agosto-dicembre 2012

Aggiornamento 30 giugno

Calcium oxalate AMS 14C dating and chronology of post-Palaeolithic rock paintings in the Iberian Peninsula. Two dates from Abrigo de los Oculados (Henarejos, Cuenca, Spain), di J. F. Ruiz, A. Hernanz, R. A. Armitage, M. W. Rowe, R. Viñas, J. M. Gavira-Vallejo, A. Rubio, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 8, August 2012, Pages 2655–2667

Since 2005 we have been utilizing accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C dating in research on calcium oxalate crusts associated with open air rock art of the Iberian Peninsula. In this paper we present two dates linked with three eye-idol pictographs at Abrigo de los Oculados (Henarejos, Cuenca, Spain). Radiocarbon ages for these motifs agree with the expected iconography-based archaeological chronology. Such oxalate dates could provide an independent basis for evaluating chronological theories for post-Palaeolithic sites, designated in the UNESCO World Heritage List as Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula.

Temporal nature and recycling of Upper Paleolithic artifacts: the burned tools from the Molí del Salt site (Vimbodí i Poblet, northeastern Spain), di M. Vaquero, S. Alonso, S. García-Catalán, A. García-Hernández, B. Gómez de Soler, D.Rettig, M. Soto, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 8, August 2012, Pages 2785–2796

Recent research in Paleolithic archeology has stressed the importance of temporal issues in assemblage interpretation. Archeological assemblages are temporal constructs, formed by the addition of an unknown number of depositional events. This temporal dimension is also evident at the artifactual level, since single artifacts may undergo different events of modification and/or uses over time. The recycling of previously discarded blanks for tool production is one of the best examples of the temporal nature of artifacts. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the importance of recycling in a Late Upper Paleolithic site, examining a type of artifact – burned tools – that has up to now been little used to approach this issue. Our results suggest that recycling was probably a significant component of Upper Paleolithic provisioning behavior, with important implications in site formation processes and the typological variability of assemblages. The expedient or curated character of recycling is also discussed.

The effects of Class I and II sized bovids on macrofracture formation and tool displacement: Results of a trampling experiment in a southern African Stone Age context, di J. Pargeter, L. Bradfield, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 37, Number 3, August 2012 , pp. 238-251(14)

In this paper we follow from previous experiments that assessed the formation of macrofractures on hunting weapons and trampled tools, and present the results of a new trampling experiment. This new experiment examined the relationship between small bovid trampling and the formation of macrofracture types on replicated stone and bone tools. We also recorded the resulting displacement of the tools in order to assess the relationship between tool morphology and displacement. Three tool types with dimensions similar to southern African archaeological tools were used. The results suggest that small frequencies of certain impact macrofractures occur on tools subject to trampling forces. These frequencies are, however, lower than those generally recorded during hunting experiments. Tool morphologies and fracture combinations are also shown to be important variables in macrofracture analyses. These results contribute to a growing body of experimental data dealing with the relationship between postdepositional processes and macrofracture formation on artifacts.

Con i neandertaliani nella grotta di Shanidar, di A. Misuri, L. Longo, "Archeologia Viva", n. 154, luglio-agosto 2012, pp. 70-76

L'inviato di Archeologia Viva nel Kurdistan iracheno in visita al celebre antro dei monti Zagros che ha restituito i primi resti ossei dell'Uomo di Neandertal e in particolare una sepoltura dove il defunto fu amorevolmente coperto di fiori.

The Exploitation of Plant Resources by Early Homo sapiens: The Phytolith Record from Pinnacle Point 13B Cave, South Africa, di R. M. Albert, C. W. Marean, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 27, Issue 4, pages 363–384, July/August 2012

The capacity to detect remnants of fire usage in archaeological sites, along with a better understanding of its use by prehistoric populations, can help us to shed light on hominin cognition, social organization, and technology. The application of phytolith studies to understand fire and its use can be widely applicable since plants typically contain phytoliths that are identifiable to different taxonomic levels. Pinnacle Point 13B (PP13B) is one of several South African Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites that shows an abundant presence of lenses of burnt material and intact hearths. Phytolith analyses at PP13B have been used to identify the types of plants used as fuel in the hearths. The phytoliths overall show high levels of alteration, and varying alteration is used to identify areas with higher alkaline conditions related to dripping water. In some areas of the site, there is excellent preservation of multicellular structures from the epidermal leaves of dicotyledonous plants, suggesting in situ structures with practically no chemical or post-depositional alteration. A notable pattern is the abundance of dicotyledonous leaves from the rear of the cave, which might indicate specific leaf-fuels for the fires, short-term fire activities, or other actions such as cooking.

Selection and heating of colouring materials in the mousterian level of Es-Skhul (c. 100 000 years bp, Mount Carmel, Israel), di H. Salomon, C. Vignaud, Y. Coquinot, L. Beck, C. Stringer, D. Strivay, F. D'errico, "Archaeometry", Volume 54, Issue 4, pages 698–722, August 2012

The transformation of yellow goethite into red hematite by heating has long been assumed for Palaeolithic red artefacts excavated close to fireplaces. However, this transformation is extremely rare. Using SEM–FEG–EDX, PIXE–PIGE, TEM and μXRD, we characterized the mineralogical and chemical compositions of four microsamples of colouring materials from the Mousterian layer B in the es-Skhul rock-shelter, from about 100 kya ago. For some colouring materials, the Mousterian people of es-Skhul chose to gather remote yellow lumps for heating. Their significant transport distance provides evidence of the possible high cultural value of these colouring materials for transformation into red pigments.

An Ancestral miR-1304 Allele Present in Neanderthals Regulates Genes Involved in Enamel Formation and Could Explain Dental Differences with Modern Humans, di M. Lopez-Valenzuela et alii, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 29 Issue 7 July 2012, 1797-1806

Genetic changes in regulatory elements are likely to result in phenotypic effects that might explain population-specific as well as species-specific traits. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are posttranscriptional repressors involved in the control of almost every biological process. These small noncoding RNAs are present in various phylogenetic groups, and a large number of them remain highly conserved at the sequence level. MicroRNA-mediated regulation depends on perfect matching between the seven nucleotides of its seed region and the target sequence usually located at the 3′ untranslated region of the regulated gene. Hence, even single changes in seed regions are predicted to be deleterious as they may affect miRNA target specificity. In accordance to this, purifying selection has strongly acted on these regions. Comparison between the genomes of present-day humans from various populations, Neanderthal, and other nonhuman primates showed an miRNA, miR-1304, that carries a polymorphism on its seed region. The ancestral allele is found in Neanderthal, nonhuman primates, at low frequency (∼5%) in modern Asian populations and rarely in Africans. Using miRNA target site prediction algorithms, we found that the derived allele increases the number of putative target genes for the derived miRNA more than ten-fold, indicating an important functional evolution for miR-1304. Analysis of the predicted targets for derived miR-1304 indicates an association with behavior and nervous system development and function. Two of the predicted target genes for the ancestral miR-1304 allele are important genes for teeth formation, enamelin, and amelotin. MicroRNA overexpression experiments using a luciferase-based assay showed that the ancestral version of miR-1304 reduces the enamelin- and amelotin-associated reporter gene expression by 50%, whereas the derived miR-1304 does not have any effect. Deletion of the corresponding target sites for miR-1304 in these dental genes avoided their repression, which further supports their regulation by the ancestral miR-1304. Morphological studies described several differences in the dentition of Neanderthals and present-day humans like slower dentition timing and thicker enamel for present-day humans. The observed miR-1304-mediated regulation of enamelin and amelotin could at least partially underlie these differences between the two Homo species as well as other still-unraveled phenotypic differences among modern human populations.

Resequencing Data Provide No Evidence for a Human Bottleneck in Africa during the Penultimate Glacial Period, di P. Sjödin, A. E. Sjöstrand, M. Jakobsson, M.G.B. Blum,"Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 29 Issue 7 July 2012,  1851-1860

Based on the accumulation of genetic, climatic, and fossil evidence, a central theory in paleoanthropology stipulates that a demographic bottleneck coincided with the origin of our species Homo Sapiens. This theory proposes that anatomically modern humans—which were only present in Africa at the time—experienced a drastic bottleneck during the penultimate glacial age (130–190 kya) when a cold and dry climate prevailed. Two scenarios have been proposed to describe the bottleneck, which involve either a fragmentation of the range occupied by humans or the survival of one small group of humans. Here, we analyze DNA sequence data from 61 nuclear loci sequenced in three African populations using Approximate Bayesian Computation and numerical simulations. In contrast to the bottleneck theory, we show that a simple model without any bottleneck during the penultimate ice age has the greatest statistical support compared with bottleneck models. Although the proposed bottleneck is ancient, occurring at least 130 kya, we can discard the possibility that it did not leave detectable footprints in the DNA sequence data except if the bottleneck involves a less than a 3-fold reduction in population size. Finally, we confirm that a simple model without a bottleneck is able to reproduce the main features of the observed patterns of genetic variation. We conclude that models of Pleistocene refugium for modern human origins now require substantial revision.

The genus from Africa to Europe: evolution of terrestrial ecosystems and dispersal routes, "Quaternary International", Volume 267, Pages 1-110 (26 July 2012), edited: Marco Mancini, Raffaele Sardella

- The genus Homo from Africa to Europe: Evolution of terrestrial ecosystems and dispersal routes
- Early to Middle Pleistocene Homo dispersals from Africa to Eurasia: Geological, climatic and environmental constraints
- Palaeolandscapes of Southern Apennines during the late Early and the Middle Pleistocene
- The site of Coste San Giacomo (Early Pleistocene, central Italy): Palaeoenvironmental analysis and biochronological overview
- Stratigraphical and palaeontological data from the Early Pleistocene Pirro 10 site of Pirro Nord (Puglia, south eastern Italy)
- Evidence of an Early Pleistocene hominin presence at Pirro Nord (Apricena, Foggia, southern Italy): P13 site
- Coupling basin infill history and mammal biochronology in a Pleistocene intramontane basin: The case of western L’Aquila Basin (central Apennines, Italy) 
- The Bovid assemblage (Bovidae, Mammalia) from the Early Pleistocene site of ’Ubeidiya, Israel: Biochronological and paleoecological implications for the fossil and lithic bearing strata
- First occurrence of Soergelia (Ovibovini, Bovidae, Mammalia) in the Early Pleistocene of Italy
- The earliest Middle Pleistocene Crocuta crocuta (Erxleben, 1777) at Casal Selce (Rome, Italy)

Ancient Hunter-Gatherers Kept in Touch, di M. Balter, "Science News", 28 June 2012

Until about 8500 years ago, Europe was populated by nomadic hunter-gatherers who hunted, fished, and ate wild plants. Then, the farming way of life swept into the continent from its origins in the Near East, including modern-day Turkey. Within 3000 years most of the hunter-gatherers had disappeared. Little is known about these early Europeans. But a new genetic analysis of two 8000-year-old skeletons from Spain suggests that they might have been a remarkably cohesive population both genetically and culturally—a conclusion that other researchers find intriguing but possibly premature. (...)

· Genomic Affinities of Two 7,000-Year-Old Iberian Hunter-Gatherers, di F. Sánchez-Quinto et alii, "Current Biology", 28 June 2012

Early Human Ate Like a Giraffe, di A. Gibbons, "Science News", 27 June 2012

Talk about a high-fiber diet: the newest member of the human family, Australopithecus sediba, ate enough bark, leaves, and fruit that its appetite was more like that of a chimpanzee's than a human's. That is the conclusion of a new study, in which an international team of researchers used state-of-the-art methods to analyze the diet of two australopithecines that fell into a death pit in Malapa, South Africa, almost 2 million years ago. (...)

Ancient Human Ancestors Had Unique Diet, June 27, 2012

When it came to eating, an upright, 2 million-year-old African hominid had a diet unlike virtually all other known human ancestors, says a study led by the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and involving the University of Colorado Boulder. (...)

· The diet of Australopithecus sediba, di A. G. Henry et alii, "Nature-Letter" 27 June 2012

Intensification of small game resources at Klissoura Cave 1 (Peloponnese, Greece) from the Middle Paleolithic to Mesolithic, di B. M. Starkovich, "Quaternary International", Volume 264, 20 June 2012, Pages 17–31

In many parts of the Mediterranean Basin, resource intensification occurred across the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition, and again before the beginning of the Mesolithic. Central to understanding resource intensification is distinguishing human demographic pressures from environmental factors. This paper examines the intensification of vertebrate resources at Klissoura Cave 1 in the Peloponnese, Greece, from marine oxygen isotope stage (MIS) 5a until the early Holocene (from about 80,000 to 10,000 years ago) against the backdrop of changing environments. Occasional fluctuations in large game resources, as well as changing proportions of certain small game (e.g. great bustard) correlate to environmental shifts in the eastern Mediterranean during the Late Pleistocene. Prey choice models are used to understand human demographic pressures and resource intensification. Small game animals are ranked according to these models, with slow-moving species (e.g. tortoises) classified as higher-ranking and fast-moving species (e.g. hares and birds) categorized as low-ranking. Two major shifts are apparent in the sequence. The first is an overall increase in the use of small game animals in the Upper Paleolithic and later diets as compared to ungulate prey. The second is a decrease in higher-ranked small game and a corresponding increase in low-ranked small game animals. These trends are evident using either number of identified specimen (NISP) counts or proxy measures of prey biomass. An application of diversity indices indicates that there is no temporal trend in prey evenness, though fluctuations in evenness values have different meanings for ungulate and small-bodied prey. An increase in evenness of ungulate species typically correlates with climatic amelioration. Increasing evenness values for small game animals, however, are related to environmental factors in some instances, and changes in human exploitation patterns in other cases.

Paleolithic socionatural relationships during MIS 3 and 2 in central Portugal, di J. A. Haws, "Quaternary International", Volume 264, 20 June 2012, Pages 61–77

Throughout the Pleistocene climatic shifts repeatedly impacted the Mediterranean region. In response to these perturbations, the Mediterranean bioclimatic zones evolved as some of the most diverse, dynamic and resilient in the world. The appearance of modern humans in western Iberia ∼30–35 ka co-occurred with important environmental changes, especially regarding animal communities. These transformations are associated with the onset of MIS 2 and introduction of new land-use practices. Combined data from zooarchaeological, paleontological and paleovegetation records are used to identify patterns in human–environment interaction at different spatial and temporal scales. Evidence suggests that humans modified their environment creating long-term dynamic and resilient socionatural systems during the Upper Paleolithic

The consequences of Middle Paleolithic diets on pregnant Neanderthal women, di B. Hockett, "Quaternary International", Volume 264, 20 June 2012, Pages 78–82

Models of Neanderthal energetics and energy requirements suggest they required an average daily caloric intake well above the average for anatomically modern human foragers. The reasons stated for this include higher basic metabolic rates, less efficiency at thermoregulation, less efficiency at hunting, greater degrees of mobility, and reduced sexual division of labor in Neanderthal populations. These models suggest that Neanderthal Daily Energy Expenditure may have reached or exceeded 5500 calories per day. Given that most subsistence and isotope studies also suggest that Neanderthals focused their diet on large, terrestrial herbivores, this paper asks: what would be the nutritional consequences of such a diet on pregnant Neanderthal women? Applying a nutritional ecology perspective to the issue, a modeled diet consisting of 5500 calories per day derived exclusively from large, terrestrial herbivores indicates that such a diet would kill a pregnant Neanderthal woman and her developing fetus. This suggests that much remains to be learned about Neanderthal subsistence, mobility, and social relations, and that there is a long way to go before explaining the causes of Neanderthal extinction and modern human success in Europe and the Mediterranean region between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago.

Intensive subsistence practices at Vale Boi, an Upper Paleolithic site in southwestern Portugal, di T. Manne, J. Cascalheira, M. Évora, J. Marreiros, N. Bicho, "Quaternary International", Volume 264, 20 June 2012, Pages 83–99

The coastal site of Vale Boi is unique in southern Portugal for its well-preserved and lengthy Upper Paleolithic cultural record. The archaeological context of Vale Boi suggests that the site was treated as a seasonal residential camp. Long-term exploitation of marine resources is indicated by marine shellfish remains and tentative evidence of fishing. High-level exploitation of rabbits (Oryctolagus) began with the initial use of Vale Boi (c. 28,000 BP) and continued throughout the duration of site occupation. Intensive grease-rendering of ungulate bones is demonstrated by the presence of impact features, reduced presence of skeletal portions associated with increased quantities of bone grease and a significant correlation between the fragmentation of red deer (Cervus elaphus) remains and the quantities of marrow and bone grease within these portions. Although grease rendering at Vale Boi pre-dates other known sites in Eurasia by several thousand years, faunal assemblages in Mediterranean Spain suggest that resource diversification connected with intensification may have appeared there coevally with Vale Boi. The application of models of diet breadth and patch-choice suggests that southern Iberia may not have had the large and medium game to easily support human consumer demand. Instead, foragers may have had to turn to novel approaches of resource harvesting to maintain their needs. This set of circumstances may have arisen from a patchy landscape, where resources were either spatially and/or seasonally restricted.

Human origins and the transition from promiscuity to pair-bonding, di S. Gavrilets, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 19, 2012 vol. 109 no. 25 9923-9928

A crucial step in recent theories of human origins is the emergence of strong pair-bonding between males and females accompanied by a dramatic reduction in the male-to-male conflict over mating and an increased investment in offspring. How such a transition from promiscuity to pair-bonding could be achieved is puzzling. Many species would, indeed, be much better off evolutionarily if the effort spent on male competition over mating was redirected to increasing female fertility or survivorship of offspring. Males, however, are locked in a “social dilemma,” where shifting one’s effort from “appropriation” to “production” would give an advantage to free-riding competitors and therefore, should not happen. Here, I first consider simple models for four prominent scenarios of the human transition to pair-bonding: communal care, mate guarding, food for mating, and mate provisioning. I show that the transition is not feasible under biologically relevant conditions in any of these models. Then, I show that the transition can happen if one accounts for male heterogeneity, assortative pair formation, and evolution of female choice and faithfulness. This process is started when low-ranked males begin using an alternative strategy of female provisioning. At the end, except for the top-ranked individuals, males invest exclusively in provisioning females who have evolved very high fidelity to their mates. My results point to the crucial importance of female choice and emphasize the need for incorporating between-individual variation in theoretical and empirical studies of social dilemmas and behaviors.

Specific inactivation of two immunomodulatory SIGLEC genes during human evolution, di X. Wang, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 19, 2012 vol. 109 no. 25 9935-9940

Sialic acid-recognizing Ig-like lectins (Siglecs) are signaling receptors that modulate immune responses, and are targeted for interactions by certain pathogens. We describe two primate Siglecs that were rendered nonfunctional by single genetic events during hominin evolution after our common ancestor with the chimpanzee. SIGLEC13 was deleted by an Alu-mediated recombination event, and a single base pair deletion disrupted the ORF of SIGLEC17. Siglec-13 is expressed on chimpanzee monocytes, innate immune cells that react to bacteria. The human SIGLEC17P pseudogene mRNA is still expressed at high levels in human natural killer cells, which bridge innate and adaptive immune responses. As both resulting pseudogenes are homozygous in all human populations, we resurrected the originally encoded proteins and examined their functions. Chimpanzee Siglec-13 and the resurrected human Siglec-17 recruit a signaling adapter and bind sialic acids. Expression of either Siglec in innate immune cells alters inflammatory cytokine secretion in response to Toll-like receptor-4 stimulation. Both Siglecs can also be engaged by two potentially lethal sialylated bacterial pathogens of newborns and infants, agents with a potential impact on reproductive fitness. Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes show human-like sequences at both loci, corroborating estimates that the initial pseudogenization events occurred in the common ancestral population of these hominins. Both loci also show limited polymorphic diversity, suggesting selection forces predating the origin of modern humans. Taken together, these data suggest that genetic elimination of Siglec-13 and/or Siglec-17 represents signatures of infectious and/or other inflammatory selective processes contributing to population restrictions during hominin origins.

U-Series Dating of Paleolithic Art in 11 Caves in Spain, di A.W.G. Pike et alii, "Science", 15 June 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6087 pp. 1409-1413

Paleolithic cave art is an exceptional archive of early human symbolic behavior, but because obtaining reliable dates has been difficult, its chronology is still poorly understood after more than a century of study. We present uranium-series disequilibrium dates of calcite deposits overlying or underlying art found in 11 caves, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo, and Tito Bustillo, Spain. The results demonstrate that the tradition of decorating caves extends back at least to the Early Aurignacian period, with minimum ages of 40.8 thousand years for a red disk, 37.3 thousand years for a hand stencil, and 35.6 thousand years for a claviform-like symbol. These minimum ages reveal either that cave art was a part of the cultural repertoire of the first anatomically modern humans in Europe or that perhaps Neandertals also engaged in painting caves.

· Did Neandertals Paint Early Cave Art? di M. Balter, "Science NOW", 14 June 2012

· Spain claims top spot for world’s oldest cave art, di E. Callaway, "Nature NEWS", 14 June 2012

· World's Oldest Cave Art Found—Made by Neanderthals? di K. Than, "National Geographic News", June 14, 2012

· Where neanderthals Europe's firse cave artists? di S. Pappas, "Discovery News", Jun 14, 2012

· Nei graffiti spagnoli c'è la mano dei Neandhertal? di F. Toti, "Galileo", 15 Giugno 2012

· Furono i Neandertal spagnoli i primi pittori al mondo? di K. Than, "National Geographic Italia", 15 giugno 2012

Why humans prevailed over neanderthals, Jun 5, 2012

One hundred thousand years ago, several humanlike species walked the Earth. There were tribes of stocky Neanderthals eking out an existence in Europe and northwest Asia, and bands of cave-dwelling Denisovans in Asia. A diminutive, hobbitlike people called Homo floresiensis inhabited Indonesia. What were essentially modern humans roamed Africa. Then, about 60,000 years ago, a few thousand of those humans migrated out of Africa. As they slowly moved into new territories over the course of generations, they encountered the Neanderthals, the Denisovans and the hobbit people — all of whom descended from hominin groups that had left Africa during prior waves of migration. DNA analysis shows the humans interbred with these strangers, but other details of the encounters are lost to history. One thing is clear: only humans remain. (...)

An Asian Origin for Human Ancestors? di A. Gibbons, "Science NOW", 4 June 2012

Researchers agree that our immediate ancestors, the upright walking apes, arose in Africa. But the discovery of a new primate that lived about 37 million years ago in the ancient swamplands of Myanmar bolsters the idea that the deep primate family tree that gave rise to humans is rooted in Asia. If true, the discovery suggests that the ancestors of all monkeys, apes, and humans—known as the anthropoids—arose in Asia and made the arduous journey to the island continent of Africa almost 40 million years ago. (...)

Chronological and environmental context of the Middle Pleistocene human tooth from Mollet Cave (Serinyà, NE Iberian Peninsula), di J. Maroto, R. Julià, J. M. López-García, H.A. Blain, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 6, June 2012, Pages 655–663

Mollet Cave is a small cave situated in Serinyà (north-east Iberian Peninsula). It was excavated in 1947–48, 1958 and 1972 by Josep M. Corominas. An archaic human molar comes from its base layer (Layer 5). Up till now, this layer has only been dated based on a relative and imprecise chronology of macromammals and the archaeostratigraphic evidence from the early excavations. Recent excavations, conducted between 2001 and 2005, have made it possible to ascertain more precisely the archaeological and palaeontological contents of Mollet Cave, gather microvertebrates, and collect samples for radiometric dating. The aim of this paper is to present the absolute dating of Layer 5, as well as its palaeo environmental and climatic characterisation. The macromammal assemblage seems to have been the result of accumulations produced by the most abundant carnivore, the hyena, which would have used the cave as a den. The results obtained using uranium-series disequilibrium dating ascribe to Layer 5 an age of ca. 215 ka (thousands of years ago), which would correspond to MIS 7. The faunal association suggests a landscape formed by an open and humid woodland characteristic of an interstadial phase, which would have been an environment well suited to sustaining both hyenas and human groups.

Τesting models for the beginnings of the Aurignacian and the advent of figurative art and music: The radiocarbon chronology of Geißenklösterle, di T. Higham, L. Basell, R. Jacobi, R. Wood, C. Bronk Ramsey, N. J. Conard, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 6, June 2012, Pages 664–676

The German site of Geißenklösterle is crucial to debates concerning the European Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition and the origins of the Aurignacian in Europe. Previous dates from the site are central to an important hypothesis, the Kulturpumpe model, which posits that the Swabian Jura was an area where crucial behavioural developments took place and then spread to other parts of Europe. The previous chronology (critical to the model), is based mainly on radiocarbon dating, but remains poorly constrained due to the dating resolution and the variability of dates. The cause of these problems is disputed, but two principal explanations have been proposed: a) larger than expected variations in the production of atmospheric radiocarbon, and b) taphonomic influences in the site mixing the bones that were dated into different parts of the site. We reinvestigate the chronology using a new series of radiocarbon determinations obtained from the Mousterian, Aurignacian and Gravettian levels. The results strongly imply that the previous dates were affected by insufficient decontamination of the bone collagen prior to dating. Using an ultrafiltration protocol the chronometric picture becomes much clearer. Comparison of the results against other recently dated sites in other parts of Europe suggests the Early Aurignacian levels are earlier than other sites in the south of France and Italy, but not as early as recently dated sites which suggest a pre-Aurignacian dispersal of modern humans to Italy by ∼45000 cal BP. They are consistent with the importance of the Danube Corridor as a key route for the movement of people and ideas. The new dates fail to refute the Kulturpumpe model and suggest that Swabian Jura is a region that contributed significantly to the evolution of symbolic behaviour as indicated by early evidence for figurative art, music and mythical imagery.

Variations and asymmetries in regional brain surface in the genus Homo, di A. Balzeau, R. L. Holloway, D. Grimaud-Hervé, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 6, June 2012, Pages 696–706

Paleoneurology is an important field of research within human evolution studies. Variations in size and shape of an endocast help to differentiate among fossil hominin species whereas endocranial asymmetries are related to behavior and cognitive function. Here we analyse variations of the surface of the frontal, parieto-temporal and occipital lobes among different species of Homo, including 39 fossil hominins, ten fossil anatomically modern Homo sapiens and 100 endocasts of extant modern humans. We also test for the possible asymmetries of these features in a large sample of modern humans and observe individual particularities in the fossil specimens. This study contributes important new information about the brain evolution in the genus Homo. Our results show that the general pattern of surface asymmetry for the different regional brain surfaces in fossil species of Homo does not seem to be different from the pattern described in a large sample of anatomically modern H. sapiens, i.e., the right hemisphere has a larger surface than the left, as do the right frontal, the right parieto-temporal and the left occipital lobes compared with the contra-lateral side. It also appears that Asian Homo erectus specimens are discriminated from all other samples of Homo, including African and Georgian specimens that are also sometimes included in that taxon. The Asian fossils show a significantly smaller relative size of the parietal and temporal lobes. Neandertals and anatomically modern H. sapiens, who share the largest endocranial volume of all hominins, show differences when considering the relative contribution of the frontal, parieto-temporal and occipital lobes. These results illustrate an original variation in the pattern of brain organization in hominins independent of variations in total size. The globularization of the brain and the enlargement of the parietal lobes could be considered derived features observed uniquely in anatomically modern H. sapiens.

New human fossil to the last Neanderthals in central Spain (Jarama VI, Valdesotos, Guadalajara, Spain), di C. Lorenzo et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 6, June 2012, Pages 720–725

Thinking a Bow-and-arrow Set: Cognitive Implications of Middle Stone Age Bow and Stone-tipped Arrow Technology, di M. Lombarda, M. N. Haidlea, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 22 , Issue 02 giugno 2012, pp 237 - 264

For various reasons increased effort has recently been made to detect the early use of mechanically-projected weaponry in the archaeological record, but little effort has yet been made to investigate explicitly what these tool sets could indicate about human cognitive evolution. Based on recent evidence for the use of bow-and-arrow technology during the Middle Stone Age in southern Africa by 64 kya, we use the method of generating and analysing cognigrams and effective chains to explore thought-and-action sequences associated with this technology. We show that, when isolated, neither the production of a simple bow, nor that of a stone-tipped arrow, can be reasonably interpreted to indicate tool behaviour that is cognitively more complex than the composite artefacts produced by Neanderthals or archaic modern Homo. On the other hand, as soon as a bow-and-arrow set is used as an effective group of tools, a novel cognitive development is expressed in technological symbiosis, i.e. the ability to conceptualize a set of separate, yet inter-dependent tools. Such complementary tool sets are able to unleash new properties of a tool, inconceivable without the active, simultaneous manipulation of another tool. Consequently, flexibility regarding decision-making and taking action is amplified. The archaeological evidence for such amplified conceptual and technological modularization implies a range of cognitive and behavioural complexity and flexibility that is basic to human behaviour today.

Small anatomical variant has profound implications for evolution of human birth and brain development, di R. G. Tague, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 29, 2012 vol. 109 no. 22 8360-8361

Humans differ from primates and other mammals in a number of anatomies, including having big brains and big babies. The evolutionary origin and adaptive significance of a big brain and the consequent difficulty of giving birth to a big baby have long been discussed. Falk et al., in PNAS, report on a small anatomical difference of the cranium between humans and chimpanzees, and document the presence of this trait in early human ancestors. This trait may have profound importance for understanding evolution of birth and brain development. Falk et al. report on the metopic suture (MS) in modern humans, two species of chimpanzees, and our hominid ancestors, Australopithecus and earlier Homo. MS is the joint between the two frontal bones of the cranium. In the human fetus and young child, the confluence of MS with the coronal and sagittal sutures is the anterior fontanelle. This is the “soft spot” in a baby’s cranium. Fusion of MS occurs in infancy (2–4), whereas the anterior fontanelle closes by 2 y of age. Fusion of MS begins near the nose and progresses toward the anterior fontanelle. As the cranium forms around the developing brain, premature closure of MS causes atypical cranial development.

Context and dating of Aurignacian vulvar representations from Abri Castanet, France, di R. White et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 29, 2012 vol. 109 no. 22 8450-8455

We report here on the 2007 discovery, in perfect archaeological context, of part of the engraved and ocre-stained undersurface of the collapsed rockshelter ceiling from Abri Castanet, Dordogne, France. The decorated surface of the 1.5-t roof-collapse block was in direct contact with the exposed archaeological surface onto which it fell. Because there was no sedimentation between the engraved surface and the archaeological layer upon which it collapsed, it is clear that the Early Aurignacian occupants of the shelter were the authors of the ceiling imagery. This discovery contributes an important dimension to our understanding of the earliest graphic representation in southwestern France, almost all of which was discovered before modern methods of archaeological excavation and analysis. Comparison of the dates for the Castanet ceiling and those directly obtained from the Chauvet paintings reveal that the “vulvar” representations from southwestern France are as old or older than the very different wall images from Chauvet.

Metopic suture of Taung (Australopithecus africanus) and its implications for hominin brain evolution, di D. Falk, C. P. E. Zollikofer, N. Morimoto, M. S. Ponce de León, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 29, 2012 vol. 109 no. 22 8467-8470 - free  access  -

The type specimen for Australopithecus africanus (Taung) includes a natural endocast that reproduces most of the external morphology of the right cerebral hemisphere and a fragment of fossilized face that articulates with the endocast. Despite the fact that Taung died between 3 and 4 y of age, the endocast reproduces a small triangular-shaped remnant of the anterior fontanelle, from which a clear metopic suture (MS) courses rostrally along the midline [Hrdlička A (1925) Am J Phys Anthropol 8:379–392]. Here we describe and interpret this feature of Taung in light of comparative fossil and actualistic data on the timing of MS closure. In great apes, the MS normally fuses shortly after birth, such that unfused MS similar to Taung’s are rare. In humans, however, MS fuses well after birth, and partially or unfused MS are frequent. In gracile fossil adult hominins that lived between ∼3.0 and 1.5 million y ago, MS are also relatively frequent, indicating that the modern human-like pattern of late MS fusion may have become adaptive during early hominin evolution. Selective pressures favoring delayed fusion might have resulted from three aspects of perinatal ontogeny: (i) the difficulty of giving birth to large-headed neonates through birth canals that were reconfigured for bipedalism (the “obstetric dilemma”), (ii) high early postnatal brain growth rates, and (iii) reorganization and expansion of the frontal neocortex. Overall, our data indicate that hominin brain evolution occurred within a complex network of fetopelvic constraints, which required modification of frontal neurocranial ossification patterns.

Intervista alla paleontologa Silvia Bello sui crani umani scoperti in Inghilterra, di M. Calogero, 21 aprile 2012

Bairaki–a lower paleolithic site on the lower dniester, di N.K. Anisyutkin, S.I. Kovalenko, V.A. Burlacu, A.K. Ocherednoi, A.L. Chepalyga, "Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia", Volume 40, Issue 1, March 2012, Pages 2–10 - open access -

Findings of excavations at a Lower Paleolithic site, discovered in 2010 near Dubasari on the Lower Dniester, are described. Earlier, two sites with Lower Paleolithic fl int tools – Dubasari-1 (Bolshoi Fontan) and Pogrebya – were found nearby. The cultural layer, located in the top of the lower buried soil overlying the alluvial deposits of the sixth or seventh terrace of the Dniester, included a few stone artifacts and a fragment of an animal bone. The likely age of this buried soil is estimated at ca 500 ka by geological methods. In the alluvium gravel of the same terrace downstream, three pebble tools including two choppers made of a strong Cosăuţi sandstone, and four fl int pieces were found. Geological observations suggest that this alluvium is more than 800 ka old. So far these are the earliest stone tools discovered in a stratified context in the Russian, Moldavian, and Ukrainian parts of the Russian Plain.

The Denticulate Mousterian as a supposedly distinct facies in Western Central Asia, di K.A. Kolobova, A.I. Krivoshapkin, K.K. Pavlenok, D. Flas, A.P. Derevianko, U.I. Islamov, "Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia", Volume 40, Issue 1, March 2012, Pages 11–23 - free  access -

The Middle Paleolithic industry of Kulbulak – a key stratified site in Uzbekistan – has been described as the Denticulate Mousterian. Our findings suggest that this definition is problematic because the principal diagnostic feature of this facies – the denticulate outline of tools – has resulted from natural processes. Accordingly, in our view, no such facies exists either at Kulbulak or in Western Central Asia at large.

Non-utilitarian lithic objects from the European Paleolithic, di M.H. Moncel, L. Chiotti, C. Gaillard, G. Onoratini, D. Pleurdeau, "Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia", Volume 40, Issue 1, March 2012, Pages 24–40 - free  access -

We present here previously unpublished non-utilitarian Paleolithic stone objects, within the contextual framework of similar objects from European sites. The occurrence of non-utilitarian lithic objects, often modified, in Middle Stone Age or Upper Paleolithic sites is now widely accepted as evidence of symbolic behavior associated with the appearance of Homo sapiens. However the occurrence of non-utilitarian and unusual objects in far earlier sites raises questions about their significance. Our purpose is not to discuss their meaning, which is unknown to us, but to approach their diversity and to trace their evolution. From the earliest beginnings of mankind, various objects have been found in the occupation sites that have no apparent functional link with any technical activity or food procurement. This type of object is more obvious from the Acheulian times onwards and then becomes common in the Late Pleistocene. The inventory and classification according to the object characteristics (raw material, color, shape, degree of transformation, etc.) and the context of the sites (chronology, stratigraphy, paleoenvironment) help in identifying specific hominin behavior. Perhaps they were intended to convey symbolic expression, quite vague in any case for the earliest periods, but at least their occurrence in the sites suggests some non-utilitarian concerns among the people who made them.

Aggiornamento 23 maggio

New evidence of adhesive as hafting material on Middle and Upper Palaeolithic artefacts from Gura Cheii-Râşnov Cave (Romania), di M. Cârciumaru, R.M. Ion, E.C. Niţu, R. Ştefănescu, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 7, July 2012, Pages 1942–1950

Making use of analytical, chemical and mineralogical methods, this paper focuses on the analysis of inclusions in order to address the question of the provenance of prehistoric artefacts excavated in Gura Cheii-Râşnov Cave (Romania). The study represents the first discovery of bitumen on lithic tools belonging to the Upper and Middle Palaeolithic in Europe. The material was identified through several analytical procedures, such as Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF), inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES), and X-ray diffraction (XRD). Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC–MS) allows the analysis of bitumen and related compounds: resins and oils, tar and pitch, and waxes. Lipids extracted from the lithic artefacts showed that the main organic constituents were palmitic (C16:0) and stearic (C18:0) acids, together with minor saturated (myristic C14:0, pentadecanoic C15:0, palmitic C16:0, iso-C16:0 C17:0) and unsaturated (palmitoleic C16:1 and oleic C18:1) fatty acids. The use of GC–MS also allows identifying C15+ alkanes (such as C23H48 – tricosane, C24H50 – tetracosane, C25H52 – pentacosane). All these hydrocarbons confirm that the black substance is highly weathered bitumen, the source of which remains unknown. The composition of this black substance suggests that the organic traces are remnants of a hafting material used by Palaeolithic people to glue handles onto their tools. (...)

Autochthony and orientation patterns in Olduvai Bed I: a re-examination of the status of post-depositional biasing of archaeological assemblages from FLK North (FLKN), di M. Domínguez-Rodrigo et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 7, July 2012, Pages 2116–2127

Recent excavations at FLK North (Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania) have produced new information on the orientation of archaeological materials at various levels of the site. This information includes the uniform distribution of material azimuths, which contrasts with previous inferences of highly patterned orientations of materials in the Bed I archaeological sites. Those previous inferences of patterned material orientations are based on Mary Leakey's 50-year-old drawings of artifact and fossil bone distribution, but are not verified by our precise measurements of archaeological objects made in situ. Nor do those previous results agree with the general lack of geological, geomorphological, and/or taphonomic data that would indicate significant post-depositional movement of archaeological materials in the sites. We argue here that Leakey's drawings are incomplete (only portions of each assemblage were drawn) and inaccurate in their representation of the original locations, shapes and orientations of most archaeological specimens. This argument is supported by several important mismatches in object representations between a photograph taken of a small portion of the FLK 22 Zinjanthropus site floor before the removal of the archaeological items, and the sketch of the same area drawn by Leakey. Thus, we conclude that primary orientation data of excavations (i.e., direct measurements taken from items) generated prior to object removal are the only valid indicators of the relative isotropy or anisotropy of these important paleoanthropological assemblages. (...)

European Neanderthal stone hunting weapons reveal complex behaviour long before the appearance of modern humans, di T. Lazuén, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 7, July 2012, Pages 2304–2311

Stone weapon points constitute a major innovation appearing at the end of the Middle Pleistocene in Europe, Africa and the Near East; that is, among both sapiens and Neanderthal populations. The microscopic analysis of the stone weapons used by Neanderthal groups in Atlantic southern Europe suggests that this technology was widespread and became a recurrent behaviour within organised strategies developed by these societies. In this southern region of Europe, stone weapon hunting technology appears at an early time (about 150 ka, OIS 6) and is associated with the hunting of large mammals. This behaviour can be recognised in a geomorphologically complex region and at a time of great environmental change (OIS 6–5–4). The fact that these innovations were used by European Neanderthals long before the spread of anatomically modern humans in the area is of great evolutionary significance. (...)

The recognition of a new type of bone tools in Early Aurignacian assemblages: implications for understanding the appearance of osseous technology in Europe, di E. Tartar, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 7, July 2012, Pages 2348–2360

Despite being at the heart of the question of the emergence of the European Upper Palaeolithic, the Aurignacian osseous industry is essentially known by the production of split-based points, ornaments and portable art whereas bone tools, usually dedicated to domestic tasks and with variable technical complexity, have been largely ignored. However, when the high number of unworked tools is included – i.e. bone fragments recovered from food processing and used directly as tools with no previous shaping phase – bone tools represent a significant proportion of the Early Aurignacian industry. Among these unworked tools, is a newly-discovered type: “unworked intermediate tools.” This article presents a detailed description based on taphonomic, typological and technological characters. It shows that these tools are diaphyseal fragments which are used directly as a wedge, very likely for woodworking and perhaps for antler processing. The processes behind the appearance of osseous technology at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe are then discussed in light of this discovery and, more generally, the revised composition of the Early Aurignacian toolkit. The high proportion of unworked bone tools, a type more commonly associated with the Middle Palaeolithic, suggests a more gradual technological shift between Middle and Upper Palaeolithic than has previously been considered. As part of this hypothesis, the emergence of working osseous material could be due to a gradual transfer of techniques previously applied to wood, as others have proposed. (...)

Evidence for Neandertal use of fire at Roc de Marsal (France), di V. Aldeias et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 7, July 2012, Pages 2414–2423

The association of Neandertal occupations with fire has been reported for several European late Middle Paleolithic sites. Renewed excavations at the French site of Roc de Marsal (Dordogne) have exposed a series of well-preserved fire features associated with artifact-rich Neandertal occupations. This paper provides detailed descriptions of the combustion sediments and associated archaeological assemblages, using field observations and laboratory methods, including soil micromorphology, FTIR, and GIS techniques. From an integrity point of view, the available data demonstrate the excellent preservation of the hearths at Roc de Marsal, which display minimal or no post-depositional movement. However, our results suggest that it is often impossible to access the level of contemporaneity between different combustion events, the absence of association between burned objects and the hearths, and that it is often very difficult to distinguish distinct fire events based solely on macroscopic observations. These problems have significant implications for how such features are excavated and analyzed. (...)

Debates over Palaeolithic chronology – the reliability of 14C is confirmed, di S. Talamo, K.A. Hughen, B. Kromer, P. J. Reimer, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 7, July 2012, Pages 2464–2467

The debate about the complex issues of human development during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition period (45–35 ka BP) has been hampered by concerns about the reliability of the radiocarbon dating method. Large 14C anomalies were postulated and radiocarbon dating was considered flawed. We show here that these issues are no longer relevant, because the large anomalies are artefacts beyond plausible physical limits for their magnitude. Previous inconsistencies between 14C radiocarbon datasets have been resolved, and a new radiocarbon calibration curve, IntCal09 (Reimer et al., 2009), was created. Improved procedures for bone collagen extraction and charcoal pre-treatment generally result in older ages, consistent with independently dated time markers. (...)

Identifying regional variability in Middle Stone Age bone technology: The case of Sibudu Cave, di F. d'Errico, L. R. Backwell, L. Wadley, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 7, July 2012, Pages 2479–2495

A few pieces of worked bone were previously reported from Sibudu, a site from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa featuring a stratigraphic sequence with pre-Still Bay, Still Bay, Howiesons Poort, post-Howiesons Poort, late and final MSA cultural horizons. Here we describe an expanded collection of worked bones, including twenty-three pieces. Technological and use-wear analysis of these objects, and their comparison with experimental and ethnographic data, reveals that a number of specialised bone tool types (wedges, pièces esquillées, pressure flakers, smoothers, sequentially notched pieces), previously known only from the Upper Palaeolithic and more recent periods, were manufactured and used at least 30,000 years earlier at Sibudu Cave. These tools appear to be part of a local tradition because they are absent at contemporaneous or more recent southern African sites. Variability in Middle Stone Age material culture supports a scenario in which, beyond broad similarities in lithic technology, significant differences between regions, and trends of continuity at a local scale emerge in other aspects of the technical system, and in the symbolic domain. The archaeological record is revealing a complexity that prevents evaluation of the modern character of Middle Stone Age cultures in antinomic terms. We argue here that it is the detailed analysis of cultural variation that will inform us of the non-linear processes at work during this period, and contribute in the long run to explaining how and when crucial cultural innovations became established in human history. (...)

Book Review: Michel Lorblanchet, Art pariétal: grottes ornées du Quercy - Review by April Nowell

Much like its subject matter, Michel Lorblanchet's 2010 volume, Art pariétal: grottes ornées du Quercy, is a spectacular work of both art and science. It represents forty years of research by Lorblanchet and his colleagues on the painted caves of the Quercy in southwest France. While this volume contains detailed information on the type, frequency and layout of the images in each of the caves, the associated faunal and archaeological remains, the geological and environmental contexts, and the results of pigment analyses and dating initiatives, the one thing the reader will not discover in this book is what it all 'means' and for this Lorblanchet makes no apologies (...)

Dental microwear and stable isotopes inform the paleoecology of extinct hominins, di F. E. Grine, M. Sponheimer, P. S. Ungar, J. Lee-Thorp, M. F. Teaford, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology". Special Issue: Special symposium issue: Primate Dental Ecology: How Teeth Respond to the Environment, Volume 148, Issue 2, pages 285–317, June 2012

Determining the diet of an extinct species is paramount in any attempt to reconstruct its paleoecology. Because the distribution and mechanical properties of food items may impact postcranial, cranial, mandibular, and dental morphologies related to their procurement, ingestion, and mastication, these anatomical attributes have been studied intensively. However, while mechanical environments influence skeletal and dental features, it is not clear to what extent they dictate particular morphologies. Although biomechanical explanations have been widely applied to extinct hominins in attempts to retrodict dietary proclivities, morphology may say as much about what they were capable of eating, and perhaps more about phylogenetic history, than about the nature of the diet. Anatomical attributes may establish boundary limits, but direct evidence left by the foods that were actually (rather than hypothetically) consumed is required to reconstruct diet. Dental microwear and the stable light isotope chemistry of tooth enamel provide such evidence, and are especially powerful when used in tandem. We review the foundations for microwear and biogeochemistry in diet reconstruction, and discuss this evidence for six early hominin species (Ardipithecus ramidus, Australopithecus anamensis, Au. afarensis, Au. africanus, Paranthropus robustus, and P. boisei). The dietary signals derived from microwear and isotope chemistry are sometimes at odds with inferences from biomechanical approaches, a potentially disquieting conundrum that is particularly evident for several species. Am J Phys Anthropol 148:285–317, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Middle Stone Age pièces esquillées from Sibudu Cave, South Africa: an initial micro-residue study, di G. H.J. Langejans, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 6, June 2012, Pages 1694–1704

In this paper I present the results of a micro-residue study conducted on ten pièces esquillées (scaled pieces) from Sibudu Cave, South Africa. These artefacts are associated with the Howiesons Poort Industry (61.7 and 64.7 ka years ago at Sibudu), representing part of the later phase of the Middle Stone Age. Until now, it was unclear on what these pieces were used, and whether they were functional. Previous experimental use-wear work tentatively pointed towards bone processing. However, replication work on stone tool production technology suggests that pièces esquillées are merely the by/end-product of bipolar knapping. I used residue analysis on the Sibudu artefacts because this alternative method has the potential to identify if they were used, and if so, illuminate the specific materials the pieces were used on. Although the sample is small, all the pièces esquillées reveal a clear animal processing signal. There are some bone deposits on the utilised edges that may substantiate bone processing, or perhaps a bone hammer was used with them, but additional study, including Later Stone Age artefacts, is needed to assess the feasibility of these observations. It remains possible that the artefacts are core reduced pieces that were subsequently used as tools or simply knapped with a bone hammer. (...)

Late Pleistocene Crocuta crocuta spelaea (Goldfuss, 1823) clans as prezewalski horse hunters and woolly rhinoceros scavengers at the open air commuting den and contemporary Neanderthal camp site Westeregeln (central Germany),di C.G. Diedrich, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 6, June 2012, Pages 1749–1767

Late Pleistocene Ice Age Crocuta crocuta spelaea (Goldfuss, 1823) hyenas from the open-air gypsum karst site Westeregeln (Saxony-Anhalt, central Germany) is dated into the early to middle Late Pleistocene. Hyena clans apparently used the karst for food storage and as “commuting den”, where typical high amounts (15% of the NISP) of hyena remains appear, also faecal pellets in concentrations for den marking purposes. Additionally small carnivores Meles, Vulpes and Mustela appear to have used some cavities as dens. Several hundreds of lowland “mammoth steppe fauna” bones (NISP = 572) must have been accumulated primarily by hyenas, and not by Neanderthals at the contemporary hyena/human camp site. Abundant caballoid horse remains of “E. germanicusNehring, (1884)” are revised by the holotype and original material to the small E. c. przewalskii horse. Woolly rhinoceros Coelodonta antiquitatis remains are also abundant, and were left in several cases with typical hyena scavenging damages. Rangifer tarandus (11%) is mainly represented by numerous fragments of shed female antlers that were apparently gathered by humans, and antler bases from male animals that were collected and chewed in few cases (only large male antlers) by hyenas. The large quantities of small reindeer antlers must have been the result of collection by humans; their stratigraphic context is unclear but such large quantities most probably resulted from schamanic activities. The hyena site overlaps with a Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthal camp, as well as possibly with a later human Magdalénian site. (...)

Blade production 500 thousand years ago at Kathu Pan 1, South Africa: support for a multiple origins hypothesis for early Middle Pleistocene blade technologies, di J. Wilkins, M. Chazan, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 6, June 2012, Pages 1883–1900

The ~500 thousand year old stratum 4a lithic assemblage from Kathu Pan 1, Northern Cape, South Africa, is one of the earliest occurrences of blade technology and is the oldest dated assemblage attributed to the Fauresmith industry. A technological analysis of the Kathu Pan 1 stratum 4a assemblage reveals that blades were systematically removed using direct hard hammer percussion from organized blade cores that were extensively prepared via centripetal flaking. Some of these blades were retouched into points. Comparisons with published descriptions of the roughly contemporary blade assemblages from the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya and Qesem Cave, Israel demonstrate that diverse blade production strategies were employed during the earlier half of the Middle Pleistocene. The diversity best supports a scenario in which laminar technology was invented in multiple places and times. (...)

Further constraints on the Chauvet cave artwork elaboration, di B. Sadier et alii, May 22, 2012 vol. 109 no. 21 8002-8006 - free  access -

Since its discovery, the Chauvet cave elaborate artwork called into question our understanding of Palaeolithic art evolution and challenged traditional chronological benchmarks [Valladas H et al. (2001) Nature 413:419–479]. Chronological approaches revealing human presences in the cavity during the Aurignacian and the Gravettian are indeed still debated on the basis of stylistic criteria [Pettitt P (2008) J Hum Evol 55:908–917]. The presented 36Cl Cosmic Ray Exposure ages demonstrate that the cliff overhanging the Chauvet cave has collapsed several times since 29 ka until the sealing of the cavity entrance prohibited access to the cave at least 21 ka ago. Remarkably agreeing with the radiocarbon dates of the human and animal occupancy, this study confirms that the Chauvet cave paintings are the oldest and the most elaborate ever discovered, challenging our current knowledge of human cognitive evolution. (...)

Upper Palaeolithic revealed at Mas d'Azil cave, 17 May 2012

Mas d'Azil is an immense cave, and one of the major prehistoric sites in France. The first research was carried out in 1860, with Felix Garrigou presenting the general stratigraphy in 1867. Edouard Piette conducted extensive excavations from 1887-1889, recovering thousands of flint tools and hundreds of portable art objects.  It was Piette who defined the Azilian culture. Between the Upper Palaeolithic and Neolithic (10,000 to 7,500 BP), this Epi-palaeolithic culture was characterised by red deer antler harpoons with an elongated perforation at the base, very short end-scrapers, and more or less geometric projectile elements. Art is represented by painted or engraved pebbles (...)

Human Origins and the Search for “Missing Links”, di J. Krause, "PLoS Biology", May 15, 2012

Humans are naturally fascinated by questions concerning our own origin, not just where we come from but what made us the way we are. In almost all cultures and religions one finds some form of creation myth explaining how their tribe or people came into existence, ranging from the Mayan god Heart-of-Sky that after several failed attempts finally made the true men from maize to the biblical god that created man from wet clay and women from Adam's rib. Yet it wasn't until the middle of the 19th century that the scientific debate about the origin of our species took off, sparked by a single short hint in On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin that challenged the broadly accepted view of the time that humans were created by a divine entity. Darwin's work implied that humans are not an exception to the processes that drive evolution, such as natural selection, but rather that we evolved from primate ancestors over millions of years, leaving behind a number of extinct ancestral forms. (...)

Paleolithic cave rock art, animal coloration, and specific animal habitats, di G. Bar-Oz, S. Lev-Yadun, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 15, 2012 vol. 109 no. 20 E1212

Pruvost et al. (1) found a genetic relationship between Upper Paleolithic horse coat color phenotypes, as evident from Paleolithic cave rock art paintings in the Franco-Cantabrian region, and molecular data in fossil horse DNA. They have genotyped coat-color loci in predomestic ancient horses from Siberia, Eastern and Western Europe, and the Iberian Peninsula. Six horses from Western and Eastern Europe, but not from Siberia, shared an allele associated with dappled coat color. Eighteen were genotyped to be bay (reddish-brown), and seven were black. We propose that these genotyped colors, along with other animal colors documented in Paleolithic rock art, are related to specific.

Microstratigraphic evidence of in situ fire in the Acheulean strata of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa, di F. Berna, P. Goldberg, L. Kolska Horwitz, J. Brink, S. Holt, M. Bamford, M. Chazan, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 15, 2012 vol. 109 no. 20 E1215-E1220 - free  access -

The ability to control fire was a crucial turning point in human evolution, but the question when hominins first developed this ability still remains. Here we show that micromorphological and Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy (mFTIR) analyses of intact sediments at the site of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa, provide unambiguous evidence—in the form of burned bone and ashed plant remains—that burning took place in the cave during the early Acheulean occupation, approximately 1.0 Ma. To the best of our knowledge, this is the earliest secure evidence for burning in an archaeological context.

Anthropologists Discover Earliest Form of Wall Art, May 14, 2012

Anthropologists working in southern France have determined that a 1.5 metric ton block of engraved limestone constitutes the earliest evidence of wall art. Their research, reported in the most recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the piece to be approximately 37,000 years old and offers rich evidence of the role art played in the daily lives of Early Aurignacian humans (...)

· Context and dating of Aurignacian vulvar representations from Abri Castanet, France, di R. White et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" Early Edition, May 14, 2012

· Engravings of Female Genitalia May Be World's Oldest Cave Art, di M. Balter, "Science NOW", 14 May 2012

· Early Europe art depicts female sex organs: photos, di J. Viegas

· I primi murales della storia, di S. Iannaccone, "Galileo", 15 Maggio 2012 

Homo sapiens, à la recherche de nos origines. Dossiers d'Archéologie. Mai et Juin 2012. Numéro 351 

Présentation de la revue par l'éditeur: Homo sapiens, deux mots qui désignent des êtres vivants dont nous pensons tout savoir, ou presque. Presque, car lorsqu'il s'agit de définir notre espèce, de décrire ce qui la caractérise, l'exercice se révèle compliqué. Entre anatomie, évolution et comportement, les traits qui nous sont propres, nous derniers hommes sur Terre, ne sont pas ceux auxquels nous pensons en premier. Alors, qu'est-ce qu'un Homo sapiens? Faute de connaître notre avenir, savons-nous d'où nous venons et quel âge a notre espèce? Ce numéro vous propose une plongée "à la recherche de nos origines" dans lequel analyse anatomique, génétique, art, étude du mobilier découvert sur les sites préhistoriques, et comparaison avec son cousin Néandertal seront traités par les plus grands spécialistes français. Conseiller scientifique du dossier : Antoine Balzeau (...)

Confermato il primato di antichità delle pitture della grotta di Chauvet, 8 maggio 2012

A dispetto delle polemiche sulla loro datazione, le straordinarie pitture che decorano le pareti della grotta di Chauvet, nella regione francese dell'Ardèche, sono la più antica, e la più raffinata, manifestazione di arte pittorica rupestre conosciuta. La conferma, indipendente dalla datazione al radiocarbonio, viene da uno studio condotto da ricercatori dell’Université de Savoie/CNRS e dell’Aix-Marseille Université di cui riferisce un articolo pubblicato sui “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.La grotta di Chauvet è un sito di eccezionale interesse per lo stato di conservazione delle bellissime pitture che ne ornano le pareti, per i temi pittorici raramente presenti in altri siti, come le raffigurazioni di felini e rinoceronti, ma anche per la maestria con cui gli autori hanno padroneggiato una tecnica pittorica che non si riscontra in alcun altro sito di arte rupestre del Paleolitico. Difatti, sulla base della sola analisi stilistica, inizialmente le pitture di Chauvet erano state fatte risalire a un periodo relativamente recente, compreso fra il Solutreano, fra i 22.000 e i 17.000 anni fa, e il Magdaleniano, fra i 17.000 e i 10.000 anni fa. In seguito, però, la datazione al radiocarbonio aveva stabilito una collocazione temporale molto anteriore, compresa fra i 32.000 e i 30.000 anni fa. Nonostante il “peso” di questa datazione, molti esperti del settore erano comunque rimasti dubbiosi a causa del divario stilistico fra le pitture di Chauvet e le altre espressioni artistiche di sicura epoca paleolitica, anche se nel 2009 la scoperta della “Venere di Hohle Fels”, datata fra i 28 e i 40.000 anni fa ha mostrato l’esistenza di sofisticate manifestazioni artistiche in epoca molto remota. L’identificazione di ulteriori vincoli cronologici indipendenti da quelli finora utilizzati rappresenta quindi un passo significativo per stabilire il quadro cronologico assoluto delle pitture di Chauvet. Proprio in questa ottica si sono mossi Benjamin Sadier e colleghi, che hanno determinato, sulla base di riscontri geomorfologici e di datazione con il cloro-36, il momento in cui una frana ha bloccato l’ingresso della grotta, impedendone l’acceso fino alla sua scoperta nel 1994, e contribuendo alla buona conservazione delle pitture. Dalle analisi così condotte, gli autori ipotizzano che la parete a strapiombo che sovrasta l’ingresso della grotta abbia subito una serie di crolli a partire da 29.000 anni fa, fino alla completa ostruzione dell’ingresso avvenuta non più tardi di 21.000 anni fa. Insieme alla prova precedente della datazione al radiocarbonio dell'arte rupestre, di carbone e ossa di animali, l'ostruzione dell'ingresso della grotta da parte di massi permette di concludere che le pitture risalgono senz'altro a più di 21.000 anni fa. Lo studio conferma quindi il primato di antichità delle pitture rupestri di Chauvet, con le conseguenti, importanti implicazioni per quel che riguarda le abilità cognitive degli artisti che le realizzarono.

· Further constraints on the Chauvet cave artwork elaboration, di B. Sadier et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" Early Edition, May 7, 2012

Infants' Flexible Heads Stretch Back Millions of Years, di M. Balter, "Science NOW", 7 May 2012

It isn't easy being born. Human babies have big heads, which makes their passage through the birth canal a challenge for both them and their mothers. Fortunately, an infant's skull can change shape as it squeezes through because its cranial bones don't entirely fuse together for at least 2 years after birth. A new study shows that this delayed fusion was also a feature of early humans who lived nearly 3 million years ago, even though their heads were much smaller than ours. One possible explanation is that walking upright created new obstetrical challenges even for small-brained human ancestors (...)

Mitochondrial DNA Signals of Late Glacial Recolonization of Europe from Near Eastern Refugia, di M. Pala et alii, "The American Journal of Human Genetics", Volume 90, Issue 5, 915-924, 4 May 2012

Human populations, along with those of many other species, are thought to have contracted into a number of refuge areas at the height of the last Ice Age. European populations are believed to be, to a large extent, the descendants of the inhabitants of these refugia, and some extant mtDNA lineages can be traced to refugia in Franco-Cantabria (haplogroups H1, H3, V, and U5b1), the Italian Peninsula (U5b3), and the East European Plain (U4 and U5a). Parts of the Near East, such as the Levant, were also continuously inhabited throughout the Last Glacial Maximum, but unlike western and eastern Europe, no archaeological or genetic evidence for Late Glacial expansions into Europe from the Near East has hitherto been discovered. Here we report, on the basis of an enlarged whole-genome mitochondrial database, that a substantial, perhaps predominant, signal from mitochondrial haplogroups J and T, previously thought to have spread primarily from the Near East into Europe with the Neolithic population, may in fact reflect dispersals during the Late Glacial period, ~19–12 thousand years (ka) ago.

Scientists Show How a Gene Duplication Helped Our Brains Become 'Human', May 3, 2012

A team led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute has shown that an extra copy of a brain-development gene, which appeared in our ancestors' genomes about 2.4 million years ago, allowed maturing neurons to migrate farther and develop more connections (...)

New Light on Revolutions That Weren't, di M. Balter, "Science NOW", 3 May 2012

At a meeting last month, researchers heard new evidence that human evolution took a gradual, rather than revolutionary, course during two key junctures in prehistory. A study of ancient stone tools from South Africa concludes that hunters manufactured spears with stone points—a sign of complex behavior—200,000 years earlier than had previously been thought. And new excavations at a 20,000-year-old settlement in Jordan, laden with artifacts typical of much later sites, suggest that the dramatic rise of farming villages in the Near East also had early and deep roots. According to some attendees, the pair of talks provides still more reasons why they are skeptical of revolutions in archaeology.

How the Modern Body Shaped Up, di A. Gibbons, "Science" 4 May 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6081 pp. 538-539

Modern humans have gone through a lot of changes in the past 30,000 years. We switched from hunting and gathering to farming and herding; from life as nomads to settling in urban centers; from eating meat, nuts, and tubers to consuming grains, sugars, and dairy products. Now, a remarkably comprehensive analysis of more than 2000 European skeletons presented at the meeting reveals how these cultural changes have altered our physiques.

For Early Hominins in Africa, Many Ways To Take a Walk, "Science" 4 May 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6081 p. 538 

Several new studies of incredibly rare fossils of feet and partial skeletons reported at the meeting reveal the complexity of early bipedalism. In a talk, a paleoanthropologist showed how the primitive foot of a still-unnamed species of Australopithecus shared features such as an opposable big toe with the 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus, which suggests that both hominins still spent considerable time in trees. The foot also shared a key trait with Au. africanus, which lived about 2 million years ago in South Africa. Neither of those features is found in Au. afarensis, suggesting that Lucy's species cannot be the direct ancestor of Au. africanus. That means that a second hominin lineage must have led to Au. africanus, the researcher notes.

New Light on Revolutions That Weren't, di M. Balter, "Science", 4 May 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6081 pp. 530-531

At a meeting last month, researchers heard new evidence that human evolution took a gradual, rather than revolutionary, course during two key junctures in prehistory. A study of ancient stone tools from South Africa concludes that hunters manufactured spears with stone points—a sign of complex behavior—200,000 years earlier than had previously been thought. And new excavations at a 20,000-year-old settlement in Jordan, laden with artifacts typical of much later sites, suggest that the dramatic rise of farming villages in the Near East also had early and deep roots. According to some attendees, the pair of talks provides still more reasons why they are skeptical of revolutions in archaeology.

Archaeology: Date with history, di E. Callaway, "Nature-News feature", 2 May 2012

Beside a slab of trilobites, in a quiet corner of Britain's Oxford University Museum of Natural History, lies a collection of ochre-tinted human bones known as the Red Lady of Paviland. In 1823, palaeontologist William Buckland painstakingly removed the fossils from a cave in Wales, and discovered ivory rods, shell beads and other ornaments in the vicinity. He concluded that they belonged to a Roman-era witch or prostitute (...)

Human migrations: Eastern odyssey, di T. Appenzeller, "Nature-News feature", 2 May 2012

One day some 74,000 years ago, in a swampy valley in the south of India, dawn never came. In the half-light, greyish dust sifted down, blanketing the ground and turning trees to ghosts. Far to the east, a volcano called Toba on the Indonesian island of Sumatra had unleashed one of the greatest eruptions ever known, flinging thousands of cubic kilometres of rock into the atmosphere and spreading a pall of ash across southern Asia (...)

Aggiornamento 2 maggio

The Rio Secco Cave and the North Adriatic region, a key context for investigating the Neanderthal demise, di M. Peresani, A. Pastoors, M. Vaquero, M. Romandini, R. Duches, C. Jéquier, N. Nannini, A. Picin, I. Schmidt, G.C. Weniger, "Antiquity's Project Gallery", volume 086, Issue 332, june 2012

The disappearance of Neanderthals in Europe and in the northern regions of the Mediterranean basin is a debated topic in which the archaeological record plays a leading role in the development of models focused on the settlement dynamics of indigenous populations. In the last decades the investigation of markers that could shed light on the possible interactions between Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans are again at the centre of attention, for chronometric refinements (Higham et al.2009; Higham 2011) as well as for the re-examination of some human remains (Benazzi et al. 2011). In large areas of the Northern Adriatic region, the latest Middle Palaeolithic is undocumented. Only in the Veneto region and ephemerally along the Dalmatian coast do archaeological sites show that the remarkable ecological diversity between the alluvial plains and the Prealps was exploited, with some key cave sites showing evidence of intense and repeated occupation. Within this context, sites are characterised by short-term use associated with neighbouring flint outcrops or used as logistical stops along seasonal routes (...)

Har-Parsa: a large-scale larnite quarry and bifacial tool production site in the Judean Desert, Israel, di J. Vardi, E. Cohen-Sasson, "Antiquity's Project Gallery", volume 086, Issue 332, june 2012

A large concentration of knapped waste and bifacial tools was recently discovered by Y. Vapnik, of the Geology and Environmental Sciences Department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, on Har-Parsa (Hoof Mountain in Hebrew) in the southern part of the Judean Desert, Israel. The mountain belongs to the Hatrurim geological formation and the site is located on Har-Parsa's ridge overlooking a tributary channel of Nahal Boqeq between Arad and the Dead Sea (Figure 1). Preliminary investigation of the site and its vicinity shows that it served as a major quarry and production site for Neolithic and Chalcolithic bifacial larnite tools. The main features of the site include a vast and thick coverage of knapped waste, partially modified bifacial tools and numerous loose larnite rock cobbles on the northern and southern hill slopes (Figures 2 & 3). Shallow mounds of knapping waste are scattered on the narrow ridge top (Figure 4). The total area of the site is approximately 10 000m² (...)

A hybrid approach to create an archaeological visualization system for a palaeolithic cave, di P. Rodríguez-Gonzálvez, J. Mancera-Taboada, D. González-Aguilera, A. Muñoz-Nieto, J. Armesto, "Archaeometry", Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 565–580, June 2012

This paper presents a visualization system based on metric data to manage and disseminate archaeological information on the Internet. We describe the integration of two different types of sensors: laser scanning and close-range photogrammetry. How we created an automatic and hierarchical approach based on processing and matching the images coming from a digital camera and a terrestrial laser scanner is also shown. This development has created a visualization system combining spherical photographs and georeferences for graphical and numerical data acquired by the sensors. The case study where we have applied this method is the Palaeolithic rock art of the Llonín Cave (Asturias, Spain), which has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and has restricted public access. Our results demonstrate that this tool integrates data, metadata, services and information, which simplifies the location, identification, selection and management of archaeological information.

Did neanderthals play music? X-ray computed micro-tomography of the divje babe ‘flute’, di C. Tuniz, F. Bernardini, I. Turk, L. Dimkaroski, L. Mancini, D. Dreossi, "Archaeometry", Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 581–590, June 2012

Archaeological evidence for wind musical instruments made by modern humans has been well established from the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe. Musical instruments evidently made by Neanderthals have not been found so far. The most controversial object is a juvenile cave bear femur with two complete holes, found in 1995 in the Middle Palaeolithic layers of the Cave Divje babe I, Slovenia. The bone was interpreted as a possible Neanderthal ‘flute’, but some scholars have firmly rejected this hypothesis on the basis of taphonomic observations, suggesting a carnivore origin for the holes. Here, we show the results of X-ray computed micro-tomography (mCT) performed on the Divje babe I ‘flute’. Our analyses demonstrate that there were originally four holes, possibly made with pointed stones and bone tools. Most surface modifications near the holes, previously interpreted as effects of carnivore gnawing, are post-depositional marks. Furthermore, a thin layer has been removed around one of the complete holes, producing a flat surface, possibly to facilitate perforation. The new data show that a Neanderthal manufacture of the object cannot be ruled out.

Exploring Paleogeographic Conditions at Two Paleolithic Sites in Navarino, Southwest Greece, Dated by Optically Stimulated Luminescence, di C. Athanassas, Y. Bassiakos, G. A. Wagner, M. E. Timpson, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 27, Issue 3, pages 237–258, May/June 2012

In this paper, we employed optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of sediments from two archaeological sites located in Navarino, Messenia, southwestern Greece, to deduce a chronology for the archaeological sites. Archaeological surveys identified two Paleolithic sites on fossilized coastal dunes. Chipped stone tool assemblages were identified eroding out of paleosols developed in the dunes. The assemblage from one site lacked distinct typological features and hence it was difficult to assign to a chronological period. The lithic assemblage from the other site contained artifacts that typologically can be assigned to the Levallois-Mousterian. Previous efforts to date the artifact-bearing sediments at these sites were unsuccessful. Using newer OSL dating methods (i.e., the Single-Aliquot-Regenerated Dose protocol and thermally transferred-OSL[TT-OSL]), we attempted to construct a chronological framework for Late Pleistocene human activity in the southwest Peloponnese. The revised OSL chronology for the first site is 28 ± 5 ka, while a luminescence age of 8 ± 1 ka for the second site only represents a later deflation event. Within the framework of Quaternary environmental change, the location of Paleolithic sites relative to the coast would have changed during the course of the Pleistocene. As a result, Paleolithic exploitation strategies would have been strongly influenced by the changing coastal geomorphology, encouraging hominids to adapt to new distributions of resources. OSL dating of the archaeological sites allowed us to connect traces of hominid activity with climatic stadials/interstadials of the later Pleistocene derived from existing relative sea-level curves. Ultimately, these data permitted the reconstruction of regional Late Pleistocene paleogeography. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Neanderthals in Color, di Z. Zorich, "Archaeology", Volume 65, Number 3, May/June 2012                                             

In 1981, when Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University was beginning his archaeological career, he ran across some red stains in the grayish sediments on the floodplain of the Maas River where his team was excavating. The site, called Maastricht-Belvèdère, in The Netherlands, was occupied by Neanderthals at least 200,000 years ago. Roebroeks collected and stored samples of the red stains, and 30 years later he received funding to analyze them. It became apparent that he and his team had discovered the earliest evidence of hominins using the mineral iron oxide, also known as ocher. Until now, the use of ocher—as a red pigment in rock paintings, an ingredient in glue, and for tanning hides, among other things—was thought to be a hallmark of modern human behavior. While the manner in which the mineral was used at Maastricht-Belvèdère is something of a mystery, the find has had an impact on the question of whether ocher use represents modern behavior. "This whole debate is now to some degree a non-debate," Roebroeks says, "because Neanderthals were already doing this 200,000 years ago."

Middle to Upper Paleolithic biological and cultural shift in Eurasia, edited by Laura Longo, "Quaternary International", Volume 259, Pages 1-112 (9 May 2012)

"Journal of Human Evolution". Volume 62, Issue 5, Pages 563-654 (May 2012)

- The environmental context for the origins of modern human diversity: A synthesis of regional variability in African climate 150,000–30,000 years ago
- Sex at Sterkfontein: ‘Mrs. Ples’ is still an adult female
- The Early Aurignacian human remains from La Quina-Aval (France)
- New hominid fossils from Member 1 of the Swartkrans formation, South Africa
- Fossil human remains from Bolomor Cave (Valencia, Spain)
- The relative congruence of cranial and genetic estimates of hominoid taxon relationships: Implications for the reconstruction of hominin phylogeny

"Quaternaire". Volume 23 - Numero 1 - 2012

- Premières données chronostratigraphiques sur les formations du Pléistocène supérieur de la « falaise » de Bandiagara (Mali, Afrique de l’Ouest)
- Datation par ESR-U/Th combinées de dents fossiles des grottes d’EL Mnasra et d’El Arhoura 2, région de Rabat-Temara. Implications chronologiques sur le peuplement du Maroc atlantique au Pléistocène supérieur et son environnement
- Végétation et climat au Pléistocène moyen en Italie méridionale (bassin de Boiano, Molise)
- Contribution de la minéralogie des sables à l’étude des paléoenvironnements du Moustérien et du Paléolithique supérieur de l’abri Mochi (Ligurie italienne)
- Les glaciations quaternaires dans les Pyrénées ariègeoises : approche historiographique, données paléogéographiques et chronologiques nouvelles
- Transect partiel de la plaine de la Scarpe (bassin de l'Escaut, nord de la France). Stratigraphie et évolution paléogéographique du Pléniglaciaire supérieur à L’holocène récent
- Sédimentologie et datation des dépôts fluvio-éoliens du Pléniglaciaire weichselien à Lille (vallée de la Deûle, bassin de l'Escaut, France)

Single amino acid radiocarbon dating of Upper Paleolithic modern humans, di A. Marom, J. S. O. McCullagh, T. F. G. Higham, A. A. Sinitsyn, R. E. M. Hedges,  "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS), May 1, 2012 vol. 109, no. 18 6878-6881

Archaeological bones are usually dated by radiocarbon measurement of extracted collagen. However, low collagen content, contamination from the burial environment, or museum conservation work, such as addition of glues, preservatives, and fumigants to “protect” archaeological materials, have previously led to inaccurate dates. These inaccuracies in turn frustrate the development of archaeological chronologies and, in the Paleolithic, blur the dating of such key events as the dispersal of anatomically modern humans. Here we describe a method to date hydroxyproline found in collagen (∼10% of collagen carbon) as a bone-specific biomarker that removes impurities, thereby improving dating accuracy and confidence. This method is applied to two important sites in Russia and allows us to report the earliest direct ages for the presence of anatomically modern humans on the Russian Plain. These dates contribute considerably to our understanding of the emergence of the Mid-Upper Paleolithic and the complex suite of burial behaviors that begin to appear during this period.

The Toba Volcanic Super-eruption of 74,000 Years Ago: Climate Change, Environments, and Evolving Humans, edited by Michael D. Petraglia, Ravi Korisettar and J.N. Pal, "Quaternary International", Volume 258, Pages 1-200 (1 May 2012) 

Colonizing contrasting landscapes. The pioneer coast settlement and inland utilization in southern Norway 10,000–9500 years before present, di S. Bang-Andersen, "Oxford Journal of Archaeology", Volume 31, Issue 2, pages 103–120, May 2012

This article contributes a western Scandinavian perspective to the discussion of the human colonization of former glaciated landscapes. Four assumptions concerning the peopling of the Norwegian coast are discussed: 1) a delayed colonization, 2) an immigration from the ‘North Sea Continent’, 3) reindeer as the main economic factor, and 4) a rapid rate of expansion along the coast. It is argued that only the first and last suppositions still appear credible, but need to be confirmed. A gradual major development is evident. Stage 1: Marine hunters colonized the resource-rich coastlines of south-west Sweden and southern Norway about 10,000 y.BP. Stage 2: Soon after, based on short seasonal moves, some coastal groups started exploiting reindeer in recently deglaciated mountain areas in south-west Norway. A similar subsistence pattern developed in north-west Norway. With its remote location, distinct landscape development and many-faceted environments, Norway appears as ideal for exploring human colonization processes on different geographical scales. More C14-dates and osteological material are, however, still needed.

Placement of the diaphragmatic vertebra in catarrhines: Implications for the evolution of dorsostability in hominoids and bipedalism in hominins, di S. A. Williams, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 148, Issue 1, pages 111–122, May 2012

A fundamental adaptation to orthograde posture and locomotion amongst living hominoid primates is a numerically reduced lumbar column, which acts to stiffen the lower back and reduce injuries to the intervertebral discs. A related and functionally complementary strategy of spinal stability is a caudal position of the diaphragmatic vertebra relative to the primitive condition found in nonhominoid primates and most other mammals. The diaphragmatic vertebra marks the transition in vertebral articular facet (zygapophysis) orientation, which either resists (prediaphragmatic) or allows (postdiaphragmatic) trunk movement in the sagittal plane (i.e., flexion and extension). Unlike most mammals, which have dorsomobile spines (long lumbar columns and cranially placed diaphragmatic vertebrae) for running and leaping, hominoids possess dorsostable spines (short lumbar columns and caudally placed diaphragmatic vertebrae) adapted to orthogrady and antipronogrady. In contrast to humans and other extant hominoids, all known early hominin partial vertebral columns demonstrate cranial displacement of the diaphragmatic vertebra. To address this difference, variation in diaphragmatic placement is assessed in a large sample of catarrhine primates. I show that while hominoids are characterized by modal common placement of diaphragmatic and last rib-bearing vertebrae in general, interspecific differences in intraspecific patterns of variation exist. In particular, humans and chimpanzees show nearly identical patterns of diaphragmatic placement. A scenario of hominin evolution is proposed in which early hominins evolved cranial displacement from the ancestral hominid condition of common placement to achieve effective lumbar lordosis during the evolution of bipedal locomotion. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Castel Merle. Le Vallon des Roches. Sergeac - Onze sites qui forment presque un village préhistorique... 

Le Vallon de Castel Merle (ou Vallon des Roches) est situé sur la commune de Sergeac, à 9 kilomètres de Montignac (Lascaux). Il est traversé par le ruisseau des roches qui se jette dans la Vézère. Ce cours d'eau est le vestige probable de la rivière qui a dû, il y a plusieurs millions d'années, éroder le plateau calcaire et former le vallon proprement dit. De chaque côté de celui-ci, au pied des hautes parois des falaises, plusieurs gisements préhistoriques ont été mis à jour. Sur une zone de 300 mètres carrés on ne dénombre pas moins de onze sites paléolithiques, du Moustérien au Magdalénien. Néanmoins, tous ces abris sous roche ne se visitent pas car les fouilles continuent... A noter, de mi-juin à mi-septembre de nombreuses animations sont organisées pour toute la famille : tir au propulseur, allumage de feu préhistorique... Renseignez-vous avant de venir pour connaître les horaires. (...)

Origins and Genetic Legacy of Neolithic Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers in Europe, di P. Skoglund et alii, "Science", 27 April 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6080 pp. 466-469

The farming way of life originated in the Near East some 11,000 years ago and had reached most of the European continent 5000 years later. However, the impact of the agricultural revolution on demography and patterns of genomic variation in Europe remains unknown. We obtained 249 million base pairs of genomic DNA from ~5000-year-old remains of three hunter-gatherers and one farmer excavated in Scandinavia and find that the farmer is genetically most similar to extant southern Europeans, contrasting sharply to the hunter-gatherers, whose distinct genetic signature is most similar to that of extant northern Europeans. Our results suggest that migration from southern Europe catalyzed the spread of agriculture and that admixture in the wake of this expansion eventually shaped the genomic landscape of modern-day Europe.

Early humans linked to large-carnivore extinctions, "Nature news", di J. Tollefson, 26 April 2012

Animal lovers around the world know modern otters as cute, playful and unthreatening. But the mustelid's giant cousins in ancient Africa may have engaged in a life-and-death competition with humanity's ancestors — and come out on the losing end. The demise of the gigantic ‘bear otter’ (Enhydriodon dikikae) was part of a broader decline in large-carnivore diversity in Africa, which accelerated around 2 million years ago — roughly the time that the first representatives of the genus Homo appeared on the scene. Lars Werdelin, a curator at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm has been building a case that our forebears had something to do with the change. Although direct evidence of any causal connection is sorely lacking, Werdelin says, the transition in the carnivore fossil record coincides nicely with advances in tool-making and dietary shifts among early hominins. (...)

La séquence mésolithique et néolithique du Trou Al’Wesse (Belgique): résultats pluridisciplinaires, di R. Miller, N. Zwyns, M. Otte, C. Stevens, J. Stewart, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 116, Issue 2, April–May 2012, Pages 99–126

Le site du Trou Al’Wesse a été interprété comme site d’éventuels contacts entre des populations mésolithique et néolithique, étant donné la découverte des tessons néolithiques et des outils mésolithiques dans la couche 4. Pourtant, des récentes fouilles montrent la présence de trois faciès datant du Mésolithique ancien surmonté par un niveau néolithique, pendant que l’attribution au Mésolithique récent est suggérée pour un quatrième faciès à la base de la pente de la terrasse. Des analyses lithique, archéozoologique et archéobotanique, ainsi qu’une analyse spatiale et stratigraphique du matériel, indiquent clairement une séparation des occupations mésolithique et néolithique. Nous présentons une nouvelle interprétation des occupations humaines de la séquence holocène au Trou Al’Wesse à la lumière de ces nouvelles données, suggérant que le site a été régulièrement occupé durant le Mésolithique ancien, suivi par un hiatus d’occupation et réutilisation du site durant le Mésolithique récent. Le Néolithique ancien est une occupation nettement à part du Mésolithique ancien sous-jacent, mais des fouilles en cours pouvait récupérer des données concernant le Mésolithique final et son rapport avec le Néolithique ancien ici.

Chimpanzee Ground Nests Offer New Insight Into Our Ancestors' Descent from the Trees, "ScienceDaily", 16 aprile 2012

The first study into rarely documented ground-nest building by wild chimpanzees offers new clues about the ancient transition of early hominins from sleeping in trees to sleeping on the ground. While most apes build nests in trees, this study, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, focused on a group of wild West African chimpanzees that often shows ground-nesting behaviour (...)

· Terrestrial nest-building by wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Implications for the tree-to-ground sleep transition in early hominins,di K. Koops, W.C. McGrew, T. Matsuzawa, L. A. Knapp, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Article first published online: 28 MAR 2012

Terra Amata - Nice. Un site préhistorique où les hommes chassaient l'éléphant, entre autres! 

Le site de Terra Amata est localisé sur le territoire de la commune de Nice, à 22 km à vol d’oiseau au sud-ouest de la frontière italienne, dans le département des Alpes-Maritimes. Situé aujourd’hui à 26 mètres au-dessus du niveau de la mer, sur le versant occidental du mont Boron, entouré d’immeubles, son cadre géographique est bien différent de celui qu’il était lorsqu’il y a 400 000 et 380 000 ans, des chasseurs de cerfs et d’éléphants y installaient leurs campements temporaires. Les foyers mis au jour à Terra Amata témoignent des prémices de la domestication du feu par l’homme. L’industrie acheuléenne est particulièrement riche. L’étude interdisciplinaire du site de Terra Amata, conduite sous la direction du Professeur Henry de Lumley, montre que ce gisement est un important jalon pour la compréhension des paléoclimats et de la paléobiodiversité dans le Midi méditerranéen (...)

Le « mammouth de la Madeleine », pièce phare de l'histoire de la science préhistorique, vient de faire l'objet d'une étude approfondie, 13/04/2012

Patrick Paillet, Maître de conférences au Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (Département de préhistoire - UMR CNRS/MNHN 7194), vient de consacrer une étude complète au mammouth gravé sur ivoire de la Madeleine1 (Tursac, Dordogne). C'est en 1864 que la découverte exceptionnelle vient apporter la preuve de la coexistence du mammouth avec les premiers hommes. Jusqu'alors, nul ne songeait à imaginer une quelconque contemporanéité. Objet rare et exceptionnel, régulièrement cité et reproduit dans les ouvrages scientifiques ou grand public, le mammouth gravé sur ivoire de la Madeleine n'avait pourtant jamais fait l'objet d'une étude approfondie. Les résultats de l'étude de Patrick Paillet ont été publiés dans la revue Paléo de décembre 2011 (...)

Les signes des grottes ornées, une communication symbolique? Une étude sur les signes géométriques de l'art pariétal, 10/04/2012

Une étude dirigée par Geneviève von Petzinger (Université de Victoria, Colombie britannique) a répertorié l'ensemble des signes gravés ou peints sur les parois de 146 grottes paléolithiques de France et d'Espagne. Signes géométriques une nouvelle interprétation par Geneviève von Petzinger (...)

Reading Pliocene Bones, di J. Njau, "Science", 6 April 2012: Vol. 336, no. 6077, pp. 46-47

The human ability to make complex tools is unparalleled in the animal kingdom and is a key character of Homo sapiens. Flaked stone tools and cut-marked bones are the first traces of this behavior. Yet the interpretation of bone modifications is complicated by similar traces left, for example, by carnivorous animals (see the figure). Given the scarcity of butchered bones from the Pliocene (5.3 to 2.6 million years ago) and Early Pleistocene (2.6 to 0.76 million years ago), even a single misidentification can have profound effects on the interpretation of early hominid behavior.

Aggiornamento 3 aprile

Microstratigraphic evidence of in situ fire in the Acheulean strata of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa, di F. Berna, P. Goldberg, L. Kolska Horwitz, J. Brink, S. Holt, M. Bamford, M. Chazan, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS), Early Edition, April 2, 2012 - free  access -

The ability to control fire was a crucial turning point in human evolution, but the question when hominins first developed this ability still remains. Here we show that micromorphological and Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy (mFTIR) analyses of intact sediments at the site of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa, provide unambiguous evidence—in the form of burned bone and ashed plant remains—that burning took place in the cave during the early Acheulean occupation, approximately 1.0 Ma. To the best of our knowledge, this is the earliest secure evidence for burning in an archaeological context.

· Quando il fuoco entrò nella vita dell'uomo, "Le Scienze", 3 aprile 2012

Il “Lion man” aurignaziano di Hohlenstein-Stadel finalmente integro, "ArcheoMolise", 2 Aprile 2012

Il 25 agosto 1939, nel corso dello scavo dei depositi paleolitici della grotta Stadel – stalla in tedesco -, una delle tre cavità facenti parte della falesia di Hohlenstein, sulle Alpi Swabiane (Germania meridionale), l’equipe archeologica diretta da Robert Wetzel rinvenne centinaia di frammenti di avorio di mammuth nei livelli del Paleolitico superiore. Le ricerche furono interrotte, una settimana più tardi, dallo scoppio della seconda Guerra Mondiale. Le trincee furono riempite in tutta fretta, i reperti donati al vicino Museo di Ulm e dimenticati per tre decadi, finché Joachim Hahn, archeologo del Museo, iniziò a inventariarli, notando che rimontavano tra loro: dall’assemblaggio di più di duecento frammenti cominciò a prendere forma una figurina antropo-zoomorfa, male interpretabile, tuttavia, nelle sue fatture, giacché di essa sopravvivevano solo parte della testa e l’orecchio sinistro (...)

· Lion-Man to be reconstructed from new pieces, di J. Hawks, "John Hawks weblog", 12/9/2011

· Solving the Mystery of a 35,000-Year-Old Statue, di M. Schulz, "Spiegel online", 

Groundwater spring deposits as proxy for interstadials in the Levant: The chronology and climate history of the Palaeolithic cultures from Yabroud (Syria), di N. Schrøder, G. M. Jensen, M. Limborg, "Quaternary International", Volume 257, 20 April 2012, Pages 27–33

This paper presents the hypothesis that Dansgaard/Oeschger events can be recognized in the Levant by correlation to sedimentary layers characterized by hominid activity, specifically layers of spring deposits. Optically stimulated luminescence was used to date age several sedimentary layers of an archaeological site at Yabroud, Syria. Pollen and spores throughout an 8 m profile of the site indicate that specific layers were deposited during a warm period. (...)

Early pleistocene human humeri from the gran dolina-TD6 site (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), di J. M. Bermúdez de Castro et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 147, Issue 4, pages 604–617, April 2012

In this report, we present a morphometric comparative study of two Early Pleistocene humeri recovered from the TD6 level of the Gran Dolina cave site in Sierra de Atapuerca, northern Spain. ATD6-121 belongs to a child between 4 and 6 years old, whereas ATD6-148 corresponds to an adult. ATD6-148 exhibits the typical pattern of the genus Homo, but it also shows a large olecranon fossa and very thin medial and lateral pillars (also present in ATD6-121), sharing these features with European Middle Pleistocene hominins, Neandertals, and the Bodo Middle Pleistocene humerus. The morphology of the distal epiphysis, together with a few dental traits, suggests a phylogenetic relationship between the TD6 hominins and the Neandertal lineage. Given the older geochronological age of these hominins (ca. 900 ka), which is far from the age estimated by palaeogenetic studies for the population divergence of modern humans and Neandertals (ca. 400 ka), we suggest that this suite of derived “Neandertal” features appeared early in the evolution of the genus Homo. Thus, these features are not “Neandertal” apomorphies but traits which appeared in an ancestral and polymorphic population during the Early Pleistocene. Am J Phys Anthropol 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

From flakes to grooves: A technical shift in antlerworking during the last glacial maximum in southwest France, di J. M. Pétillon, S. Ducasse, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 435–465

The evolution of antlerworking technology in Paleolithic and Mesolithic Europe, especially the production of splinters, is usually described as a cumulative process. A progressive increase in blank standardization and productivity was prompted by the application of a key technical process, the groove and splinter technique (GST). The Badegoulian, however, appears as an interruption in this continuum. According to the original definition of this post-Solutrean, pre-Magdalenian archeological culture, one of its distinctive features is the absence of the GST and the manufacture of antler blanks by knapping only. However, this conception has been recently questioned, leading to an alternative hypothesis suggesting that both GST and knapping were used during the Badegoulian. In this article, we present new evidence from several sites in southwest France, which sheds new light on the issue of Badegoulian antlerworking and the transition with the subsequent Lower Magdalenian. Our study is based on two complementary methods: the technological analysis of antler assemblages well-dated to the Badegoulian (Le Cuzoul de Vers) or to the Lower Magdalenian (La Grotte des Scilles, Saint-Germain-la-Rivière), and the direct 14C dating of specific antler artifacts from mixed or problematic contexts (Cap-Blanc, Reverdit and Lassac). The results firmly establish that, in southwest France, knapping is the only method used for the production of antler splinters during the Badegoulian, before ca. 20,500 cal BP (calibrated years before present), and that it is rapidly replaced by the GST at the beginning of the Lower Magdalenian, after ca. 20,500 cal BP. This technical shift is not linked to an influx of new human populations, environmental change or the supposed economic advantages of the GST. Instead, it must be understood as one of the expressions of a broader reconfiguration of the technical world that starts to take shape in the middle of the Last Glacial Maximum. (...)

Functional implications of variation in lumbar vertebral count among hominins, di K. K. Whitcome, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 486–497

As early as the 1970s, Robinson defined lumbar vertebrae according to their zygapophyseal orientation. He identified six lumbar elements in fossil Sts 14 Australopithecus africanus, one more than is commonly present in modern humans. It is now generally inferred that the modal number of lumbar vertebrae for australopiths and early Homo was six, from which the mode of five in later Homo is derived. The two central questions this study investigates are (1) to what extent do differences in human lumbar vertebral count affect lordotic shape and lumbar function, and (2) what does lumbar number variation imply about lumbar spine function in early hominins? To address these questions, I first outline a biomechanical model of lumbar number effect on lordotic function. I then identify relevant morphological differences in the human modal and extra-modal variants, which I use to test the model. These tests permit evaluation of the human L6 variant as a model for reconstructing early hominin modal number and spine function. Application of the biomechanical model in reconstructing australopith/early Homo lumbar spines highlights shared principles of Euler column strength and sagittal spine flexibility among early and modern hominins. Within modern humans, the extra-modal L6 variant has an extended series of three cranially positioned kyphotic vertebrae and strongly oblique zygapophyseal facets at the last lumbar level. Although they share the same radius and length of lumbar curvature, the L6 variant differs functionally from the L5 mode in its expanded range of sagittal flexion/extension and enhanced resistance to shear. Given the modal number of six lumbar vertebrae in australopiths and early Homo, lumbar spine mobility and strength would have been key properties of vertebral function in early bipeds whose upper and lower body segments were coupled by close approximation of the thorax and iliac crests. (...)

Endocranial volume of Australopithecus africanus: New CT-based estimates and the effects of missing data and small sample size, S. Neubauer, P. Gunz, G. W. Weber, J. J. Hublin, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 498–510

Estimation of endocranial volume in Australopithecus africanus is important in interpreting early hominin brain evolution. However, the number of individuals available for investigation is limited and most of these fossils are, to some degree, incomplete and/or distorted. Uncertainties of the required reconstruction (‘missing data uncertainty’) and the small sample size (‘small sample uncertainty’) both potentially bias estimates of the average and within-group variation of endocranial volume in A. africanus. We used CT scans, electronic preparation (segmentation), mirror-imaging and semilandmark-based geometric morphometrics to generate and reconstruct complete endocasts for Sts 5, Sts 60, Sts 71, StW 505, MLD 37/38, and Taung, and measured their endocranial volumes (EV). To get a sense of the reliability of these new EV estimates, we then used simulations based on samples of chimpanzees and humans to: (a) test the accuracy of our approach, (b) assess missing data uncertainty, and (c) appraise small sample uncertainty. Incorporating missing data uncertainty of the five adult individuals, A. africanus was found to have an average adult endocranial volume of 454–461 ml with a standard deviation of 66–75 ml. EV estimates for the juvenile Taung individual range from 402 to 407 ml. Our simulations show that missing data uncertainty is small given the missing portions of the investigated fossils, but that small sample sizes are problematic for estimating species average EV. It is important to take these uncertainties into account when different fossil groups are being compared. (...)

The mesosternum of the Regourdou 1 Neandertal revisited, A. Gómez-Olivencia, R. G. Franciscus, C. Couture-Veschambre, B. Maureille, J. L. Arsuaga, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 511–519

Fossil hominin mesosterna, while scarce, can provide useful morphological data in addition to rib remains regarding aspects of thoracic size and shape. These data, in turn, can address hypotheses related to respiratory dynamics, climatic adaptation, and ecogeographical patterning. In this study, we re-evaluate the anatomical representation of the mesosternum of the Regourdou 1 Neandertal individual that alters key aspects of the original description of the fossil remains. We compare this specimen together with the mesosterna of the Kebara 2 Neandertal male individual and the Tabun C1 Neandertal female individual to a large extant modern sample. Our study shows that the current evidence available for Neandertals indicates longer mesosterna, reflecting larger thorax sizes among Neandertals, in comparison with extant humans. Additionally, while this study weakens previous suggestions of ecogeographically mediated differences in the size and shape of upper thorax between Neandertals from the Mediterranean Levant and those deriving from Western Europe, we cannot unambiguously disprove the notion of such clinal differences. (...)

Hand pressure distribution during Oldowan stone tool production, di E. M. Williams, A. D. Gordon, B. G. Richmond, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 520–532

Modern humans possess a highly derived thumb that is robust and long relative to the other digits, with enhanced pollical musculature compared with extant apes. Researchers have hypothesized that this anatomy was initially selected for in early Homo in part to withstand high forces acting on the thumb during hard hammer percussion when producing stone tools. However, data are lacking on loads experienced during stone tool production and the distribution of these loads across the hand. Here we report the first quantitative data on manual normal forces (N) and pressures (kPa) acting on the hand during Oldowan stone tool production, captured at 200 Hz. Data were collected from six experienced subjects replicating Oldowan bifacial choppers. Our data do not support hypotheses asserting that the thumb experiences relatively high loads when making Oldowan stone tools. Peak normal force, pressure, impulse, and the pressure/time integral are significantly lower on the thumb than on digits 2 and/or digit 3 in every subject. Our findings call into question hypotheses linking modern human thumb robusticity specifically to load resistance during stone tool production. (...)

A new hominin foot from Ethiopia shows multiple Pliocene bipedal adaptations, di Y. Haile-Selassie, B. Z. Saylor, A. Deino, N. E. Levin, M. Alene,B. M. Latimer, "Nature", 483, 565–569 (29 March 2012)

A newly discovered partial hominin foot skeleton from eastern Africa indicates the presence of more than one hominin locomotor adaptation at the beginning of the Late Pliocene epoch. Here we show that new pedal elements, dated to about 3.4 million years ago, belong to a species that does not match the contemporaneous Australopithecus afarensis in its morphology and inferred locomotor adaptations, but instead are more similar to the earlier Ardipithecus ramidus in possessing an opposable great toe. This not only indicates the presence of more than one hominin species at the beginning of the Late Pliocene of eastern Africa, but also indicates the persistence of a species with Ar. ramidus-like locomotor adaptation into the Late Pliocene.

· Ancient human ancestor had feet like an ape, di B. Switek, "Nature news", 28 march 2012

· "Lucy" Wasn't Alone? Had Neighbors in Trees, Fossil Foot Suggests, "National Geographic News", 28 march 2012

· Lo strano piede dei cugini di Lucy, "Le Scienze", 28 marzo 2012

· Primitive Human Ancestor Shared Lucy's World, di Ann Gibbons, "Science NOW", 28 March 2012

· Ancient Human Had Feet Like an Ape, di B. Switek, "Scientific American", March 29, 2012

· Chi viveva insieme a Lucy? di L. Berardi, "Galileo", 29 marzo 2012

"Le Paléolithique moyen en Belgique". Mélanges Marguerite Ulrix-Closset, sous la direction de Michel Toussaint, Kévin Di Modica et Stéphane Pirson

Quel est, en cette fin 2011, l'état des connaissances relatives au Paléolithique moyen en Belgique ? C'est à cette question que de nombreux spécialistes tentent de répondre dans cet ouvrage, dans des domaines aussi variés que la chronostratigraphie, la paléoanthropologie et la préhistoire (...)

Lewis Roberts Binford (1931–2011), di B. Fagan, "American Anthropologist", Volume 114, Issue 1, pages 173–176, March 2012

One of the few scholars who can rightly claim to have revolutionized a discipline, archaeologist Lewis R. Binford died on April 11, 2011, in Kirksville, Missouri. The father of what has been (wrongly) called the “new archaeology,” he was one of the most influential anthropologists of the late 20th century, not because of his fieldwork or laboratory analysis but because of his far-ranging, often audacious, ideas. At the time of his death, he was Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Southern Methodist University (...)

Neanderthals were dying out before humans arrived, di J. Viegas, Mar 29, 2012 

Neanderthals in Western Europe started disappearing long before Homo sapiens showed up, suggesting that cold weather, and not cold-hearted humans, might have been responsible for the species' ultimate demise. The findings, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, suggest that at least one population of Neanderthals was vulnerable to climate change. Love Dalén, lead author of the paper, told Discovery News that "even if the Neanderthals were capable of surviving periods of extreme cold, the game species they relied on likely could not, so their resource base would have been severely depleted." Neanderthals appear to have favored hunting wooly mammoths and other big game. Neanderthals were also big-brained, with the ability to make stone tools, construct garments, control fire and find shelter. (...)

From foraging to farming: the 10,000-year revolution, March 23, 2012

The moment when the hunter-gatherers laid down their spears and began farming around 11,000 years ago is often interpreted as one of the most rapid and significant transitions in human history – the ‘Neolithic Revolution’. By producing and storing food, Homo sapiens both mastered the natural world and took the first significant steps towards thousands of years of runaway technological development. The advent of specialist craftsmen, an increase in fertility and the construction of permanent architecture are just some of the profound changes that followed. Of course, the transition to agriculture was far from rapid. The period around 14,500 years ago has been regarded as the point at which the first indications appear of cultural change associated with agriculture: the exploitation of wild grains and the construction of stone buildings. Farming is believed to have begun in what is known as the Fertile Crescent in the Levant region, which stretches from northern Egypt through Israel and Jordan to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and then occurred independently in other regions of the world at different times from 11,000 years ago. (...)

Humans Began Walking Upright to Carry Scarce Resources, Chimp Study Suggests, Mar. 23, 2012

Most of us walk and carry items in our hands every day. These are seemingly simple activities that the majority of us don't question. But an international team of researchers, including Brian Richmond at the George Washington University, have discovered that human bipedalism, or walking upright, may have originated millions of years ago as an adaptation to carrying scarce, high-quality resources. This latest research was published in this month's Current Biology. The team of researchers from the U.S., England, Japan and Portugal investigated the behavior of modern-day chimpanzees as they competed for food resources, in an effort to understand what ecological settings would lead a large ape -- one that resembles the 6 million-year old ancestor we shared in common with living chimpanzees -- to walk on two legs (...)

· Chimpanzee carrying behaviour and the origins of human bipedality, di S. Carvalho et alii, "Current Biology", Volume 22, Issue 6, R180-R181, 20 March 2012

Were Some Neandertals Brown-Eyed Girls? di T. Watson, "Science NOW", 19 March 2012

In museums around the world, reproductions of Neandertals sport striking blue or green eyes, pale skin, and gingery hair. Now new DNA analysis suggests that two of the most closely studied Neandertals—a pair of females from Croatia—were actually brown-eyed girls, with brunette tresses and tawny skin to match. The results could help shed new light on the evolution of the family that includes both modern humans and Neandertals, who died out some 30,000 years ago. The study has provoked deep skepticism among several outside researchers, however, who criticize numerous aspects of its methodology. The results also run contrary to other genetic evidence and to a long-held hypothesis that Neandertals, who lived mostly in northern latitudes, must've had light skin to get enough vitamin D. But even scientists who have doubts about the new research say it still provides food for thought. "Neandertals occupied a wide geographical range," says John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who was not involved in the study and who is also studying the physical traits of ancient humans, so "it's likely that they were variable in pigmentation. ... We are really at the first step." (...)

Réaménagements et découvertes dans la grotte du Mas d’Azil, di F. Belnet, "Hominides news", 16/03/2012

Selon un communiqué de l’Inrap daté du 9 mars 2012, des recherches archéologiques préalables à de futurs travaux d’aménagement touristique, dans la grotte du Mas d’Azil, ont permis d’y mettre en évidence une stratigraphie jusqu’alors inconnue ... Si l’examen du premier lieu n’a fait que confirmer que la construction de la route, dans le passé, n’a pas laissé grand-chose d’exploitable pour les archéologues et les paléontologues, en revanche, celui du second a permis de mettre au jour une exceptionnelle et complexe stratigraphie de plusieurs mètres de hauteur, couvrant tout le Paléolithique supérieur. Outre des couches de sables et de galets amenés par les différentes crues de la rivière, des vestiges lithiques et osseux dus aux activités des anciens occupants ont été trouvés, et le mobilier mis au jour est en cours d’étude. Les premières datations au carbone 14 vont de l'Aurignacien (35 000 à 33 000 avant notre ère) avant les crues, au Magdalénien (14 700 avant notre ère) après les crues (...)

· L’Inrap entreprend des recherches dans la grotte préhistorique du Mas d’Azil, 16 mars 2012

Critics Assail Notion That Europeans Settled Americas, di M. Balter, "Science", 16 March 2012: Vol. 335 no. 6074 pp. 1289-1290

Citing similarities in the shape and manufacture of stone tools found on both sides of the Atlantic, a pair of archaeologists argues that at least 20,000 years ago, at the height of the last ice age, people of the Solutrean culture of France and Spain made their way by foot and by boat along the edge of Atlantic ice sheets. Eventually, they reached the East Coast of North America, and so were the first to people the New World. This flies in the face of strong evidence, particularly from genetics, that points to Asian origins for the first Americans. So some researchers are outraged by the notion that the Solutrean hypothesis—which has been a decidedly minority view for decades—is still taken seriously.

What killed the big beasts?, "Nature", 483, 249 (15 March 2012)

During the past 100,000 years, many of Earth's largest animals — including ground sloths, mammoths, woolly rhinos and sabre-toothed cats — became extinct. Scientists have debated why for decades, with climate change and hunting by humans the chief suspects. Graham Prescott, David Williams and their group at the University of Cambridge, UK, have created a model of unprecedented geographical breadth — and concluded that it took both factors to seal the beasts' fate. The researchers modelled extinctions in North America, South America, Palaeoarctic Eurasia, Australia and New Zealand, running simulations with climate data from ice cores and thousands of plausible combinations of human-arrival and species-extinction times, reflecting the large uncertainty in both these estimates. The recipe that best predicted the pattern of extinctions included both climatic and human ingredients.

Was Human Evolution Caused by Climate Change? "ScienceDaily", Mar. 15, 2012

The approach takes existing knowledge of the geographical spread of other species through the warming and cooling of the ice ages to provide a model that can be applied to human origins. "No one has applied this knowledge to humans before," said Dr John Stewart, lead author on the paper and researcher at Bournemouth University. "We have tried to explain much of what we know about humans, including the evolution and extinction of Neanderthals and the Denisovans (a newly discovered group from Siberia), as well as how they interbred with the earliest modern populations who had just left Africa. All these phenomena have been put into the context of how animals and plants react to climate change. We're thinking about humans from the perspective of what we know about other species." (...)

· Human Evolution Out of Africa: The Role of Refugia and Climate Change, di J. R. Stewart, C. B. Stringer, "Science",16 March 2012: Vol. 335 no. 6074 pp. 1317-1321

· I rifugi che hanno salvato Homo sapiens, "Le Scienze", 19 marzo 2012

Dos de la Forca (Bz). Arrivano i primi risultati del progetto di ricerca, "ArcheoRivista", di M. Calogero, 14 marzo 2012

Martedì 13 marzo 2012, presso il Museo Archeologico di Bolzano, con la conferenza “10.000 anni fa nella Valle dell’Adige…” sono stati illustrati i primi risultati del progetto di ricerca promosso dal museo nel sito mesolitico del Dos de la Forca, vicino a Salorno. L’archeologa Ursula Wierer e altri cinque ricercatori hanno presentato la grande quantità di reperti ricollegabili ad un insediamento usato nel Mesolitico per circa mille anni, fra l’8400 e il 7500 avanti Cristo. Scoperto quindici anni fa, l’accampamento era situato vicino alle zone umide dell’Adige e fungeva da campo base per la caccia e per la pesca. Infatti, al suo interno sono stati individuate ossa di prede venatorie quali lucci, molluschi e tartarughe, mammiferi come castori e cinghiali, e schegge di arnesi in selce che hanno permesso di capire meglio come vivevano i nostri predecessori. Il complesso progetto, dedicato dal Museo Archeologico dell’Alto Adige al sito mesolitico, si chiama “Vivere vicino all’acqua. Risorse, tecnologia e mobilità nel Mesolitico. Il caso studio del sito Dos de la Forca di Salorno (Alto Adige)”. Proprio l’esame sui numerosi reperti, eseguito coniugando l’archeologia alle scienze naturali, consentirà di ricostruire – questo l’obiettivo del progetto – la vita degli abitati mesolitici, situati presso zone umide. A tale fine è stato formata un’équipe interdisciplinare di cinque specialisti (Stefano Bertola, Simona Arrighi, Lorenzo Betti, Monica Gala e Jacopo Crezzini), diretta dalla studiosa Ursula Wierer.

Hundidero: mis 4 open air neanderthal occupations in Sierra de Atapuerca, di M. Navazo, R. Alonso-Alcalde, A. Benito-Calvo, J.C. Díez, A. Pérez-González, E. Carbonell, "Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia", Volume 39, Issue 4, December 2011, Pages 29–41

Many caves in Sierra de Atapuerca contain archaeological and anthropological remains from the Early Pleistocene until the Holocene. The fi rst half of the Late Pleistocene (MIS 4 and 3) has only been detected in open air deposits discovered on the basis of total cover surface surveys. Excavation at one of them, Hundidero, began in 2004. The Middle Paleolithic tool record spans the period between 70 ka and 56 ka. The technological and typological features of Hundidero, along with records from 30 other contemporary open air sites at Atapuerca, suggest repeated visits by Neanderthals who shared the same cultural tradition, characterized by expedient tool production, a diversity of exploitation techniques, a microlithic tendency, a search for dorsal faces, and the reuse of previous tools. These characteristics do not seem to depend on the conditions of the raw materials, the climate or the group's activities.

Aggiornamento 14 marzo

Palynological interpretation of the Early Neolithic coastal open-air site at Sa Punta (central-western Sardinia, Italy), di P. Pittau, C. Lugliè, C. Buosi, I. Sanna, M. Del Rio, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 5, May 2012, Pages 1260–1270

The major goal of the present study has been to assess the ecological context of the Early Neolithic settlement under excavation in the coastal site of Sa Punta-Marceddì (Terralba, Sardinia, Italy) where a trench of Neolithic age has been brought to light. Based on the origins of the site's organic fossiliferous content, the purpose of this work is to achieve an understanding of: 1) the reasons why this location was chosen by EN man and 2) its functions. This research has enabled us to suggest a human paleoecological scenario over the course of the last three centuries of the 6th millennium BC in the inland area of the Oristano Gulf. On the basis of pollen spectra and the phytolith morphologies recognised, it is suggested that herbaceous vegetation covered the alluvial plain. Arable agriculture does not seem to have been practiced on the site, but the record of coprophilous fungi and endoparasites, along with clues that there were burning practices, suggest livestock farming activity. To date, a univocal interpretation of the function of this trench is still lacking. However, it is the oldest and the only evidence in Sardinia of a remarkable transformation of an open-air space due to settlement.

Multiple origins of Bondi Cave and Ortvale Klde (NW Georgia) obsidians and human mobility in Transcaucasia during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, di F.X. Le Bourdonnec et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 5, May 2012, Pages 1317–1330

Using PIXE four types of elemental compositions were found among obsidian artefacts from the Bondi Cave and Ortvale Klde, Middle to Upper Palaeolithic sites in NW Georgia. One of those types corresponds to obsidians from the Chikiani source, whose compositions were determined with a very good agreement by PIXE and ICP-AES/MS. The composition of Chikiani obsidians is remarkably constant despite K–Ar and 39Ar/40Ar extrusion ages from ca 2.4 and 2.8 Ma. The compositions of two other groups of obsidian artefacts are similar to source materials from eastern Anatolia and Armenia, in particular Ikisdere, Sarikamis, Gutansar, and Hatis. Obsidian is only a minority component in the lithic assemblages at the Bondi Cave and Ortvale Klde. Both Neanderthal and Modern Human populations used obsidian in particular from Chikiani. Considering that the shortest walking distance to this nearest source is at minimum of about 180 km, and to other potential sources of more than 350 km it is suggested that this material reached these two sites mostly, if not exclusively, by a series of ‘down the line’ exchanges.

The Lower Palaeolithic on the northern plateau of the Iberian Peninsula (Sierra de Atapuerca, Ambrona and La Maya I): a technological analysis of the cutting edge and weight of artefacts. Developing an hypothetical model, di M. Terradillos-Bernal, X. P. Rodríguez, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 5, May 2012, Pages 1467–1479

This article analyses the relationship between the weight and cutting edge of lithic artefacts from the main Lower Palaeolithic sites on the northern plateau (Meseta) of the Iberian Peninsula. The weight and cutting edge of a tool determine its cutting ability and the amount of force it is capable of, making them extremely important aspects of study to further our understanding of the potential capacity for human intervention in the environment. However, the analysis of these features has not received much attention in the ongoing debate on the Palaeolithic era in Europe. This study argues that the quantitative and qualitative technological analysis of these two aspects is of fundamental importance in determining the potential of lithic assemblages.

Magnetite grain-size analysis and sourcing of Mediterranean obsidians, di E. Zanella, E. Ferrara, L. Bagnasco, A. Ollà, R. Lanza, , C. Beatrice, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 5, May 2012, Pages 1493–1498

The potential of magnetic grain-size variations as an obsidian source characteristic is investigated using geological and archaeological obsidians from five islands of the Mediterranean Sea: Lipari, Sardinia, Palmarola, Pantelleria, Melos. Four parameters are used: magnetic (χ) and anhysteretic (χa) susceptibilities, saturation isothermal remanent magnetizations at room (SIRM293) and liquid nitrogen (SIRM77) temperature. The ratio ST = SIRM77/SIRM293, which depends on the superparamagnetic grains relative abundance, varies little in each individual site, with the exception of Lipari which is characterized by large variations and the highest content of superparamagnetic grains. The χa vs. χ plot (King et al., 1982) shows some within-site dispersion of the samples; but the ratio Qa = χa/χ, which is strongly influenced by the single domain grains content, is characteristic for each site. The combined use of the King and Qa vs. ST plots discriminates the samples from most of the sites and suggests that the grain-size analysis is a promising approach in sourcing obsidian archaeological artefacts. Moreover, the measurements of the four parameters used are simple, quick and feasible with no or little damage to archaeological finds.

Pitted stone cobbles in the Mesolithic site of Font del Ros (Southeastern Pre-Pyrenees, Spain): some experimental remarks around a controversial tool type, di X. Roda Gilabert, J. Martínez-Moreno, R. Mora Torcal, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 5, May 2012, Pages 1587–1598

The presence of cobbles with activity-related marks in the Mesolithic site of Font del Ros (Berga, Spain), and in particular one group of artefacts – pitted stones – raises problematic issues associated with the characterization of percussion activities. Although these artefacts have generated an extensive bibliography on ethological, ethnographic, ethnoarchaeological and archaeological levels, various questions persist in relation to their possible contextual function. In this paper we present the results of an experimental programme in which three types of activities that could create pitted stones are reproduced: bipolar knapping of vein quartz, hazelnut cracking, and hazelnut grinding. The aim of this experimental programme is to describe marks and use-wear traces related to such activities. Results indicate that pit formation is associated with bipolar knapping activity. However, the description of pitted stones related to hazelnut processing presents problems when it comes to define diagnostic attributes.

Taphonomic analysis of the early Pleistocene (2.4 Ma) faunal assemblage from A.L. 894 (Hadar, Ethiopia), di M. Domínguez-Rodrigo, B. Martínez-Navarro, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 3, March 2012, Pages 315–327

The A.L. 894 site (Hadar, Ethiopia) is, together with OGS 7 (Gona, Ethiopia), one of the oldest archaeological sites documenting a spatial association of stone tools and bones retrieved from an in situ excavation. In contrast with OGS 7, the better preservation of the bone assemblage at A.L. 894 allows the identification of taphonomic processes of bone breakage, thanks to abundant green bone fractures. The presence of tooth marks and the lack of hominin-produced bone modifications together argue against hominins as the responsible agents for bone accumulation and modification. This taphonomic study of A.L. 894 shows lack of evidence for functional associations between stone tools and bones, a pattern documented in several other early Pleistocene sites. Such a pattern underscores the complex phenomena involved in site formation processes, especially in the earliest archaeological assemblages.

Raw material selectivity in Late Pliocene Oldowan sites in the Makaamitalu Basin, Hadar, Ethiopia, di T. Goldman-Neuman, E. Hovers, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 3, March 2012, Pages 353–366

We report the results of an analysis of raw material selection patterns in the assemblages from two Late Pliocene in situ archaeological localities in the Makaamitalu Basin (Hadar, Ethiopia). While the same local conglomerate was used as a raw material source for both archaeological occurrences, different selection criteria are identified. At A.L. 894, selection for quality is subtle and the clearest selection is against non-homogeneous raw materials. In the A.L. 666 assemblage, higher-quality raw materials were selected and some rare raw materials reached the locality from unknown sources. A comparison between the Makaamitalu and other Oldowan assemblages reveals an overall shift toward higher complexity of both selectivity and transport behaviors from ca. 2.0 Ma onward, contrasting a typo-technological conservatism that pertains until ∼1.6 Ma. It is hypothesized that an increase in complexity of behaviors related to raw material selection and acquisition involved changes in the intensity and fidelity of technological knowledge transmission.

Tooth wear, Neanderthal facial morphology and the anterior dental loading hypothesis, di A. F. Clement, S. W. Hillson, L. C. Aiello, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 3, March 2012, Pages 367–376

The Anterior Dental Loading Hypothesis states that the unique Neanderthal facial and dental anatomy was an adaptive response to the regular application of heavy forces resulting from both the masticatory and cultural use of the anterior teeth. Heavy anterior tooth wear frequently observed in Neanderthal specimens is cited as a main source of evidence for heavy forces being applied to these teeth. From this, it might be predicted that the wear shown on the anterior teeth of Neanderthals would greatly exceed that of the posterior teeth and that this differential would be greater than in other hominins with different facial morphologies. In this paper, a new method of examining tooth wear patterns is used to test these predictions in a large assemblage of Late Pleistocene hominins and a group of recent hunter–gatherers from Igloolik, Canada. The results show that all Late Pleistocene hominins, including Neanderthals, had heavily worn anterior teeth relative to their posterior teeth but, contrary to expectations, this was more pronounced in the modern humans than in the Neanderthals. The Igloolik Inuit showed heavier anterior tooth wear relative to their posterior teeth than any Late Pleistocene hominins. There was, however, a characteristic Neanderthal pattern in which wear was more evenly spread between anterior teeth than in modern humans. Overall, the evidence presented here suggests that all Late Pleistocene hominins habitually applied heavy forces between their anterior teeth and that Neanderthals were not exceptional in this regard. These results therefore does not support the Anterior Dental Loading Hypothesis.

Single-grain OSL chronologies for Middle Palaeolithic deposits at El Mnasra and El Harhoura 2, Morocco: Implications for Late Pleistocene human–environment interactions along the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa, di Z. Jacobs, R. G. Roberts, R. Nespoulet, M. Abdeljalil El Hajraouic, André Debénath, "Journal of Human Evolution",Volume 62, Issue 3, March 2012, Pages 377–394

Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) measurements were made on individual, sand-sized grains of quartz from Middle Palaeolithic deposits at two cave sites (El Harhoura 2 and El Mnasra) on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. We were able to calculate OSL ages for 32 of the 33 samples collected from the Middle Palaeolithic deposits, including the earliest and latest Aterian levels at both sites. These ages reveal periods of occupation between about 110 and 95 ka (thousands of years ago), and at ∼75 ka. A late Middle Palaeolithic occupation of El Harhoura 2 is also recorded at ∼55 ka. Our single-grain OSL chronologies largely support previous age estimates from El Mnasra and other sites along the Atlantic coast of Morocco, but are generally more precise, reproducible and stratigraphically more coherent (i.e., fewer age reversals). We compare the single-grain ages for El Harhoura 2 and El Mnasra with those obtained from single- and multi-grain OSL dating of Middle Palaeolithic deposits in the nearby sites of Contrebandiers and Dar es-Soltan 1 and 2, and with records of past regional environments preserved in sediment cores collected from off the coast of northwest Africa. A conspicuous feature of the new chronologies is the close correspondence between the three identified episodes of human occupation and periods of wetter climate and expanded grassland habitat. Owing to the precision of the single-grain OSL ages, we are able to discern gaps in occupation during Marine Isotope Stages 5 and 4, which may represent drier periods with reduced vegetation cover. We propose that these climatic conditions can be correlated with events in the North Atlantic Ocean that exert a major control on abrupt, millennial-scale fluctuations between wet and dry periods in northwest and central North Africa.

Variation in enamel thickness within the genus Homo, di T. M. Smith et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 3, March 2012, Pages 395–411

Recent humans and their fossil relatives are classified as having thick molar enamel, one of very few dental traits that distinguish hominins from living African apes. However, little is known about enamel thickness in the earliest members of the genus Homo, and recent studies of later Homo report considerable intra- and inter-specific variation. In order to assess taxonomic, geographic, and temporal trends in enamel thickness, we applied micro-computed tomographic imaging to 150 fossil Homo teeth spanning two million years. Early Homo postcanine teeth from Africa and Asia show highly variable average and relative enamel thickness (AET and RET) values. Three molars from South Africa exceed Homo AET and RET ranges, resembling the hyper thick Paranthropus condition. Most later Homo groups (archaic European and north African Homo, and fossil and recent Homo sapiens) possess absolutely and relatively thick enamel across the entire dentition. In contrast, Neanderthals show relatively thin enamel in their incisors, canines, premolars, and molars, although incisor AET values are similar to H. sapiens. Comparisons of recent and fossil H. sapiens reveal that dental size reduction has led to a disproportionate decrease in coronal dentine compared with enamel (although both are reduced), leading to relatively thicker enamel in recent humans. General characterizations of hominins as having ‘thick enamel’ thus oversimplify a surprisingly variable craniodental trait with limited taxonomic utility within a genus. Moreover, estimates of dental attrition rates employed in paleodemographic reconstruction may be biased when this variation is not considered. Additional research is necessary to reconstruct hominin dietary ecology since thick enamel is not a prerequisite for hard-object feeding, and it is present in most later Homo species despite advances in technology and food processing.

L'Anthropologie - Volume 116, Issue 1, Pages 1-98 (January–March 2012)
Géologie du IV, Paléontologie, Paléoanthropologie

- Datation d’enfouissement par 26Al/10Be et son application préliminaire à des sites du Paléolithique Inférieur en Chine et en France
- Étude paléoenvironnementale des sédiments quaternaires du Guelb er Richât (Adrar de Mauritanie) en regard des sites voisins ou associés du Paléolithique inférieur. Discussion et perspectives
- Chasseurs épigravettiens dans le territoire de l’ours des cavernes : le cas du Covolo Fortificato di Trene (Vicenza, Italie)
- Les Néandertaliens d’El Sidrón (Asturies, Espagne). Actualisation d’un nouvel échantillon
- Influence du muscle deltoïde sur la courbure du corps de l’humérus chez les hommes modernes et les Néandertaliens
- Fractalité et histoire migratoire d’Homo sapiens

Straight-tusked elephants in the Middle Pleistocene of northern Latium: Preliminary report on the Ficoncella site (Tarquinia, central Italy), di D. Aureli, A. Contardi, B. Giaccio, V. Modesti, M. R. Palombo, R. Rozzi, A. Sposato, F. Trucco, "Quaternary International", Volume 255, 26 March 2012, Pages 29–35

This article presents the preliminary results of research recently performed at La Ficoncella (Northern Latium) site. Discovered during the 1990s, the site of La Ficoncella has been inserted in recent years into a research program promoted by the fruitful collaboration between the Museum of Allumiere, Soprintendenza, the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, and CNR. The La Ficoncella site, still only at the beginning of excavation activities, has yielded various skeletal remains of Palaeoloxodon and a few other anatomical elements of other species, such as Bos primigenius and Equus sp., in association with four stone artefacts.The stratigraphic unit, still under study, contains fauna and lithic remains which could be dated to MIS 13, thanks to the presence of an ignimbritic layer at the top of the sequence, dating to MIS 12 (terminus ante quem). According to this data, the La Ficoncella site can be considered as an important source of information about the dynamics of human population and the techno-economic relationship between humans and elephants during the early Middle Pleistocene in central Italy.

The late Upper Palaeolithic site of Gontsy (Ukraine): A reference for the reconstruction of the hunter–gatherer system based on a mammoth economy, di L. Iakovleva, F. Djindjian, E.N. Maschenko, S. Konik, A.M. Moigne, "Quaternary International", Volume 255, 26 March 2012, Pages 86–93

The long-term excavations of the LUP settlement of Gontsy (Ukraine), with its mammoth bone huts and associated with a mammoth bone bed, has allowed reconstruction of all the pieces of the puzzle of this type of settlement and the major role of the economy of mammoth in the Mezinian peopling of the middle and upper Dnepr basin (Ukraine and Russia). The settlements generally share the same geomorphology, a promontory cut by ravines on the slope of a river valley. The dwelling area is organized around mammoth bone huts, with numerous pits around each hut, large working areas with hearths, dumping areas, a butchering area for small and medium mammals, and the existence of a mammoth bone bed, which has been largely exploited during the occupation of the settlement. The landscape analysis, using the information from the mapping, the functions and the seasonality of the settlements, characterizes a particular system based on the economy of mammoth, limited to a short period between 15 000 and 14 000 BP at the beginning of the climatic change ending the last ice age. The Mezinian system is compared to similar systems such as the Pavlovian in Moravia and the eastern Gravettian in central and eastern Europe, in which mammoth bone beds have also been found near the settlements and which show the same economy based on the mammoth.

The Barma Grande cave (Grimaldi, Vintimiglia, Italy): From Neandertal, hunter of “Elephas antiquus”, to Sapiens with ornaments of mammoth ivory, di G. Onoratini, A. Arellano, A. Del Lucchese, P. Elie Moullé, F. Serre, "Quaternary International", Volume 255, 26 March 2012, Pages 141–157

In 1884 the Barma Grande cave (Grimaldi, Ventimiglia, Italy) entered history following the research of L. Jullien and S. Bonfils who discovered, buried at a depth of 8.4 m, a grave dating from the Upper Paleolithic: “le nouvel homme de Menton”. Subsequently, there were the excavations by the quarry-worker Abbo and his sons, which revealed new burials, including a triple burial which included ornaments crafted from mammoth ivory (discovered in 1892) and remnants of a late “Elephas antiquus” in a Mousterian level. Starting in 1928, the research of A. Mochi, G.A. Blanc and L. Cardini highlighted the site’s stratigraphy: at the base, a Tyrrhenian marine level (MIS 5.5); above, a long continental sequence from the middle Paleolithic including several Mousterian hearths with a fauna composed of large mammals, including the remains of “E. antiquus”. The study of the material of the Bonfils excavations, preserved at the Musée de Préhistoire Régionale of Menton, and of the Abbo excavations preserved at the Balzi Rossi Museum allowed attribution of all of the graves to the early and middle Gravettian level with its “fléchettes“. Moreover, in the highest sequence of the site (MIS 2), mammoth bone remains have been found, as well as ivory funerary ornaments in the triple burial and in the burial known as of "l’homme aux jambes croisées". Although very rare, there are sporadic mammoth remains in some sites in Liguria, but it is primarily in western Gravettian hunter sites in the low valley of the Rhône that this animal is well represented. The sites were on the road for zoned flint (Stampien), a material that was both exotic and prestigious, constituting a funerary offering given by the Gravettians of Liguria. The “E. antiquus” of the lower levels (MIS 3 to 5), present in the Mousterian levels, not only indicates the persistence of this animal until MIS 3 (when it took refuge in Provence and Liguria), but provided material for tools made from elephant ivory by the last Neandertal hunters.

Ongoing research at the late Middle Pleistocene site of La Polledrara di Cecanibbio (central Italy), with emphasis on human–elephant relationships, di A.P, Anzidel, G. M. Bulgarelli, P. Catalano, E. Cerilli, R. Gallotti, C. Lemorini, S. Milli, M. R. Palombo, W. Pantano, E. Santucci, "Quaternary International", Volume 255, 26 March 2012, Pages 171–187

The site of La Polledrara di Cecanibbio (Latium, Italy) is related to deposits of the PG6 Sequence (Middle Pleistocene, Aurelia Formation, MIS 10 and 9). The sediments are mainly volcaniclastic in composition, and constitute the filling of incised valleys, mainly characterized by fluvial deposits at the base, passing upward to fluvio-lacustrine and palustrine deposits containing abundant fossil mammal remains and artifacts. The arrangement of the specimens and taphonomic observations suggest that most of the transport of the bones occurred during flooding events, followed by progressive swampy phases, resulting in the formation of areas with stagnant and muddy waters where some elephants became trapped, as indicated by remains in partial anatomical articulation. Recent excavations carried out at the site permit a better definition of the palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, already partially outlined in previous publications. In particular, an area showing a close correlation between the skeleton of an elephant and human activity, allows documentation and better understanding of some aspects of human–elephant interaction, probably mainly represented by scavenging activity.

Ground stone tool production and use in the Late Upper Palaeolithic: The evidence from Riparo Dalmeri (Venetian Prealps, Italy), di E. Cristiani, C. Lemorini, G. Dalmeri, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 37, Number 1, March 2012 , pp. 34-50

The site of Riparo Dalmeri yielded numerous flint, bone, and shell artifacts, as well as faunal and botanical remains, which are evidence of the Late Upper Palaeolithic (or Late Epigravettian culture, ca. 16,000‐12,000 cal b.p.) occupation of the Alps region. The importance of the site is related to the discovery of 267 stones painted with anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and geometric designs. Here we report on ground stone tools from Riparo Dalmeri investigated by means of an integrated technofunctional and experimental approach to reconstruct their production and use. The results support the hypothesis that the ground stone artifacts were employed in specialized activities (e.g., hide treatment, flintknapping) as well as in the production of some of the painted stone artifacts.

Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence, di A. Scally et alii, "Nature" n. 483, pp. 169-175, 08 March 2012

Gorillas are humans’ closest living relatives after chimpanzees, and are of comparable importance for the study of human origins and evolution. Here we present the assembly and analysis of a genome sequence for the western lowland gorilla, and compare the whole genomes of all extant great ape genera. We propose a synthesis of genetic and fossil evidence consistent with placing the human–chimpanzee and human–chimpanzee–gorilla speciation events at approximately 6 and 10 million years ago. In 30% of the genome, gorilla is closer to human or chimpanzee than the latter are to each other; this is rarer around coding genes, indicating pervasive selection throughout great ape evolution, and has functional consequences in gene expression. A comparison of protein coding genes reveals approximately 500 genes showing accelerated evolution on each of the gorilla, human and chimpanzee lineages, and evidence for parallel acceleration, particularly of genes involved in hearing. We also compare the western and eastern gorilla species, estimating an average sequence divergence time 1.75 million years ago, but with evidence for more recent genetic exchange and a population bottleneck in the eastern species. The use of the genome sequence in these and future analyses will promote a deeper understanding of great ape biology and evolution (...)

Comportement des néandertaliens et des Hommes modernes:similarités et adaptation, di Jean-Luc Voisin, "Hominidés", 8/3/2012

Deux articles de Michael Barton (Université de l’Arizona) et collaborateurs publiés dans les revues Human Ecology et Advances in Complex Systems apportent des résultats originaux sur les comportements des populations humaines fossiles européennes et du Proche Orient. L’étude consiste en une approche de l’évolution bio-culturelle humaine en étudiant les changements dans les stratégies d’exploitation de l’environnement par les populations humaines fossiles, essentiellement néandertaliennes et humaines modernes. Pour cela les auteurs utilisent un modèle informatique permettant de tenir compte des données paléoanthropologiques, culturelles et environnementales (...)

· Modeling Human Ecodynamics and Biocultural Interactions in the Late Pleistocene of Western Eurasia, di C. M. Barton, J. Riel-Salvatore, J. M. Anderies, G. Popescu, "Human Ecology", Volume 39, Number 6, December 2011, pp. 705-849

· Agents of change: modeling biocultural evolution in upper pleistocene Western Eurasia, di C. M. Barton, J. Riel-Salvatore, "Advances in Complex Systems" (ACS), volume: 15, issues: 1-2 (2012) (march 2012)

Neanderthals were ancient mariners, "Stone Pages", 8 March 2012

Growing evidence suggests Neanderthals criss-crossed the Mediterranean from 100,000 years ago. Neanderthals lived around the Mediterranean from 300,000 years ago. Their distinctive 'Mousterian' stone tools are found on the Greek mainland and, intriguingly, have also been found on the Greek islands of Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos.
George Ferentinos of the University of Patras in Greece says the islands have been cut off from the mainland for longer than the tools have been on them. Ferentinos thinks Neanderthals had a seafaring culture for tens of thousands of years. Modern humans are thought to have taken to the seas just 50,000 years ago, crossing to Australia (...)

Sharing the Blame for the Mammoth's Extinction, di R. A. Kerr, "Science NOW", 5 March 2012

The past few tens of millennia were hard times for the "megafauna" of the world. Hundreds of big-bodied species—from the mammoths of North America to the 3-meter-tall kangaroos of Australia to the 200-kilogram-plus flightless birds of New Zealand—just disappeared from the fossil record. A new, broad analysis continues the century-long debate over the loss of the big animals, coming down on the middle ground between blaming migrating humans for wiping them all out and climate change alone for doing them in. As in most contentious scientific debates, uncertainties in the data have fueled the dispute over what took out the megafauna. Typically, researchers would try to pin down exactly when, say, the mammoths of North America died out, when the climate changed the fastest as the world came out of the last ice age, and, most difficult, when humans from Asia first arrived on the scene. If the extinction in a particular area seemed to coincide with severe climate change or with the arrival of humans, one or the other could be blamed. If it seemed to have been the humans, researchers assumed the new arrivals must have hunted down too many mammoths, brought a lethal disease with them, or altered the environment somehow, perhaps by too much burning (...)

· Quantitative global analysis of the role of climate and people in explaining late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions, di G. W. Prescott, D. R. Williams, A. Balmford, R. E. Green, A, Manica, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS), March 5, 2012

Presumed Symbolic Use of Diurnal Raptors by Neanderthals, di E. Morin, V. Laroulandie, "PlosONE", March 5, 2012

In Africa and western Eurasia, occurrences of burials and utilized ocher fragments during the late Middle and early Late Pleistocene are often considered evidence for the emergence of symbolically-mediated behavior. Perhaps less controversial for the study of human cognitive evolution are finds of marine shell beads and complex designs on organic and mineral artifacts in early modern human (EMH) assemblages conservatively dated to ≈100–60 kilo-years (ka) ago. Here we show that, in France, Neanderthals used skeletal parts of large diurnal raptors presumably for symbolic purposes at Combe-Grenal in a layer dated to marine isotope stage (MIS) 5b (≈90 ka) and at Les Fieux in stratigraphic units dated to the early/middle phase of MIS 3 (60–40 ka). The presence of similar objects in other Middle Paleolithic contexts in France and Italy suggest that raptors were used as means of symbolic expression by Neanderthals in these regions (...)

The Science and Art of Neandertal Teeth, di D. Frayer, "Scientific American News", February 29, 2012

Of all the human ancestors represented in the fossil record, Neandertals are the best known. A significant proportion of what scientists have learned about the Neandertals is based on a set of remains that the Croatian paleontologist Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger recovered between 1899 and 1905 from a rock shelter in the town of Krapina, some 60 kilometers north of Zagreb. The Krapina sample dates to between 120,000 and 130,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch, and includes multiple representatives of nearly every bone and tooth of the body (...)

Paleolithic settlement discovered in Jordan, "Stone Pages", 28 February 2012

Archaeologists working at the site of Kharaneh IV in eastern Jordan have announced the discovery of 20,000-year-old hut structures, the earliest yet found in the Kingdom. The finding suggests that the area was once intensively occupied and that the origins of architecture in the region date back twenty millennia, before the emergence of agriculture. The research by a joint British, Danish, American and Jordanian team, describes huts that hunter-gatherers used as long-term residences and suggests that many behaviours that have been associated with later cultures and communities, such as a growing attachment to a location and a far-reaching social network, existed up to 10,000 years earlier (...)

· Archaeologists discover Jordan’s earliest buildings, Research News University of Cambridge, February 18, 2012

Neanderthal: già verso l'estinzione all'arrivo dei sapiens, "Le Scienze", 28 febbraio 2012

La maggior parte dei neanderthaliani europei era scomparsa già 50.000 anni fa, e l'analisi della variabilità genetica eseguita sui resti fossili appartenenti alle popolazioni più recenti mostra una drammatico calo rispetto ai gruppi più antichi. L'uomo moderno probabilmente ha dato il colpo di grazia ai Neanderthal, ma al momento dell'incontro con i "cugini" Homo sapiens la specie era già in pesante declino. A sostenerlo sono i risultati di uno studio condotto da un gruppo internazionale di ricercatori che firmano un articolo pubblicato sulla rivista "Molecular Biology and Evolution". Le analisi del DNA fossile di alcuni soggetti neanderthaliani della Spagna settentrionale indicano infatti che 50.000 anni fa in Europa la maggior parte degli uomini di Neanderthal era già scomparsa. Successivamente, un piccolo gruppo di uomini di Neanderthal ricolonizzò l'Europa centrale e occidentale, dove sopravvisse per altri 10.000 anni prima che entrasse in scena l'uomo moderno. "Che gli uomini di Neanderthal in Europa si fossero quasi estinti, per poi recuperare, e che tutto questo abbia avuto luogo molto tempo prima che venissero in contatto con gli esseri umani moderni, è stata una sorpresa. Ciò indica che l'uomo di Neanderthal potrebbe essere stato più sensibile di quanto si pensasse ai drammatici cambiamenti climatici avvenuti in epoca glaciale ", osserva Love Dalén, del Museo svedese di storia naturale a Stoccolma e primo firmatario dell'articolo. I ricercatori hanno rilevato che nel corso dei diecimila anni precedenti alla loro scomparsa, la variazione genetica tra i Neanderthal europei era estremamente limitata. I fossili europei più antichi, come quelli provenienti dell'Asia, avevano una variabilità genetica molto maggiore, paragonabile a quella esibita da una specie la cui popolazione prospera in una regione per un lungo periodo di tempo. "La quantità di variazione genetica nei Neanderthal geologicamente più antichi, come in Asia, era altrettanto grande di quella degli esseri umani moderni, mentre la variazione tra gli ultimi Neanderthal europei non era superiore a quella degli esseri umani moderni in Islanda", spiega Götherström Anders, dell'Università di Uppsala. Per arrivare a queste conclusioni i ricercatori hanno dovuto lavorare su una serie di campioni di DNA pesantemente degradato, e le analisi hanno quindi richiesto l'integrazione di metodiche di laboratorio avanzate e di sofisticati metodi computazionali. Il gruppo di ricerca ha quindi coinvolto esperti di più discipline, tra cui statistici, esperti in materia di sequenziamento del DNA e paleoantropologi di diversi paesi.
"Questo tipo di studio interdisciplinare è estremamente utile per portare avanti ricerche sulla nostra storia evolutiva. In questi ultimi anni, il DNA di uomini preistorici ha portato ad una serie di risultati inaspettati e sarà davvero emozionante vedere che cosa ci diranno le scoperte degli anni a venire ", ha concluso Juan Luis Arsuaga, dell'Universidad Complutense a Madrid.

· Partial genetic turnover in neandertals: continuity in the east and population replacement in the west, di L. Dalé et alii, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", February 23, 2012

Stone Age Pebble Holds Mysterious Meaning, di Jennifer Viegas Feb 23, 2012

A colorful pebble bearing a sequence of linear incisions may be the world's oldest engraving. The object, which will be described in the April issue of the Journal of Archaeology, dates back approximately 100,000 years ago and could also be the world’s oldest known abstract art. It was recovered from Klasies River Cave in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. “Associated human remains indicate that the engraved piece was certainly made by Homo sapiens,” co-author Riaan Rifkin of the University of Witwatersrand’s Institute for Human Evolution told Discovery News. Rifkin and colleagues Francesco d’Errico and Renata Garcia Moreno performed extensive non-invasive analyses of the object. Methods like X-ray fluorescence and microscopic analysis enabled the researchers to examine every minute detail of the ochre pebble, which appears to have split off from a once larger piece. The scientists conclude that humans intentionally made the sub-parallel linear incisions on the Middle Stone Age pebble (...)

"Quaternary International", Volume 252, Pages 1-202 (27 February 2012) - The evolution of the hominin food resource exploitation in Pleistocene Europe: Recent Studies in Zooarchaeology, edited by Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser and Lutz Kindler

- The evolution of hominin food resource exploitation in Pleistocene Europe: Recent studies in Zooarchaeology
- Studying prehistoric hunting proficiency: Applying Optimal Foraging Theory to the Middle Palaeolithic and Middle Stone Age
- A uniquely broad spectrum diet during the Middle Pleistocene at Bolomor Cave (Valencia, Spain)
- Neanderthal subsistence strategies in Southeastern France between the plains of the Rhone Valley and the mid-mountains of the Massif Central (MIS 7 to MIS 3)
- Archaeozoological data from the Mousterian level from Moula-Guercy (Ardèche, France) bearing cannibalised Neanderthal remains
- Connecting areas: Faunal refits as a diagnostic element to identify synchronicity in the Abric Romaní archaeological assemblages
- Middle Palaeolithic subsistence: The role of hominins at Lynford, Norfolk, UK
- Human behaviour and adaptations to MIS 3 environmental trends (>53–30 ka BP) at Esquilleu cave (Cantabria, northern Spain)
- Middle–Upper Palaeolithic transition in Southern Italy: Uluzzian macromammals from Grotta del Cavallo (Apulia)
- Hominid subsistence strategies in the South-West of France: A new look at the early Upper Palaeolithic faunal material from Roc-de-Combe (Lot, France)
- Humans, bones and fire: Zooarchaeological, taphonomic, and spatial analyses of a Gravettian mammoth bone accumulation at Grub-Kranawetberg (Austria) 
- The scene of spectacular feasts: Animal remains from Pavlov I south-east, the Czech Republic
- Archaeozoological evidence of subsistence strategies during the Gravettian at Riparo Mochi (Balzi Rossi, Ventimiglia, Imperia - Italy)
- The hunting of large mammals in the upper palaeolithic of southern Italy: A diachronic case study from Grotta del Romito
- Indication for social interaction during the Central European Late Upper Palaeolithic: Evidence from the Magdalenian site of Oelknitz, Structure 1 (Thuringia, Germany) 
- Horse exploitation at the Late Upper Palaeolithic site of Oelknitz (Thuringia, Germany) with special reference to canine modifications
- Marmota marmota, the most common prey species at Grotta del Clusantin: Insights from an unusual case-study in the Italian Alps
- Using gazelle dental cementum studies to explore seasonality and mobility patterns of the Early-Middle Epipalaeolithic Azraq Basin, Jordan

"Quaternary International", Volume 251, Pages 1-142 (15 February 2012) - "LAC 2010: 1st international conference on Landscape Archaeology", edited by Sjoerd J. Kluiving, Frank Lehmkuhl and Brigitta Schütt

- Landscape archaeology at the LAC2010 conference
- Final Palaeolithic settlements of the Campine region (NE Belgium) in their environmental context: Optical age constraints 
- Integration of K–Ar geochronology and remote sensing: Mapping volcanic rocks and constraining the timing of alteration processes (Al-Lajat Plateau, Syria) 
- Late Pleistocene and Holocene sedimentary record within the Jade Bay, Lower Saxony, Northwest Germany – New aspects for the palaeo-ecological record 
- Late Holocene landscape reconstruction in the Land of Seven Rivers, Kazakhstan 
- The role of human interference on the channel shifting of the Karkheh River in the Lower Khuzestan plain (Mesopotamia, SW Iran) 
- Mid-Holocene occupation of Egypt and global climatic change 
- Mire initiation, climatic change and agricultural expansion over the course of the Late-Holocene in the Massif Central mountain range (France): Causal links and implications for mire conservation 
- Landscape human shaping and spatial mobility of agropastoral practices in the Chaîne des Puys during historical times (Massif Central, France)
- 3D modelling of geological and anthropogenic deposits at the World Heritage Site of Bryggen in Bergen, Norway
- Landscape research in a world of domesticated landscapes: The role of values, theory, and concepts 
- History continuous: Drowning and desertification. Linking past and future in the Dutch landscape 
- Immaterial landscapes: Homeric geography and the Ionian Islands in Greece 

Aggiornamento 22 febbraio

The Mousterian bone retouchers of Noisetier Cave: experimentation and identification of marks, di J. B. Mallye, C. Thiébaut, V. Mourre, S. Costamagno, É. Claud, P. Weisbecker, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 1131–1142

Retouchers are fragments of bone used during the Paleolithic to strike stone flakes in order to transform them into retouched tools. Our experiments show that the mark produced on retouchers differs depending on whether they were used to strike flint or quartzite. Our results suggest that numerous pits, most often with an ovoid form, characterize the retouching of quartzite flakes. Most of the scores produced with this material have a sinuous morphology with rough interior faces. The areas with superposed traces have a pitted appearance. On the other hand, the retouching of flint flakes, produces pits that are most often triangular in form. Most of the scores have a rectilinear morphology with smooth interior faces and their superposition results in the formation of hatch marks. There is also a relationship between the characteristics of the mark and the relative state of freshness of the retouchers. The validity of the criteria identified was confirmed by a blind test. These diagnostic criteria were applied to archaeological retouchers from the Mousterian site of Noisetier Cave. The results obtained improve our knowledge of the technical behaviors of Neanderthals and allow us to address questions concerning their techno-economic implications. (...)

Elephants and subsistence. Evidence of the human exploitation of extremely large mammal bones from the Middle Palaeolithic site of PRERESA (Madrid, Spain), di J. Yravedra, S. Rubio-Jara, J. Panera, D. Uribelarrea, A. Pérez-González, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 1063–1071

The archaeological site at PRERESA (Madrid, Spain) has been dated to 84 ± 5.6 ka by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) (MIS 5a). An area 255 m2 was excavated and 754 lithic pieces were recovered, as well as a large amount of micro and macro vertebrate remains, including proboscidean bones. The aim of this paper is to outline the results of the taphonomic study of these remains. The identification of cut marks on a number of the bones recovered strengthens the theory that the exploitation of extremely large mammals was more than just a marginal practice before the Upper Palaeolithic. Additionally, the identification of green-bone fractures and percussion marks confirm for the first time, that the bone marrow of these taxa was also consumed. Few other cases of this practice have been identified, firstly because obtaining this substance would not be an easy matter, and secondly because similar nutritional needs can also be met by the consumption of brain matter, which is easier to acquire. (...)

Technological, elemental and colorimetric analysis of an engraved ochre fragment from the Middle Stone Age levels of Klasies River Cave 1, South Africa, di F. d’Errico, R. García Moreno, R. F. Rifkin, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 942–952

It is generally accepted that abstract and iconographic representations are reflections of symbolic material culture. Here we describe a fragmented ocherous pebble bearing a sequence of sub-parallel linear incisions. These were produced by a lithic point and may represent one of the oldest instances of a deliberate engraving. The object was recovered from Middle Stone Age II levels of Klasies River Cave 1, South Africa, and is dated to between 100,000 and 85,000 years ago. Microscopic analysis reveals that the surface of the object was ground until smooth before being engraved with a sequence of sub-parallel lines made by single and multiple strokes. X-ray fluorescence and colorimetric analysis of the object and a sample of twelve additional ochre pieces from the same level reveals that the brown colour and Manganese-rich composition renders the engraved piece distinct. This suggests that a particular type of raw material may have been selected for engraving purposes. Although the purpose of marking this object remains uncertain, its detailed analysis adds relevant information to previously published occurrences of Middle Stone Age engraved objects and contributes to clarify their distribution through time and space. (...)

Nature vs. Culture: present-day spatial distribution and preservation of open-air rock art in the Côa and Douro River Valleys (Portugal), di T. Aubry, L. Luís, L. A. Dimuccio, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 848–866

Late-glacial and Iron-Age open-air rock art of the Côa River Valley shows a similar spatial distribution, with several clusters along the Côa and Douro River tributaries that are mostly exposed to the southeast. In this report, we try to determine whether the artists of both periods deliberately chose the same natural panels for rock art or its present-day spatial distribution is imposed by formation and weathering processes, previous or subsequent to the engraving. Geological structural analysis, from regional to field scales, shows a NNE-SSW sinistral strike-slip fault system that crosses the study area, together with a set of fracture/joints with the same orientation and formed by the same tectonic stress. Direct field measurement and the description of 713 natural panels, engraved and un-engraved, reveal that the preserved rock art panels correspond to the most common tectonic fracture/joint systems (NNE-SSW) of the study area. Locally, the hydrographic network is conditioned by the same structural control. Differential weathering exists between the panels exposed on opposite margins of watercourses, with preferential degradation of the rock art panel surfaces exposed to the NW. We propose that, on the scale of the valley, the surface weathering of the rock art panels results from differential solar radiation, humidity, lichen and bryophyte colonisations. Interpretation of field observations, a frequency-probabilistic procedure, pair-wise comparison matrix and geographic information system analysis were combined to evaluate a Côa panel formation and preservation predictive model using archaeological, topographical and hydrological data. Four variables were extracted and weighted from the collected data, including topographic slope and aspect, solar radiation and cost-weighted distance to watercourses, which were used as environmental input data. The archaeological input data (rock art occurrences) were used to calculate the variable ratings and to evaluate both the Côa panel formation and preservation predictive model and external validation maps, with the results showing an agreement of 80% and 70%, respectively. Field verification revealed unknown rock art panels in areas with high and very high values. The Côa panel formation and preservation predictive model provides a useful framework to guide survey and heritage management. (...)

New Life for the Lion Man, di J. A. Lobell, "Archaeology", Volume 65 Number 2, March/April 2012

On August 25, 1939, archaeologists working at a Paleolithic site called Stadelhole (“stable cave”) at Hohlenstein (“hollow rock”) in southern Germany, uncovered hundreds of mammoth ivory fragments. Just one week later, before they could complete their fieldwork and analyze the finds, World War II began. The team was forced to quickly fill the excavation trenches using the same soil in which they found the ivory pieces. For the next three decades, the fragments sat in storage at the nearby City Museum of Ulm, until archaeologist Joachim Hahn began an inventory. As Hahn pieced together more than 200 fragments, an extraordinary artifact dating to the Aurignacian period (more than 30,000 years ago) began to emerge. It was clearly a figure with both human and animal characteristics. However, only a small part of the head and the left ear had been found, so the type of creature it represented remained a mystery (...)

Multivariate carbon and nitrogen stable isotope model for the reconstruction of prehistoric human diet, di A.W. Froehle, C.M. Kellner, M.J. Schoeninger, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 147, Issue 3, pages 352–369, March 2012

Using a sample of published archaeological data, we expand on an earlier bivariate carbon model for diet reconstruction by adding bone collagen nitrogen stable isotope values (δ15N), which provide information on trophic level and consumption of terrestrial vs. marine protein. The bivariate carbon model (δ13Capatite vs. δ13Ccollagen) provides detailed information on the isotopic signatures of whole diet and dietary protein, but is limited in its ability to distinguish between C4 and marine protein. Here, using cluster analysis and discriminant function analysis, we generate a multivariate diet reconstruction model that incorporates δ13Capatite, δ13Ccollagen, and δ15N holistically. Inclusion of the δ15N data proves useful in resolving protein-related limitations of the bivariate carbon model, and splits the sample into five distinct dietary clusters. Two significant discriminant functions account for 98.8% of the sample variance, providing a multivariate model for diet reconstruction. Both carbon variables dominate the first function, while δ15N most strongly influences the second. Independent support for the functions' ability to accurately classify individuals according to diet comes from a small sample of experimental rats, which cluster as expected from their diets. The new model also provides a statistical basis for distinguishing between food sources with similar isotopic signatures, as in a previously analyzed archaeological population from Saipan (see Ambrose et al.: AJPA 104(1997) 343-361). Our model suggests that the Saipan islanders' 13C-enriched signal derives mainly from sugarcane, not seaweed. Further development and application of this model can similarly improve dietary reconstructions in archaeological, paleontological, and primatological contexts. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Three-dimensional evaluation of root canal morphology in lower second premolars of early and middle pleistocene human populations from atapuerca (Burgos, Spain), di L. Prado-Simón et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 147, Issue 3, pages 452–461, March 2012

The aim of this study is to describe the morphology of the roots and root canals of permanent lower second premolars (LP4s) with fully developed roots of five hominin groups: Homo sp. (ATE9-1 specimen) from Atapuerca-Sima del Elefante locality, H. antecessor (ATD6-4 and ATD6-125) from Atapuerca-Gran Dolina TD6 locality, H. heidelbergensis from Atapuerca-Sima de los Huesos locality, H. neanderthalensis from Krapina, Regourdou, and Abri Bourgeois-Delaunay localities, and two contemporary H. sapiens groups. The teeth were scanned by means of microtomography. The roots were divided into three virtual segments by three planes: cemento-enamel junction (CEJ), mid-root (MR), and mid-apex (MA). Volumetric and planar direct measurements of the whole teeth and each segment were taken. Descriptive statistical analyses and nonparametric Mann-Whiney test were performed to test for significant differences (P < 0.025) between groups. ATE9-1 and Gran Dolina-TD6 fossils present intricate radicular complexes that might be transitional between the morphologies of Australopithecus robustus and African early Homo and the derived conditions typically found in later Homo. In H. neanderthalensis and H. heidelbergensis, the root canals are wide, with small apical convergence. This trait is particularly pronounced in the Sima de los Huesos sample which may reflect a particularity of this population. Our study demonstrates the potential of hominin roots and root canals as untapped sources of taxonomic information when the tooth crown is fragmented. Future studies, including more fossil specimens and species will shed light in the polarity of the morphologies observed. Am J Phys Anthropol 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Technical note: Interpreting stable carbon isotopes in human tooth enamel: An examination of tissue spacings from South Africa, di E. Loftus, J. Sealy, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 147, Issue 3, pages 499–507, March 2012

Stable isotope analysis of skeletal tissues is widely used in archeology and paleoanthropology to reconstruct diet. In material that is poorly preserved or very old, the tissue of choice is frequently tooth enamel, since this is less susceptible to diagenesis. The relationships between carbon isotope ratios in tooth enamel (δ13Cenamel), bone collagen (δ13Ccollagen), and bone apatite (δ13Cbone apatite) are, however, not well understood. To elucidate these, we have measured all three indicators in archeological humans from the western and southern Cape coastal regions of South Africa. The correlation between δ13Cenamel and δ13Ccollagen is good (R2 = 0.71 if two outliers are excluded, n = 79). The correlation between δ13Cenamel and δ13Cbone apatite is weaker (R2= 0.37, n = 33) possibly due to bone diagenesis. No systematic offset between δ13Cbone apatite and δ13Cenamel was observed in this sample of archeological humans. Intertooth comparisons of δ13Cenamel in three individuals showed little variation, despite the different ages of crown formation. Carbon isotope ratios in both enamel and bone collagen are good proxies for δ13Cdiet. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

LB1 and LB6 Homo floresiensis are not modern human (Homo sapiens) cretins, di P. Brown, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 201–224

Excavations in the late Pleistocene deposits at Liang Bua cave, Flores, have uncovered the skeletal remains of several small-bodied and small-brained hominins in association with stone artefacts and the bones of Stegodon. Due to their combination of plesiomorphic, unique and derived traits, they were ascribed to a new species, Homo floresiensis, which, along with Stegodon, appears to have become extinct ∼17 ka (thousand years ago). However, recently it has been argued that several characteristics of H. floresiensis were consistent with dwarfism and evidence of delayed development in modern human (Homo sapiens) myxoedematous endemic (ME) cretins. This research compares the skeletal and dental morphology in H. floresiensis with the clinical and osteological indicators of cretinism, and the traits that have been argued to be associated with ME cretinism in LB1 and LB6. Contrary to published claims, morphological and statistical comparisons did not identify the distinctive skeletal and dental indicators of cretinism in LB1 or LB6 H. floresiensis. Brain mass, skeletal proportions, epiphyseal union, orofacial morphology, dental development, size of the pituitary fossa and development of the paranasal sinuses, vault bone thickness and dimensions of the hands and feet all distinguish H. floresiensis from modern humans with ME cretinism. The research team responsible for the diagnosis of ME cretinism had not examined the original H. floresiensis skeletal materials, and perhaps, as a result, their research confused taphonomic damage with evidence of disease, and thus contained critical errors of fact and interpretation. Behavioural scenarios attempting to explain the presence of cretinous H. sapiens in the Liang Bua Pleistocene deposits, but not unaffected H. sapiens, are both unnecessary and not supported by the available archaeological and geochronological evidence from Flores. (...)

A comprehensive morphometric analysis of the frontal and zygomatic bone of the Zuttiyeh fossil from Israel, di S.E. Freidline, P. Gunz, I. Janković, K. Harvati, J.J. Hublin, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 225–241

The Zuttiyeh hominin craniofacial fossil was discovered in Israel in 1925. Radiometric dates and the archaeological context (Acheulo-Yabrudian) bracket the associated cave layers to between 200 and 500 ka (thousands of years ago), making it one of the earliest cranial fossils discovered in the Near East thus far. Its geographic position, at the corridor between Africa and Eurasia, in combination with its probable Middle Pleistocene date make it a crucial specimen for interpreting later human evolution. Since its discovery, qualitative descriptive and traditional morphometric methods have variously suggested affinities to Homo erectus (Zhoukoudian), Homo neanderthalensis (Tabun), and early Homo sapiens (Skhul and Qafzeh). To better determine the taxonomic affinities of the Zuttiyeh fossil, this study uses 3D semilandmark geometric morphometric techniques and multivariate statistical analyses to quantify the frontal and zygomatic region and compare it with other Middle to Late Pleistocene African and Eurasian hominins. Our results show that the frontal and zygomatic morphology of Zuttiyeh is most similar to Shanidar 5, a Near East Neanderthal, Arago 21, a European Middle Pleistocene hominin, and Skhul 5, an early H. sapiens. The shape differences between archaic hominins (i.e., Homo heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis) in this anatomical region are very subtle. We conclude that Zuttiyeh exhibits a generalized frontal and zygomatic morphology, possibly indicative of the population that gave rise to modern humans and Neanderthals. However, given that it most likely postdates the split between these two lineages, Zuttiyeh might also be an early representative of the Neanderthal lineage. Neanderthals largely retained this generalized overall morphology, whereas recent modern humans depart from this presumably ancestral morphology. (...)

Stature estimation from complete long bones in the Middle Pleistocene humans from the Sima de los Huesos, Sierra de Atapuerca (Spain), di J. M. Carretero et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 242–255

Systematic excavations at the site of the Sima de los Huesos (SH) in the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) have allowed us to reconstruct 27 complete long bones of the human species Homo heidelbergensis. The SH sample is used here, together with a sample of 39 complete Homo neanderthalensis long bones and 17 complete early Homo sapiens (Skhul/Qafzeh) long bones, to compare the stature of these three different human species. Stature is estimated for each bone using race- and sex-independent regression formulae, yielding an average stature for each bone within each taxon. The mean length of each long bone from SH is significantly greater (p < 0.05) than the corresponding mean values in the Neandertal sample. The stature has been calculated for male and female specimens separately, averaging both means to calculate a general mean. This general mean stature for the entire sample of long bones is 163.6 cm for the SH hominins, 160.6 cm for Neandertals and 177.4 cm for early modern humans. Despite some overlap in the ranges of variation, all mean values in the SH sample (whether considering isolated bones, the upper or lower limb, males or females or more complete individuals) are larger than those of Neandertals. Given the strong relationship between long bone length and stature, we conclude that SH hominins represent a slightly taller population or species than the Neandertals. However, compared with living European Mediterranean populations, neither the Sima de los Huesos hominins nor the Neandertals should be considered ‘short’ people. In fact, the average stature within the genus Homo seems to have changed little over the course of the last two million years, since the appearance of Homo ergaster in East Africa. It is only with the emergence of H. sapiens, whose earliest representatives were ‘very tall’, that a significant increase in stature can be documented. (...)

Iberomaurusian funerary behaviour: Evidence from Grotte des Pigeons, Taforalt, Morocco, di L. Humphrey, S. M. Bello, E. Turner, A. Bouzouggar, N. Barton, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 261–273

Grotte des Pigeons at Taforalt, north-east Morocco, is well known for a large assemblage of Iberomaurusian (Epipalaeolithic) skeletons, possibly representing the earliest and most extensively used prehistoric cemetery in North Africa. New archaeological excavations carried out in 2005 and 2006 revealed further human remains in a largely undisturbed burial area in an alcove at the back of the cave. This discovery provides the first opportunity to report on Iberomaurusian human mortuary activity at this site. Reported here are a closely spaced and inter-cutting series of four burials. These contained the remains of four adults, of which three were buried in a seated or slightly reclining position facing towards the cave entrance and one was buried in a highly flexed position on its left side. The distribution of articulated and disarticulated bones suggested intensive use of the area, with earlier burials disturbed or truncated by subsequent burials, and displaced skeletal elements deliberately or unwittingly incorporated into later depositions. Through this process, parts of a single skeleton were redistributed among several discrete graves and within the surrounding deposit. Some aspects of the Iberomaurusian funerary tradition that are evident from the human remains excavated in the 1950s are absent in the newly excavated adult burials, suggesting a possible elaboration of funerary activity over time. (...)

The Vindija Neanderthal scapular glenoid fossa: Comparative shape analysis suggests evo-devo changes among Neanderthals, di F. Di Vincenzo, S. E. Churchill, G. Manzi, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 274–285

Although the shape of the scapular glenoid fossa (SGF) may be influenced by epigenetic and developmental factors, there appears to be strong genetic control over its overall form, such that variation within and between hominin taxa in SGF shape may contain information about their evolutionary histories. Here we present the results of a geometric morphometric study of the SGF of the Neanderthal Vi-209 from Vindjia Cave (Croatia), relative to samples of Plio-Pleistocene, later Pleistocene, and recent hominins. Variation in overall SGF shape follows a chronological trend from the plesiomorphic condition seen in Australopithecus to modern humans, with pre-modern species of the genus Homo exhibiting intermediate morphologies. Change in body size across this temporal series is not linearly directional, which argues against static allometry as an explanation. However, life history and developmental rates change directionally across the series, suggesting an ontogenetic effect on the observed changes in shape (ontogenetic allometry). Within this framework, the morphospace occupied by the Neanderthals exhibits a discontinuous distribution. The Vindija SGF and those of the later Near Eastern Neanderthals (Kebara and Shanidar) approach the modern condition and are somewhat segregated from both northwestern European (Neandertal and La Ferrassie) and early Mediterranean Neanderthals (Krapina and Tabun). Although more than one scenario may account for the pattern seen in the Neanderthals, the data is consistent with palaeogenetic evidence suggesting low levels of gene flow between Neanderthals and modern humans in the Near East after ca. 120–100 ka (thousands of years ago) (with subsequent introgression of modern human alleles into eastern and central Europe). Thus, in keeping with previous analyses that document some modern human features in the Vindija Neanderthals, the Vindija G3 sample should not be seen as representative of ‘classic’ – that is, unadmixed, pre-contact – Neanderthal morphology. (...)

A new chronostratigraphic framework for the Upper Palaeolithic of Riparo Mochi (Italy), di K. Douka, S. Grimaldi, G. Boschian, A. del Lucchese, T. F.G. Higham, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 286–299

The rockshelter of Mochi, on the Ligurian coast of Italy, is often used as a reference point in the formation of hypotheses concerning the arrival of the Aurigancian in Mediterranean Europe. Yet, the site is poorly known. Here, we describe the stratigraphic sequence based on new field observations and present 15 radiocarbon determinations from the Middle Palaeolithic (late Mousterian) and Early Upper Palaeolithic (Aurignacian and Gravettian) levels. The majority of dates were produced on humanly modified material, specifically marine shell beads, which comprise some of the oldest directly-dated personal ornaments in Europe. The radiocarbon results are incorporated into a Bayesian statistical model to build a new chronological framework for this key Palaeolithic site. A tentative correlation of the stratigraphy to palaeoclimatic records is also attempted. (...)

A uniquely modern human pattern of endocranial development. Insights from a new cranial reconstruction of the Neandertal newborn from Mezmaiskaya, di P. Gunz, S. Neubauer, L. Golovanova, V. Doronichev, B. Maureille, J. J. Hublin, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 300–313

The globular braincase of modern humans is distinct from all fossil human species, including our closest extinct relatives, the Neandertals. Such adult shape differences must ultimately be rooted in different developmental patterns, but it is unclear at which point during ontogeny these group characteristics emerge. Here we compared internal shape changes of the braincase from birth to adulthood in Neandertals (N = 10), modern humans (N = 62), and chimpanzees (N = 62). Incomplete fossil specimens, including the two Neandertal newborns from Le Moustier 2 and Mezmaiskaya, were reconstructed using reference-based estimation methods. We used 3D geometric morphometrics to statistically compare shapes of virtual endocasts extracted from computed-tomographic scans. Throughout the analysis, we kept track of possible uncertainties due to the missing data values and small fossil sample sizes. We find that some aspects of endocranial development are shared by the three species. However, in the first year of life, modern humans depart from this presumably ancestral pattern of development. Newborn Neandertals and newborn modern humans have elongated braincases, and similar endocranial volumes. During a ‘globularization-phase’ modern human endocasts change to the globular shape that is characteristic for Homo sapiens. This phase of early development is unique to modern humans, and absent from chimpanzees and Neandertals. Our results support the notion that Neandertals and modern humans reach comparable adult brain sizes via different developmental pathways. The differences between these two human groups are most prominent directly after birth, a critical phase for cognitive development.

Global migration - who came first? 16 febbraio 2012

150,000 years ago the majority of the human race lived in Africa. Then the great migration occurred with populations spreading out across the globe. When looking at a map of the 21st Century globe it would be logical to think that, from Africa, the first area to be populated by this migration would be Europe and Asia Minor (they are the closest and have a land link via the Nile delta and Upper Egypt). So why have recent studies by geneticists revealed that Australia was populated at least 10,000 years before Europe, particularly considering the large expanses of water that need to be crossed? (...)

Human evolution: Cultural roots, di J. Tollefson, "Nature", Volume: 482, Pages: 290–292 (16 February 2012)

Metal scrapes on hard sand as archaeologist Chris Henshilwood shaves away the top layer of sediment in Blombos Cave. After just a few moments, the tip of his trowel unearths the humerus of a pint-sized tortoise that walked the Southern Cape of South Africa many millennia ago. Next come shells from local mussels and snails amid blackened soil and bits of charred wood, all remnants of an ancient feast. It was one of many enjoyed by a distinct group of early humans who visited Blombos Cave over the course of thousands of years. The Still Bay culture was one of the most advanced Middle Stone Age groups in Africa when it emerged some 78,000 years ago in a startlingly early flourishing of the human mind. Henshilwood's excavations at Blombos Cave have revealed distinctive tools, including carefully worked stone points that probably served as knives and spear tips, and bits of rock inscribed with apparently symbolic designs. But evidence of the technology disappears abruptly in sediment about 71,000 years old, along with all proof of human habitation in southern Africa. It would be 7,000 years before a new culture appeared, with a markedly different toolkit, including crescent-shaped blades probably used as arrowheads (...)

Da un mignolo i segreti dell’Uomo Denisoviano, di C. Di Porto, 15 Febbraio 2012 

Dieci milligrammi. Un frammento di falange di mignolo. Tanto è bastato ai ricercatori dell’Istituto Max Planck di Antropologia Evoluzionistica di Lipsia guidati da Svante Pääbo per sequenziare completamente il Dna di un Uomo Denisoviano o Denisovan. Questi è, insieme all’Uomo di Neanderthal, il più vicino antenato dell’Homo sapiens e prende il suo nome dalla Caverna Denisova nella Siberia meridionale dove il minuscolo pezzo di dito è stato ritrovato, nel 2008. Lo studio, parte del “The Neandertal Genome Project”, è il completamento di una precedente ricerca del 2010 (...)

· Entire genome of extinct human decoded from fossil, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, February 07, 2012

First Neanderthal paintings on a Spanish cave? 11 febbraio 2012

According to new dating tests, a series of seals painted more than 42,000 years ago, located in the Cave of Nerja, in Málaga (Spain) are the first paintings ever made by humans. Until now, archeologists thought that the oldest art was created by modern humans during the Aurignacian period, an archaeological culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, located in Europe and southwest Asia that lasted broadly between ca. 47,000 and 41,000 years ago in terms of the most recent calibration of the radiocarbon timescale. But the Nerja paintings are way older, way more primitive than the ones in Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave, the 32,000-year-old paintings featured in Herzog's 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams'. According to the latest dating of the charcoal found next to the paintings - used either to make the paintings or illuminate them - these seals may have been made more than 42,300 years ago. In fact, they may be as old as 43,500 years (...)

Hobbit small, but not stunted, "Nature", Volume: 482, Page: 135 (09 February 2012)

Evidence is mounting for the argument that the 'hobbit' of Flores Island was not the same species as modern humans.
The first of the 17,000-year-old Homo floresiensis fossils were discovered in 2003; since then there has been fierce debate over whether they represent a new diminutive Homo species, or Homo sapiens with the medical condition cretinism. Peter Brown at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, analysed H. floresiensis traits such as brain mass, skeletal proportions and tooth development, and compared them with those of people with cretinism.

Use of red ochre by early Neandertals, di  W. Roebroeks, M. J. Sier, T. Kellberg Nielsen, D. De Loecker, J. M. Parés, C, E. S. Arps, H. J. Mücher, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS), February 7, 2012, vol. 109, no. 6, pp. 1889-1894 

The use of manganese and iron oxides by late Neandertals is well documented in Europe, especially for the period 60–40 kya. Such finds often have been interpreted as pigments even though their exact function is largely unknown. Here we report significantly older iron oxide finds that constitute the earliest documented use of red ochre by Neandertals. These finds were small concentrates of red material retrieved during excavations at Maastricht-Belvédère, The Netherlands. The excavations exposed a series of well-preserved flint artifact (and occasionally bone) scatters, formed in a river valley setting during a late Middle Pleistocene full interglacial period. Samples of the reddish material were submitted to various forms of analyses to study their physical properties. All analyses identified the red material as hematite. This is a nonlocal material that was imported to the site, possibly over dozens of kilometers. Identification of the Maastricht-Belvédère finds as hematite pushes the use of red ochre by (early) Neandertals back in time significantly, to minimally 200–250 kya (i.e., to the same time range as the early ochre use in the African record). (...)

Neanderthal mammoth hunters in Jersey? 3 febbraio 2012

Archaeologists are investigating the truth behind the story that Ice Age Neanderthals in Jersey would push mammoths off cliffs in St Brelade for food. About 30 years ago, evidence suggested early residents of what is today the island of Jersey chased the giant mammals off the cliffs at La Cotte above Ouaisne. Dr Geoff Smith, an analyst for Jersey Archive, is now using new technology to look at whether that theory is correct or not. Dr Smith said: "I record the ages of the animals to see if they resemble natural deaths or whether it is indicative of human hunting or other carnivore. Was the climate change so severe it forced them into a refuge somewhere from which they became such a small population they couldn't survive? We still don't know, new theories are coming out every day." (...)

Dating Europe's oldest modern humans, "British Archaeology", Issue 122, Jan / Feb 2012 

Around 45,000 years ago a new human appeared across much of the Old World. Flourishing in environments far removed from the African heartlands where this species had evolved – hot and dry in Australia, wet in Indonesia or temperate in northern Europe – groups of individuals would occasionally have come across similar beings. Themselves long since having left Africa, these beings had evolved in their own separate ways. It is thought they occasionally interbred with the new arrivals, and they may have passed on to each other ideas about technology or the worlds around them. But in time the aboriginal peoples – neanderthals in Europe, Denisovans in Asia, and perhaps others – all died out. We are still here (...)

Neandertal social structure? di B. Haydeno, "Oxford Journal of Archaeology", Volume 31, Issue 1, pages 1–26, February 2012

The cognitive and social capacities of Neandertals have been questioned by a number of authors, while others suggest that such capacities did not differ markedly from those of anatomically modern humans in the last 30,000 years. What does the material evidence indicate? The information that can be gleaned from Middle Palaeolithic sites indicates that there were Neandertal bands of about 12–24 people that formed alliances with 10–20 other bands and had enemy relationships as well. Rituals probably helped hold alliances together. These conclusions indicate that there were language or dialect groups that were probably ethnically self-conscious. Some of the postulated band ranges and population densities in the literature appear unrealistic. Sexual division of labour was probably pronounced and Neandertals appear to have used rudimentary status markers, including predator pelts, bird wings or claws, colorants, and a range of speciality items.

Why Levallois? A Morphometric Comparison of Experimental ‘Preferential’ Levallois Flakes versus Debitage Flakes, di M. I. Eren, S. J. Lycett, "PlosONE", January 23, 2012

Middle Palaeolithic stone artefacts referred to as ‘Levallois’ have caused considerable debate regarding issues of technological predetermination, cognition and linguistic capacities in extinct hominins. Their association with both Neanderthals and early modern humans has, in particular, fuelled such debate. Yet, controversy exists regarding the extent of ‘predetermination’ and ‘standardization’ in so-called ‘preferential Levallois flakes’ (PLFs). Using an experimental and morphometric approach, we assess the degree of standardization in PLFs compared to the flakes produced during their manufacture. PLFs possess specific properties that unite them robustly as a group or ‘category’ of flake. The properties that do so, relate most strongly to relative flake thicknesses across their surface area. PLFs also exhibit significantly less variability than the flakes generated during their production. Again, this is most evident in flake thickness variables. A further aim of our study was to assess whether the particular PLF attributes identified during our analyses can be related to current knowledge regarding flake functionality and utility. PLFs are standardized in such a manner that they may be considered ‘predetermined’ with regard to a specific set of properties that distinguishes them statistically from a majority of other flakes. Moreover, their attributes can be linked to factors that, based on current knowledge, are desirable features in flake tools (e.g. durability, capacity for retouch, and reduction of torque). As such, our results support the hypothesis that the lengthy, multi-phase, and hierarchically organized process of Levallois reduction was a deliberate, engineered strategy orientated toward specific goals. In turn, our results support suggestions that Levallois knapping relied on a cognitive capacity for long-term working memory. This is consistent with recent evidence suggesting that cognitive distinctions between later Pleistocene hominins such as the Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans were not as sharp as some scholars have previously suggested (...)

The Arabian Cradle: Mitochondrial Relicts of the First Steps along the Southern Route out of Africa, di V. Fernandes et alii, "The American Journal of Human Genetics", Volume 90, Issue 2, 347-355, 26 January 2012

A major unanswered question regarding the dispersal of modern humans around the world concerns the geographical site of the first human steps outside of Africa. The southern coastal route model predicts that the early stages of the dispersal took place when people crossed the Red Sea to southern Arabia, but genetic evidence has hitherto been tenuous. We have addressed this question by analyzing the three minor west-Eurasian haplogroups, N1, N2, and X. These lineages branch directly from the first non-African founder node, the root of haplogroup N, and coalesce to the time of the first successful movement of modern humans out of Africa, 60 thousand years (ka) ago. We sequenced complete mtDNA genomes from 85 Southwest Asian samples carrying these haplogroups and compared them with a database of 300 European examples. The results show that these minor haplogroups have a relict distribution that suggests an ancient ancestry within the Arabian Peninsula, and they most likely spread from the Gulf Oasis region toward the Near East and Europe during the pluvial period 5524 ka ago. This pattern suggests that Arabia was indeed the first staging post in the spread of modern humans around the world (...)

Aggiornamento 23 gennaio

Raw material economy in Salento (Apulia, Italy): new perspectives on Neanderthal mobility patterns, di E. E. Spinapolice, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 39, Issue 3, March 2012, Pages 680–689

This paper presents a case study that questions the behavioral model of a “non-modern” provisioning of raw materials by Neanderthals. The Salento is a peninsula in south eastern Italy rich in Mousterian sites and Neanderthal remains. This region is particularly suitable for raw material economy studies, for its peninsular status and the scarceness of good raw materials. Surveys made in 2006 showed the pattern of utilization of different local raw materials (limestone, siliceous limestone) and the absence of good quality raw materials, that are present in archaeological record. A very long distance provisioning is supposed to be at the origin of their presence in Mousterian Salento sites.

Ciclo seminari - Prof. Dominique Grimaud-Hervé (Muséum Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris - Département de Préhistoire) - Aula 1E del Dipartimento di Biologia ed Evoluzione - Ercole I d'Este, 32, Ferrara

Martedi 7 febbraio 2012 - h. 15,00-18,00: Les plus anciens représentants du genre Homo en Afrique - La sortie d’Afrique : Homo georgicus

Mercoledi 8 febbraio - h. 15,00-18,00: Les Homo erectus d’Asie continentale et insulaire - La question de l’Homme de Flores

Giovedi 9 febbraio - h. 15,00-18,00: Les premiers peuplements d’Europe et les néandertaliens 

Estimating the distribution of probable age-at-death from dental remains of immature human fossils, di L. L. Shackelford, A. E. Stinespring Harris, L. W. Konigsberg, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 147, Issue 2, pages 227–253, February 2012

In two historic longitudinal growth studies, Moorrees et al. (Am J Phys Anthropol 21 (1963) 99-108; J Dent Res 42 (1963) 1490-1502) presented the “mean attainment age” for stages of tooth development for 10 permanent tooth types and three deciduous tooth types. These findings were presented graphically to assess the rate of tooth formation in living children and to age immature skeletal remains. Despite being widely cited, these graphical data are difficult to implement because there are no accompanying numerical values for the parameters underlying the growth data. This analysis generates numerical parameters from the data reported by Moorrees et al. by digitizing 358 points from these tooth formation graphs using DataThief III, version 1.5. Following the original methods, the digitized points for each age transition were conception-corrected and converted to the logarithmic scale to determine a median attainment age for each dental formation stage. These values are subsequently used to estimate age-at-death distributions for immature individuals using a single tooth or multiple teeth, including estimates for 41 immature early modern humans and 25 immature Neandertals. Within-tooth variance is calculated for each age estimate based on a single tooth, and a between-tooth component of variance is calculated for age estimates based on two or more teeth to account for the increase in precision that comes from using additional teeth. Finally, we calculate the relative probability of observing a particular dental formation sequence given known-age reference information and demonstrate its value in estimating age for immature fossil specimens. Am J Phys Anthropol 147:227–253, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

A new theory on the disappearance of Neanderthals, 19 January 2012

A new theory has been put forward by a team from the Arizona State university and the University of Colorado Denver (USA) on the fate of Neanderthals. The team has recently published a paper on their findings, which were the results of computational modelling. Michael Barton, a pioneer in the area of archaeological applications of computational modelling explains what it means. "To better understand human ecology, and especially how human culture and biology evolved amongst hunter-gatherers in the Late Pleistocene of western Eurasia (approximately 126,000 to 9,500 BCE) we designed theoretical and methodological frameworks that incorporated feedback across three evolutionary systems: biological, cultural and environmental". Their theory is based on the fact that Neanderthals were more intelligent than originally thought and adapted rapidly to changes in their environment. So, when the more populous Homo Sapiens arrived in their midst they adapted and survived by inter breeding with them and, eventually, became absorbed into their society and ceased to be recognisable as a separate species. The paper has already provoked a vocal reaction, both for and against.

· Modeling Human Ecodynamics and Biocultural Interactions in the Late Pleistocene of Western Eurasia, di C. M. Barton, J. Riel-Salvatore, J. M. Anderies, G. Popescu, "Human Ecology", vol. 39, n. 6, december 2011 

Palaeoenvironmental changes and human dispersals in North and East Asia during MIS3 and MIS2, edited by Akira Ono 

Volume 248, Pages 1-98 (18 January 2012)

Evolution of human-driven fire regimes in Africa, di S. Archibald, A. C. Staver, S. A. Levin, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" (PNAS), January 17, 2012 vol. 109 no. 3, pp. 847-852 

Human ability to manipulate fire and the landscape has increased over evolutionary time, but the impact of this on fire regimes and consequences for biodiversity and biogeochemistry are hotly debated. Reconstructing historical changes in human-derived fire regimes empirically is challenging, but information is available on the timing of key human innovations and on current human impacts on fire; here we incorporate this knowledge into a spatially explicit fire propagation model. We explore how changes in population density, the ability to create fire, and the expansion of agropastoralism altered the extent and seasonal distribution of fire as modern humans arose and spread through Africa. Much emphasis has been placed on the positive effect of population density on ignition frequency, but our model suggests this is less important than changes in fire spread and connectivity that would have occurred as humans learned to light fires in the dry season and to transform the landscape through grazing and cultivation. Different landscapes show different limitations; we show that substantial human impacts on burned area would only have started ∼4,000 B.P. in open landscapes, whereas they could have altered fire regimes in closed/dissected landscapes by ∼40,000 B.P. Dry season fires have been the norm for the past 200–300 ky across all landscapes. The annual area burned in Africa probably peaked between 4 and 40 kya. These results agree with recent paleocarbon studies that suggest that the biomass burned today is less than in the recent past in subtropical countries. 

Earliest modern human, 15 January 2012

Palaeo-anthropologists agree that modern humans evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago, yet fossil evidence for the earliest examples is scarce. One problem is the difficulty in recognising true modern humans in the fossil record: At this time, many thought to be early members of our species possess a mix of modern and primitive traits. For some, this means our species once had a greater range of physical variation than today - for others, that more than one species of Homo may have lived in Africa at this time. Despite these challenges, there are several candidates for the earliest known members of our species.
Omo I and II (195,000 years ago): In 1967, a team led by Richard Leakey discovered possible Homo sapiens fossils in the Kibish Formation near the Omo River in southern Ethiopia. Re-analysis in 2005 revealed they are 195,000 years old - the oldest fossils assigned to Homo sapiens. Researchers largely agree Omo I was a modern human; flat face, fully formed chin, high forehead and globular brain case. They are less certain about Omo II, with its thicker cranial bones and sloping forehead.
Herto (160,000 years ago): Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley and colleagues unearthed three largely complete skulls in the Middle Awash region of Ethiopia in 1997. They appear quite modern, but because certain traits are outside the range of modern variation, they were placed in their own subspecies.
Qafzeh and Skhul (~100,000 years ago): In the 1930s, researchers working in these caves in northern Israel found the remains of at least 30 individuals, a few purposefully buried. Some suggest they represent an early migration out of Africa, but like Omo II some are difficult to classify. The primitive traits in this population might have resulted from interbreeding with Neanderthals, who also lived in the region at this time.

Nella scapola i segreti dell'evoluzione umana, di A. Danti,  12 gennaio 2012

Lo studio, in corso di pubblicazione sulla rivista Journal of Human Evolution, ha confrontato 67 reperti ossei appartenenti a varie specie di ominidi fossili e viventi, tra i cui Neandertal e uomini anatomicamente moderni (Homo sapiens). Fabio Di Vincenzo e Giorgio Manzi, paleoantropologi dell’Università La Sapienza di Roma, insieme a Steve E. Churchill della Duke University, in North Carolina, hanno analizzato la forma di un piccolo dettaglio anatomico della spalla, cioè la fossa glenoidea della scapola. La morfologia della fossa glenoidea scapolare è da molto tempo oggetto di interesse per gli studiosi dell’evoluzione umana: in particolare, le differenze morfologiche tra le scapole dei Neandertal e quelle degli uomini moderni sono state interpretate finora come il risultato delle diverse attività svolte dai due gruppi: per esempio, l’uso delle armi da getto, comparse con Homo sapiens, avrebbe comportato un particolare sviluppo delle ossa della spalla. Il nuovo studio invece smentisce questa interpretazione e chiarisce come queste differenze siano parte di un cambiamento più generale dei tempi e dei modi di sviluppo dello scheletro che ha interessato tutte le forme del genere Homo (...)

Loss of air sacs improved hominin speech abilities, di B. de Boer, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 1–6

In this paper, the acoustic-perceptual effects of air sacs are investigated. Using an adaptive hearing experiment, it is shown that air sacs reduce the perceptual effect of vowel-like articulations. Air sacs are a feature of the vocal tract of all great apes, except humans. Because the presence or absence of air sacs is correlated with the anatomy of the hyoid bone, a probable minimum and maximum date of the loss of air sacs can be estimated from fossil hyoid bones. Australopithecus afarensis still had air sacs about 3.3 Ma, while Homo heidelbergensis, some 600 000 years ago and Homo neandethalensis some 60 000 years ago, did no longer. The reduced distinctiveness of articulations produced with an air sac is in line with the hypothesis that air sacs were selected against because of the evolution of complex vocal communication. This relation between complex vocal communication and fossil evidence may help to get a firmer estimate of when speech first evolved.

Morphological description and comparison of the dental remains from Atapuerca-Sima de los Huesos site (Spain), di M. Martinón-Torres, J. M. Bermúdez de Castro, A. Gómez-Robles, L. Prado-Simón, J. L. Arsuaga, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 7–58

The systematic excavation of the Sima de los Huesos (SH) site in Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) has yielded the largest hominin collection worldwide for the Middle Pleistocene. The dental sample now consists of more than 500 teeth that provide exceptional opportunities to define the dental morphological pattern of a Middle Pleistocene population as well as develop hypotheses about the origins of the Neanderthals. The dental collection has now increased to over 533 specimens (525 permanent and 8 deciduous teeth), necessitating new morphological assessments. Thus, we present a detailed morphological description of the SH permanent dentition recovered up to 2007, accomplishing comparisons with European Middle Pleistocene hominins, Neanderthals, and early and contemporary Homo sapiens. We find that SH dentitions present all the morphological traits that, either in their degree of expression, frequency, or particular combination, are usually considered as typical of Homo neanderthalensis. This study ratifies the deep roots of the Neanderthal lineage in the Middle Pleistocene of Europe. In addition, SH teeth are morphologically “more Neanderthal” than other penecontemporaneous Middle Pleistocene samples such as Mauer or Arago, and even more derived than some classic Neanderthal samples. Thus, our study would not sustain the linearity of the accretion process hypothesized for the origins of the Neanderthals, and we suggest that other evolutionary models and scenarios should be explored for the Middle and Upper Pleistocene of Europe. We propose that more than one hominin lineage may have coexisted during the Middle Pleistocene in Europe.

Paleoclimate during Neandertal and anatomically modern human occupation at Amud and Qafzeh, Israel: the stable isotope data, di K. A. Hallin, M. J. Schoeninger, H. P. Schwarcz, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 59–73

The δ13C(en) and δ18O(en) values of goat and gazelle enamel carbonate indicate that Neandertals at Amud Cave, Israel (53–70 ka) lived under different ecological conditions than did anatomically modern humans at Qafzeh Cave, Israel (approximately 92 ka). During the Last Glacial Period, Neandertals at Amud Cave lived under wetter conditions than those in the region today. Neither faunal species ate arid-adapted C4 plants or drought-stressed C3 plants. The variation in gazelle δ18O(en) values suggests multiple birth seasons, which today occur under wetter than normal conditions. The magnitude and pattern of intra-tooth variation in goat δ18O(en) values indicate that rain fell throughout the year unlike today. Anatomically modern humans encountered a Qafzeh Cave region that was more open and arid than Glacial Period Amud Cave, and more open than today's Upper Galilee region. Goat δ13C(en) values indicate feeding on varying amounts of C4 plants throughout the year. The climate apparently ameliorated higher in the sequence; but habitats remained more open than at Amud Cave. Both gazelles and goats fed on C3 plants in brushy habitats without any inclusion of C4 plants. The magnitude of intra-tooth variation in goat δ18O(en) values, however, suggest that some rain fell throughout the year, and the relative representation of woodland dwelling species indicates the occurrence of woodlands in the region. Climate differences affecting the distribution of plants and animals appear to be the significant factor contributing to behavioral differences previously documented between Neandertals and anatomically modern humans in the region. Climate forcing probably affected the early appearances of anatomically modern humans, although not the disappearance of Neandertals from the Levant.

Chronology of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition at Abric Romaní, Catalunya, di M. Camps, T. Higham, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 89–103

This paper presents new data from Abric Romaní, a key site in the region of Catalunya, northeastern Iberia, which is central to discussions of the transition between the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic in Europe. Until now, the Mid-Upper Paleolithic transition had been dated at the site through samples from the remaining baulk sections of levels A and B (typologically classified as ‘earliest Aurignacian’ and Mousterian, respectively) at the rear of the rockshelter, which were left from excavations in the late 1900s and early 1910s. We dated samples of bone and charcoal from these remnant sections with accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) methods. We also analysed several humanly-modified artefacts (bone points and perforated shells) excavated from other areas of the same layers. From the initial series, we obtained ages of c. 20 ka BP (thousands of years before present); much younger than expected if they indeed dated to the early Upper Palaeolithic. We sampled additional material to test the robustness of these initial ages, and older determinations that were more comparable with the chronology outlined by [8] and [10] resulted. All of the old and new results have been compared in a Bayesian model using the new INTCAL09 14C calibration dataset. The results appear to confirm the suggestion of some researchers (e.g., Zilhão and d’Errico, 1999) that there was no Aurignacian in the north of Iberia until c. 36,500 BP. The chronometric model shows a good level of agreement between the radiocarbon and U-series chronologies previously obtained, and the new results published in this paper.

A chronological framework for a long and persistent archaeological record: Melka Kunture, Ethiopia, di L. E. Morgan, P. R. Renne, G. Kieffer, M. Piperno, R. Gallotti, J. P. Raynal, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 104–115

New 40Ar/39Ar geochronological data for several volcanic ash horizons from Melka Kunture, Ethiopia, allow for significantly more precise age constraints to be placed upon the lithostratigraphy, archaeology and paleontology from this long record. Ashes from the Melka Kunture Formation at Gombore yielded the most reliable age constraints, from 1.393 ± 0.162 Ma2 (millions of years ago) near the base of the section to 0.709 ± 0.013 Ma near the top. Dating the Garba section proved more problematic, but the base of the section, which contains numerous Oldowan obsidian artifacts, may be >1.719 ± 0.199 Ma, while the top is securely dated to 0.869 ± 0.020 Ma. The large ignimbrite from the Kella Formation at Kella and Melka Garba is dated to 1.262 ± 0.034 Ma and pre-dates Acheulean artifacts in the area. The Gombore II site, which has yielded two Homo skull fragments, ‘twisted bifaces,’ and a preserved butchery site, is now constrained between 0.875 ± 0.010 Ma and 0.709 ± 0.013 Ma. Additional ashes from these and other sites further constrain the timing of deposition throughout the section. Integration with previously published magnetostratigraphy has allowed for the first time a relatively complete, reliable timeline for the deposition of sediments, environmental changes, archaeology, and paleontology at Melka Kunture.

Stratigraphic and technological evidence from the middle palaeolithic-Châtelperronian-Aurignacian record at the Bordes-Fitte rockshelter (Roches d’Abilly site, Central France), di T. Aubry et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 116–137

This paper presents a geoarchaeological study of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic (Châtelperronian, Aurignacian and Solutrean) occupations preserved at the Bordes-Fitte rockshelter in Central France. The lithostratigraphic sequence is composed of near-surface sedimentary facies with vertical and lateral variations, in a context dominated by run-off and gravitational sedimentary processes. Field description and micromorphological analysis permit us to reconstruct several episodes of sediment slope-wash and endokarst dynamics, with hiatuses and erosional phases. The archaeostratigraphic succession includes Châtelperronian artefacts, inter-stratified between Middle Palaeolithic and Aurignacian occupations. Systematic refitting and spatial analysis reveal that the Châtelperronian point production and flake blanks retouched into denticulates, all recovered in the same stratigraphic unit, result from distinct and successive occupations and are not a ‘transitional’ Middle to Upper Palaeolithic assemblage. The ages obtained by 14C place the Châtelperronian occupation in the 41–48 ka cal BP (calibrated thousands of years before present) interval and are consistent with the quartz optically stimulated luminescence age of 39 ± 2 ka and feldspar infra-red stimulated luminescence age of 45 ± 2 ka of the sediments. The Bordes-Fitte rockshelter sequence represents an important contribution to the debate about the characterization and timing of the Châtelperronian, as well as its affinities to earlier and later industries.

Microwear, mechanics and the feeding adaptations of Australopithecus africanus, di D. S. Strait et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 62, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 165–168

Recent studies of dental microwear and craniofacial mechanics have yielded contradictory interpretations regarding the feeding ecology and adaptations of Australopithecus africanus. As part of this debate, the methods used in the mechanical studies have been criticized. In particular, it has been claimed that finite element analysis has been poorly applied to this research question. This paper responds to some of these mechanical criticisms, highlights limitations of dental microwear analysis, and identifies avenues of future research.

New German-Israeli center to study human evolution, 8 January 2012

When it comes to human evolution, Europe and the Near East are crucial places: Europe has the first cave art, and the Near East has the first sightings of modern humans out of Africa. Now a leading scientific body, the Munich-based Max Planck Society, is teaming up with Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science to create a joint center devoted to studying archaeology and human evolution, to be based in both Rehovot, Israel, and Leipzig, Germany. On 11 January, Max Planck President Peter Gruss, and Daniel Zajfman, president of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, will sign a contract to create the new center, worth about €5 million over the next 5 years. The new Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology, as it will be called, won't have a new building. Instead, the money will fund up to 10 postdocs or graduate students in each city, says anthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin. It will also support equipment and infrastructure such as the rental of additional lab space in Leipzig and the kitting out of existing space at the Weizmann Institute. The center will focus on key questions such as the timing of cultural change over the past tens of thousands of years and the nature of coexistence between Neanderthals and modern humans. But Hublin says no decisions have been made about specific projects. In addition to CT scanning of bones and teeth and radiocarbon dating of previously excavated materials, researchers hope to launch new archaeological digs, possibly in Europe or the Near East.

Q7. Bio-géosystèmes continentaux quaternaires variabilité climatique et anthropisation - Première partie - Vol. 22/3-2011

- Paléovégétation du site à hominidés de Pont-de-Lavaud, Pléistocène inférieur, région Centre, France
- Datation ESR/U-Th du site paléontologique de Romain-La-Roche (Doubs, France) 
- Successions malacologiques à la charnière Glaciaire/Interglaciaire: du modèle Tardiglaciaire-Holocène aux transitions du Pleistocène 
- Datation et reconstitution paléoenvironnementale d’un site paléolithique moyen submergé en Manche Est: Ault-Onival (Somme, France)
- Nouvelles données sur les changements paléoenvironnementaux de la plaine alluviale de la Saône depuis le Tardiglaciaire: palynologie, géomorphologie
- L’étalonnage du temps du radiocarbone par les cernes d’arbres. L’apport des séries dendrochronologiques du gisement de bois subfossiles du torrent des Barbiers (Alpes françaises du sud)



Index di antiqui Sommario bacheca