at which their last interactions with early modern humans occurred and before they eventually disappeared. Our ability to retrieve DNA from a larger number of Neanderthal individuals has been limited by poor preservation of endogenous DNA3 and contamination of Neanderthal skeletal remains by large amounts of microbial and present-day human DNA3,4,5. Here we use hypochlorite treatment6 of as little as 9 mg of bone or tooth powder to generate between 1- and 2.7-fold genomic coverage of five Neanderthals who lived around 39,000 to 47,000 years ago (that is, late Neanderthals), thereby doubling the number of Neanderthals for which genome sequences are available. Genetic similarity among late Neanderthals is well predicted by their geographical location, and comparison to the genome of an older Neanderthal from the Caucasus2,7 indicates that a population turnover is likely to have occurred, either in the Caucasus or throughout Europe, towards the end of Neanderthal history. We find that the bulk of Neanderthal gene flow into early modern humans originated from one or more source populations that diverged from the Neanderthals that were studied here at least 70,000 years ago, but after they split from a previously sequenced Neanderthal from Siberia2 around 150,000 years ago. Although four of the Neanderthals studied here post-date the putative arrival of early modern humans into Europe, we do not detect any recent gene flow from early modern humans in their ancestry.

· Gli ultimi Neanderthal e noi, "Le Scienze", 23 marzo 2018


A Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III, Spain, di J. Rios-Garaizar et alii, March 28, 2018, doi: - open access -

Aranbaltza is an archaeological complex formed by at least three open-air sites. Between 2014 and 2015 a test excavation carried out in Aranbaltza III revealed the presence of a sand and clay sedimentary sequence formed in floodplain environments, within which six sedimentary units have been identified. This sequence was formed between 137–50 ka, and includes several archaeological horizons, attesting to the long-term presence of Neanderthal communities in this area. One of these horizons, corresponding with Unit 4, yielded two wooden tools. One of these tools is a beveled pointed tool that was shaped through a complex operational sequence involving branch shaping, bark peeling, twig removal, shaping, polishing, thermal exposition and chopping. A use-wear analysis of the tool shows it to have traces related with digging soil so it has been interpreted as representing a digging stick. This is the first time such a tool has been identified in a European Late Middle Palaeolithic context; it also represents one of the first well-preserved Middle Palaeolithic wooden tool found in southern Europe. This artefact represents one of the few examples available of wooden tool preservation for the European Palaeolithic, allowing us to further explore the role wooden technologies played in Neanderthal communities. (...)


Germany was covered by glaciers 450,000 years ago, 23-MAR-2018

The timing of the Middle Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles and the feedback mechanisms between climatic shifts and earth-surface processes are still poorly understood. This is largely due to the fact that chronological data of sediment archives representing periglacial, but also potentially warmer climate periods, are very sparse until now. "The Quaternary sediments in central Germany are perfect archives to understand the climate shifts that occurred in the region during the last 450,000 years", says co-author Tobias Lauer, a geochronologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "This is because all sediments representing the ice advances and retreats of Scandinavian glaciers into Europe are preserved here." The sediments in the region, and especially in the area around the city Leipzig, are extremely well documented due to tens of thousands of drillings over the past few decades and open pits related to brown-coal mining. Especially relevant are the river deposits of local rivers like the Weisse Elster and the Saale, which are preserved between the moraines of the so-called "Elsterian" and "Saalian" ice advances. "Especially the timing of the first major glaciation has been highly debated within the scientific community during the last few decades", says Lauer. "By dating the river deposits systematically we found that the first ice coverage of central Germany during the Elsterian glaciation (named after the river Elster) occurred during marine isotope stage 12, likely about 450,000 years ago, which is 100,000 years earlier than previously thought." To obtain these dates the researchers used luminescence dating, a technology that determines how long ago mineral grains were last exposed to sunlight or heat. (...)


L'antico incrocio fra umani moderni e di Denisova, 19 marzo 2018

Gli esseri umani moderni hanno convissuto e si sono incrociati, oltre che con i Neanderthal, anche con un'altra specie umana arcaica, quella degli uomini di Denisova, dei quali si sa ancora pochissimo. In particolare, il mescolamento fra umani moderni e denisovani sarebbe avvenuto in due distinte occasioni, entrambe precedenti all'incrocio fra umani moderni e Neanderthal. La scoperta, fatta da un gruppo di ricercatori dell'Università di Washington a Seattle e pubblicata su "Cell", è avvenuta grazie a un nuovo metodo di analisi per il confronto di interi genomi di popolazioni diverse. I dati relativi all'uomo di Denisova derivano da un unico insieme di fossili arcaici trovati nelle montagne dell'Altai, in Siberia, il cui genoma è stato pubblicato nel 2010. In seguito, sono stati rapidamente identificati segmenti di DNA di ascendenza denisovana in diverse popolazioni moderne dell'Oceania, ma anche dall'Asia orientale e meridionale. Le tracce più significative di un'ascendenza dai Denisova sono state riscontrate fra i Papua, che arrivano al 5 per cento del genoma, contro il 2 per cento delle popolazioni eurasiatiche. (...)


New understanding of Kenyan paleoenvironments opens window on human evolution in the area, March 16, 2018

The sediments of the newly named Oltulelei Formation in the Olorgesailie Basin were deposited after a 180,000 year period of erosion and represent the time interval between ~320,000 and ~36,000 years ago. They preserve important evidence for human evolution, but "this only makes sense when we understand the geology of the enclosing rocks," says lead author Behrensmeyer, "particularly the age of the strata and the nature of the paleoenvironments associated with archeological and fossil sites." For example, if there are two archeological sites with different types of artifacts in different strata some distance apart, it takes geological investigation to say which is older and which is younger. "This is obviously critical to understanding the evolution of technology." Behrensmeyer used traditional section measuring and mapping to document the strata across three different sub-basins, then analyzed and correlated hundreds of section logs with the help of new computer-based methods. This research also involved intensive laboratory work using 40Ar/39Ar absolute dating (by coauthor Alan Deino) of the volcanic tephras to pin down the ages of the strata and the archeological sites. The team, including co-author (and Olorgesailie project leader) Richard Potts, then worked together to integrate the geology, the ages, and the archeological sites. (...)


Advances in human behaviour came surprisingly early in Stone Age, di J. Tollefson, "Nature news", 15 MARCH 2018, Nature 555, 424-425 (2018), doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-03244-y

Early humans in eastern Africa crafted advanced tools and displayed other complex behaviours tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to a trio of papers published on 15 March in Science. Those advances coincided with — and may have been driven by — major climate and landscape changes. The latest evidence comes from the Olorgesailie Basin in Southern Kenya, where researchers have previously found traces of ancient relatives of modern human as far back as 1.2 million years ago. Evidence collected at sites in the basin suggests that early humans underwent a series of profound changes at some point before roughly 320,000 years ago. They abandoned simple hand axes in favour of smaller and more advanced blades made from obsidian and other materials obtained from distant sources. That shift suggests the early people living there had developed a trade network — evidence of growing sophistication in behaviour. The researchers also found gouges on black and red rocks and minerals, which indicate that early Olorgesailie residents used those materials to create pigments and possibly communicate ideas. (...)


Environmental dynamics during the onset of the Middle Stone Age in eastern Africa, di R. Potts et alii, Science 15 Mar 2018, DOI: 10.1126/science.aao2200

Development of the African Middle Stone Age (MSA) before 300 thousand years ago (ka) raises the question of how environmental change influenced the evolution of behaviors characteristic of early Homo sapiens. We use temporally well-constrained sedimentological and paleoenvironmental data to investigate environmental dynamics before and after the appearance of the early MSA in the Olorgesailie Basin, Kenya. In contrast to the Acheulean archeological record in the same basin, MSA sites are associated with a dramatically different faunal community, more pronounced erosion-deposition cycles, tectonic activity, and enhanced wet-dry variability. As early as 615 ka, aspects of Acheulean technology in this region imply that greater stone material selectivity and wider resource procurement coincided with an increased pace of land-lake fluctuation, potentially anticipating the adaptability of MSA hominins.

· Signs of symbolic behavior emerged at the dawn of our species in Africa, di A. Gibbons, "Science News", Mar. 15, 2018

· I comportamenti complessi precedono Homo sapiens, "Le Scienze", 15 marzo 2018


Dating human occupation and adaptation in the southern European last glacial refuge: The chronostratigraphy of Grotta del Romito (Italy), di S. Blockley et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 184, 15 March 2018, Pages 5-25

Grotta del Romito has been the subject of numerous archaeological, chronological and palaeoenvironmental investigations for more than a decade. During the Upper Palaeolithic period the site contains evidence of human occupation through the Gravettian and Epigravettian periods, multiple human burials, changes in the pattern of human occupation, and faunal, isotopic and sedimentological evidence for local environmental change. In spite of this rich record, the chronological control is insufficient to resolve shifts in subsistence and mobility patterns at sufficiently high resolution to match the abrupt climate fluctuations at this time. To resolve this we present new radiocarbon and tephrostratigraphic dates in combination with existing radiocarbon dates, and develop a Bayesian age model framework for the site. This improved chronology reveals that local environmental conditions reflect abrupt and long-term changes in climate, and that these also directly influence changing patterns of human occupation of the site. In particular, we show that the environmental record for the site, based on small mammal habitat preferences, is chronologically in phase with the main changes in climate and environment seen in key regional archives from Italy and Greenland. We also calculate the timing of the transitions between different cultural phases and their spans. We also show that the intensification in occupation of the site is chronologically coincident with a rapid rise in Mesic Woody taxa seen in key regional pollen records and is associated with the Late Epigravettian occupation of the site. This change in the record of Grotta del Romito is also closely associated stratigraphically with a new tephra (the ROM-D30 tephra), which may act as a critical marker in environmental records of the region.


The silence of the layers: Archaeological site visibility in the Pleistocene-Holocene transition at the Ebro Basin, di A. Alday et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 184, 15 March 2018, Pages 85-106

The Ebro Basin constitutes one of the most representative territories in SW Europe for the study of prehistoric societies during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. The correlation of palaeoenvironmental and geomorphological proxies obtained from sedimentary records with chronologically well-constrained reference archaeological sites has allowed defining this time frame precisely, such that three main pilot areas haven been broadly depicted: the Alavese region, the Pre-Pyrenees and the Bajo Aragón. Overall, the human imprint in the Ebro Basin was rare during the Upper Palaeolithic, but more visible from the Upper Magdalenian (14500–13500 cal BP) to Neolithic times (up to 5500 cal BP). Local environmental resources were continuously managed by the prehistoric communities in the different areas of study. In fact, the Ebro Basin acted during those millennia as a whole, developing the same cultural trends, industrial techniques and settlement patterns in parallel throughout the territory. However, some gaps exist in the 14C frequency curve (SCDPD curve). This is partially related to prehistoric sites in particular lithologies and geological structures that could have partly been lost by erosional processes, especially during the Early Holocene. In addition, this gap also parallels the reconstructed climate trend for the Pre-Pyrenean and the Bajo Aragón areas, which are defined by high frequencies of xerophilous flora until ca. 9500 cal BP, suggesting that continental climate features could have hampered the presence of well-established human communities in inland regions. The interdisciplinary research (archaeology, geomorphology and palaeoclimatology) discussed in this paper offers clues to understand the existence of fills and gaps in the archaeological record of the Ebro Basin, and can be applied in other territories with similar geographic and climate patterns.

  Chemical weathering of palaeosols from the Lower Palaeolithic site of Valle Giumentina, central Italy, di J. P. Degeai et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 183, 1 March 2018, Pages 88-109

The major archaeological site of Valle Giumentina (Abruzzo) contains a well-dated Lower Palaeolithic pedosedimentary sequence that provides an excellent opportunity to study the relationships among soil weathering, volcanism and climate change at the glacial/interglacial and submillennial timescales in central Italy and the Mediterranean area during the Middle Pleistocene, as well as the human-environment interactions of some of the earliest settlements in central southern Europe. High-resolution analyses of geochemistry and magnetic susceptibility revealed the presence of eleven palaeosols, ten of which (S2-S11) were formed between 560 and 450 ka based on 40Ar/39Ar dating of sanidine in tephras, i.e. spanning marine isotope stages (MIS) 14-12. The evolution of the major and trace element composition suggests that the palaeosols were mainly formed by in situ weathering of the parent material. The major phases of soil weathering occurred during the MIS 13 interglacial period (S8 and S6) as well as during episodes of rapid environmental change associated with millennial climatic oscillations during the MIS 14 and 12 glaciations (S11 and S2, respectively). Although global forcing such as orbital variations, solar radiation, and greenhouse gas concentrations may have influenced the pedogenic processes, the volcanism in central Italy, climate change in the central Mediterranean, and tectono-sedimentary evolution of the Valle Giumentina basin also impacted and triggered the formation of most palaeosols, which provided subsistence resources for the Lower Palaeolithic human communities. This study highlights the importance of having high-resolution palaeoenvironmental records with accurate chronology as close as possible to archaeological sites to study human-environment interactions.


The Sterkfontein Caves after Eighty Years of Paleoanthropological Research: The Journey Continues, di D. J. Stratford, "American Anthropologist", Volume 120, Issue 1, March 2018 - open access -

The Sterkfontein Caves, the richest Australopithecus-bearing site in the world, occupies a crucial position in the history of South African scientific inquiry and has been pivotal to the development of the field of paleoanthropology. The site is physically and culturally embedded in the foundations of Johannesburg and is recognized as being one of the world's most important cultural heritage resources. The year 2016 was the eightieth anniversary of the discovery of the first adult Australopithecus by Robert Broom at Sterkfontein in 1936, a find that inspired three generations of paleoanthropological research throughout South Africa's Cradle of Humankind. Since this discovery, through fortune or dedicated research efforts, Sterkfontein has provided some of the most crucial clues to the complexities of our evolutionary past. In an auspicious year, 150 years since Robert Broom's birth, eighty years since Broom's discovery, and fifty years since Tobias's inauguration of a new Sterkfontein research program, this article presents a brief review of the history of research at Sterkfontein and its role in the development of the field of paleoanthropology. In light of this juncture, this article contributes two consolidated resources: a literature archive and a consolidated record of excavation‐diary entries since 1967. (...)


Microwear study of quartzite artefacts: preliminary results from the Middle Pleistocene site of Payre (South-eastern France), di A. Pedergnana, A. Ollé, A. Borel, M. H. Moncel, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", March 2018, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 369–388

Preliminary functional results obtained from the quartzite assemblage of the Early Middle Palaeolithic site of Payre (South-eastern France) are presented. In an area rich in flint, hominins at Payre also collected quartzite in their local environment, specifically along the Rhône River banks. Although the Payre lithic assemblage is largely composed of flint, quartzite was introduced in the site mainly as large cutting tools knapped outside. This fact pointed out an apparently highly differential treatment of the raw material types available in the region. A major concern is to understand the reason why. Is there any functional reason for the introduction of those artefacts, perhaps to perform specific activities related to the toughness of quartzite? Or is there any functional differentiation among the various raw materials? Use-wear analysis is a useful tool for better understanding human technological choices and strategies of lithic raw material management. Before attempting to extensively apply use-wear analysis on the quartzite assemblage, we analysed a limited sample to evaluate the general surface preservation. A specific experimental programme with the same local quartzite was carried out in order to provide a reliable comparative reference for interpreting use-wear evidence on archaeological implements. Methodological difficulties related to use-wear analysis applied to quartzite artefacts are also discussed. Both Optical light microscopy (OLM) and Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) were employed in this study; however, interpretations were elaborated considering principally SEM micro-graphs. The analysis of the archaeological material showed a good state of preservation of the surfaces with a low incidence of post-depositional alterations. The documented use-wear allowed us to identify the active edges, the kinematics and, more rarely, the worked material. Chopping activities were documented on two large artefacts suggesting a specific utility of those tools.


Assemblage variability and bifacial points in the lowermost Sibudan layers at Sibudu, South Africa, di M. Will, N. J. Conard, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", March 2018, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 389–414

Building on the important work of Lyn Wadley at Sibudu, archeologists from the University of Tübingen have excavated the upper stratigraphic units of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) sequence down to the Howiesons Poort (HP). Here, we present the main results from lithic analyses of the lowest part of the Sibudan sequence to assess its overall variability and taxonomic status. Based on the new findings, we also discuss the implications for archeological systematics and the cultural evolution of modern humans in MIS 3 from a more general perspective. The Sibudan deposits encompass over 20 archeological horizons that span a 1.2-m-thick, well-stratified sequence whose base and top have been dated to ∼58 ka (MIS 3). In contrast to the upper stratigraphic units, the lower Sibudan assemblages that we analyzed here show much higher use of local sandstone, quartz, and quartzite. These older units are characterized by frequent use of expedient core reduction methods, bipolar reduction of locally available quartz and quartzite, less retouch of blanks, and lower find densities. Tongati and Ndwedwe tools, which feature abundantly in the upper part of the Sibudan sequence, are entirely absent, as are unifacial points. Instead, notched and denticulated tools are common. Surprisingly, knappers manufactured small bifacial points, mainly made from quartz, by means of alternating shaping in the course of the oldest occupations. The results highlight the great diversity of human technological behavior over even short periods during the MSA, raising important questions about the mechanisms of behavioral change, cultural taxonomy, appropriate scales of lithic analyses, and the relationship between the HP and the Sibudan. Our findings further erode the old idea that bifacial technology in southern Africa is limited to the Still Bay. Research is increasingly showing that bifacial points come and go in different forms and contexts of African Late Pleistocene technology, impeding their use as chrono-cultural markers.


Beyond art: The internal archaeological context in Paleolithic decorated caves, di M. Á. Medina-Alcaide, D. Garate-Maidagan, A. Ruiz-Redondo, J. L. Sanchidrián-Torti, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 49, March 2018, Pages 114-128  - open access -

The inner zones of caves are those areas unreached by sunlight that remain in complete darkness and require artificial light if humans are to occupy them. They are characterized by a high degree of humidity and scarcely varying annual temperature. In general, such areas are inimical to prolonged and stable human settlement in comparison to areas closer to cave entrances. The latter have been used as places of more prolonged occupation, where many different activities were carried out (permanent and sporadic settlement, hunting refuges, etc.). Despite this, throughout the Upper Paleolithic (UP), and also occasionally in the Middle Paleolithic (Jaubert et al., 2016a), people entered these interior spaces, at least from time to time. Questions remain regarding the reasons for a human presence in inner zones, the dating of this presence, and methods of access. The integrated study of archaeological remains found inside the caves enables these questions to be addressed. (...)


Inner tooth morphology of Homo erectus from Zhoukoudian. New evidence from an old collection housed at Uppsala University, Sweden, di C. Zanolli et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 116, March 2018, Pages 1-13

Locality 1, in the Lower Cave of the Zhoukoudian cave complex, China, is one of the most important Middle Pleistocene paleoanthropological and archaeological sites worldwide, with the remains of c. 45 Homo erectus individuals, 98 mammalian taxa, and thousands of lithic tools recovered. Most of the material collected before World War II was lost. However, besides two postcranial elements rediscovered in China in 1951, four human permanent teeth from the ‘Dragon Bone Hill,’ collected by O. Zdansky between 1921 and 1923, were at the time brought to the Paleontological Institute of Uppsala University, Sweden, where they are still stored. This small sample consists of an upper canine (PMU 25719), an upper third molar (PMU M3550), a lower third premolar crown (PMU M3549), and a lower fourth premolar (PMU M3887). Some researchers have noted the existence of morpho-dimensional differences between the Zhoukoudian and the H. erectus dental assemblage from Sangiran, Java. However, compared to its chrono-geographical distribution, the Early to Middle Pleistocene dental material currently forming the Chinese-Indonesian H. erectus hypodigm is quantitatively meager and still poorly characterized for the extent of its endostructural variation. We used micro-focus X-ray tomography techniques of virtual imaging coupled with geometric morphometrics for comparatively investigating the endostructural conformation (tissue proportions, enamel thickness distribution, enamel-dentine junction morphology, pulp cavity shape) of the four specimens stored in Uppsala, all previously reported for their outer features. The results suggest the existence of time-related differences between continental and insular Southeast Asian dental assemblages, the Middle Pleistocene Chinese teeth apparently retaining an inner signature closer to the likely primitive condition represented by the Early Pleistocene remains from Java, while the Indonesian stock evolved toward tooth structural simplification.


Lahar inundated, modified, and preserved 1.88 Ma early hominin (OH24 and OH56) Olduvai DK site, di I. G. Stanistreet et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 116, March 2018, Pages 27-42

Archaeological excavations at the DK site in the eastern Olduvai Basin, Tanzania, age-bracketed between ~1.88 Ma (Bed I Basalt) and ~1.85 Ma (Tuff IB), record the oldest lahar inundation, modification, and preservation of a hominin “occupation” site yet identified. Our landscape approach reconstructs environments and processes at high resolution to explain the distribution and final preservation of archaeological materials at the DK site, where an early hominin (likely Homo habilis) assemblage of stone tools and bones, found close to hominin specimens OH24 and OH56, developed on an uneven heterogeneous surface that was rapidly inundated by a lahar and buried to a depth of 0.4–1.2 m (originally ~1.0–2.4 m pre-compaction). The incoming intermediate to high viscosity mudflow selectively modified the original accumulation of “occupation debris,” so that it is no longer confined to the original surface. A dispersive debris “halo” was identified within the lahar deposit: debris is densest immediately above the site, but tails off until not present >150 m laterally. Voorhies indices and metrics derived from limb bones are used to define this dispersive halo spatially and might indicate a possible second assemblage to the east that is now eroded away. Based upon our new data and prior descriptions, two possibilities for the OH24 skull are suggested: it was either entrained by the mudflow from the DK surface and floated due to lower density toward its top, or it was deposited upon the solid top surface after its consolidation. Matrix adhering to material found in association with the parietals indicates that OH56 at least was relocated by the mudflow.


Craniomandibular form and body size variation of first generation mouse hybrids: A model for hominin hybridization, di K. A. Warren et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 116, March 2018, Pages 57-74

Hybridization occurs in a number of mammalian lineages, including among primate taxa. Analyses of ancient genomes have shown that hybridization between our lineage and other archaic hominins in Eurasia occurred numerous times in the past. However, we still have limited empirical data on what a hybrid skeleton looks like, or how to spot patterns of hybridization among fossils for which there are no genetic data. Here we use experimental mouse models to supplement previous studies of primates. We characterize size and shape variation in the cranium and mandible of three wild-derived inbred mouse strains and their first generation (F1) hybrids. The three parent taxa in our analysis represent lineages that diverged over approximately the same period as the human/Neanderthal/Denisovan lineages and their hybrids are variably successful in the wild. Comparisons of body size, as quantified by long bone measurements, are also presented to determine whether the identified phenotypic effects of hybridization are localized to the cranium or represent overall body size changes. The results indicate that hybrid cranial and mandibular sizes, as well as limb length, exceed that of the parent taxa in all cases. All three F1 hybrid crosses display similar patterns of size and form variation. These results are generally consistent with earlier studies on primates and other mammals, suggesting that the effects of hybridization may be similar across very different scenarios of hybridization, including different levels of hybrid fitness. This paper serves to supplement previous studies aimed at identifying F1 hybrids in the fossil record and to introduce further research that will explore hybrid morphologies using mice as a proxy for better understanding hybridization in the hominin fossil record.


Early stage blunting causes rapid reductions in stone tool performance, di A. Key, M. R. Fisch, M. I. Eren, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 91, March 2018, Pages 1-11

Palaeolithic stone technologies have never been investigated in terms of how sharpness influences their ability to cut. In turn, there is little understanding of how quickly stone cutting edges blunt, how past populations responded to any consequent changes in performance, or how these factors influenced the Palaeolithic archaeological record. Presented here is experimental data quantitatively detailing how variation in edge sharpness influences stone tool cutting performance. Significant increases in force (N) and material displacement (mm) requirements occur rapidly within early stages of blunting, with a single abrasive cutting stroke causing, on average, a 38% increase in the force needed to initiate a cut. In energetic terms, this equates to a 70% increase in work (J). Subsequent to early stages of blunting we identify a substantial drop in the impact of additional edge abrasion. We also demonstrate how edge (included) angle significantly influences cutting force and energy requirements and how it co-varies with sharpness. Amongst other conclusions, we suggest that rapid reductions in performance due to blunting may account for the abundance of lithic artefacts at some archaeological sites, the speed that resharpening behaviours altered tool forms, and the lack of microscopic wear traces on many lithic implements.


Middle and Later Stone Age chronology of Kisese II rockshelter (UNESCO World Heritage Kondoa Rock-Art Sites), Tanzania, di C. A. Tryon et alii, February 28, 2018, doi:  - open access -

The archaeology of East Africa during the last ~65,000 years plays a central role in debates about the origins and dispersal of modern humans, Homo sapiens. Despite the historical importance of the region to these discussions, reliable chronologies for the nature, tempo, and timing of human behavioral changes seen among Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) archaeological assemblages are sparse. The Kisese II rockshelter in the Kondoa region of Tanzania, originally excavated in 1956, preserves a ≥ 6-m-thick archaeological succession that spans the MSA/LSA transition, with lithic artifacts such as Levallois and bladelet cores and backed microliths, the recurrent use of red ochre, and >5,000 ostrich eggshell beads and bead fragments. Twenty-nine radiocarbon dates on ostrich eggshell carbonate make Kisese II one of the most robust chronological sequences for understanding archaeological change over the last ~47,000 years in East Africa. In particular, ostrich eggshell beads and backed microliths appear by 46–42 ka cal BP and occur throughout overlying Late Pleistocene and Holocene strata. Changes in lithic technology suggest an MSA/LSA transition that began 39–34.3 ka, with typical LSA technologies in place by the Last Glacial Maximum. The timing of these changes demonstrates the time-transgressive nature of behavioral innovations often linked to the origins of modern humans, even within a single region of Africa. (...)


The complexity of Neanderthal technology, di J. F. Hoffecker, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", February 27, 2018. 115 (9), pp. 1959-1961

A fundamental irony of Paleolithic (or “Old Stone” Age) archaeology is that it concerns a period of human history when most artifacts probably were made from wood. This is suggested by the heavy use of wood as raw material among recent or ethnographic hunter-gatherers and supported by the repeated discovery of microscopic traces of wood-working on the edges of Paleolithic stone tools. The technological significance of wood is further amplified in the Lower and Middle Paleolithic by limited use of bone, antler, and ivory (relative to the Upper Paleolithic and recent hunter-gatherers). Aranguren et al. report a set of wooden artifacts from a 170,000-y-old Middle Paleolithic occupation in central Italy. The artifacts, which were preserved in calcareous mudstone deposited along a lake margin, include roughly 40 pieces of modified boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), interpreted as “digging sticks.” They are associated with some unmodified pieces of wood, about 200 stone artifacts, and the remains of large mammals, primarily an extinct elephant. No human remains were found at the site (Poggetti Vecchi), but it is confidently attributed to the Neanderthals based on the dating (electron spin resonance and U-series minimum dates). Until the 1990s, wooden artifacts recovered from Lower and Middle Paleolithic sites were so rare that they existed more as curiosities than objects of study. The most widely known examples were sharpened pieces of Taxus or yew from Clacton-on-Sea in southeast England and Lehringen in northern Germany, both interpreted as spears, and several objects, including a possible digging stick, from Kalambo Falls in Zambia. In 1992, traces or “pseudomorphs” of wood fragments, including some possible modified pieces, were reported from a late Middle Paleolithic context at Abric Romani near Barcelona.


Wooden tools and fire technology in the early Neanderthal site of Poggetti Vecchi (Italy), di  B. Aranguren et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", February 27, 2018. 115 (9), pp. 2054-2059

Excavations for the construction of thermal pools at Poggetti Vecchi (Grosseto, Tuscany, central Italy) exposed a series of wooden tools in an open-air stratified site referable to late Middle Pleistocene. The wooden artifacts were uncovered, together with stone tools and fossil bones, largely belonging to the straight-tusked elephant Paleoloxodon antiquus. The site is radiometrically dated to around 171,000 y B.P., and hence correlated with the early marine isotope stage 6 [Benvenuti M, et al. (2017) Quat Res 88:327–344]. The sticks, all fragmentary, are made from boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and were over 1 m long, rounded at one end and pointed at the other. They have been partially charred, possibly to lessen the labor of scraping boxwood, using a technique so far not documented at the time. The wooden artifacts have the size and features of multipurpose tools known as “digging sticks,” which are quite commonly used by foragers. This discovery from Poggetti Vecchi provides evidence of the processing and use of wood by early Neanderthals, showing their ability to use fire in tool making from very tough wood.


La Ferrassie 1, le néandertalien parle encore…, "Hominidés", 26/2/2018

LF1, le célèbre squelette fossile découvert en 1909 a été complété et réétudié par une équipe dirigée par Antoine Balzeau (Musée de l’homme, CNRS) et Asier Gómez-Olivencia chercheur Ikerbasque de l’université du pays basque. (...)


On the sources and uses of obsidian during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic in Poland, di R. E. Hughes, D. H. Werra, Z. Sulgostowska, "Quaternary International", Volume 468, Part A, 27 February 2018, Pages 84-100

Eighty-six obsidian artifacts from twenty Paleolithic and Mesolithic archaeological sites in Poland were analyzed using non-destructive energy dispersive x-ray fluorescence (EDXRF) analysis and assigned to parent geological obsidian source (chemical type). Results of the study— the first country-wide survey of its kind—support the conclusion that the geological source of obsidian remained largely unchanged for thousands of years, that obsidian use appears to have been minimal throughout the Paleolithic and Mesolithic regardless of distance to source, that obsidian artifacts were used to perform the same functions as their non-obsidian (flint and radiolarite) counterparts, and that the distinct visual properties of volcanic glass may have contributed to its recognition as unique and exotic in different social contexts.


Europe's first artists were Neandertals, di T. Appenzeller, "Science", 23 Feb 2018, Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 852-853

Once seen as brute cavemen, Neandertals have gained stature as examples of sophisticated technology and behavior have turned up in their former territory across Europe. But few researchers imagined these vanished cousins of modern humans engaging in one of the most haunting practices in prehistory: creating paintings—vehicles for symbolic expression—in the darkness of caves. Now, archaeologists may have to accept that Neandertals were the original cave artists. A team of dating experts and archaeologists reports in Science that simple creations—the outline of a hand, an array of lines, and a painted cave formation—from three caves in Spain all date to more than 64,800 years ago, at least 20,000 years before modern humans reached Europe. Shells from a fourth Spanish cave, pigment-stained and pierced as if for use as body ornaments, are even older, a team including some of the same researchers reports in a second paper, in Science Advances.


U-Th dating of carbonate crusts reveals Neandertal origin of Iberian cave art, di D. L. Hoffmann et alii, "Science", 23 Feb 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 912-915

The extent and nature of symbolic behavior among Neandertals are obscure. Although evidence for Neandertal body ornamentation has been proposed, all cave painting has been attributed to modern humans. Here we present dating results for three sites in Spain that show that cave art emerged in Iberia substantially earlier than previously thought. Uranium-thorium (U-Th) dates on carbonate crusts overlying paintings provide minimum ages for a red linear motif in La Pasiega (Cantabria), a hand stencil in Maltravieso (Extremadura), and red-painted speleothems in Ardales (Andalucía). Collectively, these results show that cave art in Iberia is older than 64.8 thousand years (ka). This cave art is the earliest dated so far and predates, by at least 20 ka, the arrival of modern humans in Europe, which implies Neandertal authorship.

· Neanderthals were artistic like modern humans, study indicates, "EurekaAlert!", 22 feb 2018

· Neanderthals thought like we do, "EurekaAlert!", 22 feb 2018

· Neanderthals were artistic like modern humans, "ScienceDaily", February 22, 2018

· Néandertal auteur de peintures pariétales il y a 64 000 ans ? "Hominidés", 27/2/2018

· E' opera dei Neandertal l'arte rupestre più antica, "National Geographic", 23 febbraio 2018


Il primo pensiero simbolico è dei Neanderthal, 23 febbraio 2018

“Oggi scriviamo un nuovo capitolo della preistoria”. Così Diego Angelucci, geoarcheologo dell’Università di Trento, ha commentato il risultato raggiunto con i colleghi di una collaborazione internazionale, dimostrando che l'uomo di Neanderthal, contrariamente a quanto ritenuto finora, era capace di comportamento simbolico. Decorava infatti le pareti delle grotte già 65.000 anni fa, e usava conchiglie a scopo ornamentale almeno 115.000 anni fa, cioè in epoche molto precedenti all'arrivo di Homo sapiens in Europa. Cuore della ricerca, che viene ora descritta in due articoli apparsi su “Science” e “Science Advances”, è una tecnica radiometrica al torio-uranio, utilizzata da Dirk Hoffmann del Max-Planck-Institut per la Biologia evoluzionistica di Lipsia, in Germania, per datare con grande precisione i reperti scoperti negli ultimi anni in varie grotte della Spagna. Il pensiero simbolico è ritenuto una delle caratteristiche più squisitamente umane, e si riteneva che fosse nato con Homo sapiens, l'uomo anatomicamente moderno. Lo raccontano l’utilizzo ornamentale di conchiglie marine perforate e di sostanze coloranti circa 70.000 anni fa, scoperte in Africa, e la produzione di arte mobile e arte rupestre in Europa circa 40.000 anni fa. (...)

· Ma allora i Neanderthal sapevano disegnare?, di C. De Luca, "Galileo", 23 febbraio 2018


Wooden tools hint at Neanderthal fire use, 23 February 2018

Archaeologists unearthed pieces of several wooden digging sticks from a plain at the foot of a low hill in Tuscany (Italy) where 171,000 years ago the shore of a lake was surrounded by grasslands and marshes - home to large grazing mammals, including the straight-tusked elephants whose bones litter the site. If you're a hunter-gatherer, the digging stick is your foraging multi-tool: about a meter long, one end rounded to offer a handle and the other tapered almost to a point; useful for digging up roots and tubers, hunting burrowing animals, or pounding and grinding herbs. Neanderthals of Middle Pleistocene Italy created and used digging sticks that would be familiar to modern hunter-foragers, like the Bindibu of Australia, Hadza of Tanzania, and San of southern Africa. In most modern hunter-gatherer cultures, digging sticks are women's tools. The finds date to a period when Neanderthals roamed the hills of southern Italy. Archaeologists excavating the site in 2012 found 39 broken pieces of the sticks, along with an assortment of stone tools. Of the 39 fragments, only about four pointed tips and six rounded handles survived, along with 31 pieces of shafts. Four of the handles and all of the tips had been broken during the tools' lifetimes. (...)


Did humans speak through cave art? Ancient drawings and language's origins, February 21, 2018

More precisely, some specific features of cave art may provide clues about how our symbolic, multifaceted language capabilities evolved, according to a new paper co-authored by MIT linguist Shigeru Miyagawa. A key to this idea is that cave art is often located in acoustic "hot spots," where sound echoes strongly, as some scholars have observed. Those drawings are located in deeper, harder-to-access parts of caves, indicating that acoustics was a principal reason for the placement of drawings within caves. The drawings, in turn, may represent the sounds that early humans generated in those spots. In the new paper, this convergence of sound and drawing is what the authors call a "cross-modality information transfer," a convergence of auditory information and visual art that, the authors write, "allowed early humans to enhance their ability to convey symbolic thinking." The combination of sounds and images is one of the things that characterizes human language today, along with its symbolic aspect and its ability to generate infinite new sentences. "Cave art was part of the package deal in terms of how homo sapiens came to have this very high-level cognitive processing," says Miyagawa, a professor of linguistics and the Kochi-Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture at MIT. "You have this very concrete cognitive process that converts an acoustic signal into some mental representation and externalizes it as a visual." (...)


Ancient society buried disabled children like kings, 21 February 2018

About 34,000 years ago, a group of hunters and gatherers buried the dead bodies of two boys, roughly 10- and 12-years-old, head to head in a long slender grave filled with riches, including more than 10,000 mammoth ivory beads, more than 20 armbands, about 300 pierced fox teeth, 16 ivory mammoth spears, carved artwork, deer antlers, and two human lower leg bones laid across the boys' chests. In contrast, the remains of a roughly 40-year-old man had far fewer treasures: about 3,000 mammoth ivory beads, 12 pierced fox canines, 25 mammoth ivory arm bands, and a stone pendant. (...)


Giant handaxes and prehistoric Europeans, 21 February 2018

An exceptionally high density of 'giant' handaxes has been uncovered at the Porto Maior site, in the Miño River basin of northwest Spain - the first such discovery outside Africa. The excavation of river sediments revealed about 3700 stone artefacts, 290 of which were used in the assemblage studied by the researchers, primarily composed of Large Cutting Tools (LCTs) - 'giant' handaxes about 18 centimetres long. Characteristic of so-called Acheulean technology due to their distinctive shape, the handaxes were not made on-site, but brought from elsewhere. Results indicate that the lithic tool-bearing deposits date to between 293,000 and 205,000 years ago, raising questions about the origin and mobility of prehistoric populations in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene, between 773,000 and 125,000 years ago. (...)

  Brain size of human ancestors evolved gradually over 3 million years, February 20, 2018

The research, published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that the trend was caused primarily by evolution of larger brains within populations of individual species, but the introduction of new, larger-brained species and extinction of smaller-brained ones also played a part. "Brain size is one of the most obvious traits that makes us human. It's related to cultural complexity, language, tool making and all these other things that make us unique," said Andrew Du, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago and first author of the study. "The earliest hominins had brain sizes like chimpanzees, and they have increased dramatically since then. So, it's important to understand how we got here." Du began the work as a graduate student at the George Washington University (GW). His advisor, Bernard Wood, GW's University Professor of Human Origins and senior author of the study, gave his students an open-ended assignment to understand how brain size evolved through time. Du and his fellow students, who are also co-authors on the paper, continued working on this question during his time at George Washington, forming the basis of the new study. (...)


The faunal remains from Bundu Farm and Pniel 6: Examining the problematic Middle Stone Age archaeological record within the southern African interior, di J. M. Hutson, "Quaternary International", Volume 466, Part B, 18 February 2018, Pages 178-193

Open-air and interior sites are not prominently featured among models of Middle Stone Age (MSA) subsistence behavior in southern Africa. Thus, the current view of MSA subsistence reflects adaptations interpreted predominantly from coastal rockshelter locations. An attempt to address this gap is presented here with the analysis of the faunal assemblages from Bundu Farm and Pniel 6, two early MSA open-air sites located well within the interior of southern Africa in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Zooarchaeological and taphonomic signatures of the Bundu Farm assemblage suggest some primary access to animal carcasses, while the same measures imply secondary scavenging by early MSA hominins at Pniel 6. A number of other open-air interior sites include similarly ambiguous evidence for the role of hunting and/or scavenging in hominin subsistence during the MSA. Due to the lack of archaeological surveys directed at finding open-air sites and several taphonomic factors that disproportionately obscure indications of hominin behavior in open-air settings, the archaeological records between open-air interior sites and coastal rockshelter sites are fundamentally incomparable. From an ecological perspective, MSA subsistence was a product of behavioral adaptations to environmental factors and resource availability, the influences of which were likely different between interior and coastal ecosystems. Much like historical hunter-gathers of the region, MSA hominins inhabiting the more marginal environments within the southern African interior may have relied more heavily on gathered plant foods rather than hunting for subsistence.


The scene of a spectacular feast (part II): Animal remains from Dolní Věstonice II, the Czech Republic, di P. Wojtal, J. Wilczyński, K. Wertz, J. A. Svoboda, "Quaternary International", Volume 466, Part B, 18 February 2018, Pages 194-211

Studies of the archaeological and paleontological materials from Dolní Věstonice II provide insight into the lives of humans nearly 30,000 years ago. Bones of small animals (birds, hares, foxes) and medium animals (wolf, reindeer, wolverine) dominate at the site, but there are also bones of large mammals (bears, cave lion, horse and mammoth), showing that the prey spectrum of the hunters was wide. The large total number of animal remains supports the suggestion that these were accumulated during a relatively long human occupation of the site, perhaps lasting months or even years. In Moravia early Gravettian hunting strategy was less specialized than in later periods (e.g., at Milovice I). Large (mammoth, horse), medium (reindeer), and small animals (birds and hares) were important components of the diet and also used as raw materials. The carnivores – wolf, wolverine, foxes – were certainly important prey, not only for their hides but also for use in tool production and the creation of ornaments. Pavlovians also hunted even the larger carnivores (bears and lion).


Lessons from Ginsberg: An analysis of elephant butchery tools, di J. A. M. Gingerich, D. J. Stanford, "Quaternary International", Volume 466, Part B, 18 February 2018, Pages 269-283

Actualistic studies have contributed greatly to our understanding of the past. In this paper, we analyze six stone bifaces used to butcher a 23 year-old African Elephant. Detailed records from this study allow us to illustrate how stone tool reduction is not necessarily a linear process, especially when attempting to use metrics to quantify the amount of reduction over time. Through long-term use of stone tools in butchery, we show that overall reduction was minimal even with successive resharpening events. The utility of these tools raise questions about the role of large bifaces in both Paleoindian and other hunter-gatherer contexts where bifaces may have been used as butchery or long-life tools. Our results suggest that bifaces are superior tools for maintaining an effective cutting edge during prolonged use. These findings may further explain the use of large bifaces among Paleoindian and other foraging populations.


Sapienza Università di Roma - Scoperte orme di bambino risalenti a 700 mila anni fa in un sito archeologico in Etiopia, 16 febbraio 2018

I siti con impronte umane più antichi di 300.000 anni si contano nel mondo sulle dita di una sola mano e anche per questo la recente scoperta in Etiopia aumenta in modo significativo le nostre conoscenze. Si tratta di un livello improntato, perfettamente datato, perché direttamente coperto da un tufo vulcanico di 700.000 anni fa, di Gombore II-2 sito che è parte di Melka Kunture, una località dell’alto bacino del fiume Awash, a 2.000m slm. Qui da anni si svolgono le campagne di ricerca di uno dei Grandi scavi di ateneo, finanziato da Sapienza e dal Ministero Affari Esteri. La zona scavata corrisponde ad un’area intensamente frequentata, ai margini di una piccola pozza d'acqua in cui probabilmente si abbeveravano, oltre agli ominidi, anche animali prossimi agli attuali gnu e gazzelle, nonché uccellini, equidi e suidi; anche gli ippopotami hanno lasciato tracce dei loro passaggi. Le impronte delle varie specie si intersecano tra di loro, e si sovrappongono a tratti a quelle degli esseri umani, individui in parte adulti e in parte di 1, 2 e 3 anni. In particolare uno di questi bambini in tenera età propriamente non camminava, ma era in piedi e si dondolava: la sua è l'impronta di un piede che calpesta ripetutamente il suolo, rimanendo appoggiato sui talloni. Ha quindi lasciato impressa una serie di piccole dita (più di cinque) in parte sovrapposte dalla ripetizione del movimento. (...)


Assessing site formation and assemblage integrity through stone tool refitting at Gruta da Oliveira (Almonda karst system, Torres Novas, Portugal): A Middle Paleolithic case study, di M. Deschamps, J. Zilhão, February 16, 2018, doi: - open access -

We use stone tool refitting to assess palimpsest formation and stratigraphic integrity in the basal units of the Gruta da Oliveira archeo-stratigraphic sequence, layers 15–27, which TL and U-series dating places in late Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 or early MIS 4. As in most karst contexts, the formation of this succession involved multiple and complex phenomena, including subsidence, bioturbation, carnivore activity and runoff as agents of potential post-depositional disturbance. During phases of stabilization, such as represented by layers 15, 21 and 22, the excavated area was inhabited and refits corroborate that post-depositional displacement is negligible. Layers 23–25 and 16–19 correspond to subdivisions that slice thick geological units primarily formed of material derived from the cave’s entrance via slope dynamics. Refit links are consistent with rapid fill-up of the interstitial spaces found in the Karren-like bedrock (for layers 23–25), or left between large boulders after major roof-collapse events (for layers 16–19). Layers 26 (the “Mousterian Cone”) and 27 are a “bottom-of-hourglass” deposit underlying the main sedimentary body; the refits show that this deposit consists of material derived from layers 15–25 that gravitated through fissures open in the sedimentary column above. Layer 20, at the interface between two major stratigraphic ensembles, requires additional analysis. Throughout, we found significant vertical dispersion along the contact between sedimentary fill and cave wall. Given these findings, a preliminary analysis of technological change across the studied sequence organized the lithic assemblages into five ensembles: layer 15; layers 16–19; layer 20; layers 21–22; layers 23–25. The lower ensembles show higher percentages of flint and of the Levallois method. Uniquely at the site, the two upper ensembles feature bifaces and cleavers. (...)


Palaeolithic art at Grotta di Cala dei Genovesi, Sicily: a new chronology for mobiliary and parietal depictions, di G. di Maida, M. García-Diez, A. Pastoors, T. Terberger, "Antiquity", Volume 92, Issue 361 February 2018, pp. 38-55

Unusually for a Palaeolithic cave, the Grotta di Cala dei Genovesi on the island of Levanzo, off the west coast of Sicily, Italy, has yielded evidence of both parietal and mobiliary art. Developments in dating techniques since the excavations of the 1950s now allow the age of the mobiliary art—an engraved aurochs—to be determined. At the same time, stylistic comparison of the parietal art at Grotta di Cala dei Genovesi with other broadly contemporaneous sites that demonstrate well-documented cave art allows a relative chronology to be proposed. The two methods taken together enable a direct chronological comparison to be made between the production of parietal and mobiliary art at this important cave site.


What lies beneath . . . Late Glacial human occupation of the submerged North Sea landscape, di L. Amkreutz et alii, "Antiquity", Access Volume 92, Issue 361 February 2018 , pp. 22-37 - open access -

Archaeological evidence from the submerged North Sea landscape has established the rich diversity of Pleistocene and Early Holocene ecosystems and their importance to hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies. Comparatively little of this evidence, however, dates to the Late Glacial, the period when Northern Europe was repopulated by colonising foragers. A human parietal bone and a decorated bovid metatarsus recently recovered from the floor of the North Sea have been dated to this crucial transitional period. They are set against the background of significant climatic and environmental changes and a major technological and sociocultural transformation. These discoveries also reaffirm the importance of continental shelves as archaeological archives. (...)


Kara-Bom: new investigations of a Palaeolithic site in the Gorny Altai, Russia, di  N. E. Belousova et alii, "Antiquity", Volume 92, Issue 361 February 2018 , e1 - open access -

New archaeological investigations at the key Palaeolithic Russian site of Kara-Bom have further characterised its stratigraphy through analysis of the rich lithic complex recovered. This evidence both complements and supplements our understanding of central and northern Asian Initial Upper Palaeolithic populations. (...)


Frontiers and route-ways from Europe: the Early Middle Palaeolithic of Britain, di N. Ashton, C. R. E. Harris, S. G. Lewis, "Journal of Quaternary Science", Volume 33, Issue 2, February 2018

Britain has a rich and well-documented earlier Palaeolithic record, which provides a unique resource to investigate population dynamics and the cultural and geographical links with north-west Europe during the Middle Pleistocene. This paper examines a newly enhanced dataset for the distribution of finds locations and their geological context. Using artefact types as proxies for different populations it contrasts the Lower Palaeolithic and Early Middle Palaeolithic records. New methods are devised to mitigate for the clear bias towards handaxes in collection history. Taking account of this bias, the results suggest differences in distribution between Lower Palaeolithic and Early Middle Palaeolithic populations, with the latter more heavily concentrated in the lower reaches of large southern and eastern rivers. Drawing on recent studies on the palaeogeography of the Channel and southern North Sea Basin, the paper suggests that this restricted distribution reflects short-lived occupation by small groups of early Neanderthals in late MIS 8, who eventually became locally extinct because of isolation caused by rising sea levels in the first warm sub‐stage of MIS 7.


A volumetric technique for fossil body mass estimation applied to Australopithecus afarensis, di C. A. Brassey, T. G. O'Mahoney, A. T. Chamberlain, W. I. Sellers, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 115, February 2018, Pages 47-64

Fossil body mass estimation is a well established practice within the field of physical anthropology. Previous studies have relied upon traditional allometric approaches, in which the relationship between one/several skeletal dimensions and body mass in a range of modern taxa is used in a predictive capacity. The lack of relatively complete skeletons has thus far limited the potential application of alternative mass estimation techniques, such as volumetric reconstruction, to fossil hominins. Yet across vertebrate paleontology more broadly, novel volumetric approaches are resulting in predicted values for fossil body mass very different to those estimated by traditional allometry. Here we present a new digital reconstruction of Australopithecus afarensis (A.L. 288-1; ‘Lucy’) and a convex hull-based volumetric estimate of body mass. The technique relies upon identifying a predictable relationship between the ‘shrink-wrapped’ volume of the skeleton and known body mass in a range of modern taxa, and subsequent application to an articulated model of the fossil taxa of interest. Our calibration dataset comprises whole body computed tomography (CT) scans of 15 species of modern primate. The resulting predictive model is characterized by a high correlation coefficient (r2 = 0.988) and a percentage standard error of 20%, and performs well when applied to modern individuals of known body mass. Application of the convex hull technique to A. afarensis results in a relatively low body mass estimate of 20.4 kg (95% prediction interval 13.5–30.9 kg). A sensitivity analysis on the articulation of the chest region highlights the sensitivity of our approach to the reconstruction of the trunk, and the incomplete nature of the preserved ribcage may explain the low values for predicted body mass here. We suggest that the heaviest of previous estimates would require the thorax to be expanded to an unlikely extent, yet this can only be properly tested when more complete fossils are available.


Evaluating morphometric body mass prediction equations with a juvenile human test sample: accuracy and applicability to small-bodied hominins, di C. S. Walker et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 115, February 2018, Pages 65-77

Body mass is an ecologically and biomechanically important variable in the study of hominin biology. Regression equations derived from recent human samples allow for the reasonable prediction of body mass of later, more human-like, and generally larger hominins from hip joint dimensions, but potential differences in hip biomechanics across hominin taxa render their use questionable with some earlier taxa (i.e., Australopithecus spp.). Morphometric prediction equations using stature and bi-iliac breadth avoid this problem, but their applicability to early hominins, some of which differ in both size and proportions from modern adult humans, has not been demonstrated. Here we use mean stature, bi-iliac breadth, and body mass from a global sample of human juveniles ranging in age from 6 to 12 years (n = 530 age- and sex-specific group annual means from 33 countries/regions) to evaluate the accuracy of several published morphometric prediction equations when applied to small humans. Though the body proportions of modern human juveniles likely differ from those of small-bodied early hominins, human juveniles (like fossil hominins) often differ in size and proportions from adult human reference samples and, accordingly, serve as a useful model for assessing the robustness of morphometric prediction equations. Morphometric equations based on adults systematically underpredict body mass in the youngest age groups and moderately overpredict body mass in the older groups, which fall in the body size range of adult Australopithecus (∼26–46 kg). Differences in body proportions, notably the ratio of lower limb length to stature, influence predictive accuracy. Ontogenetic changes in these body proportions likely influence the shift in prediction error (from under- to overprediction). However, because morphometric equations are reasonably accurate when applied to this juvenile test sample, we argue these equations may be used to predict body mass in small-bodied hominins, despite the potential for some error induced by differing body proportions and/or extrapolation beyond the original reference sample range.


Lower limb articular scaling and body mass estimation in Pliocene and Pleistocene hominins, di C. B. Ruff, M. Loring Burgess, N. Squyres, J. A. Junno, E. Trinkaus, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 115, February 2018, Pages 85-111

Previous attempts to estimate body mass in pre-Holocene hominins have relied on prediction equations derived from relatively limited extant samples. Here we derive new equations to predict body mass from femoral head breadth and proximal tibial plateau breadth based on a large and diverse sample of modern humans (avoiding the problems associated with using diaphyseal dimensions and/or cadaveric reference samples). In addition, an adjustment for the relatively small femoral heads of non-Homo taxa is developed based on observed differences in hip to knee joint scaling. Body mass is then estimated for 214 terminal Miocene through Pleistocene hominin specimens. Mean body masses for non-Homo taxa range between 39 and 49 kg (39–45 kg if sex-specific means are averaged), with no consistent temporal trend (6–1.85 Ma). Mean body mass increases in early Homo (2.04–1.77 Ma) to 55–59 kg, and then again dramatically in Homo erectus and later archaic middle Pleistocene Homo, to about 70 kg. The same average body mass is maintained in late Pleistocene archaic Homo and early anatomically modern humans through the early/middle Upper Paleolithic (0.024 Ma), only declining in the late Upper Paleolithic, with regional variation. Sexual dimorphism in body mass is greatest in Australopithecus afarensis (log[male/female] = 1.54), declines in Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus (log ratio 1.36), and then again in early Homo and middle and late Pleistocene archaic Homo (log ratio 1.20–1.27), although it remains somewhat elevated above that of living and middle/late Pleistocene anatomically modern humans (log ratio about 1.15).

  Less of a bird's song than a hard rock ensemble, di R. Hosfield, J. Cole, J. McNabb, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 27, Issue 1, January/February 2018

Corbey et al. (2016) propose that the Acheulean handaxe was, at least in part, under genetic control. An alternative perspective is offered here, focusing on the nature of the Acheulean handaxe and the archaeological record, and re-emphasizing their status as cultural artefacts. This is based on four main arguments challenging the proposals of Corbey et al. Firstly, handaxes do not have to track environmental variation to be a cultural artefact, given their role as a hand-held butchery knife or multi-purpose tool. Secondly, while handaxe shapes do cluster around a basic bauplan, there is also significant variability in the Acheulean handaxe record, characterized by site-specific modal forms and locally expressed, short-lived, idiosyncratic traits. Critically, this variability occurs in both time and space, is multi-scalar, and does not appear to be under genetic control. Thirdly, handaxes were produced in social contexts, within which their makers grew up exposed to the sights and sounds of artefact manufacture. Finally, the localized absences of handaxes at different times and places in the Lower Paleolithic world is suggestive of active behavioral choices and population dynamics rather than genetic controls.


Aggiornamento 11 febbraio


Developing FTIR Microspectroscopy for the Analysis of Animal-Tissue Residues on Stone Tools, di G. Monnier, E. Frahm, B. Luo, K. Missal, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", March 2018, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 1–44

The analysis of microscopic residues on stone tools provides one of the most direct ways to reconstruct the functions of such artifacts. However, new methods are needed to strengthen residue identifications based upon visible-light microscopy. In this work, we establish that reflectance Fourier-transform infrared microspectroscopy (FTIRM) can be used to document IR spectra of animal-tissue residues on experimental stone tools. First, we present a set of reflectance FTIRM standards for the most commonly identified animal-tissue residues on stone tools: skin, meat, fat, hair, blood, feather barbules, fish scales, and bone. We provide spectral peak assignments for each residue and demonstrate that high-quality reflectance FTIRM spectra can be generated under ideal circumstances. Second, we document the spectra for these residues when they are located on a stone substrate such as flint or obsidian. We discuss procedures for correcting spectra that are affected by specular reflection and explain the effects of spectral interference from the stone. Our results show that reflectance FTIRM is sensitive to small intra-sample differences in composition. This means that it will record the effects of decomposition in ancient residues. The methodological developments we present here will help lithic residue analysts incorporate in situ reflectance FTIRM into their analysis protocols to strengthen identifications.


Sequential Incisions on a Cave Bear Bone from the Middle Paleolithic of Pešturina Cave, Serbia, di A. Majkić, F. d’Errico, S. Milošević, D. Mihailović, V. Dimitrijević, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", March 2018, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 69–116

We present the detailed analysis of a cervical vertebra from a cave bear, found at Pešturina cave, Serbia, in a Mousterian archaeological level dated by radiocarbon at 43.5–44.6 kyr cal BP, and by ESR to between 93.5 and 102.5 kyr BP. Identified as a portion of the cranial articular facet, the fragment displays ten subparallel grooves. The microscopic study of these grooves and other surface modification present on the bone fragment, conducted with multifocus optical and confocal microscopes and complemented by a taphonomic analysis of the associated faunal assemblage, supports the hypothesis that the incisions were made by humans. Results are used to critically examine ambiguities implicit in the analysis and interpretation of early engravings, a category of material culture that has been playing a key role in the identification of early instances of symbolically mediated behavior.


Building an Experimental Comparative Reference Collection for Lithic Micro-Residue Analysis Based on a Multi-Analytical Approach, di A. Pedergnana, A. Ollé, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", March 2018, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 117–154

Residue analysis applied to stone tools is a useful aid for better understanding their past function and, by extension, reconstructing early human behaviour. However, if the nature of residues found on the lithic tools is misinterpreted, so will be our understanding of their archaeological context. As a consequence, correctly identifying residues in the domain of lithic studies is of paramount importance. With this main goal in mind, we analysed different experimental materials likely to have been involved in daily tasks in the prehistoric context (e.g. bone, wood, meat). Microscopic analyses were then carried out using two (comparable) techniques: Optical Light Microscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy. Also, energy dispersive X-rays spectroscopy (EDX or EDS) was applied to the experimental samples to determine their elemental composition. Advantages and disadvantages of both microscopic methods and their implications for correct residue identification are discussed. The distribution of residues on lithic surfaces is also considered. This study resulted in the construction of a data-set including both photographic material and EDX spectra for each residue analysed. The main result is that, compared to OLM scanning, SEM analyses highly improves the accuracy of residue identification.


Core Use-Life Distributions in Lithic Assemblages as a Means for Reconstructing Behavioral Patterns, di M. J. Douglass, S. C. Lin, D. R. Braun, T. W. Plummer, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", March 2018, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 254–288

Artifacts with varying use-lives have different discard rates and hence are represented unequally among archaeological assemblages. As such, the ability to gauge the use-lives of artifacts is important for understanding the formation of archaeological assemblage variability. In lithic artifacts, use-life can be expressed as the extraction of utility, or work potential, from existing stone volume. Using experimental data and generalized linear modeling, this study develops models of artifact use-life on cores in the form of reduction intensity. We then apply these models to two archaeological case studies to (a) reconstruct the reduction intensities of archaeological cores and (b) investigate the survivorship curves of these archaeological cores across the reduction continuum using the Weibull function. Results indicate variation in core reduction and maintenance with respect to raw material properties and place use history and implicate evolutionary differences between Early Stone Age hominins and Holocene modern humans.

  Tephrostratigraphy of Grotta del Cavallo, Southern Italy: Insights on the chronology of Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in the Mediterranean, di G. Zanchetta, B. Giaccio, M. Bini, L. Sarti, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 182, 15 February 2018, Pages 65-77

The Grotta del Cavallo contains one of the most important stratification of Mousterian, Uluzzian and Final Epigravettian tecnocomplexes; its chronology is of paramount importance for understanding the timing of the transition between Middle and Upper Palaeolithic in the Mediterranean region as well as the demise of the Neanderthal and the dispersal of the first anatomically modern humans through Europe. Within the stratigraphy of the cave three different volcanic ash layers occur (layer G, Fa and C-II). They are located in the middle section of the Mousterian (layer G), in between the Mousterian and Uluzzian layers (layer Fa) and on top of the Uluzzian horizons (layer C-II). The three tephra layers were chemically fingerprinted and correlated to well-known and precisely dated widespread Late Pleistocene tephra markers. Specifically, layer G, Fa and C-II were correlated to the X-6 (108.7 ± 0.9 ka), Y-6 (45.5 ± 1.0 ka) and Campanian Ignimbrite (39.85 ± 0.14 ka), respectively. These findings provide robust chronological points allowing to conclude that: (i) the Mousterian occupation of the cave took place after the fall of the sea level following the MIS 5e high-stand; (ii) the Mousterian-Uluzzian boundary can be dated to 45.5 ± 1.0 ka and climatostratigraphically firmly placed at the transition between the Greenland Interstadial 12 (GI12)-Greenland Stadial 12 (GS12); (iii) the Uluzzian lasted for at least five millennial spanning the GS12-GI9 period and ended at beginning of the Heinrich Event 4.

  Neanderthals' lack of drawing ability may relate to hunting techniques, 8-FEB-2018

Neanderthals had large brains and made complex tools but never demonstrated the ability to draw recognizable images, unlike early modern humans who created vivid renderings of animals and other figures on rocks and cave walls. That artistic gap may be due to differences in the way they hunted, suggests a University of California, Davis, expert on predator-prey relations and their impacts on the evolution of behavior. Neanderthals used thrusting spears to bring down tamer prey in Eurasia, while Homo sapiens, or modern humans, spent hundreds of thousands of years spear-hunting wary and dangerous game on the open grasslands of Africa. Richard Coss, a professor emeritus of psychology, says the hand-eye coordination involved in both hunting with throwing spears and drawing representational art could be one factor explaining why modern humans became smarter than Neanderthals. (...)

  A neurochemical hypothesis for the origin of hominids, di M. A. Raghanti et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", 2018 February, 115 (6) E1108-E1116,

It has always been difficult to account for the evolution of certain human characters such as language, empathy, and altruism via individual reproductive success. However, the striatum, a subcortical region originally thought to be exclusively motor, is now known to contribute to social behaviors and “personality styles” that may link such complexities with natural selection. We here report that the human striatum exhibits a unique neurochemical profile that differs dramatically from those of other primates. The human signature of elevated striatal dopamine, serotonin, and neuropeptide Y, coupled with lowered acetylcholine, systematically favors externally driven behavior and greatly amplifies sensitivity to social cues that promote social conformity, empathy, and altruism. We propose that selection induced an initial form of this profile in early hominids, which increased their affiliative behavior, and that this shift either preceded or accompanied the adoption of bipedality and elimination of the sectorial canine. We further hypothesize that these changes were critical for increased individual fitness and promoted the adoption of social monogamy, which progressively increased cooperation as well as a dependence on tradition-based cultural transmission. These eventually facilitated the acquisition of language by elevating the reproductive advantage afforded those most sensitive to social cues.

  Early hominids may have been weed species, di R. S. Meindl, M. E. Chaney, C. Owen Lovejoy, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", 2018 February, 115 (6) 1244-1249,

Panid, gorillid, and hominid social structures appear to have diverged as dramatically as did their locomotor patterns as they emerged from a late Miocene last common ancestor (LCA). Despite their elimination of the sectorial canine complex and adoption of bipedality with its attendant removal of their ready access to the arboreal canopy, Australopithecus was able to easily invade novel habitats after florescence from its likely ancestral genus, Ardipithecus sp. Other hominoids, unable to sustain sufficient population growth, began an inexorable decline, culminating in their restriction to modern refugia. Success similar to that of earliest hominids also characterizes several species of macaques, often termed “weed species.” We here review their most salient demographic features and find that a key element is irregularly elevated female survival. It is reasonable to conclude that a similar feature characterized early hominids, most likely made possible by the adoption of social monogamy. Reduced female mortality is a more probable key to early hominid success than a reduction in birth space, which would have been physiologically more difficult.

  Could these be the oldest Neandertal tools made with fire? di K. Hickok, Feb. 5, 2018

In the spring of 2012, while digging a hole for a thermal pool, construction workers in Grosseto, Italy, hit scientific pay dirt: layers of stratified soil and rock filled with prehistoric bones and artifacts close to 171,000 years old. Excavating the pool would have to wait. With further digging, the researchers found tantalizing evidence of early fire use—nearly 60 partially burned digging sticks made mostly of boxwood. The most likely creators of the sticks were Neandertals, who are known to have lived in Europe at that time. If our extinct cousins did indeed craft the sticks, they represent the earliest use of fire for toolmaking among Neandertals. Neandertals evolved in Europe perhaps as early as 400,000 years ago, but it’s unclear when they began to regularly use fire. Until now, the earliest evidence of Neandertals controlling fire dates to the late Middle Pleistocene, about 130,000 years ago. And because wood decomposes easier and faster than materials like bone and stone, it’s unusual to find prehistoric wooden artifacts. The oldest wooden weapons discovered so far are spears in Schöningen, Germany. They are thought to have been made by Homo heidelbergensis or Neandertals some 300,000 years ago. (...)
  Early Middle Palaeolithic culture in India around 385–172 ka reframes Out of Africa models, di K. Akhilesh, S. Pappu, H. M. Rajapara, Y. Gunnell, A. D. Shukla, A. K. Singhvi, "Nature", volume 554, pages 97–101 (01 February 2018), doi:10.1038/nature25444

Luminescence dating at the stratified prehistoric site of Attirampakkam, India, has shown that processes signifying the end of the Acheulian culture and the emergence of a Middle Palaeolithic culture occurred at 385±64 thousand years ago (ka), much earlier than conventionally presumed for South Asia. The Middle Palaeolithic continued at Attirampakkam until 172±41 ka. Chronologies of Middle Palaeolithic technologies in regions distant from Africa and Europe are crucial for testing theories about the origins and early evolution of these cultures, and for understanding their association with modern humans or archaic hominins, their links with preceding Acheulian cultures and the spread of Levallois lithic technologies. The geographic location of India and its rich Middle Palaeolithic record are ideally suited to addressing these issues, but progress has been limited by the paucity of excavated sites and hominin fossils as well as by geochronological constraints1,8. At Attirampakkam, the gradual disuse of bifaces, the predominance of small tools, the appearance of distinctive and diverse Levallois flake and point strategies, and the blade component all highlight a notable shift away from the preceding Acheulian large-flake technologies9. These findings document a process of substantial behavioural change that occurred in India at 385±64 ka and establish its contemporaneity with similar processes recorded in Africa and Europe. This suggests complex interactions between local developments and ongoing global transformations. Together, these observations call for a re-evaluation of models that restrict the origins of Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture to the incidence of modern human dispersals after approximately 125 ka.

· Indizi in India di una cultura "moderna" di 385.000 anni fa, "Le Scienze", 01 febbraio 2018


Between continuity and discontinuity: An overview of the West African Paleolithic over the last 200,000 years, di B.Chevrier, É. Huysecom, S.Soriano, M. Rasse, L. Lespez, B. Lebrun, C. Tribolo, "Quaternary International", Volume 466, Part A, 1 February 2018, Pages 3-22

In Paleolithic settlement models for Africa, West Africa has been neglected, if not entirely ignored, due to an obvious lack of research in the region but also of the availability of reliable and precise chronostratigraphic data. However, since 1997 research conducted at Ounjougou (Mali) has significantly updated our view of the West African Middle Stone Age with the establishment of the first archaeological and chronostratigraphic sequence and use of a comprehensive geomorphological approach. This site complex has provided most of the data for MIS 5 to 3, but in order to document MIS 2, one must turn to the Falémé Valley (Senegal), where data is now available from research conducted since 2011. Complemented with other scattered data from West Africa, it is now possible to propose a nearly continuous techno-cultural history for the Upper Pleistocene, supplemented by substantive evidence from the Early Holocene. We can now demonstrate significant diversity in lithic production systems, the probable times of their appearance and disappearance, and their very rapid rate of change. The Middle Stone Age in West Africa thus reflects a unique techno-cultural mosaic and technological history, very different from that observed in the Sahara and North Africa.


Filling in the gap – The Acheulean site Suhailah 1 from the central region of the Emirate of Sharjah, UAE, di K. Bretzke, E. Yousif, S. Jasim, "Quaternary International", Volume 466, Part A, 1 February 2018, Pages 23-32

There is abundant evidence for an Acheulean occupation from many parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The archaeological record, however, features a significant gap in SE Arabia. Here we report new evidence for an Acheulean occupation from site Suhailah 1 (SHL 1) located in the interior of the Emirate of Sharjah, UAE. We present the lithic assemblage recovered during systematic field work in 2014. Results of our study include the documentation of the co-existence of bifacial and core technologies as well as a dominance of scrapers and bifaces in the tool assemblage. Based on comparisons with stratified and well dated assemblages from Jebel Faya about 50 km south of Suhailah we argue that the occupation of the site likely dates to the late Middle Pleistocene. One important implication of the discovery of Acheulean artifacts in SE Arabia is related to the question of the origin of the bifacial technology seen in the MIS 5e assemblages at Jebel Faya, which are thought to represent an early expansion of modern humans out of Africa. Our analysis shows that the Acheulean bifacial technologies from SHL 1 and from Jebel Faya cannot easily be linked developmentally, given typological differences and at least one additional occupation phase separating SHL 1 from the early Late Pleistocene occupation at Faya. We also observe typological differences among the SHL 1 tool assemblage and Acheulean assemblages from western and central Saudi Arabia. Given the scattered record of Acheulean sites in Arabia in addition to very little chronometric data, causes for these differences are difficult to assess and chronological as well as socioeconomic and environmental reasons have to be considered. We are still at the beginning of systematic research about the Paleolithic of Arabia. The intensification of research in the region over the past decade, however, provides promising possibilities for future research.


The central Levantine corridor: The Paleolithic of Lebanon, di S. El Zaatari, "Quaternary International", Volume 466, Part A, 1 February 2018, Pages 33-47

Throughout history and prehistory, the Levant has played the role of a land-bridge connecting continents and human populations and cultures. This role began with the early expansions of hominins out of Africa during the Lower Pleistocene and continued through the Middle and Upper Pleistocene when the region was occupied alternatingly (and possibly at times simultaneously) by Neandertals and anatomically modern humans dispersing from Europe and Africa respectively. At the end of the Pleistocene, the Levant formed a corridor through which modern humans crossed into Europe. Yet, even though the Levant is an extremely important region for paleoanthropological research, major gaps in such research in this region remain. Unlike its southern part, the Paleolithic record of an important area of its central part, i.e., Lebanon, remains virtually unexplored, with the exception of a handful of surveys and small number of excavated sites. In spite of their relative paucity, these surveys have identified hundreds of potential sites spanning all periods of the Paleolithic. Moreover, the few excavations illustrate the importance of Lebanese sites in enhancing our understanding of later human evolution. The site of Ksar Akil, for example, holds evidence for some of the earliest associations of modern human fossils with early -and possibly also Initial- Upper Paleolithic assemblages. This paper presents a summary of the Lebanese Paleolithic record.


The Palaeolithic record of Greece: A synthesis of the evidence and a research agenda for the future, di V. Tourloukis, K. Harvati, "Quaternary International", Volume 466, Part A, 1 February 2018, Pages 48-65

The Palaeolithic record of Greece remains highly fragmented and discontinuous in both space and time. Nevertheless, new surveys and excavations, along with the revisiting of known sites or old collections, and the conduction of lithic and faunal laboratory analyses, have altogether enriched the Greek Palaeolithic dataset with important new evidence and novel interpretations. The goal of this paper is threefold: 1) to critically review the most important aspects of the Greek Pleistocene archaeological record, from the Lower to the Upper Palaeolithic; 2) to provide a synthesis of current knowledge about the Palaeolithic of Greece and in the framework of broader discussions in human evolution research; and 3) to put in prospect the Greek record by addressing a research agenda for the future. The review of the evidence shows that Palaeolithic research in Greece has expanded its focus not only geographically but also temporally: it now includes investigations at previously under-studied areas, such as the insular settings of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, as well as formerly overlooked targets, such as Lower Palaeolithic open-air sites. The synthesis and discussion which follows offers a state-of-the-art perspective on how the primary Palaeolithic data can be assessed within local or regional geomorphic, paleoenvironmental and chronological contexts; here, our focus is on spatio-temporal discontinuities, trends in subsistence strategies and lithic technology, as well as potentially emerging biogeographical patterns. Finally, we highlight the complex topography and mosaic landscapes of the Greek peninsula in order to address two major themes for a future research agenda: the potential role of Greece as a glacial refugium, and how the Greek record could contribute to our knowledge of early hominin mobility patterns.


Revising the hypodigm of Homo heidelbergensis: A view from the Eastern Mediterranean, di M. Roksandic, P. Radović, J. Lindal, "Quaternary International", Volume 466, Part A, 1 February 2018, Pages 66-81

The hominin mandible BH-1 from the Middle Pleistocene cave of Mala Balanica suggested the possibility that human populations in this part of the continent were not subject to the process of Neanderthalization observed in the west. We review the paleoanthropological evidence from the Central Balkans in the context of the Eastern Mediterranean geographic entity. The current hominin fossil record of the early Middle Pleistocene in the region suggests that Europe was inhabited by two different populations: a population in the west of the continent with derived Neanderthal morphology; and a more variable population in the east characterized by a combination of plesiomorphous and synapomorphous traits. We suggest that – in order to continue using the nomenclature of Homo heidelbergensis – the current hypodigm needs to be revised to include only the specimens from the latter group.


How to survive the glacial apocalypse: Hominin mobility strategies in late Pleistocene Central Asia, di M. Glantz, A. Van Arsdale, S. Temirbekov, T. Beeton, "Quaternary International", Volume 466, Part A, 1 February 2018, Pages 82-92

Previous research concerning the biogeography of hominin populations in Central Asia indicates persistence across interglacial/glacial sequences. Hominin groups are present on the landscape during the coldest episodes of the Last Glacial Period. Moreover, the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor (IAMC) likely served as a geographic conduit for human groups that found refuge in the foothill regions of the Altai Mountains as well as those of the southwestern horn of the Tien Shan; this conduit can be construed as the stage upon which hominin admixture occurred. The present study broadens the geographic focus of previous work to include the steppe and steppe/desert zones immediately adjacent to the biologically productive foothills of the IAMC. Using an ecological threshold model, four abiotic variables that best predict hominin site locations are analyzed to examine differences in fundamental niche structure when the IAMC foothills are compared to the adjacent steppic zones. Our null hypothesis is that the foothills and adjacent steppe present similar abiotic profiles. Our results, however, indicate significant differences between these regions, suggesting the foothills would have presented hominins with a more attractive landscape in both glacial and interglacial time periods than the steppe. Counterintuitively, these differences are actually more extreme during interglacial time periods. This preliminary model of hominin-environment interactions serves as a useful example for the ways by which mid-scale hominin dispersal trajectories are mapped and interpreted.


Siberia and neighboring regions in the Last Glacial Maximum: did people occupy northern Eurasia at that time?, di Y. V. Kuzmin, S. G. Keates, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", February 2018, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 111–124

An updated analysis of Paleolithic sites in Siberia and the Urals 14C-dated to the coldest phase of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), with its timespan currently determined as ca. 23,000–19,000 BP (ca. 27,300–22,900 cal BP), is presented. It is demonstrated that people continuously occupied the southern and central parts of Siberia and the Russian Far East (up to 58° N latitude), and perhaps sporadically settled regions located even further north, up to 70° N, throughout the LGM. This is in accord with our previous data, but is now based on a larger dataset, and also on a paleoecological analysis of the major pre-LGM archaeological sites in Siberia and the Urals north of 58° N. It is clear that Paleolithic people in northern Eurasia were able to cope with the treeless tundra environment well in advance of the LGM, at least at ca. 34,000–26,000 BP (ca. 38,500–30,000 cal BP). Therefore, a high degree of adaptation to cold conditions allowed people to survive in Siberia during the LGM.


Unraveling a Neanderthal palimpsest from a zooarcheological and taphonomic perspective, di M. J. Gabucio et alii, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", February 2018, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 197–222

Practically all archeological assemblages are palimpsests. In spite of the high temporal resolution of Abric Romaní site, level O, dated to around 55 ka, is not an exception. This paper focuses on a zooarcheological and taphonomic analysis of this level, paying special attention to spatial and temporal approaches. The main goal is to unravel the palimpsest at the finest possible level by using different methods and techniques, such as archeostratigraphy, anatomical and taxonomical identification, taphonomic analysis, faunal refits and tooth wear analysis. The results obtained are compared to ethnoarcheological data so as to interpret site structure. In addition, activities carried out over different time spans (from individual episodes to long-term behaviors) are detected, and their spatial extent is explored, allowing to do inferences on settlement dynamics. This leads us to discuss the temporal and spatial scales over which Neanderthals carried out different activities within the site, and how they can be studied through the archeological record.


Magdalenian Children: Projectile Points, Portable Art and Playthings, di M. C. Langley, "Oxford Journal of Archaeology", Volume 37, Issue 1, February 2018, Pages 3–24 - open access -

Children, no doubt, were a significant component of Upper Palaeolithic societies. Despite this fact, however, serious identification and consideration of material culture which may have belonged to children – at least at one time during their use-life – have not been undertaken. This situation extends to the best represented and most intensively studied of the European Palaeolithic techno-complexes, the Magdalenian (c.21,000–14,000 cal BP), and consequently, we know very little about the children of this enigmatic people. As play, including object play, is a ‘true cultural universal’, we can be certain that Magdalenian children integrated objects into their games, with these playthings later incorporated into the archaeological record. Through examining ethnographic accounts of recent hunter-gatherer children and reconsidering archaeological assemblages in light of these data, this paper suggests that Magdalenian playthings probably included full-sized adult weapon tips and – more significantly – pieces of what archaeologists term ‘art mobilier’. (...)

  Bears and humans, a Neanderthal tale. Reconstructing uncommon behaviors from zooarchaeological evidence in southern Europe, di M. Romandini, G. Terlato, N. Nannini, A. Tagliacozzo, S. Benazzi, M. Peresani, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 90, February 2018, Pages 71–91

Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), brown bear (Ursus arctos), and Neanderthals were potential competitors for environmental resources (shelters and food) in Europe. In order to reinforce this view and contribute to the ongoing debate on late Neanderthal behavior, we present evidence from zooarchaeological and taphonomic analyses of bear bone remains discovered at Rio Secco Cave and Fumane Cave in northeast Italy, an extended geographic area north of the Adriatic Sea. The remains from both caves come from layers dated to 49-42 ky cal. BP, and suggest close interactions between humans and bears, with data not only limited to the association of Mousterian lithic artifacts with numerous bear remains, but also the detection of clearly preserved traces of human modification such as cut and percussion marks, which enable a reconstruction of the main steps of fur recovery and the butchering process. Examples of Neanderthal bear exploitation are extremely sporadic in Europe, and Grotta Rio Secco and Grotta Fumane can be considered rare cases of remain accumulations generated by the human predation of bears of varied age classes during or near the end of hibernation. All of this evidence suggests that bears had a strategic role in the nomadic economy of Neanderthal hunting groups.

  The earliest modern humans outside Africa, di I. Hershkovitz et alii, "Science", 26 Jan 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6374, pp. 456-459, DOI: 10.1126/science.aap8369

To date, the earliest modern human fossils found outside of Africa are dated to around 90,000 to 120,000 years ago at the Levantine sites of Skhul and Qafzeh. A maxilla and associated dentition recently discovered at Misliya Cave, Israel, was dated to 177,000 to 194,000 years ago, suggesting that members of the Homo sapiens clade left Africa earlier than previously thought. This finding changes our view on modern human dispersal and is consistent with recent genetic studies, which have posited the possibility of an earlier dispersal of Homo sapiens around 220,000 years ago. The Misliya maxilla is associated with full-fledged Levallois technology in the Levant, suggesting that the emergence of this technology is linked to the appearance of Homo sapiens in the region, as has been documented in Africa.

  Terminal Pleistocene subsistence strategies and aquatic resource use in southern Greece, di B. M. Starkovich, N. D.Munro, M. C. Stiner, "Quaternary International", Volume 465, Part B, 26 January 2018, Pages 162-176

In many parts of the Mediterranean Basin, the Late Glacial was a dramatic time in terms of demographic, cultural, and technological change. One region that illustrates this especially well is southern Greece, where Upper Paleolithic lifeways transitioned to the Mesolithic with the onset of the Holocene. Previous archaeological research in this area has documented an intensification of meat resources as foragers widened their diet breadth to include more low-return prey animals, eventually shifting their focus to the Mediterranean Sea. In this paper, we synthesize and expand on these previous analyses by combining new data from Kephalari Cave with two other published sites in the Argolid (Peloponnese), Franchthi Cave and Klissoura Cave 1. These three sites provide an ideal case study for examining changes in meat procurement strategies because they have overlapping Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic chronologies and are located within about 45 km of one another. We consider each of the sites within their local environmental contexts, including the contraction of the coastal plain and moving shorelines after the Last Glacial Maximum. Changes in the composition of ungulate prey track local environmental and ecological conditions. The use of low-return species supports an overall picture of resource intensification in the region over time. At Klissoura, the most inland of the three sites, small terrestrial prey increases over the course of the Upper Paleolithic, particularly in the Late Glacial, and until the site was abandoned in the Mesolithic. At both Franchthi and Kephalari, small game are abundant in all Upper Paleolithic layers, but there is no overall trend. However, fishing appears in the Upper Paleolithic (most likely the Gravettoid phase) of Kephalari and during the Epigravettian at Franchthi. Fishing increases dramatically in later layers at both sites. At Franchthi, this trend culminates in open-water fishing of large-bodied tunny in the Upper Mesolithic. Interestingly, the use of Klissoura declined at about the time that fishing became a critical part of the economy at Franchthi, and possibly Kephalari. These subsistence shifts reflect a combination of factors, including growing human populations on a regional level and local responses that included changes in mobility patterns and site use, and more diverse toolkits, as well as changes in Pleistocene shorelines that brought an additional ecosystem closer to two of the sites. These internal and external factors allowed foragers in southern Greece to successfully move into a new ecological niche at the end of the Pleistocene.

  Winter is coming: What happened in western European mountains between 12.9 and 12.6 ka cal. BP (beginning of the GS1), di A. Tomasso, C. Fat Cheung, S. Fornage-Bontemps, M. Langlais, N. Naudinot, "Quaternary International", Volume 465, Part B, 26 January 2018, Pages 210-221

This paper builds on recent research on the abrupt cooling event known as GS1 (Younger Dryas) from ca. 12.9 to 11.7 ka cal. BP. These studies have indicated the diversity of local responses to this period between different regions across Europe. Research has indicated both responses and lack of responses of humans to this event in different regions. In accordance with this research, this paper argues that it is necessary to move away from global models of human responses to the analysis of regional scales. We argue that it is necessary to consider the evolutionary dynamics that predated the GS1 cooling event before identifying its potential impact. This paper focuses on this aspect of the problem by considering evidence from three mountainous areas: the Pyrenees, the northern French Alps and Jura, and lastly southern and Apuan Alps. Recently studied sites are considered with specific attention to lithic industries. Our analysis focuses on (1) the identifiable changes in each industry and (2) the relationship with pre-existing cultural and technological dynamics. The analysis has produced two main results. First, there was a tendency towards a decrease in the standardization of blanks, especially in blades, which was common to the different areas. This change, however, predated GS1 and can therefore not be associated with cooling at the start of GS1. Second, the Northern Alps and Jura, in contrast to the two other areas, seems to reveal a break from the lithic technological traditions that occurred around 12.9 ka cal BP or the early stages of GS1. These results enable a discussion of the different mechanisms that can explain differential regional responses to GS1.

  Glacial and post-glacial adaptations of hunter-gatherers: Investigating the late Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic subsistence strategies in the southern steppe of Eastern Europe, di K. Kitagawa et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 465, Part B, 26 January 2018, Pages 192-209

Diverse landscapes and ecosystems stretching across Europe led to diverse hunter-gatherer cultural records during the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic. In response to abrupt climatic forcing, starting around the Late Glacial Maximum and followed by climatic events such as the Bølling–Allerød and the Younger Dryas in the Terminal Pleistocene, archaeological data pertaining to cultural and behavioral shifts of hunter-gatherers continue to be explored on a regional and pan-regional scale. Here we present an initial summary, which includes new and published data on faunal analyses from multiple open air sites that span the Late Pleistocene to the Holocene, dated between the Late Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic (20,000–6000 uncal 14C BP) in the southern steppe of Eastern Europe. For this area, this is the first study to compile the cultural and faunal data with geo-referenced localization and radiometric dates of the archaeological sites. Taken together, faunal assemblages from the Epigravettian are characterized by low diversity and are often dominated by one species of large game, including bison and equids, whereas the Mesolithic diet is characterized by higher inter-site variability subsisting on large ungulate and greater emphasis on freshwater resources. This study contributes to the general knowledge concerning the last phases in the evolution of the Eurasian hunter-gatherers.

  Environmental and cultural changes across the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in Cantabrian Spain, di L. Guy Straus, "Quaternary International", Volume 465, Part B, 26 January 2018, Pages 222-233

A review of the cultural evidence from northern coastal Atlantic Spain (a.k.a., Vasco-Cantabria) spanning the late Last Glacial and early Postglacial (from Greenland Interstadial 1 to the mid-Holocene) reveals that some changes may have been related to major climate/environmental changes, while others may be attributed to demographic factors that caused possible resource overexploitation and to historical factors such as the long-term availability of Neolithic domesticates and technology in adjacent regions. The culmination of the warming trend of the Last Glacial Interstadial in the Allerød seems to have been of particular importance in the transition from the classic Upper Magdalenian (with its rupestral and portable art and complex stone and bone technologies) to the Azilian, despite continuity in the main game species and in the process of subsistence intensification. The Younger Dryas, on the other hand, seems to have had little immediate direct repercussion in this region, as the Azilian continued, straddling the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary. On the other hand, the climatically non-dramatic Preboreal-Boreal boundary seems to have seen the abrupt, marked break between the “Epimagdalenian” Azilian and the Asturian coastal shell midden Mesolithic in the western sector of the region. This contrasted with greater technological continuity (albeit with similarities to the Sauveterrian tradition in adjacent SW France) in the Mesolithic of the Basque Country, with no archeological indications that the 8.2 cal kya event had important consequences in this region. Then, some 15 centuries later, came the sudden, but centuries-delayed appearance of Neolithic domesticates and ceramics on the Atlantic side of the Cantabrian Cordillera originating from sources in the Mediterranean environments of the upper Ebro basin and/or southern France. This major lifeway change was possibly finally accepted, within a still mixed economy, in the face of the overexploitation of wild food resources. The “neolithization” of Vasco-Cantabria was finally underway by c. 6.6 cal kya, quickly leading to new human-land relationships characterized by mainly ovicaprine pastoralism, apparently limited cereal agriculture, continued foraging, recolonization of the montane interior and the construction of modest megalithic monuments.

  Israeli fossils are the oldest modern humans ever found outside of Africa, di E. Callaway, "Nature", 25 JANUARY 2018, doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-01261-5

The oldest human fossils ever found outside Africa suggest that Homo sapiens might have spread to the Arabian Peninsula around 180,000 years ago — much earlier than previously thought. The upper jaw and teeth, found in an Israeli cave and reported in Science on 25 January1, pre-date other human fossils from the same region by at least 50,000 years. But scientists say that it is unclear whether the fossils represent a brief incursion or a more-lasting expansion of the species. Researchers originally thought that H. sapiens emerged in East Africa 200,000 years ago, then moved out to populate the rest of the world. Until discoveries in the past decade countered that story, scientists thought that a small group left Africa some 60,000 years ago. If so, it would mean that signs of earlier travels, including 80,000–120,000-year-old skulls and other remains from Israel, uncovered in the 1920s and 1930s, were from failed migrations. (...)
  Shedding light on the Early Pleistocene of TD6 (Gran Dolina, Atapuerca, Spain): The technological sequence and occupational inferences, di M. Mosquera, A. Ollé, X. P. Rodríguez-Álvarez, E. Carbonell, January 25, 2018, - open access -

This paper aims to update the information available on the lithic assemblage from the entire sequence of TD6 now that the most recent excavations have been completed, and to explore possible changes in both occupational patterns and technological strategies evidenced in the unit. This is the first study to analyse the entire TD6 sequence, including subunits TD6.3 and TD6.1, which have never been studied, along with the better-known TD6.2 Homo antecessor-bearing subunit. We also present an analysis of several lithic refits found in TD6, as well as certain technical features that may help characterise the hominin occupations. The archaeo-palaeontological record from TD6 consists of 9,452 faunal remains, 443 coprolites, 1,046 lithic pieces, 170 hominin remains and 91 Celtis seeds. The characteristics of this record seem to indicate two main stages of occupation. In the oldest subunit, TD6.3, the lithic assemblage points to the light and limited hominin occupation of the cave, which does, however, grow over the course of the level. In contrast, the lithic assemblages from TD6.2 and TD6.1 are rich and varied, which may reflect Gran Dolina cave’s establishment as a landmark in the region. Despite the occupational differences between the lowermost subunit and the rest of the deposit, technologically the TD6 lithic assemblage is extremely homogeneous throughout. In addition, the composition and spatial distribution of the 12 groups of lithic refits found in unit TD6, as well as the in situ nature of the assemblage demonstrate the high degree of preservation at the site. This may help clarify the nature of the Early Pleistocene hominin occupations of TD6, and raise reasonable doubt about the latest interpretations that support the ex situ character of the assemblage as a whole. (...)

  Palaeolithic Caucasus: Paleoanthropological Panorama, di S. Vasilyev, H. Amirkhanov, "Quaternary International", Volume 465, Part A, 20 January 2018, Pages 105-116

The article gives an analytical overview of paleoanthropological finds from Palaeolithic Caucasus. Archaeological studies show that in the Early Pleistocene, the region was extensively inhabited. The path of the first settlers ran along the Western Caspian and possibly the Eastern Black Sea regions. This way was probably a transit on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a natural refuge where natural resources allowed people to exist for a relatively long time. Further evolutionary process, according to the paleoanthropological remains, was associated with Western Asia, as well as with Western Europe. However, the emergence of Homo sapiens in the Caucasus was most likely due to the migration of sapiens forms from the African continent around 100 thousand years ago.

  Speech, stone tool-making and the evolution of language, di D. M. Cataldo, A. Bamberg Migliano, L. Vinicius, January 19, 2018, - open access -

The ‘technological hypothesis’ proposes that gestural language evolved in early hominins to enable the cultural transmission of stone tool-making skills, with speech appearing later in response to the complex lithic industries of more recent hominins. However, no flintknapping study has assessed the efficiency of speech alone (unassisted by gesture) as a tool-making transmission aid. Here we show that subjects instructed by speech alone underperform in stone tool-making experiments in comparison to subjects instructed through either gesture alone or ‘full language’ (gesture plus speech), and also report lower satisfaction with their received instruction. The results provide evidence that gesture was likely to be selected over speech as a teaching aid in the earliest hominin tool-makers; that speech could not have replaced gesturing as a tool-making teaching aid in later hominins, possibly explaining the functional retention of gesturing in the full language of modern humans; and that speech may have evolved for reasons unrelated to tool-making. We conclude that speech is unlikely to have evolved as tool-making teaching aid superior to gesture, as claimed by the technological hypothesis, and therefore alternative views should be considered. For example, gestural language may have evolved to enable tool-making in earlier hominins, while speech may have later emerged as a response to increased trade and more complex inter- and intra-group interactions in Middle Pleistocene ancestors of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens; or gesture and speech may have evolved in parallel rather than in sequence. (...)

  Putting the Palaeolithic into Worcestershire's HER: An evidence base for development management, di O. Russell, N. Daffern, E. Hancox, A. Nash, "Internet Archaeology", 47, 18 January 2018,

Worcestershire, like the majority of the West Midlands, is not considered a focal point for the study of Palaeolithic archaeological remains, with much of the focus occurring in the east and south-east of England. Despite this, discoveries of Palaeolithic artefactual and palaeoenvironmental remains within the county, and the wider West Midlands, have shown that the area has the potential to be productive and assist in national and international research aims for the period. Palaeolithic research is usually carried out by specialists in Quaternary science and the resulting reports are difficult for non-specialists to access. The result is that Palaeolithic archaeology is often poorly represented within Historic Environment Records and unavailable to Local Planning Authority archaeological advisors in an accessible format. It is challenging in the context of National Planning Policy Framework to justify archaeological interventions as proportionate and reasonable when the archaeology is evidenced in the form of a few artefacts from poorly understood geological contexts. This article describes a Historic England-funded project which aimed to address this issue and ensure evidence of this date can be incorporated within Historic Environment Records in a way that can be interpreted and used by non-specialists, and will be of particular use to those involved in development management.

  A reassessment of the Montmaurin-La Niche mandible (Haute Garonne, France) in the context of European Pleistocene human evolution, di A. Vialet et alii, January 16, 2018, - open access -

We here present a comparative study of the Montmaurin-LN Middle Pleistocene mandible (Haute-Garonne, France). This mandible, of which its right and left molar series are preserved in situ, was found in La Niche cave (Montmaurin’s karst system) in 1949, and was first attributed to the ‘Mindel-Riss’ interglacial (= MIS 9 to 11) based on its geological context. Later studies based on geological and faunal evidence have attributed the Montmaurin-LN mandible to MIS 7. Following a detailed morphological and metric comparative study of the mandible in the 1970s, it was interpreted in the light of a still limited fossil record and the prevailing paradigm back then. Waiting for geochronological studies in the forthcoming years, here we review the main morphological and metrical features of this mandible and its molars, which have been reassessed in the framework of a remarkably enlarged Pleistocene fossil record since the mandible was first described, and our current, more in-depth understanding of human evolution in Europe. Using a selection of mandibular features with potential taxonomic signal we have found that the Montmaurin-LN mandible shares only a few derived traits with Neandertals. Our analyses reveal that this mandible is more closely related to the ancient specimens from the African and Eurasian Early and Middle Pleistocene, particularly due to the presence of primitive features of the Homo clade. In contrast, the external morphology of the molars is clearly similar to that of Neandertals. The results are assessed in the light of the present competing hypotheses used to explain the European hominin fossil record. (...)

  Early hominins in Europe: The Galerian migration hypothesis, di G. Muttoni, G. Scardia, D. V. Kent, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 180, 15 January 2018, Pages 1-29

Our updated review of sites bearing hominin remains and/or tools from Europe, including new findings from the Balkans, still indicates that the only compelling evidence of main hominin presence in these regions was only since ~0.9 million years ago (Ma), bracketed by the end of the Jaramillo geomagnetic polarity subchron (0.99 Ma) and the Brunhes-Matuyama polarity chron boundary (0.78 Ma). This time window straddled the late Early Pleistocene climate transition (EPT) at the onset of enhanced glacial/interglacial activity that reverberated worldwide. Europe may have become initially populated during the EPT when, possibly for the first time in the Pleistocene, vast and exploitable ecosystems were generated along the eustatically emergent Po-Danube terrestrial conduit. These newly formed settings, characterized by stable terrestrial lowlands with open grasslands and reduced woody cover especially during glacial/interglacial transitions, are regarded as optimal ecosystems for several large Galerian immigrant mammals such as African and Asian megaherbivores, possibly linked with hominins in a common food web, to expand into en route to Europe. The question of when hominins first arrived in Europe thus places the issue in the context of changes in climate, paleogeography and faunal associations as potential environmental drivers and controlling agents in a specific time frame, a key feature of the Galerian migration hypothesis.

  'Humans and Quaternary Environments in the Levant' in Honour of Professor Mina Weinstein-Evron. Edited by Danny Rosenberg, Reuven Yeshurun, Volume 464, Part A, Pages 1-326 (10 January 2018)

· Danny Rosenberg, Reuven Yeshurun, Humans and quaternary environments in the Levant – A special issue in honour of Professor Mina Weinstein-Evron, Pages 1-2

· Miriam Belmaker, Insights from carnivore community composition on the paleoecology of early Pleistocene Eurasian sites: Implications for the dispersal of hominins out of Africa, Pages 3-17

· Y. Zaidner, N. Porat, E. Zilberman, G. Herzlinger, A. Almogi-Labin, J. Roskin, Geo-chronological context of the open-air Acheulian site at Nahal Hesi, northwestern Negev, Israel, Pages 18-31

· N. Porat, M. Jain, A. Ronen, L.K. Horwitz, A contribution to late Middle Paleolithic chronology of the Levant: New luminescence ages for the Atlit Railway Bridge site, Coastal Plain, Israel, Pages 32-42

· Ehud Galili, Avraham Ronen, Henk K. Mienis, Liora Kolska Horwitz, Beach deposits containing Middle Paleolithic archaeological remains from northern Israel, Pages 43-57

· Alla Yaroshevich, Maayan Shemer, Naomi Porat, Joel Roskin, Flint workshop affiliation: Chronology, technology and site-formation processes at Giv'at Rabbi East, Lower Galilee, Israel, Pages 58-80

· Ron Shimelmitz, Steven L. Kuhn, The toolkit in the core: There is more to Levallois production than predetermination, Pages 81-91

· Omry Barzilai, Natalia Gubenko, Rethinking Emireh Cave: The lithic technology perspectives, Pages 92-105

· Ron Shimelmitz, David E. Friesem, Jamie L. Clark, Iris Groman-Yaroslavski, Lior Weissbrod, Naomi Porat, Andrew W. Kandel, The Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic of Sefunim Cave, Israel, Pages 106-125

· Andrew W. Kandel, Knut Bretzke, Nicholas J. Conard, Epipaleolithic shell beads from Damascus Province, Syria, Pages 126-140

· Daniel Kaufman, Iris Groman-Yaroslavski, Reuven Yeshurun, Eli Crater-Gershtein, Dani Nadel, Engraved flint nodules from the Levantine middle Epipaleolithic: Neve David revisited, Pages 141-158

· Christophe Delage, Revisiting Rolling stones: The procurement of non-local goods in the Epipaleolithic of the Near East, Pages 159-172

· Reuven Yeshurun, Guy Bar-Oz, Ungulate skeletal element profiles: A possible marker for territorial contraction and sedentism in the Levantine Epipaleolithic, Pages 173-186

· Jacob Vardi, Ofer Marder, Revital Bookman, David E. Friesem, I. Groman-Yeroslavski, Lotan Edeltin, Naomi Porat, Elisabetta Boaretto, Joel Roskin, Middle to Late Epipaleolithic hunter-gatherer encampments at the Ashalim site, on a linear dune-like morphology, along dunefield margin water bodies, Pages 187-205

· Avraham Ronen, Quaternary sedimentology and prehistory on the Mediterranean coastal plain of Israel, Pages 315-326

  Further consideration of the curvature of the Neandertal Femur, di T. Chapman, V. Sholukha, P. Semal, S. Louryan, S. Van Sint Jan, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 165, Issue 1, January 2018, Pages 94–107 - open access -

Neandertal femora are particularly known for having a marked sagittal femoral curvature. This study examined femoral curvature in Neandertals in comparison to a modern human population from Belgium by the use of three-dimensional (3D) quadric surfaces modeled from the bone surface. 3D models provide detailed information and enabled femoral curvature to be analyzed in conjunction with other morphological parameters.
3D models were created from CT scans of 75 modern human femora and 7 Neandertal femora. Quadric surfaces (QS) were created from the triangulated surface vertices in all areas of interest (neck, head, diaphyseal shaft, condyles) extracted from previously placed anatomical landmarks. The diaphyseal shaft was divided into five QS shapes and curvature was measured by degrees of difference between QS shapes. Each bone was placed in a local coordinate system enabling each bone to be analyzed in the same way.
The use of 3D quadric surface fitting allowed the distribution of curvature with similarly curved femora to be analyzed and the different patterns of curvature between the two groups to be determined. The Neandertals were shown to have a higher degree of femoral curvature and a more distal point of femoral curvature than the modern human population from Belgium.
Morphological aspects of the Neandertal femur are different from this modern human population although mainly seem unrelated to femoral curvature. The relative lack of correlations with other femoral bony morphological factors suggests femoral curvature variations may be related to other aspects. (...)

  The evolution of modern human brain shape, di S. Neubauer, J. J. Hublin, P. Gunz, "Science Advances", JANUARY 2018, VOL 4, ISSUE 1 - open access -

Modern humans have large and globular brains that distinguish them from their extinct Homo relatives. The characteristic globularity develops during a prenatal and early postnatal period of rapid brain growth critical for neural wiring and cognitive development. However, it remains unknown when and how brain globularity evolved and how it relates to evolutionary brain size increase. On the basis of computed tomographic scans and geometric morphometric analyses, we analyzed endocranial casts of Homo sapiens fossils (N = 20) from different time periods. Our data show that, 300,000 years ago, brain size in early H. sapiens already fell within the range of present-day humans. Brain shape, however, evolved gradually within the H. sapiens lineage, reaching present-day human variation between about 100,000 and 35,000 years ago. This process started only after other key features of craniofacial morphology appeared modern and paralleled the emergence of behavioral modernity as seen from the archeological record. Our findings are consistent with important genetic changes affecting early brain development within the H. sapiens lineage since the origin of the species and before the transition to the Later Stone Age and the Upper Paleolithic that mark full behavioral modernity. (...)
  Bio-cultural interactions and demography during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in Iberia: An agent-based modelling approach, di C. Cucart-Mora, S. Lozano, J. Fernández-López de Pablo, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 89, January 2018, Pages 14-24

The Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition was a process of cultural and biological replacement, considered a turning point in human evolutionary history. Various hypotheses have been used to explain the disappearance of Neanderthals from Eurasia. However, very few studies have explicitly examined the causative role of demography on Neanderthal and anatomically modern humans (AMH) interaction. Here we use an integrative method based on computational modelling and the analysis of archaeological data to construct an agent based model that explores the influence of demographic variables (birth and death rates) and mobility (home range size) on the bio-cultural interaction between AMH and Neanderthals during the transition from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic on the Iberian Peninsula (50 ka to 30 ka BP). Our simulation results are consistent with the current radiocarbon framework for the disappearance of Neanderthals in this region. This suggest that the extinction of Neanderthals could be explained by inter-specific differences in demographic behaviour and mobility patterns compared with AMH.

  Arte prehistórico y ciencia ficción: los retos de la divulgación académica, di A. Lombo Montañés, "ArqueoWeb", 18, 2017, pp. 31-61 - open access -

El arte prehistórico ha sido utilizado como una prueba de la visita de extraterrestres durante la prehistoria. La teoría de los Antiguos Astronautas forma parte de una prehistoria esotérica cuyos orígenes se remontan al siglo XIX. El discurso de esta teoría fue popularizado por Von Däniken en los años sesenta del siglo pasado y ha sido recientemente planteada en la película de Ridley Scott Prometheus (2012) en donde aparecen los caballos de Chauvet. ¿Qué hacen los caballos de Chauvet en una película de alienígenas? En el presente estudio investigamos las principales ideas de la prehistoria esotérica en relación con el arte prehistórico para intentar comprender el enorme éxito de esta teoría en la mentalidad colectiva. (...)


New Neandertal wrist bones from El Sidrón, Spain (1994–2009), di T. L. Kivell et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 114, January 2018, Pages 45-75 - open access -

Twenty-nine carpal bones of Homo neanderthalensis have been recovered from the site of El Sidrón (Asturias, Spain) during excavations between 1994 and 2009, alongside ~2500 other Neandertal skeletal elements dated to ~49,000 years ago. All bones of the wrist are represented, including adult scaphoids (n = 6), lunates (n = 2), triquetra (n = 4), pisiforms (n = 2), trapezia (n = 2), trapezoids (n = 5), capitates (n = 5), and hamates (n = 2), as well as one fragmentary and possibly juvenile scaphoid. Several of these carpals appear to belong to the complete right wrist of a single individual. Here we provide qualitative and quantitative morphological descriptions of these carpals, within a comparative context of other European and Near Eastern Neandertals, early and recent Homo sapiens, and other fossil hominins, including Homo antecessor, Homo naledi, and australopiths. Overall, the El Sidrón carpals show characteristics that typically distinguish Neandertals from H. sapiens, such as a relatively flat first metacarpal facet on the trapezium and a more laterally oriented second metacarpal facet on the capitate. However, there are some distinctive features of the El Sidrón carpals compared with most other Neandertals. For example, the tubercle of the trapezium is small with limited projection, while the scaphoid tubercle and hamate hamulus are among the largest seen in other Neandertals. Furthermore, three of the six adult scaphoids show a distinctive os-centrale portion, while another is a bipartite scaphoid with a truncated tubercle. The high frequency of rare carpal morphologies supports other evidence of a close genetic relationship among the Neandertals found at El Sidrón. (...)


The easternmost Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) from Jinsitai Cave, North China, di Feng Li et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 114, January 2018, Pages 76-84  - open access -

The dispersal of Neanderthals and their genetic and cultural interactions with anatomically modern humans and other hominin populations in Eurasia are critical issues in human evolution research. Neither Neanderthal fossils nor typical Mousterian assemblages have been reported in East Asia to date. Here we report on artifact assemblages comparable to western Eurasian Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) at Jinsitai, a cave site in North China. The lithic industry at Jinsitai appeared at least 47–42 ka and persisted until around 40–37 ka. These findings expand the geographic range of the Mousterian-like industries at least 2000 km further to the east than what has been previously recognized. This discovery supplies a missing part of the picture of Middle Paleolithic distribution in Eurasia and also demonstrates the makers' capacity to adapt to diverse geographic regions and habitats of Eurasia. (...)


The biomechanical significance of the frontal sinus in Kabwe 1 (Homo heidelbergensis), di R. M. Godinho, P. O'Higgins, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 114, January 2018, Pages 141-153 - open access -

Paranasal sinuses are highly variable among living and fossil hominins and their function(s) are poorly understood. It has been argued they serve no particular function and are biological ‘spandrels’ arising as a structural consequence of changes in associated bones and/or soft tissue structures. In contrast, others have suggested that sinuses have one or more functions, in olfaction, respiration, thermoregulation, nitric oxide production, voice resonance, reduction of skull weight, and craniofacial biomechanics. Here we assess the extent to which the very large frontal sinus of Kabwe 1 impacts on the mechanical performance of the craniofacial skeleton during biting. It may be that the browridge is large and the sinus has large trabecular struts traversing it to compensate for the effect of a large sinus on the ability of the face to resist forces arising from biting. Alternatively, the large sinus may have no impact and be sited where strains that arise from biting would be very low. If the former is true, then infilling of the sinus would be expected to increase the ability of the skeleton to resist biting loads, while removing the struts might have the opposite effect. To these ends, finite element models with hollowed and infilled variants of the original sinus were created and loaded to simulate different bites. The deformations arising due to loading were then compared among different models and bites by contrasting the strain vectors arising during identical biting tasks. It was found that the frontal bone experiences very low strains and that infilling or hollowing of the sinus has little effect on strains over the cranial surface, with small effects over the frontal bone. The material used to infill the sinus experienced very low strains. This is consistent with the idea that frontal sinus morphogenesis is influenced by the strain field experienced by this region such that it comes to lie entirely within a region of the cranium that would otherwise experience low strains. This has implications for understanding why sinuses vary among hominin fossils. (...)


Using the covariation of extant hominoid upper and lower jaws to predict dental arcades of extinct hominins, di S. Stelzer, P. Gunz, S. Neubauer, F. Spoor, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 114, January 2018, Pages 154-175 - open access -

Upper and lower jaws are well represented in the fossil record of mammals and are frequently used to diagnose species. Some hominin species are only known by either their maxillary or mandibular morphology, and in this study, we explore the possibility of predicting their complementary dental arcade shape to aid the recognition of conspecific specimens in the fossil record. To this end, we apply multiple multivariate regression to analyze 3D landmark coordinates collected on associated upper and lower dental arcades of extant Homo, Pan, Gorilla, Pongo, and Hylobates. We first study the extant patterns of variation in dental arcade shape and quantify how accurate predictions of complementary arcades are. Then we explore applications of this extant framework for interpreting the fossil record based on two fossil hominin specimens with associated upper and lower jaws, KNM-WT 15000 (Homo erectus sensu lato) and Sts 52 (Australopithecus africanus), as well as two non-associated specimens of Paranthropus boisei, the maxilla of OH 5 and the Peninj mandible. We find that the shape differences between the predictions and the original fossil specimens are in the range of variation within genera or species and therefore are consistent with their known affinity. Our approach can provide a reference against which intraspecific variation of extinct species can be assessed. We show that our method predicts arcade shapes reliably even if the target shape is not represented in the reference sample. We find that in extant hominoids, the amount of within-taxon variation in dental arcade shape often overlaps with the amount of between-taxon shape variation. This implies that whereas a large difference in dental arcade shape between two individuals typically suggests that they belong to different species or even genera, a small shape difference does not necessarily imply conspecificity. (...)




Index di antiqui Sommario bacheca