agosto-dicembre 2013


Aggiornamento 14 giugno

Molecular evidence of bitumen in the Mousterian lithic assemblage of Hummal (Central Syria), di T. C. Hauck, J. Connan, A. Charrié-Duhaut, J. M. Le Tensorer, H. al Sakhel, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 8, August 2013, Pages 3252–3262

Evidence for bitumen use in Middle Palaeolithic sites is an exception in Pleistocene archaeology. This paper presents the discovery of three tar-bearing Levallois artefacts found in the Mousterian sequence in Hummal (Central Syria). The organic residues were submitted to geochemical study. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry analyses of saturated and aromatic hydrocarbons and isotopic data show the presence of bitumen. The most likely location of natural asphalt provisioning is the Shaaf outcrop in the Bichri desert. The bitumen-bearing stone tools add further important data to the growing knowledge about bitumen processing in the Middle Palaeolithic spring sites of El Kowm. Identification of the provisioning place for natural asphalt enables a more precise assumption about the site's catchment area. From a technological point of view, the tar-bearing specimens provide information on the range of tool forms selected for hafting. Ballistic features arguably indicate that the pointed Levallois blanks seem to be spear points that were fitted to a wooden handle. In at least one case, this technical procedure was seemingly executed during a brief episode of occupation and replacement of worn out implements. This small, bracketed window of detailed insight into Mousterian technology is linked with the more general relationship between Levallois technology and stone tool hafting.

The oldest human fossil in Europe, from Orce (Spain), di I. Toro-Moyano et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 65, Issue 1, July 2013, Pages 1–9

The Orce region has one of the best late Pliocene and early Pleistocene continental paleobiological records of Europe. It is situated in the northeastern sector of the intramontane Guadix-Baza Basin (Granada, Andalusia, southern Spain). Here we describe a new fossil hominin tooth from the site of Barranco León, dated between 1.02 and 1.73 Ma (millions of years ago) by Electron Spin Resonance (ESR), which, in combination with paleomagnetic and biochronologic data, is estimated to be close to 1.4 Ma. While the range of dates obtained from these various methods overlaps with those published for the Sima del Elefante hominin locality (1.2 Ma), the overwhelming majority of evidence points to an older age. Thus, at the moment, the Barranco León hominin is the oldest from Western Europe.

A comparison of proximal humeral cancellous bone of great apes and humans, di H. Scherf, K. Harvati, J.J. Hublin, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 65, Issue 1, July 2013, Pages 29–38

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the primate body, and is involved in both locomotor and manipulative activities. The presumed functional sensibility of trabecular bone can offer a way of decoding the activities to which the forelimbs of fossil primates were subjected. We examine the proximal humeral trabecular architecture in a relatively closely related group of similarly sized hominids (Pongo pygmaeus, Pan troglodytes, and Homo sapiens), in order to evaluate the effect of diverging habitual motion behaviors of the shoulder complex in a coherent phylogenetic group. In order to characterize and compare the humeral trabecular architectures of the three species, we imaged a large sample by high-resolution computed tomography (HrCT) and quantified their trabecular architectures by standard bone 3D morphometric parameters. Univariate statistical analysis was performed, showing significant differences among the species. However, univariate statistics could not highlight the structural particularity in the cancellous bone of each species. A principal component analysis also showed clear separation of the three taxa and enabled a structural characterization of the humeral trabecular bone of each species. We conclude that the differences in the architectural setup of the three hominids likely reflect multiple differences in their habitual activity patterns of their shoulder joint, although individual structural features are difficult to relate to specific loading conditions.

Human talus bones from the Middle Pleistocene site of Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain), di A. Pablos, I. Martínez, C. Lorenzo, A. Gracia, N. Sala, J. L. Arsuaga, "Journal of Human Evolution",  Volume 65, Issue 1, July 2013, Pages 79–92

Here we present and describe comparatively 25 talus bones from the Middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos (SH) (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain). These tali belong to 14 individuals (11 adult and three immature). Although variation among Middle and Late Pleistocene tali tends to be subtle, this study has identified unique morphological characteristics of the SH tali. They are vertically shorter than those of Late Pleistocene Homo sapiens, and show a shorter head and a broader lateral malleolar facet than all of the samples. Moreover, a few shared characters with Neanderthals are consistent with the hypothesis that the SH population and Neanderthals are sister groups. These shared characters are a broad lateral malleolar facet, a trochlear height intermediate between modern humans and Late Pleistocene H. sapiens, and a short middle calcaneal facet. It has been possible to propose sex assignment for the SH tali based on their size. Stature estimates based on these fossils give a mean stature of 174.4 cm for males and 161.9 cm for females, similar to that obtained based on the long bones from this same site.

The Middle Palaeolithic in the Desert, Volume 300, Pages 1-302 (25 June 2013), Edited by Huw Groucutt and James Blinkhorn

The transition in southern Iberia: Insights from paleoclimatology and the Early Upper Palaeolithic, di P. de la Peña, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 4, 2013, vol. 110 no. 23

The paper by Wood et al. called attention to the dating methodology of ultrafiltration applied to Mousterian sites in the Southern Iberian Peninsula. The dates of two sites, Jarama VI and Zafarraya, are older than expected, after the application of the authors’ methodology to some of the bones from the two sites. This result has important implications because the Southern Iberian Peninsula was formerly proposed as a unique area demonstrating the late survival of Neanderthals in Eurasia. In the case of former studies of Gorham and Carihuela, the main argument was paleoclimatic, not radiometric.

Livre: L'art préhistorique, di Alain Roussot - Editions Sud Ouest

3ème édition avec mise à jour. Histoire de l'art de la préhistoire depuis ses premières manifestations à la grotte de Chauvet jusqu'aux fresques magdaléniennes de Lascaux. 

East meets West: the Middle Pleistocene site of Rodafnidia on Lesvos, Greece, di N. Galanidou, J. Cole, G. Iliopoulos, J. McNabb, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 336, June 2013

This paper introduces a new inter-disciplinary and international research project focused on the Palaeolithic site of Rodafnidia on the Greek island of Lesvos, located in the north-eastern Aegean Sea (Figure 1). Rodafnidia, near the village of Lisvori, is less than a kilometre away from the south-western shore of the large Kalloni Gulf. It is a prolific open-air site spanning the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. What makes this site unique is the richness of its Acheulean lithic assemblage which, so far, makes it unparalleled in Greece (Galanidou 2004). The island of Lesvos is separated from the Anatolian coast by two sea straits: Mouselim and Mytilene. A glacial sea-level drop of only 50m would be enough to expose the eastern strait and connect the island with the Asian mainland, allowing hominin and terrestrial animal migration. Several fossiliferous sites have been found in Early Pleistocene deposits on the south coast of the island with over 15 mammal taxa including the giant macaque (Paradolichopithecus arvernensis), which is characterised as continental (Lyras & van der Geer 2007) and reflects a proximity to Anatolia. The site of Rodafnidia introduces the human perspective into the rich palaeontological record of Lesvos and adds a new point to the Palaeolithic map of the north-eastern Mediterranean. (...)

Complex topography and human evolution: the missing link, di I. C. Winder, G. C.P. King, M. Devès, G. N. Bailey, "Antiquity", Volume: 87, Number: 336, June 2013, Page: 333–349

Why did humans walk upright? Previous models based on adaptations to forest or savannah are challenged here in favour of physical incentives presented by steep rugged terrain—the kind of tectonically varied landscape that has produced early hominin remains. “Scrambler man” pursued his prey up hill and down dale and in so doing became that agile, sprinting, enduring, grasping, jumping two-legged athlete that we know today.

Butchering with small tools: the implications of the Evron Quarry assemblage for the behaviour of Homo erectus, di M. Chazan, "Antiquity", Volume: 87, Number: 336, June 2013, Page: 350–367

Stratified stone tools found with elephant and hippopotamus teeth at Evron Quarry can be dated to before 780 000 years ago. The assemblage includes handaxes, but less expectedly, small stone tools in the form of flakes with notches and points. Not thought to be points for spears or arrows, these small tools are suggested to be usable for butchery. They represent an adaption of local materials that make poor handaxes—so showing an ingenious improvisation on the part of Homo erectus.

Magdalenian pioneers in the northern French Alps, 17 000 cal BP, di L. Mevel, "Antiquity", Volume: 87, Number: 336, June 2013, Page: 384–404

Using the multi-disciplinary forces of the CNRS, the author defines an early group of colonisers in the northern Alps as the glaciers retreated. At the key site of La Fru, analysis of the lithics shows an assemblage characterised by microblades made from good quality flint supplied from sources a hundred or more kilometres away. Analogies with early assemblages in Beringia and in Britain suggest this may be identified as a pioneer phase. Later in the Magdalenian, the supply is more varied and regional, generating networks for the dissemination of new ideas.

Recognizing Complex Cognition through Innovative Technology in Stone Age and Palaeolithic Sites, di L. Wadley, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 23, Issue 02, June 2013, pp 163-183

Cognitive complexity is defined here as the capacity for abstract thought, analogical reasoning, cognitive fluidity, innovative thought, complex goal-directed actions, flexibility in problem-solving, multi-tasking, task switching, response inhibition and planning over long distances or time. Some of these attributes are archaeologically recognizable in transformative technologies such as heat treatment of rocks and ochre, and the manufacture of compound adhesives and paints. Advanced executive functions of the brain are also required for remote capture during snaring, which is implied by circumstantial archaeological evidence. Some technologies seem good indicators of complex cognition and the emphasis here is on making the connection, but this does not mean that cognition necessarily drove innovation in the past any more than it does today. The recursive relationships between cognition, social behaviour and technology mean that change cannot be attributed to a single stimulus.

Shell Technology, Rock Art, and the Role of Marine Resources during the Upper Paleolithic, di D. Cuenca-Solana, F. I. Gutiérrez-Zugasti, M. R. González-Morales, J. Setién-Marquinez, E. Ruiz-Martinez, A. García-Moreno, I. Clemente-Conte, "Current Anthropology", Vol. 54, No. 3, June 2013, pp. 370-380

During the Upper Paleolithic, marine resources have traditionally been considered to be low-efficiency resources. However, in recent years, new data have emerged to demonstrate that their importance for human utilization was probably greater than previously thought. The assessment of their value has generally been from the perspective of their nutritional or ornamental value, not from the technological potential that these resources might have. A use-wear analysis of shells from the Gravettian levels of Fuente del Salín, a cave in northern Spain, has documented their use for a diverse range of production activities, most notably the processing of the red pigments used in artistic representations on the cave walls, as well as for tanning hide. This technological use of shells demonstrates that marine resources were of greater importance to the hunters and gatherers of the Upper Paleolithic and that their utility was more diverse than previously understood.

Questions of Complexity and Scale in Explanations for Cultural Transitions in the Pleistocene: A Case Study from the Early Upper Paleolithic, di S. L. Kuhn, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", June 2013, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 194-211

Matching scales of observation and explanation is an essential challenge for archaeology, Paleolithic archaeology in particular. This paper presents a case study from the Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) in the Eastern Mediterranean to illustrate some of the scalar issues in explaining transitions in the Pleistocene. The cultural sequence at Üçağızlı Cave I documents both continuity and change in a range of behaviors over approximately 12 ky. The sequence spans the transition from one EUP cultural unit, the Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) to another one, the Ahmarian. There is evidence for changes in lithic technology and retouched tool forms, human diets, and the role of the site within a regional land use system, but few if any of these changes are closely timed with the shift from one archaeological “culture” to another. In this particular case, local and regional transitions seem to be largely unconnected. However, considering the local situations allows a more precise focus on what the broader cultural transition represents and how it might be studied.

After the Deep Freeze: Confronting “Magdalenian” Realities in Cantabrian Spain And Beyond, di L. Guy Straus, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", June 2013, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 236-255

The Magdalenian culture-stratigraphic unit in Western Europe, despite being a construct of nineteenth-century prehistoric archeologists, does have reality as a continuous network of human inter-relationships, whose ecologically transcendent range expanded through the course of the Late Last Glacial, in many ways reminiscent of Braudel’s histoire de la longue durée—in this case lasting some 9,000 calendar years. At the scale of the moyenne durée, the Magdalenian underwent several reorganizations [represented by its Initial, Lower, Middle, Upper, Final, and Epi-Magdalenian (i.e., Azilian, Federmesser) stages]—with distinctly regional manifestations and inter-regional connections—that in part can be understood in light of environmental/resource changes and variations at the scales of millennia and natural regions. At the scale of the courte durée, we are dealing with the adaptations of local and regional hunter-gatherer bands and the peculiarities and vicissitudes of their circumstances measured by forager group territories and centuries. Numerous, diverse concrete archaeological manifestations of territories and inter-group contacts support the growing consensus about the social reality of the Magdalenian phenomenon and the changes and variations that characterized it within a range that ultimately stretched from Portugal to Poland during the last millennia of the Pleistocene. Here, the focus is on Cantabrian Spain as one of the core or source areas of the Magdalenian cultural tradition that arose out of the Solutrean experience some 20,000 calendar years ago (about a millennium later than in France) and that was intimately linked to the process of human recolonization of upland and northerly regions of western and ultimately central Europe during the course of Greenland Stadial 2 and early Greenland Interstadial 1. Finally, archaeological and paleobiological indicators clearly point to major breaks in human adaptations and ways of understanding the human place in the universe a few centuries after the onset of Holocene conditions in Vasco-Cantabria, i.e., the development of Mesolithic cultures about 11,000 calendar years ago.

"Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 6, Pages 473-698 (June 2013):

- New Neanderthal remains from Mani peninsula, Southern Greece: The Kalamakia Middle Paleolithic cave site 
- Thinking strings: Additional evidence for personal ornament use in the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa 
- Coastal adaptations and the Middle Stone Age lithic assemblages from Hoedjiespunt 1 in the Western Cape, South Africa
- Ecological continuity between Lower and Upper Bed II, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania 
- Hominin stature, body mass, and walking speed estimates based on 1.5 million-year-old fossil footprints at Ileret, Kenya 
- A MATLAB based orientation analysis of Acheulean handaxe accumulations in Olorgesailie and Kariandusi, Kenya Rift 
- The vertebral column of the Regourdou 1 Neandertal 
- The Neandertal vertebral column 1: The cervical spine 
- Thickened cranial vault and parasagittal keeling: Correlated traits and autapomorphies of Homo erectus? 
- Modeling trophic resource availability for the first human settlers of Europe: The case of Atapuerca TD6 
- Middle Miocene Pierolapithecus provides a first glimpse into early hominid pelvic morphology 
- Trabecular bone anisotropy and orientation in an Early Pleistocene hominin talus from East Turkana, Kenya 
- Longstanding dental pathology in Neandertals from El Sidrón (Asturias, Spain) with a probable familial basis

Early hominin auditory ossicles from South Africa, di R. M. Quam, D. J. de Ruiter, M. Masali, J. L. Arsuaga, I. Martínez, J. Moggi-Cecchi, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 28, 2013, vol. 110 no. 22, pp.8847–8851

The middle ear ossicles are only rarely preserved in fossil hominins. Here, we report the discovery of a complete ossicular chain (malleus, incus, and stapes) of Paranthropus robustus as well as additional ear ossicles from Australopithecus africanus. The malleus in both early hominin taxa is clearly human-like in the proportions of the manubrium and corpus, whereas the incus and stapes resemble African and Asian great apes more closely. A deep phylogenetic origin is proposed for the derived malleus morphology, and this may represent one of the earliest human-like features to appear in the fossil record. The anatomical differences found in the early hominin incus and stapes, along with other aspects of the outer, middle, and inner ear, are consistent with the suggestion of different auditory capacities in these early hominin taxa compared with modern humans.

Baby Neanderthal breast-fed for 7 months, 27 May 2013

A baby Neanderthal who lived in what is now Belgium about 100,000 years ago started eating solid food at 7 months old, revealing a new aspect of the evolution of breast-feeding. A new technique that uses elements in teeth helped researchers to determine when breast-feeding started and stopped. "Breast-feeding is a major determinate of child health and immune protection, so it's important both from the point of view of studying our evolution as well as studying health in modern humans," study researcher Manish Arora, a research associate at Harvard's School of Public Health, said. (...)

Barium distributions in teeth reveal early-life dietary transitions in primates, di C. Austin et alii, "Nature Letter", 22 May 2013

Early-life dietary transitions reflect fundamental aspects of primate evolution and are important determinants of health in contemporary human populations1, 2. Weaning is critical to developmental and reproductive rates; early weaning can have detrimental health effects but enables shorter inter-birth intervals, which influences population growth3. Uncovering early-life dietary history in fossils is hampered by the absence of prospectively validated biomarkers that are not modified during fossilization4. Here we show that large dietary shifts in early life manifest as compositional variations in dental tissues. Teeth from human children and captive macaques, with prospectively recorded diet histories, demonstrate that barium (Ba) distributions accurately reflect dietary transitions from the introduction of mother’s milk through the weaning process. We also document dietary transitions in a Middle Palaeolithic juvenile Neanderthal, which shows a pattern of exclusive breastfeeding for seven months, followed by seven months of supplementation. After this point, Ba levels in enamel returned to baseline prenatal levels, indicating an abrupt cessation of breastfeeding at 1.2 years of age. Integration of Ba spatial distributions and histological mapping of tooth formation enables novel studies of the evolution of human life history, dietary ontogeny in wild primates, and human health investigations through accurate reconstructions of breastfeeding history.

Infant tooth reveals Neanderthal breastfeeding habits, di S. Perkins, "Nature News", 22 May 2013

The changing ratios of calcium and barium in the teeth of modern humans and macaques chronicle the transition from mother’s milk to solid food — and may provide clues about the weaning habits of Neanderthals, a new study suggests. The predominant mineral in the tooth enamel of primates is hydroxyapatite, a form of calcium phosphate. But trace elements present in the bloodstream that are chemically similar to calcium, such as strontium and barium, can be incorporated into enamel as it calcifies, says Manish Arora, an environmental chemist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Teeth begin forming in the gums before birth, and they record daily growth lines throughout their development, so they are good archives of diet and chemical exposure — even in infants. (...)

Origins of Human Culture Linked to Rapid Climate Change, May 21, 2013

The research, published this month in Nature Communications, was conducted by a team of scientists from Cardiff University's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Barcelona. The scientists studied a marine sediment core off the coast of South Africa and reconstructed terrestrial climate variability over the last 100,000 years. Dr Martin Ziegler, Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: "We found that South Africa experienced rapid climate transitions toward wetter conditions at times when the Northern Hemisphere experienced extremely cold conditions." (...)

Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia, di M. Page, Q. D. Atkinson, A. S. Calude, A. Meade, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", May 21, 2013, vol. 110 no. 21, pp. 8471-8476 - free  access -

The search for ever deeper relationships among the World’s languages is bedeviled by the fact that most words evolve too rapidly to preserve evidence of their ancestry beyond 5,000 to 9,000 y. On the other hand, quantitative modeling indicates that some “ultraconserved” words exist that might be used to find evidence for deep linguistic relationships beyond that time barrier. Here we use a statistical model, which takes into account the frequency with which words are used in common everyday speech, to predict the existence of a set of such highly conserved words among seven language families of Eurasia postulated to form a linguistic superfamily that evolved from a common ancestor around 15,000 y ago. We derive a dated phylogenetic tree of this proposed superfamily with a time-depth of ~14,450 y, implying that some frequently used words have been retained in related forms since the end of the last ice age. Words used more than once per 1,000 in everyday speech were 7- to 10-times more likely to show deep ancestry on this tree. Our results suggest a remarkable fidelity in the transmission of some words and give theoretical justification to the search for features of language that might be preserved across wide spans of time and geography. (...)

More Genomes From Denisova Cave Show Mixing of Early Human Groups, di E. Pennisi, "Science" 17 May 2013: Vol. 340 no. 6134 p. 799

Researchers have analyzed three fossil samples from Denisova Cave using a powerful new method that reveals ancient genomes in brilliant detail. One sample, a Neandertal toe bone, has yielded a nearly complete, high-coverage genome of our closest cousins, reported paleogeneticist Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, at The Biology of Genomes meeting last week. The analyses paint a complex picture of mingling among ancient human groups, and the data suggest inbreeding in Neandertals, a large Denisovan population, and mixing between Denisovans and an even earlier mystery species.

Neanderthal culture: Old masters, di T. Appenzeller, "Nature News", 15 May 2013

In a damp Spanish cave, Alistair Pike applies a small grinder to the world's oldest known paintings. Every few minutes, the dentist-drill sound stops and Pike, an archaeologist from the University of Southampton, UK, stands aside so that a party of tourists can admire the simple artwork — hazy red disks, stencilled handprints, the outlines of bison — daubed on the cave wall tens of thousands of years ago. He hopes that the visitors won't notice the small scuff marks he has left. In fact, Pike's grinder — and the scalpel that he wields to scrape off tiny samples — is doing no harm to the actual paintings, and he is working with the full approval of the Spanish authorities. Pike is after the crust of calcite that has built up over the millennia from groundwater dripping down the wall. The white flecks that he dislodges hold a smattering of uranium atoms, whose decay acts as a radioactive clock. A clock that has been ticking ever since the calcite formed on top of the art. (...)

East meets West: First settlements and human evolution in Eurasia, "Quaternary International", Volume 295, Pages 1-262 (8 May 2013), Edited by Ethel Allué, Ya-Mei Hou, Carlos Lorenzo, Ana Mateos, Juan Luis Arsuaga, José Maria Bermúdez de Castro and Eudald Carbonell

Grotte de Rouffignac - Périgord 

New information on the modifications of the neandertal suprainiac fossa during growth and development and on its etiology, di A. Balzeau, H. Rougier, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 151, Issue 1, pages 38–48, May 2013

The question of whether suprainiac depressions observed on Neandertals and in other human samples are homologous is widely discussed. Recently (Balzeau and Rougier, 2010), we ascertained the autapomorphic status of the Neandertal suprainiac fossa as a depression showing specific external bone features together with a thinning of the diploic layer with no substantial remodeling nor variation in the external table thickness. A suprainiac fossa with these characteristics is systematically present on Neandertals from the earliest developmental stages on, and since the beginning of the differentiation of the Neandertal lineage. Here, we present a detailed analysis of the micro-CT dataset (resolution of 50 μm) of the occipital bone of the La Ferrassie 8 Neandertal child, whose proposed age-at-death is around 2 years, and we compare it to the adult condition as represented by La Chapelle-aux-Saints 1 (resolution of 122 μm). We describe and quantify the boundaries between the different structural layers of the occipital bone, namely the external and internal tables and the diploic layer. We also describe very fine details of the diploic layer structure that had never before been observed on fossil hominins. This study illustrates for the first time that the internal particularities that make the suprainiac fossa a Neandertal autapomorphy are evident early during growth and development. Moreover, we demonstrate that the developmental pattern and causes of expression for the features observed in modern humans and Neandertals are certainly different, indicating that these features are not homologous traits from evolutionary and functional perspectives. Consequently, we confirm the autapomorphic status of the Neandertal suprainiac fossa. Am J Phys Anthropol 151:38–48, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Earliest Archaeological Evidence of Persistent Hominin Carnivory, di J. V. Ferraro et alii, "PLoS ONE", April 25, 2013 - free  access -

The emergence of lithic technology by ~2.6 million years ago (Ma) is often interpreted as a correlate of increasingly recurrent hominin acquisition and consumption of animal remains. Associated faunal evidence, however, is poorly preserved prior to ~1.8 Ma, limiting our understanding of early archaeological (Oldowan) hominin carnivory. Here, we detail three large well-preserved zooarchaeological assemblages from Kanjera South, Kenya. The assemblages date to ~2.0 Ma, pre-dating all previously published archaeofaunas of appreciable size. At Kanjera, there is clear evidence that Oldowan hominins acquired and processed numerous, relatively complete, small ungulate carcasses. Moreover, they had at least occasional access to the fleshed remains of larger, wildebeest-sized animals. The overall record of hominin activities is consistent through the stratified sequence – spanning hundreds to thousands of years – and provides the earliest archaeological evidence of sustained hominin involvement with fleshed animal remains (i.e., persistent carnivory), a foraging adaptation central to many models of hominin evolution.

Les premiers cannibales de la préhistoire, di F. Belnet, 23/4/2013

Cannibales, nos ancêtres ? Peut-être bien. Même si les éléments de preuve restent sujets à controverse, nombre d’anthropologues et d’archéologues en sont convaincus. Reste à savoir dans quelles circonstances cette pratique a pu exister. (...)

Hobbit's Brain Size Holds Clues About Its Ancestor, April 18, 2013

Diseased ancestor or mini-me? The debate over where the so-called "hobbit," or Homo floresiensis, came from has raged since researchers discovered its remains on the remote Indonesian island of Flores (map) in 2003. Some researchers said its diminutive size was the result of disease, while others believed it descended from a small-bodied human ancestor. (...)

· Brain size of Homo floresiensis and its evolutionary implications, di D. Kubo, R. T. Kono, Y. Kaifu, "Proceedings of the Royal Society", June 7, 2013; 280 (1760)

Paleo 23-2012 (giugno 2013)

- Nécrologie de Gabriel Mérignargues (1928-2012) 
- Radiocarbon (AMS) dating the Classic Aurignacian, Proto-Aurignacian and Vasconian Mousterian at Gatzarria Cave (Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France)
- Des restes de chiens magdaléniens à l’abri du Morin (Gironde, France). Implications socio-économiques d’une innovation zootechnique
- Nouvelles données sur l’exploitation des gîtes de silex au Paléolithique moyen : l’atelier de taille moustérien du Chêne Vert à Dirac (Charente, France)
- Apports de la géomorphologie dans l’aménagement et la construction sociale de sites préhistoriques. Exemples de la grotte Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc (France) et de Nawarla Gabarnmang (Australie)
- Biostratigraphie des niveaux solutréens de Laugerie-Haute (Les Eyzies, Dordogne, France). Implications archéologiques
- Ours, hommes, hyènes : qui a occupé la grotte de Bourdette (Sainte-Colombe-en-Bruilhois, Lot-et-Garonne, France)
- Le gisement acheuléen de La Grande Vallée à Colombiers (Vienne, France) : stratigraphie, processus de formation, datations préliminaires et industries lithiques
- Premiers éléments de datation des industries du Pléistocène moyen (Acheuléen - Paléolithique moyen ancien) de la région pyrénéo-garonnaise : une approche géochronologique pluri-méthodes (TL, OSL et TT-OSL) des sites de Duclos et Romentères
- Une nouvelle découverte d’art pariétal aurignacien in situ à l’abri Castanet (Dordogne, France): contexte et datation
- Implications biostratigraphiques et paléoenvironnementales des occupations du Paléolithique moyen et du Châtelperronien du site de La Tour Fondue à Chauriat (Puy-de-Dôme, France)
- La grotte du Sorcier à Saint-Cirq-du-Bugue (Dordogne, France) : nouvelles lectures. Bilan des campagnes 2010 et 2011
- Des apprentis gravettiens ont-ils confectionné des armatures lithiques à Tercis (Landes, France)
- Armatures et pièces à dos du Magdalénien supérieur de La Madeleine (Tursac, Dordogne), nouvelles données de la technologie lithique
-Analyse texturale et géochimique d’un polissoir à rainures du gisement magdalénien de Duruthy (Sorde, Landes, France) 
- Découverte de la mandibule d’un jeune enfant dans un niveau gravettien de la grotte de Gargas (Hautes-Pyrénées, France)
- Pièces osseuses gravées du Solutréen moyen de la grotte Rochefort (Saint-Pierre-sur-Erve, Mayenne, France)
- Entre l’Adour et la Baïse (partie occidentale du département du Gers, France) : une importante source de matières premières siliceuses du Sénonien

Aggiornamento 17 aprile

Lithic production, site formation and Middle Palaeolithic palimpsest analysis: in search of human occupation episodes at Abric del Pastor Stratigraphic Unit IV (Alicante, Spain), di J. Machado, C. M. Hernández, C. Mallol, B. Galván, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 2254–2273

We present the results of an exercise in Middle Palaeolithic palimpsest analysis geared toward the identification of human occupation episodes. It is based on a combined reading of the archaeosedimentary deposit and the archaeological record of Stratigraphic Unit IV from Abric del Pastor (Alcoy, Alicante, Spain), chronologically framed within MIS 4–5. A study of site formation processes coupled with archaeostratigraphic analysis of the lithic record incorporating Raw Material Units (RMU) and refits, as well as with combustion features and faunal remains enabled identification a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 6 human occupation episodes within lithostratigraphic units IVa, IVb and IVc. Through our data it reaches a high resolution temporal frame close to the ethnographic time scale, which constitutes a significant contribution for the knowledge of human occupations types and landscape use in the Mediterranean rim of the Iberian Peninsula during Middle Palaeolithic.

The Landes de Gascogne (southwest France): periglacial desert and cultural frontier during the Palaeolithic, di P. Bertran et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 2274–2285

During the last glacial period, a large part of the Aquitaine basin (southwest France) was a periglacial desert comprising coversands with low-relief dune fields surrounded by loess accumulations. OSL and radiocarbon dates show that the phase of maximum sand deposition coincides with Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 2. Peats and gleyic palaeosoils intercalated within the sands at some sites indicate that vegetation cover was able to develop locally during short events, possibly D–O interstadials, due to raised groundwater levels in interdunal depressions. Few Palaeolithic sites have been discovered in the coversand area in contrast to the peripheral loess region. Systematic survey along a future highway corridor demonstrates that this paucity of sites is not the result of insufficient survey nor deep site burial, but rather reflects an archaeological reality. This strongly suggests that the sand area was not attractive for hunter–gatherer populations due to its reduced levels of water resources, and available vegetation and animal biomass. The distribution of cultural markers such as art items and projectile points also shows that the coversand area probably acted as a barrier separating two different cultural sub-areas, one in the Pyrenees and Cantabria, the other in the Périgord. As a consequence, the commonly accepted view that southwest France, as a whole, served as a refugia during the cold and arid phases of the Pleistocene should be replaced by a more complex one that reflects the fact that a large part of the territory was almost unoccupied and that human populations were concentrated along alluvial valleys.

Levallois economics: an examination of ‘waste’ production in experimentally produced Levallois reduction sequences, di S. J. Lycett, M. I. Eren, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 2384–2392

Mathematical modelling has suggested that Levallois core morphology represents a reduction strategy driven by economic considerations; particularly the minimization of ‘waste’ while aiming to maximize cutting edge length of flakes obtained from cores of a given size. Such models are elegant in that they facilitate formal modelling of economic considerations that potentially motivate patterns seen in prehistoric data. However, the abstract nature of such models means that they do not take full account of all the practical difficulties and material challenges involved in reproducing Levallois-style reductions in stone. In particular, such models have only examined nodule morphology in two-dimensions, and did not take account of the fact that in the case of classic (lineal) Levallois reduction, core surfaces must be re-prepared between successive stages of flake removal. Hence, the potential economic implications of these factors are currently unknown, potentially undermining the significance of models that assume specific economic conditions. Here, we undertook to examine these factors using a series of experimentally produced Levallois reduction sequences. A total of 3957 flaking events were considered in our analyses, and we used six specific measures of economy to examine Levallois reduction across successive phases. Our analyses found that key assumptions of mathematical models suggesting that Levallois core morphology was driven by economic considerations (i.e. conservation of raw material when attempting to remove flakes with long cutting edges) can be upheld under the practical challenges of replicating Levallois-style reduction in stone. In supporting the notion that Levallois reduction has advantageous economic properties, our results emphasize the importance of considering why Levallois reduction did not emerge earlier in the archaeological record, and indeed, why even during the later Pleistocene the temporal and geographic distribution of Levallois technology varies. Our results also re-emphasize the value of formally modelling lithic reduction strategies in specific economic terms.

Models of settlement hierarchy based on partial evidence, di A. Bevana, A. Wilson, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 2415–2427

The modelling of past settlement and landscape structure from incomplete evidence is a well-established archaeological agenda. This paper highlights a model of spatial interaction and settlement evolution that has long been popular in urban geography and which was first applied to model historical settlement hierarchies some twenty-five years ago, but whose use since then for archaeological purposes has been very limited. Via a case study from Bronze Age Crete, we extend the analytical range of this model by suggesting ways in which it can (a) remain effective in the presence of missing data, (b) be given a stronger grounding in the physical landscape, and/or (c) be used to consider the evolutionary trajectory of settlements and physical routes over time.

Application of GIS methods to retrieve orientation patterns from imagery; a case study from Beds I and II, Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania), di I. de la Torre, A. Benito-Calvo, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 2446–2457

The role of natural processes in the formation of the Bed I and II sites at Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) remains the subject of much debate, five decades after their original excavation. Preferred orientation of items is indicative of water disturbance, but compass bearings were not available in Mary Leakey's (1971) study. Using GIS methods, we have vectorized maps from 1960s excavations at Olduvai, and applied a range of statistical techniques to calculate items strike. The GIS analysis suggests strongly preferred orientation patterns in Bed I, and more heterogeneous angular histograms in Bed II. Two complementary lines of evidence support these results. Firstly, modelling of potential mapping errors provides a large interval of confidence for preferred orientation patterns. Second, the GIS study was extended to photographs of the earlier excavations and to maps from recent fieldwork at Olduvai; both yielded patterned arrangement of lithics and bones, and are consistent with results based on the analysis of the 1960s maps, i.e. a large number of the Bed I and II assemblages are preferentially oriented. These results highlight the potential of GIS applications to the analysis of imagery in Stone Age studies, and bear important implications for the understanding of the role of natural agents in site formation processes at Olduvai.

A Palaeolithic fishhook made of ivory and the earliest fishhook tradition in Europe, di B. Gramsch, J. Beran, S. Hanik, R. S. Sommer, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 2458–2463

Prehistoric fishhooks have previously been described in northern Europe as being common since the Mesolithic. Here we present a Final Palaeolithic ivory fishhook from the site Wustermark 22 (north-eastern Germany), the raw material of which is about 19,000 years old. Five further fishhooks were discovered in situ at the same site one of which has a calibrated radiocarbon age of about 12,300 years. The tool industries of flint artefacts and bone/antler tools are associated with descendants of the Federmesser-culture and the palynological context indicates a Younger Dryas environment. Wustermark 22 represents the largest collection of Palaeolithic fishhooks so far found at a single European site. A comparison with other sites in Europe, containing Palaeolithic fishhooks suggests that the appearance and development of fishhooks may be associated with a general change in resource availability during the Greenland Interstadial 1 (Bølling/Allerød warming), which is also connected with a change from late Upper Palaeolithic to Final Palaeolithic industries in Northern Central Europe. We conclude that Mesolithic fishhook tradition has its roots in the Final Palaeolithic.

The black layer of Middle Palaeolithic combustion structures. Interpretation and archaeostratigraphic implications, di C. Mallol et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 2515–2537

Certain aspects of the formation processes of simple, flat archaeological combustion structures such as those present in the Middle Palaeolithic record remain unexplained. Such kind of combustion structures are commonly affected by postdepositional agents and often, their only distinct, well preserved component is a thin black lens on the ground. Hence, understanding the nature of this black lens is essential towards archaeological interpretation. From an interdisciplinary microstratigraphic approach, we present a case study in which for an entire experimental series of flat combustion structures the black layer represents the fire-altered topsoil on which the fire was made. Parallel analysis of archaeological Middle Palaeolithic combustion structures from the site of El Salt (Alicante, Spain) reveal similar patterns, leading to significant implications for archaeological interpretation. In the light of these results, special attention must be paid to the formation processes of flat Middle Palaeolithic combustion features, as black layers and the material contained in them are not necessarily linked with combustion but with preceding activities or events. In such cases, black layers represent intact remnants of occupation surfaces, concealing significant behavioural and palaeoenvironmental information relevant to the reconstruction of Middle Palaeolithic societies.

Early Upper Paleolithic shell beads at Üçağızlı Cave I (Turkey): Technology and the socioeconomic context of ornament life-histories, di M. C. Stiner, S. L. Kuhn, E. Güleç, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 380–398

Ten early Upper Paleolithic layers in Üçağızlı Cave I (41–29 uncalibrated ky BP) on the Hatay coast of southern Turkey preserve a rich and varied record of early Upper Paleolithic life, including the production and use of large numbers of shell ornaments. This study examines shell bead production, use, and discard in relation to site function and the diversity of on-site human activities. Four factors are expected to contribute to variation in the ornament assemblages, one environmental and three behavioral. The behavioral factors relate to winnowing for quality as a function of distance from the raw material source, changes in the size of user groups, and symbol standardization. The accumulation rates for shell beads, bones, and stone tools paralleled one another through time, indicating that ornament discard followed the pulse of daily life at this site. All stages of manufacture and use are well represented in each assemblage, and half or more of the ornaments show evidence of extended use. Changes in the local marine environment do not explain much of the variation in the assemblages, pointing instead to behavioral causes. The richness of shell types that were collected as raw material correlates to greater exploitation of edible marine shellfish and greater occupation intensity. Much of this variation in the ornament raw material was eliminated during the manufacture stage, almost certainly reflecting the influence of cultural norms. A focus on basket-shaped shells changed remarkably little over thousands of years, despite significant changes in other domains of technology. This last result suggests that beads were the most irreducible and conservative elements of more complex design traditions.

Microtomographic archive of fossil hominin specimens from Kromdraai B, South Africa, di M. M. Skinner, T. L. Kivell, S. Potze, J. J. Hublin, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 434–447

The Ditsong National Museum of Natural History (DNMNH) and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) established a collaboration in 2010 to scan fossil hominin specimens housed at DNMNH using microtomography (microCT). The goal of this collaboration is to facilitate research and create a ‘virtual copy’ of the fossils for the DNMNH records. Within the context of this ongoing collaboration, the focus of this contribution is the fossil hominin material from the site of Kromdraai B, South Africa. The goals are to 1) formally publish the microCT scans of the Kromdraai material and facilitate their availability to the scientific research community, 2) address uncertainties regarding specimen accession numbers, 3) highlight internal aspects of anatomy revealed through the microCT scans, and 4) clarify the hominin status of a number of postcranial specimens. Finally, 2D images of surface models, a 3D PDF surface model, a movie of each microCT volume, and the original microCT volume of each specimen are made available via an open access online archive (

Long range inland–coastal networks during the Late Magdalenian: Evidence for individual acquisition of marine resources at Andernach-Martinsberg, German Central Rhineland, di M. C. Langley, M. Street, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 5, May 2013, Pages 457–465

Recent re-examination of the osseous material assemblage from Andernach-Martinsberg, Central Rhineland, has resulted in the identification of an implement manufactured from cetacean bone (probably whale). Argued to be the proximal half of a foreshaft, this artefact is not only one of few such projectile elements to be identified in Magdalenian deposits in northern Europe, but also demonstrates that the exploitation of marine raw materials for use in manufacturing projectile elements is not restricted to southern France, instead extending to at least inland Germany. Additionally, in conjunction with the appearance of marine molluscs and engravings of seals at Andernach, it can now be forcefully argued that this region formed part of an inland–coastal network during the Late Magdalenian and allows us for the first time to suggest that we can identify the movements of individuals transporting valued marine sourced raw materials and their personal experiences across this vast region.

Pole to Pole. Archaeology and Adaptation in the Middle Pleistocene at Opposite Ends of the Acheulean World, di J. McNabb, "Oxford Journal of Archaeology", Volume 32, Issue 2, pages 123–146, May 2013

The concept of cultural evolution in the Acheulean is linked to a number of important anatomical, phylogenetic, adaptive, cultural and cognitive research questions. Yet there are very few studies which are able to demonstrate advancements in material culture (technological and/or conceptual) supported by large bodies of empirical data. Derek Roe's work at Olduvai Gorge is one of the few exceptions and here, in my opinion, raw material considerations affect the evidence of increasing diachronic sophistication (Leakey and Roe 1994). Otherwise, evidence for such material culture evolution is largely anecdotal. This study takes large bodies of handaxe data from South Africa and Britain, and using dated assemblages, wherever possible, explores the idea of hominins paying increasing attention to shape and morphological regularity (not symmetry) over time. The results give no reason to believe such a diachronic trend exists. These data are set against the latest research in chronostratigraphic studies and hominin taxonomy.

Quaternaire - Vol. 24/1, 2013 - Volume 24 - Numéro 1

- Unités lithostratigraphiques quaternaires du Nord de la France: un inventaire
- An overview of the consequences of paraglacial landsliding on deglaciated mountain slopes: typology, timing and contribution to cascading fluxes 
- Évolution hydrogéologique de l’hydrosystème karstique Cesse-Pouzols (Minervois, France) au cours du Quaternaire
- The Iberian Peninsula, the last european refugium of Panthera pardus Linnaeus 1758 during the Upper Pleistocene
- Environmental, depositional and cultural changes in the Upper Pleistocene and early - Holocene: the Cinglera del Capelló sequence (Capellades, Spain) 
- Tephrochronological study in the Maccarese lagoon (near Rome, Italy): Identification of Holocene tephra layers 

"Quaternary International", Volume 294, Pages 1-190 (29 April 2013) 

MIS 3 in Central Europe - Guest Editors: Lenka Lisa and Martin K. Jones

- Tjeerd Van Andel's Stage Three challenge
- The Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition in Moravia in the context of the Middle Danube region
- Occupation dynamics north of the Carpathians and Sudetes during the Weichselian (MIS5d-3): The Lower Silesia (SW Poland) case study
- Gravettian occupation of the Beckov Gate in Western Slovakia as viewed from the interdisciplinary research of the Trenčianske Bohuslavice-Pod Tureckom site
- Palaeolithic settlement strategies in the Krumlov Forest area (South Moravia, Czech Republic) during MIS 3
- The role of abiotic factors in ecological strategies of Gravettian hunter–gatherers within Moravia, Czech Republic 
- Interpleniglacial profiles on open-air sites in Hungary and Slovakia
- Interplenivistulian (MIS 3) environmental changes recorded in sub-till lake deposits at Wildno, Dobrzyń Lakeland (Polish Lowland)
- Investigating climate at the Upper Palaeolithic site of Kraków Spadzista Street (B), Poland, using oxygen isotopes 
- Seasonality of Gravettian sites in the Middle Danube Region and adjoining areas of Central Europe

Rethinking Palaeolithic Chronologies in Europe and the Circum-Mediterranean region - Guest Editor: Michael J. Walker

- Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Murcia, Spain): A late Early Pleistocene hominin site with an “Acheulo-Levalloiso-Mousteroid” Palaeolithic assemblage
- The late Middle Palaeolithic in Southwest France: New TL dates for the sequence of Pech de l'Azé IV
- New U-series results for the speleogenesis and the Palaeolithic archaeology of the Almonda karstic system (Torres Novas, Portugal)
- Multidisciplinary investigations of the pile-dwellings at Ljubljansko barje (Slovenia) 

ScienceShot: The Shrinking of the Hobbit's Brain, di M. Balter, "Science NOW", 16 April 2013

Where do Hobbits come from? No, not the little humanoids in the J. R. R. Tolkien books, but Homo floresiensis, the 1-meter-tall human with the chimp-sized brain that lived on the Indonesian island of Flores between 90,000 and 13,000 years ago. There are two main hypotheses: either the creature downsized from H. erectus, a human ancestor that lived in Africa and Asia and that is known to have made it to Flores about 800,000 years ago and may have shrunk when it got there—a case of so-called "insular dwarfism" often seen in other animals that get small when they take up residence on islands. Or it evolved from an even earlier, smaller-brained ancestor, such as the early human H. habilis or an australopithecine like Lucy, that somehow made it to Flores from Africa. The insular dwarfism hypothesis had fallen out of favor recently, however, because many researchers thought that the Hobbit's brain, often estimated at 400 cubic centimeters in volume, was too small to have evolved from the larger H. erectus brain, which was at least twice as big. But a new study, published online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, finds from CT scans of the Hobbit's brain that it was actually about 426 cubic centimeters in volume. The team calculates that this is big enough to make the island dwarfism hypothesis considerably more plausible once the body size differences between the Hobbit and H. erectus—which was nearly twice as tall—are adjusted for.

Special Section:Australopithecus sediba, "Science", vol. 340, Issue 6129, Pages 109-236, 12 April 2013

- The Vertebral Column of Australopithecus sediba 
- The Lower Limb and Mechanics of Walking in Australopithecus sediba
- The Upper Limb of Australopithecus sediba
- Mosaic Morphology in the Thorax of Australopithecus sediba
- Mandibular Remains Support Taxonomic Validity of Australopithecus sediba
- Dental Morphology and the Phylogenetic “Place” of Australopithecus sediba
- The Mosaic Nature of Australopithecus sediba

· Ape-like fossils show hints of human ancestry, di S. Perkins, "Nature News", 11 April 2013

· New Studies Shake Up Human Family Tree, di B. Switek, "National Geographic News", April 11, 2013

· Il mosaico evolutivo di Australopithecus sediba, "Le Scienze", 11 aprile 2013

Trove of Neanderthal Bones Found in Greek Cave, di C. Choi, APR 2, 2013 

A trove of Neanderthal fossils including bones of children and adults, discovered in a cave in Greece hints the area may have been a key crossroad for ancient humans, researchers say. The timing of the fossils suggests Neanderthals and humans may have at least had the opportunity to interact, or cross paths, there, the researchers added. Neanderthals are the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, apparently even occasionally interbreeding with our ancestors. Neanderthals entered Europe before modern humans did, and may have lasted there until about 35,000 years ago, although recent findings have called this date into question. (...)

Possible Interbreeding in Late Italian Neanderthals? New Data from the Mezzena Jaw (Monti Lessini, Verona, Italy), di  S. Condemi, A. Mounier, P. Giunti, M. Lari, D. Caramelli, L. Longo, "PloS ONE" March 27, 2013  - free  access - 

In this article we examine the mandible of Riparo Mezzena a Middle Paleolithic rockshelter in the Monti Lessini (NE Italy, Verona) found in 1957 in association with Charentian Mousterian lithic assemblages. Mitochondrial DNA analysis performed on this jaw and on other cranial fragments found at the same stratigraphic level has led to the identification of the only genetically typed Neanderthal of the Italian peninsula and has confirmed through direct dating that it belongs to a late Neanderthal. Our aim here is to re-evaluate the taxonomic affinities of the Mezzena mandible in a wide comparative framework using both comparative morphology and geometric morphometrics. The comparative sample includes mid-Pleistocene fossils, Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. This study of the Mezzena jaw shows that the chin region is similar to that of other late Neanderthals which display a much more modern morphology with an incipient mental trigone (e.g. Spy 1, La Ferrassie, Saint-Césaire). In our view, this change in morphology among late Neanderthals supports the hypothesis of anatomical change of late Neanderthals and the hypothesis of a certain degree of interbreeding with AMHs that, as the dating shows, was already present in the European territory. Our observations on the chin of the Mezzena mandible lead us to support a non abrupt phylogenetic transition for this period in Europe. (...)

First Migration from Africa Less Than 95,000 Years Ago: Ancient Hunter-Gatherer DNA Challenges Theory of Early Out-Of-Africa Migrations, Mar. 22, 2013

In particular these measurements have made geneticists think again about key dates in human evolution, like when modern non-Africans split from modern Africans. The recent measurements push back the best estimates of these dates by up to a factor of two. Now, however an international team led by researchers at the University of Tübingen and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, present results that point again to the more recent dates. The new study is published in Current Biology. The team, led by Johannes Krause from Tübingen University, was able to reconstruct more than ten mitochondrial genomes (mtDNAs) from modern humans from Eurasia that span 40,000 years of prehistory. The samples include some of the oldest modern human fossils from Europe such as the triple burial from Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic, as well as the oldest modern human skeletons found in Germany from the site of Oberkassel close to Bonn. (...)

· A Revised Timescale for Human Evolution Based on Ancient Mitochondrial Genomes, di Q. Fu et alii, "Current Biology", Volume 23, Issue 7, 553-559, 21 March 2013

Clocking the Human Exodus Out of Africa, di Ann Gibbons, "Science NOW", 21 March 2013

Like bloodhounds on the fading scent of an escaped convict, researchers have tried for decades to trace the ancient footsteps of the first modern humans who left Africa. Even though this exodus was one of the most important events in human evolution, scientists have been unable to pinpoint when and where it began. Now, using ancient DNA for the first time from ancient Europeans such as Ötzi, the famous Iceman, and from earlier fossils, a team of evolutionary geneticists has dated the start of this legendary journey to less than 95,000 years ago and, possibly, as recently as 62,000 years ago. (...)

Aggiornamento 19 marzo

Rabbits and hominin survival in Iberia, di J. E. Fa, J. R. Stewart, L. Lloveras, J. M. Vargas, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 4, April 2013, Pages 233-241

High dependence on the hunting and consumption of large mammals by some hominins may have limited their survival once their preferred quarry became scarce or disappeared. Adaptation to smaller residual prey would have been essential after the many large-bodied species decreased in numbers. We focus on the use of a superabundant species, the rabbit, to demonstrate the importance of this taxon in Iberia as fundamental to predators. We show that the use of the rabbit over time has increased, and that there could have been differential consumption by Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH). Analysis of bone remains from excavations throughout Iberia show that this lagomorph was a crucial part of the diet of AMH but was relatively unutilised during the Mousterian, when Neanderthals were present. We first present changes in mammalian biomass and mean body mass of mammals over 50,000 years, to illustrate the dramatic loss of large mammalian fauna and to show how the rabbit may have contributed a consistently high proportion of the available game biomass throughout that period. Unlike the Italian Peninsula and other parts of Europe, in Iberia the rabbit has provided a food resource of great importance for predators including hominins. We suggest that hunters that could shift focus to rabbits and other smaller residual fauna, once larger-bodied species decreased in numbers, would have been able to persist. From the evidence presented here, we postulate that Neanderthals may have been less capable of prey-shifting and hence use the high-biomass prey resource provided by the rabbit, to the extent AMH did.

Reassessment of the La Ferrassie 3 Neandertal ossicular chain, di R. Quam, I. Martínez, J. L. Arsuaga, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 4, April 2013, Pages 250–262

The ossicular chain in La Ferrassie 3 was briefly described in the monograph on the La Ferrassie Neandertal children, but to date has not been the subject of detailed study. We provide new data on these important fossils and re-examine some previous suggestions of derived Neandertal features in the middle ear ossicles based on more limited evidence. The malleus shows a curved lateral margin of the manubrium and a relatively large head. The incus shows a tall articular facet, a depressed area on the medial surface of the body, a straight anterior border of the long process and a more closed angle between the processes. The stapes shows an asymmetrical configuration of the crura, with an anteriorly skewed head, and generally small dimensions, including a smaller and relatively wider stapedial footplate. These same features can also be seen in the few other Neandertal ear ossicles known, suggesting that a consistent anatomical pattern characterizes the Neandertal ossicular chain. While the phylogenetic polarity of many of these features remains to be clarified, the asymmetrical stapes and anteriorly skewed stapedial head appear to be derived Neandertal features. In addition, while the larger malleus head and incus articular facet in La Ferrassie 3 might reflect larger body mass in Neandertals, the larger stapes footplates in Homo sapiens cannot be explained by changes in body mass. Indeed, H. sapiens seems to depart from the general mammalian pattern in combining an increase in stapes footplate size with a decrease in body mass. Although the malleus/incus lever ratio in La Ferrassie 3 is similar to that in H. sapiens, Neandertals appear to be characterized by a slightly different spatial relationship and articulation of the ossicular chain within the tympanic cavity. While only limited inferences can be drawn regarding hearing ability based on the ossicles, the few physiologically relevant dimensions in the La Ferrassie 3 ear bones are similar to H. sapiens.

Climatic conditions for the last Neanderthals: Herpetofaunal record of Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar, di Hugues-Alexandre Blain et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 4, April 2013, Pages 289–299

Gorham's Cave is located in the British territory of Gibraltar in the southernmost end of the Iberian Peninsula. Recent excavations, which began in 1997, have exposed an 18 m archaeological sequence that covered the last evidence of Neanderthal occupation and the first evidence of modern human occupation in the cave. By applying the Mutual Climatic Range method on the amphibian and reptile assemblages, we propose here new quantitative data on the terrestrial climatic conditions throughout the latest Pleistocene sequence of Gorham's Cave. In comparison with current climatic data, all mean annual temperatures were about 1.6–1.8 °C lower in this region. Winters were colder and summers were similar to today. Mean annual precipitation was slightly lower, but according to the Aridity Index of Gaussen there were only four dry months during the latest Pleistocene as opposed to five dry months today during the summer. The climate was Mediterranean and semi-arid (according to the Aridity Index of Dantin–Revenga) or semi-humid (according to the Aridity Index of Martonne). The atmospheric temperature range was higher during the latest Pleistocene, mainly due to lower winter temperatures. Such data support recent bioclimatic models, which indicate that high rainfall levels may have been a significant factor in the late survival of Neanderthal populations in southern Iberia. The Solutrean levels of Gorham's Cave and climate records from cores in the Alboran Sea indicate increasing aridity from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 3-2. Because Neanderthals seem to have been associated with woodland habitats, we propose that lessening rainfall may have caused the degradation of large areas of forest and may have made late surviving Neanderthal populations more vulnerable outside southern refuges like the Rock of Gibraltar.

No skeletal dysplasia in the nariokotome boy KNM-WT 15000 (homo erectus)—A reassessment of congenital pathologies of the vertebral column, di R. Schiess, M. Haeusler, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 150, Issue 3, pages 365–374, March 2013

The Nariokotome boy skeleton KNM-WT 15000 is the most complete Homo erectus fossil and therefore is key for understanding human evolution. Nevertheless, since Latimer and Ohman (2001) reported on severe congenital pathology in KNM-WT 15000, it is questionable whether this skeleton can still be used as reference for Homo erectus skeletal biology. The asserted pathologies include platyspondylic and diminutive vertebrae implying a disproportionately short stature; spina bifida; condylus tertius; spinal stenosis; and scoliosis. Based on this symptom complex, the differential diagnosis of spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia tarda, an extremely rare form of skeletal dysplasia, has been proposed. Yet, our reanalysis of these pathologies shows that the shape of the KNM-WT 15000 vertebrae matches that of normal modern human adolescents. The vertebrae are not abnormally flat, show no endplate irregularities, and thus are not platyspondylic. As this is the hallmark of spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia tarda and related forms of skeletal dysplasia, the absence of platyspondyly refutes axial dysplasia and disproportionate dwarfism. Furthermore, we neither found evidence for spina bifida occulta nor manifesta, whereas the condylus tertius, a developmental anomaly of the cranial base, is not related to skeletal dysplasias. Other fossils indicate that the relatively small size of the vertebrae and the narrow spinal canal are characteristics of early hominins rather than congenital pathologies. Except for the recently described signs of traumatic lumbar disc herniation, the Nariokotome boy fossil therefore seems to belong to a normal Homo erectus youth without pathologies of the axial skeleton. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

A Late Palaeolithic site at Ouriakos (Limnos, Greece) in the north-eastern Aegean, di N. Efstratiou, P. Biagi, P. Karkanas, E. Starnini, "Antiquity-Project Gallery", volume 087, issue 335, march 2013

The Late Palaeolithic site of Ouriakos is located on the south-eastern coast of the island of Limnos in the northern Aegean. It was discovered in 2006 during the construction of a car park close to the beach which removed part of a sand dune (Figure 1, no. 1). The site is partly located on a Pleistocene calcarenite marine terrace, some 10m above present sea level, delimited by two seasonal streams (Figure 2). A profile along the right bank of the southern stream shows a buried dark clayey palaeosoil that developed above the calcarenite (Figure 3), containing chipped stone artefacts at its top, and which was sealed by a sand dune. (...)

New methodologies for the recovery of human behaviour through the evolution of hominid-carnivore interaction during the Pleistocene, di E. Camarós, M. Cueto, "Antiquity-Project Gallery", volume 087, issue 335, march 2013

Throughout human evolution, carnivores have played an important role in the shaping of human behaviour (Brain 1981) and some scholars even talk about a co-evolutionary process shared by genus Homo and large carnivores (e.g. Brantingham 1998). During the Pleistocene, hominids interacted with large carnivores in a variety of ways, such as dependency (scavenging) (Blumenschine 1988), confrontation (hunting) (Chase 1988), competition for the use of caves as dwellings, the exploitation of common prey (Pettitt 1997) and, eventually, domestication (Germonpré et al. 2012) (Figure 1). In this sense, a profound analysis of the interaction between hominids and carnivores is a positive way of studying the evolution of human behaviour, as previous studies have proved (e.g. Stiner 2002). (...)

Morphometric analysis of Early Pleistocene African hominin crania in the context of a statistical (probabilistic) definition of a species, di J. F. Thackeray, E. Odes, "Antiquity-Project Gallery", volume 087, issue 335, march 2013

Darwin (1871) recognised that Africa was the continent from which humans originated. This suggestion was based not on fossils but on comparative anatomy of modern primates. Of all the living primates, it is the African chimpanzee (Pan) and Gorilla that are most similar to Homo in terms of gross anatomy. The discovery of Australopithecus africanus at Taung in southern Africa in 1924, described by Raymond Dart (1925), supported Darwin's statement regarding an African origin for humanity. Robert Broom described Paranthropus robustus as another hominin from the South African site of Kromdraai (Broom 1938; Broom & Schepers 1946), and additional specimens of A. africanus were discovered by Broom (1947) at Sterkfontein. Broom & Robinson (1949, 1950) reported the presence of Telanthropus, later recognised as early Homo, at Swartkrans in Early Pleistocene contexts. Initially it was possible to 'pigeon-hole' new hominin discoveries into discrete genera and distinct species, but with the discovery of additional specimens from South Africa as well as Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Chad, boundaries between species and even between genera have become questionable. There is clearly a need for an approach whereby the degree of similarity between specimens can be re-assessed in the context of a species definition which is applicable to hominin fossils. (...)

At the core of it: a Late Palaeolithic workshop, Wadi Kubbaniya, Upper Egypt, di K. M. Banks, J. Signe Snortland, "Antiquity-Project Gallery", volume 087, issue 335, march 2013

In 1983, the investigations of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at 27 locales at Wadi Kubbaniya in Upper Egypt were concluded after four field seasons. This work culminated in four comprehensive publications highlighting the importance of the Kubbaniyan lithic industry during the Late Palaeolithic (Wendorf et al. 1980, 1986, 1989a & b). Wadi Kubbaniya is located north of Aswan and is the largest wadi in the Western Desert of Upper Egypt. During the Late Palaeolithic, overflow from the Nile became impounded in the wadi, forming a lake. An extensive dunefield formed along the north-eastern edge of this lake; Late Palaeolithic people repeatedly camped within and adjacent to this dunefield (Figure 1). This presence dates from about 20 000 BP to around 12 000 BP. The length and intensity of occupation varied but, based on the variety of artefacts, abundant faunal remains, hearths and ash lenses, and numerous grinding implements, most loci of activity appear to have been domestic occupations. The grinding implements are evidence that plant resources were an integral aspect of subsistence. (...)

The social construction of caves and rockshelters: Chauvet Cave (France) and Nawarla Gabarnmang (Australia), di J. J. Delannoy et alii, "Antiquity", Volume: 87, Number: 335, March 2013, Page: 12–29

Caves and rockshelters are a key component of the archaeological record but are often regarded as natural places conveniently exploited by human communities. Archaeomorphological study shows however that they are not inert spaces but have frequently been modified by human action, sometimes in ways that imply a strong symbolic significance. In this paper the concept of ‘aménagement’, the re-shaping of a material space or of elements within it, is applied to Chauvet Cave in France and Nawarla Gabarnmang rockshelter in Australia. Deep within Chauvet Cave, fallen blocks were moved into position to augment the natural structure known as The Cactus, while at Nawarla Gabarnmang, blocks were removed from the ceiling and supporting pillars removed and discarded down the talus slope. These are hence not ‘natural’ places, but modified and socially constructed.

Another Dating Revolution for Prehistoric Archaeology?, di G. W. G. Cochrane, T. Doelman, L. Wadley, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", March 2013, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 42-60

Transitions to the Howiesons Poort Industry and other early modern human cultural phases have conventionally been explained as direct or indirect responses to major climatic and ecological fluctuations. Advances in optically stimulated luminescence dating have now provided the time resolution necessary to refute these explanations. However, for improvements in dating methods to have a revolutionary impact on the archaeology of early modern human evolution, the correction of these flawed narratives can only be regarded as a first step. What is more important is that the discipline now embraces the opportunity to analyse cultural entities in terms of their internal temporal structure, and hence to realign praxis with contemporary evolutionary theory.

Lithic Modes A–I: A New Framework for Describing Global-Scale Variation in Stone Tool Technology Illustrated with Evidence from the East Mediterranean Levant, di J. J. Shea, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", March 2013, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 151-186

Grahame Clark’s framework for describing stone tool assemblages in terms of five technological “modes” enjoys wide use in European, African, and Asian prehistory. With greater usage and increases in the global archaeological database for prehistory, problems and weaknesses of Clark’s framework have become apparent. This paper reviews these problems and proposes an updated framework, modes A–I, for describing variability in stone tool production strategies. The value of this new framework for prehistory is illustrated using data from the East Mediterranean Levant.

Anterior tooth root morphology and size in Neanderthals: Taxonomic and functional implications, di A. Le Cabec, P. Gunz, K. Kupczik, J. Bragab, J. J. Hublin, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 3, March 2013, Pages 169-193

Comparing modern humans and Neanderthals, we have previously shown that recent modern humans (RMH) and Neanderthals differ in anterior root lengths, and that this difference cannot be explained by group differences in overall mandibular size. Here, we first document the evolutionary changes of root size and shape of the anterior upper and lower dentition in a broad chronological and geographical framework. We then use the size and shape differences between RMH and Neanderthals to classify several isolated teeth from Kebara cave and Steinheim, and to interpret the anterior tooth roots of the Tabun C2 mandible. Our samples comprise permanent mandibular and maxillary incisors and canines from early Homo, Neanderthals, as well as extant and fossil modern humans (N = 359). In addition to root length, we measured cervical root diameter and area, total root volume, root pulp volume and root surface area from μCT scans. We quantified root shape variation using geometric morphometrics. Our results show that Neanderthals have not only significantly larger anterior roots than RMH overall, but also different root shapes for each tooth type. In the context of the ‘teeth-as-tools’ hypothesis, this could be an adaptation to better sustain high or frequent loads on the front teeth. We demonstrate that the two isolated incisors stored with the Steinheim skull are very likely recent. Tabun C2 shows an anterior dentition similar in size and shape to Neanderthals while its molar roots are non-Neanderthal. Two of the five isolated teeth from Kebara are classified as Neanderthals. Interestingly, early modern humans overlap with Neanderthals and RMH in root size and shape. Anterior roots of the Lower and Middle Pleistocene specimens are at least as large as Neanderthals, suggesting that Neanderthals retained a primitive pattern, which should prompt caution in the assessment of the earliest forms of modern humans.

On the industrial attributions of the Aterian and Mousterian of the Maghreb, di H. L. Dibble et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 3, March 2013, Pages 194–210

North Africa is quickly emerging as one of the more important regions yielding information on the origins of modern Homo sapiens. Associated with significant fossil hominin remains are two stone tool industries, the Aterian and Mousterian, which have been differentiated, respectively, primarily on the basis of the presence and absence of tanged, or stemmed, stone tools. Largely because of historical reasons, these two industries have been attributed to the western Eurasian Middle Paleolithic rather than the African Middle Stone Age. In this paper, drawing on our recent excavation of Contrebandiers Cave and other published data, we show that, aside from the presence or absence of tanged pieces, there are no other distinctions between these two industries in terms of either lithic attributes or chronology. Together, these results demonstrate that these two ‘industries’ are instead variants of the same entity. Moreover, several additional characteristics of these assemblages, such as distinctive stone implements and the manufacture and use of bone tools and possible shell ornaments, suggest a closer affinity to other Late Pleistocene African Middle Stone Age industries rather than to the Middle Paleolithic of western Eurasia.

La récolte des coquillages dans la région Cantabrique au Magdalénien : la grotte de « Tito Bustillo » (Asturies, Espagne), di E. Álvarez-Fernández, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 117, Issue 1, January–March 2013, Pages 62–93

Dans cet article sont présentés les résultats de l’étude des restes malacologiques marins provenant des fouilles archéologiques de M.A. García Guinea et J.A. Moure Romanillo dans la grotte de Tito Bustillo entre 1970 et 1986. Cette étude a été réalisée principalement d’un point de vue taxonomique, quantitatif, taphonomique et biométrique. Se détachent les mollusques pêchés pour leur intérêt alimentaire (Patella vulgata et Littorina littorea), mais sont aussi importantes les coquilles de différentes espèces qui pâtissant de valeur bromatologique, en partie transformées en objets de parure. En dernier lieu, l’information obtenue a été comparée avec celle d’autres gisements de la Région Cantabrique présentant des industries du Magdalénien.

Neanderthal Brains Focused On Vision and Movement Leaving Less Room for Social Networking, Mar. 19, 2013

Although Neanderthals' brains were similar in size to their contemporary modern human counterparts, fresh analysis of fossil data suggests that their brain structure was rather different. Results imply that larger areas of the Neanderthal brain, compared to the modern human brain, were given over to vision and movement and this left less room for the higher level thinking required to form large social groups. The analysis was conducted by Eiluned Pearce and Professor Robin Dunbar at the University of Oxford and Professor Chris Stringer at the Natural History Museum, London, and is published in the online version of the journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Looking at data from 27,000-75,000-year-old fossils, mostly from Europe and the Near East, they compared the skulls of 32 anatomically modern humans and 13 Neanderthals to examine brain size and organisation. In a subset of these fossils, they found that Neanderthals had significantly larger eye sockets, and therefore eyes, than modern humans. The researchers calculated the standard size of fossil brains for body mass and visual processing requirements. Once the differences in body and visual system size are taken into account, the researchers were able to compare how much of the brain was left over for other cognitive functions. (...)

Un chromosome Y de 338 000 ans, (13/03/13)

Publiée dans The American Journal of Human Genetics, l’étude d’un échantillon génétique humain actuel réalisée par des chercheurs américains, fait remonter la lignée du chromosome Y (transmis de père en fils) à près de 340 000 ans, et montre la diversité et l’ancienneté du « vivier » génétique humain. (...)

Ancient DNA Analysis Affirms the Canid from Altai as a Primitive Dog, di A. S. Druzhkova et alii, March 6, 2013 - free  access -

The origin of domestic dogs remains controversial, with genetic data indicating a separation between modern dogs and wolves in the Late Pleistocene. However, only a few dog-like fossils are found prior to the Last Glacial Maximum, and it is widely accepted that the dog domestication predates the beginning of agriculture about 10,000 years ago. In order to evaluate the genetic relationship of one of the oldest dogs, we have isolated ancient DNA from the recently described putative 33,000-year old Pleistocene dog from Altai and analysed 413 nucleotides of the mitochondrial control region. Our analyses reveal that the unique haplotype of the Altai dog is more closely related to modern dogs and prehistoric New World canids than it is to contemporary wolves. Further genetic analyses of ancient canids may reveal a more exact date and centre of domestication. (...)

Return of the Neanderthals, di V. Hughes, March 6, 2013

In the not-so-distant future, advances in genetic engineering might enable that feat, experts say. But whether such a resurrection should happen is another story. Since the 1996 birth of Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal, scientists have greatly expanded and improved on cloning techniques. They have cloned dogs, cats, rats, pigs, and cows, among other species. In 2003, researchers in Spain were the first to bring back an extinct species—the Pyrenean ibex, a wild mountain goat also called a bucardo—though the clone only lived for a few minutes. All of these examples relied on a technique called nuclear transfer. Starting with an intact cell (fresh or frozen) of the animal they'd like to clone, scientists first remove the nucleus, where DNA resides, and insert it into a hollowed-out egg cell of the same or a related species. This hybrid egg is then implanted into the uterus of a female surrogate for gestation, and voilà: The surrogate gives birth to a clone. But there are no intact Neanderthal cells—far from it. Decoding the Neanderthal genome meant piecing together many DNA fragments painstakingly extracted from 40,000-year-old bones. So how could cloning be possible? (...)

Human Y Chromosome Much Older Than Previously Thought, Mar. 4, 2013

The discovery and analysis of an extremely rare African American Y chromosome pushes back the time of the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree to 338,000 years ago. This time predates the age of the oldest known anatomically modern human fossils. (...)

· An African American Paternal Lineage Adds an Extremely Ancient Root to the Human Y Chromosome Phylogenetic Tree, di F. L. Mendez et alii, "The American Journal of Human Genetics", Volume 92, Issue 3, 454-459, 28 February 2013

Quaternary in Italy: knowledge and perspective, "Quaternary International", Volume 288, Pages 1-248,4 March 2013. Edited by Maria Rita Palombo, Fabrizio Antonioli, Edi Chiarini, Paolo Mozzi, Andrea Sposato

- Quaternary in Italy: Knowledge and perspectives
- Late Quaternary glaciations and connections to the piedmont plain in the prealpine environment: The middle and lower Astico Valley (NE Italy)
- The late Early to early Middle Pleistocene stenonoid horses from Italy
- A reappraisal of the Early to Middle Pleistocene Italian Bovidae
- Early to Middle Pleistocene dynamics of plant and mammal communities in South West Europe
- A Lateglacial and early Holocene pollen record from Valle di Castiglione (Rome): Vegetation dynamics and climate implications
- The Grotta dei Fiori (Sardinia, Italy) stratigraphical successions: A key for inferring palaeoenvironment evolution and updating the biochronology of the Pleistocene mammalian fauna from Sardinia
- Paleoenvironmental conditions at Core KC01B (Ionian Sea) through MIS 13–9: Evidence from calcareous nannofossil assemblages
- Relative sea level changes and paleogeographical evolution of the southern Sele plain (Italy) during the Holocene Original Research 
- Coalescent valley fills from the late Quaternary record of Tuscany (Italy)
- Sea level changes since the Middle Ages along the coast of the Adriatic Sea: The case of St. Nicholas Basilica, Bari, Southern Italy
- Holocene sea level change in Malta
- Evidence of vertical tectonic uplift at Briatico (Calabria, Italy) inferred from Roman age maritime archaeological indicators
- Vertical movements in NE Sicily and its offshore: Outcome of tectonic uplift during the last 125 ky
- The primary role of the Paganica-San Demetrio fault system in the seismic landscape of the Middle Aterno Valley basin (Central Apennines)
- Lake evolution and landscape history in the lower Mincio River valley, unravelling drainage changes in the central Po Plain (N-Italy) since the Bronze Age
- Reconstruction of Holocene environmental changes in two archaeological sites of Calabria (Southern Italy) using an integrated pedological and anthracological approach
- Variability and standardization: The early Gravettian lithic complex of Grotta Paglicci, Southern Italy
- A possible solar pacemaker for Holocene fluctuations of a salt-marsh in southern Italy

The Cognitive Implications of Controlled Fire Use by Early Humans, di T. Twomey, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 23, Issue 01, February 2013, pp 113-128

This article proposes a framework for investigating the cognitive implications of controlled fire use by Middle Pleistocene humans. By identifying the simplest strategies they could have used to control fire, given the constraints individuals had to overcome, we can establish a behavioural basis for making inferences about cognition. Accessing, maintaining and benefiting from fire involved a range of behaviours that imply future-directed planning, response inhibition and group-level cooperation. I argue that we can infer human cognitive abilities such as an extended working memory, episodic memories, collective intentionality and intersubjective communication from these fire-related behaviours.

Seeking Meaning in the Earliest Female Nudes, di M. Balter, "ScienceNOW", 27 February 2013

About 35,000 years ago, prehistoric artists across Europe suddenly discovered the female form—and the art world has never been the same. The explosion of voluptuous female figurines sculpted out of limestone, ivory, and clay directly inspired Picasso and Matisse. Researchers have debated the figurines' meaning for decades. Now, two scientists think they have the answer. Presenting their work here last week at the European Palaeolithic Conference, they claimed that the objects started off as celebrations of the female form, then later became symbols that tied together a growing human society. The talk, part of a special exhibition on Ice Age art at London's British Museum, surveyed the more than 20,000 year-history of female figurines, which are found at dozens of archaeological sites from Russia to France. The earliest such objects, which include the famous Venus of Willendorf from Austria (see photo) and a statuette recently found in Germany that some have called the "earliest pornography," date from as early as 35,000 years ago and are generally called the "Willendorf style" of prehistoric art. (...)

Prehistoric origins of skin decoration, 22 February 2013

According to the prevailing view of most paleo-anthropologists and archaeologists, about 1.5 to 2 million years ago early humans evolved into nearly hairless primates, in order to more efficiently sweat away excess body heat. According to Penn State anthropologist Nina Jablonski, humans may have later begun to decorate their skin to increase attractiveness and express group identity. "We find a lot of evidence of when humans began to lose hair based on molecular genetics," says Jablonski, who believes that over thousands of years, humans used their skin as canvases of self-expression in a variety ways, including permanent tattooing and branding, as well as temporary cosmetics and body painting. (...)

Early human burials varied widely but most were simple, di D. Kelly, 21-Feb-2013

A new study from the University of Colorado Denver shows that the earliest human burial practices in Eurasia varied widely, with some graves lavish and ornate while the vast majority were fairly plain. "We don't know why some of these burials were so ornate, but what's striking is that they postdate the arrival of modern humans in Eurasia by almost 10,000 years," said Julien Riel-Salvatore, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology at CU Denver and lead author of the study. "When they appear around 30,000 years ago some are lavish but many aren't and over time the most elaborate ones almost disappear. So, the behavior of humans does not always go from simple to complex; it often waxes and wanes in terms of its complexity depending on the conditions people live under." The study, which examined 85 burials from the Upper Paleolithic period, found that men were buried more often than women. Infants were buried only sporadically, if at all in later periods, a difference that could be related to changes in subsistence, climate and the ability to keep babies alive, Riel-Salvatore said. It also showed that a few ornate burials in Russia, Italy and the Czech Republic dating back nearly 30,000 years are anomalies, and not representative of most early Homo sapiens burial practices in Eurasia. (...)

Radiocarbon dating casts doubt on the late chronology of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in southern Iberia, di R. E. Wood, C. Barroso-Ruíz, M. Caparrós, J. F. Jordá Pardo, B. Galván Santos, T.F. G. Higham, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", February 19, 2013 vol. 110 no. 8, pp. 2781-2786

It is commonly accepted that some of the latest dates for Neanderthal fossils and Mousterian industries are found south of the Ebro valley in Iberia at ca. 36 ka calBP (calibrated radiocarbon date ranges). In contrast, to the north of the valley the Mousterian disappears shortly before the Proto-Aurignacian appears at ca. 42 ka calBP. The latter is most likely produced by anatomically modern humans. However, two-thirds of dates from the south are radiocarbon dates, a technique that is particularly sensitive to carbon contaminants of a younger age that can be difficult to remove using routine pretreatment protocols. We have attempted to test the reliability of chronologies of 11 southern Iberian Middle and early Upper Paleolithic sites. Only two, Jarama VI and Zafarraya, were found to contain material that could be reliably dated. In both sites, Middle Paleolithic contexts were previously dated by radiocarbon to less than 42 ka calBP. Using ultrafiltration to purify faunal bone collagen before radiocarbon dating, we obtain ages at least 10 ka 14C years older, close to or beyond the limit of the radiocarbon method for the Mousterian at Jarama VI and Neanderthal fossils at Zafarraya. Unless rigorous pretreatment protocols have been used, radiocarbon dates should be assumed to be inaccurate until proven otherwise in this region. Evidence for the late survival of Neanderthals in southern Iberia is limited to one possible site, Cueva Antón, and alternative models of human occupation of the region should be considered.

A la conquête du feu! 400 000 ans d’histoire de l’allumage du feu. Exposition temporaire, Musée d'Anthropologie de Monaco, 9 février - 13 septembre 2013

Livre: "Le Gravettien final de l'abri Pataud (Dordogne, France)" di Roland Nespoulet, Laurent Chiotti, Dominique Henry-Gambier 

New Radiometric Ages for the BH-1 Hominin from Balanica (Serbia): Implications for Understanding the Role of the Balkans in Middle Pleistocene Human Evolution, di W.J. Rink, N. Mercier, D. Mihailović, M. W. Morley, J. W. Thompson, Mirjana Roksandic, February 6, 2013  - free  access - 

Newly obtained ages, based on electron spin resonance combined with uranium series isotopic analysis, and infrared/post-infrared luminescence dating, provide a minimum age that lies between 397 and 525 ka for the hominin mandible BH-1 from Mala Balanica cave, Serbia. This confirms it as the easternmost hominin specimen in Europe dated to the Middle Pleistocene. Inferences drawn from the morphology of the mandible BH-1 place it outside currently observed variation of European Homo heidelbergensis. The lack of derived Neandertal traits in BH-1 and its contemporary specimens in Southeast Europe, such as Kocabaş, Vasogliano and Ceprano, coupled with Middle Pleistocene synapomorphies, suggests different evolutionary forces acting in the east of the continent where isolation did not play such an important role during glaciations. (...)

Aggiornamento 6 febbraio

The Chinese Upper Paleolithic: Geography, Chronology, and Techno-typology, di T. Qu, O. Bar-Yosef, Y. Wang, X. Wu, "Journal of Archaeological Research", March 2013, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 1-73

This article reviews the archaeology and chronology of the Chinese Upper Paleolithic and the human fossils attributed to this period. The onset of the Upper Paleolithic in China dates to ca. 35,000–30,000 years ago and is marked by the appearance of a few body decorations and well-shaped bone tools that were added to stone tool assemblages, including core-and-flake tools in North China and cobble tools in South China. The proliferation of blade assemblages in northwest China is interpreted as the cultural impact or the physical presence of bearers of blade industries from western Eurasia. The ensuing appearance of microblade assemblages in North China by 23,000–22,000 years ago reflects the use of local siliceous crystalline nodules by a population that recognized the advantages of this raw material. At that time in South China, prehistoric artisans continued to shape their stone objects from the available flat river cobbles. During the later part of the Chinese Upper Paleolithic (ca. 21,000–10,000 BP), foragers also made bone tools, antler objects, pottery, and shell tools, which laid the technological foundations for the early Neolithic period. One difficulty in this research is that human fossils are rare. Few are well dated and morphological, cultural, and biological interpretations are hotly debated. Our review attempts to facilitate the understanding of a poorly known period in Chinese archaeology and its place in human cultural evolution.

A 3D morphometric analysis of surface geometry in Levallois cores: patterns of stability and variability across regions and their implications, di S. J. Lycett, N. von Cramon-Taubadel, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 3, March 2013, Pages 1508–1517

Levallois cores and products were manufactured by hominin populations distributed across wide regions of Africa and Eurasia. Levallois technology remains an important focus for research in Palaeolithic archaeology, yet quantitative morphological comparisons of Levallois core morphology from different regions remain rare. Here, utilizing Levallois cores from Africa, the Near East, Europe, and the Indian subcontinent, patterns of morphological variability in the shape of the Levallois flaking surface and core outline (margin) shape were examined for patterns of variability and stability across regions using 3D geometric morphometrics. The multivariate statistical shape analyses undertaken revealed a clear pattern: that is, the greatest levels of shape variability in Levallois cores is evident in the form of their outline (planform) shape. Conversely, the geometrical relationship between the margin of the Levallois cores and their topological surface morphology was relatively uniform. This pattern of variability was evident in terms of variation both across regions and between cores from the same locality. These results indicate that the outline form of such cores was a less important variable than the geometric/topological properties of the surface morphology and, in particular, the relationship between the margin of the core and those variables. These results have implications for why it has been reported that replicating such cores in modern experiments is a particularly difficult task. The specific interrelationship between the geometric properties of the core and the core margin provide further evidence that Levallois core technology would be unlikely to emerge from the context of opportunistic migrating platform reduction strategies (such as those seen in many Mode 1 industries). If, as is widely suggested, Levallois cores were deliberate products in Pleistocene contexts, these results also hint that relatively sophisticated means of social transmission (i.e. teaching) may have been required to sustain their production over time and space.

Neandertal foraging during the late Mousterian in the Pyrenees: new insights based on faunal remains from Gatzarria Cave, di E. Ready, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 3, March 2013, Pages 1568–1578

This article presents the initial results of a new study of faunal remains from Gatzarria Cave, a Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition site the Pyrenees of southwestern France (department of the Pyrénées Atlantiques). This study attempts to document diet breadth during the late Mousterian, while paying due attention to recently identified problems regarding the stratigraphic context of the assemblages. The faunal analysis focuses on a subset of late Mousterian faunal remains from layer Cj at the site. Taphonomic analysis suggests that humans were the primary bone accumulators. The assemblage is dominated by a single large-bodied species, red deer; smaller-bodied ungulates are poorly represented. Skeletal part representation indicates that within-bone nutrients contained in marrow were probably a key resource for these foragers. The overall pattern of remains is interpreted as evidence of narrow-spectrum foraging, a pattern which appears to be repeated at other Mousterian sites in the Pyrenees region. This may mean that local Neandertal populations existed at relatively low densities. However, this suggestion must be tempered by the fact that settlement patterns, including occupation seasonalities and site functions, are not yet well understood for this region.

Geochemical discrimination of basaltic sources as a tool for provenance analyses of bifacial tools in the southern Levant: first results from the Jezreel Valley, Israel, di T. M. Gluhaka, D. Rosenberg, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 3, March 2013, Pages 1611–1622

The determination of groundstone tool sources bears the potential to examine aspects like raw material selection and preference, mobility, trade and exchange patterns, control over resources and long term use of raw material sources. The discovery of the Neolithic/Chalcolithic basanite bifacial quarry of Giv'at Kipod in the Jezreel Valley, Israel, provides the opportunity of raw material centred provenance studies of bifacials in the southern Levant. The basis for reliable provenance analyses is a clear geochemical characterization of the extraction site and its discrimination from other potential sources. To achieve this, the Miocene magmatic rocks of the Jezreel Valley were sampled and analysed by XRF and La-ICP-MS. The geochemical evaluation, combined with cluster analyses, resulted in a clear discrimination of the Giv'at Kipod lava from other basaltic sources in the area. Based on the geochemical field data, a Giv'at Kipod provenance for six bifacial tools found in three archaeological sites dated to the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic periods was established. The results suggest that the quarry was in use for several millennia. This pilot study demonstrates that for provenance analyses lava outcrops in the southern Levant can be geochemically discriminated from each other on a very small spatial scale, on the basis of a detailed field sampling and the application of multivariate methods.

Neanderthal remains point to earlier extinction, di E. Callaway, "Nature News", 04 February 2013

Neanderthals may have vanished from southern Spain thousands of years earlier than previously thought, a carbon-dating study argues this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The archaic humans known as Homo neanderthalensis lived throughout Europe more than 50,000 years ago in the Middle Palaeolithic Age, before going extinct around the time when modern humans reached Europe from Africa. Many archaeologists propose that the last Neanderthals lived in the Iberian Peninsula: for instance, Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar contains Neanderthal remains, and charcoal from fires there has been carbon-dated to less than 30,000 years ago (...)

· Radiocarbon dating casts doubt on the late chronology of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in southern Iberia, di R. E. Wood et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - Early Edition", February 4, 2013

Prehistoric land use and hydrology: a multi-scalar spatial analysis in central Arizona, di M. L. Wienhold, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 40, Issue 2, February 2013, Pages 850–859

Human land-use strategies involving the management of rainfall and runoff to promote crop production are found throughout the world. This paper presents a functional assessment using hydrological modeling with modern high-resolution LiDAR datasets and contextual archaeological site data to study prehistoric agriculture. The focus is on rock alignments created by the Hohokam culture in the semi-arid environment of the US Southwest. By incorporating a multi-scalar GIS study for terrain analysis at a regional, community, and site scale, the complex interactions between the prehistoric sites, features and the environment are revealed. The results of these analyses on digital elevation models (DEMs) gave insight to the past functionality of such agricultural features within the cultivated landscapes. The results included: 1) The agricultural features were suitably placed for the collection of rainfall and runoff. 2) The features were reducing the volume of water flowing through the area to prevent flooding and crop destruction and promoting soil infiltration. This shows the complexity and innovation of prehistoric societies living in marginal environments and how their adaptation to such environments was necessary to sustain their populations.

Thermoluminescence dates for the Middle Palaeolithic site of Chez-Pinaud Jonzac (France), di D. Richter, J. J. Hublin, J. Jaubert, S. P. McPherron, M. Soressi, J. P. Texier, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 2, February 2013, Pages 1176–1185

Thermoluminescence dating of heated flint artefacts from the Middle Palaeolithic sequence of Chez-Pinaud Jonzac (France) places an assemblage of Quina type Mousterian into MIS 4, while the overlying assemblage of Denticulate Mousterian which is followed by two layers with Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition are all assigned to MIS 3. TL dating is used to verify the mixed nature of deposits from which diagnostic Middle as well as Upper Palaeolithic tools were recovered. The TL ages are significantly different for samples from this layer and broadly agree with the archaeological attributions. While the study is generally limited by the low number of heated samples available, a correlation with a generalized chronostratigraphic sequence is possible by including proxy data from the faunal remains associated with the lithic assemblages in question. The Quina Mousterian in southwestern France, therefore, can be placed by chronometric dating methods in MIS 4 to MIS 3.

Non-invasive portable instrumentation to study Palaeolithic rock paintings: the case of La Peña Cave in San Roman de Candamo (Asturias, Spain), di M. Olivares, K. Castro, M.S. Corchón, D. Gárate, X. Murelaga, A. Sarmiento, N. Etxebarria, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 2, February 2013, Pages 1354–1360

La Peña de Candamo Cave, listed as World Heritage by UNESCO in 2008, preserves one of the most important collections of parietal art in the North of Spain and there is an urgent need to evaluate the status of the cave both archaeologically and from the conservation and restoration points of view. In this work, the usefulness of non-invasive mobile instrumentation, such as Raman and EDXRF spectroscopies, is shown when this type of assessments are required under adverse experimental conditions. In addition to the rapid diagnosis that this non-invasive and mobile instrumentation provided, based on the subsequent multivariate analysis of collected spectra, it was possible the identification of the main pigments of the rock art as well as their different origins. Finally, this study also showed the biodeterioration and decalcification processes observed in some areas of the cave and revealed the damage suffered during decades. The effects of such decaying processes over pictorial layers show up the need of a continuous preventive control of paintings in order to minimise further deteriorations.

New wrist bones of Homo floresiensis from Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia), di C. M. Orr et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 2, February 2013, Pages 109–129

The carpals from the Homo floresiensis type specimen (LB1) lack features that compose the shared, derived complex of the radial side of the wrist in Neandertals and modern humans. This paper comprises a description and three-dimensional morphometric analysis of new carpals from at least one other individual at Liang Bua attributed to H. floresiensis: a right capitate and two hamates. The new capitate is smaller than that of LB1 but is nearly identical in morphology. As with capitates from extant apes, species of Australopithecus, and LB1, the newly described capitate displays a deeply-excavated nonarticular area along its radial aspect, a scaphoid facet that extends into a J-hook articulation on the neck, and a more radially-oriented second metacarpal facet; it also lacks an enlarged palmarly-positioned trapezoid facet. Because there is no accommodation for the derived, palmarly blocky trapezoid that characterizes Homo sapiens and Neandertals, this individual most likely had a plesiomorphically wedge-shaped trapezoid (like LB1). Morphometric analyses confirm the close similarity of the new capitate and that of LB1, and are consistent with previous findings of an overall primitive articular geometry. In general, hamate morphology is more conserved across hominins, and the H. floresiensis specimens fall at the far edge of the range of variation for H. sapiens in a number of metrics. However, the hamate of H. floresiensis is exceptionally small and exhibits a relatively long, stout hamulus lacking the oval-shaped cross-section characteristic of human and Neandertal hamuli (variably present in australopiths). Documentation of a second individual with primitive carpal anatomy from Liang Bua, along with further analysis of trapezoid scaling relative to the capitate in LB1, refutes claims that the wrist of the type specimen represents a modern human with pathology. In total, the carpal anatomy of H. floresiensis supports the hypothesis that the lineage leading to the evolution of this species originated prior to the cladogenetic event that gave rise to modern humans and Neandertals.

The first evidence of cut marks and usewear traces from the Plio-Pleistocene locality of El-Kherba (Ain Hanech), Algeria: implications for early hominin subsistence activities circa 1.8 Ma, di M. Sahnouni et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 2, February 2013, Pages 137–150

The current archaeological data on early hominin subsistence activities in Africa are derived chiefly from Sub-Saharan Plio-Pleistocene sites. The recent studies at El-Kherba (Ain Hanech) in northeastern Algeria expand the geographic range of evidence of hominin subsistence patterns to include the earliest known archaeological sites documented in North Africa. Dated to 1.78 million years ago (Ma), excavations from El-Kherba yielded an Oldowan industry associated with a savanna-like fauna contained in floodplain deposits. The faunal assemblage is dominated by large and medium-sized animals (mainly adults), especially equids, which are represented by at least 11 individuals. The mammalian archaeofauna preserves numerous cut-marked and hammerstone-percussed bones. Made of primarily limestone and flint, the stone assemblage consists of core forms, débitage, and retouched pieces. Evidence of usewear traces is found on several of the flint artifacts, indicating meat processing by early hominins. Overall, our subsistence analysis indicates that early hominins were largely responsible for bone modification at the site, which is also corroborated by other relevant taphonomic evidence. Moreover, at 1.78 Ma, the cutmarked bones recovered from El-Kherba represent the earliest known evidence for ancestral hominin butchery activities and large animal foraging capabilities in northern Africa.

A new date for the neanderthals from el Sidrón Cave (Asturias, northern Spain), di R. E. Wood, "Archaeometry", Volume 55, Issue 1, pages 148–158, February 2013

Torres et al. (2010) published a series of radiocarbon, AAR, ESR and OSL dates from the site of El Sidrón, northern Spain, which is notable for the discovery of the partial remains of 12 Neanderthals. Whilst the non-radiocarbon methods suggested an age beyond 32 600–46 300 years, direct radiocarbon dates on the human fossils were inconsistent, ranging between 10 000 and 50 000 bp. This study uses the ultrafiltration pre-treatment protocol to obtain a date of 48 400 ± 3200 bp (OxA-21 776) on a bone fragment and confirm the antiquity of the Neanderthal assemblage. Moreover, it demonstrates the comparability of the ultrafiltration and ninhydrin bone radiocarbon pre-treatment protocols, and highlights the need for appropriate screening methods where valuable collections with poor biomolecular preservation are sampled for collagen extraction.

Individual tooth macrowear pattern guides the reconstruction of Sts 52 (Australopithecus africanus) dental arches, di S. Benazzi, O. Kullmer, D. Schulz, G. Gruppioni, G. W. Weber, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 150, Issue 2, pages 324–329, February 2013

The functional restoration of the occlusal relationship between maxillary and mandibular tooth rows is a major challenge in modern dentistry and maxillofacial surgery. Similar technical challenges are present in paleoanthropology when considering fragmented and deformed mandibular and maxillary fossils. Sts 52, an Australopithecus africanus specimen from Sterkfontein Member 4, represents a typical case where the original shape of the dental arches is no longer preserved. It includes a partial lower face (Sts 52a) and a fragmented mandible (Sts 52b), both incomplete and damaged to such an extent to thwart attempts at matching upper and lower dentitions. We show how the preserved macrowear pattern of the tooth crowns can be used to functionally reconstruct Sts 52's dental arches. High-resolutiondental stone casts of Sts 52 maxillary and mandibular dentition were mounted and repositioned in a dental articulator. The occlusal relationship between antagonists was restored based on the analysis of the occlusal wear pattern of each preserved tooth, considering all dental contact movements represented in the occlusal compass. The reconstructed dental arches were three-dimensional surface scanned and their occlusal kinematics tested in a simulation. The outcome of this contribution is the first functional restoration of A. africanus dental arches providing new morphometric data for specimen Sts 52. It is noteworthy that the method described in this case study might be applied to several other fossilspecimens. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Multiproxy Analyses of Stratigraphy and Palaeoenvironment of the Late Palaeolithic Grabow Floodplain Site, Northern Germany, di J. F. Tolksdorf et alii, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 28, Issue 1, pages 50–65, January/February 2013 - free  access -

Changing river courses and fluctuations of the water table were some of the most fundamental environmental changes that humans faced during the Late Glacial, particularly as these changes affected areas intensively used for settlement and resource exploitation. Unfortunately, only a few stratigraphies have been documented in the North European plain that show the interaction between river development, vegetation history, and occupation by Late Palaeolithic humans. Here, we present the results of detailed stratigraphical studies (pedology, archaeology, chrono-, tephra-, and palynostratigraphy) at the Federmesser site Grabow 15 located in the broad Elbe River valley. The research aimed to produce a model of site formation based on a multiproxy approach, relating the local evidence to the palaeoenvironmental and settlement history of the wider region. After deposition of fluvial sands during the Late Pleniglacial in a braided setting, the river course developed locally toward a meandering system at the transition from the Older Dryas to the Allerød, while periodic flooding led to the deposition of floodplain sediments during the early Allerød. The floodplain was settled by people of the earliest “Federmessergruppen,” who are believed to have chosen this open floodplain area along the river for collecting and processing amber of local origin. Their artifacts became embedded in the aggrading floodplain sediments. In the late Allerød, floodplain sedimentation ceased and a Fluvisol-type soil developed, indicating a trend toward geomorphic stability. The Fluvisol was then covered by silty floodplain sediments due to a rising water level during the late Younger Dryas resulting in the cessation of human occupation in the area. Subsequent organic-rich Late Glacial/Holocene sediments preserved the settlement remains to the present.

New Geology study raises questions about long-held theories of human evolution, 31-Jan-2013

What came first: the bipedal human ancestor or the grassland encroaching on the forest? A new analysis of the past 12 million years' of vegetation change in the cradle of humanity is challenging long-held beliefs about the world in which our ancestors took shape – and, by extension, the impact it had on them. The research combines sediment core studies of the waxy molecules from plant leaves with pollen analysis, yielding data of unprecedented scope and detail on what types of vegetation dominated the landscape surrounding the African Rift Valley (including present-day Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia), where early hominin fossils trace the history of human evolution. "It is the combination of evidence both molecular and pollen evidence that allows us to say just how long we've seen Serengeti-type open grasslands," said Sarah J. Feakins, assistant professor of Earth sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study, which was published online in Geology on Jan. 17 (...)

The characteristics and chronology of the earliest Acheulean at Konso, Ethiopia, di Y. Beyene et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", January 29, 2013, vol. 110 no. 5 pp. 1584–1591

The Acheulean technological tradition, characterized by a large (>10 cm) flake-based component, represents a significant technological advance over the Oldowan. Although stone tool assemblages attributed to the Acheulean have been reported from as early as circa 1.6–1.75 Ma, the characteristics of these earliest occurrences and comparisons with later assemblages have not been reported in detail. Here, we provide a newly established chronometric calibration for the Acheulean assemblages of the Konso Formation, southern Ethiopia, which span the time period ~1.75 to <1.0 Ma. The earliest Konso Acheulean is chronologically indistinguishable from the assemblage recently published as the world’s earliest with an age of ~1.75 Ma at Kokiselei, west of Lake Turkana, Kenya. This Konso assemblage is characterized by a combination of large picks and crude bifaces/unifaces made predominantly on large flake blanks. An increase in the number of flake scars was observed within the Konso Formation handaxe assemblages through time, but this was less so with picks. The Konso evidence suggests that both picks and handaxes were essential components of the Acheulean from its initial stages and that the two probably differed in function. The temporal refinement seen, especially in the handaxe forms at Konso, implies enhanced function through time, perhaps in processing carcasses with long and stable cutting edges. The documentation of the earliest Acheulean at ∼1.75 Ma in both northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia suggests that behavioral novelties were being established in a regional scale at that time, paralleling the emergence of Homo erectus-like hominid morphology.

· Le scuole di artigianato litico di Homo erectus, "Le Scienze", 30 gennaio 2013

Ecosystem variability and early human habitats in eastern Africa, di C. R. Magill, G. M. Ashley, K. H. Freeman, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", January 22, 2013 vol. 110 no. 4, pp. 1167-1174

The role of savannas during the course of early human evolution has been debated for nearly a century, in part because of difficulties in characterizing local ecosystems from fossil and sediment records. Here, we present high-resolution lipid biomarker and isotopic signatures for organic matter preserved in lake sediments at Olduvai Gorge during a key juncture in human evolution about 2.0 Ma—the emergence and dispersal of Homo erectus (sensu lato). Using published data for modern plants and soils, we construct a framework for ecological interpretations of stable carbon-isotope compositions (expressed as δ13C values) of lipid biomarkers from ancient plants. Within this framework, δ13C values for sedimentary leaf lipids and total organic carbon from Olduvai Gorge indicate recurrent ecosystem variations, where open C4 grasslands abruptly transitioned to closed C3 forests within several hundreds to thousands of years. Carbon-isotopic signatures correlate most strongly with Earth’s orbital geometry (precession), and tropical sea-surface temperatures are significant secondary predictors in partial regression analyses. The scale and pace of repeated ecosystem variations at Olduvai Gorge contrast with long-held views of directional or stepwise aridification and grassland expansion in eastern Africa during the early Pleistocene and provide a local perspective on environmental hypotheses of human evolution.

Tree climbing and human evolution, di V. V. Venkataraman, T. S. Kraft, N. J. Dominy, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", January 22, 2013 vol. 110 no. 4, pp. 1237–1242

Paleoanthropologists have long argued—often contentiously—about the climbing abilities of early hominins and whether a foot adapted to terrestrial bipedalism constrained regular access to trees. However, some modern humans climb tall trees routinely in pursuit of honey, fruit, and game, often without the aid of tools or support systems. Mortality and morbidity associated with facultative arboreality is expected to favor behaviors and anatomies that facilitate safe and efficient climbing. Here we show that Twa hunter–gatherers use extraordinary ankle dorsiflexion (>45°) during climbing, similar to the degree observed in wild chimpanzees. Although we did not detect a skeletal signature of dorsiflexion in museum specimens of climbing hunter–gatherers from the Ituri forest, we did find that climbing by the Twa is associated with longer fibers in the gastrocnemius muscle relative to those of neighboring, nonclimbing agriculturalists. This result suggests that a more excursive calf muscle facilitates climbing with a bipedally adapted ankle and foot by positioning the climber closer to the tree, and it might be among the mechanisms that allow hunter–gatherers to access the canopy safely. Given that we did not find a skeletal correlate for this observed behavior, our results imply that derived aspects of the hominin ankle associated with bipedalism remain compatible with vertical climbing and arboreal resource acquisition. Our findings challenge the persistent arboreal–terrestrial dichotomy that has informed behavioral reconstructions of fossil hominins and highlight the value of using modern humans as models for inferring the limits of hominin arboreality.

Modern 'palaeo diet' not as good as the original, 17 January 2013

It has been a long held belief that Stone Age hunter-gatherers, from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods, had a truly carbohydrate free diet. This belief was based on the assumption that there was no access to either rice or processed foods like bread and pasta. This has lead to the emergence of a modern dietary fad known as the 'palaeo diet'. Now a lecturer from Copenhagen (Denmark) University's Saxo Institute has cast doubt on this assumption. Sabine Karg believes that Palaeolithic man was not so fussy about his food. What would happen if this so-called hunter-gatherer failed to make a kill and had a hungry family to feed? Well, he would be forced to find whatever sustenance was available, and so turned to harvesting wild grasses, aquatic plants, root vegetables and the like, all of which would have been readily available at that time. Evidence of all of those types of carbohydrate based food sources have been found in old settlements of the period, either in the burn area of fires or in settlements which subsequently flooded, thus preserving any organic material. But did Stone Age man suffer as a consequence? Evidently not at all, as the carbohydrates he eat did not contain the teeth rotting sugars that we consume today. Sabine Karg is quoted as saying "The advantage with the starch sources they had, e.g. root vegetables, is that it's course food, which actually helps clean the teeth". So if we truly want to pursue a 'palaeo diet' then get chewing those grasses!

Relationship between dental development and skeletal growth in modern humans and its implications for interpreting ontogeny in fossil hominins, di M. Šešelj, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 150, Issue 1, pages 38–47, January 2013 - free  access -

Dental development and skeletal growth are central aspects used by anthropologists when investigating the ontogeny of a population or species. The interrelatedness of the two phenomena is often assumed to be high, but the nature of their relationship is obscured by the fact that they are both highly dependent upon chronological age. The exact relationship between the tempo of dental development and skeletal growth is unclear even in modern humans, which limits the ability to extrapolate to archaeological or fossil forms. It is clear that the influence of chronological age on these two aspects of ontogeny must be accounted for before examining their relationship to one another. This study tests whether dental development and skeletal growth are conditionally independent given age using known-age modern human skeletal samples and proportional odds logistic regression. The results suggest that dental development and skeletal growth are moderately correlated and thus not conditionally independent given age. That is, individuals that are dentally advanced relative to their peers also tend to be skeletally advanced. However, this relationship is moderate at best, so dental development does not appear to be a highly reliable proxy for skeletal growth, or vice versa, in modern humans. These findings have implications for the reconstruction of ontogeny and life history of fossil hominin taxa, since the pace of dental development is often used as a life history proxy. Implications of this study suggest that the proposed accelerated dental development in Pleistocene hominins was not necessarily accompanied by faster skeletal growth. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Ground reaction forces and center of mass mechanics of bipedal capuchin monkeys: Implications for the evolution of human bipedalism, di B. Demes, M. C. O'Neill, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 150, Issue 1, pages 76–86, January 2013 - free  access - 

Tufted capuchin monkeys are known to use both quadrupedalism and bipedalism in their natural environments. Although previous studies have investigated limb kinematics and metabolic costs, their ground reaction forces (GRFs) and center of mass (CoM) mechanics during two and four-legged locomotion are unknown. Here, we determine the hind limb GRFs and CoM energy, work, and power during bipedalism and quadrupedalism over a range of speeds and gaits to investigate the effect of differential limb number on locomotor performance. Our results indicate that capuchin monkeys use a “grounded run” during bipedalism (0.83–1.43 ms−1) and primarily ambling and galloping gaits during quadrupedalism (0.91–6.0 ms−1). CoM energy recoveries are quite low during bipedalism (2–17%), and in general higher during quadrupedalism (4–72%). Consistent with this, hind limb vertical GRFs as well as CoM work, power, and collisional losses are higher in bipedalism than quadrupedalism. The positive CoM work is 2.04 ± 0.40 Jkg−1 m−1 (bipedalism) and 0.70 ± 0.29 Jkg−1 m−1 (quadrupedalism), which is within the range of published values for two and four-legged terrestrial animals. The results of this study confirm that facultative bipedalism in capuchins and other nonhuman primates need not be restricted to a pendulum-like walking gait, but rather can include running, albeit without an aerial phase. Based on these results and similar studies of other facultative bipeds, we suggest that important transitions in the evolution of hominin locomotor performance were the emergences of an obligate, pendulum-like walking gait and a bouncy running gait that included a whole-body aerial phase. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

A description of the geological context, discrete traits, and linear morphometrics of the Middle Pleistocene hominin from Dali, Shaanxi Province, China, di X. Wu, S. Athreya, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 150, Issue 1, pages 141–157, January 2013 - free  access - 

In 1978, a nearly complete hominin fossil cranium was recovered from loess deposits at the site of Dali in Shaanxi Province, northwestern China. It was subsequently briefly described in both English and Chinese publications. Here we present a comprehensive univariate and nonmetric description of the specimen and provide comparisons with key Middle Pleistocene Homo erectus and non-erectus hominins from Eurasia and Africa. In both respects we find affinities with Chinese H. erectus as well as African and European Middle Pleistocene hominins typically referred to as Homo heidelbergensis. Specifically, the Dali specimen possesses a low cranial height, relatively short and arched parietal bones, an angled occipital bone, and a nonprominent articular tubercle relative to the preglenoid surface all of which distinguish it from Afro/European Middle Pleistocene Homo and align it with Asian H. erectus. At the same time, it displays a more derived morphology of the supraorbital torus and supratoral sulcus and a thinner tympanic plate than H. erectus, a relatively long upper (lambda-inion) occipital plane with a clear separation of inion and opisthocranion, and an absolute and relative increase in brain size, all of which align it with African and European Middle Pleistocene Homo. Finally, traits such as the form of the frontal keel and the relatively short, broad midface align Dali specifically with other Chinese specimens from the Middle Pleistocene and Late Pleistocene, including H. erectus, and differentiate these from the Afro/European specimens of this time period. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

GIS-based methodology for Palaeolithic site location preferences analysis. A case study from Late Palaeolithic Cantabria (Northern Iberian Peninsula), di A. Garcia, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 217–226

Factors involved in the selection of a settlement location are key issues in the understanding of hunter–gatherer subsistence strategies and social organization. Site location preferences are the result of a complex decision-making process, in which both economic and cultural needs are involved. This paper presents a specific methodology for site location analysis, based on the definition and calculation of a series of variables. This methodology, applied to Late Palaeolithic sites from the Cantabrian coast, enables an objective comparison between archaeological sites, and consequently the analysis of settlement patterns of Palaeolithic societies.

Establishing discovery probabilities of lithic artefacts in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites with core sampling, di P. Verhagen, E. Rensink, M. Bats, P. Crombé, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 240–247

This paper reports the results of a study into the effectiveness of core sampling for discovering Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherer sites in the Netherlands and northwestern Belgium. Earlier work established optimal sampling strategies for use in archaeological heritage management survey in the Netherlands. However, the statistical model used for this was based on a limited amount of data on the distribution of lithic artefacts in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites. For the current study we have analyzed the distribution of artefacts in a selected number of excavated sites, and estimated discovery probabilities of these sites through simulation. The simulation results indicate that discovery probabilities are lower than expected due to the effect of clustering of finds. Furthermore, the density of flints in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites is generally lower than the estimates that were used for setting up the optimal sampling strategies, and a substantial number of sites is very small. This means that, in order to discover Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites with sufficient reliability, we will have to apply more intensive survey strategies than have been recommended up to now.

Experimental protocols for the study of battered stone anvils from Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania), di I. de la Torre, A. Benito-Calvo, A. Arroyo, A. Zupancich, T. Proffitt, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 313–332

Percussive activities are highly relevant in the economy of modern hunter-gatherer societies and other primates, and are likely to have been equally important during the Palaeolithic. Despite the potential relevance of percussive activities in the Early Stone Age, attempts to study battered artefacts are still rare. In order to establish protocols of analysis of battered tools, this paper pursues an interdisciplinary approach combining techno-typological, refit, use-wear and GIS studies of experimental anvils from Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). The main aim is to classify types of damage on battered artefacts according to the percussive task performed, and hence identify patterns that can be used to interpret the Oldowan and Acheulean evidence. Our results indicate that abrasion marks on anvil surfaces are typical of nut cracking, while bone breaking leaves characteristic scars and abrasion marks on the edges of anvils. Pounding of soft materials such as meat and plants also causes battering of anvils, producing morphological and spatial patterns that can be discerned from the heavy breakage of anvils during bipolar flaking. By integrating macroscopic, microscopic and spatial analyses of experimental stone tools, this paper contributes to create a referential framework in which Early Stone Age battered artefacts can be interpreted.

Multi-temporal archaeological analyses of alluvial landscapes using the photogrammetric restitution of historical flights: a case study of Medellin (Badajoz, Spain), di J. A. Pérez Álvarez, V. Mayoral Herrera, J. Á. Martínez del Pozo, M. T. de Tena, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 349–364

One of the main challenges affecting the archaeological study of alluvial landscapes is the intensity of change these environments experience over time. Quick and dramatic alterations in geomorphological dynamics and land exploitation determine the visibility and conservation of the archaeological record. This study proposes an approach to the problem of studying these evolving environments based on the analysis and treatment of a series aerial photographs taken between the 1950s and the present day. This paper is particularly interested in looking at the process of photogrammetric restitution and in validating and comparing the digital terrain models and orthoimages produced. The quantitative analysis and visual interpretation of these results can provide valuable information about the transformation of landscapes and factors affecting surface evidence. The intended final result is to develop the ability to map the most problematic or best preserved areas. Nevertheless, it is considered in terms of a relative measure of change magnitude, rather than trying to provide absolute figures.

Insights into early Middle Palaeolithic tool use and hafting in Western Europe. The functional analysis of level IIa of the early Middle Palaeolithic site of Biache-Saint-Vaast (France), di V. Rots, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 497–506

Results are presented from the functional analysis of a large selection of tools from level IIa of the early Middle Palaeolithic site of Biache-St-Vaast (France). Results indicate that the site represents a hunting stand with a strong focus on hunting and animal processing activities, next to a maintenance component that appears to concern retooling and repair activities in preparation of the hunting episode(s). In spite of the site's age, a large part of the tool assemblage proves to have been used while hafted. Expertise in hafting was even quite elaborate in the sense that it includes tools for which hafting is not essential. It confirms the importance of hafting studies for improving insights into assemblage variability and past human behaviour.

Preliminary analysis of Palaeolithic black pigments in plaquettes from the Parpalló cave (Gandía, Spain) carried out by means of non-destructive techniques, di C. Roldán, V. Villaverde, I. Ródenas, F. Novelli, S. Murcia, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 40, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 744–754

Parpalló cave (Gandía, Spain) is one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in the Spanish Mediterranean region. It is characterized by a mobiliary art whose archaeological sequence covers a dilated period (26,000–11,000 BP) and includes plaquettes decorated with black and different shades of red and yellow pigments. The aim of this paper is to present the results of analyses of the nature of black pigments used in the decoration of Parpalló plaquettes. The analyses were carried out by a non-destructive technique, by means of EDXRF. Furthermore, a colorimetric data bank has been created for conservation purposes. EDXRF measurements directly identify the use of manganese black pigments and indirectly the use of wooden charcoal based black pigments, in both zoomorphic motifs and undefined signs. No differentiation between manganese and non-manganese based black pigments was found from colorimetric measurements, but the data obtained will prove to be a useful reference for further studies as pigments fade with time.

Dietary and paleoenvironmental reconstruction using stable isotopes of herbivore tooth enamel from middle Pliocene Dikika, Ethiopia: Implication for Australopithecus afarensis habitat and food resources, di Z. K. Bedaso, J. G. Wynn, Z. Alemseged, D. Geraads, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 21–38

Carbon and oxygen isotopes of mammalian tooth enamel were used to reconstruct paleoenvironments of Australopithecus afarensis from the middle Pliocene locality of Dikika, Ethiopia. Isotopic analyses were conducted on 210 mammalian herbivore teeth from 15 different taxa collected from the Basal Member (∼3.8–3.42 Ma) and Sidi Hakoma Member (3.42–3.24 Ma) of the Hadar Formation. The isotopic analyses aim specifically at reconstructing shifts in the relative abundance of C4 grasses in mammalian diets, and more generally at paleoclimate factors such as aridity and seasonality, as well as habitat structure. Carbon isotopic data suggest a wide range of foraging strategies, characterized by mixed C3/C4 to C4-dominated diets in wooded grasslands to open woodlands. Weighted average C4 dietary proportions range between 60% and 86% in the Basal Member and 49% and 74% in the Sidi Hakoma Member. Paleoclimatic conditions based on the reconstructed mean annual water deficit from the δ18Oenamel values indicate a wetter climate as compared to either the early Pliocene or the Pleistocene nearby. The middle Pliocene habitat structure at Dikika could be as diverse as open grassland and wooded grassland, and woodland to forest in the Sidi Hakoma Member while wooded grassland, woodland to grassland are evident in the Basal Member. All habitats except closed woodland and forest are persistent through both members; however, the relative proportion of individual habitats changed through time. These changes could have put the fauna in competition for preferred habitats and food resources, which could have forced migration, adaptation to other resources and/or extinction. Thus, the existence of A. afarensis throughout the middle Pliocene indicates either this species might have adapted to a wide range of habitats, or its preferred habitat was not affected by the observed environmental changes.

Human–climate interaction during the Early Upper Paleolithic: testing the hypothesis of an adaptive shift between the Proto-Aurignacian and the Early Aurignacian, di W. E. Banks, F. d'Errico, J. Zilhão, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 39–55

The Aurignacian technocomplex comprises a succession of culturally distinct phases. Between its first two subdivisions, the Proto-Aurignacian and the Early Aurignacian, we see a shift from single to separate reduction sequences for blade and bladelet production, the appearance of split-based antler points, and a number of other changes in stone tool typology and technology as well as in symbolic material culture. Bayesian modeling of available 14C determinations, conducted within the framework of this study, indicates that these material culture changes are coincident with abrupt and marked climatic changes. The Proto-Aurignacian occurs during an interval (ca. 41.5–39.9 k cal BP) of relative climatic amelioration, Greenland Interstadials (GI) 10 and 9, punctuated by a short cold stadial. The Early Aurignacian (ca. 39.8–37.9 k cal BP) predominantly falls within the climatic phase known as Heinrich Stadial (HS) 4, and its end overlaps with the beginning of GI 8, the former being predominantly characterized by cold and dry conditions across the European continent. We use eco-cultural niche modeling to quantitatively evaluate whether these shifts in material culture are correlated with environmental variability and, if so, whether the ecological niches exploited by human populations shifted accordingly. We employ genetic algorithm (GARP) and maximum entropy (Maxent) techniques to estimate the ecological niches exploited by humans (i.e., eco-cultural niches) during these two phases of the Aurignacian. Partial receiver operating characteristic analyses are used to evaluate niche variability between the two phases. Results indicate that the changes in material culture between the Proto-Aurignacian and the Early Aurignacian are associated with an expansion of the ecological niche. These shifts in both the eco-cultural niche and material culture are interpreted to represent an adaptive response to the relative deterioration of environmental conditions at the onset of HS4.

The larger mammal fossil assemblage from JK2, Bed III, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania: implications for the feeding behavior of Homo erectus, di M. C. Pante, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 64, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 68–82

Little is known about the type and amount of animal proteins consumed by Homo erectus, a species distinguished from its predecessors by more human-like brain and body proportions and its association with more advanced stone tool technology. Here I present an interpretation of the feeding behavior of African H. erectus based upon the first taphonomic analysis of the larger mammal fossil assemblage from the JK2 site, Bed III, Olduvai Gorge. Results indicate that both hominins and carnivores consumed some flesh and bone marrow at the site. A low incidence of percussion marking suggests hominins did not break all long bones in the assemblage. Relatively high carnivore tooth mark frequencies and low cut mark frequencies independently suggest that both hominins and carnivores had access to flesh, while specimens that are both tooth- and butchery-marked demonstrate occasional hominin and carnivore feeding from the same carcass. Together, the bone surface modification data suggest a mixed and possibly time-averaged taphonomic history for the assemblage with at least some carcasses accessed by hominins early in the consumption sequence and others only by carnivores. The results for the JK2 assemblage contribute to a growing literature concerning the feeding behavior of African H. erectus, a species that appears to have relied on carcass foods to meet some of the nutritional demands of its larger brain and body size.

Livre: "Préhistoires de France" di Jacques Jaubert

Cet ouvrage, auquel ont contribué les meilleurs spécialistes, est le bilan aussi complet que possible des connaissances actuelles. Centré sur l'Hexagone, il s'intéresse si nécessaire au reste de l'Europe, voire à l'Afrique et à l'Asie. Il comprend deux parties : les chasseurs-cueilleurs du Pléistocène et des débuts de l'Holocène ; puis les producteurs (éleveurs et cultivateurs) du Néolithique ancien à la conquête romaine abordés les uns et les autres par la définition et la répartition géographique des cultures, les éléments matériels qui les caractérisent (armes, outils, parures), les modes de vie, l'attitude face à la mort (traitement des défunts et types de sépultures), l'art et la religion. Conçu comme une histoire de France, cet ouvrage raconte le peuplement progressif d'un territoire indéfini qui deviendra la France. Sur près d'un million d'années, des premiers Erectus au début du néolithique, cette histoire pleine d'incertitudes relate les implantations et migrations de l'homme et les grandes révolutions de l'espèce humaine : conquête du feu, maîtrise du silex, art rupestre. (...)

Livre: "Lascaux" di Jean-Michel Geneste

Découverte en 1940, la grotte de Lascaux en Dordogne présente des fresques polychromes représentant taureaux, vaches, bisons, chevaux, cerfs, bouquetins ainsi que des signes et figures gravées. Lampes, sagaies, colorants et éléments de parure attestent de la fréquentation du lieu pendant une période de quelques siècles il y a environ 17.000 ans. (...)

Livre: "La plus vieille énigme de l'Humanité" di Jean-Jacques Lefrère

Pour réaliser leurs oeuvres sur les parois des grottes, les hommes préhistoriques auraient projeté les ombres de figurines afin de les tracer sans difficulté. Une belle histoire... mais des arguments totalement erronés. (...)



Index di antiqui Sommario bacheca