Experimental study of cut marks made with rocks unmodified by human flaking and its bearing on claims of 3.4-million-year-old butchery evidence from Dikika, Ethiopia, di M. Domínguez-Rodrigo, T. Rayne Pickering, H. T. Bunn, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 205-214 

In order to assess further the recent claims of 3.4 Ma butchery marks on two fossil bones from the site of Dikika (Ethiopia), we broadened the actualistic-interpretive zooarchaeological framework by conducting butchery experiments that utilized naïve butchers and rocks unmodified by human flaking to deflesh chicken and sheep long limb bones. It is claimed that the purported Dikika cut marks present their unexpectedly atypical morphologies because they were produced by early hominins utilizing just such rocks. The composition of the cut mark sample produced in our experiments is quite dissimilar to the sample of linear bone surface modifications preserved on the Dikika fossils. This finding substantiates and expands our earlier conclusion that—considering the morphologies and patterns of the Dikika bone surface modifications and the inferred coarse-grained depositional context of the fossils on which they occur—the Dikika bone damage was caused incidentally by the movement of the fossils on and/or within their depositional substrate(s), and not by early hominin butchery. Thus, contrary to initial claims, the Dikika evidence does not warrant a major shift in our understanding of early hominin behavioral evolution with regard to carcass foraging and meat-eating.

Using provenance data to assess archaeological landscapes: an example from Calabria, Italy, di K. Michelaki, R. G.V. Hancock, G. V. Braun, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 234-246 

Ceramic provenance studies have helped archaeologists examine trade and exchange in multiple scales, the organization of production, and even vessel function. Yet, they may go even further, to provide a venue for the examination of past people’s perception of their landscape. To do so, a methodology is needed that links the choices prehistoric potters made, as reflected in their ceramics, with the choices their landscape could afford them, as reflected in the extent and distribution of local clays, and the physical, chemical and mineralogical characteristics of these clays. Using the region of Bova Marina in southwestern Calabria as a case study, we have combined a raw materials survey with field and laboratory experiments, along with chemical and mineralogical analyses of the collected sediments to understand the distribution and the physical, chemical and mineralogical variability of locally available clays and provide baseline data against which prehistoric ceramic materials from the region may be compared. We show that the local sediments can be divided into three major units, based on their macroscopic, mineralogical and chemical characteristics, that correspond well with the major geological units outcropping in the study area. While two of these units have internally consistent properties, the third is variable.

Red deer antler technology and early modern humans in Southeast Europe: an experimental study, di J. M. Tejero, M. Christensen, P. Bodu, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 332-346 

In technological approaches to prehistoric industries, there is currently a renewed interest in the transformation of osseous materials. This approach requires the construction of a technical reference base of manufacturing stigmata, as well as of the procedures and methods used to produce tool blanks. One of the better known processes for the production of blanks in the Upper Palaeolithic is extraction by a double longitudinal groove, observed only in the Gravettian. Aurignacian artefacts indicate that during this period blanks were obtained through a procedure of longitudinal fracturing (splitting) or diffuse percussion fracturing. The manner of implementing these procedures is, however, still poorly known. In order to better characterise this stage in the manufacturing of blanks for antler points, we conducted an experimental study. Based on a thorough analysis of the Spanish archaeological materials, we tested the procedure of fracturing by indirect percussion on deer antler. The results provide new criteria for the identification of blanks and their manufacturing processes. They also emphasize the possibility of predetermining the size of the blank and, consequently, the size of future projectile point.

Lumbar lordosis of extinct hominins, di E. Been, A. Gómez-Olivencia,, P. A. Kramer, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 147, Issue 1, pages 64–77, January 2012

The lordotic curvature of the lumbar spine (lumbar lordosis) in humans is a critical component in the ability to achieve upright posture and bipedal gait. Only general estimates of the lordotic angle (LA) of extinct hominins are currently available, most of which are based on the wedging of the vertebral bodies. Recently, a new method for calculating the LA in skeletal material has become available. This method is based on the relationship between the lordotic curvature and the orientation of the inferior articular processes relative to vertebral bodies in the lumbar spines of living primates. Using this relationship, we developed new regression models in order to calculate the LAs in hominins. The new models are based on primate group-means and were used to calculate the LAs in the spines of eight extinct hominins. The results were also compared with the LAs of modern humans and modern nonhuman apes. The lordotic angles of australopithecines (41° ± 4), H. erectus (45°) and fossil H. sapiens (54° ± 14) are similar to those of modern humans (51° ± 11). This analysis confirms the assumption that human-like lordotic curvature was a morphological change that took place during the acquisition of erect posture and bipedalism as the habitual form of locomotion. Neandertals have smaller lordotic angles (LA = 29° ± 4) than modern humans, but higher angles than nonhuman apes (22° ± 3). This suggests possible subtle differences in Neandertal posture and locomotion from that of modern humans. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

The Neanderthal Home: spatial and social behaviours, edited by María Gema Chacón Navarro, Manuel Vaquero and Eudald Carbonell - Volume 247, Pages 1-362 (9 January 2012) 

Avoidance of overheating and selection for both hair loss and bipedality in hominins, di G. D. Ruxton, D. M. Wilkinson, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), December 27, 2011 vol. 108 no. 52 20965-20969 

Two frequently debated aspects of hominin evolution are the development of upright bipedal stance and reduction in body hair. It has long been argued, on the basis of heat-balance models, that thermoregulation might have been important in the evolution of both of these traits. Previous models were based on a stationary individual standing in direct sunlight; here we extend this approach to consider a walking hominin, having argued that walking is more thermally challenging than remaining still. Further, stationary activities may be more compatible with shade seeking than activities (such as foraging) involving travel across the landscape. Our model predictions suggest that upright stance probably evolved for nonthermoregulatory reasons. However, the thermoregulatory explanation for hair loss was supported. Specifically, we postulate progressive hair loss being selected and this allowing individuals to be active in hot, open environments initially around dusk and dawn without overheating. Then, as our ancestors’ hair loss increased and sweating ability improved over evolutionary time, the fraction of the day when they could remain active in such environments extended. Our model suggests that only when hair loss and sweating ability reach near-modern human levels could hominins have been active in the heat of the day in hot, open environments. 

Modern humans smell good, "Nature", Volume: 480, Page: 417, 22 December 2011

Did Homo sapiens benefit from the evolution of a fine sense of smell? Researchers who analysed the shape of fossil skulls from Neanderthals, modern humans and their ancestors say that the idea is plausible. Markus Bastir at the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid and his colleagues used three-dimensional surface-shape analysis to measure the internal dimensions of 14 skulls. They found shape differences suggestive of larger olfactory bulbs and temporal lobes in the area where the base of the brain would have rested in H. sapiens compared with other hominins.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder in Prehistory, di C. Pickard, B, Pickard, C. Bonsall, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", October 2011, 21: pp 357-364

Individuals with ‘extraordinary’ or ‘different’ minds have been suggested to be central to invention and the spread of new ideas in prehistory, shaping modern human behaviour and conferring an evolutionary advantage at population level. In this article the potential for neuropsychiatric conditions such as autistic spectrum disorders to provide this difference is explored, and the ability of the archaeological record to provide evidence of human behaviour is discussed. Specific reference is made to recent advances in the genetics of these conditions, which suggest that neuropsychiatric disorders represent a non-advantageous, pathological extreme of the human mind and are likely a by-product rather than a cause of human cognitive evolution.

Astronomy in the Upper Palaeolithic? di B. Hayden, S. Villeneuve, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", October 2011, 21: pp 331-355

Beginning with Alexander Marshack's interpretation of engraved lines as lunar calendrical notations, a number of highly controversial claims have been made concerning the possible astronomical significance of Upper Palaeolithic images. These claims range from lunar notations, to solstice observances in caves, to constellation representations. Given the rare nature of artefacts and images that lend themselves to such interpretations, these claims are generally difficult to evaluate on the basis of archaeological data alone. However, comparative ethnology can provide at least a way of assessing the plausibility of such astronomical claims. If the premise is accepted that at least some of the Upper Palaeolithic groups were complex hunter-gatherers, then astronomical observances, or the lack of them, among ethnographic complex hunter-gatherers can help indicate whether astronomical observations were likely to have taken place among Upper Palaeolithic complex hunter-gatherers. A survey of the literature shows that detailed solstice observances were common among complex hunter-gatherers, often associated with the keeping of calendars and the scheduling of major ceremonies. Moreover, aggrandizers in complex hunter-gatherer societies often form ‘secret societies’ in which esoteric astronomical knowledge is developed. The existence of calendrical notations and secluded meeting places for secret-society members are suggested to be at least plausible interpretations for a number of Upper Palaeolithic caves and images.

La storia del fuoco e dei nostri antenati "piromani", "Le Scienze", 21 dicembre 2011

Uno studio ha ricostruito la storia della capacità di controllo del fuoco della nostra specie e dell'uso che ne ha fatto per modificare l'ambiente, scoprendo che l'imponente contributo che danno oggi gli incendi di origine antropica all'emissione di gas serra non raggiunge comunque il picco prodotto fra 40.000 e 4000 anni fa dai nostri lontani antenati. Incendi e disboscamenti sono all'origine di una quota significativa - si stima il 20 per cento circa - delle emissioni globali di gas serra, quota di cui è quasi totalmente responsabile, tanto per cambiare, l'uomo. Una ricerca appena pubblicata sui "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" suggerisce però che - almeno per quanto riguarda le emissioni da incendi e alterazioni del paesaggio - non sia la prima volta che la nostra specie scatena sconvolgimenti planetari. Sembrerebbe anzi che i nostri antichi antenati siano riusciti a fare di peggio, almeno in Africa. Questo risultato emerge da una ricostruzione, condotta da ricercatori del Council for Scientific and Industrial Research del Sud Africa e della Princeton University, della storia della gestione umana del fuoco fin dalla più remota antichità. Per portare a termine il loro studio, i ricercatori hanno sviluppato un modello dei regimi degli incendi (ossia delle modalità e dei tempi con cui si sviluppano e propagano) che integra le informazioni sulla fisica della propagazione del fuoco, l'effetto degli esseri umani sulle diverse componenti di propagazione del fuoco, e dati paleo-ecologici, concentrandosi su quanto è avvenuto in Africa, il continente con la più lunga storia continua di uso umano del fuoco. Gli autori - Sally Archibald, A. Carla Staver e Simon A. Levin - hanno studiato in che modo i cambiamenti nella densità della popolazione, nella possibilità di creare il fuoco e nell'espansione delle culture agro-pastorali, hanno alterato la portata e la distribuzione stagionale degli incendi da quando l'uomo si è presentato sulla scena e ha iniziato a diffondersi nel continente africano. Nelle ricostruzioni finora proposte, l'enfasi maggiore era stata posta sugli effetti della densità demografica sulla frequenza di accensione dei fuochi, ma il modello sviluppato dagli autori suggerisce che questo fattore sia stato meno importante dei cambiamenti che sarebbero avvenuti quando gli esseri umani impararono ad accendere fuochi nella stagione secca, quando cioè non vi sono i fulmini temporaleschi. e a trasformare il paesaggio per utilizzare il suolo a fini di pascolo e agricoltura. In particolare i ricercatori hanno distinto sei fasi di cambiamento nei regimi degli incendi. Nella prima fase, che si può datare a prima di un milione e mezzo di anni fa, l'unica forma di accensione del fuoco disponibile era la caduta dei fulmini. In una seconda fase (da 1,5 milioni a 300.000 anni fa), i nostri antenati hanno probabilmente migliorato la capacità di gestione del fuoco e aumentato la frequenza degli incendi, pur continuando a far uso dei fulmini come fonte primaria per l'accensione, senza però alterare la "stagione della combustione", ossia il periodo dell'anno in cui si manifestano incendi di origine naturale. Nella terza fase, fra 300.000 e 70.000 anni fa, avrebbero invece iniziato a modificare la stagione della combustione grazie all'acquisita capacità di produrre il fuoco indipendentemente dai fulmini. La quarta fase, da 70.000 a 4000 anni fa, è quella in cui si assiste a un'espansione della popolazione umana e al conseguente aumento di accensioni durante tutto l'anno. La quinta fase, fra 4000 e 200 anni fa, si caratterizza per la diffusione in Africa dell'agro-pastorizia, quando gli esseri umani hanno alterato sia la massa combustibile (attraverso il pascolo) sia le aree in cui questa massa era distribuita (attraverso la coltivazione). Questo effetto si è amplificato nel corso della sesta fase e ultima fase, per effetto della rapida espansione della popolazione. Stando alla modellizzazione e ai dati raccolti sul paleo-carbonio, nella sesta fase, che arriva fino a oggi, si è assistito a un deciso aumento della superficie bruciata di savane e foreste in Africa, nonché della quantità di anidride carbonica emessa, stando alla modellizzazione e ai dati raccolti sul paleo-carbonio. Tuttavia, il picco di emissioni e di alterazioni sarebbe stato raggiunto ben prima, vale a dire in un periodo compreso fra i 40.000 e i 4000 anni fa. Nella prima fase, che si può datare a prima di un milione e mezzo di anni fa, l'unica forma di accensione del fuoco disponibile era la caduta dei fulmini. In una seconda fase (da 1,5 milioni a 300.000 anni fa), i nostri antenati hanno probabilmente migliorato la capacità di gestione del fuoco e aumentato la frequenza degli incendi, pur continuando a far uso dei fulmini come fonte primaria per l'accensione, senza però alterare la "stagione della combustione", ossia il periodo dell'anno in cui si manifestano incendi di origine naturale. Nella terza fase, fra 300.000 e 70.000 anni fa, avrebbero invece iniziato a modificare la stagione della combustione grazie all'acquisita capacità di produrre il fuoco indipendentemente dai fulmini. La quarta fase, da 70.000 a 4000 anni fa, è quella in cui si assiste a un'espansione della popolazione umana e al conseguente aumento di accensioni durante tutto l'anno. La quinta fase, fra 4000 e 200 anni fa, si caratterizza per la diffusione in Africa dell'agro-pastorizia, quando gli esseri umani hanno alterato sia la massa combustibile (attraverso il pascolo) sia le aree in cui questa massa era distribuita (attraverso la coltivazione). Questo effetto si è amplificato nel corso della sesta fase e ultima fase, per effetto della rapida espansione della popolazione. Stando alla modellizzazione e ai dati raccolti sul paleo-carbonio, nella sesta fase, che arriva fino a oggi, si è assistito a un deciso aumento della superficie bruciata di savane e foreste in Africa, nonché della quantità di anidride carbonica emessa, stando alla modellizzazione e ai dati raccolti sul paleo-carbonio. Tuttavia, il picco di emissioni e di alterazioni sarebbe stato raggiunto ben prima, vale a dire in un periodo compreso fra i 40.000 e i 4000 anni fa. 

· Evolution of human-driven fire regimes in Africa, di S. Archibald, A.C, Staver, S. A. Levin, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS) Early edition, December 19, 2011 

Nonlinear detection of paleoclimate-variability transitions possibly related to human evolution, di J. F. Donges, R. V. Donner, M. H. Trauth, N. Marwan, H. J. Schellnhuber, J. Kurths, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS),  December 20, 2011 vol. 108 no. 51 20422-20427 

Potential paleoclimatic driving mechanisms acting on human evolution present an open problem of cross-disciplinary scientific interest. The analysis of paleoclimate archives encoding the environmental variability in East Africa during the past 5 Ma has triggered an ongoing debate about possible candidate processes and evolutionary mechanisms. In this work, we apply a nonlinear statistical technique, recurrence network analysis, to three distinct marine records of terrigenous dust flux. Our method enables us to identify three epochs with transitions between qualitatively different types of environmental variability in North and East Africa during the (i) Middle Pliocene (3.35–3.15 Ma B.P.), (ii) Early Pleistocene (2.25–1.6 Ma B.P.), and (iii) Middle Pleistocene (1.1–0.7 Ma B.P.). A deeper examination of these transition periods reveals potential climatic drivers, including (i) large-scale changes in ocean currents due to a spatial shift of the Indonesian throughflow in combination with an intensification of Northern Hemisphere glaciation, (ii) a global reorganization of the atmospheric Walker circulation induced in the tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean, and (iii) shifts in the dominating temporal variability pattern of glacial activity during the Middle Pleistocene, respectively. A reexamination of the available fossil record demonstrates statistically significant coincidences between the detected transition periods and major steps in hominin evolution. This result suggests that the observed shifts between more regular and more erratic environmental variability may have acted as a trigger for rapid change in the development of humankind in Africa. 

Antemortem trauma and survival in the late Middle Pleistocene human cranium from Maba, South China, di Xiu-Jie Wu, L. A. Schepartz, Wu Liu, Erik Trinkaus, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), December 6, 2011 vol. 108 no. 49 19558-19562 

Paleopathological assessment of the late Middle Pleistocene archaic human cranium from Maba, South China, has documented a right frontal squamous exocranially concave and ridged lesion with endocranial protrusion. Differential diagnosis indicates that it resulted from localized blunt force trauma, due to an accident or, more probably, interhuman aggression. As such it joins a small sample of pre-last glacial maximum Pleistocene human remains with probable evidence of humanly induced trauma. Its remodeled condition also indicates survival of a serious pathological condition, a circumstance that is increasingly documented for archaic and modern Homo through the Pleistocene. 

Paléolithique supérieur - L'Anthropologie - Volume 115, Issue 5, Pages 569-648 (November-December 2011) 

Révision taphonomique et techno-typologique des deux ensembles attribués au Châtelperronien de la Roche-à-Pierrot à Saint-Césaire - La frontière entre le Châtelperronien et l’Uluzzien : analyse comparative des typologies lithiques sur la base des dernières découvertes - Le Paléolithique supérieur de la Turquie. Essai de synthèse - Réflexion sur l’extension de l’Ibéromaurusien au Maghreb à la fin du Pléistocène - Le site des Vachons : étude de la partie gravettienne de la collection de l’IPH

A geometric morphometric analysis of hominin upper premolars. Shape variation and morphological integration, di 
A. Gómez-Robles, M. Martinón-Torres, J. María Bermúdez de Castro, L. Prado-Simón, Juan Luis Arsuaga, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 61, Issue 6, December 2011, Pages 688-702

This paper continues the series of articles initiated in 2006 that analyse hominin dental crown morphology by means of geometric morphometric techniques. The detailed study of both upper premolar occlusal morphologies in a comprehensive sample of hominin fossils, including those coming from the Gran Dolina-TD6 and Sima de los Huesos sites from Atapuerca, Spain, complement previous works on lower first and second premolars and upper first molars. A morphological gradient consisting of the change from asymmetric to symmetric upper premolars and a marked reduction of the lingual cusp in recent Homo species has been observed in both premolars. Although percentages of correct classification based on upper premolar morphologies are not very high, significant morphological differences between Neanderthals (and European middle Pleistocene fossils) and modern humans have been identified, especially in upper second premolars. The study of morphological integration between premolar morphologies reveals significant correlations that are weaker between upper premolars than between lower ones and significant correlations between antagonists. These results have important implications for understanding the genetic and functional factors underlying dental phenotypic variation and covariation.

Dental microwear texture analysis and diet in the Dmanisi hominins, di H. Pontzer, J. R. Scott, D. Lordkipanidze, Peter S. Ungar, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 61, Issue 6, December 2011, Pages 683-687 

Reconstructions of foraging behavior and diet are central to our understanding of fossil hominin ecology and evolution. Current hypotheses for the evolution of the genus Homo invoke a change in foraging behavior to include higher quality foods. Recent microwear texture analyses of fossil hominin teeth have suggested that the evolution of Homo erectus may have been marked by a transition to a more variable diet. In this study, we used microwear texture analysis to examine the occlusal surface of 2 molars from Dmanisi, a 1.8 million year old fossil hominin site in the Republic of Georgia. The Dmanisi molars were characterized by a moderate degree of surface complexity (Asfc), low textural fill volume (Tfv), and a relatively low scale of maximum complexity (Smc), similar to specimens of early African H. erectus. While caution must be used in drawing conclusions from this small sample (n = 2), these results are consistent with continuity in diet as H. erectus expanded into Eurasia.

Craniofacial morphology of Homo floresiensis: Description, taxonomic affinities, and evolutionary implication, di Y. Kaifu, H. Baba, T. Sutikna, M. J. Morwood, D. Kubo, E. Wahyu Saptomo, Jatmiko, R. Due Awe, Tony Djubiantono, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 61, Issue 6, December 2011, Pages 644-682 

This paper describes in detail the external morphology of LB1/1, the nearly complete and only known cranium of Homo floresiensis. Comparisons were made with a large sample of early groups of the genus Homo to assess primitive, derived, and unique craniofacial traits of LB1 and discuss its evolution. Principal cranial shape differences between H. floresiensis and Homo sapiens are also explored metrically. The LB1 specimen exhibits a marked reductive trend in its facial skeleton, which is comparable to the H. sapiens condition and is probably associated with reduced masticatory stresses. However, LB1 is craniometrically different from H. sapiens showing an extremely small overall cranial size, and the combination of a primitive low and anteriorly narrow vault shape, a relatively prognathic face, a rounded oval foramen that is greatly separated anteriorly from the carotid canal/jugular foramen, and a unique, tall orbital shape. Whereas the neurocranium of LB1 is as small as that of some Homo habilis specimens, it exhibits laterally expanded parietals, a weak suprameatal crest, a moderately flexed occipital, a marked facial reduction, and many other derived features that characterize post-habilis Homo. Other craniofacial characteristics of LB1 include, for example, a relatively narrow frontal squama with flattened right and left sides, a marked frontal keel, posteriorly divergent temporal lines, a posteriorly flexed anteromedial corner of the mandibular fossa, a bulbous lateral end of the supraorbital torus, and a forward protruding maxillary body with a distinct infraorbital sulcus. LB1 is most similar to early Javanese Homo erectus from Sangiran and Trinil in these and other aspects. We conclude that the craniofacial morphology of LB1 is consistent with the hypothesis that H. floresiensis evolved from early Javanese H. erectus with dramatic island dwarfism. However, further field discoveries of early hominin skeletal remains from Flores and detailed analyses of the finds are needed to understand the evolutionary history of this endemic hominin species.

Anche l'olfatto tra i vantaggi evolutivi per l'uomo moderno, "Le Scienze", 14 dicembre 2011

Uno studio ha permesso di confrontare i crani di alcune specie di ominini tra cui Homo sapiens, H. neanderthalensis e H. erectus: i modelli tridimensionali ottenuti mostrano che alcune aree cerebrali, tra cui i lobi temporali e i bulbi olfattivi, sono molto più sviluppate nell'uomo moderno. Questo fa ipotizzare che le due aree funzionino in modo sinergico e siano state evolutivamente più importanti di quanto ritenuto finora. Il nostro senso dell'olfatto potrebbe aver rappresentato per gli esseri umani moderni un vantaggio evolutivo sulle altre specie umane, come i neandertaliani, simile a quello del linguaggio: è questa la conclusione di uno studio apparso sulle pagine della rivista “Nature Communications”, a firma di un gruppo internazionale di ricerca tra cui Markus Bastir e Antonio Rosas del gruppo di paleoantropologia del Dipartimento di paleobiologia del Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales di Madrid, in Spagna, e Giorgio Manzi, del Dipartimento di biologia ambientale della Sapienza Università di Roma. Nel corso dello studio, sono stati analizzati i crani di alcune specie di ominini tra cui Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis e Homo erectus. I ricercatori hanno scoperto che alcune aree del cervello, e in particolare i lobi temporali – sede delle capacità cognitive, del linguaggio, della memoria e delle funzioni sociali – e i bulbi olfattivi sono più voluminosi in Homo sapiens che nelle altre specie umane. Rispetto a Homo neanderthalensis, per esempio, l'incremento è del 12 per cento. Ciò porta a ipotizzare che queste due aree funzionino in modo sinergico e che siano state, per l'evoluzione degli esseri umani moderni, più importanti di quanto ritenuto finora. “Abbiamo utilizzato un nuovo metodo molto preciso per misurare e confrontare i volumi delle aree all'interno dei crani fossili risalenti fino a 2 milioni di anni fa: ciò ha permesso di ottenere modelli tridimensionali che hanno consentito a loro volta di rivelare i dettagli delle strutture interne”, ha spiegato Kruszynski. “In Homo sapiens si osserva, in confronto dei suoi predecessori, una sorprendente variazione della struttura interna nelle aree che ospitano le regioni olfattive e temporali." Queste variazioni non sono apparse così evidenti nei crani di Neanderthal studiati: i differenti cammini evolutivi di queste due specie potrebbero essere parte del processo che porta ai due distinti schemi di H. neanderthalensis e H. sapiens. Finora, il senso dell'olfatto è stato considerato meno importante per l'uomo rispetto agli altri sensi. Nella visione tradizionale, gli esseri umani hanno un olfatto ridotto rispetto ad alti primati, e di conseguenza, rispetto ai primi esseri umani. Tuttavia, i dati di questo studio suggeriscono l'opposto: che in realtà gli esseri umani moderni abbiano un senso dell'olfatto migliore. “Questa circostanza potrebbe essere dovuta alla più ampia gamma di ambienti in cui siamo vissuti e alla maggiore varietà di cibi che consumiamo; inoltre, potrebbe avere un'importanza nell'incremento delle interazioni sociali complesse”.

· Evolution of the base of the brain in highly encephalized human species, di M. Bastir et alii, "Nature Communications", 2, Article number 588, 13 December 2011

· Il segreto del successo di Homo sapiens? Un cervello diverso, di A. Danti, "National Geographic Italia", 15 dicembre 2011

Avoidance of overheating and selection for both hair loss and bipedality in hominins, di G. D. Ruxtona, D. M. Wilkinson, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS) Early edition, 12 December 2011

Two frequently debated aspects of hominin evolution are the development of upright bipedal stance and reduction in body hair. It has long been argued, on the basis of heat-balance models, that thermoregulation might have been important in the evolution of both of these traits. Previous models were based on a stationary individual standing in direct sunlight; here we extend this approach to consider a walking hominin, having argued that walking is more thermally challenging than remaining still. Further, stationary activities may be more compatible with shade seeking than activities (such as foraging) involving travel across the landscape. Our model predictions suggest that upright stance probably evolved for nonthermoregulatory reasons. However, the thermoregulatory explanation for hair loss was supported. Specifically, we postulate progressive hair loss being selected and this allowing individuals to be active in hot, open environments initially around dusk and dawn without overheating. Then, as our ancestors’ hair loss increased and sweating ability improved over evolutionary time, the fraction of the day when they could remain active in such environments extended. Our model suggests that only when hair loss and sweating ability reach near-modern human levels could hominins have been active in the heat of the day in hot, open environments. 

· ScienceShot: Standing Tall to Beat the Heat?, di T, Watson, "ScienceNOW", 12 December 2011

Middle Stone Age Bedding Construction and Settlement Patterns at Sibudu, South Africa, di L. Wadley, C. Sievers, M. Bamford, P. Goldberg, F. Berna, C. Miller,"Science", 9 December 2011, Vol. 334, no. 6061, pp. 1388-1391 

The Middle Stone Age (MSA) is associated with early behavioral innovations, expansions of modern humans within and out of Africa, and occasional population bottlenecks. Several innovations in the MSA are seen in an archaeological sequence in the rock shelter Sibudu (South Africa). At ~77,000 years ago, people constructed plant bedding from sedges and other monocotyledons topped with aromatic leaves containing insecticidal and larvicidal chemicals. Beginning at ~73,000 years ago, bedding was burned, presumably for site maintenance. By ~58,000 years ago, bedding construction, burning, and other forms of site use and maintenance intensified, suggesting that settlement strategies changed. Behavioral differences between ~77,000 and 58,000 years ago may coincide with population fluctuations in Africa. 

· Oldest Known Mattress Found; Slept Whole Family, di J. Owen, "National Geographic News", December 8, 2011

· Earliest Human Beds Found in South Africa di M. Balter, "ScienceNOW", 8 December 2011

· Il materasso più antico del mondo, di James Owen, "National Geographic Italia", 12 dicembre 2011

Il primo out of Africa? Oltre 100.000 anni fa, in Arabia, "Le Scienze", 2 dicembre 2011

Finora, facendo affidamento sui dati genetici delle popolazioni attuali e sul loro tasso di divergenza, si riteneva che i primi esseri umani fossero fuoriusciti dall'Africa fra i 70.000 e i 40.000 anni fa. Solo alcuni episodici, recentissimi ritrovamenti avevano messo in dubbio questa conclusione, ma ora la scoperta di alcuni siti archeologici con oltre un centinaio di manufatti litici - amigdale e ciottoli scheggiati - fornisce prove sostanziali della presenza di popolazioni umane nella regione meridionale della penisola arabica in un periodo molto precedente. I siti, portati alla luce da un gruppo internazionale di archeologi, si trovano in Oman, nella regione di Dhofar e risalirebbero a oltre 100.000 anni fa e i numerosi reperti rinvenuti mostrano un apparentamento con quelli che appartengono al cosiddetto tecnocomplesso del Paleolitico medio nubiano. "Dopo un decennio di ricerche in Arabia meridionale alla ricerca di qualche indizio che potesse aiutarci a capire la prima espansione umana, finalmente abbiamo trovato la pistola fumante della loro uscita dall'Africa", dice Jeffrey Rose della Università di Birmingham, primo firmatario dell'articolo pubblicato su "PLoS ONE" in cui viene descritta la ricerca. "Ciò che è particolarmente interessante, è che la risposta ottenuta mostra uno scenario che non è stato quasi mai preso in considerazione." Utilizzando una tecnica chiamata luminescenza otticamente stimolata (OSL) per datare uno dei siti in Oman, i ricercatori hanno determinato che gli "artigiani" nubiani sarebbero arrivati in Arabia circa 106 mila anni fa, se non prima. Ancora più sorprendente, è il fatto che tutti i siti "nubiani" sono stati trovati nell'interno, in contrasto con la teoria attualmente accettata secondo la quale i primi gruppi umani si sarebbero mossi lungo la costa meridionale.  "Ci troviamo di fronte a un esempio di scollamento tra modelli teorici rispetto a prove reali sul terreno", dice Anthony Marks della Southern Methodist University, coautore dell'articolo. "L'ipotesi dell'espansione costiera sembra ragionevole sulla carta, ma non c'è alcuna prova archeologica a suffragarla. La genetica prevedere un'espansione fuori dall'Africa successiva a 70.000 anni fa, eppure quest'anno abbiamo visto la pubblicazione di tre distinte scoperte che provano la presenza dell'uomo in Arabia, migliaia se non decine di migliaia di anni prima di tale data." I siti "nubiani" in Oman risalgono a un periodo umido della storia climatica dell'Arabia, quando piogge abbondanti su tutta la penisola avevano trasformato i suoi deserti in praterie. "Per un po' - osserva Rose - l'Arabia meridionale è diventata un paradiso verdeggiante ricco di risorse: grossa selvaggina, acqua dolce in abbondanza e selce di alta qualità con cui fare utensili di pietra". Non ancora padroni delle innovative tecniche di pesca, sembra che questi pionieri si spostassero lungo i corsi d'acqua vivendo prevalentemente di caccia opportunistica. Resta ancora da capire, attraverso ulteriori ricerche archeologiche, se questi pionieri siano riusciti a sopravvivere alle condizioni di estrema aridità che sopravvennero in Arabia nel corso della successiva era glaciale. 

· The Nubian Complex of Dhofar, Oman: An African Middle Stone Age Industry in Southern Arabia, di J. I. Rose et alii, "PlosONE", 30 november 2011

· Ancient Tools Point to Early Human Migration Into Arabia, "Le Scienze NOW", 30 November 2011

Diet sculpts human jaws, "Nature", Volume: 480, Page: 9, 01 December 2011

Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, compared hundreds of jaw and skull measurements from 11 populations around the world that practised varying degrees of hunting, fishing, foraging and farming. No matter what their home or their ancestry, the hunter-gatherers had longer, narrower mandibles than humans who subsisted on crops, dairy or farm animals.

La Venere di Frasassi, di A. Danti, "National Geographic Italia", 1 dicembre 2011

Nel 2007, nella Grotta di Frasassi, nelle Marche, venne ritrovata una statuetta femminile, conosciuta oggi come Venere di Frasassi. Secondo gli studiosi la Venere, che possiede le caratteristiche stilistiche tipiche delle statuette femminili del Paleolitico superiore, potrebbe essere stata realizzata nel periodo Gravettiano o al massimo nell’Epigravettiano antico, cioè circa 20 mila anni fa. L’incredibile ritrovamento della statuetta arricchisce in maniera significativa il panorama della produzione artistica del Paleolitico superiore in Italia, e rappresenta una delle più antiche e importanti testimonianze della presenza umana nelle Marche. La Venere di Frasassi attualmente è al centro di uno studio multidisciplinare che coinvolge diversi studiosi italiani delle Università di Roma, Siena e Ferrara, guidati da Mara Silvestrini della Soprintendenza per i Beni archeologici delle Marche. I risultati preliminari dello studio della Venere sono stati presentati all’ultimo Congresso IFRAO (International Federation of Rock Art Organization) che si è tenuto in Francia, a Tarascon-sur-Ariège, nel settembre del 2010, e a breve saranno pubblicati negli atti del convegno (...)

Fu il sesso con i sapiens a far estinguere i Neandertal? di B. Handwerk,"National Geographic Italia", 29 novembre 2011

Secondo i ricercatori dell’Arizona State University e della University of Colorado di Denver, quando i nostri lontani cugini neandertaliani iniziarono ad avventurarsi in territori sempre più lontani per affrontare i difficili cambiamenti climatici, gli incontri con la nostra specie si fecero sempre più frequenti: nacquero così delle generazioni “miste”, come suggerisce il nuovo studio. Generazione dopo generazione, il DNA dei Neandertal si sarebbe disperso, assorbito da quello delle popolazioni di Homo sapiens, molto più numerose. "Se si aumenta la mobilità dei gruppi nei luoghi in cui vivono, si finisce per aumentare il flusso genico tra le due diverse popolazioni, finché una popolazione scompare e non esiste più come gruppo chiaramente distinto", dice il coautore dello studio C. Michael Barton, archeologo della School of Human Evolution and Social Change dell'Arizona State University (...)

Mostra: "Homo sapiens. La grande storia della diversità umana"

Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Azienda Speciale Palaexpo, 11 novembre 2011 - 12 febbraio 2012 

Duecentomila anni fa Homo sapiens ha iniziato, da una piccola valle dell'odierna Etiopia, il viaggio che lo ha portato a colonizzare l'intero pianeta e a convivere con altre specie umane formando la grande varietà di popolazioni e di culture che conosciamo. Per la prima volta un gruppo internazionale di scienziati, appartenenti a differenti discipline e coordinati da Luigi Luca Cavalli Sforza, ha ricostruito le radici e i percorsi del popolamento umano. Genetisti, linguisti, antropologi e paleoantropologi hanno unito i risultati delle loro ricerche in un meraviglioso affresco della storia dell'evoluzione umana. Il risultato è una mostra internazionale, interattiva e multimediale che racconta in sei sezioni le storie e le avventure degli straordinari spostamenti, in larga parte ancora sconosciuti, che hanno generato il mosaico della diversità umana.

When Humans First Plied the Deep Blue Sea, di M. Balter, "Science NOW", on 24 November 2011

In a shallow cave on an island north of Australia, researchers have made a surprising discovery: the 42,000-year-old bones of tuna and sharks that were clearly brought there by human hands. The find, reported online today in Science, provides the strongest evidence yet that people were deep-sea fishing so long ago. And those maritime skills may have allowed the inhabitants of this region to colonize lands far and wide. The earliest known boats, found in France and the Netherlands, are only 10,000 years old, but archaeologists know they don't tell the whole story. Wood and other common boat-building materials don't preserve well in the archaeological record. And the colonization of Australia and the nearby islands of Southeast Asia, which began at least 45,000 years ago, required sea crossings of at least 30 kilometers. Yet whether these early migrants put out to sea deliberately in boats or simply drifted with the tides in rafts meant for near-shore exploration has been a matter of fierce debate (...)

· Pelagic Fishing at 42,000 Years Before the Present and the Maritime Skills of Modern Humans, di S. O’Connor, R. Ono, C. Clarkson, "Science", 25 November 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6059 pp. 1117-1121 

· Archaeologists land world's oldest fish hook, di Z. Corbyn, "Nature news", 24 November 2011

Online non destructive archaeology; the archaeological park of Egnazia (Southern Italy) study case, di M. C. Caggiani, M. Ciminale, D. Gallo, M. Noviello, F. Salvemini, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 67-75 

In summer 2009 a high resolution magnetic survey was executed inside the archaeological park of Egnazia (Southern Italy) for the subsurface mapping of buried features (“invisible archaeology”). Furthermore, a database was implemented in order to collect already-published data concerning the important excavated areas (“visible archaeology”). The magnetic maps provided a detailed plan as well as the geometry of the subterranean structures: with the aim of exploiting at best the capability of this important information, geophysical data were inserted into a Geographical Information System (GIS) comprising both other available spatial data (satellite image, aerial oblique photos, etc…) and some records of the database (i.e. photos of the main excavated structures, short descriptions, archaeological monographs, etc…). The information system, which was emulated and shared online at , supplies a synoptic multi-layered view of the area where the visible and invisible archaeology show their mutual relationships and the complex interactions both with elements of the landscape and the actual human activities (i.e. the modern road network, the coast line, etc…). Within this integrated information tool, the “invisible archaeology” detected through the non invasive survey, offers fundamental information to improve the scientific knowledge on the ancient settlement in a landscape framework. At the same time, it appears clear how remotely-sensed data revealing the presence of buried features can play a strategic role both in the decision-making process and local policies, thus rendering the Archaeological Heritage (AH) management more effective in terms of scientific, social and economic assets. This important challenge could be better achieved if all the information gained were shared and accessible (in a free and/or protected mode) to whoever interested (archaeologists, universities and research institutions, superintendeces, public administrations, private enterprises, etc.). The actual work represents a pilot project aimed at extending systematically the above described activities to the study and management of AH in the whole Apulia region.

Charcoal scarcity in Epigravettian settlements with mammoth bone dwellings: the taphonomic evidence from Mezhyrich (Ukraine), di L. Marquer, V. Lebreton, T. Otto, H. Valladas, P. Haesaertsd E. Messager, D. Nuzhnyi, S. Péan, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 109-120 

Fuel management during the Paleolithic periods is an important issue to understand past human subsistence. Numerous Palaeolithic sites relate an abundance of burnt bones in hearths and an absence or scarcity of wood charcoals, which leads studies to focus on burnt bone remains and the use of bones in hearths. Few works take into account the micro-residues of wood charcoals which can still be present in hearth areas and excavated sediments. We studied the Epigravettian site with mammoth bone dwellings of Mezhyrich (Ukraine) previously characterized by its high content of burnt bones and an “absence” of wood charcoal during the so-called mammoth steppe. The presence or absence and proportions of both wood charcoals and burnt bones were quantified in macro-, meso- and microscale sediment size fractions by an image analysis method. Our results show that excavations during field-works at Mezhyrich give only a partial image of the original anthracological record and that most charcoal materials are lost with standard archaeological and anthracological approaches. The scarcity of charcoals in this site was possibly due to an important mass reduction accentuated by the addition of bones in hearths. By applying our protocol we recovered a significant amount of wood charcoals which provides the first 14C dates from charcoals at Mezhyrich. Numerous charcoals are identified contributing subsequent information about vegetation, environment and burning practices. They indicate, by comparison with pollen data already collected, the presence of forest patches in a mammoth steppe landscape, which might have influenced the collecting behavior of Epigravettian populations.

A radiocarbon chronology for the complete Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transitional sequence of Les Cottés (France), di S. Talamo, M. Soressi, M. Roussel, M. Richards, J. J. Hublin, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 175-183 

The Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition is the key period for our understanding of Neanderthal and modern human interactions in Europe. The site of Les Cottés in south-west France is one of the rare sites with a complete and well defined sequence covering this transition period. We undertook an extensive radiocarbon dating program on mammal bone which allows us to propose a chronological framework of five distinct phases dating from the Mousterian to the Early Aurignacian at this site. We found that the Mousterian and Châtelperronian industries are separated from the overlying Protoaurignacian by a gap of approximately 1000 calendar years. Based on a comparison with Upper Paleolithic sites in Europe we see an overlap in the ages of Châtelperronian industries and Aurignacian lithic assemblages, which are usually associated with Anatomical Modern Humans, which is consistent with an acculturation at distance model for these late Neanderthals. The Proto and Early Aurignacian appear contemporaneous indicating that this transition was rapid in this region. Anatomically Modern Humans are present at the site of Les Cottés at least at 39,500 cal BP roughly coincident with the onset of the cold phase Heinrich 4.

Palaeolithic dog skulls at the Gravettian Předmostí site, the Czech Republic, di M. Germonpré, M. Lázničková-Galetová,  M. V. Sablin, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 184-202 

Whether or not the wolf was domesticated during the early Upper Palaeolithic remains a controversial issue. We carried out detailed analyses of the skull material from the Gravettian Předmostí site, Czech Republic, to investigate the issue. Three complete skulls from Předmostí were identified as Palaeolithic dogs, characterized by short skull lengths, short snouts, and wide palates and braincases relative to wolves. One complete skull could be assigned to the group of Pleistocene wolves. Three other skulls could not be assigned to a reference group; these might be remains from hybrids or captive wolves. Modifications by humans of the skull and canine remains from the large canids of Předmostí indicate a specific relationship between humans and large canids.

Pleistocene Panthera leo spelaea (Goldfuss 1810) remains from the Balve cave (NW Germany) - a cave bear, hyena den and middle palaeolithic human cave -and review of the Sauerland Karst lion cave sites, di C. G. Diedrich, "Quaternaire", Vol. 22/2 | 2011, p. 105-127 

Pleistocene remains of Panthera leo spelaea (Goldfuss 1810) from Balve Cave (Sauerland Karst, NW-Germany), one of the most famous Middle Palaeolithic Neandertalian cave sites in Europe, and also a hyena and cave bear den, belong to the most important felid sites of the Sauerland Karst. The stratigraphy, macrofaunal assemblages and Palaeolithic stone artefacts range from the final Saalian (late Middle Pleistocene, Acheulean) over the Middle Palaeolithic (Micoquian/Mousterian), and to the final Palaeolithic (Magdalénien) of the Weichselian (Upper Pleistocene). Most lion bones from Balve Cave can be identified as early to middle Upper Pleistocene in age. From this cave, a relatively large amount of hyena remains, and many chewed, and punctured herbivorous and carnivorous bones, especially those of woolly rhinoceros, indicate periodic den use of Crocuta crocuta spelaea. In addition to those of the Balve Cave, nearly all lion remains in the Sauerland Karst caves were found in hyena den bone assemblages, except those described here material from the Keppler Cave cave bear den. Late Pleistocene spotted hyenas imported most probably Panthera leo spelaea body parts, or scavenged on lion carcasses in caves, a suggestion which is supported by comparisons with other cave sites in the Sauerland Karst. The complex taphonomic situation of lion remains in hyena den bone assemblages and cave bear dens seem to have resulted from antagonistic hyena-lion conflicts and cave bear hunting by lions in caves, in which all cases lions may sometimes have been killed and finally consumed by hyenas. The lion remains, and not only in the Balve Cave seem to have been selected, as suggested by cranial and distal limb bone overrepresentations, which consist of 99 % of grown ups and with 58 % remains of dominantly females. Such limbs, and especially the pedal bone dominance, is not a criterion for "human hunt and fur import", on the contrary, at hyena dens all prey remains are overrepresented by distal leg remains, a fact also very well known in the case of horse remains. The only articulated lion cub skeleton remain in the Sauerland Karst from the Wilhelms Cave might indicate a hyena kill that seems to be imported into the much frequented cub raising hyena den site.

Contribution à la chronostratigraphie du gisement paléolithique inférieur de Menez-Dregan 1 (Plouhinec, Finistère, France), di M. Laforge, J. L. Monnier, "Quaternaire", Vol. 22/2 | 2011, p. 91-104

L'une des orientations majeures des recherches dans l'étude du site paléolithique inférieur de Menez Dregan 1 (Plouhinec) est de proposer une interprétation chronostratigraphique et paléoenvironnementale de l'histoire de cette grotte qui a connu une alternance d'occupations humaines et de venues marines. Des datations radiométriques ont été menées, mais les résultats divergent selon la méthode employée (RPE et TL). Cependant, la proximité d'une coupe à plus fort bilan sédimentaire (la falaise de Gwendrez) autorise des tentatives de corrélation entre ces différents dépôts par le biais d'une étude sédimentologique sur des niveaux sableux repères (dunes...). De nouveaux éléments permettent ainsi d'établir une chronostratigraphie plus précise du site et de contribuer à la validation des datations radiométriques. En effet, la coupe de Gwendrez conserve plusieurs paléosols et dépôts littoraux et laisse donc supposer une chronostratigraphie longue pour cette falaise. Ces résultats conduisent à privilégier les datations par RPE donnant notamment un âge holsteinien au complexe d'occupation 5 du site de Menez Dregan 1.

Trampling experiments at Cova Gran de Santa Linya, Pre-Pyrenees, Spain: their relevance for archaeological fabrics of the Upper–Middle Paleolithic assemblages, di A. Benito-Calvo,  J. Martínez-Moreno, R. Mora, M. Roy, X. Roda, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 38, Issue 12, December 2011, Pages 3652-3661

The study of fabrics, that is, the analysis of the orientation and slope of archaeological and sedimentary materials associated with the Middle Palaeolithic/Upper Palaeolithic (MP/UP) transition at Cova Gran shows substantial differences. Archaeological assemblages are characterised by greater isotropy in the fabrics than the sedimentary levels within which they are located, indicating that these differences may be generated by anthropic processes. One of the anthropogenic processes associated with horizontal and vertical displacement of archaeological artefacts is trampling and circulation caused by later occupations. In order to evaluate the effect of movement on materials, we undertook experiments simulating geological and archaeological conditions at Cova Gran. The results show that human trampling does not cause major isotropy in fabrics, but arranges archaeological assemblages towards planar or linear materials according to surface geometry. We were not able to replicate the fabric pattern of materials from the archaeological levels of Cova Gran, suggesting that they must be associated with the activities of human occupation at each level.

An exclusively hyena-collected bone assemblage in the Late Pleistocene of Sicily: taphonomy and stratigraphic context of the large mammal remains from San Teodoro Cave (North-Eastern Sicily, Italy), di G. Mangano, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 38, Issue 12, December 2011, Pages 3584-3595

A detailed taphonomic analysis of the large mammal assemblage from 1998 to 2006 excavations at San Teodoro Cave is presented, taking into account the stratigraphic context of the deposits. Three not strictly contemporary fossiliferous levels having different lithological features have been detected, here named B-I, B-II, and B-III. Fossil remains are prevalently accumulated in B-I and B-II. The three levels are characterized by evidence of Crocuta crocuta spelaea occupation, represented by their skeletal remains, coprolites, and distinctive damages on the bones, similar to fossil and modern spotted hyena dens from Europe and Africa. A differential distribution of coprolites and small digested bones, probably due to different humidity conditions, has been recognized in B-I and B-II, and can be related to different topographic locations within the cave or to different climate conditions during the sedimentation phases. The very low density of fossil remains in B-III, which is the oldest level, could indicate an area that was less inhabited by hyenas, probably due to geomorphological conditions. Taphonomic comparison of the three fossiliferous levels of the San Teodoro Cave deposits points to a long-term, perhaps cyclic, occupation of the cave by hyenas and confirms the cave as one of the most important Pleistocene hyena dens in Europe.

The oldest handaxes in Europe: fact or artefact? di J. M. Jiménez-Arenas, M. Santonja, M. Botella, P. Palmqvist, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 38, Issue 12, December 2011, Pages 3340-3349

Hominin presence is well documented in a number of Early Pleistocene and early Middle Pleistocene European localities. However, the evidence currently available indicates that Acheulean handaxes spread in the fluvial basins of Western Europe during MIS 11, ∼400 kyr ago, associated with Homo heidelbergensis, although a number of early Middle Pleistocene Acheulean assemblages have been dated from MIS 16 onwards. For this reason, the magnetostratigraphic dating in Southeast Spain of two archaeological localities, the open-air site of Solana del Zamborino (SZ) and the rock-shelter site of Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Quípar (EQ), that put back the appearance of handaxes to the Early-Middle Pleistocene limit (Scott and Gibert, 2009) is of particular interest, as the new ages suggest that H. heidelbergensis was a contemporary of H. antecessor that had the ability to produce Levallois debitage and to control fire during the Early-Middle Pleistocene transition. However, we have detected a number of errors in the interpretation of the archaeological assemblage from the first site as well as striking discrepancies with the original faunal lists published for both localities, with several large mammal species that are omitted or arbitrarily changed to make the assemblages consistent with the new ages deduced from magnetostratigraphy. For this reason, we suggest that: (1) the finding of reverse polarity in the sediments sampled for paleomagnetism in SZ may simply record one of the polarity reversals that took place during the Brunhes Chron, although the use by Scott and Gibert (2009) of a composite stratigraphic column precludes correlating these levels with a specific reversal; and (2) the fauna and tools of EQ correspond to the late Middle Pleistocene sedimentary infillings of this karst site, while the samples taken for paleomagnetism belong to a previous sedimentary cycle during the Matuyama Chron. Such interpretations would be in better agreement with the age estimates provided by biostratigraphy and also with the currently accepted chronology for the appearance of Acheulean industries in Western Europe.

Differentiation of archaeological ivory and bone materials by micro-PIXE/PIGE with emphasis on two Upper Palaeolithic key sites: Abri Pataud and Isturitz, France, di K. Müller, I. Reiche, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 38, Issue 12, December 2011, Pages 3234-3243

The exact identification of the raw material used for ancient bone objects is the basis to understand the manner in which humans in ancient times chose the medium for the manufacture of objects. The material identification is not trivial in the case of highly modified surfaces – worked by man or degraded by diagenesis. Even if bone materials are morphologically quite different, they show in general a very similar chemical composition. Nevertheless, slight differences can be observed in their chemical composition on minor and trace level. These variations may be used as a marker of their exact nature, when other means such as morphological observations are limited. A large data base was built up by analysing different modern and archaeological osseous materials in order to define chemical markers for the identification of the raw materials used to manufacture objects. Micro-Proton Induced X-ray and Gamma-ray Emission (micro-PIXE/PIGE) was chosen to analyse the different bone materials as a non-invasive method is generally required for the study of ancient worked osseous objects. These analyses were performed at the particle accelerator AGLAE installed at the laboratory of the C2RMF, Paris. This paper presents the results obtained on about 150 objects made of different bone materials dating from the Palaeolithic to today and coming from various archaeological sites, mainly in France. Some chemical markers seem to be characteristic, such as the magnesium to calcium ratio for well preserved ivory on one hand and the fluorine content versus strontium to calcium ratio for bones of marine mammals on the other hand. The limits of this approach and the different parameters to consider for an identification of ancient bone and ivory material based on this method are particularly discussed in the case of Palaeolithic material from Abri Pataud and Isturitz, France.

GIS and paleoanthropology: Incorporating new approaches from the geospatial sciences in the analysis of primate and human evolution, di R.L. Anemone, G.C. Conroy, C.W. Emerson, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 146, Issue Supplement 53, pages 19–46, 2011

The incorporation of research tools and analytical approaches from the geospatial sciences is a welcome trend for the study of primate and human evolution. The use of remote sensing (RS) imagery and geographic information systems (GIS) allows vertebrate paleontologists, paleoanthropologists, and functional morphologists to study fossil localities, landscapes, and individual specimens in new and innovative ways that recognize and analyze the spatial nature of much paleoanthropological data. Whether one is interested in locating and mapping fossiliferous rock units in the field, creating a searchable and georeferenced database to catalog fossil localities and specimens, or studying the functional morphology of fossil teeth, bones, or artifacts, the new geospatial sciences provide an essential element in modern paleoanthropological inquiry. In this article we review recent successful applications of RS and GIS within paleoanthropology and related fields and argue for the importance of these methods for the study of human evolution in the twenty first century. We argue that the time has come for inclusion of geospatial specialists in all interdisciplinary field research in paleoanthropology, and suggest some promising areas of development and application of the methods of geospatial science to the science of human evolution. Yrbk Phys Anthropol 54:19–46, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Dental evidence for the diets of Plio-Pleistocene hominins, di P. S. Ungar, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 146, Issue Supplement 53, pages 47–62, 2011

Diet is fundamental to the interaction between an organism and its environment, and is therefore an important key to understanding ecology and evolution. It should come as no surprise then that paleoanthropologists have put a great deal of effort into reconstructing the diets of Plio-Pleistocene hominins. Most of this effort has focused on teeth; these durable parts of the digestive system are usually the most commonly preserved elements in vertebrate fossil assemblages. In this article, I review much of this work. Tooth size, occlusal morphology, enamel thickness, and microstructure provide evidence for the physical properties of the foods to which a species was adapted. Dental microwear can offer insights into the properties of foods that an individual ate on a day-to-day basis. Taken together, these lines of evidence can offer important insights into early hominin food choices and adaptations. New methods of analysis and theoretical perspectives are improving our understanding of the diets of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and early Homo, and promise further progress long intothe future. Yrbk Phys Anthropol 54:47–62, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Discovery of a horse engraving from Bruniquel, France, di L. M. Kaagan, P. G. Bahn, A. M. Lister, "Antiquity - Project Gallery", issue 330, vol. 85

There are many examples of Palaeolithic portable engravings that have been discovered, long after their excavation, among the collections stored in museums. For example, a remarkable pair of bear figures was spotted in the mid-1980s on a rib fragment housed with the bone industry from the Magdalenian cave of Isturitz in the western Pyrenees; the rib came from a level excavated by the St Périers in 1931 (Esparza & Mujika 2003). It is far rarer, however, for a new engraving to be found among faunal material curated within a palaeontological collection. We report here the discovery by one of us (LMK) of a horse engraving in the collection of the Palaeontology Department of the Natural History Museum (NHM), London, some 140 years after the excavation and acquisition of the specimen. The new engraving was found among the horse remains from the Late Magdalenian site of Roc du Courbet, Bruniquel, France (...)

Franchthi Cave revisited: the age of the Aurignacian in south-eastern Europe, di K. Douka, C. Perlès, H. Valladas, M. Vanhaeren, R.E.M. Hedges, "Antiquity", Volume: 85 Number: 330 Page: 1131–1150 

The Aurignacian, traditionally regarded as marking the beginnings of Sapiens in Europe, is notoriously hard to date, being almost out of reach of radiocarbon. Here the authors return to the stratified sequence in the Franchthi Cave, chronicle its lithic and shell ornament industries and, by dating humanly-modified material, show that Franchthi was occupied either side of the Campagnian Ignimbrite super-eruption around 40000 years ago. Along with other results, this means that groups of Early Upper Palaeolithic people were active outside the Danube corridor and Western Europe, and probably in contact with each other over long distances. 

Lower Magdalenian secondary human burial in El Mirón Cave, Cantabria, Spain, di Lawrence Guy Straus12, Manuel R. González Morales2 and Jose Miguel Carretero, "Antiquity", Volume: 85 Number: 330 Page: 1151–1164 

The authors describe the discovery of the first human burial of Magdalenian age to be found in the Iberian Peninsula—the partial skeleton of a young adult whose bones were stained with red ochre. The burial was well stratified in a sequence at the vestibule rear running from the Mousterian to the Mesolithic, and was adjacent to a large block that had fallen from the cave roof and been subsequently engraved. A preliminary AMS radiocarbon date on associated faunal remains from the ochre-stained, galena speckled burial layer yielded a date of 15700 BP, while a hearth directly above the burial is dated to 15 100 BP, placing the interment of this individual in the Lower Cantabrian Magdalenian, the period of most intensive human occupation of El Mirón Cave during the Upper Palaeolithic. 

A question of style: reconsidering the stylistic approach to dating Palaeolithic parietal art in France, di G. von Petzinger, A. Nowell, "Antiquity", Volume: 85 Number: 330 Page: 1165–1183 

The authors deconstruct the basis for dating the Palaeolithic cave paintings of France and find it wanting. Only five per cent are directly dated and the remainder belong to a stylistic framework that has grown organically, and with much circularity, as new paintings were brought to light. Following a constructive bouleversement, the authors recommend a new chronometric foundation based on chains of evidence anchored by radiocarbon dates. The story so far is striking: it brings many of the themes and techniques thought typical of the later painters into the repertoire of their much earlier predecessors. 

Book Reviews

Beccy Scott, Becoming Neanderthals: the Earlier British Middle Palaeolithic

Ludovic Slimak (ed.), Artisanats et territoires des chasseurs moustériens de Champ Grand (Artisanats et Territoires 1)

Programma del Convegno - Riassunti delle comunicazioni e dei poster: "150 anni di Preistoria e Protostoria in Italia" 

XLVI Riunione Scientifica dell’ Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria, Roma 23-26 novembre 2011 - Roma, Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico Luigi Pigorini

Lithic refitting and movement connections: the NW area of level TD10-1 at the Gran Dolina site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain), di E. López-Ortegaa  X. Pedro Rodríguez, M. Vaquero, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 38, Issue 11, November 2011, Pages 3112-3121

The first lithic refit studies were carried out at the end of 19th century, but the method was not considered an area of real interest to archaeology until quite recently. Today, lithic refitting is applied in a multitude of areas of enquiry including lithic technology, intra-site and inter-site spatial distribution, archaeostratigraphy and formation processes. In this paper, we present a refit study of the lithic materials recovered in the base of the NW sector of level TD10 at the site of Gran Dolina (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain). We aim to provide information about spatial distribution through identifying activity areas and the internal connections between those areas. Our work resulted in various refits whose connections reveal the movements of the pieces and/or knappers that once occupied the site. Our results also show the importance of studying the set of materials as a whole and the bias involved in analyzing only a small sample. The refits, connections and directions of movement allow us to infer areas in which an activity took place, but these results must be confirmed in future works covering the entire lithic assemblage of TD10.

Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer subsistence in Mediterranean coastal environments: an isotopic study of the diets of the earliest directly-dated humans from Sicily, di M. A. Mannino et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 38, Issue 11, November 2011, Pages 3094-3100

The subsistence of hunter-gatherers in the Mediterranean Basin has been the object of few studies, which have not fully clarified the role of aquatic resources in their diets. Here we present the results of AMS radiocarbon dating and of isotope analyses on the earliest directly-dated human remains from Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The radiocarbon determinations show that the Upper Palaeolithic (Epigravettian) humans from Grotta di San Teodoro (15 232–14 126 cal. BP) and Grotta Addaura Caprara (16 060–15 007 cal. BP) date to the Late-glacial and were possibly contemporary. The diets of these individuals were dominated by the protein of large terrestrial mammalian herbivores, such as red deer (Cervus elaphus). There is no evidence for the consumption of marine resources, which is probably the result not only of the oligotrophic nature of the Mediterranean, but also perhaps of the lack of adequate technology for exploiting intensively the resources from this sea. In spite of being contemporaneous and of the cultural and technological affinities present between the San Teodoro and Addaura humans, the carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope composition of their bone collagen suggests that significant differences were present in their diets. In particular, the hunter-gatherers from Grotta di San Teodoro, in NE Sicily where coastal plains are backed by high mountain chains (Monti Nebrodi), probably had easy access to resources such as anadromous brown trout (Salmo trutta), which might not have been similarly available in the NW of the island, where reliefs are noticeably lower and watercourses fewer and farther between. This study shows that the high biodiversity of this region, which results from the complex topography of Mediterranean landscapes, was probably exploited opportunistically by Late-glacial foragers. Our data also suggest that intensification and diversification of food acquisition in Sicily did not start in the closing stages of the late Pleistocene, as in other Mediterranean regions, probably because the island had only been (re-)colonized by humans around the Last Glacial Maximum.

Change and variability in Plio-Pleistocene climates: modelling the hominin response, di M. Grove, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 38, Issue 11, November 2011, Pages 3038-3047

Research into the links between climatic change and hominin evolution has generated numerous hypotheses. In recent years, methodological refinement of, and increased research effort directed towards, reliable proxies for palaeoclimatic change have provided a growing body of data with which to test such hypotheses. Whilst many archaeologists are aware of these data, few are cognizant of the wealth of techniques developed by theoretical biologists over the last half-century to explicitly address the evolutionary consequences of adaptation to temporally heterogeneous environments. The current paper expands and adapts one such technique for use with empirical data, and applies it to a global palaeoclimatic record spanning the last five million years, in order to discern the potential impact of environmental heterogeneity on hominin evolution during this period. Of particular interest are the contributions of climatic change, associated with directional selection, and climatic variability, associated with selection for phenotypic plasticity. At this macro-scale, results suggest an early peak in selection for plasticity at approximately 2–2.7 mya, combined with three major shifts in directional selection at approximately 3.3–3.4, 1.4–1.5, and 0.5–0.6 mya. These results are employed to relate the fossil and archaeological records to a number of environmental hypotheses of human evolution. In particular, it is argued that the origins of the genus Homo and the spread of Oldowan technology are associated not with a major turnover pulse, but with a period of selection for phenotypic plasticity.

Climate Change May Have Doomed Neanderthals, di E. Sohn, Discovery News, Nov 18, 2011 

When climate took a turn toward the cold tens of thousands of years ago, both Neanderthals and early humans started traveling further distances to find food, found a new study.As a result, the two groups encountered each other often.. And a consequent boom in inter-species liaisons eventually led to the extinction of Neanderthals (...)

Cave Paintings: Behind the Artists: Photos, Discovery News, Nov 16, 2011 


Genotypes of predomestic horses match phenotypes painted in Paleolithic works of cave art, M. Pruvost et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), November 15, 2011 vol. 108 no. 46 18626-18630 

Archaeologists often argue whether Paleolithic works of art, cave paintings in particular, constitute reflections of the natural environment of humans at the time. They also debate the extent to which these paintings actually contain creative artistic expression, reflect the phenotypic variation of the surrounding environment, or focus on rare phenotypes. The famous paintings “The Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle,” depicting spotted horses on the walls of a cave in Pech-Merle, France, date back ~25,000 y, but the coat pattern portrayed in these paintings is remarkably similar to a pattern known as “leopard” in modern horses. We have genotyped nine coat-color loci in 31 predomestic horses from Siberia, Eastern and Western Europe, and the Iberian Peninsula. Eighteen horses had bay coat color, seven were black, and six shared an allele associated with the leopard complex spotting (LP), representing the only spotted phenotype that has been discovered in wild, predomestic horses thus far. LP was detected in four Pleistocene and two Copper Age samples from Western and Eastern Europe, respectively. In contrast, this phenotype was absent from predomestic Siberian horses. Thus, all horse color phenotypes that seem to be distinguishable in cave paintings have now been found to exist in prehistoric horse populations, suggesting that cave paintings of this species represent remarkably realistic depictions of the animals shown. This finding lends support to hypotheses arguing that cave paintings might have contained less of a symbolic or transcendental connotation than often assumed. 

· Stone Age Cave Painters Were Realists - Discovery News

Prehistoric Men Scarred, Pierced, Tattooed Privates, di J. Viegas, Discovery News, Nov 11, 2011 

Men in prehistoric Europe scarred, pierced and tattooed their penises, likely for ritualistic and social group reasons, according to a new study. Analysis of phallic decorations in Paleolithic art, described in the December issue of The Journal of Urology, may also show evidence of the world's first known surgery performed on a male genital organ. The alteration, or surgery, might have just been for ornamental purposes, or a piercing, the researchers suggest (...)

Art Hints Prehistoric Men Pierced Their Privates: Photos, Discovery News, Nov 11, 2011 

Carnivoran Remains from the Malapa Hominin Site, South Africa, di B. F. Kuhn, L. Werdelin, A. Hartstone-Rose, R. S. Lacruz, L. R. Berger, "PloS ONE", November 3, 2011

Recent discoveries at the new hominin-bearing deposits of Malapa, South Africa, have yielded a rich faunal assemblage associated with the newly described hominin taxon Australopithecus sediba. Dating of this deposit using U-Pb and palaeomagnetic methods has provided an age of 1.977 Ma, being one of the most accurately dated, time constrained deposits in the Plio-Pleistocene of southern Africa. To date, 81 carnivoran specimens have been identified at this site including members of the families Canidae, Viverridae, Herpestidae, Hyaenidae and Felidae. Of note is the presence of the extinct taxon Dinofelis cf. D. barlowi that may represent the last appearance date for this species. Extant large carnivores are represented by specimens of leopard (Panthera pardus) and brown hyaena (Parahyaena brunnea). Smaller carnivores are also represented, and include the genera Atilax and Genetta, as well as Vulpes cf. V. chama. Malapa may also represent the first appearance date for Felis nigripes (Black-footed cat). The geochronological age of Malapa and the associated hominin taxa and carnivoran remains provide a window of research into mammalian evolution during a relatively unknown period in South Africa and elsewhere. In particular, the fauna represented at Malapa has the potential to elucidate aspects of the evolution of Dinofelis and may help resolve competing hypotheses about faunal exchange between East and Southern Africa during the late Pliocene or early Pleistocene. 


Westward Ho! The Spread of Agriculturalism from Central Europe to the AtlanticWestward Ho! The Spread of Agriculturalism from Central Europe to the Atlantic, di P. Rowley-Conwy, "Current Anthropology", Vol. 52, No. S4, October 2011

Recent work on the four major areas of the spread of agriculture in Neolithic western Europe has revealed that they are both chronologically and economically much more abrupt than has hitherto been envisaged. Most claims of a little agriculture in Late Mesolithic communities are shown to be incorrect. In most places, full sedentary agriculture was introduced very rapidly at the start of the Neolithic. “Transitional” economies are virtually absent. Consequently, the long-term processes of internal development from forager to farmer, so often discussed in Mesolithic-Neolithic Europe, are increasingly hard to sustain. The spread of agriculture by immigration is thus an increasingly viable explanation. The crucial role of boats for transport and of dairying for the survival of new farming settlements are both highlighted. Farming migrations were punctuated and sporadic, not a single wave of advance. Consequently, there was much genetic mixing as farming spread, so that agricultural immigrants into any region carried a majority of native European Mesolithic genes, not Near Eastern ones (...)

Neandertal, un poco di vanità, "Archeologia Viva", n. 150, novembre-dicembre 2011, pp. 28-36

Estremamente vivo e ricco di colpi di scena appare il dibattito scientifico sull'Uomo di Neandertal, la sua biologia, la vita sociale, la sussistenza e soprattutto il comportamento simbolico. Un aspetto, quest'ultimo, che marca uno dei picchi di attenzione da parte degli antropologi, in quanto intimamente legato alla scomparsa dei nostri "cugini" tra 50 e 40 mila anni fa: quali sistemi di identificazione adottavano per loro stessi, le proprie famiglie e i membri del clan, sempre che una qualche struttura sociale ne contemplasse l'esistenza? Gli interrogativi non lasciano dubbi: identificare tra i Neandertal comportamenti etnograficamente "moderni", cioè più prossimi al modo "sapiens" di pensare e strutturare la società, porta inevitabilmente a interrogarsi sulla loro origine: fu autoctona o il risultato di interazioni con i primi Uomini Anatomicamente Moderni (Homo sapiens) che colonizzarono l'Europa 41-40 mila anni fa? (...) A rafforzare l'opinione di quanti pensano che Neandertal avesse comportamenti astratti molto simili a quelli del "cugino" Homo sapiens viene una recente scoperta di straordinaria unicità, emersa in seguito a uno studio condotto su resti ossei di uccelli, provenienti dalla Grotta di Fumane nel Parco naturale regionale della Lessinia (Prealpi Venete) (...) La scoperta di Fumane ha preso le mosse dal ricco e variegato insieme di resti ossei dei livelli del Musteriano finale (databili a 45 mila anni fa) riferibili a trentacinque specie di uccelli di diversi biotipi (...) L'utilizzo ornamentale delle penne a Fumane esclude eventuali ipotesi di un loro impiego nell'impennaggio di frecce o giavellotti lanciati con il propulsore, in quanto questi strumenti erano di esclusivo uso dei sapiens. Piuttosto, rimanda alla vastissima documentazione etnografica riferibile all'arte piumaria delle popolazioni primitive attuali e sub-attuali, connessa all'adorno di abiti, oggetti, abitazioni e individui anche di rango, oppure all'araldica in uso ad esempio tra i nativi del Nordamerica (...)

· Autori: M. Peresani (Università di Ferrara, Dipartimento di Biologia ed Evoluzione, Sezione di paleobiologia, Preistoria e Antropologia), M. Romaldini (Università di Ferrara, Dipartimento di Biologia ed Evoluzione, Sezione di paleobiologia, Preistoria e Antropologia), A. Taglicozzo, I. Fiore, M. Gala (Sezione di Paleontologia del Quaternario e Archeozoologia, Soprintendenza al Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico "L. Pigorini"), L. Verza (collaboratore Museo dei Grandi Fiumi di Rovigo).

· Approfondimenti: Preistoria sui Monti Lessini - Paleontologia e Archeozoologia - Tafonomia degli uccelli - Come gli indiani d'America? - Università di Ferrara, tecnologie per la preistoria

· Risorse WEB: Dipartimento di Biologia ed Evoluzione, Università di Ferrara - Soprintendenza al Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico "L. Pigorini" - Museo dei Grandi Fiumi di Rovigo

Early dispersal of modern humans in Europe and implications for Neanderthal behaviour, di S. Benazzi et alii, "Nature", 02 November 2011

The appearance of anatomically modern humans in Europe and the nature of the transition from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic are matters of intense debate. Most researchers accept that before the arrival of anatomically modern humans, Neanderthals had adopted several ‘transitional’ technocomplexes. Two of these, the Uluzzian of southern Europe and the Châtelperronian of western Europe, are key to current interpretations regarding the timing of arrival of anatomically modern humans in the region and their potential interaction with Neanderthal populations. They are also central to current debates regarding the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals and the reasons behind their extinction. However, the actual fossil evidence associated with these assemblages is scant and fragmentary and recent work has questioned the attribution of the Châtelperronian to Neanderthals on the basis of taphonomic mixing and lithic analysis. Here we reanalyse the deciduous molars from the Grotta del Cavallo (southern Italy), associated with the Uluzzian and originally classified as Neanderthal. Using two independent morphometric methods based on microtomographic data, we show that the Cavallo specimens can be attributed to anatomically modern humans. The secure context of the teeth provides crucial evidence that the makers of the Uluzzian technocomplex were therefore not Neanderthals. In addition, new chronometric data for the Uluzzian layers of Grotta del Cavallo obtained from associated shell beads and included within a Bayesian age model show that the teeth must date to ~45,000–43,000 calendar years before present. The Cavallo human remains are therefore the oldest known European anatomically modern humans, confirming a rapid dispersal of modern humans across the continent before the Aurignacian and the disappearance of Neanderthals.

· In Puglia l’Homo sapiens più antico d’Europa - National Geographic Italia

· First Known Europeans Identified - Discovery News

The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in northwestern Europe, di T. Higham et alii, "Nature", 02 November 2011

The earliest anatomically modern humans in Europe are thought to have appeared around 43,000–42,000 calendar years before present (43–42 kyr cal bp), by association with Aurignacian sites and lithic assemblages assumed to have been made by modern humans rather than by Neanderthals. However, the actual physical evidence for modern humans is extremely rare, and direct dates reach no farther back than about 41–39 kyr cal bp, leaving a gap. Here we show, using stratigraphic, chronological and archaeological data, that a fragment of human maxilla from the Kent’s Cavern site, UK, dates to the earlier period. The maxilla (KC4), which was excavated in 1927, was initially diagnosed as Upper Palaeolithic modern human1. In 1989, it was directly radiocarbon dated by accelerator mass spectrometry to 36.4–34.7 kyr cal bp2. Using a Bayesian analysis of new ultrafiltered bone collagen dates in an ordered stratigraphic sequence at the site, we show that this date is a considerable underestimate. Instead, KC4 dates to 44.2–41.5 kyr cal bp. This makes it older than any other equivalently dated modern human specimen and directly contemporary with the latest European Neanderthals, thus making its taxonomic attribution crucial. We also show that in 13 dental traits KC4 possesses modern human rather than Neanderthal characteristics; three other traits show Neanderthal affinities and a further seven are ambiguous. KC4 therefore represents the oldest known anatomically modern human fossil in northwestern Europe, fills a key gap between the earliest dated Aurignacian remains and the earliest human skeletal remains, and demonstrates the wide and rapid dispersal of early modern humans across Europe more than 40 kyr ago.

· La rapida diffusione dell’uomo moderno in Europa - Le Scienze

· Modern Humans' First European Tour - Science NOW

Asians, Too, Mated With Archaic Humans, DNA Hints, di J. Owen, "National Geographic News", 1 novembre 2011

About one percent of the genetic makeup of people from southern China and the surrounding region comes from an extinct group of humans dubbed the Denisovans, a new study says. Considered by some to be a sort of sister species to the Neanderthals, the Denisovans—who may have represented an entirely separate human species—are largely a mystery, though they're thought to have had big teeth. The latest find suggests that the two human types mated and bore offspring, and their descendants are still alive today in mainland Asia. The new study is based on DNA extracted from a 40,000-year-old Denisovan finger bone discovered in Siberian Russia's Altai Mountains in 2008. A previous study, published by the journal Nature in 2010, investigated the same fossil finger's DNA and found that people indigenous to Papua New Guinea and other Melanesian islands share 4 to 6 percent of their ancestry with the archaic human. That study, however, didn't find any Denisovan genes in mainland Asians. For the new analysis, "we set out to search for archaic [human] ancestry in a much wider set of populations than what has previously been done," said study co-author Mattias Jakobsson, of Uppsala University's Evolutionary Biology Centre in Sweden (...)

Gastropods and humans in the Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of the western Mediterranean basin, edited by David Lubell and Nick Barton, "Quaternary International", Volume 244, Issue 1, Pages 1-126 (1 November 2011) 

Paleolithic hunting in a southern Moravian landscape: The case of Milovice IV, Czech Republic, di J. Svoboda et alii, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 26, Issue 6, pages 838–866, November/December 2011

The Dolní Věstonice–Pavlov–Milovice area (Czech Republic) on the slopes of the Pavlov Hills provides an opportunity for correlating the geomorphology of the Dyje River valley with Gravettian settlement patterns. Although the sites vary in size and complexity, they create a regular chain of strategic locations at elevations between 200 m and 240 m asl. In 2009, a road collapsed into deserted cellars inside the village of Milovice and revealed a complex of archaeological layers deep within loess, at an elevation of only 175 m asl. This paper presents an analysis of this atypical archaeological site location and compares the results with the other sites. We argue that this location allowed direct contact with mammoth herds concentrated on the floodplain, while the aquatic environment offered possibilities for gathering plants and fishing. This site represents a new aspect of organized settlement, hunting strategies, and short-distance human movements during the Gravettian within this area. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc

Archaic human ancestry in East Asia, di P. Skoglunda, M. Jakobssona, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), 31 October 2011

Recent studies of ancient genomes have suggested that gene flow from archaic hominin groups to the ancestors of modern humans occurred on two separate occasions during the modern human expansion out of Africa. At the same time, decreasing levels of human genetic diversity have been found at increasing distance from Africa as a consequence of human expansion out of Africa. We analyzed the signal of archaic ancestry in modern human populations, and we investigated how serial founder models of human expansion affect the signal of archaic ancestry using simulations. For descendants of an archaic admixture event, we show that genetic drift coupled with ascertainment bias for common alleles can cause artificial but largely predictable differences in similarity to archaic genomes. In genotype data from non-Africans, this effect results in a biased genetic similarity to Neandertals with increasing distance from Africa. However, in addition to the previously reported gene flow between Neandertals and non-Africans as well as gene flow between an archaic human population from Siberia (“Denisovans”) and Oceanians, we found a significant affinity between East Asians, particularly Southeast Asians, and the Denisova genome—a pattern that is not expected under a model of solely Neandertal admixture in the ancestry of East Asians. These results suggest admixture between Denisovans or a Denisova-related population and the ancestors of East Asians, and that the history of anatomically modern and archaic humans might be more complex than previously proposed. 

The effects of distal limb segment shortening on locomotor efficiency in sloped terrain: Implications for Neandertal locomotor behavior, di R. W. Higgins, C. B. Ruff, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 146, Issue 3, pages 336–345, November 2011

Past studies of human locomotor efficiency focused on movement over flat surfaces and concluded that Neandertals were less efficient than modern humans due to a truncated limb morphology, which may have developed to aid thermoregulation in cold climates. However, it is not clear whether this potential locomotor disadvantage would also exist in nonflat terrain. This issue takes on added importance since Neandertals likely spent a significant proportion of their locomotor schedule on sloped, mountainous terrains in the Eurasian landscape. Here a model is developed that determines the relationship between lower limb segment lengths, terrain slope, excursion angle at the hip, and step length. The model is applied to Neandertal and modern human lower limb reconstructions. In addition, for a further independent test that also allows more climate-terrain cross comparisons, the same model is applied to bovids living in different terrains and climates. Results indicate that: (1) Neandertals, despite exhibiting shorter lower limbs, would have been able to use similar stride frequencies per speed as longer-limbed modern humans on sloped terrain, due to their lower crural indices; and (2) shortened distal limb segments are characteristic of bovids that inhabit more rugged terrains, regardless of climate. These results suggest that the shortened distal lower limb segments of Neandertals were not a locomotor disadvantage within more rugged environments.Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Presentati i risultati delle nuove ricerche sul sito neolitico di Ripoli - 28 ottobre, Sala Polifunzionale del Museo di Ripoli (Corropoli, Teramo) 

Le ricerche - promosse dalla Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici dell’Abruzzo e dall’Amministrazione Comunale di Corropoli, in collaborazione con l’associazione ITALICO onlus – hanno portato a nuove scoperte e alla raccolta di dati importanti sulla cultura materiale e sull’economia di queste popolazioni neolitiche che, 6.500 anni fa, diedero vita ad una delle più interessanti culture della Preistoria italiana.  Gli scavi segnano la ripresa dell’interesse degli studiosi verso uno degli insediamenti neolitici più importanti in Italia e hanno inoltre permesso di documentare una più antica frequentazione del sito, risalente ad almeno 9.000 anni fa. All’evento interverrà il sindaco di Corropoli, Umberto D’Annuntiis, e il Soprintendente per i beni archeologici, Andrea Pessina.  Il villaggio neolitico di Ripoli fu scoperto nel 1867 da Concezio Rosa, medico condotto di Corropoli, che negli anni successivi fece eseguire numerosi scavi in vari luoghi e raccolse moltissimi reperti archeologici. Ulteriori campagne di scavo furono condotte tra il 1910 e il 1915 dall’allora Soprintendenza alle Antichità delle Marche e degli Abruzzi. Dopo un intervallo di 45 anni, nel 1960 le ricerche archeologiche ripresero a cura del Comitato per le Ricerche Preistoriche in Abruzzo-presieduto dal Soprintendente Valerio Cianfarani e diretto da Antonio Radmilli dell’Università di Pisa- e proseguirono fino al 1970. Nella conferenza odierna il dottor Pessina illustrerà le novità delle ricerche archeologiche condotte nei mesi scorsi, che contribuiranno a far rivivere uno spaccato dell’antico insediamento e apriranno di nuovo il campo alle ipotesi sulla sua nascita e sviluppo, consentendone un idoneo percorso di tutela e valorizzazione. 

Da cacciatori-raccoglitori ad agricoltori: il passaggio fu graduale "Le Scienze" 27/10/2011

Il passaggio dei nostri antenati da cacciatori-pescatori e raccoglitori ad agricoltori potrebbe essere stato molto più graduale di quanto ritenuto finora, secondo un nuovo studio condotto su antichi vasellami, i cui risultati sono riportati sulla rivista Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). I ricercatori delle Università di York e dell' Università di Bradford hanno analizzato i residui di cottura in 133 vasi di ceramica ritrovati in 15 siti nelle regioni del Baltico occidentale, per stabilire se tali residui fossero di origine terrestre, marina o di organismi di acqua dolce. I reperti sono datati al 4000 a.C. circa, epoca in cui sono cominciate, secondo le prove archeologiche, le domesticazioni di animali e piante nella regione. Si è così trovato che pesce e altre risorse ittiche continuarono a essere sfruttate in prevalenza anche dopo l'avvento dell'agricoltura e della domesticazione: i vasellami delle zone costiere contengono infatti residui arricchiti di una forma di carbonio tipica degli organismi marini. Circa un quinto di essi contengono altre tracce biochimiche di organismi acquatici, compresi grassi e oli assenti in animali e piante terrestri. Nel caso dei siti delle zone interne il 28 per cento dei vasi conteneva residui di organismi acquatici, che sembrano derivati da pesci d'acqua dolce. “Questa ricerca fornisce una chiara evidenza del fatto che le popolazioni del Baltico occidentale continuarono a sfruttare risorse marine e di acqua dolce nonostante l'arrivo di animali e piante domesticati. Sebbene si sia diffusa rapidamente in questa regione, l'agricoltura può non essere stata all'origine del drastico abbandono dell'economia tipica dei cacciatori-raccoglitori, come ritenuto finora”. Carl Heron, professore di Scienze archeologiche dell' Università di Bradford, sottolinea come “i dati raccolti rappresentino il primo studio su larga scala che combina un ampio spettro di prove molecolari e dati isotopici di un singolo composto per discriminare le risorse terrestri, marine e delle acque dolci che sono state cucinate in ceramiche ritrovate in siti archeologici e forniscono un punto di riferimento per i futuri studi di come gli esseri umani abbiano utilizzato le ceramiche nel passato”.

· Ancient lipids reveal continuity in culinary practices across the transition to agriculture in Northern Europe, di O. E. Craiga et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), 1 November 2011, vol. 108, no. 44, pp. 17910-17915 

Cultura umana: una radice comune con quella delle grandi scimmie, "Le Scienze" 25/10/2011

Negli esseri umani e nelle scimmie antropomorfe la cultura ha le stesse radici evolutive. A dimostrarlo è una ricerca condotta dall'antropologo Michael Krützen, l'Università di Zurigo, che con i suoi collaboratori ha mostrato come le grandi scimmie abbiano non solo la capacità di apprendimento sociale ma anche che le innovazioni comportamentali vengono trasmesse culturalmente da una generazione all'altra per un gran numero di generazioni. Una decina di anni fa, gli etologi avevano osservato in grandi scimmie allo stato naturale variazioni geografiche nei modelli di comportamento che non sembravano spiegabili se non attraverso la trasmissione culturale di innovazioni, proprio come negli esseri umani. Queste osservazioni hanno innescato un intenso dibattito tra gli scienziati che ha visto contrapposti quanti sostenevano appunto che tali variazioni geografiche costituissero differenti culture e quanti le considerano il risultato di fattori genetici e influenze ambientali. Nel nuovo studio, pubblicato sulla rivista Current Biology, i ricercatori hanno utilizzato il set di dati più grande mai compilato per una specie di grandi scimmie. Hanno analizzato oltre 100.000 ore di dati comportamentali, creato profili genetici di oltre 150 oranghi selvatici e, grazie anche a immagini satellitari e avanzate tecniche di telerilevamento, hanno misurato le differenze ecologiche tra nove popolazioni di orangutan di Sumatra e del Borneo. "La novità del nostro studio - ha detto Carel van Schaik, uno dei coautori - è che, grazie alle dimensioni senza precedenti del nostro set di dati, siamo stati i primi a misurare l'influenza genetica e dei fattori ambientali sui differenti modelli comportamentali tra le varie popolazioni di oranghi." Dall'analisi di questa grande messe di dati i ricercatori hanno potuto concludere che i fattori genetici e le influenze ambientali non erano in grado di spiegare i modelli di comportamento nelle diverse popolazioni. "Sembra che la capacità di agire culturalmente sia dettata dalla lunga aspettativa di vita delle scimmie e dalla necessità di essere in grado di adattarsi alle mutevoli condizioni ambientali", ha osservato Krützen. "Ora sappiamo che le radici della cultura umana vanno molto più in profondo di quanto si pensasse: essa è costruita su una solida base vecchia di molti milioni di anni e condivisa con la altre grandi scimmie".

· Culture and Geographic Variation in Orangutan Behavior, di M. Krützen, E. P. Willems, C. P. van Schaik, "Current Biology", 20 October 2011

Frutti di mare sulla tavola dei Neandertal, di A. Danti, "National Geographic Italia", 24 ottobre 2011

Numerosi frammenti di conchiglia, gusci interi di molluschi marini e alcune perle testimoniano che 150 mila anni fa anche i Neandertal erano in grado di sfruttare le risorse offerte dal mare. Gli archeologi, durante lo scavo del livello Bj19 - datato 150 mila anni - nella grotta di Bajondillo in Spagna, hanno trovato insieme a strumenti in selce e ossa di animali, numerosi frammenti e gusci interi di molluschi marini. In quel periodo la grotta di Bajondillo era frequentata dai Neandertal, come testimoniano gli strumenti in selce ottenuti secondo il metodo Levallois ritrovati insieme ai gusci di molluschi. Secondo il nuovo studio, oltre ai frutti di mare, gli antichi abitanti della grotta di Bajondillo cacciavano anche altri animali tra cui cervi, uri, stambecchi e conigli (...)

· Earliest Known Use of Marine Resources by Neanderthals, di M. Cortés-Sánchez et alii, "PLoS ONE", September 14, 2011

Israele, Qesem. Scoperta una “officina” di lame in selce di oltre 200 mila anni fa, di M. Calogero, "ArcheoRivista", 22 ottobre 2011 

L’equipe dell’Università di Tel Aviv propone una nuova ipotesi sulla produzione di lame in pietra: se la nuova scoperta verrà confermata, infatti, la realizzazione delle lame sarebbe incominciata prima di quanto indichino le teorie suffragate dalle testimonianze attualmente disponibili. Fino ad oggi la produzione di lame era associata al Paleolitico superiore (30-40 mila anni fa), l’epoca che vide la comparsa dell’Homo Sapiens e lo sviluppo dell’arte rupestre. Gli archeologi di Tel Aviv hanno individuato delle testimonianze che proverebbero come la realizzazione di lame sia stata anche una caratteristica della produzione Amudiana, durante il tardo Paleolitico inferiore (200-400 mila anni fa), come parte del sistema culturale Acheulo Yabrudiano, un piccolo gruppo di ominidi che abitavano in Israele, Giordania, Siria e Libano. La scoperta consiste in un gran numero di utensili da taglio, lunghi e sottili, trovati nella Grotta Qesem, poco fuori Tel Aviv (...)

Integrated Methodological Approaches to the Study of Lithic Technology

Atti del Convegno dell’Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria, volume illustrato in B/N, pp. 354, Firenze 2011

Scoperta una 'bottega artigiana' del Paleolitico, "Le Scienze" 18/10/2011

Una miscela ricca di ocra risalente a circa 100.000 anni fa, è stata scoperta nel sito della Blombos Cave, vicino a Cape Town, in Sud Africa. Il pigmento, probabilmente utilizzato per la protezione o la decorazione delle pelli, era conservato nell'incavo di due conchiglie; accanto a questi reperti sono stati rinvenuti anche diversi strumenti adatti alla loro produzione. E' questo quanto risulta da una ricerca condotta un gruppo internazionale di studiosi che ne illustrano i risultati in un articolo pubblicato su Science. 
"Il pigmento ocra potrebbe essere stato applicato con intenti simbolici, per decorare il corpo e gli indumenti durante il mesolitico", ha spiegato Christopher Henshilwood, docente all'Università di Witwatersrand a Johannesburg, che ha coordinato lo studio e che aveva partecipato alla scoperta, avvenuta nel 2008, di quel sito, destinato a rivelarsi un vero e proprio laboratorio artigianale per la produzione di pigmento ocra liquido. "Crediamo che il processo di produzione coinvolgesse lo sfregamento dei pezzi di ocra su lastre di quarzite per produrre una fine polvere rossa. I frammenti di ocra venivano schiacciati con percussori e macine in quarzo, quarzite e silcrete e combinato con ossa triturate e scaldate di mammifero, carbone, frammenti di pietra e un liquido, per essere poi collocato sulle conchiglie e delicatamente mescolato. Per mescolare e trasferire parte delle miscela veniva probabilmente utilizzato un osso". Oltre all'intrinseco valore archeologico, la scoperta ha anche un significato antropologico: "Questa scoperta rappresenta un importante caposaldo per l'evoluzione delle capacità cognitive dell'uomo, in quanto mostra che gli esseri umani possedevano la capacità concettuale di procurarsi, combinare e conservare le sostanze che dovevano poi venire all'occorrenza utilizzate per dare maggior peso alle loro pratiche sociali", spiega Henshilwood. "Dimostra anche che 100.000 anni fa gli esseri umani avevano una conoscenza elementare della chimica e la capacità di pianificare a lungo termine", ha infine concluso Henshilwood.

· A 100,000-Year-Old Ochre-Processing Workshop at Blombos Cave, South Africa, di C. S. Henshilwood, F. d’Errico, K. L. van Niekerk, Y. Coquinot, Z. Jacobs, S.E. Lauritzen, M. Menu, R. García-Moreno, "Science", 14 October 2011, Vol. 334, n. 6053, pp. 219-222 

African Data Bolster New View of Modern Human Origins, di A. Gibbons, "Science", 14 October 2011, Vol. 334, no. 6053, p. 167 

Last month, two papers independently suggested that early Homo sapiens interbred with now-extinct forms of humans in Africa, so that some living Africans carry genes from archaic people, just as all Europeans and Asians recently have been shown to do. The new data imply that there were at least three fruitful encounters between H. sapiens and archaic species. And one of the new papers, on African fossils, was co-authored by a leading advocate of a conflicting hypothesis that H. sapiens simply replaced, rather than mated with, archaic peoples in Africa, Asia, and Europe. That marks a turning point in views of modern human origins, geneticists say. 

Prehistoric Painters Planned Ahead, di M. Balter, "ScienceNOW", 13 October 2011

When Vincent Van Gogh moved to the southern French town of Arles in 1888, he painted nearly 200 vivid canvasses before cutting off his left ear in a fit of madness. This artistic explosion was possible in part because Van Gogh kept his brushes, paints, and palette constantly at the ready. A new discovery in South Africa suggests that prehistoric human painters also planned ahead, using ochre paint kits as early as 100,000 years ago. But just what they used the paints for is still a matter of debate. Red or yellow ochre, an iron-containing pigment found in some clays, is ubiquitous at early modern human sites in Africa and the Near East. Some researchers think the earliest known art comes from the site of Blombos in South Africa, about 300 kilometers east of Cape Town, where pieces of ochre incised with an abstract design have been dated to 77,000 years old. Scientists have found even earlier signs of ochre use at Blombos and other sites as old as 165,000 years, but solid evidence that the pigment was used in artistic or other symbolic communication has been lacking (...)

Lo spettro di Lascaux sulle grotte di Altamira, "Le Scienze" 18/10/2011

Le autorità spagnole stanno contemplando l'eventualità di riaprire al pubblico le grotte di Altamira, dichiarate dall'Unesco Patrimonio dell'umanità, soprattutto per cercare di rilanciare il turismo nella zona, che aveva risentito sensibilmente della loro chiusura. L'ipotesi è discussa in un articolo pubblicato su Science, a firma di un gruppo di ricercatori che in questi anni hanno studiato le condizioni del sito. Altamira è famosa per le magnifiche pitture rupestri risalenti a 15.000 anni fa, dipinte dalle popolazioni di cacciatori-raccoglitori del Paleolitico superiore che popolavano all'epoca la regione. Nel 1977, quando attirava quasi 200.000 visitatori all'anno, la grotta di Altamira venne chiusa alle visite a causa del deterioramento che avevano iniziato a subire le pitture rupestri, per essere riaperta nel 1982, dopo un'analisi microclimatica, ma con una forte limitazione del pubblico ammesso, attorno alle 10.000 persone all'anno, in modo da mantenere a livelli ridotti le quantità di anidride carbonica rilasciate dalla respirazione dei visitatori in quell'ambiente, come pure i tassi di umidità, i principali fattori di deterioramento individuati all'epoca. Nel 2002, peraltro, la caverna ha dovuto essere nuovamente chiusa al pubblico a causa della presenza di microrganismi fototrofi suoi dipinti, un fenomeno simile a quello subito dalle pitture della grotta di Lascaux 50 anni prima: la colonizzazione delle pareti da parte di questi microrganismi è legata all'utilizzo della luce artificiale. Ora gli studi condotti nel corso degli ultimi 15 anni nella grotta di Altamira e le simulazioni condotte dai ricercatori fanno pensare che una riapertura anche parziale del sito comporti il serio rischio di un processo di degrado analogo a quello avvenuto a Lascaux, che una volta innescato potrebbe rivelarsi inarrestabile. Per questo i ricercatori suggeriscono la possibilità di considerare anche opzioni alternative. L'ipotesi avanzata dagli autori è quella si seguire le orme di quanto fatto proprio a Lascaux per ovviare al problema: le sale più importanti della caverna sono state perfettamente ricostruite in grandezza naturale, sulla base di un'accurata rilevazione in 3D dell'ambiente, realizzata fra il 2004 e il 2005 con sofisticate tecnologie. Ovviamente, queste scelte richiedono investimenti, che peraltro si ripagano: attualmente, il nuovo sito così approntato - noto come Lascaux II - accoglie ogni anno oltre un milione di visitatori. "Archeologi, ambientalisti e microbiologi - scrivono gli autori - concordano sugli effetti positivi della chiusura dei siti sotterranei ai fini della loro conservazione, come dimostra anche il recente annuncio che anche alcune tombe egizie, tra cui quella di Tutankhamon, saranno chiuse al pubblico, reindirizzando i turisti a una replica."

· Paleolithic Art in Peril: Policy and Science Collide at Altamira Cave, di C. Saiz-Jimenez, S. Cuezva, V. Jurado, A. Fernandez-Cortes, E. Porca, D. Benavente, J. C. Cañaveras, S. Sanchez-Moral, "Science", 7 October 2011, vol. 334, no. 6052, pp. 42-43 

Palaeoanthropology: Malapa and the genus Homo, "Nature", Volume: 478, Pages: 44–45, Date published: 06 October 2011)

Two remarkably well-preserved skeletons of the hominin species Australopithecus sediba, found at Malapa, South Africa, show an intriguing combination of features, and open up a debate about the origins of the genus Homo.

La miniera di Grotta della Monaca, "Archeologia Viva", n. 149, settembre-ottobre 2011, pp. 66-72

Il grande antro si apre a seicento metri di altitudine sulla sommità di un picco roccioso alle estreme propaggini meridionali dei monti dell'Orsomarso, in Calabria, a poca distanza dal Tirreno. Siamo in provincia di Cosenza, comune di Sant'Agata di Esaro. Il maestoso ingresso domina la bella e selvaggia valle del fiume omonimo, principale subaffluente del Crati. Nel 1997 un gruppo di speleologi vi rinvenne alcune asce in pietra levigata, percorse sul corpo da una scanalatura. Tali manufatti, dispersi al suolo, giacevano vicini ad affioramenti di minerali di ferro e rame. Quelle scoperte fortuite furono all'origine di un'avventura archeologica appassionante, che nel giro di pochi anni avrebbe portato al riconoscimento di una tra le più antiche miniere d'Europa (...) Le prime attività estrattive interessarono i minerali di ferro, di gran lunga più abbondanti di quelli di rame e diffusi in ogni settore della grotta. Già durante il Paleolitico superiore i depositi di goethite presenti all'ingresso del sistema sotterraneo dovettero essere sfruttati da gruppi di cacciatori-raccoglitori. Gli scavi condotti nella Pregrotta, infatti hanno portato al rinvenimento di strumenti in selce e in osso conservatisi in prossimità di un potente filone di goethite. Il contesto è datato da un'ulna umana deposta intenzionalmente sotto un macigno calcareo, che colloca la frequentazione paleolitica a circa 20 mila anni da oggi (...)

· Risorse WEB: sito ufficiale della missione di ricerca speleo-archeologica dell'Università degli studi di Bari 

· Articolo a cura di: Felice Larocca (direttore scientifico e coordinatore delle indagini della missione di ricerca a Grotta della Monaca)


Did Neandertals and anatomically modern humans coexist in northern Italy during the late MIS 3? di L. Longo, E. Boaretto, D. Caramelli, P. Giunti, M. Lari, L. Milani, M. A. Mannino, B. Sala, U. Thun Hohenstein, S. Condemi, "Quaternary International", In Press, Corrected Proof 

The main processes invoked to explain the demise of Homo neanderthalensis are the effects of adverse climatic conditions in the northern hemisphere during Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS 3) and the outcome of the interaction with Anatomically Modern Humans (AMHs). Evidence for the co-existence of these two hominins, however, is elusive and, therefore, verifying the role which these processes might have played in the extirpation of Neandertals remains a topic of heated debate. A site which can contribute to throw light on the replacement of H. neanderthalensis by AMHs is Riparo Mezzena, a rockshelter in northern Italy, where late Mousterian lithic industries were found in association with human remains. This paper reviews the results of recent investigations on the lithic assemblages and human bones recovered during excavation campaigns which took place in 1957 and 1977. The study of the physical anthropology of the skeletal remains, in conjunction with palaeogenetic analyses on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, have proven that the occupiers of Riparo Mezzena were Neandertals. The first radiocarbon date for the site, obtained on collagen extracted from a bovid from the lowermost part of the stratigraphic sequence (Layer III) and presented here (34,540 ± 655 14C uncal BP), attests that Riparo Mezzena was occupied during the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition period. The anthropogenic deposits at the site actually accumulated when the nearby site of Grotta di Fumane was occupied by humans who produced Proto-Aurignacian lithic industries. This suggests that Neandertals and AMHs probably co-existed for a short period of time in northern Italy, possibly competing for resources within the confined territory of the Monti Lessini. These findings arising from new research on the collections of Riparo Mezzena have important implications not only for the study of the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition in Italy, but also for the understanding of the process through which AMHs replaced H. neanderthalensis.

New chronological evidence for the middle to upper palaeolithic transition in the czech republic and slovakia: new optically stimulated luminescence dating results, di L. Nejman, E. Rhodes, P. Škrdla, G. Tostevin, P. Neruda, Z. Nerudová, K. Valoch, M. Oliva, L. Kaminská, "Archaeometry", Volume 53, Issue 5, pages 1044–1066, October 2011

We report new optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates from the Central European sites of Kůlna, Stránská skála, Bohunice, Vedrovice V, Vedrovice Ia, Moravský Krumlov IV and Dzeravá skala, which date to the Middle–Upper Palaeolithic transition period. There are important unresolved questions surrounding the timing of archaeological events during this crucial period in European prehistory. Archaeological layers from this time period are at the limits of the 14C method and most of these sites lack good chronology. The results of this dating project suggest that some parts of the current chronological framework may need to be revised. Although in many cases our OSL results are broadly consistent with previous dates obtained by 14C, in other cases they reveal unexpected surprises. One OSL result from Kůlna opens up the possibility that Neanderthals may have survived in this part of Europe past the 30 ka bp mark as has been argued for several Neanderthal sites in southern Europe. The large Szeletian assemblage recovered from Vedrovice V may be significantly older than previously thought, which undermines the idea that the Szeletian culture is exclusively an Early Upper Palaeolithic industry. More dating research is needed to confirm the more controversial results of this research.

A spatio-temporal kernel method for mapping changes in prehistoric land-use patterns, di M. Grove, "Archaeometry", Volume 53, Issue 5, pages 1012–1030, October 2011

Archaeologists are accustomed to considering both the spatial distributions of sites and the temporal distributions of dates as means of analysing the dynamics of prehistoric societies. However, spatial and temporal approaches have thus far remained largely separate, rather than being combined within a single, unified framework. A formal methodology is outlined that combines univariate kernel density estimation based on radiocarbon dates with bivariate kernel density estimation based on spatial site coordinates; the approach allows archaeologists to arrive at reconstructed land-use distributions through time that not only correct for the problematic issue of site contemporaneity, but also reflect the continuous nature of the archaeological record. The model is implemented using as a data set a series of sites from the Mesolithic of Atlantic Iberia; the results demonstrate that it is capable of providing key insights into changing patterns of land use that are not apparent from either the temporal or the spatial perspective alone.

Mollusc shell sizes in archaeological contexts in northern Spain (13 200 to 2600 cal bc): new data from La Garma a and Los Gitanos (Cantabria), di E. Alvarez-Fernández, A.Chauvin, "Archaeometry", Volume 53, Issue 5, pages 963–985, October 2011

Shellfish metrical data are a source of information about the exploitation of marine resources in the past. In this study, we propose a methodological approach based on the size structures of different rocky intertidal gastropod species. Three limpet species (Patella vulgata, Patella intermedia and Patella ulyssiponensis) and the toothed topshell Osilinus lineatus are studied from two sites in Cantabrian Spain: La Garma A and Los Gitanos caves over a period of 10 000 years, covering the Pleistocene–Holocene transition. Data are also supplied about a further sea snail species, the periwinkle Littorina littorea (Upper Magdalenian). A reduction in size can be seen, between the upper Magdalenian and the late Neolithic, in the case of the first four species. The explanation for this decline is probably related to the climate change that occurred in the transition between the Late Pleistocene and the Holocene, but it is possible that human impact might also have influenced shell sizes in the Mesolithic and Neolithic.

Artificial or natural origin of hematite-based red pigments in archaeological contexts: the case of Riparo Dalmeri (Trento, Italy), di S. Gialanella, R. Belli, G. Dalmeri, I. Lonardelli, M. Mattarelli, M. Montagna, L. Toniutti, "Archaeometry", Volume 53, Issue 5, pages 950–962, October 2011

This study concerns those crystallographic and microstructural features that can provide indications on the actual origin of red pigments based on hematite (Fe2O3). The main features of natural and artificial hematite are recalled and used to discuss the results obtained from the characterization of red-ochre samples coming from the Palaeolithic site of Riparo Dalmeri, a rock-shelter located in northeastern Italy, dated to 13 000 cal. bp, and notorious for the presence, among the other finds, of red-painted calcareous stones. Painting and the treatment of leather and hides obtained from the intensive hunting activity were the main uses of the hematite-based red-ochres at Riparo Dalmeri. It turns out that hematite was mostly obtained from the thermal treatment of goethite, which, unlike hematite, was and still is widely available in the neighbourhood of the site.

No brain expansion in Australopithecus boisei, di J. Hawks, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 146, Issue 2, pages 155–160, October 2011

The endocranial volumes of robust australopithecine fossils appear to have increased in size over time. Most evidence with temporal resolution is concentrated in East African Australopithecus boisei. Including the KNM-WT 17000 cranium, this sample comprises 11 endocranial volume estimates ranging in date from 2.5 million to 1.4 million years ago. But the sample presents several difficulties to a test of trend, including substantial estimation error for some specimens and an unusually low variance. This study reevaluates the evidence, using randomization methods and a related test using an explicit model of variability. None of these tests applied to the A. boisei endocranial volume sample produces significant evidence for a trend in that species, whether or not the early KNM-WT 17000 specimen is included. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

No evidence of Neandertal admixture in the mitochondrial genomes of early European modern humans and contemporary Europeans, di S. Ghirotto, F. Tassi, A. Benazzo, G. Barbujani, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 146, Issue 2, pages 242–252, October 2011

Neandertals, the archaic human form documented in Eurasia until 29,000 years ago, share no mitochondrial haplotype with modern Europeans. Whether this means that the two groups were reproductively isolated is controversial, and indeed nuclear data have been interpreted as suggesting that they admixed. We explored the range of demographic parameters that may have generated the observed mitochondrial diversity, simulating 3.0 million genealogies under six models differing as for the relationships among contemporary Europeans, Neandertals, and Upper Palaeolithic European early modern humans (EEMH), who coexisted with Neandertals for millennia. We compared by Approximate Bayesian Computations the simulation results with mitochondrial diversity in 7 Neandertals, 3 EEMH, and 150 opportunely chosen modern Europeans. A model of genealogical continuity between EEMH and contemporary Europeans, with no Neandertal contribution, received overwhelming support from the analyses. The maximum degree of Neandertal admixture, under the model of gene flow supported by nuclear data, was estimated at 1.5%, but this model proved 20–32 times less likely than a model without any gene flow. Nuclear and mitochondrial evidence might be reconciled if smaller population sizes led to faster lineage sorting for mitochondrial DNA, and Neandertals shared a longer period of common ancestry with the non-African's than with the African's ancestors. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Southern Iberia as a refuge for the last Neanderthal populations, di R. Jennings, C. Finlayson, D. Fa, G. Finlayson, "Journal of Biogeography", Volume 38, Issue 10, pages 1873–1885, October 2011

Aim. This paper evaluates the role of southern Iberia as a glacial refugium for Neanderthal populations during the late Pleistocene.

Location. Southern Iberia.

Methods. A new methodology employing biogeographical principles was developed to determine the nature and extent of refugial environments in southern Iberia. Two climate maps drawing on present-day temperature and rainfall measurements from 338 weather stations across the study area were constructed. The maps were then subjected to incremental falls in temperature and rainfall, and redrawn accordingly within a geographical information system (GIS) framework. The resulting cool and dry models were then combined to replicate climate conditions in southern Iberia during the last glacial period.

Results. The results indicated that not one but four different types of refugial environment were present: warm/wet, cool/dry, warm/dry and cool/wet. A dataset of 164 Middle Palaeolithic sites was examined with respect to these environments and shown by a chi-square test to be unevenly distributed. The overwhelming majority of sites fell within the warm/wet and cool/wet refugial environments, which shared the common characteristic of high rainfall levels. Within both these environments, it was possible to identify more specific refugia. An upland refugium was identified in the Betic Mountains in Córdoba/Jaén provinces, and a resource-rich major refugium was located on the southerly and westerly foothills of the Cádiz–Málaga sierras in an area that included the Guadalete River, two coastlines and the Rock of Gibraltar. The modelling procedure is supported by the identification within the major refugium of Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar; archaeological evidence suggests that the cave was home to the last Neanderthals of Europe, who disappeared around 28,000 years ago.

Main conclusions. The persistence of good rainfall levels was a significant factor in the late survival of Neanderthal populations in southern Iberia. The potential application of the proposed climatic modelling technique to palaeobiogeography, historical biogeography and macroecology, in addition to palaeoanthropology, is considerable.

CT-based study of internal structure of the anterior pillar in extinct hominins and its implications for the phylogeny of robust Australopithecus, di B. A. Villmoarea, W.H. Kimbelb, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), September 27, 2011 vol. 108 no. 39 16200-16205

The phylogeny of the early African hominins has long been confounded by contrasting interpretations of midfacial structure. In particular, the anterior pillar, an externally prominent bony column running vertically alongside the nasal aperture, has been identified as a homology of South African species Australopithecus africanus and Australopithecus robustus. If the anterior pillar is a true synapomorphy of these two species, the evidence for a southern African clade of Australopithecus would be strengthened, and support would be given to the phylogenetic hypothesis of an independent origin for eastern and southern African “robust” australopith clades. Analyses of CT data, however, show that the internal structure of the circumnasal region is strikingly different in the two South African australopith species. In A. africanus the anterior pillar is a hollow column of cortical bone, whereas in A. robustus it is a column of dense trabecular bone. Although Australopithecus boisei usually lacks an external pillar, it has internal morphology identical to that seen in A. robustus. This result supports the monophyly of the “robust” australopiths and suggests that the external similarities seen in the South African species are the result of parallel evolution. 

Il pifferaio di Neandertal, di Alice Danti, 22 settembre 2011

Secondo un nuovo studio, il “flauto” dei Neandertal trovato nella Grotta di Divje babe I, in Slovenia, potrebbe essere un vero strumento a fiato in grado produrre melodie. Se così fosse, sarebbe il più antico strumento musicale del mondo

Nel 1995 in Slovenia, nella Grotta di Divje babe I, venne ritrovato un oggetto molto particolare e controverso: in un livello riferibile a Homo neanderthalensis gli archeologi rinvennero un femore di un giovane orso delle caverne (Ursus speleus, una specie ora estinta) con due fori completi. L’osso venne interpretato come un "flauto" neandertaliano, ma molti studiosi si opposero fermamente a questa ipotesi. Sostenevano infatti che l’origine dei due fori non fosse antropica ma bensì legata all’azione di un carnivoro (...)

Neanderthal-Human Sex Likely Rare, 13 settembre 2011

Modern humans may have some traces of genes from Neanderthals, but a new study suggests any breeding between the two was most likely a rare event. The new computational model, based on DNA samples from modern humans in France and China, shows successful coupling happened at a rate of less than 2 percent. The research suggests that either inter-species sex was taboo, or that the hybrid offspring had trouble surviving, according to the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (...)

Strong reproductive isolation between humans and Neanderthals inferred from observed patterns of introgression, di M. Currata, L. Excoffierb, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), September 13, 2011 vol. 108 no. 37 15129-15134 

Recent studies have revealed that 2–3% of the genome of non-Africans might come from Neanderthals, suggesting a more complex scenario of modern human evolution than previously anticipated. In this paper, we use a model of admixture during a spatial expansion to study the hybridization of Neanderthals with modern humans during their spread out of Africa. We find that observed low levels of Neanderthal ancestry in Eurasians are compatible with a very low rate of interbreeding (<2%), potentially attributable to a very strong avoidance of interspecific matings, a low fitness of hybrids, or both. These results suggesting the presence of very effective barriers to gene flow between the two species are robust to uncertainties about the exact demography of the Paleolithic populations, and they are also found to be compatible with the observed lack of mtDNA introgression. Our model additionally suggests that similarly low levels of introgression in Europe and Asia may result from distinct admixture events having occurred beyond the Middle East, after the split of Europeans and Asians. This hypothesis could be tested because it predicts that different components of Neanderthal ancestry should be present in Europeans and in Asians.

Au. sediba: un po' australopiteco, un po' uomo, "Le Scienze" 13/09/2011

Porta il nome scientifico di Australopithecus sediba la specie di cui sono stati scoperti i resti fossili nelle caverne di Malapa a 45 chilometri a nord ovest di Johannesburg, in Sudafrica: nuovi dettagli del cranio, del bacino, delle mani e dei piedi resi noti dai ricercatori di un'ampia collaborazione internazionale dimostrerebbero che si tratta di un mosaico di caratteristiche arcaiche e moderne, che ne fanno il miglior candidato a rappresentare il più antico antenato diretto del genere Homo. Le conclusioni dello studio riportate in cinque diversi articoli pubblicati sulla rivista Science sollevano dubbi su alcune teorie finora accettate che riguardano l'evoluzione dell'anatomia umana, compresa l'ipotesi che il bacino delle prime specie umane si evolse in risposta all'aumento delle dimensioni del cervello. Inoltre, alcuni particolari emersi dall'analisi dei reperti indicherebbero Au. sediba anche come costruttore e utilizzatore di utensili. I nuovi risultati sono stati resi possibili sia dall'eccezionale stato di conservazione di dei resti, appartenuti a un giovane individuo maschio, indicato con la sigla MH-1, e a una femmina adulta (MH-2), sia dalla possibilità di effettuare una scansione a raggi X ad alta risoluzione del cranio di MH-1 presso un centro di avanguardia come lo European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, sia infine dalla metodica utilizzata per la datazione. Poiché i fossili sono troppo antichi per essere datati direttamente, i ricercatori hanno analizzato i sedimenti calcificati che hanno mantenuto i fossili così ben preservati. Robyn Pickering dell'Università di Melbourne in Victoria, Australia, e colleghi hanno utilizzato tecniche avanzate di datazione paleo-magnetica, in grado di misurare quante volte il campo magnetico si è invertito, inducendo un cambiamento nella magnetizzazione delle rocce. Per la precisione, i fossili di Au. sediba risalgono a 1,977 milioni di anni fa e perciò pre-datano l'emergere dei primi tratti specifici del genere Homo. Finora, fossili datati a 1,90 milioni di anni fa, per la maggior parte attribuiti a Homo habilis e Homo rudolfensis, sono stati considerati precedenti a Homo erectus, il più antico e indiscusso antenato umano. Secondo le conclusioni dello studio, il cervello del giovane individuo era di tipo umano, ma ancora troppo piccolo rispetto ai cervelli osservati nelle specie del genere Homo. La regione orbitale frontale del cervello, direttamente dietro le orbite oculari, mostra alcuni segni di riorganizzazione neurale, un processo che forse prelude alla formazione di un lobo frontale di tipo umano. I risultati di Carlson pongono così in dubbio la teoria di un graduale ampliamento del cervello durante la transizione da Australopithecus a Homo. Per contro, viene corroborata l'ipotesi alternativa che propone la riorganizzazione dei neuroni nella regione orbitofrontale che avrebbe permesso a Au. sediba di evolvere pur mantenendo intatto un cranio più piccolo.

Early Tool-Maker Fossil Could Rewrite Human Ancestry, 9 settembre 2011

She swung in the trees like a chimp but had long dexterous fingers for tool-making and hybrid feet for walking upright, a major study on the ancient hominid Australopithecus sediba suggested. Until now, the first tool-maker was widely believed to be Homo habilis, based on a set of 21 fossilized hand bones found in Tanzania that date back 1.75 million years. But a close examination of two partial fossilized skeletons of Au. sediba discovered in South Africa in 2008 suggests these creatures who roamed the Earth 1.9 million years ago were crafting tools even earlier, and could be the first direct ancestor of the Homo species (...)

Molto sapiens, un po' di Neanderthal e altro ancora, "Le Scienze" 08/09/2011

Gli studi condotti sul DNA fossile tratto dalle ossa di neanderthaliani hanno mostrato che Homo sapiens, una volta giunto in Europa, si è incrociato con quel nostro antico cugino. Ora una nuova ricerca avanza l'ipotesi che in tempi ancora più remoti i primi umani anatomicamente moderni si siano incrociati, con forme ancora più arcaiche di Homo. "Abbiamo trovato prove di ibridazione tra l'uomo moderno e le forme arcaiche in Africa. Sembra che la nostra stirpe abbia sempre scambiato geni con i vicini morfologicamente divergenti", ha detto Michael Hammer, dell'Università dell'Arizona, che firma con alcuni colleghi un articolo pubblicato sui Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Non abbiamo il DNA fossile dall'Africa per confrontarlo con il nostro", ha detto Hammer. "Gli uomini di Neanderthal vivevano in climi più freddi, ma il clima delle zone tropicali rende molto difficile, se non impossibile, la conservazione del DNA sufficientemente a lungo da poterne recuperare campioni utilizzabili. Il nostro lavoro è quindi differente da quello che ha portato alla scoperte nel campo della genetica dei Neanderthal", ha spiegato. Per superare questo ostacolo, Hammer e colleghi hanno seguito un approccio computazionale e statistico: "Abbiamo preso in considerazione DNA di esseri umani moderni appartenenti a popolazioni africane e cercato nel genoma eventuali regioni insolite", come lunghi blocchi di sequenze di DNA divergenti. "Quello che sappiamo è che le sequenze di quelle forme, anche per l'uomo di Neanderthal, non sono molto diverse da quelle degli esseri umani moderni ma hanno determinate caratteristiche che li rendono diversi dal DNA moderno", ha spiegato Hammer. Hammer ha detto anche che se le sequenze di DNA arcaico rappresentano solo il due o tre per cento del materiale genetico degli esseri umani moderni, ciò non significa che l'incrocio non sia stato più esteso: "Potrebbe rappresentare ciò che rimane di un più ampio contenuto arcaico. Ci si può aspettare che molte delle sequenze che abbiamo ereditato da queste forme arcaiche si siano perse nel tempo. A meno che fornissero un vantaggio evolutivo, non c'è nulla che lew porti a essere conservate nella popolazione". 

· Genetic evidence for archaic admixture in Africa, di M. F. Hammera, A. E. Woernera, F. L. Mendezb, J. C. Watkinsc, J. D. Walld, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), September 13, 2011, vol. 108 no. 37 15123-15128

Il salto tecnologico di Homo erectus, "Le Scienze" 06/09/2011

Homo erectus sarebbe stato in grado di fabbricare sofisticati utensili già 1,8 milioni anni fa, vale a dire almeno 300.000 anni prima di quanto si pensasse. Ad affermarlo è uno studio pubblicato su Nature, da un gruppo di paleoantropologi della Rutgers University e del Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Homo erectus apparve circa 2 milioni di anni fa, andando a occupare vaste aree dell'Asia e dell'Africa. E proprio in Africa orientale si è ritenuto a lungo che si fosse evoluto, ma la scoperta nel 1990 di fossili altrettanto antichi in Georgia ha aperto la possibilità che esso abbia avuto origine in Asia. I nuovi reperti complicano ulteriormente la situazione in quanto gli strumenti trovati accanto ai fossili georgiani del sito di Dmanisi sono piccoli strumenti da taglio e raschiatoi che mostrano caratteristiche piuttosto semplici simili a quelle della cultura di Olduvai, mentre fra quelli rinvenuti nella regione occidentale del Turkana, in Kenya, vi sono asce, picconi e altri strumenti innovativi che gli antropologi chiamano di tipo "acheuleano", che permettevano di macellare e smembrare un animale per mangiarlo. Le abilità coinvolte nella produzione di uno strumento di questo tipo suggerisce fra l'altro che Homo erectus fosse in grado di un pensiero "anticipatorio". "Gli strumenti acheuleani rappresentano un grande salto tecnologico", ha osservato Dennis Kent, uno degli autori dello studio. "Perché Homo erectus non avrebbe dovuto portare con sé questi strumenti con sé in Asia?" Gli strumenti analizzati provengono dal sito di Kokiselei, dove erano stati raccolti insieme a parte dei sedimenti immediatamente circostanti per poterne datare l'età. La presenza nel sito di Kokiselei di entrambi i metodi di fabbricazione di utensili, osservano i ricercatori, potrebbe significare che Homo erectus e il suo cugino più primitivo Homo habilis potrebbero aver convissuto, ma essi si chiedono anche se Homo erectus possa essere migrato a Dmanisi, in Georgia, perdendo lungo la strada la tecnologia acheuleana. Nel corso del tempo diverse inondazioni della zona hanno lasciato dietro di sé strati di limo e argilla, che indurendosi hanno conservato nei granuli di magnetite presenti la direzione del campo magnetico terrestre dell'epoca. Confrontando i profili magnetici di questi campioni con quelli relativi ad altre formazioni stratigrafiche i ricercatori potuto far risalire i loro reperti a ben 1,76 milioni di anni fa. "Avevamo il sospetto che Kokiselei fosse un sito molto antico, ma sono rimasto davvero sorpreso quando mi sono reso conto che i dati geologici hanno indicato che era il più vecchio sito acheuleano del mondo", ha detto l'autore principale dello studio, Christopher Lepre.  I più antichi strumenti acheuleani precedentemente identificati provenivano dal sito etiope di Konso, risalente a circa 1,4 milioni di anni fa, e da siti indiani di età compresa fra 1,5 milioni e 1 milione di anni fa.

Little Foot, Big Mystery, di M. Balter, "Science", 9 September 2011, Vol. 333, no. 6048, p. 1374 

After nearly 15 years of excavation, the most complete hominin skeleton ever discovered, dubbed "Little Foot," which includes a beautifully preserved skull as well as arm, hand, and leg bones, the pelvis, plus many vertebrae and ribs, is expected to be out of the cave in which it was discovered within the next 2 months. Researchers agree that Little Foot may have much to tell about human evolution. But just what it has to say is unclear: So far only very preliminary descriptions have been published, and researchers are locked in a sharp debate over the skeleton's age, with estimates as old as 3.3 million years and as young as 2.2 million years. 

Paleoanthropologist Now Rides High on a New Fossil Tide, di M. Balter, "Science", 9 September 2011, Vol. 333, no. 6048, pp. 1373-1375 

This week, Science publishes five papers by Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand and his colleagues, featuring details and analysis of the 2-million-year-old remains of Australopithecus sediba (see pp. 1370 and 1402). Berger hopes the fossils will confirm his controversial views about the role of southern Africa in hominin evolution and the place of Au. sediba as a link to our own genus, Homo. But he will have to work hard to convince the field that his team's interpretations are correct. His career has been dogged by controversy, and some of his peers find Berger, whose background includes a stint in TV news, heavy on style and light on substance. They say he has made exaggerated claims and serious errors. Yet even critics acknowledge that Berger's strength is his passion for paleoanthropology. 

Skeletons Present an Exquisite Paleo-Puzzle, di A. Gibbons, "Science", n. 9 September 2011, Vol. 333, no. 6048, pp. 1370-1372 

Starting on page 1402 of this week's issue of Science, researchers present two remarkably complete and well-preserved partial skeletons of a 2-million-year-old species called Australopithecus sediba discovered 3 years ago in Malapa Cave in South Africa. The creature's mix of primitive and modern traits has prompted its discoverer to propose it as one of the last of the australopithecines—and perhaps even a member of the long-sought mystery species that gave rise to our genus, Homo, in Africa. Few other researchers are convinced that Au. sediba was a direct ancestor of humans—but most don't rule out that possibility. All agree that Au. sediba is a major find and an important relative because of its timing and completeness: These hominins lived just after a significant gap in the fossil record 3 million to 2 million years ago. 

Processes of change in Magdalenian societies in the Pyrenean isthmus (20–16 ky cal BP), di Mathieu Langlais, "Antiquity", volume: 85, number: 329, page: 715–728 

The author uses a detailed analysis of lithic assemblages to propose a major social and economic change in the Pyrenees around 18 ky cal BC, roughly the watershed between the Lower and Middle Magdalenian periods. Nomadic groups begin to settle down, occupy loose territories, move raw materials over vast distances and specialise in manufacture for hunting and domestic use. These trends coincide with a cold period and an increase in grassland, the Heinrich Stadial. 

On the origin and significance of microburins: an experimental approach, di David De Wilde, Marc De Bie, "Antiquity", volume: 85, number: 329, page: 729-741 

The authors used knapping experiments to study the way that microburins are produced. Once thought of as signature pieces of the Mesolithic, these experiments suggest that they were by-products of a gradual technological development by knappers trying to make arrowheads that had no bulb of percussion — and were thus easier to haft. They make a case for an evolution already present in the late Palaeolithic and determined by practical, rather than cultural, social or environmental imperatives.

Phylogenetic rate shifts in feeding time during the evolution of Homo, di Chris Organa, Charles L. Nunnb, Zarin Machandab, Richard W. Wranghamb, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), August 30, 2011 vol. 108 no. 35, pp. 14555-14559 

Unique among animals, humans eat a diet rich in cooked and nonthermally processed food. The ancestors of modern humans who invented food processing (including cooking) gained critical advantages in survival and fitness through increased caloric intake. However, the time and manner in which food processing became biologically significant are uncertain. Here, we assess the inferred evolutionary consequences of food processing in the human lineage by applying a Bayesian phylogenetic outlier test to a comparative dataset of feeding time in humans and nonhuman primates. We find that modern humans spend an order of magnitude less time feeding than predicted by phylogeny and body mass (4.7% vs. predicted 48% of daily activity). This result suggests that a substantial evolutionary rate change in feeding time occurred along the human branch after the human–chimpanzee split. Along this same branch, Homo erectus shows a marked reduction in molar size that is followed by a gradual, although erratic, decline in H. sapiens. We show that reduction in molar size in early Homo (H. habilis and H. rudolfensis) is explicable by phylogeny and body size alone. By contrast, the change in molar size to H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis, and H. sapiens cannot be explained by the rate of craniodental and body size evolution. Together, our results indicate that the behaviorally driven adaptations of food processing (reduced feeding time and molar size) originated after the evolution of Homo but before or concurrent with the evolution of H. erectus, which was around 1.9 Mya. 

A Denisovan Legacy in the Immune System? di Ann Gibbons, "Science" 26 August 2011, vol. 333, no. 6046, p. 1086 

The reproductive strategies of many animals are based on avoiding inbreeding, as when female chimpanzees move out of their birth groups to mate. Last year, researchers showed that human ancestors took that strategy to its limits by breeding with the now-extinct Neandertals and Denisovans. Now a study published online in Science this week suggests that such mating was beneficial, boosting the immune systems of early Europeans and Asians and leaving a valuable legacy in the genes of many people alive today. 

Who Were the Denisovans? di Ann Gibbons, "Science" 26 August 2011, vol. 333, no. 6046, pp. 1084-1087 

Several fossils belonging to a previously unknown type of archaic human were found last summer in a remote cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. The discovery team called them the Denisovans after the cave. In July, a select group of human origins researchers attended a remarkable symposium at an archaeological camp near Denisova Cave. Their goal was to try to solve the mystery of the identity of the Denisovans, to find more of them, and to explore how the discovery is challenging models of modern human origins. In lively discussions, they compared what archaeology, genetics, and fossils reveal about the world the Denisovans inhabited 30,000 to 50,000 years ago. Genomic data have already shown that our ancestors mingled with archaic humans, who may have given us valuable immune cell types. But it's not clear when and where this happened. 

Il primo cane della storia, di Christine Dell'Amore, 24-08-2011

I resti fossilizzati di un canide vissuto 33.000 anni fa, secondo uno studio archeozoologico pubblicato su PLoS ONE, appartengono all’esemplare di cane domestico ben conservato più antico finora ritrovato. Il cranio e la mascella del canide oggetto della ricerca vennero recuperati durante gli scavi condotti nella grotta di Razboinichya, nei Monti Altai nella Siberia meridionale, durante gli anni ‘70. Il cane è la specie domestica più antica, e la sua presenza a fianco dell’uomo è ben documentata a partire da 14.000 anni fa. Esempi più antichi sono invece molto rari. Questo in parte è dovuto all’intercorrere dell’ultima glaciazione che avvenne tra i 26.000 e 19.000 anni fa, cioè quando le calotte glaciali raggiunsero la loro massima espansione. Con i pochi fossili a disposizione è stato quindi particolarmente difficile per gli scienziati comprendere l'inizio del processo di domesticazione del cane, che secondo gli esperti potrebbe essere avvenuto nell'arco di 50-100 anni. “Questo ritrovamento è molto importante, il nostro è un caso veramente fortunato”, commenta Yaroslav Kuzmin, coautore dello studio e ricercatore presso la Russian Academy of Sciences (...)

· A 33,000-Year-Old Incipient Dog from the Altai Mountains of Siberia: Evidence of the Earliest Domestication Disrupted by the Last Glacial Maximum, di N. D. Ovodov, S. J. Crockford, Y. V. Kuzmin, T. F. G. Higham, G. W. L. Hodgins, J. van der Plicht, "PlosOne", July 28, 2011

Neanderthal Use of Fish, Mammals, Birds, Starchy Plants and Wood 125-250,000 Years Ago, di Bruce L. Hardy, Marie-Hélène Moncel, August 24, 2011

Neanderthals are most often portrayed as big game hunters who derived the vast majority of their diet from large terrestrial herbivores while birds, fish and plants are seen as relatively unimportant or beyond the capabilities of Neanderthals. Although evidence for exploitation of other resources (small mammals, birds, fish, shellfish, and plants) has been found at certain Neanderthal sites, these are typically dismissed as unusual exceptions. The general view suggests that Neanderthal diet may broaden with time, but that this only occurs sometime after 50,000 years ago. We present evidence, in the form of lithic residue and use-wear analyses, for an example of a broad-based subsistence for Neanderthals at the site of Payre, Ardèche, France (beginning of MIS 5/end of MIS 6 to beginning of MIS 7/end of MIS 8; approximately 125–250,000 years ago). In addition to large terrestrial herbivores, Neanderthals at Payre also exploited starchy plants, birds, and fish. These results demonstrate a varied subsistence already in place with early Neanderthals and suggest that our ideas of Neanderthal subsistence are biased by our dependence on the zooarchaeological record and a deep-seated intellectual emphasis on big game hunting (...)

Dalla rivista "L'Anthropologie", vol. 115, issues 3-4, pages 343-568 (June-October 2011):

· Les origines de l’art et les théories sur l’évolution humaine : le cas français
· Nouveaux regards sur la Grotte de La Peña (San Román de Candamo, Asturies, Espagne)
· Les colorants dans l’art pariétal et mobilier paléolithique de La Garma (Cantabrie, Espagne)
· Un nouveau Saïga pariétal (Grotte du Colombier, Ardèche)
· Les céramiques gravettiennes de Moravie : derniers apports des recherches actuelles
· Œuvres d’art méconnues de Laugerie-Basse (Dordogne). Collection Capitaine Maurice Bourlon – Institut de paléontologie humaine, Paris

Sex with Neanderthals Made Us Stronger, di Jennifer Viegas, Aug 25, 2011 

Mating with Neanderthals and another group of extinct hominids, Denisovans, strengthened the human immune system and left behind evidence in the DNA of people today, according to new research. The findings add to the growing body of evidence that modern humans who left Africa around 65,000 years ago mated with Neanderthals and Denisovans -- two archaic species that lived in Europe and Asia. The study, which appears in this week's Science, is among the first to show how the interbreeding shaped modern human genes and the attributes they pass to us (...)

Emiliano Aguirre Enríquez. Un paso adelante en la paleoantropología española, di Lucía Villaescusa Fernández, "Arqueoweb", Número 13 - julio de 2011

En este trabajo se ha realizado un análisis de la obra de Emiliano Aguirre Enríquez, centrado fundamentalmente en su labor como paleoantropólogo. Para ello se ha utilizado un modelo global de análisis que tiene en cuenta tanto la obra del autor, como su biografía y el contexto científico y académico en el que se desarrolla, presentando así el estado de la Arqueología y de la Paleoantropología españolas esencialmente en la segunda mitad del siglo XX. Se destaca también su visión socio-cultural del patrimonio cultural y sus trabajos en el proyecto Atapuerca (...)

Hobbit: uno studio sostiene il nanismo, "Le Scienze" 11/08/2011

Non si placa la disputa su quale sia la reale natura del minuscolo ominide i cui resti fossili furono scoperti nel 2003 sull'isola indonesiana di Flores. Alcuni paleoantropologi la considerano una nuova specie di Homo - Homo floresiensis - vissuta fino ad appena 18.000 anni fa, mentre altri sostengono che si tratti solamente di resti di uomini affetti da nanismo e microcefalia. A rinfocolare la polemica è giunto un articolo pubblicato sui Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in cui viene illustrata una ricerca condotta da Ralph Holloway, della la Columbia University, sulla cui base l'autore pensa si debba negare lo statuto di specie a se stante allo "hobbit", come era stato soprannominato l'H. floresiensis. In questo ultimo studio, i ricercatori hanno usato la risonanza magnetica per stabilire le dimensioni della cavità cranica e i rapporti fra le sue differenti regioni in 21 bambini affetti da microcefalia, confrontandoli con quelli di 118 bambini normali. Successivamente hanno eseguito analoghe misure su crani di 10 uomini microcefali, 79 uomini normali, 17 di Homo erectus, 4 di Australopithecus e infine i fossili di Flores. Confrontando i dati ottenuti, i ricercatori hanno osservato che quelli relativi allo hobbit non rientrano nel range di varizione né dell'essere umano moderno normale, né in quello di H. erectus, ma ricadono in quello di uomini affetti da microcefalia. La risposta di Peter Brown, dell'Università del New England, ad Armidale in Australia, - uno dei ricercatori che ha scoperto i resti fossili - non si è fatta aspettare: "Le proporzioni del calco sono completamente irrilevanti per l'attribuzione di questo fossile alla specie floresiensis", ha dichiarato a Nature. "E' stata piuttosto la dimensione del cervello rispetto a quella del corpo a essere cruciale, e qui non è stata minimamente presa in considerazione." Altri ricercatori hanno poi sostenuto l'ipotesi di Brown con dati relativi ad altre misure antropometriche relative alle mani e ai piedi. E Dean Falk della Florida State University a Tallahassee - che in passato aveva eseguito misurazioni endocraniche utilizzando tecniche di tomografia - ha avanzato dubbi sul fatto che le misurazioni effettuate da Holloway fossero state distorte dalle incrostazioni e crepe presenti nei resti fossili, dato che le misurazioni da lui stesso eseguite lo avevano fatto propendere per la conclusione opposta. Obiezione, questa, liquidata da Holloway come "ridicola". Altri paleontologi ancora, come Jungers Guglielmo della Stony Brook University a New York non si dicono convinti né dall'una né dall'altra tesi, notando che tutte le altre parti in causa hanno sottovalutato la somiglianza di alcuni tratti del fossile di Flores con quelli di Australopithecus. Un risposta conclusiva, a quanto pare, potrebbe venire solo dall'esame del DNA dello hobbit, uno studio già proposto nel gennaio scorso dai ricercatori del Max Planck Institut per la biologia evoluzionistica a Lipsia - un gruppo di ricerca particolarmente esperto in questo campo - anche se, è stato rilevato, le temperature molto elevate a cui sono stati esposti i resti fossili, soprattutto durante le fasi di scavo, rendono pessimisti sulla possibilità di estrarre un DNA non eccessivamente frammentato per poter condurre tali analisi.

· Craniometric ratios of microcephaly and LB1, Homo floresiensis, using MRI and endocasts, di R. C. Vannuccia, T. F. Barronb, R. L. Hollowayc, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), August 23, 2011 vol. 108 no. 34, pp. 14043-14048 

Woody cover and hominin environments in the past 6 million years, di Thure E. Cerling et alii, "Nature", 476, pp. 51-56 (04 August 2011)

The role of African savannahs in the evolution of early hominins has been debated for nearly a century. Resolution of this issue has been hindered by difficulty in quantifying the fraction of woody cover in the fossil record. Here we show that the fraction of woody cover in tropical ecosystems can be quantified using stable carbon isotopes in soils. Furthermore, we use fossil soils from hominin sites in the Awash and Omo-Turkana basins in eastern Africa to reconstruct the fraction of woody cover since the Late Miocene epoch (about 7 million years ago). 13C/12C ratio data from 1,300 palaeosols at or adjacent to hominin sites dating to at least 6 million years ago show that woody cover was predominantly less than ~40% at most sites. These data point to the prevalence of open environments at the majority of hominin fossil sites in eastern Africa over the past 6 million years.

The Edge: More on Fire-Making by about 1.7 Million Years Ago at Wonderwerk Cave in South AfricaThe Edge: More on Fire-Making by about 1.7 Million Years Ago at Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, di Peter B. Beaumont, "Current Anthropology", vol. 52, no. 4, august 2011, pp. 585-595

Located close to the Kalahari in central South Africa is a large dolomitic cave called Wonderwerk, in the stratified sediments of which there is evidence for fire-making that ranges from the end of the Later Stone Age to the very base of the Acheulean. That discovery is seen to be in accord with findings from four other regional sites, which together provide evidence that can be construed as support for fire-making over almost the same time span. 

Where Humans Learned to Walk Analysis, di Tim Wall, Aug 5, 2011 

A verdant expanse of grass rippling in the wind, interspersed by a few trees casting umbrellas of shade with their branches is the likely landscape over which humans and their ancestors learned to walk. Open woodlands and savanna dominated the East African homeland of the human species as we diverged from other primates, said researchers in a recent edition of the journal Nature. "Wherever we find human ancestors, we find evidence for open habitats similar to savannas – much more open and savanna-like than forested," said Thure Cerling, a University of Utah professor of geology, geophysics and biology, and lead author of the study, in a press release. The researchers found that large areas of grassland and open woodland were consistently present for the past 7.4 million years. Understanding ancient vegetation patterns could help scientists resolve some questions about what kind of environment humans evolved in and the pressures that influenced development of features like our upright stance and dexterous hands (...)

Sapiens contro Neanderthal: ha vinto la forza dei numeri, "Le Scienze" 02/08/2011

Dopo ben 300.000 anni di dominazione nel continente europeo, l'uomo di Neanderthal improvvisamente scomparve lasciando il posto all'Homo sapiens che proveniva dall'Africa. Ora un gruppo di ricercatori dell' Università di Cambridge ha scoperto che la causa di questo processo è da rintracciare in una vera e propria invasione da parte dell'uomo moderno, la cui popolazione era numericamente dieci volte superiore a quella dei neandertaliani, come illustrato in un articolo sulla rivista Science. Questa, che si candida a essere la soluzione più plausibile per un mistero che ha impegnato gli antropologi per lunghi anni, è frutto di una dettagliata analisi statistica sulle prove archeologiche della “classica” regione di Perigord, nella Francia sud-occidentale, che ospita la più grande concentrazione di siti neandertaliani e di Homo sapiens in Europa. Dai dati raccolti è emerso che le prime popolazioni di H. sapiens a penetrare nella regione erano numericamente 10 volte superiori alle popolazioni locali di neandertaliani. Tale preponderanza si riflette nel netto incremento nel numero di siti occupati, in una molto più elevata densità di residui in ciascun sito (per esempio strumenti litici e resti di cibo), più ampie aree occupate nei siti, tutti fattori, questi, che fanno ipotizzare l’esistenza di ampi gruppi socialmente integrati. Di fronte al notevole incremento nella popolazione di esseri umani moderni immigrati, la capacità dei gruppi neandertaliani locali di competere per le stesse aree geografiche per lo stanziamento e per la caccia (principalmente di renne, cavalli, bisonti e cervi) nonché per la raccolta di legna sarebbe stata fortemente minata. Oltre a ciò, si verificarono inevitabili e ripetuti conflitti tra i due gruppi per l’occupazione dei siti più attraenti e ricchi di risorse, in cui la preponderanza numerica dei nuovi venuti consentiva azioni più coordinate ed efficaci e assicurava il successo sui gruppi di neandertaliani. “In ogni occasione emerge la gamma di innovazioni tecnologiche e comportamentali che permisero alle popolazioni umane di invadere e sopravvivere in popolazioni più numerose di quelle dei precedenti neandertaliani in tutto il continente europeo”, ha spiegato Paul Mellars, professore emerito di evoluzione preistorica e umana presso il Dipartimento di archeologia dell’Università di Cambridge. “Di fronte a questo tipo di competizione, i neandertaliani sembrano essersi ritirati inizialmente in regioni più marginali e meno attraenti del continente e infine, nell’arco di poche migliaia di anni, la loro popolazione cominciò a diminuire fino all’estinzione, forse accelerata dall’improvviso deterioramento delle condizioni climatiche verificatosi circa 40.000 anni fa”. 

· Humans Crowded Out Neanderthals, "Discovery News", Jul 29, 2011 

· Tenfold Population Increase in Western Europe at the Neandertal–to–Modern Human Transition, di Paul Mellars, Jennifer C. French, "Science", 29 July 2011, vol. 333 no. 6042 pp. 623-627

· Modern Humans 10, Neandertals 1, di Michael Balter, "ScienceNOW", 28 July 2011

An X-Linked Haplotype of Neandertal Origin Is Present Among All Non-African Populations, di Vania Yotova et alii,
"Molecular Biology and Evolution", volume 28, Issue 7 July 2011, pp. 1957-1962

Recent work on the Neandertal genome has raised the possibility of admixture between Neandertals and the expanding population of Homo sapiens who left Africa between 80 and 50 Kya (thousand years ago) to colonize the rest of the world. Here, we provide evidence of a notable presence (9% overall) of a Neandertal-derived X chromosome segment among all contemporary human populations outside Africa. Our analysis of 6,092 X-chromosomes from all inhabited continents supports earlier contentions that a mosaic of lineages of different time depths and different geographic provenance could have contributed to the genetic constitution of modern humans. It indicates a very early admixture between expanding African migrants and Neandertals prior to or very early on the route of the out-of-Africa expansion that led to the successful colonization of the planet. 

All Non-Africans Part Neanderthal, Genetics Confirm, di Jennifer Viegas, Jul 18, 2011 

If your heritage is non-African, you are part Neanderthal, according to a new study in the July issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution. Discovery News has been reporting on human/Neanderthal interbreeding for some time now, so this latest research confirms earlier findings. Damian Labuda of the University of Montreal's Department of Pediatrics and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center conducted the study with his colleagues. They determined some of the human X chromosome originates from Neanderthals, but only in people of non-African heritage. "This confirms recent findings suggesting that the two populations interbred," Labuda was quoted as saying in a press release. His team believes most, if not all, of the interbreeding took place in the Middle East, while modern humans were migrating out of Africa and spreading to other regions (...)

Footprints Show How Our Ancestors Walked, di Jennifer Viegas, Jul 19, 2011

The oldest known human ancestor footprints, dated to 3.7 million years ago, reveal that some of the earliest members of our family tree walked fully upright with feet similar to ours, according to new research. The findings, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, push back the date for upright walking in our ancestry by nearly 2 million years. That's because previous studies had concluded this trademark gait emerged in the genus Homo about 1.9 million years ago. The 3.7 million-year-old footprint maker, likely a species called Australopithecus afarensis (of the "Lucy" fossil fame), walked in an even less ape-ish way than some humans do today. Lead author Robin Crompton told Discovery News that "some healthy humans produce more 'ape like' footprints." (...)

The Lower to Middle Palaeolithic transition in northern Iberia: new data from Arlanpe Cave, di Joseba Rios-Garaizar et alii, "Project Gallery", vol. 85, issue 329

The Lower to Middle Palaeolithic transition in Western Europe is a long and complex process that is difficult to assess from an epistemological, chronological and behavioural point of view (Monnier 2006). Around 300 kyrs BP some elements of material culture, such as the Levallois technique (Mode 3) appear in several assemblages, but undisputed Mode 2 or Acheulean assemblages are still present until almost OIS (Oxygen Isotope Stage) 5e (≈115 kyrs BP) in different regions (Santonja & Villa 2006). These final Acheulean assemblages share Middle and Lower Palaeolithic traits and are crucial to understanding the patchwork nature of the transformation processes of Neanderthal societies during this period. Arlanpe is a small cave (Universal Transverse Mercator coordinates: x: 519254; y: 4782262; z: 204) located on the northern slope of the Cantabrian Cordillera, 25km from the Atlantic coast in northern Spain (Figures 1 & 3). This is a strategic location, close to a low mountain pass (600m asl) located upstream from the site that connects with the Alavese plateau, and near the confluence of two main rivers, the Arratia and the Ibaizabal that drain a major part of Vizcaya province. Excavations have been ongoing since 2006 and cover a surface area of 11m² (Figure 4). Two different excavation areas have yielded evidence for the Upper Acheulean (Levels C and D), the Upper Solutrean (Levels II and III) (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2008b), the Magdalenian (Level I), as well as Bronze Age and Late Roman occupations. The Upper Acheulean level D is notable for its good preservation compared to other assemblages in the Cantabrian region (Arrizabalaga 2005–2006). The ongoing project comprises systematic excavation and analysis of archaeological and paleontological material and geological processes to characterise these occupations and the relevance that they have towards assessing the nature of the Lower–Middle Palaeolithic transition in Western Europe (...)

Confermato il bipedismo perfetto di Lucy & C., "Le Scienze" 21/07/2011

Una nuova analisi delle tracce di impronte fossili di Laetoli, in Tanzania, conferma che l'andatura bipede è stata acquisita dagli antenati dell'uomo molto prima di quanto generalmente ritenuto, circa 3,7 milioni di anni fa. Molti studi precedenti avevano suggerito che le caratteristiche del piede umano, come la capacità di spingere sul suolo con l'alluce, e un'andatura bipede perfettamente eretta fossero emerse in Homo circa 1,9 milioni di anni fa. Solo alcuni studi recenti hanno indicato che questa peculiarità dell'uomo potesse essere molto più antica. Il sito di Laetoli è noto perché in esso sono conservati i segni fossilizzati della più antica camminata nota di antenati dell'uomo, e comprende 11 impronte singole in buone condizioni. Gli studi precedenti sono stati condotti essenzialmente sull'esame delle singole impronte e questo li esponeva alla critica di averne travisato il significato attribuendo a caratteristiche naturali quelle che avrebbero potuto essere artificiali, dovute a fenomeni come l'erosione o altri fattori ambientali. Per la nuova analisi - descritta in un articolo pubblicato sulla rivista Interface della Royal Society - i ricercatori dell'Università Liverpool, di quella dei Manchester e della Bournemouth University hanno invece utilizzato una nuova tecnica statistica, mutuata da quelle utilizzate per lo studio dell'imaging funzionale del cervello, così da ottenere una impronta tridimensionale media delle 11 impronte intatte del percorso Laetoli. "Abbiamo trovato che le impronte di Laetoli rappresentano un tipo di camminata bipede in posizione eretta, con la spinta esercitata dalla parte anteriore del piede, in particolare dall'alluce, proprio come gli esseri umani odierni, e molto diversa dalla camminata bipede di scimpanzé e altre scimmie", ha detto Robin Crompton, che ha partecipato alla ricerca. Quando camminano in posizione bipede, le grandi scimmie di oggi spingono infatti il terreno verso l'esterno con la parte centrale del piede. "Questi risultati confermano uno studio precedente che ha mostrato come la camminata bipede eretta si deve essere originariamente sviluppata in un antenato comune dell'uomo e delle grandi scimmie prevalentemente arboricolo. Australopithecus afarensis, peraltro, non era moderno per quanto riguarda la le proporzioni corporee degli arti e del tronco." "La caratteristica forma del corpo dell'essere umano moderno, con il busto breve e gambe lunghe, ci permette di camminare e correre su grandi distanze, anche quando si trasportano carichi pesanti. Australopithecus afarensis aveva un fisico opposto, con gambe corte e un corpo più lungo, per cui è probabile che potesse camminare o correre in modo efficace solo su brevi distanze."

L'ultimo antenato, "Le Scienze" 21/07/2011

Per capire a fondo l’origine della nostra specie, Homo sapiens, dobbiamo fare i conti non solo con la sua comparsa, avvenuta 200.000 anni fa, ma anche con eventi più remoti nel tempo, in particolare la separazione delle linee evolutive di H. sapiens e di H. neanderthalensis, avvenuta circa 500.000 anni fa. Secondo gli autori, i dati paleoantropologici, paleogeografici e paleogenetici indicano che l’ultimo antenato comune tra H. sapiens e Neanderthal è stato Homo heidelbergensis. L’origine di questa specie è ancora misteriosa. Ma alcune informazioni sono state ottenute dall’analisi di fossili scoperti a Denisova, in Siberia, per cui H. heidelbergensis avrebbe avuto origine prima di 500.000 anni fa, e dal cranio di Ceprano, che rappresenterebbe la forma ancestrale di questa specie. 

Un nuovo algoritmo chiarisce la storia dell'esodo umano dall'Africa, "Le Scienze" 19/07/2011

Grazie allo sviluppo di un nuovo algoritmo di analisi dell'intero genoma di differenti popolazioni, un gruppo di ricercatori del Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute ha scoperto che le popolazioni africane e non africane hanno continuato ad avere un interscambio genetico anche dopo le migrazioni al di fuori dell'Africa avvenute circa 60.000 anni fa. La ricerca, pubblicata su Nature, ha permesso anche di stabilire nuove stime sulle dimensioni delle popolazioni. "Con questo algoritmo, siamo stati in grado di fornire nuove chiavi di letture della storia umana", spiega Richard Durbin, direttore del centro di genomica informatica del Sanger. "In primo luogo, abbiamo visto un aumento costante della popolazione da quando l'uomo moderno è nato in Africa più di 100.000 anni fa". "In secondo luogo, se guardiamo ai non africani dell'Europa e del'Asia orientale, vediamo, come hanno rilevato anche altri studi, una storia comune di una drastica riduzione della popolazione, un collo di bottiglia, a partire da circa 60.000 anni fa. Ma a differenza degli studi precedenti abbiamo anche osservato la continuazione di uno scambio genetico con le popolazioni africane per decine di migliaia di anni dopo l'esodo iniziale, fino a 20.000-40.000 anni fa." "I metodi precedenti per approfondire queste questioni genetiche hanno esaminato un sottoinsieme del genoma umano. Il nostro nuovo approccio utilizza l'intera sequenza dei singoli individui, e si basa su un minor numero di assunzioni. Utilizzando tali tecniche saremo in grado di capitalizzare la rivoluzione del sequenziamento e dell'analisi del genoma di progetti come il 1000 Genomes Project e, via via che saranno sequenziate più persone, costruire un quadro della storia genetica umana con dettagli progressivamente più fini ." I ricercatori hanno scoperto che, sebbene le popolazioni africane e non africane abbiano iniziato a differenziarsi molto presto, sono rimaste una popolazione unica fino a 60.000-80.000 anni fa. In seguito, gli antenati degli europei e degli asiatici orientali hanno attraversato un periodo in cui la dimensione delle loro popolazioni si è ridotta a circa un decimo delle dimensioni precedenti, proprio in coincidenza con il periodo in cui iniziano a comparire reperti umani in Europa e in Asia. Ma, almeno per i primi 20.000 anni di questo periodo, sembra che le popolazioni africane e non più africane non fossero geneticamente separate. Una possibile spiegazione è la presenza di un continuo flusso migratorio anche dopo l'esodo originale.

· Inference of human population history from individual whole-genome sequences, di H. Li - R. Durbin, "Nature"

The postcranial dimensions of the La Chapelle-aux-saints 1 Neandertal, di E. Trinkaus, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 145, Issue 3, pages 461–468, July 2011

The La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 Neandertal has figured prominently in considerations of Neandertal body size and proportions. In this context, a reassessment of its major long bones and a reassembly of its principal pelvic elements (sacrum and right ilium) was undertaken. There are secure measurements for its humeral and radial lengths and its femoral head diameter, but the femoral and tibial lengths were almost certainly greater than previous values. The resultant humeral, femoral and tibial lengths are similar to those of other male Neandertals, its femoral head diameter is among the largest known for Middle and Late Pleistocene humans, but its radial length is relatively short. The pelvic assembly provides modest bi-iliac and inlet transverse diameters compared with the few sufficiently complete and undistorted Middle and Late Pleistocene archaic human pelves, but its dimensions are similar to those of large male early modern humans. 

An X-Linked Haplotype of Neandertal Origin Is Present Among All Non-African Populations di V. Yotova et alii, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 28, Issue7, pp. 1957-1962

Recent work on the Neandertal genome has raised the possibility of admixture between Neandertals and the expanding population of Homo sapiens who left Africa between 80 and 50 Kya (thousand years ago) to colonize the rest of the world. Here, we provide evidence of a notable presence (9% overall) of a Neandertal-derived X chromosome segment among all contemporary human populations outside Africa. Our analysis of 6,092 X-chromosomes from all inhabited continents supports earlier contentions that a mosaic of lineages of different time depths and different geographic provenance could have contributed to the genetic constitution of modern humans. It indicates a very early admixture between expanding African migrants and Neandertals prior to or very early on the route of the out-of-Africa expansion that led to the successful colonization of the planet. 

The Oldest Anatomically Modern Humans from Far Southeast Europe: Direct Dating, Culture and Behavior, di S. Prat, S. C. Péan, L. Crépin, D. G. Drucker, S. J. Puaud, H. Valladas, M. Lázničková-Galetová, J. van der Plicht, A. Yanevich, "PLoS ONE", June 17, 2011

Anatomically Modern Humans (AMHs) are known to have spread across Europe during the period coinciding with the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition. Whereas their dispersal into Western Europe is relatively well established, evidence of an early settlement of Eastern Europe by modern humans are comparatively scarce. Based on a multidisciplinary approach for the study of human and faunal remains, we describe here the oldest AMH remains from the extreme southeast Europe, in conjunction with their associated cultural and paleoecological background. We applied taxonomy, paleoecology, and taphonomy combined with geomorphology, stratigraphy, archeology and radiocarbon dating. More than 160 human bone remains have been discovered. They originate from a well documented Upper Paleolithic archeological layer (Gravettian cultural tradition) from the site of Buran-Kaya III located in Crimea (Ukraine). The combination of non-metric dental traits and the morphology of the occipital bones allow us to attribute the human remains to Anatomically Modern Humans. A set of human and faunal remains from this layer has been radiocarbon dated by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry. The direct-dating results of human bone establish a secure presence of AMHs at 31,900+240/−220 BP in this region. They are the oldest direct evidence of the presence of AMHs in a well documented archeological context. Based on taphonomical observations (cut marks and distribution of skeletal elements), they represent the oldest Upper Paleolithic modern humans from Eastern Europe, showing post-mortem treatment of the dead as well. These findings are essential for the debate on the spread of modern humans in Europe during the Upper Paleolithic, as well as their cultural behaviors. (...)

Quaternaire - Revue de l'Association Française pour l'Étude du Quaternaire - Volume 22, numero 1, 2011

Did early Homo migrate “out of” or “in to” Africa?, di B. Wood, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), June 28, 2011 vol. 108 no. 26, pp. 10375-10376

The origin of our own genus remains frustratingly unclear. Although many of my colleagues are agreed regarding the “what” with respect to Homo, there is no consensus as to the “how” and “when” questions. Until relatively recently, most paleoanthropologists (including the writer) assumed Africa was the answer to the “where” question, but in a little more than a decade discoveries at two sites beyond Africa, one at Dmanisi in Georgia and the other at Liang Bua on the island of Flores, have called this assumption into question. The results of recent excavations at Dmanisi reported in PNAS ( 1), which suggest that hominins visited that site on several occasions between ca . 1.85 and ca. 1.77 Ma, together with recent reassessments of the affinities of Homo habilis, are further reasons for questioning the assumption that Homo originated in Africa. The site of Dmanisi, which is 34 miles southwest of Tbilisi, is situated on a promontory at the confluence of two rivers, the Masavera and the Pinasaouri. Since the 1930s the main foci of excavations have been its Bronze Age and medieval archeology, but between 1983 and 1987 excavations in part of the medieval village resulted in the recovery of early Pleistocene fossils, and the first of many well-preserved hominin fossils, the D211 mandible, was recovered in 1991. The early Pleistocene sediments at Dmanisi, which are dominated by primary and locally reworked ashfalls, are divided into two major units: stratum A (with subunits A1–A4), which conformably overlies the Masavera Basalt, and stratum B (with subunits B1–B5), which overlies stratum A and is separated from it by a minor erosional disconformity.

Morphology, body proportions, and postcranial hypertrophy of a female Neandertal from the Sima de las Palomas, southeastern Spain,  di M. J. Walkera, J. Ortegaa, K. Parmováb, M. V. Lópeza, E. Trinkausc, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), June 26, 2011, vol. 108, no. 25, pp, 10087-10091 

Considerations of Neandertal geographical variation have been hampered by the dearth of remains from Mediterranean Europe and the absence there of sufficiently complete associated postcrania. The 2006 and 2007 excavation of an articulated partial skeleton of a small adult female Neandertal at the Sima de las Palomas, Murcia, southeastern Spain (Sima de las Palomas 96) provides substantial and secure information on body proportions among southern European Neandertals, as well as further documenting the nature of Neandertal biology in southern Iberia. The remains exhibit a suite of cranial, mandibular, dental, and postcranial features, of both Neandertals and archaic Homo generally, that distinguish them from contemporary and subsequent early modern humans. Its lower limbs exhibit the robustness of later Pleistocene Homo generally, and its upper limbs conform to the pattern of elevated robustness of the Neandertals. Its body proportions, including relative clavicular length, distal limb segment lengths, and body mass to stature indicators, conform to the “cold-adapted” pattern of more northern Neandertals. Palomas 96 therefore documents the presence of a suite of “Neandertal” characteristics in southern Iberia and, along with its small body size, the more “Arctic” body proportions of other European Neandertals despite the warmer climate of southern Iberia during marine isotope stage 3.

Mating with Neanderthals Good for Human Health, di Tim Wall, Jun 17, 2011 

Interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals may have given Europeans and Asians resistance to northern diseases that their African ancestors didn't have. Peter Parham, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford, recently presented evidence to the Royal Society in London that Europeans gained many of the genes for human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) from neanderthals (...)

Dzudzuana: an Upper Palaeolithic cave site in the Caucasus foothills (Georgia), di O. Bar-Yosef, A, Belfer-Cohen, T. Mesheviliani, N. Jakeli, G. Bar-Oz, E. Boaretto, P. Goldberg, E. Kvavadze, Z. Matskevich, "Antiquity", Volume: 85 Number: 328 Page: 331–349 

The report announces the important radiocarbon-dated sequence recently obtained at Dzudzuana Cave in the southern Caucasus foothills. The first occupants here were modern humans, in c. 34.5–32.2 ka cal BP, and comparison with dated sequences on the northern slope of the Caucasus suggests that their arrival was rapid and widespread. The rich, well-dated assemblages of lithics, bone tools and a few art objects, coloured fibres, pollen and animal remains deposited at Dzudzuana through 20 millennia provide an invaluable point of reference for numerous other sites previously excavated in western Georgia. Detailed information has been placed in a supplementary excavation report online. The data support the significance of these excavations for a better understanding of modern human dispersals. 

Who Was Homo habilis—And Was It Really Homo? di A. Gibbons, "Science" 17 June 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6036 pp. 1370-1371 

In the past decade, Homo habilis's status as the first member of our genus has been undermined. Newer analytical methods suggested that H. habilis matured and moved less like a human and more like an australopithecine, such as the famous partial skeleton of Lucy. Now, a report in press in the Journal of Human Evolution finds that H. habilis's dietary range was also more like Lucy's than that of H. erectus, which many consider the first fully human species to walk the earth. That suggests the handyman had yet to make the key adaptations associated with our genus, such as the ability to exploit a variety of foods in many environments, the authors say. 


Hadrian's buildings catch the Sun, Nature news, 16 June 2011 

Hadrian's villa 30 kilometres east of Rome was a place where the Roman Emperor could relax in marble baths and forget about the burdens of power. But he could never completely lose track of time, says Marina De Franceschini, an Italian archaeologist who believes that some of the villa's buildings are aligned so as to produce sunlight effects for the seasons (...)

South African Cave Slowly Shares Secrets of Human Culture, di M. Balter, "Science", 10 June 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6035 pp. 1260-1261

At Sibudu Cave in South Africa lies a record of prehistoric human occupation that extends back at least 77,000 years and probably much longer. These multilayered, humanmade sediments are crammed with thousands of artifacts left behind by Homo sapiens during our species' formative years, culturally speaking. There are sophisticated stone tools, skillfully made bone implements, deep hearths, and the charred bones of large and small mammals; there are swatches of bedding made of sedges and grass, chunks of red ochre, and sparkling ornamental beads made from the shells of sea snails. This site has become a powerful tool for testing hypotheses about the cognitive prowess of early modern humans. The excavations have pushed back the first signposts for complex cognition, producing evidence for the earliest known bows and arrows as well as the precocious use of snares and traps to catch small animals, both of which require the ability to plan ahead. 

Maschi stanziali e femmine vagabonde fra i primi ominidi, "Le Scienze" 07/06/2011

I maschi di due antiche specie di ominidi bipedi del Sud Africa erano relativamente stanziali, mentre le femmine vagavano molto di più per la savana. A questo inaspettato risultato è giunta una ricerca condotta da paleontologi Max Planck Institut per l'antropologia evoluzionistica a Lipsia, dell'Università del Colorado a Boulder e di altri centri di ricerca, che ne parlano in un articolo pubblicato su Nature. I ricercatori, che hanno studiato denti fossili di un gruppo di individui appartenenti alle specie Australopithecus africanus e Paranthropus robustus di due gruppi di caverne in Sud Africa, quelli di Sterkfontein e di Swartkrans, hanno scoperto infatti che metà dei denti rinvenuti delle femmine di questi ominidi si trovavano al di fuori delle aree locali dei diversi gruppi, contro appena il 10 per cento dei maschi. "Uno degli scopi del nostro studio era quello di analizzare l'uso del territorio da parte di questi primi ominidi", ha spiegato Sandi R. Copeland, primo firmatario dell'articolo. "Qui abbiamo scoperto i primi indizi diretti degli spostamenti geografici dei primi ominidi ed essi mostrano che le donne preferivano muoversi al di fuori dell'area del loro gruppo originario." Lo schema di dispersione rilevato in questi gruppi di ominidi somiglia a quello degli uomini moderni, degli scimpanzé e dei bonobo, ha osservato Copeland, ma differisce da quello degli altri primati, come il gorilla, in cui le femmine restano nel gruppo in cui sono nate mentre i maschi si spostano. "Lo studio ci offre una migliore comprensione della struttura sociale dei più antichi ominidi, dato che ora abbiamo una buona idea degli schemi di dispersione." I risultati sono stati alquanto sorprendenti per i ricercatori anche per un altro motivo: "Pensavamo di trovare più ominidi al di fuori delle aree locali, dato che generalmente si pensa che l'evoluzione del bipedismo sia in buona parte dovuto al fatto che permette agli individui di percorrere distanze maggiori. Queste ridotte dispersioni dal sito di residenza potrebbero implicare che il bipedismo si sia evoluto principalmente per altre ragioni."

· Strontium isotope evidence for landscape use by early hominins, di S. R. Copeland, M. Sponheimer, D. J. de Ruiter, J. A. Lee-Thorp, D. Codron, P. J. le Roux, V. Grimes, M. P. Richards, "Nature", Volume: 474, Pages: 76–78 02 June 2011

Earliest human occupations at Dmanisi (Georgian Caucasus) dated to 1.85–1.78 Ma, di R. Ferringa, O. Omsb, J. Agustíc, F. Bernad, M. Nioradzee, T. Sheliae, M. Tappenf, A. Vekuae, D. Zhvaniae, D. Lordkipanidzee, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), June 6, 2011 (June 28, 2011 vol. 108 no. 26, pp. 10432-10436)

The early Pleistocene colonization of temperate Eurasia by Homo erectus was not only a significant biogeographic event but also a major evolutionary threshold. Dmanisi's rich collection of hominin fossils, revealing a population that was small-brained with both primitive and derived skeletal traits, has been dated to the earliest Upper Matuyama chron (ca. 1.77 Ma). Here we present archaeological and geologic evidence that push back Dmanisi's first occupations to shortly after 1.85 Ma and document repeated use of the site over the last half of the Olduvai subchron, 1.85–1.78 Ma. These discoveries show that the southern Caucasus was occupied repeatedly before Dmanisi's hominin fossil assemblage accumulated, strengthening the probability that this was part of a core area for the colonization of Eurasia. The secure age for Dmanisi's first occupations reveals that Eurasia was probably occupied before Homo erectus appears in the East African fossil record. 

· Human ancestors in Eurasia earlier than thought, "Nature news", 6 June 2011 

Palaeoanthropology: In search of the australopithecines - di M. J. Schoeninger, "Nature", vol. 474, 2 june 2011, pp. 43-45

Evidence from strontium isotope ratios preserved in fossil teeth provides a glimpse into the group dynamics and ranging habits of the australopithecines that can be compared with the patterns for modern primates.

Early Human Dads Stayed at Home While Females Roamed, di Jennifer Viegas 1 giugno 2011

Males within two human ancestral species that existed roughly 2.7 to 1.7 million years ago were stay-at-home fellows, while females of these same species traveled, according to a new Nature paper. The finding not only suggests that homebody males today may have a genetic predisposition for their lifestyle choice, but that certain female dispersal patterns among humans may mirror those of chimpanzees and bonobos. These two other primates also have stay-put males and traveling females (...)

· Female australopiths seek brave new world, "Nature news", 1 giugno 2011

On dental wear, dental work, and oral health in the type specimen (LB1) of Homo floresiensis - di W. L. Jungers, Y. Kaifu, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", vol. 145, 2, pp. 282–289, june 2011

The claim that the lower left first mandibular molar of LB1, the type specimen of Homo floresiensis, displays endodontic work, and a filling is assessed by digital radiography and micro-CT scanning. The M1 tooth crown is heavily worn and exhibits extensive dentine exposure that is stained white, but there is no trace of endodontic treatment or a dental filling in this Indonesian fossil dated to 17.1-19.0 kya. Dental calculus (commonly observed in foragers) is present on the teeth of LB1, but there are no observable caries. The pattern of dental attrition in the mandibles of both LB1/2 and LB6/1 (moderate to extensive flat wear across the entire arch) is consistent with that seen in Plio-Pleistocene Homo fossils and in modern hunter-gatherers, and is not typical of most agriculturalists. We conclude that the dental-work and farming hypotheses are falsified and therefore irrelevant to the debate over the taxonomy and phylogeny of H. floresiensis. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Dzudzuana: an Upper Palaeolithic cave site in the Caucasus foothills (Georgia) - di O. B.Yosef, A. B.Cohen, T. Mesheviliani, N. Jakeli, G. Bar Oz, E. Boaretto, P. Goldberg, E. Kvavadze, Z. Matskevich, "Antiquity", volume 85, number 328, june 2011, pp. 331–349 

The report announces the important radiocarbon-dated sequence recently obtained at Dzudzuana Cave in the southern Caucasus foothills. The first occupants here were modern humans, in c. 34.5–32.2 ka cal BP, and comparison with dated sequences on the northern slope of the Caucasus suggests that their arrival was rapid and widespread. The rich, well-dated assemblages of lithics, bone tools and a few art objects, coloured fibres, pollen and animal remains deposited at Dzudzuana through 20 millennia provide an invaluable point of reference for numerous other sites previously excavated in western Georgia. Detailed information has been placed in a supplementary excavation report online. The data support the significance of these excavations for a better understanding of modern human dispersals. ©2011 Antiquity Publications

Paleolithic handaxe discovered in Orkney, 29 maggio 2011

A flint axe, recovered on a stretch of shore in St Ola, looks like being the oldest man-made artefact found in Orkney (Scotland) to date. Dating from the Paleolithic, the axe could therefore be anything between 100,000 and 450,000 years old. Paleolithic axes are incredibly rare in Scotland, with fewer than ten being found in the country. Around 14cm long, the Orkney axe was picked up by Alan Price, who passed it to county archaeologist Julie Gibson. The axe has been broken, and originally would have tapered to a point opposite the cutting edge. But at some point in antiquity the point broke off and someone reworked the flint to its present straight edge (...)

Revised age of late Neanderthal occupation and the end of the Middle Paleolithic in the northern Caucasus, di R. Pinhasi, T. F. G. Higham, L. V. Golovanova, V. B. Doronichev - "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), May 9, 2011, n. 108 (21), pp. 8611-8616 

Advances in direct radiocarbon dating of Neanderthal and anatomically modern human (AMH) fossils and the development of archaeostratigraphic chronologies now allow refined regional models for Neanderthal–AMH coexistence. In addition, they allow us to explore the issue of late Neanderthal survival in regions of Western Eurasia located within early routes of AMH expansion such as the Caucasus. Here we report the direct radiocarbon (14C) dating of a late Neanderthal specimen from a Late Middle Paleolithic (LMP) layer in Mezmaiskaya Cave, northern Caucasus. Additionally, we provide a more accurate chronology for the timing of Neanderthal extinction in the region through a robust series of 16 ultrafiltered bone collagen radiocarbon dates from LMP layers and using Bayesian modeling to produce a boundary probability distribution function corresponding to the end of the LMP at Mezmaiskaya. The direct date of the fossil (39,700 ± 1,100 14C BP) is in good agreement with the probability distribution function, indicating at a high level of probability that Neanderthals did not survive at Mezmaiskaya Cave after 39 ka cal BP ("calendrical" age in kiloannum before present, based on IntCal09 calibration curve). This challenges previous claims for late Neanderthal survival in the northern Caucasus. We see striking and largely synchronous chronometric similarities between the Bayesian age modeling for the end of the LMP at Mezmaiskaya and chronometric data from Ortvale Klde for the end of the LMP in the southern Caucasus. Our results confirm the lack of reliably dated Neanderthal fossils younger than ∼40 ka cal BP in any other region of Western Eurasia, including the Caucasus. 

Did Neandertals Linger in Russia's Far North?, di M. Balter - "Science" 13 May 2011, vol. 332, n. 6031 p. 778

On page 841 of this week's issue of Science, a research team claims that some of the last Neandertals may have taken refuge in the dark Arctic north rather than the sunny south as archaeological evidence has indicated. At the 32,000-year-old site of Byzovaya in Russia's Polar Ural Mountains, which at 65 degrees latitude is as far north as Iceland, archaeologists found stone tools they argue are typical of those long associated with Neandertals in Europe. If Neandertals did make the tools, it would push Neandertals' range northward by 1000 kilometers, and the site would be one of the youngest claimed for Neandertals, especially since recent redating has moved many Neandertal sites earlier in time. It would also show that the cold-adapted Neandertals could survive the rigors of the Arctic. 

Neanderthals' Last Stand Possibly Found, di Jennifer Viegas, 12 maggio 2011

A Neanderthal-style toolkit found in the frigid far north of Russia's Ural Mountains dates to 33,000 years ago and may mark the last refuge of Neanderthals before they went extinct, according to a new Science study. Another possibility is that anatomically modern humans crafted the hefty tools using what's known as Mousterian technology associated with Neanderthals, but anthropologists believe that's unlikely. "We consider it overwhelmingly probable that the Mousterian technology we describe was performed by Neanderthals, and thus that they indeed survived longer, that is until 33,000 years ago, than most other scientists believe," co-author Jan Mangerud, a professor emeritus in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Bergen and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, told Discovery News (...)

P. boisei, l'uomo "schiaccianoci", preferiva l'erba, "Le Scienze" 05/05/2011

L'“Uomo schiaccianoci”, un antico ominide bipede della specie Paranthropus boisei dotato di potenti mascelle non mangiava affatto noci ma si nutriva di erba: è quanto hanno annunciato, sulla base di un nuovo studio Matt Sponheimer e colleghi dell'Università del Colorado a Boulder. L'ominide abitava in Africa circa un milione di anni fa, fianco a fianco con i diretti progenitori dell'uomo moderno. Le sue mascelle massicce con grandi denti molari e potenti muscoli mandibolari hanno fatto pensare negli anni passati a un'alimentazione basata su noci, semi e frutti. Diverse indicazioni ricavate in recenti studi hanno fatto poi pensare che si nutrisse almeno in parte anche di frutti molli e di erba, sottolinea Sponheimer. Queste prove, combinate con le misurazioni degli isotopi del carbonio sulla dentatura fossile hanno portato a ipotizzare che la struttura larga e piatta dei denti era adatta alla masticazione di grandi quantità di erba. “Francamente non ci aspettavamo di trovare l'equivalente di un ruminante in un ramo dell'albero filogenetico dell'essere umano”, ha ironizzato Sponheimer, che firma in proposito un articolo sui Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.“Fortunatamente, il lavoro di diversi gruppi di ricerca negli ultimi anni ha contribuito ad 'ammorbidire' la dieta dei primi ominidi”. Per questo nuovo studio, i ricercatori hanno rimosso piccoli campioni di smalto da 22 denti di P. boisei raccolti nel Kenya centrale e settentrionale, ciascuno dei quali contiene isotopi del carbonio assorbiti dai diversi tipi di cibi consumati dai diversi individui. Negli ambienti tropicali, virtualmente tutti gli alberi e i cespugli, compresi frutti e foglie, usano usano il cosiddetto cammino fotosintentico C3 per convertire la radiazione solare in energia, mentre la vegetazione bassa della savana usa il cammino C4. L'analisi isotopica indica che gli individui di Paranthropus boisei preferivano di gran lunga la vegetazione bassa rispetto a cespugli ed alberi: complessivamente: la dieta dei 22 individui su un periodo di 500.000 anni era costituita in media dal 77 per cento di erba.

· Diet of Paranthropus boisei in the early Pleistocene of East Africa, di T. E. Cerlinga - E. Mbuab - F. M. Kirerab - F. K. Manthib - F. E. Grinec - M. G. Leakeyb - M. Sponheimere - K. T. Uno, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS)", 2 maggio 2011

· No Nuts for ‘Nutcracker Man’, News Center - University of Utah

Heidelberg Man Links Humans, Neanderthals, di Jennifer Viegas, 4 maggio 2011

The last common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals was a tall, well-traveled species called Heidelberg Man, according to a new PLoS One study. The determination is based on the remains of a single Heidelberg Man (Homo heidelbergensis) known as "Ceprano," named after the town near Rome, Italy, where his fossil -- a partial cranium -- was found.Previously, this 400,000-year-old fossil was thought to represent a new species of human, Homo cepranensis. The latest study, however, identifies Ceprano as being an archaic member of Homo heidelbergensis (...)

Neanderthals Were Overwhelmingly Right-Handed, di Rossella Lorenzi 21 aprile 2011

Neanderthals and their likely ancestors were overwhelmingly right-handed, according to investigation into fossilized teeth excavated in Spanish and other European caves. Writing in the British journal Laterality, an international team of researchers has concluded that right-handedness, a uniquely human trait that has right-handers outnumbering lefties nine-to-one, was the dominate pattern as far back as a half million years ago. Various researchers have attempted to determine when right-handedness first evolved by analyzing ancient tools, prehistoric art and human bones (...)

Four Individuals Caught in 'Death Trap' May Shed Light on Human Ancestors, di Ann Gibbons, "Science Now"  19 Aprile 2011

Finding one partial skeleton of an ancient member of the human family is the rarest of rare discoveries in human evolution. So, paleoanthropologists murmured in surprise at a meeting here Saturday when South African researchers announced that they had found at least four individuals of a new species of early human, Australopithecus sediba. The discoverers say that this hominin shows some surprisingly modern traits and its species may even be an ancestor of our own genus. “We really have found something very, very odd and very unexpected,” says discovery team leader Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. But other paleoanthropologists are waiting for more detailed analysis of the still-unpublished fossils before they agree on its identity or place in the human family tree (...)

Dalla rivista "L'Anthropologie", vol. 115, issue 2, pages 197-342 (April-May 2011):

· Le Paléolithique ancien de l’Europe orientale et du Caucase 

· Étude préliminaire des industries archaïques de faciès Oldowayen du site de Hummal (El Kowm, Syrie centrale) 

· Le gisement acheuléen de plein air de La Garde (Loire). Remarques sur une série lithique acheuléenne entre Rhône et Loire 

· La gestion du quartz au Pléistocène moyen et supérieur. Trois exemples d’Europe Méridionale 

Dalla rivista "Archeologia Viva" (n. 147, maggio-giugno 2011, pp. 30-39)

Gargano. Minatori nella preistoria

Il Gargano è stato il più antico distretto minerario d'Europa. Lo sanno in pochi. Il termine "distretto" non è casuale. Le ricerche degli ultimi venticinque anni sul promontorio pugliese hanno infatti portato in luce un'ampia rete di miniere preistoriche, attiva per ben 3500 anni, dal primo Neolitico alla fine dell'età del Rame, grosso modo dagli inizi del VI alla metà del III millennio a.C. Queste miniere erano rivolte all'estrazione della selce, roccia dal colore variabile che per tutta la preistoria ha costituito la principale materia prima di origine minerale. Con essa furono fabbricati la quasi totalità dei manufatti giunti fino a noi. Il Gargano è incredibilmente ricco di selce di ottima qualità per la scheggiatura e questo fattore favorì senz'altro il suo popolamento in età preistorica. Tutt'oggi, nonostante decenni di raccolte indiscriminate, è ancora possibile individuare in superficie grandi dispersioni di selci lavorate. Il più delle volte si tratta di aree di lavorazione della selce, in genere direttamente collegate a punti di estrazione della materia prima. Se ne rese conto, fin dagli anni Trenta del secolo scorso, Ugo Rellini, al quale dobbiamo le prime scoperte di miniere di selce sul Gargano. Fino agli anni Ottanta, tuttavia, si è ritenuto che il fenomeno fosse riferibile alla sola età del Rame (circa 4000-2300 a.C.) e che interessasse strutture sotterranee di piccole dimensioni. Il quadro cambiò radicalmente con la scoperta della miniera della Defensola, nel comune di Vieste (Fg), dove la presenza di ceramica impressa permise subito di retrodatare al Neolitico antico, ovvero agli inizi del VI millennio a.C., l'inizio delle attività minerarie sul Gargano (...)

· Approfondimenti: Capire senza scavare (prospezioni geofisiche) - Un progetto lungo venticinque anni - Antiche miniere di selce in Europa - Tecniche minerarie diverse - Un patrimonio da proteggere

· Articolo a cura di: M. Tarantini (Dipartimento di Archeologia e Storia delle Arti, Università di Siena) 

Neandertal postcranial remains from the Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Murcia, southeastern Spain - di M. J. Walker, J. Ortega, M. V. López, K. Parmová, E. Trinkaus, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", vol. 144, 4, pp. 505-515, april 2011

The Sima de las Palomas, southeastern Spain, has yielded a series of Neandertal postcranial remains, including immature and mature isolated elements and the fragmentary partial skeleton of a young adult (Palomas 92). The remains largely conform to the general late archaic/Neandertal morphological pattern in terms of humeral diaphyseal shape, pectoralis major tuberosity size and pillar thickness, ulnar coronoid process height, manual middle phalangeal epiphyseal breadth, manual distal phalangeal tuberosity shape and breadth, femoral diaphyseal shape, and probably body proportions. Palomas 92 contrasts with the Neandertals in having variably gracile hand remains, a more sellar trapezial metacarpal 1 facet, more anteroposteriorly expanded mid-proximal femoral diaphysis, and less robust pedal proximal phalanges. The Palomas Neandertals contrast with more northern European Neandertals particularly in various reflections of overall body size. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Are Homo sapiens nonsupranuchal fossa and neanderthal suprainiac fossa convergent traits? - di W. Nowaczewska, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", vol. 144, 4, pp. 552-563, april 2011

The autapomorphic status of the Neanderthal suprainiac fossa was recently confirmed. This was a result of a detailed analysis of the internal bone composition in the area of the suprainiac depression on Neanderthal and Homo sapiens specimens. However, while anatomical differences between Neanderthal suprainiac fossa and the depression in the inion region of the occipital bone of fossil and recent Homo sapiens have been discussed in detail, the etiology of these structures has not been resolved. In this article, the hypothesis that the Homo sapiens non-supranuchal fossa and the Neanderthal suprainiac fossa both formed to maintain the optimal shape of the occipital plane (to minimize strain on the posterior cranial vault) is tested. First, the variation in the expression of the fossa above inion in the crania of recent Homo sapiens from European, African, and Australian samples was examined, and the degree of structural similarity between these depressions and the Neanderthal suprainiac fossa was assessed. Next, the relationship between the shape of the occipital squama in the midsagittal plane and two particular features (the degree of the occipital torus development and the occurrence of a depression in the inion region that is not the supranuchal fossa) were analyzed. Based on the results, it is suggested that the Homo sapiens non-supranuchal fossa and Neanderthal suprainiac fossa are convergent traits. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Middle pleistocene dental remains from Qesem Cave (Israel) - di I. Hershkovitz, P. Smith, R. Sarig, R. Quam, L. Rodríguez, R. García, J. L. Arsuaga, R. Barkai, A. Gopher, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", vol. 144, 4, pp. 575-592, april 2011

This study presents a description and comparative analysis of Middle Pleistocene permanent and deciduous teeth from the site of Qesem Cave (Israel). All of the human fossils are assigned to the Acheulo-Yabrudian Cultural Complex (AYCC) of the late Lower Paleolithic. The Middle Pleistocene age of the Qesem teeth (400–200 ka) places them chronologically earlier than the bulk of fossil hominin specimens previously known from southwest Asia. Three permanent mandibular teeth (C1-P4) were found in close proximity in the lower part of the stratigraphic sequence. The small metric dimensions of the crowns indicate a considerable degree of dental reduction although the roots are long and robust. In contrast, three isolated permanent maxillary teeth (I2, C1, and M3) and two isolated deciduous teeth that were found within the upper part of the sequence are much larger and show some plesiomorphous traits similar to those of the Skhul/Qafzeh specimens. Although none of the Qesem teeth shows a suite of Neanderthal characters, a few traits may suggest some affinities with members of the Neanderthal evolutionary lineage. However, the balance of the evidence suggests a closer similarity with the Skhul/Qafzeh dental material, although many of these resemblances likely represent plesiomorphous features. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Middle Palaeolithic chert exploitation in the Pindus Mountains of western Macedonia, Greece - di N. Efstratiou, P. Biagi, D. E. Angelucci, R. Nisbet, "Project Gallery" - vol. 85, issue 328

Archaeological surveys and excavations carried out in the Samarina region since 2002, promoted by Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, have led to the discovery of hundreds of high-altitude sites, most of which can be attributed to the Middle Palaeolithic, Mousterian Levalloisian culture. They are mainly distributed along the watersheds that surround Samarina, and the ridges of the Gurgulu, up to an altitude of around 2100m asl (Efstratiou et al. 2004 & 2006). Although their precise chronology is yet to be defined, the location of several assemblages on the top of the most recent moraines, radiometrically dated to some 70 kyr (Hughes et al. 2006 & 2007), and their typological and technological characteristics would assign them to a late period in the development of the Middle Palaeolithic. The assemblages are characterised by artefacts among which are Levalloisian cores, flakes and blades, retouched and unretouched Levalloisian points with facetted platforms  and different types of side-scrapers (...)

The Sacred Landscape of Ancient Ireland - di R. Hicks, "Archaeology", vol. 64, number 3, May/June 2011

Tara near the midpoint of the north-south line connecting Emain Macha and Dún Ailinne. The significance of this arrangement is still unknown, but it is notable. Archaeological work shows that early activity at these sites may have had to do with burials, and that these enclosures were constructed during the Iron Age. Surprisingly, none of them are suitable for defense. Instead, each seems to mark off an area that only makes sense if viewed as sacred (...)

Cavemen, Cave Bears Battled Over Turf di J. Viegas, 26 aprile

After prehistoric humans and cave bears competed for the same real estate, the bears were wiped out. But are our ancestors to blame?

Neanderthals Were Overwhelmingly Right-Handed di R. Lorenzi, 21 aprile

Neanderthals and their likely ancestors were overwhelmingly right-handed, according to investigation into fossilized teeth excavated in Spanish and other European caves. Writing in the British journal Laterality, an international team of researchers has concluded that right-handedness, a uniquely human trait that has right-handers outnumbering lefties nine-to-one, was the dominate pattern as far back as a half million years ago (...)

Did Neanderthals Believe in an Afterlife? di J. Viegas, 20 aprile

A possible Neanderthal burial ground suggests that they practiced funeral rituals and possessed symbolic thought before modern humans

Who is the closest extant cousin of humans? Total-evidence approach to hominid phylogenetics via simultaneous optimization di S. Lehtonen, I. E. Sksjrvi, K. Ruokolainen, H. Tuomisto, "Journal of Biogeography", Volume 38, Issue 4, pages 805–808, April 2011

J. R. Grehan & J. H. Schwartz (Journal of Biogeography, 2009, 36, 1823–1844) argued that humans (Homo) are more closely related to orangutans (Pongo) than to chimpanzees (Pan), and used this scenario to draw biogeographical conclusions about human origins. They discussed a contradiction between phenotypical and molecular results that has led to a debate about the reliability of genetic versus phenotypic data. The main aim of our study is to test the conflicting phylogenetic hypotheses by a total-evidence analysis based on simultaneous optimization of extensive phenotypic and molecular data sets. Our results supported the human–chimpanzee clade, without any phenotypical–molecular data conflict, as the same phylogeny emerged both from the total analysis and when the molecular and phenotypic data were analysed separately. Sensitivity analyses showed that the result was not dependent on the parameters chosen for character weighting.

Hunter-gatherer genomic diversity suggests a southern African origin for modern humans, di B. M. Henn et alii - "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), March 29, 2011; n. 108 (13), pp. 5154-5162

Africa is inferred to be the continent of origin for all modern human populations, but the details of human prehistory and evolution in Africa remain largely obscure owing to the complex histories of hundreds of distinct populations. We present data for more than 580,000 SNPs for several hunter-gatherer populations: the Hadza and Sandawe of Tanzania, and the ≠Khomani Bushmen of South Africa, including speakers of the nearly extinct N|u language. We find that African hunter-gatherer populations today remain highly differentiated, encompassing major components of variation that are not found in other African populations. Hunter-gatherer populations also tend to have the lowest levels of genome-wide linkage disequilibrium among 27 African populations. We analyzed geographic patterns of linkage disequilibrium and population differentiation, as measured by FST, in Africa. The observed patterns are consistent with an origin of modern humans in southern Africa rather than eastern Africa, as is generally assumed. Additionally, genetic variation in African hunter-gatherer populations has been significantly affected by interaction with farmers and herders over the past 5,000 y, through both severe population bottlenecks and sex-biased migration. However, African hunter-gatherer populations continue to maintain the highest levels of genetic diversity in the world.

On the earliest evidence for habitual use of fire in Europe, di W. Roebroeksa, P. Villa - "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS), March 29, 2011; n. 108 (13), pp. 5209-5214

The timing of the human control of fire is a hotly debated issue, with claims for regular fire use by early hominins in Africa at ~1.6 million y ago. These claims are not uncontested, but most archaeologists would agree that the colonization of areas outside Africa, especially of regions such as Europe where temperatures at time dropped below freezing, was indeed tied to the use of fire. Our review of the European evidence suggests that early hominins moved into northern latitudes without the habitual use of fire. It was only much later, from ~300,000 to 400,000 y ago onward, that fire became a significant part of the hominin technological repertoire. It is also from the second half of the Middle Pleistocene onward that we can observe spectacular cases of Neandertal pyrotechnological knowledge in the production of hafting materials. The increase in the number of sites with good evidence of fire throughout the Late Pleistocene shows that European Neandertals had fire management not unlike that documented for Upper Paleolithic groups. 

Early Europeans unwarmed by fire di M. Kaplan, "Nature news" 14 marzo

The logical argument that ancient human ancestors had to have mastered fire before departing balmy Africa for the often freezing climes of Europe is being challenged by a review revealing that there is no evidence to support the idea. Exactly when fire became a tool in the hominin toolbox is a thorny issue. Unlike stone tools, which hold together reasonably well over the course of time and can be dated as having been in hominin hands for at least 2.6 million years, the ash and charcoal that are often the only remains from ancient fires are rare in the fossil record as they are easily destroyed by the elements (...)

An Earlier Acheulian Arrival in South Asia, di R. Dennell - "Science" 25 March 2011, vol. 331, n. 6024, pp. 1532-1533 

South Asia has rarely featured in recent discussions of paleoanthropology. On page 1596 of this issue, however, Pappu et al. (1) report a breakthrough, showing that an assemblage of Acheulian stone tools found in India can be dated to at least 1 million years ago (Ma) and are perhaps as ancient as ∼1.5 Ma— far older than previously shown. Acheulian tools are the product of a distinctive set of tool-making techniques that originated in Africa and then spread to Europe and Asia. The exact chronology of this spread, however, has been a long-standing puzzle. In India, researchers recently dated a few sites with Acheulian tools to more than 0.6 Ma (2, 3), but these dates are problematic (4). At the same time, most of the few dates available for Indian Acheulian sites were obtained years ago through a method that measures isotopes of thorium and uranium (230Th/234U) (5), and there are good reasons to suspect that it seriously underestimated their true ages. Pappu's team has performed a notable service in demonstrating unequivocally that the South Asian Acheulian extends back into the Early Pleistocene, more than 0.78 Ma. 

Another missing link in human evolution? "Archaeo News" 22 aprile

Skeletons of Australopithecus sediba display a unusual mix of modern and primitive traits - sharing more features with early Homo specimens than any other known Australopithecus species, according to Darryl de Ruiter of Texas A&M University in College Station, USA. Researchers found the remains of at least four individuals - a youth, an older female, an 18-month-old infant and at least one other adult - who died when they fell into a 'death trap' in a cave about 2 million years ago at Malapa (South Africa) (...)

Dalla rivista "Archeologia Viva" (n. 146, marzo-aprile 2011, pp. 16-27)

Grotta del Romito. Un monumento della preistoria europea

In una profonda incisione valliva percorsa dal fiume Lao, alle pendici sudoccidentali del sistema montuoso del Pollino, nel comune di Papasidero (Cs), si apre la Grotta del Romito (275 metri di quota), un antro immerso nel silenzio di un'area ancora quasi disabitata, non lontano dall'imponente viadotto Italia dell'autostrada Salerno-Reggio Calabria e a breve distanza dalle spiagge tirreniche di Scalea e Praia a Mare. La Grotta e l'antistante Riparo del Romito conservano uno dei più importanti giacimenti preistorici dell'Italia meridionale per l'imponenza della stratigrafia, la ricchezza delle evidenze archeologiche e la quantità di informazioni che ne possono derivare per ricostruire l'ambiente preistorico e le attività dei gruppi umani che abitarono il sito alla fine del Paleolitico e, occasionalmente, durante il Neolitico. Fu Paolo Graziosi a iniziare nel 1961 scavi sistematici, facendo subito assurgere la Grotta del Romito a fama europea, grazie a quattro sepolture paleolitiche che egli mise in luce, ma soprattutto per le straordinarie incisioni rupestri, prima fra tutte la superba figura di uro (Bos primigenius) che campeggia su un grande masso all'ingresso dell'antro. Le indagini, sospese alla fine degli anni Sessanta, sono state riprese nel Duemila e affidare dalla Soprintendenza per i Beni archeologici della Calabria ancora all'Ateneo fiorentino. Ha così preso avvio una nuova stagione di ricerche pluridisciplinari curate da un équipe internazionale di cui fanno parte geologi, paleontologi, paleobotanici e paletnologi di varie università (continua).

· Approfondimenti: Uomini e donne nel Paleolitico - Tridimensionalità in archeologia - Riti e momenti sociali al Romito - Alla ricerca di rocce scheggiabili - Tecnologia e materia prima - "Sapienza ambientale" dei paleolitici - Informazioni dal DNA antico.

· Articolo a cura di: F. Martini (ordinario di Paletnologia ed Ecologia preistorica all'Università di Firenze) - D. Lo Vetro (docente a contratto all'Università di Firenze) - L. Baglioni (assegnista e dottore di ricerca all'Università di Firenze) - A. C. Colonese (dottore di ricerca all'Università di Barcellona) - Z. Di Giuseppe (collaboratore del Museo e Istituto Fiorentino di Preistoria) - V. De Troia e P. Machetti (Tecsette s.r.l. - Tecnologie innovative per il rilievo, Firenze) - P. F. Fabbri (ricercatore all'Università del Salento) - F. Mallegni (ordinario di Antropologia all'Università di Pisa) - L. Nannini (collaboratore del Museo e Istituto Fiorentino di Preistoria) - O. Rickards (ordinario di Antropologia molecolare all'Università di Roma "Tor Vergata") - F. Trenti (borsista all'Università di Firenze).

A Chauvet Primer, di Z.  Zorich, "Archaeology", volume 64, number 2, March/April 2011

European Middle and Upper Palaeolithic radiocarbon dates are often older than they look: problems with previous dates and some remedies, di T. Higham, "Antiquity", volume 85, number 327, march 2011, pp. 235-249

Few events of European prehistory are more important than the transition from ancient to modern humans around 40 000 years ago, a period that unfortunately lies near the limit of radiocarbon dating. This paper shows that as many as 70 per cent of the oldest radiocarbon dates in the literature may be too young, due to contamination by modern carbon. Future dates can be made more secure — and previous dates revised — using more refined methods of pre-treatment described here.  

The Emergence of Neanderthal Technical Behavior: New Evidence from Orgnac 3 (Level 1, MIS 8), Southeastern France, di M.H. Moncel - A. M. Moigne - Y. Sam - J. Combier, "Current Anthropology", vol. 52, n. 1, february 2011, pp. 37-75

The archaeological sequence from the Orgnac 3 site presents the opportunity to observe behavioral aspects characterizing the beginnings of the main Neanderthal technological strategies employed in Europe until marine isotopic stage (MIS) 3. In this site, the Levallois debitage method appears in the middle of the sequence (MIS 9) and develops at about 300,000 BP at the top of the sequence (MIS 8). The Levallois method is best represented in level 1, making the site one of the oldest examples of Levallois technology. Orgnac 3 indicates the emergence of new technological behavior in southern France and Europe around the limit between isotopic stages 9 and 8. In order to provide new evidence on pre-Neanderthal behavior, new data from level 1 were obtained by comparing stone processing systems with faunal remains. Lithic and bone assemblages display evidence of one to several occupations by horse and bovid hunters during predominantly cool climatic conditions. Animal carcass processing is principally associated with standardized knapping, which produced most of the tool supports. Small and large flakes bear little retouch. Behavioral modifications appeared later than changes in human anatomical traits and did not follow a particular rhythm. New behavioral aspects emerged in Europe as early as MIS 12, as indicated by subsistence strategies, and specialized and selective hunting and butchering strategies. During MIS 10, new technological behavior (pre-Levallois knapping) appeared. However, at Orgnac 3, the archaeological record reveals several stages. From MIS 9–8 and until MIS 7, strategies adopted by Neanderthals became systematic, independent of climatic conditions. The results of this study contribute to a better understanding of early Neanderthal behavior, i.e., of human history. 

Homo sapiens Is as Homo sapiens Was, di J. J. Shea, "Current Anthropology", vol. 52, n. 1, february 2011, pp. 1-35

Paleolithic archaeologists conceptualize the uniqueness of Homo sapiens in terms of “behavioral modernity,” a quality often conflated with behavioral variability. The former is qualitative, essentialist, and a historical artifact of the European origins of Paleolithic research. The latter is a quantitative, statistically variable property of all human behavior, not just that of Ice Age Europeans. As an analytical construct, behavioral modernity is deeply flawed at all epistemological levels. This paper outlines the shortcomings of behavioral modernity and instead proposes a research agenda focused on the strategic sources of human behavioral variability. Using data from later Middle Pleistocene archaeological sites in East Africa, this paper tests and falsifies the core assumption of the behavioral-modernity concept—the belief that there were significant differences in behavioral variability between the oldest H. sapiens and populations younger than 50 kya. It concludes that behavioral modernity and allied concepts have no further value to human origins research. Research focused on the strategic underpinnings of human behavioral variability will move Paleolithic archaeology closer to a more productive integration with other behavioral sciences. 

Neanderthals Wore Feathers as Fashion Accessories, 23/02/2011

· Late Neandertals and the intentional removal of feathers as evidenced from bird bone taphonomy at Fumane Cave 44 ky B.P., Italy, di M. Peresani - I. Fiore - M. Gala - M. Romandini - A. Tagliacozzo, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA" (PNAS) - Early Edition 22/01/2011

Da riscrivere la storia antica della nostra specie?, "Le Scienze" 22/02/2011

È da riscrivere la storia filogenetica della nostra specie? Forse, almeno per quanto riguarda quella che è stata definita dagli antropologi nell’ultimo decennio. È quanto sostengono sulla rivista Nature Bernard Wood, direttore del Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology della George Washington University e Terry Harrison, direttore del Center for the Study of Human Origins della New York University. Lo studio “The evolutionary context of the first hominins”, riconsidera le relazioni evolutive tra i fossili denominati Orrorin, Sahelanthropus e Ardipithecus, che sono stati datati a diversi milioni di anni fa e che rappresenterebbero i più antichi antenati dell’uomo. Gli autori in sostanza sono scettici sulle interpretazioni date ai fossili e sostengono la necessità di considerare più sfumature nell’approccio alla classificazione dei fossili. È troppo semplicistico, secondo gli autori, supporre che tutti i fossili siano antenati di creature attualmente presenti sulla Terra e sottolineano anche come gli scienziati che hanno trovato e descritto i fossili non abbiano tenuto conto di eventuali omoplasie – ovvero di caratteristiche comuni a specie non imparentate – frutto di convergenze evolutive. Per esempio, se si accetta l’ipotesi che Ardipithecus sia un antenato dell’uomo, occorre assumere che l’omoplasia non sia presente nella nostra linea filogenetica, ma sia comune in quelle più vicine a essa. La comunità scientifica ha stabilito da lungo tempo che la linea di discendenza umana ha cominciato a divergere da quella dello scimpanzé da sei a otto milioni di anni fa. È infatti agevole distinguere tra fossili di scimpanzé moderni ed esseri umani moderni. Tuttavia, è più difficile differenziare tra le due specie se si esaminano i fossili più vicini al loro comune antenato, come nel caso di Orrorin, Sahelanthropus e Ardipithecus. Nel loro studio, Wood and Harrison sottolineano come l'affidarsi in modo acritico a poche somiglianze tra fossili di scimmie antropomorfe ed esseri umani possa portare a conclusioni scorrette sulle possibili relazioni evolutive. Ramapithecus, una specie di scimmia fossile trovata nel Sud Est Asiatico, negli anni Sessanta e Settanta fu erroneamente ritenuto uno dei primi antenati dell’uomo, ma successivamente si è appurato che si trattava di uno stretto parente dell’orangutan. Allo stesso modo, Oreopithecus bambolii, un fossile di scimmia trovato in Italia, mostra somiglianze con i primi antenati umani, tra cui alcune caratteristiche dello scheletro che suggeriscono che avesse già sviluppato un adattamento all’andatura bipede. Tuttavia, osservano ancora gli autori, si sa abbastanza della sua anatomia per mostrare che si tratta di una scimmia fossile e solo lontanamente imparentata con gli esseri umani, che ha acquisito molte caratteristiche “umane” in parallelo. Wood e Harrison sottolineano come i piccoli canini di Ardipithecus e di Sahelanthropus siano forse le prove più convincenti a supporto dell’ipotesi che si tratti dei primi antenati dell’uomo. Tuttavia, la riduzione dei canini non è esclusiva della nostra linea evolutiva, ma è un processo che si è verificato in modo indipendente in molte linee di scimmie fossili (Oreopithecus, Ouranopithecus e Gigantopithecus) presumibilmente per effetto di un simile cambiamento nell’alimentazione. "Non stiamo affermando che questi fossili non possano essere di antenati dell'uomo", hanno spiegato i ricercatori. "Semplicemente riteniamo che tale conclusione debba essere adeguatamente dimostrata, dal momento che esistono numerose interpretazioni alternative".

· The evolutionary context of the first hominins, di B. Wood - T. Harrison, "Nature", Volume 470, pp. 347–352

L'arco plantare di "Lucy", "Le Scienze" 15/02/2011

A. afarensis, la specie vissuta fra 3,7 e 2,9 milioni di anni fa a cui apparteneva anche "Lucy", era un buon camminatore e aveva un'andatura bipede eretta. La scoperta fa seguito al ritrovamento nel sito di Hadar, in Etiopia, di ossa del piede di questa specie. Un gruppo di ricercatori dell'Università del Missouri e della Arizona State University guidati da Carol Ward ha infatti trovato le prove che l'arco plantare era già presente in questo nostro predecessore. Le ossa ritrovate suggeriscono che questi ominidi avessero un piede molto simile a quello dell'uomo moderno. Australopithecus afarensis aveva un cervello più piccolo e una mandibola molto più massiccia e camminava già su due gambe, tuttavia gli scienziati non sapevano se Lucy e i suoi parenti avessero uno stile di vita più versatile e passassero più o meno tempo sugli alberi. "Gli archi plantari sono un elemento chiave della camminata come quella dell'uomo, dato che assorbono gli shock e forniscono una salda piattaforma per spingere il piede in avanti. Oggi si sa che chi ha i 'piedi piatti' con uno scarso sviluppo dell'arco risente di problemi che si ripercuotono su tutto lo scheletro." "Ora che sappiamo che Lucy e i suoi parenti avevano l'arco plantare, possiamo inferire più cose su di essi: dove vivevano, che cosa mangiavano e come sfuggivano ai predatori", ha detto Ward, primo firmatario dell'articolo pubblicato su Science che illustra la scoperta. "Lo sviluppo degli archi è stato un cambiamento fondamentale verso la condizione umana, dato che significa l'abbandono dell'alluce prensile per afferrare i rami, e indica che i nostri antenati avevano finalmente abbandonato la vita fra gli alberi in favore di quella sul terreno." Australopithecus afarensis era dunque in grado di vagare per il territorio e abbandonare la foresta quando era necessario procurarsi altro cibo. Con le sue forti mascelle, poteva sfruttare diversi tipi di cibo, come frutti, semi, noci, radici, ma la nuova capacità di vivere negli spazi aperti gli apriva nuove possibilità di approvvigionamento alimentare.

· Complete Fourth Metatarsal and Arches in the Foot of Australopithecus afarensis, di C. V. Ward - W. H. Kimbel - D. C. Johanson, "Science", 11 February 2011, Vol. 331, n. 6018, pp. 750-753

Lucy camminava come noi (11 febbraio 2011) 

Un ritrovamento senza precedenti - il fossile di un osso del piede - sembra confermare che Australopithecus afarensis, l'antico antenato dell'uomo reso celebre dalla scoperta dello scheletro ribattezzato "Lucy", camminava come noi: lo rivela una ricerca appena pubblicata sulla rivista Science (continua).

Deep Divergences of Human Gene Trees and Models of Human Origins, di M. G. B. Blum - M. Jakobsson, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", volume 28, issue 2, february 2011

Two competing hypotheses are at the forefront of the debate on modern human origins. In the first scenario, known as the recent Out-of-Africa hypothesis, modern humans arose in Africa about 100,000–200,000 years ago and spread throughout the world by replacing the local archaic human populations. By contrast, the second hypothesis posits substantial gene flow between archaic and emerging modern humans. In the last two decades, the young time estimates—between 100,000 and 200,000 years—of the most recent common ancestors for the mitochondrion and the Y chromosome provided evidence in favor of a recent African origin of modern humans. However, the presence of very old lineages for autosomal and X-linked genes has often been claimed to be incompatible with a simple, single origin of modern humans. Through the analysis of a public DNA sequence database, we find, similar to previous estimates, that the common ancestors of autosomal and X-linked genes are indeed very old, living, on average, respectively, 1,500,000 and 1,000,000 years ago. However, contrary to previous conclusions, we find that these deep gene genealogies are consistent with the Out-of-Africa scenario provided that the ancestral effective population size was approximately 14,000 individuals. We show that an ancient bottleneck in the Middle Pleistocene, possibly arising from an ancestral structured population, can reconcile the contradictory findings from the mitochondrion on the one hand, with the autosomes and the X chromosome on the other hand. 

125.000 anni fa l'esodo dall'Africa dell'uomo moderno, "Le Scienze" 01/02/2011

Alcuni artefatti datati a oltre 100.000 anni fa scoperti negli Emirati Arabi Uniti collocano temporalmente l’esodo dall’Africa degli esseri umani moderni molto prima di quanto ritenuto finora. Lo studio che riporta questo risultato è pubblicato in un articolo su Science a firma dei ricercatori di un’ampia collaborazione internazionale guidata da Hans-Peter Uerpmann della Eberhard Karls University di Tübingen, in Germania. Grazie ai loro scavi, gli studiosi hanno stabilito che l'uomo moderno è arrivato sulla Penisola arabica 125.000 anni fa, direttamente dall’Africa e quindi non seguendo un itinerario lungo la valle del Nilo o attraversando il Medioriente, come sostenuto in passato. La cronologia e la geografia dell’esodo dei primi esseri umani sono oggetto di un dibattito che dura da molti anni: nella visione convenzionale, essi si sarebbero mossi lungo le coste del Mediterraneo o lungo la costa arabica approssimativamente 60.000 anni fa. In quest’ultima ricerca, nel sito di Jebel Faya è stato scoperto un antico insieme di utensili tra cui un’amigdala – una pietra scheggiata e lavorata a forma di mandorla – insieme ad altri artefatti per cavare e perforare che le tecniche di datazione a luminescenza utilizzate fanno risalire a circa 100.000-125.000 anni fa. Uerpmann e il suo gruppo hanno analizzato anche il livello del mare e le registrazioni climatiche della regione nell’ultimo periodo interglaciale, risalente a circa 130.000 anni fa. Si è stabilito inoltre che lo stretto di Bab al-Mandab, che separa l’Arabia dal Corno d’Africa, era probabilmente molto più stretto a causa dei bassi livelli del mare, il che avrebbe permesso il passaggio sicuro prima e verso l’inizio dell’ultimo periodo interglaciale. A quel tempo, la Penisola Arabica era coperta da una lussureggiante vegetazione solcata da fiumi e laghi. Questo territorio avrebbe permesso ai primi umani l’accesso all’Arabia e poi alla Mezzaluna Fertile, secondo i ricercatori. “Questi esseri umani anatomicamente moderni si sono evoluti in Africa circa 200.000 anni fa – e successivamente hanno popolato il resto del mondo: i nostri risultati dovrebbero stimolare una rivalutazione degli strumenti grazie ai quali sono diventati una specie globale”, ha commentato Armitage. “Il sito di Jebel Faya rivela un quadro affascinante di come gli esseri umani sono emigrati dall’Africa molto prima di quanto stimato finora, aiutati dalle fluttuazioni nel livello del mare e dei cambiamenti climatici nella Penisola Arabica”. 

· Out of Africa”: Evidence for an Early Expansion of Modern Humans into Arabia, di S. J. Armitage - S. A. Jasim - A. E. Marks - A. G. Parker - V. I. Usik - H. P. Uerpmann, "Science", 28 January 2011, Vol. 331, n. 6016, pp. 453-456 

Dalla rivista "Archeologia Viva" (n. 145, gennaio-febbraio 2011, pp. 6-7)

Valle del Senna e Neandertaliani

In Francia un'equipe dell'Istituto nazionale di ricerche archeologiche preventive (Inrap) sta scavando un sito di grande interesse preistorico e paleontologico a Tourville-la- Rivière (Seine-Maritime), in uno dei numerosi meandri della valle della Senna a sud di Rouen. Il sito offre un'imponente sequenza di strati, formatisi per un'altezza di trenta metri per l'accumulo dei sedimenti alluvionali fra 350 e 130 mila anni fa su un basso terrazzo del fiume. Questa successione di depositi costituisce una straordinaria registrazione delle variazioni climatiche e ambientali nella valle della Senna nel corso del Pleistocene medio (circa 500 mila - 150 mila anni fa). Lo scavo in corso si focalizza su uno strato alluvionale di circa 200 mila anni fa. In questi livelli, spessi circa due metri, stanno mettendo in luce resti di fauna e selci scheggiate, queste ultime riferibili alla cultura del Musteriano antico e realizzate da artigiani appartenenti alla linea umana del Neandertal: più precisamente si tratta di pre-Neandertaliani (o Neandertaliani antichi). Le specie animali riscontrate appartengono a un contesto ambientale tipico della fine di un periodo interglaciale: cervo, attestato da numerosi palchi, uro (Bos taurus primigenius) e cavallo. La presenza di questi erbivori gregari si accompagna a quella dei carnivori: lupo, volpe, orso, leone o, ancora, la pantera. Tale accumulo di resti animali è in larga parte dovuto a cause naturali: carcasse trasportate dalla Senna, che andarono a depositarsi sugli argini e sui banchi di sabbia ai piedi di una falesia. L'industria della selce, realizzata con tecnica Levallois, attesta una preparazione meticolosa del blocco da scheggiare (nucleo) da parte dell'intagliatore,  al fine di programmare forma e dimensioni dello strumento. Senza rimettere in questione il loro formidabile talento di cacciatori, da un lato, e, dall'altro, evitando di ricorrere al termine di "carognaggio" (da riservare alla sfera animale) per determinate modalità di approvvigionamento, è chiaro che le popolazioni pre-neadertaliane adottarono comportamenti di sussistenza che denotano adeguate strategie tecniche ed economiche. A Tourville-la-Rivière, i pre-Neadertaliani sembrano avere occupato il luogo per soste di breve durata, come dimostrano la scarsa quantità di strumenti in selce (solo cinquecento oggetti su un ettaro di superficie) e la limitata estensione delle aree di produzione.

Institut national de recherches archéologiques (Inrap)

Brief communication: Subvertical grooves on interproximal wear facets from the El Sidrón (Asturias, Spain) Neandertal dental sample - "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", vol. 144, 1, pp. 154–161, january 2011

The distribution of subvertical grooves on interproximal wear dental facets from the El Sidrón (Asturias, Spain) Neandertals is described and analyzed. Out of 93 teeth, 64.5% present subvertical grooves, including a high frequency (50%) on the anterior dentition. Contrary to some studies, subvertical grooves from adjacent facets perfectly overlap each other and do not interdigitate, probably forming small channels. Both the facet and the groove surface share the same polished appearance, suggesting a common origin. Statistical analyses reveal that the number of grooves is neither dependent on the degree of occlusal wear, nor on the position on the tooth or the individual's age. However, facet width is an important factor determining the number of subvertical grooves. The etiology of subvertical grooves formation on Neandertal teeth remains unclear.

Late Pleistocene adult mortality patterns and modern human establishment - "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS)", january 25, 2011; vol. 108 (4), pp. 1267-1271

The establishment of modern humans in the Late Pleistocene, subsequent to their emergence in eastern Africa, is likely to have involved substantial population increases, during their initial dispersal across southern Asia and their subsequent expansions throughout Africa and into more northern Eurasia. An assessment of younger (20–40 y) versus older (>40 y) adult mortality distributions for late archaic humans (principally Neandertals) and two samples of early modern humans (Middle Paleolithic and earlier Upper Paleolithic) provides little difference across the samples. All three Late Pleistocene samples have a dearth of older individuals compared with Holocene ethnographic/historical samples. They also lack older adults compared with Holocene paleodemographic profiles that have been critiqued for having too few older individuals for subsistence, social, and demographic viability. Although biased, probably through a combination of preservation, age assessment, and especially Pleistocene mobility requirements, these adult mortality distributions suggest low life expectancy and demographic instability across these Late Pleistocene human groups. They indicate only subtle and paleontologically invisible changes in human paleodemographics with the establishment of modern humans; they provide no support for a life history advantage among early modern humans. 

A shift toward birthing relatively large infants early in human evolution - "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS)", january 18, 2011; vol. 108 (3), pp. 1022-1027

It has long been argued that modern human mothers give birth to proportionately larger babies than apes do. Data presented here from human and chimpanzee infant:mother dyads confirm this assertion: humans give birth to infants approximately 6% of their body mass, compared with approximately 3% for chimpanzees, even though the female body weights of the two species are moderately convergent. Carrying a relatively large infant both pre- and postnatally has important ramifications for birthing strategies, social systems, energetics, and locomotion. However, it is not clear when the shift to birthing large infants occurred over the course of human evolution. Here, known and often conserved relationships between adult brain mass, neonatal brain mass, and neonatal body mass in anthropoids are used to estimate birthweights of extinct hominid taxa. These estimates are resampled with direct measurements of fossil postcrania from female hominids, and also compared with estimates of female body mass to assess when human-like infant:mother mass ratios (IMMRs) evolved. The results of this study suggest that 4.4-Myr-old Ardipithecus possessed IMMRs similar to those found in African apes, indicating that a low IMMR is the primitive condition in hominids. Australopithecus females, in contrast, had significantly heavier infants compared with dimensions of the femoral head (n = 7) and ankle (n = 7) than what is found in chimpanzees, and are estimated to have birthed neonates more than 5% of their body mass. Carrying such proportionately large infants may have limited arboreality in Australopithecus females and may have selected for alloparenting behavior earlier in human evolution than previously thought. 

Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium) - "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS)", january 11, 2011; vol. 108 (2), pp. 486-491

The nature and causes of the disappearance of Neanderthals and their apparent replacement by modern humans are subjects of considerable debate. Many researchers have proposed biologically or technologically mediated dietary differences between the two groups as one of the fundamental causes of Neanderthal disappearance. Some scenarios have focused on the apparent lack of plant foods in Neanderthal diets. Here we report direct evidence for Neanderthal consumption of a variety of plant foods, in the form of phytoliths and starch grains recovered from dental calculus of Neanderthal skeletons from Shanidar Cave, Iraq, and Spy Cave, Belgium. Some of the plants are typical of recent modern human diets, including date palms (Phoenix spp.), legumes, and grass seeds (Triticeae), whereas others are known to be edible but are not heavily used today. Many of the grass seed starches showed damage that is a distinctive marker of cooking. Our results indicate that in both warm eastern Mediterranean and cold northwestern European climates, and across their latitudinal range, Neanderthals made use of the diverse plant foods available in their local environment and transformed them into more easily digestible foodstuffs in part through cooking them, suggesting an overall sophistication in Neanderthal dietary regimes. 

I vestiti? Furono inventati 170.000 anni fa, "Le Scienze" 11/01/2011

In quale momento della sua storia l'essere umano ha iniziato a utilizzare i vestiti? La risposta è venuta da uno studio condotto da ricercatori dell'Università della Florida, scoprendo che il primo vestito deve risalire a circa 170.000 anni fa. Il ricorso a dati archeologici è impossibile per una simile ricerca, dato che è pressoché impossibile che tessuti, pellicce o simili si conservino in un ambiente naturale per tempi così lunghi. I ricercatori sono così ricorsi a un sistema davvero singolare: hanno analizzato i genoma dei pidocchi dei vestiti. "Dato il loro estremo adattamento ai vestiti, possiamo dire quasi con certezza che i pidocchi degli indumenti non esistevano fino a che l'uomo non ha inventato gli indumenti", spiega David Reed, conservatore al Florida Museum of Natural History, che ha diretto lo studio pubblicato sulla rivista Molecular Biology and Evolution.In realtà il metodo era già stato impiegato in una ricerca del 2003 condotta da Mark Stoneking, genetista al Max-Planck-Institut a Lipsia, che aveva portato a una stima di 107.000 anni fa, ma il nuovo studio include una maggiore quantità di dati e più raffinate tecniche di calcolo delle date. I nuovi dati indicano che gli esseri umani iniziarono a utilizzare dei vestiti circa 70.000 anni prima delle migrazioni verso le più fredde alte latitudini, avvenute a partire da 100.000 anni fa circa. Lo studio indica anche che l'uomo iniziò a coprirsi molto tempo dopo aver perso la propria copertura di peli, un evento che le ricerche sulla pigmentazione della pelle hanno collocato a circa un milione di anni fa. "E' interessante pensare che l'uomo sia stato in grado di sopravvivere in Africa per centinaia di migliaia di anni senza vestiti e senza pelo", ha commentato Reed. "I nuovi risultati anticipano notevolmente la data dei primi vestiti, ma hanno senso" osserva Ian Gilligan. "Indicano che gli umani moderni iniziarono a indossare regolarmente vestiti per tenersi caldi quando si trovarono esposti per la prima volta alle condizioni dell'era glaciale." L'ultima era glaciale risale a 120.000 anni fa, ma i nuovi dati indicano che l'uomo iniziò a coprirsi all'epoca della precedente era glaciale, avvenuta circa 180.000 anni fa.

· Origin of Clothing Lice Indicates Early Clothing Use by Anatomically Modern Humans in Africa, di M. A. Toups - A. Kitchen - J. E. Light -D. L. Reed, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", vol. 28, n. 1, january 2011, pp. 29-32 

Un nuovo cranio umano a Buya (7/1/2011)

Resti fossili di un Homo erectus/ergaster, databile a circa un milione di anni fa, sono stati scoperti a metà dicembre nel bacino sedimentario di Buya, in Eritrea, dal team italo-eritreo del "Progetto internazionale Buya". Nell'immagine, l'osso frontale, fotografato pochi istanti dopo il ritrovamento. Secondo i ricercatori, questa scoperta permette di gettare nuova luce su un periodo chiave, ma anche tra i più oscuri, della storia evolutiva del genere Homo. Proprio allora infatti si sviluppano le direttrici che porteranno, circa 400 mila anni più tardi, alla comparsa dei nostri diretti antenati e, in seguito, all'affermazione della specie Homo sapiens in questa stessa area dell'Africa orientale. La scoperta è particolarmente significativa perché, per lo stesso periodo, i reperti fossili a disposizione in Africa sono scarsissimi e, tranne quelli di Buya e il cranio di Daka, in Etiopia, anche piuttosto frammentari.



Index di antiqui Sommario bacheca