Aggiornamento 30 dicembre


Technological variability in the Late Palaeolithic lithic industries of the Egyptian Nile Valley: The case of the Silsilian and Afian industries, di A. Leplongeon, December 27, 2017, doi: - free  access -

During the Nubia Salvage Campaign and the subsequent expeditions from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, numerous sites attributed to the Late Palaeolithic (~25–15 ka) were found in the Nile Valley, particularly in Nubia and Upper Egypt. This region is one of the few to have allowed human occupations during the dry Marine Isotope Stage 2 and is therefore key to understanding how human populations adapted to environmental changes at this time. This paper focuses on two sites located in Upper Egypt, excavated by the Combined Prehistoric Expedition: E71K18, attributed to the Afian industry and E71K20, attributed to the Silsilian industry. It aims to review the geomorphological and chronological evidence of the sites, present a technological analysis of the lithic assemblages in order to provide data that can be used in detailed comparative studies, which will allow discussion of technological variability in the Late Palaeolithic of the Nile Valley and its place within the regional context. The lithic analysis relies on the chaîne opératoire concept combined with an attribute analysis to allow quantification. This study casts doubts on the chronology of E71K18 and related Afian industry, which could be older or younger than previously suggested, highlights distinct technological characteristics for the Afian and the Silsilian, as well as similar technological characteristics which allow to group them under a same broad techno-cultural complex, distinct from those north or south of the area. (...)


An early Brunhes (<0.78 Ma) age for the Lower Paleolithic tool-bearing Kozarnika cave sediments, Bulgaria, di G. Muttoni et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 178, 15 December 2017, Pages 1-13

We present a new sedimentological profile and a magnetostratigraphy of the tool-bearing Kozarnika cave sediments from Bulgaria. Modal analysis of cave infilling sedimentary texture indicates that the tool-bearing layers contain a sizable fraction of sediment interpreted as loess. We also find evidence for a relatively thick and well defined normal magnetic polarity in the upper-middle part of the section interpreted as a record of the Brunhes Chron, followed down-section by reverse polarity directions interpreted as a record of the Matuyama Chron. The lowermost levels with Lower Paleolithic tools (Layers 13a–c) lie in the early Brunhes at a nominal maximum age of ∼0.75 Ma, while the Brunhes–Matuyama boundary (0.78 Ma) falls in Layer 13 Lower immediately below. This finding represents a conspicuous revision of previous age estimates for the same tool-bearing layers.


Le migrazioni multiple di Homo sapiens dall'Africa, 11 dicembre 2017

I genomi delle popolazioni non africane portano i segni di una grande diaspora degli esseri umani moderni dall'Africa avvenuta circa 60.000 anni fa, nota convenzionalmente come Out of Africa. Ma secondo numerose ricerche genetiche e paleoantropologiche, a partire da 120.000 anni fa si susseguirono varie migrazioni, e gli studi documentano sia la presenza di Homo sapiens in Asia orientale prima dell'Out of Africa sia l'incrocio con altre specie, come i Neanderthal e i Denisova. (...)


Hominid butchers and biting crocodiles in the African Plio–Pleistocene, di Y. Sahle, S. El Zaatari, T. D. White, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", December 12, 2017, vol. 114 no. 50, pp. 13164–13169

Zooarchaeologists have long relied on linear traces and pits found on the surfaces of ancient bones to infer ancient hominid behaviors such as slicing, chopping, and percussive actions during butchery of mammal carcasses. However, such claims about Plio–Pleistocene hominids rely mostly on very small assemblages of bony remains. Furthermore, recent experiments on trampling animals and biting crocodiles have shown each to be capable of producing mimics of such marks. This equifinality—the creation of similar products by different processes—makes deciphering early archaeological bone assemblages difficult. Bone modifications among Ethiopian Plio–Pleistocene hominid and faunal remains at Asa Issie, Maka, Hadar, and Bouri were reassessed in light of these findings. The results show that crocodiles were important modifiers of these bone assemblages. The relative roles of hominids, mammalian carnivores, and crocodiles in the formation of Oldowan zooarchaeological assemblages will only be accurately revealed by better bounding equifinality. Critical analysis within a consilience-based approach is identified as the pathway forward. More experimental studies and increased archaeological fieldwork aimed at generating adequate samples are now required.


A critical assessment of the Protoaurignacian lithic technology at Fumane Cave and its implications for the definition of the earliest Aurignacian, di A. Falcucci, N. J. Conard, M. Peresani, December 7, 2017, doi: - free  access -

In the scenario of the spread of the anatomically modern humans (AMHs) into Europe, the techno-complex known as Protoaurignacian is defined by the production of blades and bladelets within a single and continuous stone knapping sequence from the same core as the result of its progressive reduction. However, the growing re-evaluation of some assemblages is revealing that bladelets are frequently obtained from independent reduction sequences, hence discouraging the direct application of the model developed in southwestern France. High-resolution regional signatures are thus needed to reconstruct a more accurate portrait of the AMH colonization dynamic. Northeastern Italy, with the key site of Fumane Cave, is one among the regions of Mediterranean Europe worthy of consideration for reconstructing this colonization process and its cultural dynamics. Within the framework of a critical discussion of the technological definition of the Protoaurignacian and its relationship with contemporaneous industries on a regional and supra-regional scale, we present the results of a detailed analysis of the lithic technology from units A2-A1 based on reduction sequence and attribute analyses. Results show that bladelets are the first goal of production and they do not originate from reduced blade cores but from a broad range of independent and simultaneous core reduction strategies. One implication is that the most commonly used technological trait that is said to define the Protoaurignacian has been over-emphasized and that the Protoaurignacian is technologically consistent across its geographical extent. Additional data based on carinated core technology imply that this techno-complex shares a common technological background with the Early Aurignacian and that no features are restricted to one of the two facies. Furthermore, the major difference between the Protoaurignacian and Early Aurignacian appears to be more typological in nature, with retouched bladelets being less common in the Early Aurignacian. (...)


Litte Foot takes a bow, 6-DEC-2017

South Africa's status as a major cradle in the African nursery of humankind has been reinforced with today's unveiling of "Little Foot", the country's oldest, virtually complete fossil human ancestor. Little Foot is the only known virtually complete Australopithecus fossil discovered to date. It is by far the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor older than 1.5 million years ever found. It is also the oldest fossil hominid in southern Africa, dating back 3.67 million years. The unveiling will be the first time that the completely cleaned and reconstructed skeleton can be viewed by the national and international media. Discovered by Professor Ron Clarke from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, the fossil was given the nickname of "Little Foot" by Prof. Phillip Tobias, based on Clarke's initial discovery of four small footbones. Its discovery is expected to add a wealth of knowledge about the appearance, full skeletal anatomy, limb lengths and locomotor abilities of one of the species of our early ancestral relatives. (...)


Forearm pronation efficiency in A.L. 288-1 (Australopithecus afarensis) and MH2 (Australopithecus sediba): Insights into their locomotor and manipulative habits, di P. Ibáñez-Gimeno, J. Manyosa, I. Galtés, X. Jordana, S. Moyà-Solà, A. Malgosa, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 164, Issue 4, December 2017, Pages 788–800

The locomotor and manipulative abilities of australopithecines are highly debated in the paleoanthropological context. Australopithecus afarensis and Australopithecus sediba likely engaged in arboreal locomotion and, especially the latter, in certain activities implying manipulation. Nevertheless, their degree of arboreality and the relevance of their manipulative skills remain unclear. Here we calculate the pronation efficiency of the forearm (Erot) in these taxa to explore their arboreal and manipulative capabilities using a biomechanical approach.
Three-dimensional humeral images and upper limb measurements of A.L. 288-1 (Au. afarensis) and MH2 (Au. sediba) were used to calculate Erot using a previously described biomechanical model.
Maximal Erot in elbow flexion occurs in a rather supinated position of the forearm in Au. afarensis, similarly to Pan troglodytes. In elbow extension, maximal Erot in this fossil taxon occurs in the same forearm position as in Pongo spp. In Au. sediba the forearm positions where Erot is maximal are largely coincident with those for Hylobatidae.
The pattern in Au. afarensis suggests relevant arboreal capabilities, which would include vertical climbing, although it is suggestive of poorer manipulative skills than in modern humans. The similarity between Au. sediba and Hylobatidae is difficult to interpret, but the differences between Au. sediba and Au. afarensis suggest that the capacity to rotate the forearm followed different evolutionary processes in these australopithecine species. Although functional inferences from the upper limb are complex, the observed differences between both taxa point to the existence of two distinct anatomical models.


The Kostënki 18 child burial and the cultural and funerary landscape of Mid Upper Palaeolithic European Russia, di N. Reynolds et alii, "Antiquity", Volume 91, Issue 360 December 2017, pp. 1435-1450

Palaeolithic burials are few and far between, and establishing their chronology is crucial to gaining a broader understanding of the period. A new programme of radiocarbon dating has provided a revised age estimate for the Palaeolithic burial at Kostënki 18 in European Russia (west of the Urals). This study reviews the need for redating the remains, and contextualises the age of the burial in relation to other Upper Palaeolithic funerary sites in Europe and Russia. The new date, obtained using a method that avoided the problems associated with previous samples conditioned with glue or other preservatives, is older than previous estimates, confirming Kostënki 18 as the only plausibly Gravettian burial known in Russia.



Using lithic assemblage formation to approach Middle Palaeolithic settlement dynamics: El Salt Stratigraphic Unit X (Alicante, Spain), di J. Machado, F. J. Molina, C. M. Hernández, A. Tarriño, B. Galván, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", December 2017, Volume 9, Issue 8, pp. 1715–1743

The superposition of anthropogenic remains usually results in archaeological palimpsests, hindering an accurate characterization of the behavior underlying such remains. Aimed at facing this methodological constraint in the study of Palaeolithic contexts, we present a contextual approach to Neanderthal settlement dynamics based on an understanding of lithic assemblage formation processes. We focused on a set of lithic artifacts from the Middle Palaeolithic site of El Salt. With the goal of isolating temporally constrained units of behavioral analysis, we analyzed the spatial distribution of lithic, faunal and combustion remains. Then, the lithic records from each of the resulting units were analyzed from a genetic and technical perspective. This goal was achieved by identifying lithic Raw Material Units (RMU) through observations on reduction processes, refits and their spatial distribution. Our results suggest that El Salt SU X lithic remains represent several diachronic human occupation episodes and different site functions. This study illustrates the benefit of investigating lithic assemblage formation processes to alleviate the palimpsest problem in Palaeolithic contexts.


Human Colonization of Asia in the Late Pleistocene, "Current Anthropology", Editor: Mark Aldenderfer, University of California, Merced, Volume 58, Number S17 | December 2017 - free  access -

  Milky Quartz Bipolar Reduction and Lithic Miniaturization: Experimental Results and Archaeological Implications, di J. Pargeter, "Journal of Field Archaeology", Volume 42, 2017 - Issue 6, Pages 551-565

We present experimental data examining the energetics and identification of axial bipolar reduction in contexts of lithic miniaturization on milky quartz. These experiments answer two specific questions. First, does bipolar reduction provide any benefits over freehand reduction? Second, can axial bipolar reduction be distinguished from freehand reduction? Our data show that bipolar reduction requires significantly less time to reduce a percentage unit of core mass and to produce a millimeter of cutting edge on milky quartz than freehand reduction. Milky quartz bipolar reduction surpasses even the cutting edge production efficiency of obsidian pressure blades. We outline a series of quantitative criteria for identifying bipolar cores and flakes. Our results show that bipolar cores and flakes can be distinguished from those produced using freehand reduction by quantifying platform crushing, distal flake rebound scars, bulb shearing, as well as axial, bipolar, and splintered flake terminations. Our results challenge the widely held perceptions about the wastefulness of bipolar reduction and provide clear guidelines for identifying this reduction strategy in archaeological milky quartz assemblages.


Is Palaeolithic cave art consistent with costly signalling theory? Lascaux as a test case, di R. Gittins, P. Pettitt, "Journal World Archaeology", Volume 49, 2017

Several proponents of costly signalling theory (CST) have noted its potential for understanding prehistoric art. We use the Late Upper Palaeolithic art of Lascaux Cave (Dordogne, France) as a test case as to whether we may be able to identify an assertive, individual style in Palaeolithic art. The cave’s abundant images represent one of the most stunning examples of European Upper Palaeolithic cave art and, in terms of the material provisioning of the cave, demonstrable artistic skill, and difficulties accessing decorated areas, it represented a huge cost to its hunter-gatherer creators. But does it represent group cost or can any CST element be identified? We approach this question using several characteristics we regard as central to costly signalling, and explore the various ways by which this occurred within the cave. We conclude that it is best viewed as a group signal, and that no CST component can be identified.


Measuring behavioural and cognitive complexity in lithic technology throughout human evolution, di A. Muller, C. Clarkson, C. Shipton, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 48, December 2017, Pages 166-180

Stone tool making, observed archaeologically from 3.3 million years ago, involves complex problem solving and forethought, but the relative complexity of different Palaeolithic technologies remains unknown. Decision making in replicative knapping is here used to explore the degree of behavioural and cognitive complexity involved in five different types of stone tool manufacture (bipolar, discoidal, biface, Levallois and prismatic blade) that represent the evolution of core reduction strategies from the Oldowan through to the Upper Palaeolithic. While some hypothesise that each key transition was marked by an increase in cognitive complexity, such hypotheses remain untested assumptions. Determining the level of behavioural complexity involved in each of these core reduction strategies using problem-solution distance modelling offers a means of detecting significant increases in the level of human cognitive complexity displayed over time. To directly test for differences in complexity among knapping schema, replication experiments were conducted by two highly skilled knappers. Experiments were filmed and the duration of different stages in the sequence was annotated. Hierarchical diagrams were produced showing the organisation of the different actions involved in stone tool knapping. The results show a pattern of increasingly complex behaviour through the sequence of bipolar, discoidal, prismatic blade, biface, and Levallois knapping. Neanderthals and their contemporaries, Homo sapiens, employed knapping technologies exhibiting comparably high levels of complexity.


Moving things: Comparing lithic and bone refits from a Middle Paleolithic site, di M. Vaquero et alii, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 48, December 2017, Pages 262-280

The refitting of both lithic and faunal remains is a basic field of research in Paleolithic archeology. In particular, the spatial dimension of lithic and faunal refitting is essential for resolving questions related to site formation processes and the organization strategies of hunter-gatherer bands. Unfortunately, although important insights can be gained by comparing the spatial patterns of faunal and lithic refits there are relatively few sites from which both types are available. Some processes causing the movement of archeological items are common to both bone and lithic remains, but others are specific to each. The similarities and differences between the lithic and faunal connections can be particularly informative when considering the type and timing of the archeological assemblage formation dynamics. This comparison may be especially useful for disentangling the roles of natural and cultural processes in these formation dynamics. To illustrate this, we will compare the refitting patterns of lithic and faunal remains in level M from Abric Romaní (Capellades, Barcelona, Spain), a Middle Paleolithic assemblage dated between 51 and 55 kyr BP. The results of such a comparison provide new insights into various formation processes, including the intrasite movement of archeological items and the relationships between activity areas.


Technological complexity and the global dispersal of modern humans, di J. F. Hoffecker, I. T. Hoffecker, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 26, Issue 6, November/December 2017, Pages 285–299

Anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) dispersed out of Africa roughly 120,000 years ago and again after 75,000 years ago. The early dispersal was geographically restricted to the Arabian Peninsula, Levant, and possibly parts of southern Asia. The later dispersal was ultimately global in scope, including areas not previously occupied by Homo. One explanation for the contrast between the two out-of-Africa dispersals is that the modern humans who expanded into Eurasia 120,000 years ago lacked the functionally and structurally complex technology of recent hunter-gatherers. This technology, which includes, for example, mechanical projectiles, snares and traps, and sewn clothing, provides not only expanded dietary breadth and increased rates of foraging efficiency and success in places where plant and animal productivity is low, but protection from cold weather in places where winter temperatures are low. The absence of complex technology before 75,000 years ago also may explain why modern humans in the Levant did not develop sedentary settlements and agriculture 120,000 years ago (i.e., during the Last Interglacial).


Right-handed fossil humans, di M. Lozano et alii, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 26, Issue 6, November/December 2017, Pages 313–324

Fossil hominids often processed material held between their upper and lower teeth. Pulling with one hand and cutting with the other, they occasionally left impact cut marks on the lip (labial) surface of their incisors and canines. From these actions, it possible to determine the dominant hand used. The frequency of these oblique striations in an array of fossil hominins documents the typically modern pattern of 9 right- to 1 left-hander. This ratio among living Homo sapiens differs from that among chimpanzees and bonobos and more distant primate relatives. Together, all studies of living people affirm that dominant right-handedness is a uniquely modern human trait. The same pattern extends deep into our past. Thus far, the majority of inferred right-handed fossils come from Europe, but a single maxilla from a Homo habilis, OH-65, shows a predominance of right oblique scratches, thus extending right-handedness into the early Pleistocene of Africa. Other studies show right-handedness in more recent African, Chinese, and Levantine fossils, but the sample compiled for non-European fossil specimens remains small. Fossil specimens from Sima del los Huesos and a variety of European Neandertal sites are predominately right-handed. We argue the 9:1 handedness ratio in Neandertals and the earlier inhabitants of Europe constitutes evidence for a modern pattern of handedness well before the appearance of modern Homo sapiens.


Stratégies adaptatives des hominidés et des carnivores en Europe occidentale dans le Pléistocène inférieur, di J. Garcia Garriga, K. Martínez, J. Yravedra, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 121, Issue 5, November–December 2017, Pages 343-366

Le premier peuplement de l’Europe a été largement discuté durant les dernières décennies. Les nombreuses découvertes faites récemment ont confirmé que l’Europe était occupée par les hommes au Pléistocène inférieur pendant plus d’un million d’années. Cependant, plusieurs questions sont toujours d’actualités concernant le premier peuplement de l’Europe, notamment en ce qui concerne la continuité ou la discontinuité de cet événement. À cet égard, nous proposons dans cet article une révision des matériels archéozoologiques européens disponibles, attribués au Pléistocène inférieur, et discutons de l’influence de l’acquisition des ressources carnées sur le comportement humain. Les fluctuations climatiques qui ont caractérisé cette période, de même que la diversité des écosystèmes présents en région méditerranéenne et sur l’ensemble du continent, font de la consommation de viande une ressource clé quant aux possibilités adaptatives des hominidés locaux. Ainsi, la persistance de l’occupation humaine en Europe au cours du Pléistocène inférieur a pu dépendre de la cohésion sociale des groupes et de leur capacité à s’approvisionner régulièrement en viande.


Les petits ongulés de la grotte acheuléano-moustérienne du Lazaret (Nice, France) – Origine anthropique ou carnivore?, di M. Hassani et alii, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 121, Issue 5, November–December 2017, Pages 367-393

La grotte du Lazaret renferme des dépôts archéologiques contemporains du passage de la culture acheuléenne au moustérien, rapportés au stade isotopique marin 6 (MIS 6). Les fouilles archéologiques ont permis d’individualiser vingt-neuf unités archéostratigraphiques qui témoignent d’installations récurrentes, de plus ou moins longue durée, par des groupes d’Homo heidelbergensis. Ces hommes chassaient préférentiellement le cerf et le bouquetin, retrouvés en abondance dans toutes les unités. En comparaison, certaines espèces, comme le chamois et le chevreuil, sont faiblement représentées. Nous présentons dans cet article les résultats des analyses archéozoologiques et taphonomiques conduites sur les ossements de ces petits ongulés afin de déterminer leur origine dans la grotte. Dans certaines unités, une chasse anthropique de type opportuniste est mise en évidence, expliquant la faible proportion de ces espèces sur le site qui présentent peu d’apports nutritifs pour subvenir aux besoins du groupe. Un approvisionnement par les carnivores est également observé ; il est effectué essentiellement par le loup, dont les restes sont abondants dans les unités supérieures.


Gentelles-Le Mont de l’Evangile (département de la Somme, France): un site de plateau occupé de l’Acheuléen au Micoquien, di A. Tuffreau, P. Auguste, S. Balescu, J. J. Bahain, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 121, Issue 5, November–December 2017, Pages 394-427

Le gisement paléolithique de Gentelles (Somme) se situe sur un plateau calcaire contrairement à la plupart des gisements du Paléolithique inférieur et moyen du bassin de la Somme dont le contexte environnemental est fluviatile (dépôts alluviaux et de versant). Le matériel archéologique provient du remplissage d’une doline. Il a été mis au jour lors d’une fouille s’étendant sur plusieurs milliers de m2. L’attribution de la séquence archéologique au Pléistocène moyen récent et au Pléistocène supérieur (MIS 10 à 5) est confortée par des datations par ESR/U-Th sur dent et un âge IRSL sur sédiment. Toutes les séries lithiques comprennent une production bifaciale et une production d’éclats obtenue à partir de nucléus présentant une ou plusieurs surfaces de débitage. Il n’y a pas d’évidence de la présence de débitage Levallois, méthode de débitage pourtant fréquente dans beaucoup d’industries lithiques du Paléolithique moyen de la France septentrionale. Les premières phases des chaînes opératoires ne sont pas présentes dans la plupart des séries lithiques. Quelques restes osseux ont été découverts dans les dépôts lœssiques. Dans la plupart des cas, la fonction du site correspond à des occupations de courte durée par des groupes de chasseurs se déplaçant sur le plateau. Par contre, la série CLG (MIS 8) qui présente des pièces caractéristiques de beaucoup de phases de la chaîne opératoire témoigne d’occupations de plus longue durée.


Prospections systématiques d’une vallée entre Rhône et Loire (France). Une cartographie de l’occupation à la fin de l’Acheuléen? di M. H. Moncel, M. Arzarello, Y. Boulio, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 121, Issue 5, November–December 2017, Pages 428-450

Des prospections systématiques dans la vallée du Rhins, petit affluent de la Loire (sud-est de la France), ont livré depuis plus de vingt ans des séries lithiques. Le nombre de localités de plein air s’élève à ce jour à 28. Elles livrent pour la plupart des bifaces, des nucléus, dont un grand nombre sont Levallois, et des éclats. Bien que le nombre de pièces varie selon les localités, les données accumulées depuis plus de vingt ans sont suffisantes pour cartographier un territoire de petite taille et comparer des assemblages pouvant être rattachés à la fin de l’Acheuléen. La comparaison des stratégies mises en œuvre, débitage et façonnage, permet de proposer des hypothèses sur l’occupation de la vallée, avec des habitats localisés sur les gîtes de matières premières et nécessitant très souvent à la fois grands outillages et produits de débitage. Quelques grandes catégories de pièces bifaciales, principalement en silex, sont présentes. Leur ratio et l’intensité de leur aménagement semblent départager les gisements. Le débitage Levallois est présent dans une grande majorité de séries, associé à divers autres types de débitage. La présence de ces gisements localisés sur les plateaux bordant les deux berges de cette petite vallée offre la possibilité de visualiser à une échelle micro-régionale des occupations humaines partageant des traits communs, ceci située entre le grand axe Saône-Rhône et les bassins intérieurs du Massif Central. L’axe rhodanien a livré à ce jour encore peu d’indices d’occupations acheuléennes en plein air. L’existence de tels sites prouve que des recherches systématiques doivent se poursuivre dans ces secteurs.


Industries acheuléennes du Pléistocène inférieur et moyen, Middle Awash, Éthiopie, di K. Schick, N. Toth, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 121, Issue 5, November–December 2017, Pages 451–491

La région du Middle Awash en Éthiopie contient un riche enregistrement d’occupations acheuléennes allant du Pléistocène inférieur jusqu’à une grande partie du Pléistocène moyen. Nous présentons ici un aperçu de certaines des principales caractéristiques attestées de l’enregistrement archéologique de l’Acheuléen du Middle Awash (Clark et al., 1994 ; de Heinzelin et al., 2000) et nous retraçons les comparaisons et les différences entre les schémas technologiques des plus anciens et de plus récents bifaces dans cette importante zone d’étude. Comme une tendance globale, les bifaces de l’Acheuléen plus récent, ici ont tendance à différer des précédents par les caractéristiques suivantes : la morphologie des bifaces plus archaïques a tendance à être plus petite, plus ovale, plus large par rapport à la longueur, plus mince (à la fois par rapport à la longueur et la largeur et en termes absolus), plus symétrique, plus souvent sur éclat, montrent une plus grande utilisation du percuteur tendre sur les éclats et de la technique Kombewa, les arrêtes tranchants peuvent être plus ou moins sinueux et présentent souvent un degré remarquablement élevé de standardisation sur un site donné. Ces changements technologiques au cours d’un demi-million d’années (entre environ 1 et 0,5 millions d’années) accompagnent la transition de l’Homo erectus à l’Homo heidelbergensis dans cette région. Les tendances technologiques plus récentes, donc en corrélation avec l’émergence des cerveaux plus développés, des hominidés plus intelligents qui présentent une plus grande finesse technologique et semblent également développer et maintenir des règles plus strictes et des traditions relatives à leurs comportements technologiques. Il est probable que, par rapport aux hominidés plus archaïques, ces formes évolués d’hominidés (qui évolueront dans les plus anciennes formes anatomiquement modernes ou Homo sapiens) ont plus riches capacités de communication et une complexité culturelle que nous pensons qu’il se manifeste dans la finesse technologique et la standardisation de leur culture matérielle.


Using multivariate techniques to assess the effects of raw material, flaking behavior and tool manufacture on assemblage variability: An example from the late Middle Paleolithic of the European Plain, di M. Weiss, A. Otcherednoy, A. Wiśniewski, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 87, November 2017, Pages 73-94

The late Middle Paleolithic in central and eastern Europe is defined by the presence or absence of certain bifacial tools and blank production methods. Hence, the assemblages between MIS 5a and MIS 3 are classified as Mousterian, Taubachian, Micoquian, Micoquo-Prondnikien, Prądnik cycle and Keilmessergruppen, among others. We like to address here the questions of what do these assemblages look like when the type fossils (“fossil directeur”) are set aside and what are the main drivers of variability within and between these assemblages. Therefore, we analyzed nine assemblages of four late Middle Paleolithic open-air sites of the European Plain: Pouch and Königsaue for central Germany, Wrocław-Hallera Av. for southwestern Poland and Khotylevo I-6-2 for western Russia. Our study is based on an attribute analysis of flakes, as they are the most numerous artifact type in the lithic assemblages, bearing traces of the flaking technology in their morphology. Linear and nonlinear multivariate statistical analyses of the flake attributes show similar patterns for the assemblages and show no distinctions between Mousterian and Micoquian assemblages aside from the type fossils. Additionally, assemblage variability is, except for one case, not site specific or regional. The analysis of the factors that drive within and between assemblage variability revealed that the assemblages are influenced by site preservation, raw material size and economy, as well as similar blank production and tool manufacture methods that are present in varying degrees in each assemblage. In other words, taking into account site preservation, the overall character of these late Middle Paleolithic assemblages primarily reflects the flexible application of late Neanderthal flaking and tool production methods to the local raw material constraints. Once the type fossils are removed, these assemblages represent a range of variability that cannot be grouped readily into named archaeological entities that could represent distinct human groups.

  Adornments told about the culture of prehistoric people, 30-NOV-2017

Vladislav Zhitenev, a Russian archaeologist from MSU, studied bone jewelry found at Sungir Upper Paleolithic site. A group led by Vladislav Zhitenev found out that many items were crafted specifically for burial purposes, while others were worn on a daily basis. The style of the jewelry was influenced by many cultures of Europe and the Russian Plain. The article was published in EPAUL 147. Sungir Upper Paleolithic site is located in Vladimir Region and is dated back to 29,000-31,000 years. Scientist began to study his place over thirty years ago. The encampment of prehistoric hunters includes a burial site of a 40-50 year old man and a grave of two children who died 10-14 years of age. Archaeological excavation revealed over 80 thousand different objects. "This children's grave contains more adornments and other burial items than any other Upper Paleolithic burial site in Eurasia," - says Vladislav Zhitenev, the author of the study, doctor of historical sciences, and assistant professor of the Archaeology Department of the Faculty of History, MSU. Currently all findings are kept in the State Vladimir-Suzdal Museum Reserve. (...)


The performance of tranchet blows at the Late Middle Paleolithic site of Grotte de la Verpillière I (Saône-et-Loire, France), di J. A. Frick, K. Herkert, C. T. Hoyer, H. Floss, November 30, 2017, doi: - free  access -

This paper focuses on the technological characteristics of Keilmesser with a lateral tranchet blow modification on the cutting edge. It examines the underlying technological production of these bifacial objects: this implies the evaluation of their working stage succession, as well as produced forms necessary for the execution of tranchet blow performance. Furthermore, it offers a techno-morphological description of these enigmatic tools. The Keilmesser with tranchet blow and corresponding blanks of tranchet blows from Grotte de la Verpillière I in Germolles (Saône-et-Loire, France) are used as case study. The collection of Keilmesser with tranchet blow and corresponding blanks of tranchet blow has been massively expanded with new fieldwork and the review of ancient assemblages. The majority of the pieces were made on blanks from local raw material. The evaluation of the underlying production concept shows that a Keilmesser with tranchet blow, regardless of the wide range of morphologies and matrix size, always consists of specific parts that are necessary for the production sequence and the assumed function. The production of these pieces follows highly specific working stages, some of which can be interchanged in sequence. However, it is always the goal to obtain a low-angled cutting edge. The performance of a tranchet blow is not only an integral part of production, but it is rather the aim of the entire production. (...)


Better support for a small effective population size of Neandertals and a long shared history of Neandertals and Denisovans, di F. Mafessoni, K. Prüfer, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", November 28, 2017, vol. 114, no. 48, pp. E10256–E10257

Rogers et al. compare the sharing of derived alleles among the genomes of Africans, non-Africans, a Neandertal, and a Denisovan to infer the demographic history of archaic humans. They estimate that the effective population size (Ne) of Neandertals was ~15,000 individuals and that Neandertals and Denisovans separated from each other shortly after their ancestor separated from modern humans (~300 generations). These estimates are at odds with previous results that suggested a smaller Ne for Neandertals [ranging from 1,000–5,000 individuals according to pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent (PSMC) estimates of Ne over time] and a longer common branch for the Neandertal–Denisovan ancestor (5,000–10,000 generations). We note that the difference in assumed mutation rate between the two publications cannot account for the differences …


Scientists have discovered an Upper Paleolithic cave painting of a camel in the Ural Mountains, 27-NOV-2017

An ancient image of a two-humped camel has been discovered in the Kapova cave (Southern Urals). The age of the painting is preliminarily estimated to be between 14,500 and 37,700 years, a time when there were no camels in the Southern Urals. This discovery confirms researchers' belief that artists in the Upper Paleolithic could migrate over long distances. The image of a camel's shape is painted in red ochre and partially outlined with charcoal. This unique discovery was made by Eudald Guillamet, a well-known restorative specialist from Andorra, who was invited by the State Office of Protection of Cultural Heritage of Bashkiria to clean the cave of graffiti. "This painting, cleared on the polychrome panel "Horses and Signs," which has been well-known since the late 1970s, has no analogues in the art complexes of the caves of France and Spain, but does have some resemblance to the camel painting from the Ignatievskaya cave. Now it will probably become a significant image in the Upper Paleolithic cave bestiary of the Southern Urals," comments V.S. Zhitenev, head of Moscow State University's South Ural archeological expedition and leading researcher for the Kapova and Ignatievskaya caves. "The age of the drawings in this panel cannot be accurately established yet, but the results of uranium-thorium dating of the calcite deposits on which the image is painted, and which cover it, unambiguously show that the time period during which the drawing was made was during the Upper Paleolithic age, which is no earlier than 37,700 years ago and no later than 14,500 years ago. In the course of excavating the Kapova cave, only the upper layer of deposits with traces of activity of Paleolithic artists, about 17,000 - 19,000 years ago, has been dated so far," concluded the scientist. (...)


Nasal airflow simulations suggest convergent adaptation in Neanderthals and modern humans, di S. de Azevedo et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", November 21, 2017, vol. 114 no. 47, pp. 12442–12447

Both modern humans (MHs) and Neanderthals successfully settled across western Eurasian cold-climate landscapes. Among the many adaptations considered as essential to survival in such landscapes, changes in the nasal morphology and/or function aimed to humidify and warm the air before it reaches the lungs are of key importance. Unfortunately, the lack of soft-tissue evidence in the fossil record turns difficult any comparative study of respiratory performance. Here, we reconstruct the internal nasal cavity of a Neanderthal plus two representatives of climatically divergent MH populations (southwestern Europeans and northeastern Asians). The reconstruction includes mucosa distribution enabling a realistic simulation of the breathing cycle in different climatic conditions via computational fluid dynamics. Striking across-specimens differences in fluid residence times affecting humidification and warming performance at the anterior tract were found under cold/dry climate simulations. Specifically, the Asian model achieves a rapid air conditioning, followed by the Neanderthals, whereas the European model attains a proper conditioning only around the medium-posterior tract. In addition, quantitative-genetic evolutionary analyses of nasal morphology provided signals of stabilizing selection for MH populations, with the removal of Arctic populations turning covariation patterns compatible with evolution by genetic drift. Both results indicate that, departing from important craniofacial differences existing among Neanderthals and MHs, an advantageous species-specific respiratory performance in cold climates may have occurred in both species. Fluid dynamics and evolutionary biology independently provided evidence of nasal evolution, suggesting that adaptive explanations regarding complex functional phenotypes require interdisciplinary approaches aimed to quantify both performance and evolutionary signals on covariation patterns.


Neanderthal hunting strategies inferred from mortality profiles within the Abric Romaní sequence, di J. Marín, P. Saladié, A. Rodríguez-Hidalgo, E. Carbonell, November 22, 2017, doi: - free  access -

Ungulate mortality profiles are commonly used to study Neanderthal subsistence strategies. To assess the hunting strategies used by Neanderthals, we studied the ages at death of the cervids and equids found in levels E, H, I, Ja, Jb, K, L and M of the Abric Romaní sequence. These levels date between 43.2 ± 1.1 ka BP (14C AMS) and 54.5 ± 1.7 ka BP (U-series). The degree of eruption and development of the teeth and their wear stages were used to determine the ages of these animals at death, and mortality profiles were constructed using these data. The equids display prime dominated profiles in all of the analyzed levels, whereas the cervids display variable profiles. These results suggest that the Neanderthals of Abric Romaní employed both selective and non-selective hunting strategies. The selective strategy focused on the hunting of prime adults and generated prime dominated profiles. On the other hand, non-selective strategies, involved the consumption of animals of variable ages, resulting in catastrophic profiles. It is likely that in the selective hunting events were conducted using selective ambushes in which it was possible to select specific prey animals. On the other hand, encounter hunting or non-selective ambush hunting may have also been used at times, based on the abundances of prey animals and encounter rates. Specific hunting strategies would have been developed accordance with the taxa and the age of the individual to be hunted. The hunting groups most likely employed cooperative hunting techniques, especially in the capture of large animals. Thus, it is not possible to uniquely associate a single mortality profile with the predation tactics of Neanderthals at Abric Romaní. (...)


Expert cognition in the production sequence of Acheulian cleavers at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, Israel: A lithic and cognitive analysis, di G. Herzlinger, T. Wynn, N. Goren-Inbar, November 16, 2017, doi: - free  access -

Stone cleavers are one of the most distinctive components of the Acheulian toolkit. These tools were produced as part of a long and complex reduction sequence and they provide indications for planning and remarkable knapping skill. These aspects hold implications regarding the cognitive complexity and abilities of their makers and users. In this study we have analyzed a cleaver assemblage originating from the Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel, to provide a reconstruction of the chaîne opératoire which structured their production. This reduction sequence was taken as the basis for a cognitive analysis which allowed us to draw conclusion regarding numerous behavioral and cognitive aspects of the GBY hominins. The results indicate that the cleavers production incorporated a highly specific sequence of decisions and actions which resulted in three distinct modes of cleavers modification. Furthermore, the decision to produce a cleaver must have been taken very early in the sequence, thus differentiating its production from that of handaxes. The substantial predetermination and the specific reduction sequence provide evidence that the Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov hominins had a number of cognitive categories such as a general ‘tool concept’ and a more specific ‘cleaver concept’, setting them apart from earlier tool-producing hominins and extant tool-using non-human primates. Furthermore, it appears that the Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov lithic technology was governed by expert cognition, which is the kind of thinking typical of modern human experts in their various domains. Thus, the results provide direct indications that important components of modern cognition have been well established in the minds of the Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov hominins. (...)


Evaluating the intensity of fire at the Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov—Spatial and thermoluminescence analyses, di N. Alperson-Afil, D. Richter, N. Goren-Inbar, November 16, 2017, doi: - free  access -

This manuscript presents an attempt to evaluate the intensity of fire through spatial patterning and thermoluminescence methodology. Previous studies of Layer II-6 Level 2 at the Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov suggested that hominins differentiated their activities across space, including multiple activities around a hearth reconstructed on the basis of the distribution of burned flint artifacts. A transect of ~4 m was extended from the center of the reconstructed hearth of Level 2 to its periphery in order to examine the intensity of fire. Burned and unburned flint microartifacts were sampled along this transect. The results of earlier and current thermoluminescence (TL) analysis demonstrate a general agreement with the macroscopic determination of burning, indicating that the possibility of misinterpretation based on macroscopic observations is negligible. The TL signal from flint microartifacts close to the hearth’s center shows unambiguous signs of strong heating, whereas with increasing distance from the hearth the TL signal can be interpreted as a result of decreasing temperatures and/or shorter durations of exposure to fire in addition to a decreasing number of flints showing fire damage. Our study shows that TL analysis can identify some variation in fire intensity, which allows a more precise classification of burned flint microartifacts with respect to their heating history.


Human evolution was uneven and punctuated, November 16, 2017

Neanderthals survived at least 3,000 years longer than we thought in Southern Iberia -- what is now Spain -- long after they had died out everywhere else, according to new research. (...)


Aggiornamento 15 novembre

  Experimental Heating of Moravian Cherts and its Implication for Palaeolithic Chipped Stone Assemblages, di M. Moník, Z. Nerudová, P. Schnabl, "Archaeometry", December 2017, Volume 59, Issue 6, Pages 1190–1206

The applicability of colour, magnetic susceptibility and remanent magnetization measurements for the identification of heated or accidentally burned Palaeolithic cherts from Moravia (Czech Republic) is tested in this study. We conclude that all these methods are usable. Colour changes are best detectable in materials heated at between 250–350°C, while magnetic susceptibility and remanent magnetization change at higher temperatures, closer to 600°C. This latter temperature, however, is usually destructive for cherts and is probably evidenced by accidentally burned artefacts. With the use of the three methods, we managed to identify three probably heated chert artefacts from two early Upper Palaeolithic assemblages from Moravia.

  Archaeological Evidence for Cannibalism in Prehistoric Western Europe: from Homo antecessor to the Bronze Age, di P. Saladié, A. Rodríguez-Hidalgo, "Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory", December 2017, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 1034–1071

Archaeological studies of human cannibalism and its causes have never lacked controversy. The reasons for this are both the difficulties in identifying cannibalism and the inherent complexity, by the many nuances that can have the behaviour of eating other humans. After Turner’s detailed studies in the Southwestern USA, reports were published in the 1990s of cannibalism during European prehistory. Archaeological sites identified with cannibalism have been found that date from the early Pleistocene to the Iron Age. In this study, we review data from Western Europe’s prehistoric sites, which allow us to discuss the various labels that accompany interpretations of cannibalism. The most common interpretation is not ritual but is rather gastronomic, nutritional or dietary. However, there is no agreement on this interpretation. Following the data review, we propose dividing cannibalism into the following broad, objective and useful categories: exocannibalism, endocannibalism and survival cannibalism, although it is not always easy to choose one option. We also review the taphonomic characteristics of these assemblages, which enable us to establish the most common taphonomic markers of prehistoric cannibalism. These features include abundant anthropogenic modifications (on more than of 20 % of human remains), the intensive processing of bodies, greater abundance of cut marks related to defleshing and filleting that dismembering and the presence of human tooth marks or chewing marks.


Relationship between foramen magnum position and locomotion in extant and extinct hominoids, di D. Neaux et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 113, December 2017, Pages 1-9

From the Miocene Sahelanthropus tchadensis to Pleistocene Homo sapiens, hominins are characterized by a derived anterior position of the foramen magnum relative to basicranial structures. It has been previously suggested that the anterior position of the foramen magnum in hominins is related to bipedal locomotor behavior. Yet, the functional relationship between foramen magnum position and bipedal locomotion remains unclear. Recent studies, using ratios based on cranial linear measurements, have found a link between the anterior position of the foramen magnum and bipedalism in several mammalian clades: marsupials, rodents, and primates. In the present study, we compute these ratios in a sample including a more comprehensive dataset of extant hominoids and fossil hominins. First, we verify if the values of ratios can distinguish extant humans from apes. Then, we test whether extinct hominins can be distinguished from non-bipedal extant hominoids. Finally, we assess if the studied ratios are effective predictors of bipedal behavior by testing if they mainly relate to variation in foramen magnum position rather than changes in other cranial structures. Our results confirm that the ratios discriminate between extant bipeds and non-bipeds. However, the only ratio clearly discriminating between fossil hominins and other extant apes is that which only includes basicranial structures. We show that a large proportion of the interspecific variation in the other ratios relates to changes in facial, rather than basicranial, structures. In this context, we advocate the use of measurements based only on basicranial structures when assessing the relationship between foramen magnum position and bipedalism in future studies.


3D enamel thickness in Neandertal and modern human permanent canines, di L. Buti et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 113, December 2017, Pages 162-172 - free  access -

Enamel thickness figures prominently in studies of human evolution, particularly for taxonomy, phylogeny, and paleodietary reconstruction. Attention has focused on molar teeth, through the use of advanced imaging technologies and novel protocols. Despite the important results achieved thus far, further work is needed to investigate all tooth classes. We apply a recent approach developed for anterior teeth to investigate the 3D enamel thickness of Neandertal and modern human (MH) canines. In terms of crown size, the values obtained for both upper and lower unworn/slightly worn canines are significantly greater in Neandertals than in Upper Paleolithic and recent MH. The 3D relative enamel thickness (RET) is significantly lower in Neandertals than in MH. Moreover, differences in 3D RET values between the two groups appear to decrease in worn canines beginning from wear stage 3, suggesting that both the pattern and the stage of wear may have important effects on the 3D RET value. Nevertheless, the 3D average enamel thickness (AET) does not differ between the two groups. In both groups, 3D AET and 3D RET indices are greater in upper canines than in lower canines, and overall the enamel is thicker on the occlusal half of the labial aspect of the crown, particularly in MH. By contrast, the few early modern humans investigated show the highest volumes of enamel while for all other components of 3D enamel, thickness this group holds an intermediate position between Neandertals and recent MH. Overall, our study supports the general findings that Neandertals have relatively thinner enamel than MH (as also observed in molars), indicating that unworn/slightly worn canines can be successfully used to discriminate between the two groups. Further studies, however, are needed to understand whether these differences are functionally related or are the result of pleiotropic or genetic drift effects. (...)


Morphological description and morphometric analyses of the Upper Palaeolithic human remains from Dzudzuana and Satsurblia caves, western Georgia, di C. Margherita et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 113, December 2017, Pages 83-90

While paleoanthropologists and archaeologists agree that western Georgia was used as a thoroughfare of human movements to and from the Caucasus (Pinhasi et al., 2012, 2014), the paleoanthropological fossil record of the local Middle and Upper Palaeolithic in this key region is currently limited to scant human remains. For the Late Pleistocene, the Middle Palaeolithic (MP) Georgian human fossil record consists of a partial maxilla from the site of Sakajia and some isolated teeth from the sites of Bronze Cave, Djruchula, Ortvala and Ortvale Klde, which were all classified as Neandertals (Pinhasi et al., 2012). The Upper Palaeolithic (UP) fossil record consists of a modern human tooth from Bondi cave (Tushabramishvili et al., 2012), recently dated between 39,000 and
35,800 cal. BP (calibrated years before present; Pleurdeau et al., 2016), and cranial fragments from Sakajia, dated between 12,000 and 10,000 cal. BP (Nioradze and Otte, 2000) (Supplementary Online Material [SOM] Fig. S1). Therefore, even though some authors suggest that the Caucasus represents a sort of cul de sac for Neandertal survival, and that modern humans arrived in this area much later compared to other regions (Bar-Yosef and Pilbeam, 2000) the paucity of human remains prevents any conclusive assessment. (...)

  Palaeoenvironments of the last Neanderthals in SW Europe (MIS 3): Cova del Coll Verdaguer (Barcelona, NE of Iberian Peninsula), di J. Daura et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 177, 1 December 2017, Pages 34-56

Marine isotope stage 3 (MIS 3) was characterised by marked oscillations of extreme cold episodes with very short warm events during the stadial, and several regional differences have been recorded in the ice cores and marine deposits. The aim of this study is to reconstruct this period by evaluating both terrestrial and regional responses. Cova del Coll Verdaguer, a site located on the Iberian Peninsula, preserves a sedimentary deposit dated to between 34 and 56 ka BP and provides an opportunity for evaluating the impact of climate changes on the regional landmass during a period that coincided with the last Neanderthal population on the Iberian Peninsula. Several dating methods, including U-series, electron spin resonance, amino acid racemization and radiocarbon (14C), were applied to the site and the ages obtained show good agreement. The biotic evidence obtained is substantial, comprising floristic data from palynology and charcoal analysis, and faunal data from large and small mammals, birds and gastropods. Environmental reconstruction points to an initially open meadow landscape at the base of the sequence (∼56 ka) that progressively changes to a woodland environment dominated by conifers (∼34 ka). The presence of few thermophilous taxa, in contrast with lower latitudes of the Iberian Peninsula, is also detected. The environmental conditions of mid-altitude, Mediterranean, limestone mountains for the last Neanderthal populations appear to have been dominated by a forested landscape comprising boreal or mixed coniferous forest, characterised by a low usable biomass with poor comestible plant resources and dispersed herbivore populations.

  Hominid butchers and biting crocodiles in the African Plio–Pleistocene, di Y. Sahle, S. El Zaatari, T. D. White, November 6, 2017, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - Early Edition", doi: 10.1073/pnas.1716317114

Zooarchaeologists have long relied on linear traces and pits found on the surfaces of ancient bones to infer ancient hominid behaviors such as slicing, chopping, and percussive actions during butchery of mammal carcasses. However, such claims about Plio–Pleistocene hominids rely mostly on very small assemblages of bony remains. Furthermore, recent experiments on trampling animals and biting crocodiles have shown each to be capable of producing mimics of such marks. This equifinality—the creation of similar products by different processes—makes deciphering early archaeological bone assemblages difficult. Bone modifications among Ethiopian Plio–Pleistocene hominid and faunal remains at Asa Issie, Maka, Hadar, and Bouri were reassessed in light of these findings. The results show that crocodiles were important modifiers of these bone assemblages. The relative roles of hominids, mammalian carnivores, and crocodiles in the formation of Oldowan zooarchaeological assemblages will only be accurately revealed by better bounding equifinality. Critical analysis within a consilience-based approach is identified as the pathway forward. More experimental studies and increased archaeological fieldwork aimed at generating adequate samples are now required.

Ancient genomes show social and reproductive behavior of early Upper Paleolithic foragers, di Martin Sikora et alii, "Science" 03 Nov 2017: Vol. 358, Issue 6363, pp. 659-662

Present-day hunter-gatherers (HGs) live in multilevel social groups essential to sustain a population structure characterized by limited levels of within-band relatedness and inbreeding. When these wider social networks evolved among HGs is unknown. To investigate whether the contemporary HG strategy was already present in the Upper Paleolithic, we used complete genome sequences from Sunghir, a site dated to ~34,000 years before the present, containing multiple anatomically modern human individuals. We show that individuals at Sunghir derive from a population of small effective size, with limited kinship and levels of inbreeding similar to HG populations. Our findings suggest that Upper Paleolithic social organization was similar to that of living HGs, with limited relatedness within residential groups embedded in a larger mating network.


Southern African ancient genomes estimate modern human divergence to 350,000 to 260,000 years ago, di C. M. Schlebusch et alii, "Science", 03 Nov 2017: Vol. 358, Issue 6363, pp. 652-655

Southern Africa is consistently placed as a potential region for the evolution of Homo sapiens. We present genome sequences, up to 13x coverage, from seven ancient individuals from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The remains of three Stone Age hunter-gatherers (about 2000 years old) were genetically similar to current-day southern San groups, and those of four Iron Age farmers (300 to 500 years old) were genetically similar to present-day Bantu-language speakers. We estimate that all modern-day Khoe-San groups have been influenced by 9 to 30% genetic admixture from East Africans/Eurasians. Using traditional and new approaches, we estimate the first modern human population divergence time to between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago. This estimate increases the deepest divergence among modern humans, coinciding with anatomical developments of archaic humans into modern humans, as represented in the local fossil record.


A high-coverage Neandertal genome from Vindija Cave in Croatia, di K. Prüfer et alii, "Science", 03 Nov 2017: Vol. 358, Issue 6363, pp. 655-658

To date, the only Neandertal genome that has been sequenced to high quality is from an individual found in Southern Siberia. We sequenced the genome of a female Neandertal from ~50,000 years ago from Vindija Cave, Croatia, to ~30-fold genomic coverage. She carried 1.6 differences per 10,000 base pairs between the two copies of her genome, fewer than present-day humans, suggesting that Neandertal populations were of small size. Our analyses indicate that she was more closely related to the Neandertals that mixed with the ancestors of present-day humans living outside of sub-Saharan Africa than the previously sequenced Neandertal from Siberia, allowing 10 to 20% more Neandertal DNA to be identified in present-day humans, including variants involved in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations, schizophrenia, and other diseases.


Firewood and hearths: Middle Palaeolithic woody taxa distribution from El Salt, stratigraphic unit Xb (Eastern Iberia), di P. Vidal-Matutano, "Quaternary International", Volume 457, 1 November 2017, Pages 74-84

Spatial analyses of Palaeolithic sites typically defined by hearth-related assemblages have been mostly based on lithic and faunal remains. By using spatial analysis methods in conjunction with analytical units with higher temporal resolution than typical stratigraphic units, synchronic and diachronic relationships between artifacts deposited during successive occupation events have been elucidated. Spatial analyses applied to archaeobotanical remains are scarce, and when available, are typically focused on carpological remains (seeds and fruits). The lack of spatial indicators among anthracological remains hampers obtaining significant data linked to the relationships established between the combustion features and scattered charcoal fragments recovered from excavated occupation surfaces. To address this problem, the charcoal assemblage from El Salt Stratigraphic Unit (SU) Xb (Archaeosedimentary Facies Association 2 [AFA 2]) is analyzed using spatial analysis methods. Results suggest that the integration of anthracological remains into a palimpsest dissection analyses is vital to better understand the relationship between combustion structures and activity areas. These results highlight the utility of spatial and statistical methods as important tools for future anthracological analyses to provide meaningful information related to taxa distribution and the last firewood used in combustion structures.

  OH 83: A new early modern human fossil cranium from the Ndutu beds of Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, di W. B. Reine et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 164, Issue 3, November 2017, Pages 533–545

Herein we introduce a newly recovered partial calvaria, OH 83, from the upper Ndutu Beds of Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. We present the geological context of its discovery and a comparative analysis of its morphology, placing OH 83 within the context of our current understanding of the origins and evolution of Homo sapiens.
We comparatively assessed the morphology of OH 83 using quantitative and qualitative data from penecontemporaneous fossils and the W.W. Howells modern human craniometric dataset.
OH 83 is geologically dated to ca. 60–32 ka. Its morphology is indicative of an early modern human, falling at the low end of the range of variation for post-orbital cranial breadth, the high end of the range for bifrontal breadth, and near average in frontal length.
There have been numerous attempts to use cranial anatomy to define the species Homo sapiens and identify it in the fossil record. These efforts have not met wide agreement by the scientific community due, in part, to the mosaic patterns of cranial variation represented by the fossils. The variable, mosaic pattern of trait expression in the crania of Middle and Late Pleistocene fossils implies that morphological modernity did not occur at once. However, OH 83 demonstrates that by ca. 60–32 ka modern humans in Africa included individuals that are at the fairly small and gracile range of modern human cranial variation.


Energetic cost of walking in fossil hominins, di M. Vidal-Cordasco, A. Mateos, G. Zorrilla-Revilla, O. Prado-Nóvoa, J. Rodríguez, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 164, Issue 3, November 2017, Pages 609–622

Many biomechanical studies consistently show that a broader pelvis increases the reaction forces and bending moments across the femoral shaft, increasing the energetic costs of unloaded locomotion. However, a biomechanical model does not provide the real amount of metabolic energy expended in walking. The aim of this study is to test the influence of pelvis breadth on locomotion cost and to evaluate the locomotion efficiency of extinct Pleistocene hominins.
The current study measures in vivo the influence of pelvis width on the caloric cost of locomotion, integrating anthropometry, body composition and indirect calorimetry protocols in a sample of 46 subjects of both sexes.
We show that a broader false pelvis is substantially more efficient for locomotion than a narrower one and that the influence of false pelvis width on the energetic cost is similar to the influence of leg length. Two models integrating body mass, femur length and bi-iliac breadth are used to estimate the net and gross energetic costs of locomotion in a number of extinct hominins. The results presented here show that the locomotion of Homo was not energetically more efficient than that of Australopithecus and that the locomotion of extinct Homo species was not less efficient than that of modern Homo sapiens.
The changes in the anatomy of the pelvis and lower limb observed with the appearance of Homo ergaster probably did not fully offset the increased expenditure resulting from a larger body mass. Moreover, the narrow pelvis in modern humans does not contribute to greater efficiency of locomotion.


Visual Cultures in the Upper Palaeolithic, di A. Nowell, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 27, Issue 4, November 2017, pp. 599-606

Using examples drawn from the European Upper Palaeolithic, this article advocates a visual cultures approach to studying the art of this period. Visual culture is defined as the biological, cognitive and social underpinnings of how we see, while the term art refers to what we see. A visual cultures approach to these images allows the archaeologist to explore how they were experienced, decoded and innovated upon within historically situated, overlapping and entangled communities of practice and further affords archaeologists the tools and the vocabulary they need to explore apprenticeship, active teaching, embodied cognition, situated learning, scaffolding, enskillment, the existence of chaînes opératoires and the impact of these materials on the human brain. European Upper Palaeolithic finger flutings are presented as a case study of the visual cultures approach.


Establishment of occupation chronicles in Grotte Mandrin using sooted concretions: Rethinking the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition, di S. Vandevelde, J. É. Brochier, C. Petit, L. Slimak, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 112, November 2017, Pages 70-78

Soot marks, witnesses of past human activities, can sometimes be noticed in concretions (speleothem, travertine, carbonated crust, etc.) formed in cavities. We demonstrate here that these deposits, generally ignored in archaeological studies, turned out to be a perfectly suitable material for micro-chronological study of hominin activities in a site. At the Grotte Mandrin (Mediterranean France), thousands of clastic fragments from the rock walls were found in every archaeological level of the shelter. Calcareous crusts containing soot deposits are recorded on some of their surfaces. They appear in thin section as thin black laminae. Microscopic observation of these crusts revealed that they kept track of many occupations. We show that is possible to link them with the archaeological units identified during the excavation. Minimum Number of Occupations (MNO) can be built out of these sooted crusts. MNO are usually high and attest to the cumulative nature of each archaeological unit. They are witnesses of each occupation of hominin groups in each archaeological level of the cave. This study also shows that, in Grotte Mandrin, a very short time separates the first Middle/Upper Paleolithic transitional groups' occupations from those of the last Mousterians. The research perspectives on soot deposits are diversified and raise the possibility of studying multiple aspects of past human life, and in this case, to rethink the Middle/Upper Paleolithic transition, with an unmatched temporal resolution. Sooted concretion analysis provides high temporal resolution archaeology. There is a real possibility of extending this study with chronological implications to cavities of all ages and areas.


Hominin track assemblages from Okote Member deposits near Ileret, Kenya, and their implications for understanding fossil hominin paleobiology at 1.5 Ma, di K. G. Hatala et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 112, November 2017, Pages 93-104

Tracks can provide unique, direct records of behaviors of fossil organisms moving across their landscapes millions of years ago. While track discoveries have been rare in the human fossil record, over the last decade our team has uncovered multiple sediment surfaces within the Okote Member of the Koobi Fora Formation near Ileret, Kenya that contain large assemblages of ~1.5 Ma fossil hominin tracks. Here, we provide detailed information on the context and nature of each of these discoveries, and we outline the specific data that are preserved on the Ileret hominin track surfaces. We analyze previously unpublished data to refine and expand upon earlier hypotheses regarding implications for hominin anatomy and social behavior. While each of the track surfaces discovered at Ileret preserves a different amount of data that must be handled in particular ways, general patterns are evident. Overall, the analyses presented here support earlier interpretations of the ~1.5 Ma Ileret track assemblages, providing further evidence of large, human-like body sizes and possibly evidence of a group composition that could support the emergence of certain human-like patterns of social behavior. These data, used in concert with other forms of paleontological and archaeological evidence that are deposited on different temporal scales, offer unique windows through which we can broaden our understanding of the paleobiology of hominins living in East Africa at ~1.5 Ma.


Investigating hominin carnivory in the Okote Member of Koobi Fora, Kenya with an actualistic model of carcass consumption and traces of butchery on the elbow, di S. R. Merritt, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 112, November 2017, Pages 105-133

Previous zooarchaeological analysis at Koobi Fora indicates that Okote Member hominins were the primary agents of bone assemblage formation, gained early access to large and small mammal flesh, and consumed both high- and low-ranked carcass parts. The discovery of additional butchered specimens prompted the re-analysis presented here of three large and well-preserved zooarchaeological assemblages from the Okote member, GaJi14, FwJj14N and FwJj14S, to revisit paleoecological hypotheses about tool-assisted carnivory. Cow and goat limb butchery documenting the skeletal location of cut marks created by skinning, defleshing, and disarticulation was used to build an actualistic model to infer hominin consumption of distinct carcass resources. Archaeological specimens were assigned to early (defleshing limbs), middle (defleshing ribs, viscera, vertebrae, and head) and late (metapodial tendon removal, element disarticulation, long bone fragmentation) carcass consumption stages, and the incidence of these butchery behaviors was examined for specimens and minimum number of element and individual aggregates. Elbow specimens, where traces of defleshing, disarticulation, and percussion co-occur, offer a sequential view of carcass consumption behaviors that is free from fragmentation bias. Classification trees populated with actualistic data were used to identify defleshing and disarticulation cut mark clusters on archaeological elbow portions by their location, cut mark count, median length, and median cross-sectional width. Actualistically-informed configurational analysis offers high-resolution behavioral reconstruction of the butchered sub-assemblage and should be integrated with assemblage-scale zooarchaeological methods. These experiments highlight the bias for detecting butchery traces of early carcass access, because defleshing cut marks are abundant and introduced to dense midshaft portions, whereas disarticulation cut marks are rare and occur on epiphyseal portions, which are often deleted by density-mediated destruction. Butchery trace interpretation across multiple analytical scales confirms a flexible carnivorous paleoecological role for Okote hominins that included primary and secondary access to carcass resources from large and small mammals.


Wood selection for firesetting: First data from the Neolithic cinnabar mine of Spaccasasso (South Tuscany, Italy), di F. Poggiali et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 458, 15 November 2017, Pages 134-140

This paper presents the preliminary results of the analysis of charcoal remains from the Neolithic cinnabar mine of Spaccasasso. Cinnabar is a mineral that was used as a pigment by different cultures worldwide since the Neolithic period. Firesetting was one of the most common mining techniques used for breaking rock to extract ores and minerals from prehistoric times up to the invention of explosives. Anatomical identification of the fuelwood used for mining provides important information about ancient mining techniques. The results show a preference for the use of Erica as a fuelwood, associated with evergreen and deciduous oaks. These data are coherent with the pollen records from nearby sites on the Thyrrenian coast that show the dominance of a mixed deciduous and evergreen oak forest with elements of maquis shrubland. These results are preliminarily discussed considering the heat values and the physiological state of the most common Mediterranean fuelwoods. They suggest a fuelwood selection based on the empiric knowledge of which woody plants serve as the best fuel for firesetting by Late Neolithic Populations.

  A parsimonious neutral model suggests Neanderthal replacement was determined by migration and random species drift, di O. Kolodny, M. W. Feldman, "Nature Communications" 8, 31 October 2017, doi:10.1038/s41467-017-01043-z - free  access -

Most hypotheses in the heated debate about the Neanderthals’ replacement by modern humans highlight the role of environmental pressures or attribute the Neanderthals’ demise to competition with modern humans, who occupied the same ecological niche. The latter assume that modern humans benefited from some selective advantage over Neanderthals, which led to the their extinction. Here we show that a scenario of migration and selectively neutral species drift predicts the Neanderthals’ replacement. Our model offers a parsimonious alternative to those that invoke external factors or selective advantage, and represents a null hypothesis for assessing such alternatives. For a wide range of parameters, this hypothesis cannot be rejected. Moreover, we suggest that although selection and environmental factors may or may not have played a role in the inter-species dynamics of Neanderthals and modern humans, the eventual replacement of the Neanderthals was determined by the repeated migration of modern humans from Africa into Eurasia. (...)

  Nasal airflow simulations suggest convergent adaptation in Neanderthals and modern humans, S. de Azevedo et alii, October 30, 2017, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - Early Edition", doi: 10.1073/pnas.1703790114

Both modern humans (MHs) and Neanderthals successfully settled across western Eurasian cold-climate landscapes. Among the many adaptations considered as essential to survival in such landscapes, changes in the nasal morphology and/or function aimed to humidify and warm the air before it reaches the lungs are of key importance. Unfortunately, the lack of soft-tissue evidence in the fossil record turns difficult any comparative study of respiratory performance. Here, we reconstruct the internal nasal cavity of a Neanderthal plus two representatives of climatically divergent MH populations (southwestern Europeans and northeastern Asians). The reconstruction includes mucosa distribution enabling a realistic simulation of the breathing cycle in different climatic conditions via computational fluid dynamics. Striking across-specimens differences in fluid residence times affecting humidification and warming performance at the anterior tract were found under cold/dry climate simulations. Specifically, the Asian model achieves a rapid air conditioning, followed by the Neanderthals, whereas the European model attains a proper conditioning only around the medium-posterior tract. In addition, quantitative-genetic evolutionary analyses of nasal morphology provided signals of stabilizing selection for MH populations, with the removal of Arctic populations turning covariation patterns compatible with evolution by genetic drift. Both results indicate that, departing from important craniofacial differences existing among Neanderthals and MHs, an advantageous species-specific respiratory performance in cold climates may have occurred in both species. Fluid dynamics and evolutionary biology independently provided evidence of nasal evolution, suggesting that adaptive explanations regarding complex functional phenotypes require interdisciplinary approaches aimed to quantify both performance and evolutionary signals on covariation patterns.

· Il naso "artico" dei Neanderthal, "Le Scienze", 31 ottobre 2017

  Neandertals gave ‘lost’ African DNA back to moderns, di A. Gibbons, "Science", 27 Oct 2017: Vol. 358, Issue 6362, pp. 431

When Neandertals mated with modern humans, they shared more than an intimate moment and their own DNA. They also gave back thousands of ancient African gene variants that Eurasians had lost when their ancestors swept out of Africa in small bands perhaps 60,000 to 80,000 years ago. Restored to their lineage, the diversity may have been a genetic gift to Eurasian ancestors as they spread around the world and adapted to new environments. Today, however, some of these African variants are a burden: They seem to boost the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine and having wider waistlines.


How Neanderthals influenced human genetics at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, October 24, 2017

A new study explores the genetic legacy of ancient trysts between Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans, with a focus on Western Asia, the region where the first relations may have occurred. (...)

  I denti fossili che dividono i paleontologi, 23 ottobre 2017

La scoperta, fatta in Germania, di due denti fossili ben conservati offre interessanti indizi su come alcuni dei nostri lontani parenti primati siano riusciti a sopravvivere nell’attuale Europa settentrionale. Ma questi reperti “riscrivono la storia dell’uomo”, mettendo in discussione la teoria secondo la quale gli esseri umani hanno avuto origine dall’Africa come dichiarato da alcune testate? In una parola: no. I due denti fossili color caramello - un canino e un molare superiore - appartenevano più probabilmente a un primate di un ramo molto distante dalla nostra linea evolutiva che visse fra nove e dieci milioni di anni fa. (...)

Early Levallois and the beginning of the Middle Paleolithic in central Italy, di S. Soriano, P. Villa, October 20, 2017, - free  access -

In the second half of the 19th century Pleistocene faunas were discovered in two sites, Sedia del Diavolo and Monte delle Gioie, contained in deposits of the Aniene River in the area of Rome (Latium, Italy). Fieldwork by A.C. Blanc in the late 1930’s proved the association of fauna and lithic industry within fluvial deposits interbedded with volcanoclastic layers. A human femoral diaphysis and a metatarsal were later identified in the faunal assemblage from Sedia del Diavolo and evaluated as Neandertal. The lithic assemblages from these two sites were the basis of the definition of the Protopontinian by M. Taschini, which she viewed as a late Middle Pleistocene industry very similar to the later, Upper Pleistocene Pontinian industries, thought to be characteristic of the Latium Mousterian. The chronostratigraphic framework of the Aniene river deposits has been recently updated and the lithic assemblages from these two sites are now confidently dated between 295 and 290 ka, close to the transition from MIS 9 to MIS 8. They fit chronologically between the industries of layers m and d from Torre in Pietra, a site 26 km northwest of Rome. The presence of the Levallois debitage is indisputable yet it occurs within an original technical context, different from what is known in other early occurrences of the Levallois. The date confirms the proposed chronology for the early Levallois in Europe. More importantly these two assemblages demonstrate that this technology can emerge in more diversified contexts than usually described. This suggests that its dispersal in Europe may have been rapid. (...)

  External auditory exostoses and hearing loss in the Shanidar 1 Neandertal, di E. Trinkaus, S. Villotte, October 20, 2017, - free  access -

The Late Pleistocene Shanidar 1 older adult male Neandertal is known for the crushing fracture of his left orbit with a probable reduction in vision, the loss of his right forearm and hand, and evidence of an abnormal gait, as well as probable diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. He also exhibits advanced external auditory exostoses in his left auditory meatus and larger ones with complete bridging across the porus in the right meatus (both Grade 3). These growths indicate at least unilateral conductive hearing (CHL) loss, a serious sensory deprivation for a Pleistocene hunter-gatherer. This condition joins the meatal atresia of the Middle Pleistocene Atapuerca-SH Cr.4 in providing evidence of survival with conductive hearing loss (and hence serious sensory deprivation) among these Pleistocene humans. The presence of CHL in these fossils thereby reinforces the paleobiological and archeological evidence for supporting social matrices among these Pleistocene foraging peoples.
  L'art de la préhistoire

Sous la direction de Carole Fritz, Comité éditorial : Michel Barbaza, Geneviève Pinçon, Gilles Tosello

Avec plus de 600 illustrations, cette vaste synthèse présente les premiers chefs-d’œuvre de l’humanité et, à l’aune des nouvelles technologies (datation, caractérisation des matières picturales, modélisation 3D…), livre des clés de compréhension sur les sources, la matérialité et le sens de la création artistique.

626 pages
Grand format: 25,5 x 32,9 cm
Editions Citadelles & Mazenod
Collection: L'art et les grandes civilisations

  Self-domestication in Homo sapiens: Insights from comparative genomics, di C. Theofanopoulou et alii, October 18, 2017 - free  access -

This study identifies and analyzes statistically significant overlaps between selective sweep screens in anatomically modern humans and several domesticated species. The results obtained suggest that (paleo-)genomic data can be exploited to complement the fossil record and support the idea of self-domestication in Homo sapiens, a process that likely intensified as our species populated its niche. Our analysis lends support to attempts to capture the “domestication syndrome” in terms of alterations to certain signaling pathways and cell lineages, such as the neural crest.

  Long-term patterns of body mass and stature evolution within the hominin lineage, di M. Will, A. Pablos, J. T. Stock, Royal Society Open Science, 8 November 2017 - free  access -

Body size is a central determinant of a species' biology and adaptive strategy, but the number of reliable estimates of hominin body mass and stature have been insufficient to determine long-term patterns and subtle interactions in these size components within our lineage. Here, we analyse 254 body mass and 204 stature estimates from a total of 311 hominin specimens dating from 4.4 Ma to the Holocene using multi-level chronological and taxonomic analytical categories. The results demonstrate complex temporal patterns of body size variation with phases of relative stasis intermitted by periods of rapid increases. The observed trajectories could result from punctuated increases at speciation events, but also differential proliferation of large-bodied taxa or the extinction of small-bodied populations. Combined taxonomic and temporal analyses show that in relation to australopithecines, early Homo is characterized by significantly larger average body mass and stature but retains considerable diversity, including small body sizes. Within later Homo, stature and body mass evolution follow different trajectories: average modern stature is maintained from ca 1.6 Ma, while consistently higher body masses are not established until the Middle Pleistocene at ca 0.5–0.4 Ma, likely caused by directional selection related to colonizing higher latitudes. Selection against small-bodied individuals (less than 40 kg; less than 140 cm) after 1.4 Ma is associated with a decrease in relative size variability in later Homo species compared with earlier Homo and australopithecines. The isolated small-bodied individuals of Homo naledi (ca 0.3 Ma) and Homo floresiensis (ca 100–60 ka) constitute important exceptions to these general patterns, adding further layers of complexity to the evolution of body size within the genus Homo. At the end of the Late Pleistocene and Holocene, body size in Homo sapiens declines on average, but also extends to lower limits not seen in comparable frequency since early Homo. (...)
  Un po' più di Neanderthal nel nostro genoma, 06 ottobre 2017

Nuove analisi sul genoma dei Neanderthal indicano che il loro contributo al patrimonio genetico delle popolazioni umane non africane è superiore a quanto stimato in precedenza, arrivando fino al 2,6 per cento. I tratti influenzati da queste varianti riguardano in primo luogo colore della pelle e dei capelli, ma anche aspetti del metabolismo e il rischio di alcuni disturbi psichiatrici (...)

  Is your Neandertal DNA making your belly fat? Ancient genome offers clues, di A. Gibbons, "Science News", Oct. 5, 2017

The insult "You're a Neandertal!" has taken on dramatic new meaning in the past few years, as researchers have begun to identify the genes many of us inherited from our long-extinct relatives. By sequencing a remarkably complete genome from a 50,000-year-old bone fragment of a female Neandertal found in Vindija Cave in Croatia, researchers report online today in Science a new trove of gene variants that living people outside of Africa obtained from Neandertals. Some of this DNA could influence cholesterol levels, the accumulation of belly fat, and the risk of schizophrenia and other diseases. The genome is only the second from a Neandertal sequenced to such high quality that it can reliably reveal when, where, and what DNA was passed from Neandertals to modern humans—and which diseases it may be causing or preventing today. "It's really exciting because it's more than two times better to have two Neandertal genomes," says evolutionary genomicist Tony Capra of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. (...)


Technological variability at Sibudu Cave: The end of Howiesons Poort and reduced mobility strategies after 62,000 years ago, di P. de la Peña, L. Wadley, October 5, 2017, - free  access -

We evaluate the cultural variation between the youngest Howiesons Poort layer (GR) and the oldest post-Howiesons Poort layers (RB-YA) of Sibudu Cave (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa). We first conducted a technological analysis, secondly we performed a cladistic study with all the technological traits and, finally, we compare the technological variability with other data from Sibudu (ochre, micromorphology, fauna and plant remains). The synapomorphies of the cladistical analysis show numerous lithic technological changes between the youngest Howiesons Poort and the oldest post-Howiesons Poort layers as previously concluded. However, some technological strategies that are present, yet uncommon, in the Howiesons Poort become abundant in the overlying layers, whereas others that were fundamental to the Howiesons Poort continue, but are poorly represented in the overlying layers. We further show that lithic technological strategies appear and disappear as pulses in the post-Howiesons Poort layers studied. Among the most notable changes in the post-Howiesons Poort layers is the importance of flake production from discoidal knapping methods, the unstandardized retouched pieces and their infrequent representation, and the higher than usual frequency of grindstones. We evaluate various hypotheses to explain the transformation of a Howiesons Poort formal industry to a more ‘expedient’ assemblage. Since no marked environmental changes are contemporary with the technological transformation, a change in residential mobility patterns seems a plausible explanation. This hypothesis is supported by the changes observed in stratigraphy, lithic technology, site management, ochre and firewood collection. (...)

  The Contribution of Neanderthals to Phenotypic Variation in Modern Humans, di M. Dannemann, J. Kelso, "The American Journal of Human Genetics", Volume 101, Issue 4, October 05, 2017 - free  access -

Assessing the genetic contribution of Neanderthals to non-disease phenotypes in modern humans has been difficult because of the absence of large cohorts for which common phenotype information is available. Using baseline phenotypes collected for 112,000 individuals by the UK Biobank, we can now elaborate on previous findings that identified associations between signatures of positive selection on Neanderthal DNA and various modern human traits but not any specific phenotypic consequences. Here, we show that Neanderthal DNA affects skin tone and hair color, height, sleeping patterns, mood, and smoking status in present-day Europeans. Interestingly, multiple Neanderthal alleles at different loci contribute to skin and hair color in present-day Europeans, and these Neanderthal alleles contribute to both lighter and darker skin tones and hair color, suggesting that Neanderthals themselves were most likely variable in these traits. (...)


Ancient humans left Africa to escape drying climate, October 4, 2017

Humans migrated out of Africa as the climate shifted from wet to dry about 60,000 years ago, according to new paleoclimate research. What the northeast Africa climate was like when people migrated from Africa into Eurasia between 70,000 and 55,000 years ago is still uncertain. The new research shows around 70,000 years ago, the Horn of Africa climate shifted from a wet phase called 'Green Sahara' to even drier than the region is now.


Direct dating of Neanderthal remains from the site of Vindija Cave and implications for the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition, di T. Devièse et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", October 3, 2017, vol. 114 no. 40, pp. 10606–10611

Previous dating of the Vi-207 and Vi-208 Neanderthal remains from Vindija Cave (Croatia) led to the suggestion that Neanderthals survived there as recently as 28,000–29,000 B.P. Subsequent dating yielded older dates, interpreted as ages of at least ∼32,500 B.P. We have redated these same specimens using an approach based on the extraction of the amino acid hydroxyproline, using preparative high-performance liquid chromatography (Prep-HPLC). This method is more efficient in eliminating modern contamination in the bone collagen. The revised dates are older than 40,000 B.P., suggesting the Vindija Neanderthals did not live more recently than others across Europe, and probably predate the arrival of anatomically modern humans in Eastern Europe. We applied zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (ZooMS) to find additional hominin remains. We identified one bone that is Neanderthal, based on its mitochondrial DNA, and dated it directly to 46,200 ± 1,500 B.P. We also attempted to date six early Upper Paleolithic bone points from stratigraphic units G1, Fd/d+G1 and Fd/d, Fd. One bone artifact gave a date of 29,500 ± 400 B.P., while the remainder yielded no collagen. We additionally dated animal bone samples from units G1 and G1–G3. These dates suggest a co-occurrence of early Upper Paleolithic osseous artifacts, particularly split-based points, alongside the remains of Neanderthals is a result of postdepositional mixing, rather than an association between the two groups, although more work is required to show this definitively.

  The last Neanderthal, di J. J. Hublin, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", October 3, 2017, vol. 114 no. 40, pp. 10520–10522

The mechanism of the Neanderthal extinction and their replacement by modern humans of African origin is one of the most discussed issues in paleoanthropology. Central to this discussion are the questions of the chronological overlap between Neanderthal populations and modern humans in Western Eurasia and the precise geographical circumstances of this overlap. For a long time, the Vindija (Croatia) site was considered to provide solid evidence for a long survival of Neanderthals in Central/Southern Europe. Not only did directly dated Neanderthal remains from layer G1 of the site provide radiocarbon ages postdating the most widely accepted transition time of 40–35,000 radiocarbon years ago (1), but the same layer also yielded a type of split-based bone points commonly assigned to the Aurignacian (2), a stone artefact industry of the early Upper Paleolithic that, to date, only yielded human remains of a modern nature (3). For some, this situation implied the possibility of a long and complex interaction between the two groups of hominins in this region and also falsified the notion of a systematic association between defined archaeological assemblages and specific biological populations at the time of the replacement. In PNAS, Devièse et al. (4) provide new radiocarbon dates for the same Vindija Neanderthal samples, dating them to before 40,000 14C B.P., significantly older than previous efforts dating this material to 29–28,000 and 33–32,000 radiocarbon years (1). The bone points of layer G1 could not be dated, but the range of ages obtained from faunal and human samples in this layer suggests taphonomic mixing as a likely mechanism to explain their stratigraphic association in this part of the Vindija stratigraphic sequence. The situation in Vindija is therefore not at all exceptional, and previous results can be explained by the effect of sample contamination and layer admixture.


Meet the hominin species that gave us genital herpes, di October 1, 2017

New research uses innovative data modeling to predict which species acted as an intermediary between our ancestors and those of chimpanzees to carry HSV2 -- the genital herpes virus -- across the species barrier.


Neandertal talus bones from El Sidrón site (Asturias, Spain): A 3D geometric morphometrics analysis, di A. Rosas et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 164, Issue 2, October 2017, Pages 394–415

The El Sidrón tali sample is assessed in an evolutionary framework. We aim to explore the relationship between Neandertal talus morphology and body size/shape. We test the hypothesis 1: talar Neandertal traits are influenced by body size, and the hypothesis 2: shape variables independent of body size correspond to inherited primitive features.
We quantify 35 landmarks through 3D geometric morphometrics techniques to describe H. neanderthalensis-H. sapiens shape variation, by Mean Shape Comparisons, Principal Component, Phenetic Clusters, Minimum spanning tree analyses and partial least square and regression of talus shape on body variables. Shape variation correlated to body size is compared to Neandertals-Modern Humans (MH) evolutionary shape variation. The Neandertal sample is compared to early hominins.
Neandertal talus presents trochlear hypertrophy, a larger equality of trochlear rims, a shorter neck, a more expanded head, curvature and an anterior location of the medial malleolar facet, an expanded and projected lateral malleolar facet and laterally expanded posterior calcaneal facet compared to MH.
The Neandertal talocrural joint morphology is influenced by body size. The other Neandertal talus traits do not co-vary with it or not follow the same co-variation pattern as MH. Besides, the trochlear hypertrophy, the trochlear rims equality and the short neck could be inherited primitive features; the medial malleolar facet morphology could be an inherited primitive feature or a secondarily primitive trait; and the calcaneal posterior facet would be an autapomorphic feature of the Neandertal lineage.


New research on the Late Pleistocene in the Lim Channel, Istria, di I. Janković et alii, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 359, October 2017

As a part of the multidisciplinary project entitled Archaeological Investigations into the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene of the Lim Channel, Istria, archaeological research has been conducted at four sites: Romuald's Cave, Abri Kontija 002, Pećina at Rovinjsko Selo and Lim 001. There is much debate on issues related to biological and behavioural continuity, to patterns of changes and adaptations during this crucial period, and to external factors (e.g. changes in ecology and climate). For example, a clearer insight is needed into how climatic change affects the ecology of specific regions, including changing sea levels. Additionally, there continues to be debate centring on who produced the earliest (Initial) Upper Palaeolithic industries in Europe. To achieve a more precise insight into long-term diachronic changes and cultural relations around the Adriatic, and to document the presence of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic humans in Istria, we concentrated on a single microregion (the Lim Channel in Istria, Croatia). Here we report work on the two sites that to date have yielded Pleistocene material: Romuald's Cave and Abri Kontija 002


'Forest Moss': no part of the European Neanderthal diet, di J. H. Dickson, K. Oeggl, D. Stanton, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 359, October 2017

In recent years, the study of Palaeolithic people has been a vigorous, productive topic, with the increasing knowledge of diet contributing significantly to the debate's liveliness (e.g. Richards 2009; Henry et al. 2010; Hardy et al. 2012, 2016; El Zaatari et al. 2016).


The first Middle Palaeolithic site exhibiting obsidian industry on the northern slopes of the Central Caucasus, di E. Doronicheva, L. Golovanova, V. Doronichev, A. Nedomolkin, S. Shackley, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 359, October 2017

Modern research in the Caucasus involving both obsidian artefact characterisation and sourcing enhances our knowledge of the early exploitation and exchange of this raw material (Le Bourdonnec et al. 2012; Montoya et al. 2013; Chatainger & Gratuze 2014; Doronicheva & Shackley 2014; Frahm et al. 2014; Pleurdeau et al. 2016).


Hafting with beeswax in the Final Palaeolithic: a barbed point from Bergkamen, di M. Baales, S. Birker, F. Mucha, "Antiquity", Volume 91, Issue 359, October 2017, pp. 1155-1170

During the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), much of the familiar insect fauna of Northern Europe today was confined to the warmer areas south of the Alps. Chemical and microscopic analysis of hafting residues on a Final Palaeolithic barbed point from Westphalia in Germany has, for the first time, yielded evidence for the use of beeswax as a major component of adhesive during the later stages of the LGM. Analysis also confirmed that the beeswax was tempered with crushed charcoal. AMS dating of the Bergkamen barbed point suggests direct association with the Final Pleistocene Federmessergruppen, approximately 13000 years ago. Furthermore, the adhesive provides the first direct evidence of the honeybee, Apis mellifera, in Europe following the LGM.

  Early Stone Tools and Cultural Transmission: Resetting the Null Hypothesis, di C. Tennie, L. S. Premo, D. R. Braun, S. P. McPherron, "Current Anthropology", Volume 58, Number 5 | October 2017 - free  access -

We have learned much about tool use in nonhumans since the discovery of Oldowan stone tools. Despite the ongoing debate over whether tool use in other animals requires cultural transmission, it seems clear that, today, humans show a quantitative, if not qualitative, difference in our ability to transmit information socially through cultural transmission. This ability makes cumulative culture possible. Although comparative studies provide relevant insights, we must look to the Paleolithic archaeological record to address when, where, and ultimately why this shift to high-fidelity social learning occurred. Yet here the frequent assumption that even the earliest stone tools serve as evidence of high-fidelity cultural transmission hinders investigation more than it helps. We pragmatically suggest resetting the null hypothesis for the processes underlying early stone tool production. The null hypothesis that we prefer is that early stone tools might have been so-called latent solutions rather than cultural material that derived from—and depended upon—modern human-like high-fidelity cultural transmission. This simple shift in perspective prioritizes the systematic investigation of more parsimonious potential explanations and forces us to demonstrate, rather than presume, that stone tools could not have existed without high-fidelity cultural transmission. (...)

  Archaic Hominin Introgression in Africa Contributes to Functional Salivary MUC7 Genetic Variation, di D. Xu et alii, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 34, Issue 10, 1 October 2017, Pages 2704–2715 - free  access -

One of the most abundant proteins in human saliva, mucin-7, is encoded by the MUC7 gene, which harbors copy number variable subexonic repeats (PTS-repeats) that affect the size and glycosylation potential of this protein. We recently documented the adaptive evolution of MUC7 subexonic copy number variation among primates. Yet, the evolution of MUC7 genetic variation in humans remained unexplored. Here, we found that PTS-repeat copy number variation has evolved recurrently in the human lineage, thereby generating multiple haplotypic backgrounds carrying five or six PTS-repeat copy number alleles. Contrary to previous studies, we found no associations between the copy number of PTS-repeats and protection against asthma. Instead, we revealed a significant association of MUC7 haplotypic variation with the composition of the oral microbiome. Furthermore, based on in-depth simulations, we conclude that a divergent MUC7 haplotype likely originated in an unknown African hominin population and introgressed into ancestors of modern Africans. (...)

  Heat-induced alteration of glauconitic minerals in the Middle Stone Age levels of Blombos Cave, South Africa: Implications for evaluating site structure and burning events, di M. M. Haaland et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 86, October 2017, Pages 81-100 - free  access -

In this paper we conduct geochemical and colourimetric measurements of glauconite grains in micromorphological thin sections from the Middle Stone Age site of Blombos Cave, South Africa, to investigate the formation, internal structure and reworking of heat-exposed cave deposits that are related to prehistoric burning events. Controlled heating experiments were first carried out on glauconite-rich loose sediments and block samples, both of which were collected from the Blombos Cave bedrock. The control samples were then subjected to Fourier transform infrared spectrometry (FTIR), microscopic Fourier transform infrared spectrometry (micro-FTIR) and petrographic-colourimetric analyses. The control experiment shows that glauconitic minerals undergo a gradual and systematic colour change when temperatures reach higher than c. 300–400 °C, primarily due to dehydration and iron oxidation. They also undergo clear structural changes when temperatures reach higher than c. 550 °C due to dehydroxylation and mineral transformation. By assessing the nature and degree of heat-induced optical and molecular alteration in glauconitic minerals, we demonstrate how glauconite grains in thin sections can be classified by the temperature to which they were exposed (20–400 °C, >400 °C, >600 °C and >800 °C). To assess the archaeological relevance of our controlled heating experiment, we applied this glauconite classification scheme to >200 grains found in three micromorphological thin sections of a Middle Stone Age (MSA) combustion feature. These grains were individually geo-referenced within the local coordinate system of Blombos Cave, through a thin-section-based GIS mapping procedure. With improved spatial control, we were able to study both the general distribution of non-altered and heat-altered glauconite grains in their original sedimentary context, as well as to calculate heat distribution models that cover the entire sampled section. This combined geo-chemical, optical and spatio-contextual approach provides insights into more elusive aspects of MSA site structure and burning events, such as heat intensity, burning frequency, temperature distribution, internal hearth structure and post-depositional reworking. The workflow we propose may easily be implemented and adapted to other archaeological contexts and to analogous sedimentary materials that show comparable heat-induced alteration patterns. (...)

  Occasional, obligatory, and habitual stone tool use in hominin evolution, di J. J. She, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 26, Issue 5, September/October 2017, Pages 200–217

Archeologists have long assumed that earlier hominins were obligatory stone tool users. This assumption is deeply embedded in traditional ways of describing the lithic record. This paper argues that lithic evidence dating before 1.7 Ma reflects occasional stone tool use, much like that practiced by nonhuman primates except that it involved flaked-stone cutting tools. Evidence younger than 0.3 Ma is more congruent with obligatory stone tool use, like that among recent humans. The onset of habitual stone tool use at about 1.7 Ma appears correlated with increased hominin logistical mobility (carrying things). The onset of obligatory stone tool use after 0.3 Ma may be linked to the evolution of spoken language. Viewing the lithic evidence dating between 0.3-1.7 Ma as habitual stone tool use explains previously inexplicable aspects of the Early-Middle Pleistocene lithic record.

  The growth pattern of Neandertals, reconstructed from a juvenile skeleton from El Sidrón (Spain), di A. Rosas, L. Ríos, A. Estalrrich, H. Liversidge, A. García-Tabernero, R. Huguet, "Science" 22 Sep 2017: Vol. 357, Issue 6357, pp. 1282-1287

Ontogenetic studies help us understand the processes of evolutionary change. Previous studies on Neandertals have focused mainly on dental development and inferred an accelerated pace of general growth. We report on a juvenile partial skeleton (El Sidrón J1) preserving cranio-dental and postcranial remains. We used dental histology to estimate the age at death to be 7.7 years. Maturation of most elements fell within the expected range of modern humans at this age. The exceptions were the atlas and mid-thoracic vertebrae, which remained at the 5- to 6-year stage of development. Furthermore, endocranial features suggest that brain growth was not yet completed. The vertebral maturation pattern and extended brain growth most likely reflect Neandertal physiology and ontogenetic energy constraints rather than any fundamental difference in the overall pace of growth in this extinct human.

· Neandertals, like humans, may have had long childhoods, di A. Gibbons, "Science", Sep. 21, 2017

· La crescita lenta del giovane Neanderthal, "Le Scienze", 25 settembre 2017


Aggiornamento 20 settembre


New palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstructions for the Middle Palaeolithic site of Cuesta de la Bajada (Teruel, eastern Spain) inferred from the amphibian and squamate reptile assemblages, di H. A. Blain et alii, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 173, 1 October 2017, Pages 78-91

In the eastern Iberian Peninsula, the archaeological site of Cuesta de la Bajada (Teruel, Spain) has produced some of the earliest evidence of Middle Paleolithic stone tool traditions together with evidence of equid and cervid carcasses defleshed by hominins. Based on the numerical age of 317-240 ka derived from OSL, ESR and AAR dating methods for the lower part of the Cuesta de la Bajada sedimentological sequence (level CB3), as well as the biochronological inferences for the small and large mammal associations, the site can be attributed to Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 8 or the end of MIS 9. As amphibians and reptiles have precise environmental and climatic requirements and do not differ at species level from the extant herpetofauna of the Iberian Peninsula, they can contribute to the reconstruction of the landscape and climate. In this paper, the fossil amphibians and squamate reptiles from Cuesta de la Bajada are studied for the first time. The mutual ecogeographic range and habitat weighting methods were applied to the herpetofaunal assemblages to estimate quantitative data for the landscape and climate reconstructions. The climate is shown to have been colder and wetter than today in the interior of eastern Spain, with mean annual temperature up to 2.5 °C lower and mean annual precipitation slightly higher than at present. The monthly climatic reconstruction shows differences in the distribution of precipitation over the course of the year, with more abundant precipitation from late autumn to spring (i.e. from October to May), and more or less similar precipitation to today during the summer months (July and August). This suggests there was stronger rainfall seasonality between winter and summer than currently occurs. The paleoenvironmental reconstruction based on the herpetofaunal assemblage depicts a poorly forested (15–20%) patchy landscape with a large representation of dry meadows and scrubland habitats together with well-evidenced aquatic habitats. These reconstructions are consistent with other proxies recovered at Cuesta de la Bajada (pollen, small and large mammals) as well as other European MIS 8–9 paleoclimatic records. We can thus correlate levels CB2 and CB3 with the later part of MIS 8 (265-257 ka) or with a humid fluctuation within the MIS9b (303-290 ka). It is also possible to provide a new description of the environmental and climatic conditions that occurred in inner Spain during a cold period of the late Middle Pleistocene.


Evolutionary processes shaping diversity across the Homo lineage, di L. Schroeder, R. Rogers Ackermann, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 111, October 2017, Pages 1-17

Recent fossil finds have highlighted extensive morphological diversity within our genus, Homo, and the co-existence of a number of species. However, little is known about the evolutionary processes responsible for producing this diversity. Understanding the action of these processes can provide insight into how and why our lineage evolved and diversified. Here, we examine cranial and mandibular variation and diversification from the earliest emergence of our genus at 2.8 Ma until the Late Pleistocene (0.126–0.0117 Ma), using statistical tests developed from quantitative genetics theory to evaluate whether stochastic (genetic drift) versus non-stochastic (selection) processes were responsible for the observed variation. Results show that random processes can account for species diversification for most traits, including neurocranial diversification, and across all time periods. Where selection was found to shape diversification, we show that: 1) adaptation was important in the earliest migration of Homo out of Africa; 2) selection played a role in shaping mandibular and maxillary diversity among Homo groups, possibly due to dietary differences; and 3) Homo rudolfensis is adaptively different from other early Homo taxa, including the earliest known Homo specimen. These results show that genetic drift, and, likely, small population sizes were important factors shaping the evolution of Homo and many of its novel traits, but that selection played an essential role in driving adaptation to new contexts.


In pursuit of our ancestors' hand laterality, di A. Bargalló, M. Mosquera, S. Lozano, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 111, October 2017, Pages 18-32

The aim of this paper is to apply a previously published method (Bargalló and Mosquera, 2014) to the archaeological record, allowing us to identify the hand laterality of our ancestors and determine when and how this feature, which is exhibited most strongly in humans, appeared in our evolutionary history. The method focuses on identifying handedness by looking at the technical features of the flakes produced by a single knapper, and discovering how many flakes are required to ascertain their hand preference. This method can potentially be applied to the majority of archaeological sites, since flakes are the most abundant stone tools, and stone tools are the most widespread and widely-preserved remains from prehistory. For our study, we selected two Spanish sites: Gran Dolina-TD10.1 (Atapuerca) and Abric Romaní (Barcelona), which were occupied by pre-Neanderthal and Neanderthal populations, respectively. Our analyses indicate that a minimum number of eight flakes produced by the same knapper is required to ascertain their hand preference. Even though this figure is relatively low, it is quite difficult to obtain from many archaeological sites. In addition, there is no single technical feature that provides information about handedness, instead there is a combination of eight technical features, localised on the striking platforms and ventral surfaces. The raw material is not relevant where good quality rocks are used, in this case quartzite and flint, since most of them retain the technical features required for the analysis. Expertise is not an issue either, since the technical features analysed here only correlate with handedness (Bargalló and Mosquera, 2014). Our results allow us to tentatively identify one right-handed knapper among the pre-Neanderthals of level TD10.1 at Gran Dolina (Atapuerca), while four of the five Neanderthals analysed from Abric Romaní were right-handed. The hand preference of the fifth knapper from that location (AR5) remains unclear.


Early hominin landscape use in the Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia: Insights from the taphonomical analysis of Oldowan occurrences in the Shungura Formation (Member F), di T. Maurin, P. Bertran, A. Delagnes, J. R. Boisserie, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 111, October 2017, Pages 33-53

The Oldowan archeological record of the Shungura Formation, Member F (Lower Omo valley, Ethiopia) comprises more than one hundred occurrences distributed within archeological complexes, where multiple small spots were found in association with one or two larger occurrences. Such spatial patterning could reflect hominin spatial behavior, repeated occupations within a single sedimentary unit, or taphonomic and/or collection biases. Here we test these hypotheses by way of a geoarcheological and taphonomical analysis using four criteria to assess the preservation of the lithic assemblages: (1) size composition, (2) artifact abrasion, (3) bone abrasion, and (4) orientations of lithic artifacts and bones (i.e., fabrics). We propose a new model of taphonomically induced spatial patterning where the multiple, small, well circumscribed occurrences result primarily from post-depositional processes and therefore do not reflect any underlying behavioral patterns. The large number of archeological occurrences documented in Member F, therefore, corresponds to a limited number of primary occupations (<10). The archeological occupation is mainly restricted to the lower part of Member F and may reflect a single or a small number of occupation episodes, which were located on previous levees of the paleo-Omo River, in nearby floodplain areas, or on the riverbank. This strongly suggests that most of the knapping activities originally took place close to the river. This preference of the Omo toolmakers for riverine environments could explain the scarcity of archeological material in the upper part of Member F that comprises primarily distal floodplain sedimentary facies.


Evidence of Neanderthals in the Balkans: The infant radius from Kozarnika Cave (Bulgaria), di A. M. Tillier et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 111, October 2017, Pages 54-62

Excavations conducted by a Bulgarian-French team at Kozarnika Cave (Balkans, Bulgaria) during several seasons yielded a long Paleolithic archaeological sequence and led to the discovery of important faunal, lithic, and human samples. This paper aims to describe the unpublished radius shaft of an infant who died approximately before the sixth month postnatal that was recovered from layer 10b, which contained East Balkan Levallois Mousterian with bifacial leaf points. The layer was dated between 130 and 200 ka (large mammals biochronology) and between 128 ± 13 ka and 183 ± 14 ka (OSL), i.e. OIS6. Here we show that, given the scarcity of Middle Pleistocene infant remains in general, and Middle Paleolithic human remains from this part of Eastern Europe in particular, the study of the Kozarnika specimen is of special interest. We discuss its place in the Middle Pleistocene European hominine record and substantiate the hypothesis of early Neanderthal presence in the eastern Balkans.


Paleolithic subsistence strategies and changes in site use at Klissoura Cave 1 (Peloponnese, Greece), di B. M. Starkovich, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 111, October 2017, Pages 63-84

Klissoura Cave 1 in southern Greece preserves a long archaeological sequence that spans roughly 90,000 years and includes Middle Paleolithic, Uluzzian, Upper Paleolithic, and Mesolithic deposits. The site provides a unique opportunity to examine diachronic change and shifts in the intensity of site use across the Late Pleistocene. There is an overall picture of the intensified use of faunal resources at the site, evidenced by a shift from large to small game, and to small fast-moving taxa in particular. This trend is independent of climatic change and fluctuations in site use, and most likely reflects a broader, regional growth of hominin populations. At the same time, multiple lines of evidence (e.g., input of artifacts and features, sedimentation mechanisms, and intensification of faunal resources) indicate that the intensity of site use changed, with a sharp increase from the Middle Paleolithic to Aurignacian. This allows us to address a fundamental issue in the study of human evolution: differences in population size and site use between Neandertals and modern humans. At Klissoura Cave 1, the increase in occupation intensity might be related to population growth or larger group size, but it might also be due to changes in season of site use, more favorable environmental conditions at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, and/or changes in the composition of people occupying the site. These explanations are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and indeed the data support a combination of factors. Ascribing the increase in occupation intensity to larger Upper Paleolithic populations more broadly is difficult, particularly because there is little consensus on this topic elsewhere in Eurasia. The data are complicated and vary greatly between sites and regions. This makes Klissoura Cave 1, as the only currently available case study in southeastern Europe, a critical example in understanding the range of variation in demography and site use across the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition.


The costal remains of the El Sidrón Neanderthal site (Asturias, northern Spain) and their importance for understanding Neanderthal thorax morphology, di D. García-Martínez et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 111, October 2017, Pages 85-101

The study of the Neanderthal thorax has attracted the attention of the scientific community for more than a century. It is agreed that Neanderthals have a more capacious thorax than modern humans, but whether this was caused by a medio-lateral or an antero-posterior expansion of the thorax is still debated, and is key to understanding breathing biomechanics and body shape in Neanderthals. The fragile nature of ribs, the metameric structure of the thorax and difficulties in quantifying thorax morphology all contribute to uncertainty regarding precise aspects of Neanderthal thoracic shape. The El Sidrón site has yielded costal remains from the upper to the lower thorax, as well as several proximal rib ends (frequently missing in the Neanderthal record), which help to shed light on Neanderthal thorax shape. We compared the El Sidrón costal elements with ribs from recent modern humans as well as with fossil modern humans and other Neanderthals through traditional morphometric methods and 3D geometric morphometrics, combined with missing data estimation and virtual reconstruction (at the 1st, 5th and 11th costal levels). Our results show that Neanderthals have larger rib heads and articular tubercles than their modern human counterparts. Neanderthal 1st ribs are smaller than in modern humans, whereas 5th and 11th ribs are considerably larger. When we articulated mean ribs (size and shape) with their corresponding vertebral elements, we observed that compared to modern humans the Neanderthal thorax is medio-laterally expanded at every level, especially at T5 and T11. Therefore, in the light of evidence from the El Sidrón costal remains, we hypothesize that the volumetric expansion of the Neanderthal thorax proposed by previous authors would mainly be produced by a medio-lateral expansion of the thorax.


Newly discovered Neanderthal remains from Shanidar Cave, Iraqi Kurdistan, and their attribution to Shanidar 5, di E. Pomeroy et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 111, October 2017, Pages 102-118

The Neanderthal remains from Shanidar Cave, excavated between 1951 and 1960, have played a central role in debates concerning diverse aspects of Neanderthal morphology and behavior. In 2015 and 2016, renewed excavations at the site uncovered hominin remains from the immediate area where the partial skeleton of Shanidar 5 was found in 1960. Shanidar 5 was a robust adult male estimated to have been aged over 40 years at the time of death. Comparisons of photographs from the previous and recent excavations indicate that the old and new remains were directly adjacent to one another, while the disturbed arrangement and partial crushing of the new fossils is consistent with descriptions and photographs of the older discoveries. The newly discovered bones include fragments of several vertebrae, a left hamate, part of the proximal left femur, a heavily crushed partial pelvis, and the distal half of the right tibia and fibula and associated talus and navicular. All these elements were previously missing from Shanidar 5, and morphological and metric data are consistent with the new elements belonging to this individual. A newly discovered partial left pubic symphysis indicates an age at death of 40–50 years, also consistent with the age of Shanidar 5 estimated previously. Thus, the combined evidence strongly suggests that the new finds can be attributed to Shanidar 5. Ongoing analyses of associated samples, including for sediment morphology, palynology, and dating, will therefore offer new evidence as to how this individual was deposited in the cave and permit new analyses of the skeleton itself and broader discussion of Neanderthal morphology and variation.


Body size, brain size, and sexual dimorphism in Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, di H. M. Garvin et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 111, October 2017, Pages 119-138

Homo erectus and later humans have enlarged body sizes, reduced sexual dimorphism, elongated lower limbs, and increased encephalization compared to Australopithecus, together suggesting a distinct ecological pattern. The mosaic expression of such features in early Homo, including Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, and some early H. erectus, suggests that these traits do not constitute an integrated package. We examined the evidence for body mass, stature, limb proportions, body size and dental size dimorphism, and absolute and relative brain size in Homo naledi as represented in the Dinaledi Chamber sample. H. naledi stature and body mass are low compared to reported values for H. erectus, with the exception of some of the smaller bodied Dmanisi H. erectus specimens, and overlap with larger Australopithecus and early Homo estimates. H. naledi endocranial volumes (465–560 cc) and estimates of encephalization quotient are also similar to Australopithecus and low compared to all Homo specimens, with the exception of Homo floresiensis (LB1) and the smallest Dmanisi H. erectus specimen (D4500). Unlike Australopithecus, but similar to derived members of genus Homo, the Dinaledi assemblage of H. naledi exhibits both low levels of body mass and dental size variation, with an estimated body mass index of sexual dimorphism less than 20%, and appears to have an elongated lower limb. Thus, the H. naledi bauplan combines features not typically seen in Homo species (e.g., small brains and bodies) with those characteristic of H. erectus and more recent Homo species (e.g., reduced mass dimorphism, elongated lower limb).


Neanderthal and Denisova tooth protein variants in present-day humans, di C. Zanolli, M. Hourset, R. Esclassan, C. Mollereau, September 13, 2017,  - free  access -

Environment parameters, diet and genetic factors interact to shape tooth morphostructure. In the human lineage, archaic and modern hominins show differences in dental traits, including enamel thickness, but variability also exists among living populations. Several polymorphisms, in particular in the non-collagenous extracellular matrix proteins of the tooth hard tissues, like enamelin, are involved in dental structure variation and defects and may be associated with dental disorders or susceptibility to caries. To gain insights into the relationships between tooth protein polymorphisms and dental structural morphology and defects, we searched for non-synonymous polymorphisms in tooth proteins from Neanderthal and Denisova hominins. The objective was to identify archaic-specific missense variants that may explain the dental morphostructural variability between extinct and modern humans, and to explore their putative impact on present-day dental phenotypes. Thirteen non-collagenous extracellular matrix proteins specific to hard dental tissues have been selected, searched in the publicly available sequence databases of Neanderthal and Denisova individuals and compared with modern human genome data. A total of 16 non-synonymous polymorphisms were identified in 6 proteins (ameloblastin, amelotin, cementum protein 1, dentin matrix acidic phosphoprotein 1, enamelin and matrix Gla protein). Most of them are encoded by dentin and enamel genes located on chromosome 4, previously reported to show signs of archaic introgression within Africa. Among the variants shared with modern humans, two are ancestral (common with apes) and one is the derived enamelin major variant, T648I (rs7671281), associated with a thinner enamel and specific to the Homo lineage. All the others are specific to Neanderthals and Denisova, and are found at a very low frequency in modern Africans or East and South Asians, suggesting that they may be related to particular dental traits or disease susceptibility in these populations. This modern regional distribution of archaic dental polymorphisms may reflect persistence of archaic variants in some populations and may contribute in part to the geographic dental variations described in modern humans. (...)


Direct dating of Neanderthal remains from the site of Vindija Cave and implications for the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition, di T. Devièse et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - Early Edition", September 5, 2017, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1709235114

Previous dating of the Vi-207 and Vi-208 Neanderthal remains from Vindija Cave (Croatia) led to the suggestion that Neanderthals survived there as recently as 28,000–29,000 B.P. Subsequent dating yielded older dates, interpreted as ages of at least ∼32,500 B.P. We have redated these same specimens using an approach based on the extraction of the amino acid hydroxyproline, using preparative high-performance liquid chromatography (Prep-HPLC). This method is more efficient in eliminating modern contamination in the bone collagen. The revised dates are older than 40,000 B.P., suggesting the Vindija Neanderthals did not live more recently than others across Europe, and probably predate the arrival of anatomically modern humans in Eastern Europe. We applied zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (ZooMS) to find additional hominin remains. We identified one bone that is Neanderthal, based on its mitochondrial DNA, and dated it directly to 46,200 ± 1,500 B.P. We also attempted to date six early Upper Paleolithic bone points from stratigraphic units G1, Fd/d+G1 and Fd/d, Fd. One bone artifact gave a date of 29,500 ± 400 B.P., while the remainder yielded no collagen. We additionally dated animal bone samples from units G1 and G1–G3. These dates suggest a co-occurrence of early Upper Paleolithic osseous artifacts, particularly split-based points, alongside the remains of Neanderthals is a result of postdepositional mixing, rather than an association between the two groups, although more work is required to show this definitively.


Prehistoric hunter-gatherers and farmers in the Adriatic and neighboring regions, "Quaternary International", volume 450, pages 1-242 (2 September 2017). Edited by Nikola Vukosavljević and Ivor Karavanić

· Prehistoric hunter-gatherers and farmers in the Adriatic and neighboring regions, di Ivor Karavanić, Nikola Vukosavljević

· Between “vintage” and “avant-guard”, the Lower Palaeolithic settlements in Molise region (Italy), di Julie Arnaud, Marta Arzarello, Giuseppe Lembo, Brunella Muttillo, Carlo Peretto, Ettore Rufo

· Late Neandertals in Dalmatia: Site formation processes, chronology, climate change and human activity at Mujina Pećina, Croatia, di Giovanni Boschian, Katarina Gerometta, Brooks B. Ellwood, Ivor Karavanić

· Crvena Stijena revisited: The Late Mousterian assemblages, di Dušan Mihailović, Robert Whallon

· Micro-Mousterian in Northern Dalmatia, di Dario Vujević, Zlatko Perhoč, Tomislav Ivančić

· Lithic production strategies in the Middle Paleolithic of the southern Balkans, di Tamara Dogandžić, Ljiljana Đuričić

· Mousterian osseous artefacts? The case of Divje babe I, Slovenia, di Matija Turk, Adrijan Košir

· Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in Moravia: New sites, new dates, new ideas, di Petr Škrdla

· The Assimilation Model of modern human origins in light of current genetic and genomic knowledge, di Fred H. Smith, James C.M. Ahern, Ivor Janković, Ivor Karavanić

· Lithics, landscapes & la Longue-durée – Curation & expediency as expressions of forager mobility, di G.A. Clark, C. Michael Barton

· After the cold: Epigravettian hunter-gatherers in Blazi Cave (Albania), di Thomas C. Hauck, Nadine Nolde, Rudenc Ruka, Ilir Gjipali, Johanna Dreier, Nathalie Mayer

· Lithic raw material procurement of the Late Epigravettian hunter-gatherers from Kopačina Cave (island of Brač, Dalmatia, Croatia), di Nikola Vukosavljević, Zlatko Perhoč

· Change fast or change slow? Late Glacial and Early Holocene cultures in a changing environment at Grotta Continenza, Central Italy, di Giovanni Boschian, Marco Serradimigni, Marta Colombo, Sabina Ghislandi, Renata Grifoni Cremonesi

· Antler exploitation and management in the Vinča culture: An overview of evidence from Serbia, di Selena Vitezović

· The method of debitage by bipartition in the exploitation of bone: An overview of its application in Neolithic groups of Sardinia, di Laura Manca


Experimental methods for the Palaeolithic dry distillation of birch bark: implications for the origin and development of Neandertal adhesive technology, di P. R. B. Kozowyk, M. Soressi, D. Pomstra, G. H. J. Langejans, Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 8033 (2017), doi:10.1038/s41598-017-08106-7 - free  access -

The destructive distillation of birch bark to produce tar has recently featured in debates about the technological and cognitive abilities of Neandertals and modern humans. The abilities to precisely control fire temperatures and to manipulate adhesive properties are believed to require advanced mental traits. However, the significance given to adhesive technology in these debates has quickly outgrown our understanding of birch bark tar and its manufacture using aceramic techniques. In this paper, we detail three experimental methods of Palaeolithic tar production ranging from simple to complex. We recorded the fuel, time, materials, temperatures, and tar yield for each method and compared them with the tar known from the Palaeolithic. Our results indicate that it is possible to obtain useful amounts of tar by combining materials and technology already in use by Neandertals. A ceramic container is not required, and temperature control need not be as precise as previously thought. However, Neandertals must have been able to recognize certain material properties, such as adhesive tack and viscosity. In this way, they could develop the technology from producing small traces of tar on partially burned bark to techniques capable of manufacturing quantities of tar equal to those found in the Middle Palaeolithic archaeological record. (...)


Evolution des hominidés, Septembre 2017

Nouveau schéma 2017. Présenter l'arbre généalogique de notre espèce et des autres hominidés n'est pas d'une grande simplicité ! L'évolution de l'homme est assez souvent comparée visuellement à un buisson. Une fois notre lignée séparée des grands singes il y a 7-8 millions d'années, plusieurs branches avec de nouvelles espèces d'hominidés s'écartent, se rapprochent, s'arrêtent brusquement... pour finir (?) avec une seule espèce depuis quelques milliers d'années: Homo sapiens...


The Late Neandertal permanent lower left third premolar from Walou Cave (Trooz, Belgium) and its context, di M. Toussaint et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 164, Issue 1, September 2017, Pages 193–202

We describe a hominin permanent lower left third premolar unearthed in 1997 at Walou Cave (Belgium), found in direct association with a Mousterian lithic industry, in a layer directly dated to 40–38,000 years BP.
The taxonomical attribution of the tooth is addressed through comparative morphometric analyses, and stable isotope analyses aimed at determining the diet of the individual.
The Walou P3 plots within the Neandertal range of variation and is significantly different from recent modern humans in all morphometric assessments. The isotope data showed that like other Neandertals, the Walou individual acquired its dietary proteins primarily from terrestrial food sources.
We discuss the implications of the existence of a clearly Neandertal premolar dating to the period of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in the Meuse river basin.


Behavioral inferences from the high levels of dental chipping in Homo naledi, di I. Towle, J. D. Irish, I. De Groote, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 164, Issue 1, September 2017, Pages 184–192

A variety of mechanical processes can result in antemortem dental chipping. In this study, chipping data in the teeth of Homo naledi are compared with those of other pertinent dental samples to give insight into their etiology.
Permanent teeth with complete crowns evidencing occlusal wear were examined macroscopically. The location, number, and severity of fractures were recorded and compared to those found in samples of two other South African fossil hominin species and in samples of nonhuman primates (n = 3) and recent humans (n = 7).
With 44% of teeth affected, H. naledi exhibits far higher rates of chipping than the other fossil hominin samples. Specifically, 50% of posterior teeth and 31% of anterior teeth display at least one chip. The maxillary teeth are more affected than the mandibular teeth (45% vs 43%, respectively), 73% of molar chipping occurs on interproximal surfaces, and right teeth are more often affected than left teeth (50% vs 38%).
Results indicate that the teeth of H. naledi were exposed to acute trauma on a regular basis. Because interproximal areas are more affected than buccal and posterior teeth more than anterior, it is unlikely that nonmasticatory cultural behavior was the cause. A diet containing hard and resistant food, or contaminants such as grit, is more likely. The small chip size, and steep occlusal wear and cupped dentine on some molars are supportive of the latter possibility. This pattern of chipping suggests that H. naledi differed considerably—in terms of diet, environment, and/or specialized masticatory processing—relative to other African fossil hominins.


Testing the Roc de Marsal Neandertal “Burial” with Geoarchaeology, di P. Goldberg, V. Aldeias, H. Dibble, S. McPherron, D. Sandgathe, A. Turq, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", September 2017, Volume 9, Issue 6, pp 1005–1015

The question of intentional Neanderthal interment continues to be debated in paleoanthropology. Among the criteria that can be used to investigate the intentionality of a burial, many of them rely on geoarchaeological data that speak to the context of the human remains. In this paper, we revisit the original attribution of the Roc de Marsal Neandertal infant as an intentional burial by evaluating the sedimentary context, pit structure, and taphonomical aspects of the remains and their integration with data from the most recent excavations at the site. From a geoarchaeological point of view, no clear anthropogenic ritual signature was found. On the contrary, all the available evidence points towards natural formation processes associated with the initial deposition and subsequent burial of the Roc de Marsal Neandertal infant.


New evidence of bones used as fuel in the Gravettian level at Coímbre cave, northern Iberian Peninsula, di J. Yravedra et alii, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", September 2017, Volume 9, Issue 6, pp 1153–1168

The use of bone as fuel has been already documented in some sites dated to the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. They contribute to a longer combustion time due to their durability; consequently, they are useful to reduce the need for firewood, a good advantage in open palaeoenvironmental contexts with limited arboreal vegetation. The use of bones as fuel can be identified by several lines of evidence. The main one is a large number of burned bones, with an intense cremation–charring or calcination, together with high fragmentation resulting from the long contact with the fire. Other features may be present, although they can also result from individual circumstances. They include either the presence of complete skeletal profiles–which implies using all the bones of the animal–or a selection of the anatomical parts which contribute better to combustion, i.e. epiphyses and axial elements. In this article, we argue that the faunal assemblage of level Co.B.6 of Coímbre cave fully corresponds to this model. Moreover, this level coincides with a cold palaeoclimatic event, which was correlative to the climatic deterioration that occurred at the end of MIS 3, and an open environment. Thus, we propose that this level contains the first known use of bones as fuel in the Cantabrian Gravettian.


Multi-purpose fossils? The reappraisal of an Elephas antiquus molar from El Pirulejo (Magdalenian; Córdoba, Spain), di M. Cortés-Sánchez et alii, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", September 2017, Volume 9, Issue 6, pp 1287–1303

Fossil gathering by humans has been rarely documented in the Iberian Peninsula. In the present paper, a multidisciplinary approach has been taken to analyze a straight-tusked elephant (Elephas antiquus) molar retrieved in a Magdalenian deposit at the rock shelter of El Pirulejo in southern Spain. The taphonomical analyses revealed a multifarious use of a tooth that had not only been worked into an anvil-sort-of-tool but also used as a core and partly tainted with a composite pigment. The dating and geochemical analyses further evidenced that the molar derived from an animal that had lived in a rather arid landscape with a temperature range between 12.3 and 14.3 °C coincident with a cold episode within marine isotope stage (MIS) 6.6 and probably fed on herbaceous plants. These analyses evidence the potential fossils from archaeological sites bear for addressing a wide range of issues that include both the cultural and paleoenvironmental realms.


When and where do dogs improve hunting productivity? The empirical record and some implications for early Upper Paleolithic prey acquisition, di K. D. Lupo, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 47, September 2017, Pages 139–151

Recent archeological finds of protodogs dating to 35,000 years ago have ignited controversy over the function of canids in early Upper Paleolithic societies. Reconstructions nominate the use of proto and early dogs in hunting and hauling as underwriting changes in subsistence technology, catalyzing human population growth and supporting the spread of modern humans at the expense of Neanderthals. These reconstructions assume that the use of canids in hunting will always have profound impacts on human subsistence. In this paper, I summarize existing quantitative data derived from the ethnographic record to evaluate productivity gains derived from the use of dogs in hunting. To augment this sparse information, I present some of the only data on the deployment of unspecialized Central African dogs (basenji’s) by hunter-gatherers. These data show that while dogs can enhance hunting returns in certain circumstance, their overall impact on hunting productivity is highly variable and often restricted to specific prey types. Furthermore, the complex circumstances surrounding the emergence and spread of dogs globally precludes simple applications of these data to the archaeological record. These data invite a reexamination of when and how we expect dogs to have a significant impact on human subsistence and the circumstances that supported the emergence and spread of canids as effective hunting aids.


Rabbits in the grave! Consequences of bioturbation on the Neandertal “burial” at Regourdou (Montignac-sur-Vézère, Dordogne), di M. Pelletier et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 110, September 2017, Pages 1-17

The understanding of Neanderthal societies, both with regard to their funerary behaviors and their subsistence activities, is hotly debated. Old excavations and a lack of taphonomic context are often factors that limit our ability to address these questions. To better appreciate the exact nature of what is potentially the oldest burial in Western Europe, Regourdou (Montignac-sur-Vézère, Dordogne), and to better understand the taphonomy of this site excavated more than 50 years ago, we report in this contribution a study of the most abundant animals throughout its stratigraphy: the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). In addition to questions surrounding the potential bioturbation of the site's stratigraphy, analysis of the Regourdou rabbits could provide new information on Neandertal subsistence behavior. The mortality profile, skeletal-part representation, breakage patterns, surface modification, and comparison with modern reference collections supports the hypothesis that the Regourdou rabbit remains were primarily accumulated due to natural (attritional) mortality. Radiocarbon dates performed directly on the rabbit remains give ages ranging within the second half of Marine Isotope Stage 3, notably younger than the regional Mousterian period. We posit that rabbits dug their burrows within Regourdou's sedimentological filling, likely inhabiting the site after it was filled. The impact of rabbit activity now brings into question both the reliability of the archaeostratigraphy of the site and the paleoenvironmental reconstructions previously proposed for it, and suggests rabbits may have played a role in the distribution of the Neandertal skeletal remains.


The evolution of vertebral formulae in Hominoidea, di N. E. Thompson, S. Almécija, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 110, September 2017, Pages 18-36

Primate vertebral formulae have long been investigated because of their link to locomotor behavior and overall body plan. Knowledge of the ancestral vertebral formulae in the hominoid tree of life is necessary to interpret the pattern of evolution among apes, and to critically evaluate the morphological adaptations involved in the transition to hominin bipedalism. Though many evolutionary hypotheses have been proposed based on living and fossil species, the application of quantitative phylogenetic methods for thoroughly reconstructing ancestral vertebral formulae and formally testing patterns of vertebral evolution is lacking. To estimate the most probable scenarios of hominoid vertebral evolution, we utilized an iterative ancestral state reconstruction approach to determine likely ancestral vertebral counts in apes, humans, and other anthropoid out-groups. All available ape and hominin fossil taxa with an inferred regional vertebral count were included in the analysis. Sensitivity iterations were performed both by changing the phylogenetic position of fossil taxa with a contentious placement, and by changing the inferred number of vertebrae in taxa with uncertain morphology. Our ancestral state reconstruction results generally support a short-backed hypothesis of human evolution, with a Pan-Homo last common ancestor possessing a vertebral formulae of 7:13:4:6 (cervical:thoracic:lumbar:sacral). Our results indicate that an initial reduction in lumbar vertebral count and increase in sacral count is a synapomorphy of crown hominoids (supporting an intermediate-backed hypothesis for the origins of the great ape-human clade). Further reduction in lumbar count occurs independently in orangutans and African apes. Our results highlight the complexity and homoplastic nature of vertebral count evolution, and give little support to the long-backed hypothesis of human evolution.


The earliest evidence for Upper Paleolithic occupation in the Armenian Highlands at Aghitu-3 Cave, di A. W.Kandel et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 110, September 2017, Pages 37-68

With its well-preserved archaeological and environmental records, Aghitu-3 Cave permits us to examine the settlement patterns of the Upper Paleolithic (UP) people who inhabited the Armenian Highlands. We also test whether settlement of the region between ~39–24,000 cal BP relates to environmental variability. The earliest evidence occurs in archaeological horizon (AH) VII from ~39–36,000 cal BP during a mild, moist climatic phase. AH VI shows periodic occupation as warm, humid conditions prevailed from ~36–32,000 cal BP. As the climate becomes cooler and drier at ~32–29,000 cal BP (AH V-IV), evidence for occupation is minimal. However, as cooling continues, the deposits of AH III demonstrate that people used the site more intensively from ~29–24,000 cal BP, leaving behind numerous stone artifacts, faunal remains, and complex combustion features. Despite the climatic fluctuations seen across this 15,000-year sequence, lithic technology remains attuned to one pattern: unidirectional reduction of small cores geared towards the production of bladelets for tool manufacture. Subsistence patterns also remain stable, focused on medium-sized prey such as ovids and caprids, as well as equids. AH III demonstrates an expansion of social networks to the northwest and southwest, as the transport distance of obsidian used to make stone artifacts increases. We also observe the addition of bone tools, including an eyed needle, and shell beads brought from the east, suggesting that these people manufactured complex clothing and wore ornaments. Remains of micromammals, birds, charcoal, pollen, and tephra relate the story of environmental variability. We hypothesize that UP behavior was linked to shifts in demographic pressures and climatic changes. Thus, by combining archaeological and environmental data, we gain a clearer picture about the first UP inhabitants of the Armenian Highlands.


New infant cranium from the African Miocene sheds light on ape evolution, di I. Nengo et alii, "Nature" 548, pp. 169–174 (10 August 2017)

The evolutionary history of extant hominoids (humans and apes) remains poorly understood. The African fossil record during the crucial time period, the Miocene epoch, largely comprises isolated jaws and teeth, and little is known about ape cranial evolution. Here we report on the, to our knowledge, most complete fossil ape cranium yet described, recovered from the 13 million-year-old Middle Miocene site of Napudet, Kenya. The infant specimen, KNM-NP 59050, is assigned to a new species of Nyanzapithecus on the basis of its unerupted permanent teeth, visualized by synchrotron imaging. Its ear canal has a fully ossified tubular ectotympanic, a derived feature linking the species with crown catarrhines. Although it resembles some hylobatids in aspects of its morphology and dental development, it possesses no definitive hylobatid synapomorphies. The combined evidence suggests that nyanzapithecines were stem hominoids close to the origin of extant apes, and that hylobatid-like facial features evolved multiple times during catarrhine evolution.

· Ancient infant ape skull sheds light on the ancestor of all humans and living apes, "Science News", Aug. 9, 2017

· Un antenato comune fra grandi scimmie ed esseri umani, "Le Scienze", 10 agosto 2017


An Upper Palaeolithic engraved human bone associated with ritualistic cannibalism, di S. M. Bello, R. Wallduck, S. A. Parfitt, C. B. Stringer, August 9, 2017, doi: - free  access -

Cut-marked and broken human bones are a recurrent feature of Magdalenian (~17–12,000 years BP, uncalibrated dates) European sites. Human remains at Gough’s Cave (UK) have been modified as part of a Magdalenian mortuary ritual that combined the intensive processing of entire corpses to extract edible tissues and the modification of skulls to produce skull-cups. A human radius from Gough’s Cave shows evidence of cut marks, percussion damage and human tooth marks, indicative of cannibalism, as well as a set of unusual zig-zagging incisions on the lateral side of the diaphysis. These latter incisions cannot be unambiguously associated with filleting of muscles. We compared the macro- and micro-morphological characteristics of these marks to over 300 filleting marks on human and non-human remains and to approximately 120 engraved incisions observed on two artefacts from Gough’s Cave. The new macro- and micro-morphometric analyses of the marks, as well as further comparisons with French Middle Magdalenian engraved artefacts, suggest that these modifications are the result of intentional engraving. The engraved motif comfortably fits within a Magdalenian pattern of design; what is exceptional in this case, however, is the choice of raw material (human bone) and the cannibalistic context in which it was produced. The sequence of the manipulations suggests that the engraving was a purposeful component of the cannibalistic practice, implying a complex ritualistic funerary behaviour that has never before been recognized for the Palaeolithic period. (...)


Early history of Neanderthals and Denisovans, di A. R. Rogers, R. J. Bohlender, C. D. Huff, August 7, 2017, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1706426114

Extensive DNA sequence data have made it possible to reconstruct human evolutionary history in unprecedented detail. We introduce a method to study the past several hundred thousand years. Our results show that the Neanderthal–Denisovan lineage declined to a small size just after separating from the modern lineage, Neanderthals and Denisovans separated soon thereafter, and the subsequent Neanderthal population was large and deeply subdivided. They also support previous estimates of gene flow from Neanderthals into modern Eurasians. These results suggest an archaic human diaspora early in the Middle Pleistocene.

· Nuove analisi del DNA ricostruiscono la storia evolutiva degli umani arcaici, "Le Scienza", 08 agosto 2017

· Early history of Neanderthals and Denisovans, di A. R. Rogers, R. J. Bohlender, C. D. Huff, September 12, 2017, vol. 114 no. 37, pp. 9859–9863


Origin of human genus may have occurred by chance, "Science Daily-Anthropology News", August 4, 2017

An often cited claim that humans, who are smarter and more technologically advanced than their ancestors, originated in response to climate change is challenged in a new report. (...)


On the early human's menu: Mammoth and plenty of raw vegetables, "Science Daily-Human Evolution News", August 4, 2017

Scientists have studied the diet of anatomically modern humans, and are able to refute the theory that the diet of early representatives of Homo sapiens was more flexible than that of Neanderthals. Just like the Neanderthals, our ancestors had mainly mammoth and plants on their plates. The researchers were unable to document fish as part of their diet. Therefore, the international team assumes that the displacement of the Neanderthals was the result of direct competition. (...)


The origin of the Acheulean. Techno-functional study of the FLK W lithic record (Olduvai, Tanzania), di P. Sánchez-Yustos et alii, August 2, 2017, DOI: - free  access -

The Acheulean materials documented in FLK West dated c. 1.7 Ma. are the focus of the present work. An original techno-functional approach is applied here to analyze the origin of Acheulean tools. According to the results, these tools were employed in different functional contexts in which tasks of different durations that transformed resources with different resistances were carried out. The exploitation of large and resistant resources suggests that the economic mechanism governing the manufacture of these tools was an increase in the demand of the work load. The decision processes underlying the production of these tools have thus an evident functional motivation. However, the presence of a refined handaxe in the studied sample indicates that the design form and production principles of handaxe manufacture were the result of an abrupt emergence rather than a long gradual development. The integration of mechanical and ergonomic investigation in our research has been crucial to explain how a core-and-flake industry gave way to a technology based on the production of large and heavy shaped tools. (...)


Cross-scale adaptive behaviors during the Upper Paleolithic in Iberia: The example of Vale Boi (Southwestern Portugal), di J. Cascalheira, N. Bicho, T. Manne, P. Horta, "Quaternary International", Volume 446, 2 August 2017, Pages 17-30

It is now rather evident that, concomitant with the advent, growth and disappearance of the traditionally defined Western European Upper Paleolithic techno-complexes, a series of discrete eco-cultural niches would have existed within Iberia. Vale Boi, and its surroundings, may represent one of these niches, since its lengthy and fairly complete archaeological record clearly attests that the region was an attractive location for hunter-gatherer communities for over 10,000 years. From the first Modern Human occupations, c. 32 ka cal BP ago, a set of very specific cultural adaptive markers seem to have been developed in response to the particularities of the regional ecological background. Some of these strategies, such as intensive subsistence practices, raw-material specialized use, among others, were resilient through time and apparently impermeable to the major shifts in the techno-typological novelties brought about with the advent of each Upper Paleolithic phase. Even with the appearance of quite unique and broad-scale technologies, e.g. Solutrean, regional markers and identity have been kept, clearly showing that each level of the adaptive system seem to have operate at its own pace. This paper focus on long-term adaptive choices and on how and why hunter-gatherers inhabiting Vale Boi manage to absorb change and re-organize their system under new techno-complex cultural patterns while still retaining, efficiently, the same regional adaptive idiosyncrasies. Within the theoretical framework of Panarchy and the cross-scale resilience model we argue that cross-scale interactions between creative and conserving niche-specific behavioral adaptations were the keystone for the sustainability of hunter-gatherer cultural systems across the Late Pleistocene.


Altamira 1937: Grotta Aperta—Conflict Archaeology of a World Heritage Cave, di Xurxo M. Ayán Vila, "Archaeologies", August 2017, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 250–277

This article addresses the dark and barely known side of one of the most iconic symbols of Spanish heritage: the Palaeolithic cave of Altamira (region of Cantabria). The cave is a benchmark of European rock art and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. Access to the cave’s guestbook (inaugurated on 18 August 1928 with King Alfonso XIII’s signature) has granted us the opportunity to deconstruct the hegemonic discourse therein, and to approach a time, the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), which had been left almost without discussion in historical literature on the archaeological site. Conflict Archaeology can cast light on this unknown reality and raise controversial and contentious issues about the Altamira cave and its role as a wartime cultural asset during the war.


Fire and the Genus Homo, "Current Anthropology", Volume 58, Number S16 | August 2017

· Fire and the Genus Homo: Wenner-Gren Symposium Supplement 16, di Leslie C. Aiello

· Fire and the Genus Homo: An Introduction to Supplement 16, di Dennis M. Sandgathe, Francesco Berna

· Recognizing Fire in the Paleolithic Archaeological Record, Paul Goldberg, Christopher E. Miller, Susan M. Mentzer

· Experimental Approaches to Archaeological Fire Features and Their Behavioral Relevance, Vera Aldeias

· Evidence of Burning from Bushfires in Southern and East Africa and Its Relevance to Hominin Evolution, J. A. J. Gowlett, J. S. Brink, Adam Caris, Sally Hoare, S. M. Rucina

· Ethnoarchaeology of Paleolithic Fire: Methodological Considerations, Carolina Mallol, Auréade Henry

· Aboriginal Use of Fire in a Landscape Context: Investigating Presence and Absence of Heat-Retainer Hearths in Western New South Wales, Australia, di Simon J. Holdaway, Benjamin Davies, Patricia C. Fanning

· Researching the Nature of Fire at 1.5 Mya on the Site of FxJj20 AB, Koobi Fora, Kenya, Using High-Resolution Spatial Analysis and FTIR Spectrometry, di Sarah Hlubik, Francesco Berna, Craig Feibel, David Braun, John W. K. Harris

· Spatial Analysis of Fire: Archaeological Approach to Recognizing Early Fire, di Nira Alperson-Afil

· Evidence of Hominin Use and Maintenance of Fire at Zhoukoudian, di Xing Gao, Shuangquan Zhang, Yue Zhang, Fuyou Chen

· How Did Hominins Adapt to Ice Age Europe without Fire?, di Harold L. Dibble, Aylar Abodolahzadeh, Vera Aldeias, Paul Goldberg, Shannon P. McPherron, Dennis M. Sandgathe

· Technologies for the Control of Heat and Light in the Vézère Valley Aurignacian, di Randall White, Romain Mensan, Amy E. Clark, Elise Tartar, Laurent Marquer, Raphaëlle Bourrillon, Paul Goldberg, Laurent Chiotti, Catherine Cretin, William Rendu, Anne Pike-Tay, Sarah Ranlett

· Control of Fire in the Paleolithic: Evaluating the Cooking Hypothesis, di Richard Wrangham

· Fire for a Reason: Barbecue at Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel, di Ran Barkai, Jordi Rosell, Ruth Blasco, Avi Gopher

· Neanderthal Cooking and the Costs of Fire, di Amanda G. Henry

· Savanna Chimpanzees at Fongoli, Senegal, Navigate a Fire Landscape, di Jill D. Pruetz, Nicole M. Herzog

· Toward a Long Prehistory of Fire, di Michael Chazan

· Identifying and Describing Pattern and Process in the Evolution of Hominin Use of Fire, di Dennis M. Sandgathe


Twentieth anniversary of Homo antecessor (1997-2017): a review, di J. M. Bermúdez de Castro, M. Martinón-Torres, J. L. Arsuaga, E. Carbonell, "Evolutionary, Anthropology", Volume 26, Issue 4, July/August 2017, Pages 157–171

It has been twenty years since diagnosis and publication of the species Homo antecessor.1 Since then, new human fossils recovered from the TD6 level of the Gran Dolina site (Sierra de Atapuerca, northern Spain) have helped to refine its taxonomic and phylogenetic position. In this paper, we present a synthesis of the most characteristic features of this species, as well as our interpretation derived from the latest investigations. We focus on the phylogenetic interpretation of Homo antecessor, taking into account the most recent paleogenetic analyses and a reassessment of the European Middle Pleistocene hominin record. We try to show that, twenty years after its publication, H. antecessor provides a good opportunity to address the morphology of the last common ancestor of Neandertals and modern humans.


Aggiornamento 1 agosto


Cognitive Fluidity and Acheulean Over-imitation, di M. J. Rossano, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 27, Issue 3, August 2017, pp. 495-509

This paper analyses recently discussed evidence of over-imitation in Acheulean biface construction. First, it evaluates the argument for over-imitation using the available archaeological and cognitive science evidence. Next, it applies the four major theories of over-imitation, Copy and Correct (C&C), Automatic Causal Encoding (ACE), social affiliation and normative theory, as potential explanations for Acheulean over-imitation. ACE theory is the most likely explanation for early biface over-imitation (before 500,000 years bp), with social affiliation becoming increasingly likely after that. Normative over-imitation probably did not occur until around 300,000 years bp, when both the necessary hominin cognitive capacities and social conditions were present. An important conclusion emerging from this analysis is that over-imitation requires an integration of social and technical intelligence. Thus, the origins of cognitive fluidity may date back to as early as a million years ago, well before material evidence of fluidity is present.


Reviewing the upper Pleistocene human footprints from the ‘Sala dei Misteri’ in the Grotta della Bàsura (Toirano, northern Italy) cave: An integrated morphometric and morpho-classificatory approach, di P. Citton, M. Romano, I. Salvador, M. Avanzini, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 169, 1 August 2017, Pages 50-64

About thirty human footprints made approximately 12,000 years B.P. inside the ‘Sala dei Misteri’ Cave of Básura near Toirano, Liguria, northern Italy, were studied by standard ichnological analysis. Eleven of the best-preserved tracks were examined further using morpho-classificatory and morphometric approaches, in order to estimate the minimum number of trackmakers; biometric measurements were also used to tentatively determine their physical characteristics (e.g., height and age). Results indicate at least three different producers, two youths and the third of tender age. Analysis of the data demonstrate the power of 3D, of landmark-based morphometrics, and the utility of methods of forensic anthropology in the determination of human footprints. The study of the number of trackmakers using the principal component analysis (PCA) on 'multi-trampling' surfaces could represent a model in the ichnological study of cave sites.


Sourcing and processing of ochre during the late upper Palaeolithic at Tagliente rock-shelter (NE Italy) based on conventional X-ray powder diffraction analysis, di G. Cavallo, F. Fontana, F. Gonzato, A. Guerreschi, M. P. Riccardi, G. Sardelli, R. Zorzin, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", August 2017, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 763–775

Upper Palaeolithic yellow and red ochre samples recovered in the last 40 years at Tagliente rock-shelter in the Lessini Mountains (Verona, NE Italy) were analysed by means of conventional X-Ray Powder Diffraction (XRPD) and compared with goethite- and hematite-based natural geomaterials coming from geological deposits within a distance of approximately 20 km from the archaeological site. XRPD allowed the yellow ochre sourcing area to be focused on the basis of characteristic and distinctive mineral assemblages. In addition, several samples clearly demonstrated that archaeological red ochre was obtained by thermal treatment of yellow ochre as shown by characteristic peak intensities, shape and the presence of maghemite (γ-Fe2O3). XRPD was a very powerful tool for a preliminary discrimination and grouping of a large quantity of archaeological ochre, in order to outline a preliminary hypothesis on the provenance area and to narrow down the number of samples to be studied in the next future through geochemical and structural analysis in order to confirm the proposed interpretation.


The social organization of Homo ergaster: Inferences from anti-predator responses in extant primates, di E. P. Willems, C. P. van Schaik, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 109, August 2017, Pages 11–21

Patterns of primate socioecology have been used to suggest that the first truly savanna-dwelling hominin, Homo ergaster, lived in sizeable groups. Here, we revisit these estimates and infer additional features of the social organization of these early hominins based on anti-predator responses observed across the primate taxon. We first show that the effect of habitat on primate group size, composition, and sexual dimorphism is negligible after controlling for substrate use and phylogeny: terrestrial species live in larger groups with more and bigger males than arboreal taxa. We next hypothesize that groups can only survive in open habitats if males are able to engage in joint counter-attacks against the large carnivorans typical of such environments. To test this, we analyze reports on primate counter-attacks against known predators and find these are indeed disproportionately frequent in terrestrial taxa living in open habitats, sometimes even involving the use of tentative weapons. If we subsequently only examine the taxa that are particularly adept at this (chimpanzees and baboons), we find an effect of habitat type on group size: groups on the savanna are larger than those in the forest. We thus infer that H. ergaster lived in very large groups with many males that jointly defended the group against carnivorans, and argue that these counter-attacks will readily have turned into confrontational scavenging and cooperative hunting, allowing Homo to move into the niche of social carnivore. These two features (life in very large multi-male groups and a switch to persistent carnivory) shaped the evolution of our lineage to such an extent that the social organization of H. ergaster may already have contained many key elements characterizing modern day foragers: male bonding, incipient male–female friendships with food sharing, a tendency toward endogamy, and the presence of large communities that eventually turned into the ethno-linguistic units we can still recognize today.


U-series dating and classification of the Apidima 2 hominin from Mani Peninsula, Southern Greece, di A. Bartsiokas, J. L. Arsuaga, M. Aubert, R. Grün, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 109, August 2017, Pages 22-29

Laser ablation U-series dating results on a human cranial bone fragment from Apidima, on the western cost of the Mani Peninsula, Southern Greece, indicate a minimum age of 160,000 years. The dated cranial fragment belongs to Apidima 2, which preserves the facial skeleton and a large part of the braincase, lacking the occipital bone. The morphology of the preserved regions of the cranium, and especially that of the facial skeleton, indicates that the fossil belongs to the Neanderthal clade. The dating of the fossil at a minimum age of 160,000 years shows that most of the Neanderthal traits were already present in the MIS 6 and perhaps earlier. This makes Apidima 2 the earliest known fossil with a clear Neanderthal facial morphology. Together with the nearby younger Neanderthal specimens from Lakonis and Kalamakia, the Apidima crania are of crucial importance for the evolution of Neanderthals in the area during the Middle to Late Pleistocene. It can be expected that systematic direct dating of the other human fossils from this area will elucidate our understanding of Neanderthal evolution and demise.


Dating the Middle Paleolithic deposits of La Quina Amont (Charente, France) using luminescence methods, di M. Frouin et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 109, August 2017, Pages 30-45

The site of La Quina Amont, located in the Charente region, is one of the most important sites in southwestern France for studying major changes in human behaviors from the Middle Paleolithic (MP) to the Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP). Extensively excavated over the past 50 years, numerous dating studies have been focused on the Upper Paleolithic deposits using radiocarbon on bone collagen and thermoluminescence (TL) on heated flints; however, the Mousterian levels remain undated due to the scarcity of suitable materials. Our investigations aimed to provide for the first time a chronological framework for the site using luminescence dating methods on different minerals contained in the sediments. Coarse grains of quartz were dated using the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) technique, and polymineral fine grains were dated using both infrared (IRSL) and post-infrared (pIR-IRSL) stimulated luminescence signals. OSL, IRSL and pIR-IRSL results were combined with available TL and radiocarbon data sets to propose a chronology for the site. The agreement between these methods provides key insights into the sedimentological processes involved in the site formation and into the chronology of the human occupations. In particular, it shows that the sequence spans almost ~20,000 years (20 ka). Moreover, the new chronological framework suggests that the makers of the Quina lithic technocomplex (LTC), who were reindeer hunters, inhabited the site from the end of marine isotope stage (MIS) 4 to the beginning of MIS 3. We also show that Levallois and Discoidal industries occurred successively under temperate paleoclimatic conditions, during MIS 3 but not after ~40 ka. Finally, we compare the Quina LTC dataset with other sites in southern France in order to shed light upon the variability in Mousterian industries of this region.


Chronometric investigations of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in the Zagros Mountains using AMS radiocarbon dating and Bayesian age modelling, di L. Becerra-Valdivia et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 109, August 2017, Pages 57-69

The Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition is often linked with a bio-cultural shift involving the dispersal of modern humans outside of Africa, the concomitant replacement of Neanderthals across Eurasia, and the emergence of new technological traditions. The Zagros Mountains region assumes importance in discussions concerning this period as its geographic location is central to all pertinent hominin migration areas, pointing to both east and west. As such, establishing a reliable chronology in the Zagros Mountains is crucial to our understanding of these biological and cultural developments. Political circumstance, coupled with the poor preservation of organic material, has meant that a clear chronological definition of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition for the Zagros Mountains region has not yet been achieved. To improve this situation, we have obtained new archaeological samples for AMS radiocarbon dating from three sites: Kobeh Cave, Kaldar Cave, and Ghār-e Boof (Iran). In addition, we have statistically modelled previously published radiocarbon determinations for Yafteh Cave (Iran) and Shanidar Cave (Iraqi Kurdistan), to improve their chronological resolution and enable us to compare the results with the new dataset. Bayesian modelling results suggest that the onset of the Upper Paleolithic in the Zagros Mountains dates to 45,000–40,250 cal BP (68.2% probability). Further chronometric data are required to improve the precision of this age range.


Late Paleolithic Masterpieces, di E. A. Powell, "Archaeology", July/August 2017

The people of the Paleolithic Magdalenian period in Spain and France created great works of figurative art such as the Lascaux cave paintings, which realistically depict a rich variety of wildlife. But scholars have long believed that around 14,000 years ago, that dramatic artistic tradition came to a sudden end. People of the succeeding Azilian period were thought to have completely stopped making animal figures, and instead focused their creative energies on etching and painting abstract designs on pebbles. But the recent discovery of 45 engraved stone tablets along with Early Azilian tools at a rock shelter in Brittany has shown that, in fact, some Azilian people carried on the artistic tradition of their Magdalenian ancestors. University of Nice archaeologist Nicolas Naudinot led the team that unearthed the engravings and says they resemble elaborate Magdalenian depictions of horses and a kind of wild cattle known as an aurochs. One bull is even shown with rays emanating from its head, the only such example of a “shining” animal known in prehistoric European art. Naudinot says the rays were added some time after the original head was carved, because the bull’s horns were reengraved over the lines. “The prehistoric people wanted the rays to be in the background,” says Naudinot, who speculates they could be a rendering of the sun, or perhaps they were simply symbolic abstractions, similar to the ones later Azilian people would carve on pebbles.


Textural, microstructural, and compositional characteristics of Fe-based geomaterials and Upper Paleolithic ocher in the Lessini Mountains, Northeast Italy: Implications for provenance studies, di G. Cavallo, F. Fontana, F. Gonzato, M. Peresani, M. P. Riccardi, R. Zorzin, "Geoarchaeology", July/August 2017, Volume 32, Issue 4, Pages 435–517

Provenance research of archaeological ocher contributes to understanding the capabilities of prehistoric humans to select, process, and treat suitable raw materials for symbolic and utilitarian purposes. The western part of the Lessini Mountains in the Veneto region of northeast Italy is an ideal location for this type of study as it features several different Fe-rich deposits, and many examples of archaeological ocher have been found in the nearby Fumane Cave and Tagliente Rockshelter Upper Paleolithic sites. Sourcing areas are often identified through the use of geochemical studies; however, microscopic techniques can also be used with the benefit of providing more detailed information about accessory minerals and textural characteristics of the material. One of the goals of our study was to demonstrate the potential in using polarizing light microscopy supported by scanning electron microscopy coupled with an energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer in research of this type. We studied geological source samples and archaeological materials from the sites, the results of which are very promising in terms of shedding light on the sourcing of prehistoric ocher in this region.


Identifying early modern human ecological niche expansions and associated cultural dynamics in the South African Middle Stone Age, di F. d’Errico et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", July 25, 2017 , vol. 114 no. 30, pp. 7869–7876

The archaeological record shows that typically human cultural traits emerged at different times, in different parts of the world, and among different hominin taxa. This pattern suggests that their emergence is the outcome of complex and nonlinear evolutionary trajectories, influenced by environmental, demographic, and social factors, that need to be understood and traced at regional scales. The application of predictive algorithms using archaeological and paleoenvironmental data allows one to estimate the ecological niches occupied by past human populations and identify niche changes through time, thus providing the possibility of investigating relationships between cultural innovations and possible niche shifts. By using such methods to examine two key southern Africa archaeological cultures, the Still Bay [76–71 thousand years before present (ka)] and the Howiesons Poort (HP; 66–59 ka), we identify a niche shift characterized by a significant expansion in the breadth of the HP ecological niche. This expansion is coincident with aridification occurring across Marine Isotope Stage 4 (ca. 72–60 ka) and especially pronounced at 60 ka. We argue that this niche shift was made possible by the development of a flexible technological system, reliant on composite tools and cultural transmission strategies based more on “product copying” rather than “process copying.” These results counter the one niche/one human taxon equation. They indicate that what makes our cultures, and probably the cultures of other members of our lineage, unique is their flexibility and ability to produce innovations that allow a population to shift its ecological niche.


A context for the last Neandertals of interior Iberia: Los Casares cave revisited, di M. Alcaraz-Castaño et alii, July 19, 2017, doi:  - free  access -

Although the Iberian Peninsula is a key area for understanding the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition and the demise of the Neandertals, valuable evidence for these debates remains scarce and problematic in its interior regions. Sparse data supporting a late Neandertal persistence in the Iberian interior have been recently refuted and hence new evidence is needed to build new models on the timing and causes of Neandertal disappearance in inland Iberia and the whole peninsula. In this study we provide new evidence from Los Casares, a cave located in the highlands of the Spanish Meseta, where a Neandertal-associated Middle Paleolithic site was discovered and first excavated in the 1960’s. Our main objective is twofold: (1) provide an updated geoarcheological, paleoenvironmental and chronological framework for this site, and (2) discuss obtained results in the context of the time and nature of the last Neandertal presence in Iberia.
We conducted new fieldwork in an interior chamber of Los Casares cave named ‘Seno A’. Our methods included micromorphology, sedimentology, radiocarbon dating, Uranium/Thorium dating, palinology, microfaunal analysis, anthracology, phytolith analysis, archeozoology and lithic technology. Here we present results on site formation processes, paleoenvironment and the chronological setting of the Neandertal occupation at Los Casares cave-Seno A.
The sediment sequence reveals a mostly in situ archeological deposit containing evidence of both Neandertal activity and carnivore action in level c, dated to 44,899–42,175 calendar years ago. This occupation occurred during a warm and humid interval of Marine Isotopic Stage 3, probably correlating with Greenland Interstadial 11, representing one of the latest occurrences of Neandertals in the Iberian interior. However, overlying layer b records a deterioration of local environments, thus providing a plausible explanation for the abandonment of the site, and perhaps for the total disappearance of Neandertals of the highlands of inland Iberia during subsequent Greenland Stadials 11 or 10, or even Heinrich Stadial 4. Since layer b provided very few signs of human activity and no reliable chronometric results, and given the scarce chronostratigrapic evidence recorded so far for this period in interior Iberia, this can only be taken as a working hypothesis to be tested with future research. Meanwhile, 42,000 calendar years ago remains the most plausible date for the abandonment of interior Iberia by Neandertals, possibly due to climate deterioration. Currently, a later survival of this human species in Iberia is limited to the southern coasts. (...)


Paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic context during the Upper Palaeolithic (late Upper Pleistocene) in the Italian Peninsula. The small mammal record from Grotta Paglicci (Rignano Garganico, Foggia, Southern Italy), di C. Berto, P. Boscato, F. Boschin, E. Luzi, A. Ronchitelli, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 168, 15 July 2017, Pages 30-41

Changes in large mammal population and biotic regionalism of the Italian Peninsula during Upper Pleistocene have been well documented over the last twenty years. On the other hand, only few studies have focused on the changes in small mammal fossil assemblages. Grotta Paglicci is a key archaeological site for Italian prehistory. It is well dated and it shows an uninterrupted chronological sequence of Upper Palaeolithic lithic industries, ranging from the Aurignacian to the Late Epigravettian. Small mammal remains from the Upper Palaeolithic layers of this cave have been identified and the assemblage has been analysed through the application of Simpson diversity index, Habitat Weighting and Bioclimatic model methods. The results show remarkable differences through the record: major climatic changes (GS2 is particularly well defined) are visible and a clear turning point is observable at the Bølling-Allerød interstadial transition. This is in line with environmental and climatic oscillations already detected in the Italian Peninsula. These data also suggest that a strong regionalism characterized the south-eastern Italian Peninsula during the Late Pleistocene.


Middle to Late Pleistocene environmental and climatic reconstruction of the human occurrence at Grotta Maggiore di San Bernardino (Vicenza, Italy) through the small-mammal assemblage, di J. M. López-García, E. Luzi, M. Peresani, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 168, 15 July 2017, Pages 42-54

Grotta Maggiore di San Bernardino, located at an altitude of 135 m a.s.l. in the Berici Hills in northeastern Italy, is an archaeological site with a discontinuous sedimentary sequence dating from Marine Isotope Stage 7 (MIS 7) to MIS 3. In this paper we present for the first time a palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstruction of the sequence based on small-mammal (insectivore, bat and rodent) assemblages. Coupled with biochronological data and absolute dating together with previous studies on large mammals, birds and other studies on small mammals and pollen from comparable time-spans in Italy, the results enable us clearly to identify distinct climatic periods: the end of MIS 7 (7c to 7a) in units VIII-VII, MIS 5d in unit V, and probably MIS 5b in unit IV and an indeterminate MIS 3 interstadial in units III-II. Finally, the study shows that the early Middle Palaeolithic human occupation in Italy occurs during mild and temperate sub-stages of MIS 7 and that human groups with the same techno-cultural background (Mousterian) were well adapted to the changing environmental and climatic conditions of the Middle to Late Pleistocene in this part of southern Europe.


Aridity and hominin environments, di  Scott A. Blumenthal et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", July 11, 2017, vol. 114 no. 28, pp. 7331–7336

Aridification is often considered a major driver of long-term ecological change and hominin evolution in eastern Africa during the Plio-Pleistocene; however, this hypothesis remains inadequately tested owing to difficulties in reconstructing terrestrial paleoclimate. We present a revised aridity index for quantifying water deficit (WD) in terrestrial environments using tooth enamel δ18O values, and use this approach to address paleoaridity over the past 4.4 million years in eastern Africa. We find no long-term trend in WD, consistent with other terrestrial climate indicators in the Omo-Turkana Basin, and no relationship between paleoaridity and herbivore paleodiet structure among fossil collections meeting the criteria for WD estimation. Thus, we suggest that changes in the abundance of C4 grass and grazing herbivores in eastern Africa during the Pliocene and Pleistocene may have been decoupled from aridity. As in modern African ecosystems, other factors, such as rainfall seasonality or ecological interactions among plants and mammals, may be important for understanding the evolution of C4 grass- and grazer-dominated biomes.


First big efforts to sequence ancient African DNA reveal how early humans swept across the continent, di E. Pennisi, "Science News", Jul. 6, 2017

he study of ancient human DNA has not been an equal opportunity endeavor. Early Europeans and Asians have had portions of their genomes sequenced by the hundreds over the past decade, rewriting Eurasian history in the process. But because genetic material decays rapidly in warm, moist climates, scientists had sequenced the DNA of just one ancient African. Until now. This week, at the annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution here, scientists announced that they had partially sequenced 15 ancient African genomes, with representatives from all over sub-Saharan Africa. And another group—whose work is still unpublished—has sequenced seven more ancient humans from South Africa. “[Finding] ancient genomes from Africa is pretty amazing,” says Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, a population geneticist at the University of Bern, who was not involved in either project. Africa has long been called the “cradle of humanity,” from which our earliest human ancestors spread across the rest of the world some 50,000 years ago. Africa is also where people—ancient and modern—are most genetically diverse. But how such groups, from the Hadza of East Africa to the Khoe-San of Southern Africa, came to be is a mystery. That’s in part because some 2000 years ago, early adopters of agriculture known as the Bantu spread across the continent, erasing the genetic footprint of other Africans. The one ancient African genome that has been sequenced—an Ethiopian who lived some 4500 years ago—has shed little light on this mystery. (...)


A fourth Denisovan individual, di V. Slon et alii, "Science Advances", 07 Jul 2017, Vol. 3, no. 7 - free  access -

The presence of Neandertals in Europe and Western Eurasia before the arrival of anatomically modern humans is well supported by archaeological and paleontological data. In contrast, fossil evidence for Denisovans, a sister group of Neandertals recently identified on the basis of DNA sequences, is limited to three specimens, all of which originate from Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains (Siberia, Russia). We report the retrieval of DNA from a deciduous lower second molar (Denisova 2), discovered in a deep stratigraphic layer in Denisova Cave, and show that this tooth comes from a female Denisovan individual. On the basis of the number of “missing substitutions” in the mitochondrial DNA determined from the specimen, we find that Denisova 2 is substantially older than two of the other Denisovans, reinforcing the view that Denisovans were likely to have been present in the vicinity of Denisova Cave over an extended time period. We show that the level of nuclear DNA sequence diversity found among Denisovans is within the lower range of that of present-day human populations. (...)


Neandertals and modern humans started mating early, di A. Gibbons, "Science News", Jul. 4, 2017

For almost a century, Neandertals were considered the ancestors of modern humans. But in a new plot twist in the unfolding mystery of how Neandertals were related to modern humans, it now seems that members of our lineage were among the ancestors of Neandertals. Researchers sequenced ancient DNA from the mitochondria—tiny energy factories inside cells—from a Neandertal who lived about 100,000 years ago in southwest Germany. They found that this DNA, which is inherited only from the mother, resembled that of early modern humans. After comparing the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) with that of other archaic and modern humans, the researchers reached a startling conclusion: A female member of the lineage that gave rise to Homo sapiens in Africa mated with a Neandertal male more than 220,000 years ago—much earlier than other known encounters between the two groups. Her children spread her genetic legacy through the Neandertal lineage, and in time her African mtDNA completely replaced the ancestral Neandertal mtDNA. Other researchers are enthusiastic about the hypothesis, described in Nature Communications this week, but caution that it will take more than one genome to prove. “It’s a nice story that solves a cool mystery—how did Neandertals end up with mtDNA more like that of modern humans,” says population geneticist Ilan Gronau of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. But “they have not nailed it yet.” (...)


Deeply divergent archaic mitochondrial genome provides lower time boundary for African gene flow into Neanderthals, di C. Posth et alii, "Nature Communications" 8, 04 July 2017, doi:10.1038/ncomms16046 - free  access -

Ancient DNA is revealing new insights into the genetic relationship between Pleistocene hominins and modern humans. Nuclear DNA indicated Neanderthals as a sister group of Denisovans after diverging from modern humans. However, the closer affinity of the Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to modern humans than Denisovans has recently been suggested as the result of gene flow from an African source into Neanderthals before 100,000 years ago. Here we report the complete mtDNA of an archaic femur from the Hohlenstein–Stadel (HST) cave in southwestern Germany. HST carries the deepest divergent mtDNA lineage that splits from other Neanderthals ∼270,000 years ago, providing a lower boundary for the time of the putative mtDNA introgression event. We demonstrate that a complete Neanderthal mtDNA replacement is feasible over this time interval even with minimal hominin introgression. The highly divergent HST branch is indicative of greater mtDNA diversity during the Middle Pleistocene than in later periods. (...)


Denisoviens...Un groupe humain fantôme ou une réalité biologique? di J. L. Voisin, 01/07/17

La grotte de Denisova, dans le massif de l’Altaï (Russie), est un site majeur pour l’histoire de l’humanité et a toujours été fréquentée par l’homme. En effet, au 18ème siècle, la grotte était habitée par un hermite, Dionisij (Denis), qui lui a laissé son nom, bien que les populations locales la nomment Ayu-Tash. Dans les années 1970, des artéfacts y ont été découverts ce qui a entraîné des fouilles régulières. Aujourd’hui, 22 strates y ont été définies contenant des pièces archéologiques allant de l’époque de Denis jusqu’à 280 000 ans. Le matériel archéologique est important et comprend une industrie moustérienne associée à des objets décoratifs (réalisés en ivoire de mammouth, en os, à partir de dents voir même en coquille d’autruche), des bracelets et des pendentifs. Une aiguille à chas datant de 45 000 ans y a même été découverte, ce qui en fait la plus ancienne connue. (...)


The dawn of dentistry in the late upper Paleolithic: An early case of pathological intervention at Riparo Fredian, di G. Oxilia et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 163, Issue 3, July 2017, Pages 446–461

Early evidence for the treatment of dental pathology is found primarily among food-producing societies associated with high levels of oral pathology. However, some Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers show extensive oral pathology, suggesting that experimentation with therapeutic dental interventions may have greater antiquity. Here, we report the second earliest probable evidence for dentistry in a Late Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherer recovered from Riparo Fredian (Tuscany, Italy).
The Fredian 5 human consists of an associated maxillary anterior dentition with antemortem exposure of both upper first incisor (I1) pulp chambers. The pulp chambers present probable antemortem modifications that warrant in-depth analyses and direct dating. Scanning electron microscopy, microCT and residue analyses were used to investigate the purported modifications of external and internal surfaces of each.
The direct date places Fredian 5 between 13,000 and 12,740 calendar years ago. Both pulp chambers were circumferentially enlarged prior to the death of this individual. Occlusal dentine flaking on the margin of the cavities and striations on their internal aspects suggest anthropic manipulation. Residue analyses revealed a conglomerate of bitumen, vegetal fibers, and probable hairs adherent to the internal walls of the cavities.
The results are consistent with tool-assisted manipulation to remove necrotic or infected pulp in vivo and the subsequent use of a composite, organic filling. Fredian 5 confirms the practice of dentistry—specifically, a pathology-induced intervention—among Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers. As such, it appears that fundamental perceptions of biomedical knowledge and practice were in place long before the socioeconomic changes associated with the transition to food production in the Neolithic.


An analysis of dental development in Pleistocene Homo using skeletal growth and chronological age, di M. Šešelj, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 163, Issue 3, July 2017, Pages 531–541

This study takes a new approach to interpreting dental development in Pleistocene Homo in comparison with recent modern humans. As rates of dental development and skeletal growth are correlated given age in modern humans, using age and skeletal growth in tandem yields more accurate dental development estimates. Here, I apply these models to fossil Homo to obtain more individualized predictions and interpretations of their dental development relative to recent modern humans.
Proportional odds logistic regression models based on three recent modern human samples (N = 181) were used to predict permanent mandibular tooth development scores in five Pleistocene subadults: Homo erectus/ergaster, Neanderthals, and anatomically modern humans (AMHs). Explanatory variables include a skeletal growth indicator (i.e., diaphyseal femoral length), and chronological age.
AMHs Lagar Velho 1 and Qafzeh 10 share delayed incisor development, but exhibit considerable idiosyncratic variation within and across tooth types, relative to each other and to the reference samples. Neanderthals Dederiyeh 1 and Le Moustier 1 exhibit delayed incisor coupled with advanced molar development, but differences are reduced when femoral diaphysis length is considered. Dental development in KNM-WT 15,000 Homo erectus/ergaster, while advanced for his age, almost exactly matches the predictions once femoral length is included in the models.
This study provides a new interpretation of dental development in KNM-WT 15000 as primarily reflecting his faster rates of skeletal growth. While the two AMH specimens exhibit considerable individual variation, the Neanderthals exhibit delayed incisor development early and advanced molar development later in ontogeny.


Early Pleistocene hominin deciduous teeth from the Homo antecessor Gran Dolina-TD6 bearing level (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain), di J. M. Bermúdez de Castro et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 163, Issue 3, July 2017, Pages 602–615

During the last 13 years, the late Early Pleistocene Gran Dolina-TD6-2 level (Sierra de Atapuerca, northern Spain) has yielded an additional sample of 26 dental specimens attributed to Homo antecessor. In this report, we present a descriptive and comparative study of the six deciduous teeth.
We provide external and internal morphological descriptions following classical terminology, as well as the mesiodistal and buccolingual measurements of the teeth. The internal morphology was described by means of micro-CT technique.
The TD6 deciduous teeth preserve primitive features regarding the Homo clade, such as the presence of styles in lower and upper canines and developed anterior and posterior foveae in the dm2. However, other features related to the complexity of the crown morphology (e.g., cingulum) are not present in this sample. Furthermore, the great reduction of the talonid of the dm1s is also noteworthy. Despite the limited comparative evidence, the presence of a remarkably well-developed tuberculum molare in the dm1 and dm1s from TD6 can be also considered a derived feature in the genus Homo. The TD6 hominins exhibit dental dimensions similar to those of other Pleistocene hominins. The dm1s are buccolingually elongated and the buccolingual diameter of ATD6-93 is the largest recorded so far in the Homo fossil record.
This study expands the list of plesiomorphic features of H. antecessor, and provides some information on the evolutionary status of this species. However, the identification of some advanced traits evinces a step towards the derived morphology of European Pleistocene teeth. The study of the deciduous dentition confirms the mosaic pattern of H. antecessor morphology revealed in previous studies of this hominin sample.


The postcranial skeletal maturation of Australopithecus sediba, di N. Cameron, B. Bogin, D. Bolter, L. R. Berger, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 163, Issue 3, July 2017, Pages 633–640

In 2008, an immature hominin defined as the holotype of the new species Australopithecus sediba was discovered at the 1.9 million year old Malapa site in South Africa. The specimen (MH1) includes substantial post-cranial skeletal material, and provides a unique opportunity to assess its skeletal maturation.
Skeletal maturity indicators observed on the proximal and distal humerus, proximal ulna, distal radius, third metacarpal, ilium and ischium, proximal femur and calcaneus were used to assess the maturity of each bone in comparison to references for modern humans and for wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).
In comparison to humans the skeletal maturational ages for Au. sediba correspond to between 12.0 years and 15.0 years with a mean (SD) age of 13.1 (1.1) years. In comparison to the maturational pattern of chimpanzees the Au. sediba indicators suggest a skeletal maturational age of 9–11 years. Based on either of these skeletal maturity estimates and the body length at death of MH1, an adult height of 150–156 cm is predicted.
We conclude that the skeletal remains of MH1 are consistent with an ape-like pattern of maturity when dental age estimates are also taken into consideration. This maturity schedule in australopiths is consistent with ape-like estimates of age at death for the Nariokotome Homo erectus remains (KMN-WT 15000), which are of similar postcranial immaturity to MH1. The findings suggest that humans may have distinctive and delayed post-cranial schedules from australopiths and H. erectus, implicating a recent evolution of somatic and possibly life history strategies in human evolution.


Three-dimensional morphometrics of thoracic vertebrae in Neandertals and the fossil evidence from El Sidrón (Asturias, Northern Spain), di M. Bastir et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 108, July 2017, Pages 47-61

Well preserved thoracic vertebrae of Neandertals are rare. However, such fossils are important as their three-dimensional (3D) spatial configuration can contribute to the understanding of the size and shape of the thoracic spine and the entire thorax. This is because the vertebral body and transverse processes provide the articulation and attachment sites for the ribs. Dorsal orientation of the transverse processes relative to the vertebral body also rotates the attached ribs in a way that could affect thorax width. Previous research indicates possible evidence for greater dorsal orientation of the transverse processes and small vertebral body heights in Neandertals, but their 3D vertebral structure has not yet been addressed. Here we present 15 new vertebral remains from the El Sidrón Neandertals (Asturias, Northern Spain) and used 3D geometric morphometrics to address the above issues by comparing two particularly well preserved El Sidrón remains (SD-1619, SD-1641) with thoracic vertebrae from other Neandertals and a sample of anatomically modern humans. Centroid sizes of El Sidrón vertebrae are within the human range. Neandertals have larger T1 and probably also T2. The El Sidrón vertebrae are similar in 3D shape to those of other Neandertals, which differ from Homo sapiens particularly in central-lower regions (T6–T10) of the thoracic spine. Differences include more dorsally and cranially oriented transverse processes, less caudally oriented spinous processes, and vertebral bodies that are anteroposteriorly and craniocaudally short. The results fit with current reconstructions of Neandertal thorax morphology.


An evolutionary medicine perspective on Neandertal extinction, di A. P. Sullivan, M. de Manuel, T. Marques-Bonet, G. H. Perrya, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 108, July 2017, Pages 62-71

The Eurasian sympatry of Neandertals and anatomically modern humans – beginning at least 45,000 years ago and possibly lasting for more than 5000 years – has sparked immense anthropological interest into the factors that potentially contributed to Neandertal extinction. Among many different hypotheses, the “differential pathogen resistance” extinction model posits that Neandertals were disproportionately affected by exposure to novel infectious diseases that were transmitted during the period of spatiotemporal sympatry with modern humans. Comparisons of new archaic hominin paleogenome sequences with modern human genomes have confirmed a history of genetic admixture – and thus direct contact – between humans and Neandertals. Analyses of these data have also shown that Neandertal nuclear genome genetic diversity was likely considerably lower than that of the Eurasian anatomically modern humans with whom they came into contact, perhaps leaving Neandertal innate immune systems relatively more susceptible to novel pathogens. In this study, we compared levels of genetic diversity in genes for which genetic variation is hypothesized to benefit pathogen defense among Neandertals and African, European, and Asian modern humans, using available exome sequencing data (three individuals, or six chromosomes, per population). We observed that Neandertals had only 31–39% as many nonsynonymous (amino acid changing) polymorphisms across 73 innate immune system genes compared to modern human populations. We also found that Neandertal genetic diversity was relatively low in an unbiased set of balancing selection candidate genes for primates, those genes with the highest 1% genetic diversity genome-wide in non-human hominoids (apes). In contrast, Neandertals had similar or higher levels of genetic diversity than humans in 12 major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes. Thus, while Neandertals may have been relatively more susceptible to some novel pathogens and differential pathogen resistance could be considered as one potential contributing factor in their extinction, the expectations of this model are not universally met.


Hominid visitation of the Moravian Karst during the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition: New results from Pod Hradem Cave (Czech Republic), di L. Nejman, R. Wood, D. Wrightc, L. Lisá, Z. Nerudová, P. Nerudae, A. Přichystalf, J.Svobodag, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 108, July 2017, Pages 131-146

In 1956–1958, excavations of Pod Hradem Cave in Moravia (eastern Czech Republic) revealed evidence for human activity during the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition. This spanned 25,050–44,800 cal BP and contained artefacts attributed to the Aurignacian and Szeletian cultures, including those made from porcelanite (rarely used at Moravian Paleolithic sites). Coarse grained excavation techniques and major inversions in radiocarbon dates meant that site chronology could not be established adequately. This paper documents re-excavation of Pod Hradem in 2011–2012. A comprehensive AMS dating program using ultrafiltration and ABOx-SC pre-treatments provides new insights into human occupation at Pod Hradem Cave. Fine-grained excavation reveals sedimentary units spanning approximately 20,000 years of the Early Upper Paleolithic and late Middle Paleolithic periods, thus making it the first archaeological cave site in the Czech Republic with such a sedimentary and archaeological record. Recent excavation confirms infrequent human visitation, including during the Early Aurignacian by people who brought with them portable art objects that have no parallel in the Czech Republic. Raw material diversity of lithics suggests long-distance imports and ephemeral visits by highly mobile populations throughout the EUP period.


Evolution of the hominin knee and ankle, di M. A. Frelat, C. N. Shaw S. Sukhdeo, J. J. Hublin, S. Benazzi, T. M.Ryan, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 108, July 2017, Pages 147-160

The dispersal of the genus Homo out of Africa approximately 1.8 million years ago (Ma) has been understood within the context of changes in diet, behavior, and bipedal locomotor efficiency. While various morphological characteristics of the knee and ankle joints are considered part of a suite of traits indicative of, and functionally related to, habitual bipedal walking, the timing and phylogenetic details of these morphological changes remain unclear. To evaluate the timing of knee and ankle joint evolution, we apply geometric morphometric methods to three-dimensional digital models of the proximal and distal tibiae of fossil hominins, Holocene Homo sapiens, and extant great apes. Two sets of landmarks and curve semilandmarks were defined on each specimen. Because some fossils were incomplete, digital reconstructions were carried out independently to estimate missing landmarks and semilandmarks. Group shape variation was evaluated through shape–and form-space principal component analysis and fossil specimens were projected to assess variation in the morphological space computed from the extant comparative sample. We show that a derived proximal tibia (knee) similar to that seen in living H. sapiens evolved with early Homo at ∼2 Ma. In contrast, derived characteristics in the distal tibia appear later, probably with the arrival of Homo erectus. These results suggest a dissociation of the morphologies of the proximal and distal tibia, perhaps indicative of divergent functional demands and, consequently, selective pressures at these joints. It appears that longer distance dispersals that delivered the Dmanisi hominins to Georgia by 1.8 Ma and H. erectus to east–southeast Asia by 1.6 Ma were facilitated by the evolution of a morphologically derived knee complex comparable to that of recent humans and an ankle that was morphologically primitive. This research sets the foundation for additional paleontological, developmental, and functional research to better understand the mechanisms underlying the evolution of bipedalism.


Visualising scales of process: Multi-scalar geoarchaeological investigations of microstratigraphy and diagenesis at hominin bearing sites in South African karst, di T. Edwards et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 83, July 2017, Pages 1-11

Multi-scalar geoarchaeological investigations were conducted on several samples of sediment (dolomite cave sediments, ferricrete ridge, speleothem, tufa and tufa cave sediments) from four early hominin fossil-bearing sites (Taung Type Site, Haasgat, Drimolen Main Quarry, Elandsfontein) in different South African karst environments. The study was designed to test the value of geoarchaeological techniques for identifying and characterising environments of deposition and diagenetic processes involved in site formation within different mediums and different karst environments. The traditional petrographic method is weighed against two relatively new methodological contributions to site formation and diagenesis: Computed Tomography (CT) and automated Quantitative Evaluation of Minerals using Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (QEM-EDS), employing QEMSCAN® technology. An integrated micro-sampling approach is outlined for successful cross-correlation between techniques. The study demonstrates that different analyses vary in their ability to visualise different types of process – primary and secondary. Thin section petrography remains the ‘gold standard’ for analyses conducted at the micro-scale, while QEM-EDS and CT offer exciting potential to perform meso-scale analyses and are best utilised as complementary rather than alternative techniques to petrography.


Acoustic scientist sounds off about the location of cave paintings, June 29, 2017

One popular theory about the Paleolithic cave paintings proposes that sites were chosen based on the acoustics in the caves. The originators of the theory reported a causal connection between the 'points of resonance' in three French caves and the position of Paleolithic cave paintings. (...)


Analysis of Neanderthal teeth grooves uncovers evidence of prehistoric dentistry, 28-JUN-2017

A discovery of multiple toothpick grooves on teeth and signs of other manipulations by a Neanderthal of 130,000 years ago are evidence of a kind of prehistoric dentistry, according to a new study led by a University of Kansas researcher. "As a package, this fits together as a dental problem that the Neanderthal was having and was trying to presumably treat itself, with the toothpick grooves, the breaks and also with the scratches on the premolar," said David Frayer, professor emeritus of Anthropology. "It was an interesting connection or collection of phenomena that fit together in a way that we would expect a modern human to do. Everybody has had dental pain, and they know what it's like to have a problem with an impacted tooth." The Bulletin of the International Association for Paleodontology recently published the study. The researchers analyzed four isolated but associated mandibular teeth on the left side of the Neanderthal's mouth. Frayer's co-authors are Joseph Gatti, a Lawrence dentist, Janet Monge, of the University of Pennsylvania; and, Davorka Radovčić, curator at the Croatian Natural History Museum. The teeth were found at Krapina site in Croatia, and Frayer and Radovčić have made several discoveries about Neanderthal life there, including a widely recognized 2015 study published in PLOS ONE about a set of eagle talons that included cut marks and were fashioned into a piece of jewelry. The teeth and all the Krapina Neanderthal fossils were discovered more than 100 years ago from the site, which was originally excavated between 1899-1905. However, Frayer and Radovčić in recent years have reexamined many items collected from the site. (...)


Palaeolithic ceramic technology: The artistic origins and impacts of a technological innovation, di R. Farbstein, W. Davies, "Quaternary International", Volume 441, Part B, 20 June 2017, Pages 3-11

This paper analyses the assemblages of Upper Palaeolithic ceramic figurines and figurine fragments from Czech Republic (“Pavlovian”) and Croatia, which are some of the first iterations of this material and technological innovation in Europe. Using chaîne opératoire methodology, this paper compares both the technologies and gestures involved in the manufacture of these artefacts as well as the impact of these new materials on art and society in each context. These analyses reveal how the introduction of this innovative material and the associated technologies used to make ceramic art proved to be an important catalyst for more experimentation and play in the production of art, which led to innovations in artistic expression. Furthermore, this research highlights the need to study Palaeolithic ceramic artefacts using quantitative and nuanced analytical methodologies that move beyond the traditional focus on the most iconographically-striking Palaeolithic art.


Bones in Israel rewrite Neanderthal history, 15 June 2017

Previously known only from cave sites, the recent discovery from about 60,000 years ago of Neanderthal remains and material culture at an open-air site at Ein Kashish, on the banks of the Kishon river in northern Israel, counters the assumption that Neanderthals were mostly cave-dwellers on the verge of extinction when Homo sapiens arrived about 55,000 years ago. It is the first such discovery in the Levant. Humans are known to have reached the Levant between 120,000 and 90,000 years ago, but that group evidently died out. Neanderthals were in the Levant between about 80,000 and 55,000 years ago.  This discovery of remains from two individuals is the first in the Levant to be found in an open-air context and proven to be Neanderthal. Of one, only a single back tooth was found, in association with flint tools and animal bones. The second was a teenager or young man about 164 centimetres tall, who had injuries that would have caused him to limp. His five lower limb bones were found with multiple artifacts, including flint tools, animal bones, a roe deer antler, a seashell, and some unusual finds for this period, such as ochre. (...)


New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens, di J. J. Hublin et alii, "Nature" 546, 289–292 (08 June 2017)

Fossil evidence points to an African origin of Homo sapiens from a group called either H. heidelbergensis or H. rhodesiensis. However, the exact place and time of emergence of H. sapiens remain obscure because the fossil record is scarce and the chronological age of many key specimens remains uncertain. In particular, it is unclear whether the present day ‘modern’ morphology rapidly emerged approximately 200 thousand years ago (ka) among earlier representatives of H. sapiens1 or evolved gradually over the last 400 thousand years2. Here we report newly discovered human fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and interpret the affinities of the hominins from this site with other archaic and recent human groups. We identified a mosaic of features including facial, mandibular and dental morphology that aligns the Jebel Irhoud material with early or recent anatomically modern humans and more primitive neurocranial and endocranial morphology. In combination with an age of 315 ± 34 thousand years (as determined by thermoluminescence dating)3, this evidence makes Jebel Irhoud the oldest and richest African Middle Stone Age hominin site that documents early stages of the H. sapiens clade in which key features of modern morphology were established. Furthermore, it shows that the evolutionary processes behind the emergence of H. sapiens involved the whole African continent.


The age of the hominin fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and the origins of the Middle Stone Age, di D. Richter et alii, "Nature" 546, 293–296 (08 June 2017)

The timing and location of the emergence of our species and of associated behavioural changes are crucial for our understanding of human evolution. The earliest fossil attributed to a modern form of Homo sapiens comes from eastern Africa and is approximately 195 thousand years old, therefore the emergence of modern human biology is commonly placed at around 200 thousand years ago. The earliest Middle Stone Age assemblages come from eastern and southern Africa but date much earlier. Here we report the ages, determined by thermoluminescence dating, of fire-heated flint artefacts obtained from new excavations at the Middle Stone Age site of Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, which are directly associated with newly discovered remains of H. sapiens. A weighted average age places these Middle Stone Age artefacts and fossils at 315 ± 34 thousand years ago. Support is obtained through the recalculated uranium series with electron spin resonance date of 286 ± 32 thousand years ago for a tooth from the Irhoud 3 hominin mandible. These ages are also consistent with the faunal and microfaunal assemblages and almost double the previous age estimates for the lower part of the deposits. The north African site of Jebel Irhoud contains one of the earliest directly dated Middle Stone Age assemblages, and its associated human remains are the oldest reported for H. sapiens. The emergence of our species and of the Middle Stone Age appear to be close in time, and these data suggest a larger scale, potentially pan-African, origin for both.


Oldest Homo sapiens fossil claim rewrites our species' history, di E. Callaway, "Nature News", 07 June 2017

Researchers say that they have found the oldest Homo sapiens remains on record in an improbable place: Morocco. At an archaeological site near the Atlantic coast, finds of skull, face and jaw bones identified as being from early members of our species have been dated to about 315,000 years ago. That indicates H. sapiens appeared more than 100,000 years earlier than thought: most researchers have placed the origins of our species in East Africa about 200,000 years ago. The finds, which are published on 7 June in Nature1, 2, do not mean that H. sapiens originated in North Africa. Instead, they suggest that the species' earliest members evolved all across the continent, scientists say.
“Until now, the common wisdom was that our species emerged probably rather quickly somewhere in a ‘Garden of Eden’ that was located most likely in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Jean-Jacques Hublin, an author of the study and a director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Now, “I would say the Garden of Eden in Africa is probably Africa — and it’s a big, big garden.” Hublin was one of the leaders of the decade-long excavation at the Moroccan site, called Jebel Irhoud. (...)


Technological variability during the Early Middle Palaeolithic in Western Europe. Reduction systems and predetermined products at the Bau de l'Aubesier and Payre (South-East France), di L. Carmignani , M. H. Moncel, P. Fernandes, L. Wilson,  June 7, 2017, doi:  - free  access -

The study of the lithic assemblages of two French sites, the Bau de l’Aubesier and Payre, contributes new knowledge of the earliest Neanderthal techno-cultural variability. In this paper we present the results of a detailed technological analysis of Early Middle Palaeolithic lithic assemblages of MIS 8 and 7 age from the two sites, which are located on opposite sides of the Rhône Valley in the south-east of France. The MIS 9–7 period is considered in Europe to be a time of new behaviours, especially concerning lithic strategies. The shift from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Early Middle Palaeolithic is “classically” defined by an increase in the number of core technologies, including standardized ones, which are stabilized in the full Middle Palaeolithic (MIS 5–3), associated with the decline of the “Acheulean” biface. Applying a common technological approach to the analysis of the two assemblages highlights their technological variability with respect to reduction systems and end products. Differences between Payre and the Bau de l’Aubesier concerning raw material procurement and faunal exploitation only partially explain this multifaceted technological variability, which in our opinion also reflects the existence of distinct technological strategies within the same restricted geographic area, which are related to distinct traditions, site uses, and/or as yet unknown parameters. (...)


Thoracic vertebral count and thoracolumbar transition in Australopithecus afarensis, di C. V. Ward, T. K. Nalley, F. Spoor, P. Tafforeau, Z. Alemseged, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", June 6, 2017, vol. 114 no. 23, pp. 6000–6004

The evolution of the human pattern of axial segmentation has been the focus of considerable discussion in paleoanthropology. Although several complete lumbar vertebral columns are known for early hominins, to date, no complete cervical or thoracic series has been recovered. Several partial skeletons have revealed that the thoracolumbar transition in early hominins differed from that of most extant apes and humans. Australopithecus africanus, Australopithecus sediba, and Homo erectus all had zygapophyseal facets that shift from thoracic-like to lumbar-like at the penultimate rib-bearing level, rather than the ultimate rib-bearing level, as in most humans and extant African apes. What has not been clear is whether Australopithecus had 12 thoracic vertebrae as in most humans, or 13 as in most African apes, and where the position of the thoracolumbar transitional element was. The discovery, preparation, and synchrotron scanning of the Australopithecus afarensis partial skeleton DIK-1-1, from Dikika, Ethiopia, provides the only known complete hominin cervical and thoracic vertebral column before 60,000 years ago. DIK-1-1 is the only known Australopithecus skeleton to preserve all seven cervical vertebrae and provides evidence for 12 thoracic vertebrae with a transition in facet morphology at the 11th thoracic level. The location of this transition, one segment cranial to the ultimate rib-bearing vertebra, also occurs in all other early hominins and is higher than in most humans or extant apes. At 3.3 million years ago, the DIK-1-1 skeleton is the earliest example of this distinctive and unusual pattern of axial segmentation.


Discovery of obsidian mines on Mount Chikiani in the Lesser Caucasus of Georgia, di P. Biagi, R. Nisbet, B. Gratuze, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 357, June 2017

The volcanic Javaketi Range (Lesser Caucasus, Georgia) has recently aroused the interest of both geologists and archaeologists on account of its rich environmental and geological history, the prehistoric exploitation of its raw materials and the discovery of archaeological sites ranging from the Palaeolithic to the Historical Ages (Gogadze 1980; Kikodze 1983). In 2012 and 2014, two systematic surveys were conducted on Mount Chikiani (Koyundağ) with the aim of defining the areas from which obsidian was obtained during different prehistoric periods, and to characterise its sources (Biagi & Gratuze 2016). A longer season of archaeological prospection was carried out in 2016. Among the many important finds was the discovery of a large number of obsidian mining pits along the northern and north-eastern lower slopes of the volcano (Figure 1), as well as several obsidian workshops. During the 2016 season, research focused on the 2417m-high trachyrhyolitic dome—a source of high-quality obsidian—emerging from the plain around 300m north-east of Lake Paravani.


Populations headed south? The Gravettian from a palaeodemographic point of view, di A. Maier, A. Zimmermann, "Antiquity", Volume 91, Issue 357, June 2017, pp. 573-588

The Gravettian is known for its technological innovations and artisanal craftwork. At the same time, continued climatic deterioration led to the coldest and driest conditions since the arrival of Homo sapiens sapiens in Europe. This article examines the palaeodemographic development and provides regionally differentiated estimates for both the densities and the absolute numbers of people. A dramatic population decline characterises the later part of the Gravettian, while the following Last Glacial Maximum experienced consolidation and renewed growth. The results suggest that the abandonment of the northern areas was not a result of migration processes, but of local population extinctions, coinciding with a loss of typological and technological complexity. Extensive networks probably assured the maintenance of a viable population.


The Victoria West: earliest prepared core technology in the Acheulean at Canteen Kopje and implications for the cognitive evolution of early hominids, di H. Li, K. Kuman, M. G. Lotter, G. M. Leader, R. J. Gibbon, "Royal Society Open Science", June 2017 - free  access -

Prepared core technology illustrates in-depth planning and the presence of a mental template during the core reduction process. This technology is, therefore, a significant indicator in studying the evolution of abstract thought and the cognitive abilities of hominids. Here, we report on Victoria West cores excavated from the Canteen Kopje site in central South Africa, with a preliminary age estimate of approximately 1 Ma (million years ago) for these cores. Technological analysis shows that the Victoria West cores bear similarities to the ‘Volumetric Concept’ as defined for the Levallois, a popular and widely distributed prepared core technology from at least 200 ka (thousand years ago). Although these similarities are present, several notable differences also occur that make the Victoria West a unique and distinctive prepared core technology; these are: elongated and convergent core shapes, consistent blow directions for flake removal, a predominance of large side-struck flakes, and the use of these flakes to make Acheulean large cutting tools. This innovative core reduction strategy at Canteen Kopje extends the roots of prepared core technology to the latter part of the Early Acheulean and clearly demonstrates an increase in the cognitive abilities and complexities of hominids in this time period. (...)


Musée national de Préhistoire aux Eyzies-de-Tayac, juin 2017

La construction du Musée de préhistoire des Eyzies a débuté en 1914 et son ouverture officielle eut lieu en 1923. C’est Denis Peyrony qui acquiert pour le compte de l’Etat les ruines du Château des Eyzies pour y installer un dépôt de fouilles et les salles de présentation de ses découvertes. Ouvertes dès 1918, trois salles présentaient une introduction à la Préhistoire (des moulages d’œuvres d’art mobilier), des objets originaux provenant des fouilles Peyrony (salle Capitan), des études d’ethnographie comparative. Dès cette époque, le Musée de St Germain-en-Laye bénéficie également de nombreuses œuvres d’art mobilier. A partir de 1940, (date de la découverte de Lascaux) et devant l’engouement du public, l’organisation du musée montre ses limites : trop de visiteurs... sans connaissances sur la Préhistoire. Deux nouvelles salles furent donc ouvertes, en réaménageant le bureau du conservateur et le logement de la gardienne ! En 1967, l’extension de bâtiment « Froideveaux » permet d’ouvrir deux nouvelles salles : une réserve lithique et un laboratoire.. En 1972, l’établissement est rattaché à la Direction des musées de France. Depuis cette date on assiste à une refonte des salles, ou à l’inauguration de nouvelles (comme le dernier étage du donjon). En 1994, la première pierre pour l’extension du musée est posée… et il faudra attendre juillet 2004 pour que le ce dernier s’expose dans son intégralité ! (...)


The North African Middle Stone Age and its place in recent human evolution, di E. M. L. Scerri, "Evolutionary Anthropology", Volume 26, Issue 3, May/June 2017, Pages 119–135

The North African Middle Stone Age (NAMSA, ∼300-24 thousand years ago, or ka) features what may be the oldest fossils of our species as well as extremely early examples of technological regionalization and ‘symbolic’ material culture (d'Errico, Vanhaeren, Barton, Bouzouggar, Mienis, Richter, Hublin, McPherron, Louzouet, & Klein, 2009; Scerri, 2013a; Richter, Grün, Joannes-Boyau, Steele, Amani, Rué, Fernandes, Raynal, Geraads, Ben-Ncer Hublin, McPherron, 2017). The geographic situation of North Africa and an increased understanding of the wet-dry climatic pulses of the Sahara Desert also show that North Africa played a strategic role in continental-scale evolutionary processes by modulating human dispersal and demographic structure (Drake, Blench, Armitage, Bristow, & White, 2011; Blome, Cohen, Tryon, Brooks, & Russell, 2012). However, current understanding of the NAMSA remains patchy and subject to a bewildering array of industrial nomenclatures that mask underlying variability. These issues are compounded by a geographic research bias skewed toward non-desert regions. As a result, it has been difficult to test long-established narratives of behavioral and evolutionary change in North Africa and to resolve debates on their wider significance. In order to evaluate existing data and identify future research directions, this paper provides a critical overview of the component elements of the NAMSA and shows that the timing of many key behaviors has close parallels with others in sub-Saharan Africa and Southwest Asia.


Datation par 40Ar/39Ar sur monocristaux de feldspaths potassiques : exemple d’application sur le site pléistocène moyen ancien de Notarchirico (Basilicate, Italie), di A. Pereira, S. Nomade, J. J. Bahain, M. Piperno, "Quaternaire", vol. 28/2 | 2017, pp. 149-154 - free  access -

La méthode 40Ar/39Ar est une des méthodes de datation offrant la plus large gamme de temps d’applicabilité. Utilisée principalement pour la datation de roches volcaniques, cette méthode radio-isotopique est applicable sur la quasi-totalité du Quaternaire. Les développements méthodologiques et analytiques liés à la technologie de la spectrométrie de masse permettent aujourd’hui de dater avec une grande précision (1-5 %) des monocristaux de sanidines ou leucites, riches en potassium. Ces derniers, vieux de parfois moins de 500 ka peuvent être d’une taille inférieure à 300 µm. La méthode 40Ar/39Ar permet de dater des dépôts volcaniques dits « primaires », issus de retombées volcaniques directes (téphras), mais également d’analyser des dépôts sédimentaires remaniant des niveaux enregistrant plusieurs événements volcaniques grâce à la datation individuelle des cristaux sélectionnés. Il est donc possible d’identifier les plus récentes éruptions enregistrées au sein de ces niveaux qui donnent alors un âge maximum à ces derniers. Afin d’illustrer cette double approche et le potentiel de la méthode 40Ar/39Ar, nous présentons dans cet article les résultats obtenus pour le site paléolithique inférieur de Notarchirico (Bassin de Venosa, Basilicate, Italie), site clé pour la compréhension de l’évolution de la lignée pré-néanderthalienne et du peuplement acheuléen en Europe au cours du Pléistocène moyen. La séquence de Notarchirico comprend à la fois des retombées volcaniques directes liées à l’activité du Mont Vulture situé seulement à une dizaine de km (i.e. téphra de Notarchirico) et des niveaux fluviatiles riches en matériel volcanique remanié s’intégrant dans la séquence plus vaste et bien connue du bassin de Venosa. La datation par fusion laser de monocristaux de sanidine, extraits de différents niveaux sédimentaires, a permis de replacer ce site dans un schéma chronostratigraphique juste et précis. La séquence de Notarchirico s’est déposée entre 661 ± 14 ka (âge du téphra, localisé dans la partie inférieure de la séquence) et 614 ± 12 ka (plus jeune population de sanidines retrouvée dans le niveau 1-6b au sommet de celle-ci) donc entre le stade glaciaire 16 et le début de la période interglaciaire 15. Ces nouvelles contraintes géochronologiques font de ce site le gisement abritant le plus ancien fossile hominidé d’Italie et l’un des plus anciens sites acheuléens d’Europe. (...)


Analyses polliniques et parasitologiques préliminaires de coprolithes de carnivores du site moustérien des Ramandils (Port-la-Nouvelle, Aude, France), di A. S. Lartigot‑Campin, H. Mone, "Quaternaire", vol. 28/2 | 2017, pp. 217-224 - free  access -

Les fouilles du site des Ramandils ont livré une faune abondante associée à une industrie moustérienne, mais le remplissage sédimentaire n’a pas été favorable aux analyses polliniques. La découverte de nombreux coprolithes offre l’opportunité de réaliser une nouvelle analyse pollinique pour obtenir des données sur la composition du paysage végétal, visité par les prédateurs (carnivores et hommes) et contemporain du site. Ces tests mettent en évidence la présence d’ascaridioses, provoquées par Toxocara sp. et Ascaris sp., qui n’avaient pas encore été diagnostiquées, à cette époque du Pléistocène supérieur dans le Sud de la France. (...)


L’œuf ou la poule ? Retour sur le projet Magdatis «Le Magdalénien de la façade atlantique face aux changements environnementaux», di V. Laroulandie, S. Costamagno, M. Langlais, J. M. Pétillon, "Quaternaire", vol. 28/2 | 2017, pp. 277-283 - free  access -

L’une des questions qui anime le débat en archéologie paléolithique est de comprendre les relations qui existent entre l’évolution des techniques, des cultures, ou encore des territoires occupés par les groupes humains, et les changements du climat, de la faune et de la flore. Le projet Magdatis avait pour objectif d’apporter des éléments de réponse par l’étude d’un cas privilégié : le Magdalénien moyen et supérieur (vers 19 000-14 000 cal. BP) de l’ouest du Bassin aquitain. Cette région présente de forts contrastes écologiques qui en font un laboratoire idéal pour comparer les comportements des groupes humains dans des milieux différents à la fin des temps glaciaires. Pour cela, un bilan paléoenvironnemental détaillé, des études archéologiques multidisciplinaires et des datations radiocarbone ont été réalisés. Les résultats du projet ont significativement modifié notre vision de l’espace ouest-aquitain au Paléolithique, de ses contraintes environnementales et de son peuplement humain. La Gironde qui se présente alors comme une étendue steppique, semble avoir été désertée pendant deux millénaires, sans doute à cause de dégradations environnementales. Dans les Landes, un désert périglaciaire règne pendant toute la période. Cela explique sans doute la faiblesse de la présence humaine dans cet espace probablement très contraignant pour la vie. En revanche, les zones côtières étaient plus souvent fréquentées et plus intensément exploitées que ce que nous pensions jusqu’ici, attestant de l’existence d’une économie littorale. Dans les basses vallées pyrénéennes, la déglaciation, achevée précocement, libère des paysages ouverts qui sont rapidement occupés par les groupes humains. Ce sont ainsi les variations du milieu qui dessinent la carte des espaces attractifs et répulsifs. En revanche, les industries lithique et osseuse montrent l’existence de réseaux de diffusion dont l’extension n’est pas conditionnée par les obstacles naturels et relève de logiques sociales. La dynamique culturelle observée à cette échelle ne peut pas être reliée simplement aux changements environnementaux. (...)


Aggiornamento 31 maggio


The association between mid-facial morphology and climate in northeast Europe differs from that in north Asia: Implications for understanding the morphology of Late Pleistocene Homo sapiens, di A. A. Evteev, A. A. Movsesian, A. N. Grosheva, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 107, June 2017, Pages 36–48

The climate of northeastern Europe is likely to resemble in many ways Late Pleistocene periglacial conditions in Europe, but there have been relatively few studies exploring the association between climate and morphology in the mid-face of modern northeastern European populations. To fill this gap, we sampled 540 male skulls from 22 European and Near Eastern groups, including 314 skulls from 11 populations from northeastern Europe, to test for possible climate-morphology association at the continental scale. Our results found a moderate and highly significant association (R = 0.48, p = 0.0013, Mantel test) between sets of 23 mid-facial measurements and eight climatic variables. A partial least squares analysis revealed this association to be mostly driven by differences between groups from northeastern Europe and populations from the Mediterranean and the Caucasus. Matrices of between-group genetic distances based on Y-chromosome and mtDNA markers, as well as cranial non-metric and geographic distance matrices, were used to control for the possible influence of shared population history. Irrespective of which measure of neutral between-population distances is taken into account, the association between cranial variables and climate remains significant. The pattern of association between climate and morphology of the mid-face in western Eurasia was then compared to that in east and north Asia. Although differences between the two were found, there were also similarities that support existing functional interpretations of morphology for the bony parts of the upper airways. Last, in a preliminary analysis using a reduced set of measurements, mid-facial morphology of several Upper Paleolithic European Homo sapiens specimens was found to be more similar to groups from northern and northeastern Europe than to southern European populations. Thus, the population of northeastern Europe rather than east and north Asian groups should be used as a model when studying climate-mediated mid-facial morphology of Upper Paleolithic European H. sapiens.


The Howieson's Poort fauna from Sibudu Cave: Documenting continuity and change within Middle Stone Age industries, di J. L. Clark, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 107, June 2017, Pages 49–70

The Howieson's Poort (HP; ∼65–59 ka) continues to be a source of interest to scholars studying human behavioral evolution during the Late Pleistocene. This is in large part because the HP preserves evidence for a suite of innovative technologies and behaviors (including geometric backed tools and engraved ostrich eggshell), but also because the disappearance of the innovative behaviors associated with this phase is not well understood. Here, I present taphonomic and taxonomic data on the full sample of macromammal remains excavated from the HP deposits at Sibudu Cave under the direction of Lyn Wadley. With a total number of identified specimens (NISP) of 5921, Sibudu provides the largest sample of HP fauna published to date. Taken as a whole, the data suggest a focus on a diverse range of prey. Ungulates dominate the assemblage, as do taxa that preferentially inhabit closed (particularly forested) environments. Small bovids are common throughout; blue duiker (Philantomba monticola) alone comprises ∼33% of the total NISP. A diverse smaller game assemblage is also present. Taphonomic data implicate humans as the primary contributor to the fauna; however, low levels of gastric etching (∼1% of the NISP) suggest that non-human agents may have played some role in the accumulation of the smaller game. Despite broad similarities in the fauna, a number of directional trends are evidenced. Most notably, the lowermost deposits of the HP contain the highest frequency of blue duiker and other small ungulates, taxa which prefer closed environments, and miscellaneous smaller game. All of these decline throughout the HP, and these differences are statistically significant. After considering possible explanations for these trends, I discuss the potential implications of the variation evidenced in the assemblage to our understanding of the onset—and disappearance—of this important substage of the MSA.


Australopithecus sediba and the emergence of Homo: Questionable evidence from the cranium of the juvenile holotype MH 1, di W. H. Kimbel, Y. Rak, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 107, June 2017, Pages 94–106

Malapa Hominin (MH) 1, an immature individual whose second permanent molars had recently reached occlusion at the time of death, is the holotype of Australopithecus sediba, a 2-myr-old South African taxon that has been hypothesized to link phylogenetically australopith-grade hominins to the Homo clade. Given the existence of 2.8 myr-old fossils of Homo in eastern Africa, this hypothesis implies a ghost lineage spanning at least 800 kyr. An alternative hypothesis posits a unique relationship between A. sediba and Australopithecus africanus, which predates the Malapa hominins in southern Africa and whose phylogenetic relationships remain ambiguous. The craniofacial morphology of MH 1 looms large in the framing of the two hypotheses. We evaluated these alternatives in two ways. First, we investigated whether the craniofacial morphology of MH 1 was ontogenetically stable at death. Based on data from a late-growth series of chimpanzee, gorilla, and modern human crania, we found that key aspects of MH 1's resemblance to Homo can be accounted for by its immaturity. Second, we studied MH 1 with an eye to identifying craniofacial synapomorphies shared with A. africanus. In this case, MH 1 shows unambiguous affinities in its zygomaticomaxillary and supraorbital morphology to crania from Sterkfontein Member 4, which we found to exhibit unusual derived morphology compared to Homo and other australopiths. We argue that MH 1 provides clear evidence that A. sediba was uniquely related to A. africanus and that the hypothesis of an extensive ghost lineage connecting A. sediba to the root of the Homo clade is unwarranted.


The affinities of Homo floresiensis based on phylogenetic analyses of cranial, dental, and postcranial characters, di D. Argue, C. P. Groves, M. S.Y. Lee, W. L. Jungers, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 107, June 2017, Pages 107–133 - free  access -

Although the diminutive Homo floresiensis has been known for a decade, its phylogenetic status remains highly contentious. A broad range of potential explanations for the evolution of this species has been explored. One view is that H. floresiensis is derived from Asian Homo erectus that arrived on Flores and subsequently evolved a smaller body size, perhaps to survive the constrained resources they faced in a new island environment. Fossil remains of H. erectus, well known from Java, have not yet been discovered on Flores. The second hypothesis is that H. floresiensis is directly descended from an early Homo lineage with roots in Africa, such as Homo habilis; the third is that it is Homo sapiens with pathology. We use parsimony and Bayesian phylogenetic methods to test these hypotheses. Our phylogenetic data build upon those characters previously presented in support of these hypotheses by broadening the range of traits to include the crania, mandibles, dentition, and postcrania of Homo and Australopithecus. The new data and analyses support the hypothesis that H. floresiensis is an early Homo lineage: H. floresiensis is sister either to H. habilis alone or to a clade consisting of at least H. habilis, H. erectus, Homo ergaster, and H. sapiens. A close phylogenetic relationship between H. floresiensis and H. erectus or H. sapiens can be rejected; furthermore, most of the traits separating H. floresiensis from H. sapiens are not readily attributable to pathology (e.g., Down syndrome). The results suggest H. floresiensis is a long-surviving relict of an early (>1.75 Ma) hominin lineage and a hitherto unknown migration out of Africa, and not a recent derivative of either H. erectus or H. sapiens. (...)


Interpretation of footprints from Site S confirms human-like bipedal biomechanics in Laetoli hominins, di D. A. Raichlen, A. D. Gordon, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 107, June 2017, Pages 134–138

The recent discovery of additional hominin footprints at Laetoli (Masao et al., 2016) offers a rare opportunity to revisit the biomechanics of bipedalism in early hominins, a trait that was a defining event in the evolution of the human lineage (Darwin, 1871). While a great deal of work has explored how and why this hallmark trait evolved, recent debates have often focused on how best to reconstruct hominin biomechanics (Stern and Susman, 1983; Latimer and Lovejoy, 1989; Stern, 2000; Ward, 2002; Lovejoy and McCollum, 2010). Specifically, researchers have examined whether early hominins used energetically economical human-like mechanics, characterized by generally extended hindlimb joints throughout a step, or whether they used a form of bipedalism that fell somewhere between human and more flexed-limb chimpanzee-like bipedal mechanics (Stern, 2000; Lovejoy and McCollum, 2010). While much of this debate has revolved around analyses of fossil skeletal elements, ancient footprints provide another avenue to test models of hominin locomotion. (...)


The Breaking of Ochred Pebble Tools as Part of Funerary Ritual in the Arene Candide Epigravettian Cemetery, di C. Gravel-Miguel et alii, "Cambridge Archaeological Journal", Volume 27, Issue 2, May 2017, pp. 331-350

We present the analysis of 29 human-transported limestone pebbles found during recent excavations (2009–11) in the Final Epigravettian levels at the Caverna delle Arene Candide, Italy. All pebbles are oblong, most bear traces of red ochre and many appear intentionally broken. Macroscopic analyses demonstrate morphological similarity with pebbles used as grave goods in the Final Epigravettian necropolis excavated at the site in the 1940s. Mediterranean beaches are the most plausible source for the pebbles, which were carefully selected for their specific shape. Microscopic observation of the pebbles’ surfaces shows traces of ochre located on the edges and/or centres of most pebbles. A breakage experiment suggests that many pebbles were broken with intentional, direct blows to their centre. We propose that these pebbles were used to apply ochre ritually to the individuals buried at the site, and that some were subsequently ritually ‘killed’. This study emphasizes the importance of studying artefacts that are often ignored due to their similarities to simple broken rocks. It also provides a method to study pebbles as a distinct artefact category, and shows that even broken parts should be studied to understand the story told by such objects in the context of prehistoric human social systems.


Patrimoine et changements climatiques depuis un million d'années - Troisièmes Journées Francophones, "L'Anthropologie", Volume 121, Issues 1–2, Pages 1-214 (May 2017)

Chronologie du Paléolithique ouest africain : premières datations OSL de la Vallée de la Falémé (Sénégal), di B. Lebrun et alii

Vers une approche nouvelle de la dosimétrie: implications pour les méthodes de datation par luminescence et résonance paramagnétique électronique, di N. Mercier

La contribution de la luminescence à la datation des hauts niveaux marins du Pléistocène, di M. Lamothe

Développement de la méthode de datation par luminescence (TL/OSL) di L. Bejjit

Apports de la datation par la luminescence des sites du Proche-Orient et résultats préliminaires du site de Nesher Ramla (Israël), di G. Guérin

Paléocours du delta du Zerafshan (oasis de Boukhara, Ouzbékistan): premières datations par luminescence, di A. J. C. Zink et alii

Étude spectrométrique de marbres du Maroc central, di S. Khrissi et alii

Datation par les méthodes ESR/U-Th combinées de sites du Pléistocène supérieur: méthodologie et application en contexte karstique, di M. Richard

Apport des méthodes basées sur le déséquilibre radioactif (238U-234U-230Th-226Ra-210Pb) aux études des variations et changements climatiques, di B. Ghaleb, C. Falguères

Chronologie et enregistrements climatiques dans les dépôts travertineux du Maroc, di L. Rousseau et alii

Les indices climatiques du Pléistocène supérieur et de l’Holocène des formations quaternaires de la côte atlantique (Rabat-Témara, Maroc), di L. Boudad et alii

Les hauts niveaux marins interglaciaires pléistocènes enregistrés dans la région d’Agadir: bilan des données chronologiques, di S. Balescu et alii

Variations des niveaux marins et évolution des cultures préhistoriques en fonction des changements climatiques. Exemple des sites en grottes de la région de Rabat-Témara, di M. Abdeljalil El Hajraoui, R. Nespoulet

Les paléo-rivages des formations littorales atlantiques du Pléistocène moyen – supérieur de Rabat-Témara (Maroc), di D. Chahid

Les grands mammifères disparus du Maroc durant l’Holocène, di B. Ouchaou et alii

Mise en évidence d’un changement climatique dans le site pléistocène inférieur d’El Kherba (Algérie), et son possible impact sur les activités des hominidés, il y a 1,7 Ma, di M. Sahnouni et alii

Climats, paysages et premiers peuplements des îles : le patrimoine de l’histoire de l’humanité en Asie du sud-est insulaire, di F. Sémah

Les plus anciens peuplements de la Péninsule italienne, di M. Arzarello, C. Peretto

Errayah, un site Acheuléen récent dans la partie littorale nord-occidentale de l’Algérie (Sidi- Ali, Mostaganem), di A. Derradji

Les comportements de subsistance en Afrique du Nord-Ouest durant la transition Pléistocène supérieur/Holocène: entre homogénéité et variations stratégiques, di S. Merzoug

Amas et sites coquilliers du delta du Saloum (Sénégal): Passé et présent, di A. Camara


Comparative analysis of trabecular bone structure and orientation in South African hominin tali, di A. Su, K. J. Carlson, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 106, May 2017, Pages 1–18

Tali of several hominin taxa are preserved in the fossil record and studies of the external morphology of these often show a mosaic of human-like and ape-like features. This has contributed to a growing recognition of variability characterizing locomotor kinematics of Australopithecus. In contrast, locomotor kinematics of another Plio-Pleistocene hominin, Paranthropus, are substantially less well-documented, in part, because of the paucity of postcranial fossils securely attributed to the genus. Since the talus transmits locomotor-based loads through the ankle and its internal structure is hypothesized to reflect accommodation to such loads, it is a cornerstone structure for reconstructing locomotor kinematics. Here we quantify and characterize trabecular bone morphology within tali attributed to Australopithecus africanus (StW 102, StW 363, StW 486) and Paranthropus robustus (TM 1517), making quantitative comparisons to modern humans, extant non-human apes, baboons, and a hominin talus attributed to Paranthropus boisei (KNM-ER 1464). Using high-resolution images of fossil tali (25 μm voxels), nine trabecular bone subregions of interest beneath the articular surface of the talar trochlea were segmented to quantify localized patterns in distribution and primary strut orientation. It was found that trabecular strut orientation and shape, in some cases, can discriminate amongst species characterized by different locomotor foot kinematics. Discriminant function analyses using standard trabecular bone structural properties align TM 1517 with Pan and Gorilla, while other hominin tali structurally most resemble those of baboons. In primary strut orientation, Paranthropus tali (KNM-ER 1464 and TM 1517) resemble the human condition in the anterior-medial subregion, where strut orientation appears positioned to distribute compressive loads medially and distally toward the talar head. In A. africanus tali (particularly StW 486), primary strut orientation in this region resembles that of apes. These results suggest that Paranthropus may have had a human-like medial weight shift during the last half of stance phase but Australopithecus did not.


Thinking locally: Environmental reconstruction of Middle and Later Stone Age archaeological sites in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zambia based on ungulate stable isotopes, di J. R. Robinson, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 106, May 2017, Pages 19–37

Our knowledge of the Pleistocene environments of Africa consists primarily of data at a scale too coarse to capture the full habitat variation important to hominins ‘on the ground.’ These environments are complex, highly variable, and poorly understood. As such, data from individual sites are a needed addition to our current paleoenvironmental reconstructions. This study offers a site-based approach focusing on stable isotope analyses of fossil faunal tooth enamel from three archaeological sites in tropical Africa. Carbon and oxygen stable isotope data are reported from the sites of Porc Epic, Ethiopia, Lukenya Hill, Kenya, and Kalemba Rockshelter, Zambia. Stable isotope data from tooth enamel are used to measure two environmental variables: (1) aridity based on oxygen isotope composition and (2) dietary reconstructions of fossil ungulates based on the relative proportions of C3 browse and C4 graze in the diet. These data allow for a preliminary assessment of existing models that attempt to explain the behavioral and technological variation characteristic of the transition between the Middle and Later Stone Ages. Results indicate spatial and temporal variation in aridity and phytogeography in tropical Africa during the Pleistocene, suggesting that no single model is likely to provide an explanation for the transition at all sites across Africa.


Evolutionary anatomy of the Neandertal ulna and radius in the light of the new El Sidrón sample, di L. Pérez-Criado, A. Rosas, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 106, May 2017, Pages 38–53

This paper aims to improve our understanding of the phylogenetic trait polarity related to hominin forearm evolution, in particular those traits traditionally defined as “Neandertal features.” To this aim, twelve adult and adolescent fragmented forelimb elements (including ulnae and radii) of Homo neanderthalensis recovered from the site of El Sidrón (Asturias, Spain) were examined comparatively using three-dimensional geometric and traditional morphometrics. Mean centroid size and shape comparisons, principal components analysis, and phylogenetic signal analysis were undertaken. Our investigations revealed that the proximal region of the ulna discriminated best between Neandertals and modern humans, with fewer taxonomically-informative features in the distal ulna and radius. Compared to modern humans, the divergent features in the Neandertal ulna are an increase in olecranon breadth (a derived trait), lower coronoid length (primitive), and anterior orientation of the trochlear notch (primitive). In the Neandertal radius, we observe a larger neck length (primitive), medial orientation of the radial tubercle (secondarily primitive), and a curved diaphysis (secondarily primitive). Anatomically, we identified three units of evolutionary change: 1) the olecranon and its fossa, 2) the coronoid–radius neck complex, and 3) the tubercle and radial diaphysis. Based on our data, forearm evolution followed a mosaic pattern in which some features were inherited from a pre-Homo ancestor, others originated in some post-ergaster and pre-antecessor populations, and other characters emerged in the specific Homo sapiens and H. neanderthalensis lineages, sometimes appearing as secondarily primitive. Future investigations might consider the diverse phylogenetic origin of apomorphies while at the same time seeking to elucidate their functional meaning.


The Neandertal vertebral column 2: The lumbar spine, di A. Gómez-Olivencia, M. Arlegi, A. Barash, J. T. Stock, E. Been, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 106, May 2017, Pages 84–101

Here we provide the most extensive metric and morphological analysis performed to date on the Neandertal lumbar spine. Neandertal lumbar vertebrae show differences from modern humans in both the vertebral body and in the neural arch, although not all Neandertal lumbar vertebrae differ from modern humans in the same way. Differences in the vertebral foramen are restricted to the lowermost lumbar vertebrae (L4 and L5), differences in the orientation of the upper articular facets appear in the uppermost lumbar vertebrae (probably in L1 and L2–L3), and differences in the horizontal angle of the transverse process appear in L2–L4. Neandertals, when compared to modern humans, show a smaller degree of lumbar lordosis. Based on a still limited fossil sample, early hominins (australopiths and Homo erectus) had a lumbar lordosis that was similar to but below the mean of modern humans. Here, we hypothesize that from this ancestral degree of lumbar lordosis, the Neandertal lineage decreased their lumbar lordosis and Homo sapiens slightly increased theirs. From a postural point of view, the lower degree of lordosis is related to a more vertical position of the sacrum, which is also positioned more ventrally with respect to the dorsal end of the pelvis. This results in a spino-pelvic alignment that, though different from modern humans, maintained an economic postural equilibrium. Some features, such as a lower degree of lumbar lordosis, were already present in the middle Pleistocene populations ancestral to Neandertals. However, these middle Pleistocene populations do not show the full suite of Neandertal lumbar morphologies, which probably means that the characteristic features of the Neandertal lumbar spine did not arise all at once.


Substantial biases affecting Combe-Grenal faunal record cast doubts on previous models of Neanderthal subsistence and environmental context, di E. Discamps, J. P. Faivre, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 81, May 2017, Pages 128–132

This short contribution presents faunal data from new fieldwork at the Middle Palaeolithic site of Combe-Grenal (Dordogne, France). This important sequence continues to serve as both a reference sequence to which other Western European Middle Palaeolithic sites are often compared and the basis of several models of Neanderthal subsistence and environmental context. However, several researchers have highlighted the likelihood that skeletal part profiles were biased as a consequence of the incomplete recovery methods used during previous excavations at Combe-Grenal. A comparison of faunal remains recovered during new excavations with data from the original collections allows recovery bias induced by previous excavation protocols to be quantified. The unreliability of the original skeletal part profiles is confirmed by our study, while, more importantly and unexpectedly, radical biases in species frequencies were equally identified. These results cast doubts on several interpretive models held to account for variability in Mousterian industries, the evolution of Neanderthal hunting strategies, as well as Pleistocene environmental changes. Furthermore, Combe-Grenal provides an instructive example to archaeologists working on sites with less than ideal recovery methods of faunal material. In such cases, recovery biases may be so substantial than even basic faunal data, such as species lists, prove unreliable.


Early Upper Paleolithic colonization across Europe: Time and mode of the Gravettian diffusion, di N. Bicho , J. Cascalheira, C. Gonçalves, May 24, 2017,  - free  access -

This study presents new models on the origin, speed and mode of the wave-of-advance leading to the definitive occupation of Europe’s outskirts by Anatomically Modern Humans, during the Gravettian, between c. 37 and 30 ka ago. These models provide the estimation for possible demic dispersal routes for AMH at a stable spread rate of c. 0.7 km/year, with the likely origin in Central Europe at the site of Geissenklosterle in Germany and reaching all areas of the European landscape. The results imply that: 1. The arrival of the Gravettian populations into the far eastern European plains and to southern Iberia found regions with very low human occupation or even devoid of hominins; 2. Human demography was likely lower than previous estimates for the Upper Paleolithic; 3. The likely early AMH paths across Europe followed the European central plains and the Mediterranean coast to reach to the ends of the Italian and Iberian peninsulas. (...)


Patterns of change and continuity in ochre use during the late Middle Stone Age of the Horn of Africa: The Porc-Epic Cave record, di D. E. Rosso, F. d’Errico, A. Queffelec, May 24, 2017, - free  access -

Ochre is found at numerous Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites and plays a key role in early modern human archaeology. Here we analyse the largest known East African MSA ochre assemblage, comprising 40 kg of ochre, found at Porc-Epic Cave, Ethiopia, spanning a period of at least 4,500 years. Visual characterisation of ochre types, microscopic identification of traces of modification, morphological and morphometric analysis of ochre pieces and modified areas, experimental reproduction of grinding processes, surface texture analysis of archaeological and experimentally ground ochre facets, laser granulometry of ochre powder produced experimentally on different grindstones and by Hamar and Ovahimba women from Ethiopia and Namibia respectively, were, for the first time, combined to explore diachronic shifts in ochre processing technology. Our results identify patterns of continuity in ochre acquisition, treatment and use reflecting both persistent use of the same geological resources and similar uses of iron-rich rocks by late MSA Porc-Epic inhabitants. Considering the large amount of ochre processed at the site, this continuity can be interpreted as the expression of a cohesive cultural adaptation, largely shared by all community members and consistently transmitted through time. A gradual shift in preferred processing techniques and motions is interpreted as reflecting cultural drift within this practice. Evidence for the grinding of ochre to produce small quantities of powder throughout the sequence is consistent with a use in symbolic activities for at least part of the ochre assemblage from Porc-Epic Cave. (...)


Potential hominin affinities of Graecopithecus from the Late Miocene of Europe, di J. Fuss, N. Spassov, D. R. Begun, M. Böhme, May 22, 2017,  - free  access -

The split of our own clade from the Panini is undocumented in the fossil record. To fill this gap we investigated the dentognathic morphology of Graecopithecus freybergi from Pyrgos Vassilissis (Greece) and cf. Graecopithecus sp. from Azmaka (Bulgaria), using new μCT and 3D reconstructions of the two known specimens. Pyrgos Vassilissis and Azmaka are currently dated to the early Messinian at 7.175 Ma and 7.24 Ma. Mainly based on its external preservation and the previously vague dating, Graecopithecus is often referred to as nomen dubium. The examination of its previously unknown dental root and pulp canal morphology confirms the taxonomic distinction from the significantly older northern Greek hominine Ouranopithecus. Furthermore, it shows features that point to a possible phylogenetic affinity with hominins. G. freybergi uniquely shares p4 partial root fusion and a possible canine root reduction with this tribe and therefore, provides intriguing evidence of what could be the oldest known hominin. (...)


Thoracic vertebral count and thoracolumbar transition in Australopithecus afarensis, di C. V. Ward, T. K. Nalley, F. Spoor, P. Tafforeau, Z. Alemseged, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - Early Edition", May 22, 2017, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1702229114

The evolution of the human pattern of axial segmentation has been the focus of considerable discussion in paleoanthropology. Although several complete lumbar vertebral columns are known for early hominins, to date, no complete cervical or thoracic series has been recovered. Several partial skeletons have revealed that the thoracolumbar transition in early hominins differed from that of most extant apes and humans. Australopithecus africanus, Australopithecus sediba, and Homo erectus all had zygapophyseal facets that shift from thoracic-like to lumbar-like at the penultimate rib-bearing level, rather than the ultimate rib-bearing level, as in most humans and extant African apes. What has not been clear is whether Australopithecus had 12 thoracic vertebrae as in most humans, or 13 as in most African apes, and where the position of the thoracolumbar transitional element was. The discovery, preparation, and synchrotron scanning of the Australopithecus afarensis partial skeleton DIK-1-1, from Dikika, Ethiopia, provides the only known complete hominin cervical and thoracic vertebral column before 60,000 years ago. DIK-1-1 is the only known Australopithecus skeleton to preserve all seven cervical vertebrae and provides evidence for 12 thoracic vertebrae with a transition in facet morphology at the 11th thoracic level. The location of this transition, one segment cranial to the ultimate rib-bearing vertebra, also occurs in all other early hominins and is higher than in most humans or extant apes. At 3.3 million years ago, the DIK-1-1 skeleton is the earliest example of this distinctive and unusual pattern of axial segmentation.


Innovation in the production and use of equipment in hard animal materials: Origins and consequences in prehistoric societies, from the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic, di A. Averbouh et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 438, Part B, 18 May 2017, Pages 11–14

Since the earliest stages of prehistory, humans have struggled to adapt to changing environments through the use of many different materials. Amongst these, bone and hard animal material in general played an important role, along with stone and probably other perishable materials as well, such as wood, which have not survived to the present day. Particularly during the Upper Palaeolithic, various osseous materials (bone, antler, ivory, tooth …) were used as raw material for making equipment used for processing, hunting and personal or “symbolic” ornaments, mainly because the economic and technological basis of Pleistocene hunter-gatherers revolved around the use of the entire faunal spectrum. (...)


Intertidal shellfish as a source of protein and energy for the Middle Stone Age inhabitants of the southwestern Cape and northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, di K. Kyriacou, "Quaternary International", Volume 438, Part B, 18 May 2017, Pages 30–39

Intertidal mussels, limpets and oysters have been utilized as food by the prehistoric inhabitants of South African coastal regions since at least the Last Interglacial (130 ka). There is, however, little current information on their macronutrient content and nutritional value. In this paper, I present new, quantitative information on the protein, fat and energy content of two limpet and one mussel species from the Atlantic west coast (Cymbula granatina, Scutellastra granularis and Choromytilus meridionalis) and one mussel, one oyster and one limpet species from the northern coast of KwaZulu-Natal (Perna perna, Saccostrea culcullata and Patella concolor). The results of nutrient analyses show that many of these shellfish contain relatively large amounts of protein, fat and energy. When discussed alongside patterns in the archaeological record, these findings have important implications for our understanding of coastal foraging during the Middle Stone Age. Nutritional information and archaeological evidence indicate that simple marine molluscs were a significant source of protein and, to a lesser extent, energy, for the prehistoric inhabitants of the Atlantic west coast. In contrast, despite the good macronutrient returns of some species, shellfish were not a significant source of protein or energy for the Middle Stone Age occupants of Sibudu Cave in KwaZulu-Natal.


A novel multidisciplinary bio- and geo-chronological approach for age determination of Palaeolithic bone artifacts in volcanic settings: An example from eastern Sabatini, Latium, Italy, di C. Petronio et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 438, Part B, 18 May 2017, Pages 81–89

In this study, we provide combined biochronologic and chronostratigraphic constraints to the fluvial-lacustrine succession cropping out near the village of Rignano Flaminio, 35 km north of Rome, where two bone instruments have been recovered along with several vertebrate fossil remains. The presence of bone tools is characteristic of the Latium region, whereas it is rare in the rest of Italy, but very few sites in which such artifacts occur have precise geochronological constraints. In the investigated site, the presence of Cervus elaphus eostephanoceros, among other taxa, indicates a time interval limited to Marine Isotopic Stage (MIS) 13 and MIS 11. The occurrence of the Tufo Rosso a Scorie Nere pyroclastic-flow deposit, dated 449 ± 2 ka, at the base of the sedimentary deposits hosting the faunal assemblage allows us at restricting the interval to MIS 11. Moreover, applying a recently validated conceptual model accounting for an aggradational mechanism linked with sea-level rise during glacial termination for the sedimentary successions of the Tiber River and its tributaries in a relatively wider area around Rome, we further constrain the age to 430–405 ka. Following this approach, we present a review of the archaeological sites of Latium yielding bone instruments, remarking that only other four sites have been recently provided with geochronological constraints, through the application of the multidisciplinary methodology applied here.


Eemian paleoclimate zones and Neanderthal landscape-use: A GIS model of settlement patterning during the last interglacial, di C. M. Nicholson, "Quaternary International", Volume 438, Part B, 18 May 2017, Pages 144–157

Obstacles to our understanding of Neanderthal land-use patterns during the Last Interglacial (130kya-116kya, Marine Isotope Stage 5e) include not only the scarcity of sites in Europe but also a lack of knowing what the landscape may have looked like during this time. This research explores the influence of climate on Neanderthal land-use. Recently developed global climate models are capable of simulating past climate variables (e.g., precipitation and temperature), and geographic information system (GIS) tools can then be used to interpolate these data to model the niches of past organisms into paleoclimate zones. This study uses Maximum Likelihood Classification analysis in GIS to create a mosaic landscape of 22 paleoclimate zones to reconstruct what Europe may have looked like during the Last Interglacial Eemian. When overlain with the location of Last Interglacial archaeological sites, it is possible to visualize Neanderthal landscape use with respect to these climate zones. The modeled paleoclimate zones show there was a preference for site locations in Warm Temperate and Mesic climates. It also shows that Neanderthals did not commonly live near climate zone margins, preferring to stay in their “home” climate zone. The Warm Temperate and Mesic climate regime may have been preferred as a more climatically stable region, resulting in less biological stress related to thermoregulation.


Magdalenian settlement on the edge of the loess island: A case study from the northern foreland of the Carpathians (SE Poland), di D. Bobak et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 438, Part B, 18 May 2017, Pages 158–173

The subject of interdisciplinary studies was the Magdalenian archaeological site and its vicinity situated in the SE part of Kolbuszowa Plateau (Sandomierz Basin, SE Poland). The results of geoarchaeological analysis were not limited only to the area of archaeological excavations, but also include a wider background. From palaeogeographical point of view very important was the geomorphical location of the camp on the periphery of unique loess island close to valley of San River (tributary of Vistula). Analyzed soil profiles – with cultural layer very attractive for archaeologists – represent facies of sandy-silty deposits mainly formed by deluvial and aeolian processes active in the margin of a quite large, morphologically diversified loess island. The lower part of the studied sediments was deposited simultaneously with the youngest loesses, which were accumulated in the close proximity. The deposition of sandy-silty deposits continued during Late Glacial and ended in Younger Dryas when in the adjacent loess zone there were formed stratified silty deposits of deluvial-aeolian origin. This spatial variability of deposits, which were accumulated in a small area, resulted undoubtedly from local conditions and favoured the development of different plant communities at the time when the camp was functioning. Geological research carried out in the Kolbuszowa Plateau provided an answer to the question about the time and conditions of the stay of Magdalenian hunters. This stay coincided with the period of stopped activity of aeolian-slope processes and stabilization of ground surface by grass vegetation when the big meandering river functioned in the deepened valley. Place for the camp was undoubtedly selected on account of its geomorphological qualities – location on the slope sheltered from westerly winds and with extensive view over the surrounding area, at the confluence of two rivers. According to presented data, small groups of Magdalenian hunters appeared on the loess island and in its immediate surroundings in the Allerød. Advantages of this area were as follows: geographical situation near the main migration route, the proximity to the junction of ecological corridors, diversified relief with good observation points and safe places for camp location, access to water and diverse vegetation cover with forests as well as grass areas attracting the game. Finally, despite the peripheral nature of settlement and generally poor traces of stay of the Magdalenian groups in SE Poland, both the features of lithic inventories and settlement strategies fit perfectly with the picture of the Magdalenian complex in Central Europe.


L’ambiente del primo individuo del genere “Homo” 2,8 milioni di anni fa, 17 maggio 2017

Gli scienziati hanno a lungo ipotizzato che la transizione dall’Australopiteco all’Homo, in Africa orientale, fosse collegata al passaggio da un ambiente caratterizzato da umide foreste a pianure erbose più aride. Ora un nuovo studio ha analizzato alcuni fossili animali per ricostruire l’ambiente in questa regione tra i 3,5 e 1 milione di anni fa, confermando la teoria. I dati sono stati incrociati con l’analisi dei denti fossilizzati del più antico appartenente al genere Homo mai trovato: un individuo scoperto nel 2013 a Ledi-Geraru (Etiopia) e risalente a 2,8 milioni di anni fa. La sua dieta, tuttavia, era simile a quella dell’Australopiteco, implicando che un cambiamento della dieta non coincise con l’origine del genere Homo. La ricerca si base sul ritrovamento di una mascella (LD 350-1) con ancora alcuni denti attaccati. Appartenenteva a un individuo del genere Homo, la cui specie non è stata però ancora definita con certezza. La mascella era di 400.000 anni più antica dei fossili precedentemente noti, e ha spinto i ricercatori a studiare Ledi-Geraru (nella bassa valle dell’Awash, Etiopia) per rispondere a due domande fondamentali: Perché lì? E perché allora? (...)

· Il paesaggio che vide la nascita di Homo, "Le Scienze", 17 maggio 2017


High handaxe symmetry at the beginning of the European Acheulian: The data from la Noira (France) in context, di R. Iovita , I. Tuvi-Arad, M. H. Moncel, J. Despriée, P. Voinchet, J. J. Bahain, May 17, 2017, - free  access -

In the last few decades, new discoveries have pushed the beginning of the biface-rich European Acheulian from 500 thousand years (ka) ago back to at least 700 ka, and possibly to 1 million years (Ma) ago. It remains, however, unclear to date if handaxes arrived in Europe as a fully developed technology or if they evolved locally from core-and-flake industries. This issue is also linked with another long-standing debate on the existence and behavioral, cognitive, and social meaning of a possibly chronological trend for increased handaxe symmetry throughout the Lower Paleolithic. The newly discovered sites can provide a link between the much older Acheulian in Africa and the Levant and the well-known assemblages from the later European Acheulian, enabling a rigorous testing of these hypotheses using modern morphometric methods. Here we use the Continuous Symmetry Measure (CSM) method to quantify handaxe symmetry at la Noira, a newly excavated site in central France, which features two archaeological levels, respectively ca. 700 ka and 500 ka old. In order to provide a context for the new data, we use a large aggregate from the well-known 500 ka old site of Boxgrove, England. We show that handaxes from the oldest layer at la Noira, although on average less symmetric than both those from the younger layers at the same site and than those from Boxgrove, are nevertheless much more symmetric than other early Acheulian specimens evaluated using the CSM method. We also correlate trends in symmetry to degree of reduction, demonstrating that raw material availability and discard patterns may affect observed symmetry values. We conclude that it is likely that, by the time the Acheulian arrived in Europe, its makers were, from a cognitive and motor-control point of view, already capable of producing the symmetric variant of this technology. (...)


Grassy beginning for earliest Homo, 15-MAY-2017

In 2013, an ASU research team found the oldest known evidence of our own genus, Homo, at Ledi-Geraru in the lower Awash Valley of Ethiopia. A jawbone with teeth was dated to 2.8 million years ago, about 400,000 years earlier than previously known fossils of Homo. After the discovery, attention turned to reconstructing the environment of this ancient human ancestor to understand why there and why then. But how do you re-create specific environments from millions of years ago to understand where our ancient ancestors lived? Paleoanthropologists use animal fossils like proxy time machines to re-create what past environments were like. If animal fossils indicate browsing on tree leaves, like giraffes and monkeys do, then they know that the environment was characterized by woody trees and significant rainfall. If the fossils suggest grazing on grass, as many antelopes do, then the environments would have been open and arid with grassy plains. Scientists have long suggested that global cooling and the spread of grassy environments set the stage for the beginnings of Homo. (...)


L'enigma di H. naledi e i dubbi sull'evoluzione umana, 13 maggio 2017

Nel 2015 la scoperta in Sudafrica di oltre 1500 fossili umani appartenenti a circa 15 individui di ogni sesso ed età, ha provocato una notevole sensazione. Era un tesoro inimmaginabile, una delle più ricche associazioni di fossili umani mai trovate, recuperata da una camera all'interno di un sistema sotterraneo di grotte vicino a Johannesburg chiamato Rising Star. I ricercatori hanno stabilto che le ossa appartenevano a una nuova specie, Homo naledi, che aveva una curiosa mescolanza di tratti primitivi – come un piccolo cervello, e caratteristiche moderne – tra cui le gambe lunghe – e ne hanno concluso che era un abile arrampicatore, un camminatore sulle lunghe distanze, e un probabile creatore di utensili. Suggerendo inoltre che questo nostro singolare cugino doveva essersi dato una gran pena per sistemare i suoi morti nelle scure e profonde cavità di Rising Star, così difficili da raggiungere. Eppure, nonostante tutto ciò che il team di studioso aveva potuto stabilire dall'analisi delle ossa, la scoperta è forse più conosciuta per quello che non erano riusciti ad accertare: la loro età. (...)


Neandertal and Denisovan DNA from Pleistocene sediments, di V. Slon et alii, Science 12 May 2017, Vol. 356, Issue 6338, pp. 605-608

Although a rich record of Pleistocene human-associated archaeological assemblages exists, the scarcity of hominin fossils often impedes the understanding of which hominins occupied a site. Using targeted enrichment of mitochondrial DNA, we show that cave sediments represent a rich source of ancient mammalian DNA that often includes traces of hominin DNA, even at sites and in layers where no hominin remains have been discovered. By automation-assisted screening of numerous sediment samples, we detected Neandertal DNA in eight archaeological layers from four caves in Eurasia. In Denisova Cave, we retrieved Denisovan DNA in a Middle Pleistocene layer near the bottom of the stratigraphy. Our work opens the possibility of detecting the presence of hominin groups at sites and in areas where no skeletal remains are found.


Ecco ‘Neo’, il più completo scheletro di Homo naledi mai trovato, 10 maggio 2017

Quando due anni fa i cacciatori di fossili svelarono i resti di una misteriosa e arcaica nuova specie umana, nelle profondità di una grotta in Sudafrica, la comunità scientifica rimase sbalordita. Da allora, i corpi dei membri della famiglia a lungo dimenticata si sono moltiplicati. Nello studio pubblicato sulla rivista eLife si parla dei resti di almeno 18 Homo naledi. L’ultimo ritrovamento di ossa, scoperte in una grotta a 100 metri dal primo, include un cranio adulto quasi completo. I test hanno datato le ossa tra i 335.000 e i 236.000 anni fa, rendendole molto più recenti di quanto molti scienziati si aspettassero. «Significa che questa primitiva specie di ominide coesistette con l’Homo sapiens“, ha detto Lee Berger, scienziato dell’Università di Witwatersrand a Johannesburg. Le ossa, incredibilmente, mostrano pochi segni di malattia o stress da scarso sviluppo, suggerendo che l’Homo naledi potrebbe essere stata la specie dominante nella zona all’epoca. “Sono i morti più sani che si possano vedere”, ha detto Berger. (...)


Small-brained early human lived more recently than expected, di S. Wild, "Nature News", 9 maggio 2017

An early human species with a curious mix of archaic and modern features lived in South Africa just a few hundred thousand years ago, researchers have found. Dubbed Homo naledi, the species had a small, fist-sized brain similar to that of ancient hominin species that lived millions of years earlier. But it may also have overlapped with ancestors of Homo sapiens, and, its discoverers contend, might even have made tools. H. naledi was uncovered in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa in 2013, where a team led by palaeoanthropologist Lee Berger, at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, found a huge trove of ancient human bones and teeth. Now, Berger and his colleagues say that they have dated those remains to between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago, and that they have since discovered more of the species’ skeletons. Their findings are detailed in three papers published in eLife1, 2, 3 on 9 May. The date is “astonishingly young for a species that still displays primitive characteristics found in fossils about 2 million years old”, says Chris Stringer, an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London. The brain of H. naledi came close in size to that of very early members of the Homo genus, and of ancient australopiths — and was only slightly larger than that of a chimpanzee. Its curved fingers and its shoulder, trunk and hip joints also seem ancient, Stringer says. “Yet the wrist, hands, legs and feet look more like those of Neanderthals and modern humans, and the teeth are relatively small and simple, and set in lightly built jawbones.” (...)


Le grotte funerarie di Homo naledi, 9 maggio 2017

Nuovi importanti fossili di Homo naledi sono stati scoperti in una profonda camera del sistema di caverne sudafricano di Rising Star, un vero labirinto sotterraneo in cui nel 2013 erano stati trovati numerosi resti fossili di una enigmatica specie ominide.Solo nel 2015, dopo un attenta analisi dei reperti, la specie - capace di andatura perfettamente bipede, ma con alcune caratteristiche che ricordano l’australopiteco – è stata attribuita al nostro genere, con il nome di H. naledi. L'estrema difficoltà di accesso al luogo in cui sono stati ritrovati i nuovi resti suffraga l'idea che H. naledi conservasse i propri morti, un comportamento sorprendente che suggerisce una notevole intelligenza e il possibile sviluppo di una forma iniziale di cultura. I fossili - descritti in un articolo su "eLife" - appartengono ad almeno tre individui (due adulti e un bambino di età presumibilmente inferiore ai cinque anni) e comprendono un "cranio meravigliosamente completo", come ha detto John Hawks, antropologo all'Università di Wisconsin-Madison e coautore dello studio. (...)


Changes in Early Stone Age tool production have 'musical' ties, 8-MAY-2017

New research suggests that advances in the production of Early Stone Age tools had less to do with the evolution of language and more to do with the brain networks involved in modern piano playing. Around 1.75 million years ago there was a revolutionary innovation in stone tool technology, when early humans moved from making simple Oldowan flake and pebble tools to producing two-sided, shaped tools, such as Acheulian hand axes and cleavers. This advance is thought to reflect an evolutionary change in intelligence and language abilities. Understanding the link between brain evolution and cognition is a challenge, however, because it is impossible to observe the brain activity of extinct humans. An innovative approach to this challenge is to bring together modern neuroscience methods and material artefacts from the archaeological record. To understand the brain changes that might have co-evolved with the advance in tool use, researchers in the field of neuroarcheology - from the University of East Anglia's (UEA) School of Psychology, The Stone Age Institute at Indiana University, and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Iowa - have been examining the brain activity of modern humans as they learn to make Oldowan and Acheulian stone tools. (...)


On the relationship between climate and Neandertal fire use during the Last Glacial in south-west France, di A. C. Sorensen, "Quaternary International", Volume 436, Part A, 29 April 2017, Pages 114–128

Both environmental and cultural factors dictate how, when and where hunter-gatherers use fire in the landscape, as well as how well evidence for any one fire will preserve in the archaeological record. Variability in the production and preservation of anthropogenic fire traces can potentially skew our perception of fire use in the past. With this in mind, the research presented in this article weighs in on the debate concerning Neandertal fire use and fire making, specifically, the assertion that Neandertals were unable to produce fire for themselves (Sandgathe et al., 2011a, 2011b). This hypothesis is based on the inferred correlation between climatic deterioration, concurrent lowering of lightning-ignited fire frequencies, and reduced signals for fire use in layers presumably deposited during the Lower Pleniglacial (Marine Isotope Stage 4) at the Middle Palaeolithic sites of Roc de Marsal and Pech de l’Azé IV (Aquitaine Basin, southwestern France), the logic being that if Neandertals could produce fire at will, fire use signals would remain largely consistent throughout the deposits despite there being limited access to natural fires in the landscape during this colder period. This review challenges these assertions at multiple scales by looking at regional lightning and fire regime dynamics, comparing the fire signals observed at Roc de Marsal and Pech de l’Azé IV to those of other sites nearby and around France, and exploring the various environmental and cultural factors likely influencing these signals. Ultimately, the data suggests that estimated reductions in lightning frequencies and fire regime during the Lower Pleniglacial (and colder stadial periods, in general) were not adequate to severely limit Neandertal access to natural fire, while possible artefactual evidence for Neandertal fire making challenges the assumption that they were at all reliant on lightning-ignited fire. Moreover, at the nearby Neandertal site of Combe Grenal, the majority of the layers exhibiting evidence of fire use have cold climatic signals, suggesting the fire use trends observed at Roc de Marsal and Pech de l’Azé IV are potentially local expressions of changes in regional site use patterns, possibly brought on by increased reliance on highly mobile, migratory reindeer prey species and reductions in local woodfuel availability during cold periods. Other factors potentially reducing the archaeological visibility of cold climate fire use are discussed.


Late Middle Pleistocene genesis of Neanderthal technology in Western Europe: The case of Payre site (south-east France), di J. Baena, M. H. Moncel, F. Cuartero, M. G. Chacón Navarro, D. Rubio, "Quaternary International", Volume 436, Part A, 29 April 2017, Pages 212–238

Technological changes during the second part of the Middle Pleistocene in Europe are crucial sources of information as they are considered to be evidence of the transition between two distinct periods; the Lower Palaeolithic and the Middle Palaeolithic. The application of experimental technical (mode of percussion) and technological (core technology) analyses contributes to a more accurate appraisal of these technological changes and renews traditional approaches to the study of Early Middle Palaeolithic lithic assemblages. In this paper, the analysis of the level Ga assemblage from Payre, dated to the end of isotopic stage 8 – beginning of stage 7, based on the technological analysis of the archaeological assemblage and experimental methodologies, indicates that Pre-Neanderthals adopted a variety of technological solutions during the earliest occupations of this site. At Orgnac 3, the reduction process in level 1 was mainly based on Levallois core technology (even if different methods were applied) and a ramified process (with many core-flakes), whereas the débitage in level Ga at Payre was generally unifacial on flakes and orthogonal, but primarily reveals technical and technological strategies related to both Quina, discoid and Levallois débitage concepts. Early Middle Palaeolithic assemblages, as represented by level Ga at Payre, could attest to the presence of a technical and technological “pool of knowledge” for some hominin groups as early as MIS 8–7, with sequential applications of different methods on the same core. This technological behavior would thus represent a phase of transition observed in some assemblages between the Lower Palaeolithic and the Late Middle Palaeolithic strategies. This behavior differs from standardized technology during the Late Middle Palaeolithic, as documented in Western Europe, before the outbreak of technological variability which occurred at roughly the same time as the arrival of the first modern humans during MIS 3. Hypotheses for explaining this transitional phase are discussed in relation to other examples of assemblages.


Lagomorph predation represented in a middle Palaeolithic level of the Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter site (Pinilla del Valle, Spain), as inferred via a new use of classical taphonomic criteria, di M. C. Arriaza, "Quaternary International", Volume 436, Part A, 29 April 2017, Pages 294–306

Lagomorph remains at Pleistocene sites may accumulate through the action of hominins, raptors or carnivores. Actualistic studies have described reliable taphonomic indicators that allow human and non-human involvement in such accumulations to be distinguished. However, discriminating between possible animal predators is not easy, because the prey remnants they leave may undergo the same kinds of taphonomic transformation. The main aim of the present work was to identify the agent, human or non-human, that accumulated the lagomorph remains at the Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter site (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid). For this, 1) established taphonomic criteria, such as anatomical representation, were taken into account, 2) the presence of infant lagomorphs was examined by determining the age of the individual animals, 3) and coprolite remains adhered to fossils were identified. This new use of the latter two criteria aided in the identification of the predator responsible for the accumulation of remains. The results suggest that this was a small carnivore, probably an Iberian lynx.


Ancient-human genomes plucked from cave dirt, di E. Callaway, "Nature News", 27/4/2017

Bones and teeth aren’t the only ways to learn about extinct human relatives. For the first time, researchers have recovered ancient-human DNA without having obvious remains — just dirt from the caves the hominins lived in. The technique opens up a new way to probe prehistory. From sediments in European and Asian caves, a team led by geneticist Viviane Slon and molecular biologist Matthias Meyer, both at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, sequenced genomes of cell structures called mitochondria from Neanderthals and another hominin group, the Denisovans. Their work is published in Science. “It’s exciting to see that you can end up with a whole pile of ancient-human DNA from just dirt,” says Michael Bunce, an evolutionary biologist at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. Slon and Meyer are not the first to decode ancient dirt. Palaeogeneticist Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen pioneered the approach in 2003, to find out about the plants and animals that populated prehistoric environments. Using the technique, he and his team revealed that Greenland was once richly forested4 But Slon and Meyer are the first to use the technique on hominin DNA. (...)


How people used ochre at Rose Cottage Cave, South Africa: Sixty thousand years of evidence from the Middle Stone Age, di T. Hodgskiss, L. Wadley, April 26, 2017,  - free  access -

We describe colour, hardness, grain size, geological type and surface modifications of ochre pieces excavated, first by Malan and later by Harper, from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) of Rose Cottage Cave, 96, 000 to 30, 000 years ago. Soft, bright-red shales are abundant, and most ochre has clayey or silty grain sizes. The post-Howiesons Poort layers contain the most ochre pieces, but the Howiesons Poort layers have the highest frequency of ochre per sediment volume. The pre-Howiesons Poort layers have the highest utilization rate. Use-traces include rubbing, grinding, combined grinding and rubbing, and rare instances of scoring. The processing techniques are proxies for ochre use. Rubbing transfers red ochre powder directly onto soft surfaces, such as human skin, or animal hide. This is appropriate when skin colouring and marking or skin protection (for example from sun, insects or bacteria) is the purpose. Grinding produces ochre powder that can be used for a variety of tasks. It can be mixed with water or other products to create paint, cosmetics or adhesives. Multiple uses of ochre powder and ochre pieces are therefore implied at Rose Cottage and changes through time are apparent. (...)


Pressure flaking to serrate bifacial points for the hunt during the MIS5 at Sibudu Cave (South Africa), di V. Rots, C. Lentfer, V. C. Schmid, G. Porraz, N. J. Conard,  April 26, 2017, - free  access -

Projectile technology is considered to appear early in the southern African Middle Stone Age (MSA) and the rich and high resolution MSA sequence of Sibudu Cave in KwaZulu-Natal has provided many new insights about the use and hafting of various projectile forms. We present the results of a functional and technological analysis on a series of unpublished serrated bifacial points recently recovered from the basal deposits of Sibudu Cave. These serrated tools, which only find equivalents in the neighbouring site of Umhlatuzana, precede the Still Bay techno-complex and are older than 77 ka BP. Independent residue and use-wear analyses were performed in a phased procedure involving two separate analysts, which allowed the engagement between two separate lines of functional evidence. Thanks to the excellent preservation at Sibudu Cave, a wide range of animal, plant and mineral residues were observed in direct relation with diagnostic wear patterns. The combination of technological, wear and residue evidence allowed us to confirm that the serration was manufactured with bone compressors and that the serrated points were mounted with a composite adhesive as the tips of projectiles used in hunting activities. The suite of technological and functional data pushes back the evidence for the use of pressure flaking during the MSA and highlights the diversity of the technical innovations adopted by southern African MSA populations. We suggest the serrated points from the stratigraphic units Adam to Darya of Sibudu illustrate one important technological adaptation of the southern African MSA and provide another example of the variability of MSA bifacial technologies. (...)


A famous 'ancestor' may be ousted from the human family, di A. Gibbons, "Science News", Apr. 23, 2017

A remarkably complete skeleton introduced in 2010 as “the best candidate” for the immediate ancestor of our genus Homo may just be a pretender. Instead of belonging to the human lineage, the new species of Australopithecus sediba is more closely related to other hominins from South Africa that are on a side branch of the human family tree, according to a new analysis of the fossil presented here last week at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. When fossils from several individuals’ skeletons were found in a collapsed cave in Malapa, South Africa, in 2008, their discoverer, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, noted that they helped fill a key gap in the fossil record 2 million to 3 million years ago when some upright-walking australopithecine evolved into the earliest member of our genus, Homo. But the oldest Homo fossils, at 2.4 million to 2.9 million years, are scrappy, and a half dozen more primitive hominins may have been walking around Africa at roughly the right time to be the ancestor. Researchers have hotly debated whether their direct ancestor was the famous 3.2-million-year-old fossil Lucy and her kind, Australopithecus afarensis from Ethiopia, or another australopithecine. (...)


Neanderthal behaviour, diet, and disease inferred from ancient DNA in dental calculus, di L. S. Weyrich et alii, "Nature" 544, pp. 357–361 (20 April 2017)

Recent genomic data have revealed multiple interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans, but there is currently little genetic evidence regarding Neanderthal behaviour, diet, or disease. Here we describe the shotgun-sequencing of ancient DNA from five specimens of Neanderthal calcified dental plaque (calculus) and the characterization of regional differences in Neanderthal ecology. At Spy cave, Belgium, Neanderthal diet was heavily meat based and included woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep (mouflon), characteristic of a steppe environment. In contrast, no meat was detected in the diet of Neanderthals from El Sidrón cave, Spain, and dietary components of mushrooms, pine nuts, and moss reflected forest gathering. Differences in diet were also linked to an overall shift in the oral bacterial community (microbiota) and suggested that meat consumption contributed to substantial variation within Neanderthal microbiota. Evidence for self-medication was detected in an El Sidrón Neanderthal with a dental abscess and a chronic gastrointestinal pathogen (Enterocytozoon bieneusi). Metagenomic data from this individual also contained a nearly complete genome of the archaeal commensal Methanobrevibacter oralis (10.2× depth of coverage)—the oldest draft microbial genome generated to date, at around 48,000 years old. DNA preserved within dental calculus represents a notable source of information about the behaviour and health of ancient hominin specimens, as well as a unique system that is useful for the study of long-term microbial evolution.


Anterior dental microwear textures show habitat-driven variability in Neandertal behavior, di K. L. Krueger et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 105, April 2017, Pages 13–23

The causes of Neandertal anterior tooth wear patterns, including labial rounding, labial scratches, and differential anterior-posterior wear, have been debated for decades. The most common explanation is the “stuff-and-cut” hypothesis, which describes Neandertals clamping down on a piece of meat and slicing a portion close to their lips. “Stuff-and-cut” has been accepted as a general aspect of Neandertal behavior without fully assessing its variability. This study analyzes anterior dental microwear textures across habitats, locations, and time intervals to discern possible variation in Neandertal anterior tooth-use behavior. Forty-five Neandertals from 24 sites were analyzed, represented by high-resolution replicas of permanent anterior teeth. The labial surface was scanned for antemortem microwear using a white-light confocal profiler. The resultant 3D-point clouds, representing 204 × 276 μm for each specimen, were uploaded into SSFA software packages for texture characterization. Statistical analyses, including MANOVAs, ANOVAs, and pairwise comparisons, were completed on ranked microwear data. Neandertal descriptive statistics were also compared to 10 bioarchaeological samples of known or inferred dietary and behavioral regimes. The Neandertal sample varied significantly by habitat, suggesting this factor was a principal driving force for differences in Neandertal anterior tooth-use behaviors. The Neandertals from open habitats showed significantly lower anisotropy and higher textural fill volume than those inhabiting more closed, forested environments. The texture signature from the open-habitat Neandertals was most similar to that of the Ipiutak and Nunavut, who used their anterior teeth for intense clamping and grasping behaviors related to hide preparation. Those in more closed habitats were most similar to the Arikara, who did not participate in non-dietary behaviors. These Neandertal individuals had a broad range of texture values consistent with non-dietary and dietary behaviors, suggesting they varied more in anterior tooth-use behaviors and exploited a wider variety of plant and animal resources than did those from open habitats.


The chronostratigraphy of the Haua Fteah cave (Cyrenaica, northeast Libya) — Optical dating of early human occupation during Marine Isotope Stages 4, 5 and 6, di Z. Jacobs et alii, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 105, April 2017, Pages 69–88

The paper presents the results of optical dating of potassium-rich feldspar grains obtained from the Haua Fteah cave in Cyrenaica, northeast Libya, focussing on the chronology of the Deep Sounding excavated by Charles McBurney in the 1950s and re-excavated recently. Samples were also collected from a 1.25 m-deep trench (Trench S) excavated during the present project below the basal level of the Deep Sounding. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) data sets for multi-grain, single aliquots of quartz for samples from the Middle Trench were previously published. Re-analyses of these OSL data confirm significant variation in the dose saturation levels of the quartz signal, but allow the most robust OSL ages to be determined for comparison with previous age estimates and with those obtained in this study for potassium-rich feldspars from the Deep Sounding. The latter indicate that humans may have started to visit the cave as early as ∼150 ka ago, but that major use of the cave occurred during MIS 5, with the accumulation of the Deep Sounding sediments. Correlations between optical ages and episodes of “Pre-Aurignacian” artefact discard indicate that human use of the cave during MIS 5 was highly intermittent. The earliest phases of human activity appear to have occurred during interstadial conditions (5e and 5c), with a later phase of lithic discard associated with more stadial conditions, possibly MIS 5b. We argue that the “Pre-Aurignacian” assemblage can probably be linked with modern humans, like the succeeding “Levalloiso-Mousterian” assemblage; two modern human mandibles associated with the latter are associated with a modelled age of 73–65 ka. If this attribution is correct, then the new chronology implies that modern humans using “Pre-Aurignacian” technologies were in Cyrenaica as early as modern humans equipped with “Aterian” technologies were in the Maghreb, raising new questions about variability among lithic technologies during the initial phases of modern human dispersals into North Africa.


Evidence of toothpick groove formation in Neandertal anterior and posterior teeth, di A. Estalrrich, J. A. Alarcón, A. Rosas, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", April 2017, Volume 162, Issue 4, Pages 747–756

During the microscopic examination of the Neandertal dentitions from El Sidrón (Spain) and Hortus (France), we found unusual fine parallel microstriations on the mesial and distal sides of all tooth types, near the cervix. As its appearance was similar to toothpick grooves described in other Homo species, it could correspond to early stages on its formation. To test this hypothesis we developed an experimental replication of a groove using grass stalks.
Comparisons between 204 isolated Neandertal teeth and the two experimental dental specimens corroborate that the marks correspond to initial stages of toothpick groove formation, and we propose a five-grade recording scale that summarized the groove formation process.
Using this new recording procedure, we found that Hortus individuals have higher incidence of this trait (eight individuals out of nine) than the El Sidrón individuals (nine out of 11). Toothpick grooves from El Sidrón show the earliest stages of development, whereas the grooves found on Hortus Neandertals were well-developed. Toothpick grooves were also found in 21 incisors and canines.
These differences could be due to the more advanced occlusal dental wear in Hortus individuals, maybe age-related and with a more meat-based diet maybe favoring the inclusion of food debris and thus probing as the cleaning methodology. Our results allow the identification and characterization of incipient toothpick grooves on the human fossil record and contribute to increase our knowledge on Neandertals behavioral and oral care habits.


The first evidence of Middle Palaeolithic Nubian technology in north-central Oman, di A. Beshkani, T. Beuzen-Waller, S. Bonilauri & G. Gernez, "Antiquity Project Gallery", Issue 356, April 2017

Since 2012, the French Mission in Oman has discovered several Palaeolithic sites in the south-eastern foothills of the Sufrat Dishshah (a hill of the Sufrat Valley/Wādī al-Сufrāt), in the Adam region of north-central Oman. These sites are attributed to the Lower through to the Late Palaeolithic (Bonilauri et al. 2015). The 2016 field season was dedicated to further investigation of the previously identified sites of the Sufrat Dishshah area. A number of additional artefacts were located and studied on site; four artefacts—two bifaces and two Nubian cores—were retained for further study. These finds have particular importance for the understanding of Middle Palaeolithic variability and cultural diffusion in Oman, and they represent one of the most significant results of the 2016 Adam expedition.


The earliest directly dated rock paintings from southern Africa: new AMS radiocarbon dates, di A. Bonneau et alii, "Antiquity", Volume 91, Issue 356 April 2017, pp. 322-333

Rock art worldwide has proved extremely difficult to date directly. Here, the first radiocarbon dates for rock paintings in Botswana and Lesotho are presented, along with additional dates for Later Stone Age rock art in South Africa. The samples selected for dating were identified as carbon-blacks from short-lived organic materials, meaning that the sampled pigments and the paintings that they were used to produce must be of similar age. The results reveal that southern African hunter-gatherers were creating paintings on rockshelter walls as long ago as 5723–4420 cal BP in south-eastern Botswana: the oldest such evidence yet found in southern Africa.


Maritime hominin dispersals in the Pleistocene: advancing the debate, di T. P. Leppard, C. Runnels, "Antiquity", Volume 91, Issue 356 April 2017, pp. 510-519

To what extent is there spatial and temporal patterning in the spread of our genus around the planet, and what environmental and behavioural factors specify this patterning? The prevailing model of Pleistocene dispersals of Homo holds that this process was essentially terrestrial, with oceans and seas inhibiting and directing the movement of hominins out of Africa (e.g. Mellars 2006; Dennell & Petraglia 2012; Gamble 2013), although some scholars propose short-range maritime hops at both the Strait of Gibraltar and Bab-el-Mandeb (Lambeck et al. 2011; Rolland 2013). The relatively recent discovery of stone tools with apparently Lower and Middle Palaeolithic characteristics on islands in the eastern Mediterranean and in Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) has, however, been used by some scholars to challenge this terrestrial model.


The migration of Late Pleistocene reindeer: isotopic evidence from northern Europe, di T. D. Price, D. Meiggs, M. J. Weber, A. Pike-Tay, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", April 2017, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp. 371–394

Questions concerning the timing and direction of reindeer herd movements in northern Europe during the Late Pleistocene are examined with methods for isotopic proveniencing to study the faunal remains of reindeer from archaeological sites in northern Germany. Late Upper Paleolithic and Late Paleolithic reindeer hunters in this region belong to the Hamburgian and Ahrensburgian culture groups that exploited these herds between ca. 14,950 and 14,050 cal b2k and between ca. 12,800 and 11,400 cal b2k, respectively. The direction and timing of herd migration would have played a major role in the livelihood of these people and the success of their adaptation to this changing environment across southern Scandinavia and the North European Plain. Results of the isotopic analysis suggest that the herds for the most part moved east-west through this region, probably wintering in the east.


What killed the Neanderthals? Understanding environmental change during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in northern Spain, di J. R. Jones, A. B. Marín-Arroyo, "Past-The newsletter of the Prehistoric Society"", April 2017, n. 85, pp. 6-7

The extinction of the Neanderthals and their subsequent replacement by Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) during the Middle–Upper Palaeolithic transition (c. 40,000 years ago) shaped the course of evolution forever. Neanderthals are the close relatives of AMH, and their demise enabled the human race to develop and thrive. But why did Neanderthals become extinct? A host of factors have been proposed, including dietary differences between Neanderthals and AMH, technological inefficiency of Neanderthals, imbalances in demography, competition between the species, cognitive differences, declines in genetic diversity and environmental shifts. The extinction of the late Neanderthal populations coincides with several global-scale changes in environment, including a series of warming and cooling events during the Middle–Upper Palaeolithic transition, which may have been a contributing factor. (...)


Aggiornamento 31 marzo

  Settlement Dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age, "Quaternary International", Volume 435, Part A, Pages 1-246 (12 April 2017). Edited by M. Gema Chacón, Knut Bretzke, Florent Rivals and Nicholas J. Conard

UISPP Foreword, di L. Oosterbeek

Current research on the settlement dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and the Middle Stone Age, di M. Gema Chacón, Knut Bretzke, Florent Rivals, Nicholas J. Conard

Neanderthal's microlithic tool production and use, the case of Tata (Hungary), di A. Borel, V. Dobosi, M. H. Moncel

Mousterian in Balzi Rossi (Ventimiglia, Liguria, Italy): New insights and old collections, di E. Rossoni-Notter, O. Notter, P. Simon

GIS analysis of the spatial distribution of Middle Palaeolithic artefacts in Kůlna Cave (Czech Republic), di P. Neruda

Nubian technology in northern Arabia: Impact on interregional variability of Middle Paleolithic industries, di Y. H. Hilbert, R. Crassard, G. Charloux, R. Loreto

The effect of terrain on Neanderthal ecology in the Levant, di D. O. Henry, M. Belmaker, S. M. Bergin

The Middle Paleolithic sequence of Wadi Mushkuna Rockshelter and its implications for hominin settlement dynamics in western Syria, di K. Bretzke, A. W. Kandel, N. J. Conard

San Quirce (Palencia, Spain). A Neanderthal open air campsite with short term-occupation patterns, di M. Terradillos-Bernal et alii

Neanderthal highlanders: Las Callejuelas (Monteagudo del Castillo, Teruel, Spain), a high-altitude site occupied during MIS 5, di R. Domingo, J. L. Peña-Monné, T. de Torres, J. Eugenio Ortiz, P. Utrilla

Did stones speak about people? Flint catchment and Neanderthal behavior from Area 3 (Cañaveral, Madrid-Spain), di I. Ortiz Nieto-Márquez, J. Baena Preysler

Diachronic variation in the Middle Paleolithic settlement of Abrigo de la Quebrada (Chelva, Spain), di V. Villaverde et alii

Reconstructing occupational models: Bone refits in Level I of Abric Romaní, di M. Modolo, J. Rosell

A resilient landscape at Teixoneres Cave (MIS 3; Moià, Barcelona, Spain): The Neanderthals as disrupting agent, di J. Rosell et alii

Neanderthals of Crimea – Creative generalists of the late Middle Paleolithic. Contextualizing the leaf point industry Buran-Kaya III, Level C, di G. Bataille

Bears in the scene: Pleistocene complex interactions with implications concerning the study of Neanderthal behavior, di E. Camarós, M. Cueto, L. Teira, Susanne C. Münzel, F. Plassard, P. Arias, F. Rivals


Characterization and supply of raw materials in the Neanderthal groups of Prado Vargas Cave (Cornejo, Burgos, Spain), di  S. Vallejo Rodríguez, K. Urtiaga Greaves, M. Navazo Ruiz, "Quaternary International", Volume 435, Part B, 12 April 2017, Pages 35–48

A systematic archaeological field survey has been undertaken in the area around Prado Vargas Cave (Cornejo, Burgos, Spain), which shows evidence of human occupation in the Middle Paleolithic. The aim of the study is to locate outcrops of raw materials which could have been used for the fabrication of tools by these Neanderthal groups. An archeological field survey of 46.6 km2 in 94 different locations was undertaken, in which flint and other materials of archaeological and ethnographic interest were recovered. Different analytic techniques were employed (Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy [FTIR], X-Ray Diffraction [XRD], and Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry [ICP-MS]) with the aim of typifying the lithic materials found in ten selected samples of flint on primary position in limestone and ten samples selected from flint on secondary position in clay. We have also undertaken the analysis of nine samples of archaeological flakes derived from the cave excavations. The flint samples were typified and the results of the data from the FTIR, XRD and ICP-MS were interpreted taking into account the similarity between samples of natural and archaeological origin, and the localization of possible areas of gathering of the lithic resources.


Quartzite selection in fluvial deposits: The N12 level of Roca dels Bous (Middle Palaeolithic, southeastern Pyrenees), di M. Roy Sunyer et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 435, Part B, 12 April 2017, Pages 49–60

The exploitation of rocks from secondary deposits is attested widely in the European Middle Palaeolithic. However, few studies have focused on analysing the implications derived from the management of these deposits. The fluvial terraces near the Mousterian site of Roca dels Bous have been sampled to determine their lithological composition and cobble morphology. Comparison with artefacts recovered from level N12 indicate selection patterns in the fluvial deposits of black quartzite, as well as preferential management of blanks with specific morphological and volumetric characteristics. This approach reveals behaviours involved in the acquisition, transport, transformation and discard of stone tools necessary for Neanderthal subsistence, and indicates interest in the study of secondary deposits and local raw materials in Middle Palaeolithic contexts.

  Dead wood gathering among Neanderthal groups: Charcoal evidence from Abric del Pastor and El Salt (Eastern Iberia), di P. Vidal-Matutano, A. Henry, I. Théry-Parisot, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 80, April 2017, Pages 109–121

We present here a new approach combining the microscopic characterization of fungal decay features and the fragmentation degree of the charcoal remains from Middle Palaeolithic combustion structures: features H4 and H11 from Abric del Pastor, unit IV (>75 ka BP) and features H50 and H57 from El Salt, unit Xb (ca. 52 ka BP), Eastern Iberia. The observation of wood degradation patterns that occurred prior to charring followed by their quantitative analysis according to previous experimental studies revealed differences between the alteration degrees of the firewood used in the hearths, highlighting the existence of firewood acquisition criteria based on dead wood gathering and also suggesting smoke-related functions. Coupled with fragmentation analyses, this method highlighted possible post-depositional processes affecting the higher degraded charcoals. These results lead us to propose a quantitative analysis of the fungal decay patterns on Middle Palaeolithic charcoal reinforcing the previous hypotheses about dead wood gathering among Neanderthal groups as an accessible and available resource in the surroundings. These data have significant implications for the interpretation of firewood use and management by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers which was traditionally defined as an opportunistic activity according to the absence of selection criteria based on specific taxa.


Local and Nonlocal Procurement of Raw Material in Amud Cave, Israel: The Complex Mobility of Late Middle Paleolithic Groups, di R. Ekshtain, S. Ilani, I. Segal, E. Hovers, Geoarchaeology", Volume 32, Issue 2, March/April 2017, Pages 189–214 - free  access -

Studying the distribution of lithic raw materials around prehistoric sites, their procurement, transport, and use, are important for understanding organizational decisions of hunter-gatherers. Here we examine lithic technological organization in two stratigraphic subunits B4 and B1 (dated ~ 68 and ~ 55 ka, respectively) at the Neanderthal site of Amud Cave. The lithic assemblages are made exclusively of flint. An ArcGIS model is used to create a predictive model for daily exploitation territories (DETs) around the site. Using a battery of statistical methods (ANOVA, principal component analysis, and cluster analysis), we link flint visual types with geochemical characteristics (obtained through inductively coupled plasma (ICP) mass spectrometry and ICP atomic emission spectrometry) of both geological and archaeological flints. Results indicate that local materials are abundant in both subunits. Nonlocal raw materials (from areas beyond the modeled DET) amount to 30–40% across all technological categories, suggesting long-distance transport. The technological patterns of the nonlocal raw material differ between the two subunits. Pending results of additional work, we suggest that nonlocal flint types were likely obtained from distances >60 km. Mobility patterns inferred from this study suggest that Amud Cave was a focal location within its settlement system during both occupation periods, but the manner of site use and mobility patterns changed through time. (...)


Geochemical Characterization of Four Quaternary Obsidian Sources and Provenance of Obsidian Artifacts from the Middle Stone Age Site of Gademotta, Main Ethiopian Rift, di M. S. Shackley, Y. Sahle, "Geoarchaeology", Volume 32, Issue 2, March/April 2017, Pages 302–310

Twenty-six Middle Stone Age obsidian artifacts from the Gademotta Formation were instrumentally characterized by energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence. Analysis of artifacts from the type locality enabled sampling of a greater time depth while avoiding the uncertainties in previous results on artifacts sampled from a “disturbed” context at Kulkuletti. Moreover, the analysis here of source samples from Alutu, Worja, and the previously unstudied Bora and Ficke sources in the broader region offers a better understanding of prehistoric lithic raw material procurement. The local Worja source, an aphyric obsidian excellent for tool production, substantially dominates the assemblage. Bora, another aphyric obsidian in the wider region, is also present, but not common. The vitrophyric Ficke and Alutu obsidian sources with abundant sanidine phenocrysts were not present in the archaeological assemblage, and likely did not compete with Worja and Bora for tool production. At least one artifact appears to be from an as yet unknown source, thus confirming results of previous studies. A few artifacts share similar geochemical composition with the Worja and Bora sources, thus highlighting the complexity of obsidian source studies in this part of the rift where multiple geographically close sources may share similar crustal material.

  Lithic technological responses to Late Pleistocene glacial cycling at Pinnacle Point Site 5-6, South Africa, di J. Wilkins , K. S. Brown, S. Oestmo, T. Pereira, K. L. Ranhorn, B. J. Schoville, C. W. Marean, March 29, 2017, doi: - free  access -

There are multiple hypotheses for human responses to glacial cycling in the Late Pleistocene, including changes in population size, interconnectedness, and mobility. Lithic technological analysis informs us of human responses to environmental change because lithic assemblage characteristics are a reflection of raw material transport, reduction, and discard behaviors that depend on hunter-gatherer social and economic decisions. Pinnacle Point Site 5–6 (PP5-6), Western Cape, South Africa is an ideal locality for examining the influence of glacial cycling on early modern human behaviors because it preserves a long sequence spanning marine isotope stages (MIS) 5, 4, and 3 and is associated with robust records of paleoenvironmental change. The analysis presented here addresses the question, what, if any, lithic assemblage traits at PP5-6 represent changing behavioral responses to the MIS 5-4-3 interglacial-glacial cycle? It statistically evaluates changes in 93 traits with no a priori assumptions about which traits may significantly associate with MIS. In contrast to other studies that claim that there is little relationship between broad-scale patterns of climate change and lithic technology, we identified the following characteristics that are associated with MIS 4: increased use of quartz, increased evidence for outcrop sources of quartzite and silcrete, increased evidence for earlier stages of reduction in silcrete, evidence for increased flaking efficiency in all raw material types, and changes in tool types and function for silcrete. Based on these results, we suggest that foragers responded to MIS 4 glacial environmental conditions at PP5-6 with increased population or group sizes, ‘place provisioning’, longer and/or more intense site occupations, and decreased residential mobility. Several other traits, including silcrete frequency, do not exhibit an association with MIS. Backed pieces, once they appear in the PP5-6 record during MIS 4, persist through MIS 3. Changing paleoenvironments explain some, but not all temporal technological variability at PP5-6. (...)

  A decorated raven bone from the Zaskalnaya VI (Kolosovskaya) Neanderthal site, Crimea, di A. Majkić, S. Evans, V. Stepanchuk, A. Tsvelykh, F. d’Errico, March 29, 2017, doi:  - free  access

We analyze a radius bone fragment of a raven (Corvus corax) from Zaskalnaya VI rock shelter, Crimea. The object bears seven notches and comes from an archaeological level attributed to a Micoquian industry dated to between 38 and 43 cal kyr BP. Our study aims to examine the degree of regularity and intentionality of this set of notches through their technological and morphometric analysis, complemented by comparative experimental work. Microscopic analysis of the notches indicate that they were produced by the to-and-fro movement of a lithic cutting edge and that two notches were added to fill in the gap left between previously cut notches, probably to increase the visual consistency of the pattern. Multivariate analysis of morphometric data recorded on the archaeological notches and sets of notches cut by nine modern experimenters on radii of domestic turkeys shows that the variations recorded on the Zaskalnaya set are comparable to experimental sets made with the aim of producing similar, parallel, equidistant notches. Identification of the Weber Fraction, the constant that accounts for error in human perception, for equidistant notches cut on bone rods and its application to the Zaskalnaya set of notches and thirty-six sets of notches incised on seventeen Upper Palaeolithic bone objects from seven sites indicate that the Zaskalnaya set falls within the range of variation of regularly spaced experimental and Upper Palaeolithic sets of notches. This suggests that even if the production of the notches may have had a utilitarian reason the notches were made with the goal of producing a visually consistent pattern. This object represents the first instance of a bird bone from a Neanderthal site bearing modifications that cannot be explained as the result of butchery activities and for which a symbolic argument can be built on direct rather than circumstantial evidence. (...)

  New Middle Pleistocene hominin cranium from Gruta da Aroeira (Portugal), di J. Daura et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", March 28, 2017, vol. 114 no. 13, pp. 3397–3402 - free  access -

The Middle Pleistocene is a crucial time period for studying human evolution in Europe, because it marks the appearance of both fossil hominins ancestral to the later Neandertals and the Acheulean technology. Nevertheless, European sites containing well-dated human remains associated with an Acheulean toolkit remain scarce. The earliest European hominin crania associated with Acheulean handaxes are at the sites of Arago, Atapuerca Sima de los Huesos (SH), and Swanscombe, dating to 400–500 ka (Marine Isotope Stage 11–12). The Atapuerca (SH) fossils and the Swanscombe cranium belong to the Neandertal clade, whereas the Arago hominins have been attributed to an incipient stage of Neandertal evolution, to Homo heidelbergensis, or to a subspecies of Homo erectus. A recently discovered cranium (Aroeira 3) from the Gruta da Aroeira (Almonda karst system, Portugal) dating to 390–436 ka provides important evidence on the earliest European Acheulean-bearing hominins. This cranium is represented by most of the right half of a calvarium (with the exception of the missing occipital bone) and a fragmentary right maxilla preserving part of the nasal floor and two fragmentary molars. The combination of traits in the Aroeira 3 cranium augments the previously documented diversity in the European Middle Pleistocene fossil record. (...)


Origins of house mice in ecological niches created by settled hunter-gatherers in the Levant 15,000 y ago, di L. Weissbrod et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences-Early Edition", March 27, 2017, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1619137114

Reductions in hunter-gatherer mobility during the Late Pleistocene influenced settlement ecologies, altered human relations with animal communities, and played a pivotal role in domestication. The influence of variability in human mobility on selection dynamics and ecological interactions in human settlements has not been extensively explored, however. This study of mice in modern African villages and changing mice molar shapes in a 200,000-y-long sequence from the Levant demonstrates competitive advantages for commensal mice in long-term settlements. Mice from African pastoral households provide a referential model for habitat partitioning among mice taxa in settlements of varying durations. The data reveal the earliest known commensal niche for house mice in long-term forager settlements 15,000 y ago. Competitive dynamics and the presence and abundance of mice continued to fluctuate with human mobility through the terminal Pleistocene. At the Natufian site of Ain Mallaha, house mice displaced less commensal wild mice during periods of heavy occupational pressure but were outcompeted when mobility increased. Changing food webs and ecological dynamics in long-term settlements allowed house mice to establish durable commensal populations that expanded with human societies. This study demonstrates the changing magnitude of cultural niche construction with varying human mobility and the extent of environmental influence before the advent of farming.

  Cleaning up a Messy Mousterian: How to describe and interpret Late Middle Palaeolithic chrono-cultural variability in Atlantic Europe, "Quaternary International", Volume 433, Part B, Pages 1-156 (17 March 2017). Edited by Jean-Philippe Faivre, Emmanuel Discamps, Brad Gravina, Alain Turq and Laurence Bourguignon

Cleaning up a Messy Mousterian: How to describe and interpret Late Middle Palaeolithic chrono-cultural variability in Atlantic Europe, di J. P. Faivre, E. Discamps, B. Gravina, A. Turq, L. Bourguignon

Neanderthals in the Outermost West: Technological adaptation in the Late Middle Palaeolithic (re)-colonization of Britain, Marine Isotope Stage 4/3, di R. M. Wragg Sykes

Late Middle Palaeolithic assemblages with flake cleavers in the western Pyrenees: The Vasconian reconsidered, di M. Deschamps

A new chronological and technological synthesis for Late Middle Paleolithic of the Eastern Cantabrian Region, di J. Rios-Garaizar

Reconstructing palaeoenvironmental conditions faced by Mousterian hunters during MIS 5 to 3 in southwestern France: A multi-scale approach using data from large and small mammal communities, di E. Discamps, A. Royer

Building models of Neanderthal territories from raw material transports in the Aquitaine Basin (southwestern France), di A. Turq, J. P. Faivre, B. Gravina, L. Bourguignon

The complementarity of luminescence dating methods illustrated on the Mousterian sequence of the Roc de Marsal: A series of reindeer-dominated, Quina Mousterian layers dated to MIS 3, di G. Guérin et alii

Late Middle Palaeolithic lithic technocomplexes (MIS 5–3) in the northeastern Aquitaine Basin: Advances and challenges, di J.-Ph. Faivre, B. Gravina, L. Bourguignon, E. Discamps, A. Turq

Intra-level technological change and its implications for Mousterian assemblage variability. The example of Le Moustier, layer G, di B. Gravina

Neandertal subsistence strategies during the Quina Mousterian at Roc de Marsal (France), di J. C. Castel et alii


Neanderthal behaviour, diet, and disease inferred from ancient DNA in dental calculus, di L. S. Weyrich et alii, Nature (2017), 08 March 2017, doi:10.1038/nature21674

Recent genomic data have revealed multiple interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans1, but there is currently little genetic evidence regarding Neanderthal behaviour, diet, or disease. Here we describe the shotgun-sequencing of ancient DNA from five specimens of Neanderthal calcified dental plaque (calculus) and the characterization of regional differences in Neanderthal ecology. At Spy cave, Belgium, Neanderthal diet was heavily meat based and included woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep (mouflon), characteristic of a steppe environment. In contrast, no meat was detected in the diet of Neanderthals from El Sidrón cave, Spain, and dietary components of mushrooms, pine nuts, and moss reflected forest gathering2, 3. Differences in diet were also linked to an overall shift in the oral bacterial community (microbiota) and suggested that meat consumption contributed to substantial variation within Neanderthal microbiota. Evidence for self-medication was detected in an El Sidrón Neanderthal with a dental abscess4 and a chronic gastrointestinal pathogen (Enterocytozoon bieneusi). Metagenomic data from this individual also contained a nearly complete genome of the archaeal commensal Methanobrevibacter oralis (10.2× depth of coverage)—the oldest draft microbial genome generated to date, at around 48,000 years old. DNA preserved within dental calculus represents a notable source of information about the behaviour and health of ancient hominin specimens, as well as a unique system that is useful for the study of long-term microbial evolution.

· Neanderthal tooth plaque hints at meals — and kisses, di Ewen Callaway, "Nature news", 08 March 2017

· Regione che vai, dieta Neanderthal che trovi, "Le Scienze", 09 marzo 2017

  The Chronology of Palaeolithic Cave art: new data, new debates, "Quaternary International", Volume 432, Part B, Pages 1-100 (8 March 2017). Edited by Roberto Ontañón and Pilar Utrilla

The Chronology of Palaeolithic cave art: New data, new debates. Preface to the volume, di R. Ontañon, P. Utrilla

The chronology of human and animal presence in the decorated and sepulchral cave of Cussac (France), di J. Jaubert et alii

New evidence of Palaeolithic rock art at the Cova del Comte (Pedreguer, Spain): Results of the first surveys, di J. Casabó et alii

Dating Palaeolithic cave art: Why U–Th is the way to go, di A. W.G. Pike, D. L. Hoffmann, P. B. Pettitt, M. García-Diez, J. Zilhão

U-series dating of Palaeolithic rock art at Fuente del Trucho (Aragón, Spain), di D. L. Hoffmann et alii

The role of the cave in the expression of prehistoric societies, di E. Robert

Back to the past: Symbolism and archaeology in Altxerri B (Gipuzkoa, Northern Spain), di A. Ruiz-Redondo, C. González-Sainz, D. Garate-Maidagan

La Viña rock shelter (La Manzaneda, Oviedo, Asturias): Relation between stratigraphy and parietal engravings, di M. González-Pumariega et alii

Uranium–thorium dating method and Palaeolithic rock art, di G. Sauvet et alii

Comment on: “Uranium–thorium dating method and Palaeolithic rock art” by Sauvet et al. (2015, in press), di E. Pons-Branchu et alii

Answer to “Comment on Uranium-thorium dating method and Palaeolithic rock art” by Sauvet et al. (2015, in press) by Pons-Branchu E. et al., di G. Sauvet et alii

Further comment on: “Uranium–thorium dating method and Palaeolithic rock art” by Sauvet et al. (2015, in press), di M. Aubert


L'enigma dell'antenato arcaico ritrovato in Cina, "Le Scienze", 03 marzo 2017

Due crani parziali di Homo rinvenuti in Cina e risalenti a 100.000 anni fa circa mostrano una singolare miscela di tratti. Solo nuove scoperte diranno se si tratta di un nuovo membro del nostro genere, di una variante orientale dei Neanderthal mescolatasi a umani moderni oppure dei resti dello sfuggente uomo di Denisova. (...)


Divergence in the evolution of Paleolithic symbolic and technological systems: The shining bull and engraved tablets of Rocher de l'Impératrice, di N. Naudinot et alii, March 3, 2017,

The development of the Azilian in Western Europe 14,000 years ago is considered a “revolution” in Upper Paleolithic Archaeology. One of the main elements of this rapid social restructuring is the abandonment of naturalistic figurative art on portable pieces or on cave walls in the Magdalenian in favor of abstract expression on small pebbles. Recent work shows that the transformation of human societies between the Magdalenian and the Azilian was more gradual. The discovery of a new Early Azilian site with decorated stones in France supports this hypothesis. While major changes in stone tool technology between the Magdalenian and Azilian clearly mark important adaptive changes, the discovery of 45 engraved schist tablets from archaeological layers at Le Rocher de l’Impératrice attests to iconographic continuity together with special valorization of aurochs as shown by a “shining” bull depiction. This evidence suggests that some cultural features such as iconography may lag far behind technological changes. We also argue that eventual change in symbolic expression, which includes the later disappearance of figurative art, provides new insight into the probable restructuring of the societies. (...)

Correction: Divergence in the evolution of Paleolithic symbolic and technological systems: The shining bull and engraved tablets of Rocher de l’Impératrice,September 18, 2018


Pointillist technique on engravings discovered in France, 2 March 2017

Aurignacian artists who decorated several newly rediscovered limestone blocks 38,000 years ago used small dots to create the illusion of a larger image - the same technique employed by Pointillist painters in the late 19th century. Images on the stones include mammoths and horses, adding to previous isolated discoveries from the Grotte Chauvet, such as a rhinoceros formed by the application of dozens of dots first painted on the palm of the hand and then transferred to the cave wall. Earlier this year, excavation team leader and New York University anthropologist Randall White and his colleagues reported finding the image of an aurochs - some of the earliest known graphic imagery found in Western Eurasia. Now they have found a woolly mammoth in the same style in a rock shelter of the same period known as Abri Cellier, near the previous find-site of Abri Blanchard. (...)


Structural organization and tooth development in a Homo aff. erectus juvenile mandible from the Early Pleistocene site of Garba IV at Melka Kunture, Ethiopian highlands, di C. Zanolli et alii, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 162, Issue 3, March 2017, Pages 533–549

The immature partial mandible GAR IVE from the c. 1.7 Ma old Garba IV site at Melka Kunture (Upper Awash Basin, Ethiopia), the earliest human representative from a mountain-like environment, represents one of the oldest early Homo specimens bearing a mixed dentition. Following its first description (Condemi, 2004), we extended the analytical and comparative record of this specimen by providing unreported details about its inner morphology, tooth maturational pattern and age at death, crown size, and tooth tissue proportions.
Compared to the extant human condition and to some fossil representatives of comparable individual age, the GAR IVE mandible reveals absolutely and relatively thick cortical bone. Crown size of the permanent lateral incisor and the canine fit the estimates of H. erectus s.l., while the dm2 and the M1 more closely approach those of H. habilis-rudolfensis. Molar crown pulp volumes are lower than reported in other fossil specimens and in extant humans. The mineralization sequence of the permanent tooth elements is represented four times in our reference sample of extant immature individuals (N = 795).
The tooth developmental pattern displayed by the immature individual from Garba IV falls within the range of variation of extant human populations and is also comparable with that of other very young early fossil hominins. Taken together, the evidence presented here for mandibular morphology and dental development suggest GAR IVE is a robust 2.5- to 3.5-year old early Homo specimen.


Neanderthal use of plants and past vegetation reconstruction at the Middle Paleolithic site of Abrigo de la Quebrada (Chelva, Valencia, Spain), di I. Esteban, R. M. Albert, A. Eixea, J. Zilhão, V. Villaverde, "Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences", March 2017, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 265–278

Despite phytoliths having been used to understand past human use of plants and palaeoenvironment in Middle Paleolithic sites, little is known on this aspect in the well-documented central region of Mediterranean Iberia. This paper presents the first phytolith and mineralogical study conducted at Abrigo de la Quebrada (Chelva, Valencia). Forty-one samples were analyzed through phytoliths and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) from different areas, stratigraphic levels, and archeological contexts (hearth, hearth-related, and non-hearth-related sediments) of the shelter. The results obtained point towards a different pattern of preservation in the site depending firstly on the stratigraphy and secondly on the area where the samples were collected. Postdepositional processes that may have chemically affected phytolith preservation are discussed. Grasses are the main plant component identified in all the samples while woody plants are scarce. The abundance of grasses in the non-hearth-related sediments might be related, at least partially, to the dispersion of ashes from hearths, as indicated by the FTIR results. The results are indicative of an occupation of the site during the spring-autumn season. At this time, the area would be dominated by a semi-open environment with supramediterranean vegetation.


Efficiency of gathering and its archaeological implications for an European Early Palaeolithic population, di O. Prado-Nóvoa et alii, "Journal of Anthropological Archaeology", Volume 45, March 2017, Pages 131–141

We evaluate the efficiency of acorn gathering as a foraging method for a middle Pleistocene human population living in mid-latitude European territory. An innovative experimental approach measures how much energy an average female spends gathering nuts in a natural environment, comparing this value with the caloric return of this vegetable resource. The gathering activities were performed by 9 volunteers and showed that gathering 3 kg of acorns in 1 h represents a moderate activity in energetic terms, consuming not more than 300 kcal. Thus, due to their high energetic content, gathering nuts is a highly efficient foraging method. The energetic return obtained by gathering acorns, one of the more abundant nuts in the Mediterranean landscape, is favourably compared with the return provided by hunting. Acorns were a seasonally abundant resource at these ecosystems 300 kya and were rich in nutrients and relatively easy to store, making them a highly attractive food for the Palaeolithic inhabitants of this landscape.


Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 104, Pages 1-204 (March 2017):

Adaptation to suspensory locomotion in Australopithecus sediba, di Thomas R. Rein et alii

Dietary reconstruction of the El Sidrón Neandertal familial group (Spain) in the context of other Neandertal and modern hunter-gatherer groups. A molar microwear texture analysis, di Almudena Estalrrich et alii

Chimpanzee and human midfoot motion during bipedal walking and the evolution of the longitudinal arch of the foot, di Nicholas B. Holowka et alii

The cervical spine of Australopithecus sediba, di Marc R. Meyer et alii

Skull 5 from Dmanisi: Descriptive anatomy, comparative studies, and evolutionary significance, di G. Philip Rightmire et alii

The role of allometry and posture in the evolution of the hominin subaxial cervical spine, di Mikel Arlegi et alii

The skull of Homo naledi, di Myra F. Laird et alii

Skull diversity in the Homo lineage and the relative position of Homo naledi, di Lauren Schroeder et alii

The vertebrae and ribs of Homo naledi, di Scott A. Williams et alii

The upper limb of Homo naledi, di Elen M. Feuerriegel et alii

The thigh and leg of Homo naledi, di Damiano Marchi et alii


Diet and environment 1.2 million years ago revealed through analysis of dental calculus from Europe’s oldest hominin at Sima del Elefante, Spain, di K. Hardy et alii, "The Science of Nature", February 2017, 104:2 - free  access -

Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca, Spain contains one of the earliest hominin fragments yet known in Europe, dating to 1.2 Ma. Dental calculus from a hominin molar was removed, degraded and analysed to recover entrapped remains. Evidence for plant use at this time is very limited and this study has revealed the earliest direct evidence for foods consumed in the genus Homo. This comprises starchy carbohydrates from two plants, including a species of grass from the Triticeae or Bromideae tribe, meat and plant fibres. All food was eaten raw, and there is no evidence for processing of the starch granules which are intact and undamaged. Additional biographical detail includes fragments of non-edible wood found adjacent to an interproximal groove suggesting oral hygiene activities, while plant fibres may be linked to raw material processing. Environmental evidence comprises spores, insect fragments and conifer pollen grains which are consistent with a forested environment. (...)

  Fuel exploitation among Neanderthals based on the anthracological record from Abric Romaní (Capellades, NE Spain), di E. Allué, A. Solé, A. Burguet-Coca, "Quaternary International", Volume 431, Part A, 28 February 2017, Pages 6–15

Fuel is a basic resource enabling energy production, and its exploitation was a major activity in Neanderthal daily life. In this work we present charcoal results obtained from the Abric Romaní site in order to evaluate fuel use among the human groups occupying this rock shelter from 40 to 70 ka BP. The Abric Romaní, a Middle Palaeolithic site, has yielded evidence of a well-preserved sequence of Neanderthal occupations. The results of this taxonomic and taphonomic study have allowed us to characterise the charcoal assemblage as mainly comprising Pinus sylvestris type. This assemblage gives us an understanding of Neanderthal fuel acquisition strategies, mobility and occupation patterns.

  Phytolith and FTIR studies applied to combustion structures: The case of the Middle Paleolithic site of El Salt (Alcoy, Alicante), di Á. Rodríguez-Cintas, D. Cabanes, "Quaternary International", Volume 431, Part A, 28 February 2017, Pages 16–26

The combination of phytolith and FTIR analyses is a powerful tool to investigate the use of fire by past human populations. Here, we apply these methods to study the hearths of the subunit Xb at the Middle Palaeolithic site of El Salt, in Alcoi. El Salt is characterized by recurrent Neanderthal occupations that produced a succession of combustion structures and other anthropogenic remains. Using FTIR analysis we have been able to detect the presence of ashes, thermally altered clay, and phosphatic minerals in the sediments. Phytolith results point to the use of wood as fuel in subunit Xb. However, most of the phytoliths have been deposited in the site by natural agents, probably in the form of bird guano characterized by the presence of distinctive phytoliths of seed coats from Celtis sp. Differentiating between natural and anthropogenic deposited phytoliths is essential to evaluate the impact produced by human activities in the archaeological sediments.


Seaward dispersals to the NE Mediterranean islands in the Pleistocene. The lithic evidence in retrospect, di C. Papoulia, "Quaternary International", Volume 431, Part B, 28 February 2017, Pages 64–87

Paleolithic artifacts collected in the course of archaeological and geological surveys at particular islands of the NE Mediterranean have given birth to arguments for seaward Pleistocene dispersals. The consecutive implications for the seafaring abilities of archaic hominins have inevitably provoked an ongoing debate. The total lack of paleoanthropological evidence and, in most cases, the absence of a secure stratigraphic context leaves us with the only other pertinent tool of analysis, the stone tools. Preliminary reports presenting lithic collections from the islands have been published since at least the middle of the previous century, yet a coherent and critical review of the evidence has hitherto not been attempted. In the light of new paleogeographic reconstructions of the Aegean region, the already published collections are in this paper reviewed and evaluated in terms of their classifications and proposed cultural and chronological attributions and discussed in relation to the arguments for or against Pleistocene sea-crossings. Despite the scarcity of the evidence and the many problems associated with their documentation, context or interpretations, the lithic collections do provide specific information regarding the earliest sea-crossings in the region. Based on the available evidence, the majority of the artifacts collected from sites on islands that were most likely insular during parts of the Pleistocene have Middle Paleolithic technological and typological affinities, therefore an association with the Neanderthals is implied and the possible marine routes are proposed. Yet further research is needed in order to better appreciate the Greek Lower Paleolithic record, thus reevaluate the arguments for Lower Paleolithic sea-crossings in the Aegean.


Investigating Neanderthal dispersal above 55°N in Europe during the Last Interglacial Complex, di T. Kellberg Nielsen et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 431, Part B, 28 February 2017, Pages 88–103

When dealing with the northern boundary of Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and the question of whether or not they dispersed into Southern Scandinavia, two contradictory hypotheses can be identified. The first, and also the most widely endorsed, hereafter, hypothesis A, argues primarily that Neanderthals did not occupy regions above 55°N because of 1) climatic constraints and 2) dispersal barriers. The second, hypothesis B, argues that they possibly occasionally dispersed above 55°N, but that factors such as 1) research- and/or 2) taphonomic bias are responsible for their archaeological invisibility. Here, we report an evaluation of these competing hypotheses. To this end, we reconstruct the environment for the time period and region of interest (the Last Interglacial Complex and Northern Germany and Southern Scandinavia), based on three lines of evidence: palaeoenvironmental reconstruction combined with a novel habitat modelling approach, a review of relevant archaeological localities, and a discussion of the possible impacts of both research biases and the taphonomic effects on the archaeological data. We focus particularly on the climatic and geological explanatory factors relevant to the two hypotheses. Our results are inconsistent with the claim that climatic constraint and/or a lack of suitable habitats can fully explain the absence of Neanderthals in Southern Scandinavia during the Eemian Interglacial and Early Weichselian Glaciation. We do, however, find evidence that a geographic barrier may have impeded northerly migrations during the Eemian. The evidence reviewed here suggests that both research bias and taphonomy – consistent with hypothesis B – could account for the archaeological invisibility of Neanderthals in Southern Scandinavia, highlighting the need for further strategic survey and/or excavation efforts in the region.


The human settlement of Central Iberia during MIS 2: New technological, chronological and environmental data from the Solutrean workshop of Las Delicias (Manzanares River valley, Spain), di M. Alcaraz-Castaño et alii, "Quaternary International", Volume 431, Part B, 28 February 2017, Pages 104–124

The recent excavations (2008–2009) conducted at the open-air site of Las Delicias, located in the Manzanares River valley (Madrid), have revealed new important data for the understanding of the human settlement of Central Iberia during Solutrean times. In this paper, we present a geomorphological and taphonomic study of the Pleistocene deposits of Las Delicias, a technological analysis focused on the bifacial lithic reduction processes documented at the site, new Optically Stimulated Luminescence dates, and new palynological data. Together with the existence of numerous Solutrean lithic assemblages from the early 20th century excavations of the Manzanares terraces, these new data highlight the importance of the Manzanares valley as a focus of Solutrean settlement, not only related to flint procurement but also to foraging activities. Moreover, they require reconsideration of Central Iberia as a virtually unpopulated region during the Late Pleniglacial (MIS 2), and of the associated idea of its cultural dependence on the coastal areas of the Iberian Peninsula. We propose new avenues of research aimed at approaching the central region of Iberia in its own cultural and ecological terms.


Were Neanderthals responsible for their own extinction?, di J. Agustí, X. Rubio-Campillo, "Quaternary International", Volume 431, Part B, 28 February 2017, Pages 232–237

After more than 100,000 years of evolutionary success in Western Eurasia, Neanderthals rapidly went extinct between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago, almost coinciding with the spread of Anatomically Modern Homo sapiens (AMHS) in Europe. Several scenarios relate their extinction to competition with AMHS, climatic changes during the last glacial period or a combination of both. Here we propose a much simpler scenario, in which the cannibalistic behaviour of Neanderthals may have played a major role in their eventual extinction. We show that this trait was selected as a common behaviour at moments of environmental or population stress. However, as soon as Neanderthals had to compete with another species that consumed the same resources (AMHS in this case) cannibalism had a negative impact, leading, in the end, to their extinction. To test this hypothesis, we used an agent-based model computer simulation. The model is simple, with only traits, behaviours and landscape features defined and with no attempt to re-create the exact landscape in which Neanderthals lived or their cultural characteristics. The basic agent of our system is a group of individuals that form a community. The most important state variable of our model is the location of the group, coupled with a defined home range and two additional factors: cannibalism and the chance of fission. The result of the simulation shows that cannibalistic behaviour is always selected when resources are scarce and clustered. However, when a non-cannibalistic species (late Pleistocene AMHS) is introduced into the same environment, the cannibalistic species retreats and the new species grows until it has reached the carrying capacity of the system. The cannibalistic populations that still survive are displaced from the richest areas, and live on the borders with arid zones, a situation which is remarkably similar to what we know about the end of the Neanderthals.


The diet of the first Europeans from Atapuerca, di A. Pérez-Pérez et alii, "Scientific Reports" 7, Article number: 43319 (2017), 27 February 2017, doi:10.1038/srep43319 - free  access -

Hominin dietary specialization is crucial to understanding the evolutionary changes of craniofacial biomechanics and the interaction of food processing methods’ effects on teeth. However, the diet-related dental wear processes of the earliest European hominins remain unknown because most of the academic attention has focused on Neandertals. Non-occlusal dental microwear provides direct evidence of the effect of chewed food particles on tooth enamel surfaces and reflects dietary signals over time. Here, we report for the first time the direct effect of dietary abrasiveness as evidenced by the buccal microwear patterns on the teeth of the Sima del Elefante-TE9 and Gran Dolina-TD6 Atapuerca hominins (1.2–0.8 million years ago − Myr) as compared with other Lower and Middle Pleistocene populations. A unique buccal microwear pattern that is found in Homo antecessor (0.96–0.8 Myr), a well-known cannibal species, indicates dietary practices that are consistent with the consumption of hard and brittle foods. Our findings confirm that the oldest European inhabitants ingested more mechanically-demanding diets than later populations because they were confronted with harsh, fluctuating environmental conditions. Furthermore, the influence of grit-laden food suggests that a high-quality meat diet from butchering processes could have fueled evolutionary changes in brain size. (...)


L'effetto dei geni dei Neanderthal sulla nostra salute, "Le Scienze", 23 febbraio 2017

Le sequenze di DNA ereditate dai Neanderthal - che sono presenti, sia pure in numero ridotto, nella maggior parte delle persone - influenzano il livello di attivazione dei nostri geni contribuendo così a diversi tratti: dall'altezza all'efficienza del sistema immunitario, fino alla suscettibilità a varie malattie. (...)


Sharpening our knowledge of prehistory on East Africa’s bone harpoons, 20 Feb 2017

East Africa is the epicentre of human evolution and its archaeological remains offer the potential to fill gaps in our understanding of early modern humans from their earliest origins, around 200,000 years ago, through to the most ‘recent’ prehistory of the last 10,000 years. The In Africa project, directed by Dr Marta Mirazón Lahr, co-founder of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies at the University of Cambridge, is seeking to do exactly that. The group believes that, in East Africa, key ecological and cultural conditions converged, which allowed modern humans to evolve new behaviours and technologies to better exploit the natural resources that they found around them. For the past five years, they has been working on the palaeoshores of Lake Turkana in Kenya, which has offered significant insights into how people there made use of aquatic resources such as fish or shellfish, something which is seen as a marker of human modernity. Dr Alex Wilshaw, in Cambridge's Department of Biological Anthropology and a fellow of St John’s College, is a Research Associate on the project. “Looking at prehistoric tools and technology is a key way of exploring when and how the cultural and behavioural traits associated with modern humans were developed,” he explains. “The area around Lake Turkana is extraordinarily rich not just in fossils, but also in artefacts used to exploit the ecology of the area. In the case of aquatic resources from the lake, these artefacts are often harpoons or points made from bone. While previous archaeological projects have led to pockets of harpoon discovery, the extent of this project has afforded us the opportunity to collect unprecedented numbers of bone harpoons – to date, we have over 500 from 20 different sites.” (...)

  With the back to the art. Context of Pleistocene cave art, "Quaternary International", Volume 430, Part A, Pages 1-162 (12 February 2017).Edited by Andreas Pastoors, Tilman Lenssen-Erz, Roberto Ontañón and Gerd-Christian Weniger

Simulation of tallow lamp light within the 3D model of the Ardales Cave, Spain, di Dirk Hoffmeister

Cussac Cave (Dordogne, France): The role of the rock support in the parietal art distribution, technical choices, and intentional and unintentional marks on the cave walls, di C. Ferrier et alii

The Palaeolithic art of Tito Bustillo cave (Asturias, Spain) in its archaeological context, di R. de Balbín-Behrmann, J.J. Alcolea-González, M. Alcaraz-Castaño

The social dimension of human depiction in Magdalenian rock art (16,500 cal. BP–12,000 cal. BP): The case of the Roc-aux-Sorciers rock-shelter, di O. Fuentes

Methodological contribution to the integrated study of European Palaeolithic rock art: The issue of the audience and the perceptibility of Roc-aux-Sorciers rock art (Angles-sur-l'Anglin, France), di C. Bourdier, O. Fuentes, G. Pinçon, collaboration of F. Baleux

Looking through past records: The use of historical documents in cave art spatial studies and its application to La Pasiega (Puente Viesgo, Cantabria, Spain), di B. Ochoa, D. Garrido-Pimentel, M. García-Diez

Traces of human and animal activity (TrAcs) in Cussac Cave (Le Buisson-de-Cadouin, Dordogne, France): Preliminary results and perspectives, di L. Ledoux et alii

Experience based reading of Pleistocene human footprints in Pech-Merle, di A. Pastoors, T. Lenssen-Erz, B. Breuckmann, T. Ciqae, U. Kxunta, D. Rieke-Zapp, T. Thao


Le site du pléistocène inférieur de Lunery-Rosières, la Terre-des-Sablons (France, région Centre, Cher): unités sédimentaires, datations ESR, études géoarchéologiques, préhistoire, di J. Despriée et alii, "Quaternaire", Volume 28 Numéro 1

Situé près du site paléontologique de Rosières, le site préhistorique de « la Terre-des-Sablons » à Lunery (Cher) a été découvert dans les années 1980 et environ 50 pièces taillées préhistoriques typologiquement attribuables à un Paléolithique très ancien (Mode 1) y avaient alors été récoltées dans une sablière exploitant des formations alluviales fossiles du Cher. A partir de 2003, des études pluridisciplinaires y ont été organisées en vue de mieux comprendre la situation géologique et structurale du site et de préciser le mode de dépôt et la position des formations sédimentaires qui y sont observées afin de les replacer dans le système fluviatile du Cher. Trois formations fluviatiles fossiles superposées ont ainsi été reconnues et leur datation par la méthode ESR sur quartz fluviatile optiquement blanchis a montré qu’elles avaient été toutes trois déposées par le Cher au cours du Pléistocène inférieur entre 1,1 et 0,8 Ma. Lors des prélèvements associés à cette étude géochronologique, des pièces d’industrie préhistorique furent de nouveau récoltées à la base de la formation fluviatile la plus ancienne (1,166 ± 0,140 Ma), à 12 m de profondeur sous la surface topographique initiale. Les fouilles menées entre 2006 et 2012 dans cette formation ont révélé la présence de quatre niveaux archéologiques associés à deux cailloutis stratifiés déposés sur le plancher d’incision et recouverts par cet ensemble fluviatile inférieur. Les techniques de débitage utilisées dans ces assemblages d’artefacts préhistoriques (blocs débités et éclats) rentrent dans la variabilité des techniques de Mode 1 reconnues dans les sites préhistoriques du Pléistocène inférieur européen. Une étude géoarchéologique de cette unité grossière a permis de déterminer les matériaux siliceux, essentiellement des chailles jurassiques et des meulières, récoltés sur place par les homininés et de caractériser la situation des artefacts dans des cellules de cryoturbation ou sur des surfaces d’érosion.

  Le site pléistocène moyen de la Noira à Brinay (Cher, région Centre, France): contexte morphosédimentaire, géochronologie et données archéologique, di J. Despriée et alii, "Quaternaire", Volume 28 Numéro 1

En amont de Vierzon, le système fluviatile fossile du Cher est composé de sept nappes alluviales, quatre formations sableuses étagées sur le versant ouest de la vallée et trois formations emboîtées dans le fossé tectonique dans lequel coule actuellement la rivière. D’après les données géochronologiques (ESR) disponibles, ces formations se sont déposées entre environ 1 Ma et 60 ka. Le site acheuléen de la Noira (Brinay, Cher) est situé à mi-hauteur du versant ouest, à la base de la nappe alluviale de la formation des Fougères. À la Noira, l’unité grossière de base (Unité a), déposée près du versant et recouverte par la Formation des Fougères, correspondrait à une phase de transition interglaciaire-glaciaire. Les hommes y ont exploité les plaques de meulières contenues dans des sédiments grossiers déposés par solifluxion sur le substratum après l’incision du Cher. Les fragments des plaques qu’ils ont brisées ont été façonnés en bifaces et ont servi au débitage d’éclats. Cette Unité a et les ateliers qu’elle renfermait ont ensuite été recouverts par des colluvions, puis partiellement cryoturbés avant le recouvrement par la puissante formation fluviatile sableuse des Fougères. À la Noira, est constituée, sur plus de 6 m d’épaisseur, de trois unités sableuses (Unités b, c et d) recoupés par plusieurs discontinuités, recouvertes par des dépôts pente, des débris cryoclastés, ou soulignées par des fentes de gel. D’après les dates ESR (âge moyen pondéré de 665 ± 55 ka), la formation se serait déposée après l’unité de base a, dans la première partie du MIS 16.


Etude géoarchéologique du site acheuléen ancien de « la Noira », (Brinay, Cher, région Centre, France), di J. Despriée et alii, "Quaternaire", Volume 28 Numéro 1

Dans la vallée du Cher (région Centre-Val de Loire, France), les recherches menées depuis 2003 ont permis d’élaborer un cadre géologique, chronologique et paléoenvironnemental pour les systèmes fluviatiles et les sites préhistoriques associés. A Brinay (Cher), les alluvions sableuses de la nappe des Fougères qui ont recouvert le site acheuléen de la Noira ont été datées par la méthode ESR de 665 ± 55 ka (MIS 16/15). Sur ce site, les études géoarchéologiques et les fouilles montrent que les homininés ont prospecté des amas contenant des matériaux variés issus d’une formation plio-pléistocène plus ancienne et descendus depuis l’interfluve sur le versant (Sous-unité a1/Unité a). Leur stratégie d’approvisionnement semble avoir consisté à récupérer, après tri, des plaques de meulière en éliminant celles qui étaient altérées ou gelées antérieurement. Les plaques ont été brisées et les fragments utilisés comme supports pour le débitage d’éclats et le façonnage de bifaces. Les fouilles ont confirmé la position primaire de ces artefacts dont l’état de fraîcheur est remarquable.La présence des hommes près de la rivière serait donc en partie liée à ces matériaux accessibles. Les meulières recherchées sont des silicifications qui ont été mises au jour lors de la phase d’incision du Cher puis sont descendues dans des coulées sur la pente. Ces phénomènes liés à la cyclicité climatique quaternaire correspondent à une phase de transition en début glaciaire, avant le pléniglaciaire durant lequel les zones non protégées de l’Unité a et du plancher d’incision ont été cryoturbées.


Les alluvions anciennes de la Loire en orléanais (France, Loiret), une relecture à l’aune de travaux d’archéologie préventive et d’un programme de datations ESR, di M. Liard, H. Tissoux, S. Deschamps, "Quaternaire", Volume 28 Numéro 1

Dans le secteur d’Orléans, plusieurs diagnostics archéologiques en contexte d’alluvions anciennes de Loire ont été menés entre 2012 et 2015 dans le cadre de l’activité d’archéologie préventive et de celle du groupe de travail « Le Pléistocène de la région Centre : élaboration d’un cadre chronostratigraphique ». Les séquences alluviales anciennes correspondant aux terrasses cartographiées Fv, Fw et Fx, révélées par les sondages profonds, ont fait l’objet de relevés stratigraphiques incluant une approche macroscopique fine des caractéristiques paléopédologiques et sédimentaires. Les alluvions ont par ailleurs été échantillonnées et datées par Résonance de Spin Electronique (ESR), sept résultats ont été obtenus sur trois sites prélevés dans Fx et Fw. Cette double approche, ainsi que la découverte de matériels lithiques taillés sur le site de Saint-Cyr-en-Val, ont permis de renouveler la connaissance des formations alluviales et de réinterroger leurs attributions chronologiques. Ainsi, les datations ESR permettent de proposer un âge MIS 12 (Elstérien) pour Fw et MIS 7-8 (Saalien) pour Fx. Si les datations ESR sont à l’origine de la définition d’un nouveau cadre géochronologique pour Fw et Fx tout particulièrement, les relevés et observations de terrain réinterrogent également l’apport de la paléopédologie et de l’étude de la morphologie et géométrie des ensembles sédimentaires à la définition de marqueurs chronostratigraphiques régionaux fiables.


Bifacial tools Mid-Palaeolithic W Eurasia, "Quaternary International", Volume 428, Part A, Pages 1-170 (15 January 2017). Edited by Árpád Ringer

Analysis of bifacial elements from Grotte de la Verpillière I and II (Germolles, France), di Jens Axel Frick, Harald Floss

The dynamics of stone industry transformation at the interface of lower and Middle Paleolithic in the Northwestern Caucasus, di L.V. Golovanova, V.B. Doronichev

Bifacial scraper-knives in the Micoquian sites in the North-Western Caucasus: Typology, technology, and reduction, di L.V. Golovanova, E.V. Doronicheva, V.B. Doronichev, I.G. Shirobokov

Bifacial and unifacial technology: A real difference or a problem of typo–technological approach? The example of the Ehringsdorf assemblage, di Małgorzata Kot

Handaxes and leafpoints of eastern France: Spatial patterns and role of the raw materials, di Agnès Lamotte, Jean-Marie Chanson, Georges Willemann, Frédéric Galtier

Technology of Moravian Early Szeletian leaf point shaping: A case study of refittings from Moravský Krumlov IV open-air site (Czech Republic), di Zdeňka Nerudová, Petr Neruda

The Mousterian with bifacial retouch in Europe: The fundamental historical error, di Marcel Otte

Handaxe manufacture and re-sharpening throughout the Lower Paleolithic sequence of Tabun Cave, di Ron Shimelmitz, Michael Bisson, Mina Weinstein-Evron, Steven L. Kuhn

The last Neanderthals of Eastern Europe: Micoquian layers IIIa and III of the site of Zaskalnaya VI (Kolosovskaya), anthropological records and context, di Vadim N. Stepanchuk, Sergei V. Vasilyev, Natalia I. Khaldeeva, Natalia V. Kharlamova, Svetlana B. Borutskaya

The function and role of bifaces in the Late Middle Paleolithic of southwestern France: Examples from the Charente and Dordogne to the Basque Country, di Michel Brenet, Jean Pierre Chadelle, Émilie Claud, David Colonge, Anne Delagnes, Marianne Deschamps, Mila Folgado, Brad Gravina, Ewen Ihuel


Dopaminergic systems expansion and the advent of Homo erectus, di A. M. DeLouize, F. L. Coolidge, T. Wynn,"Quaternary International", Volume 427, Part B, 12 January 2017, Pages 245–252

It is well accepted that a grade shift occurred in hominin evolution approximately 1.9 million years ago with the appearance of Homo erectus. With the challenges of complete terrestrial life, new cognitive abilities were selected for that allowed this species to thrive for the next million and a half years. It has also long been recognized that there was a change in diet with the advent of Homo erectus, that is, a greater reliance on meat. However, the relationship between additional meat and the cognitive abilities of Homo erectus has mostly remained unclear. The present paper proposes that an increase in dietary meat protein and fats may have led to an increase in dopamine and dopaminergic systems, a critical chemical neurotransmitter in the brain. This purported change in dopaminergic systems may have played a key role in many of the traits and abilities exhibited by Homo erectus at that time, including increases in body and brain size, dispersion, and a greater aptitude for spatial and social cognitions.


Evaluating the performance of the cutting edge of Neanderthal shell tools: A new experimental approach. Use, mode of operation, and strength of Callista chione from a behavioural, Quina perspective, di F. Romagnoli, J. Baena, A. I. Pardo Naranjo, Lucia Sarti"Quaternary International", Volume 427, Part A, 5 January 2017, Pages 216–228

During Prehistory, shells have been used for subsistence, ornamentation, symbolic behaviour and tools. The investigation of shell tools has been mainly carried out from the viewpoint of functional analysis by investigating use-wear traces to reconstruct the functional value of these artefacts. Little attention has been devoted to investigating the mode of operation of shell tools. The aim of this study was to interpret the “potential of use” of shell tools from a socio-economic perspective. We used an innovative experimental approach to analyse Neanderthal tools made of Callista chione, to this end. Shell technology is well documented along the Mediterranean basin between MIS 5 and MIS 3. We designed and performed functional experiments to analyse the technical performance of the cutting edge of Callista chione tools during use, reproducing the artefacts with comparable procedures and technical gestures identified by previous studies. The experiments have allowed us to create a reference collection for the implementation of use-wear analysis on shell tool assemblages. Our results showed that the mode of operation of shell tools was related to (i) the strength and the microstructure of the shell; (ii) the geometry of the cutting edge; (iii) the ergonomics and the kinetics of the tools; and (iv) the social organisation of tasks. The implications of results for the socio-economic and functional interpretation of Quina scrapers are discussed. This study contributed to the comprehension of the variability of behaviours expressed within Neanderthal techno-complexes. This approach is promising to improve the interpretation of raw material selection and tool design.


Aggiornamento 11 febbraio

  A Neanderthal deciduous human molar with incipient carious infection from the Middle Palaeolithic De Nadale cave, Italy, di J. Arnaud, S. Benazzi, M. Romandini, A. Livraghi, D. Panetta, P. A. Salvadori, L. Volpe, M. Peresani, "American Journal of Physical Anthropology", Volume 162, Issue 2, February 2017, Pages 370–376

The aim of the study is the assessment of Nadale 1, a Neanderthal deciduous tooth recently discovered in Northeastern Italy in the De Nadale cave (Middle Palaeolithic). Together with the clear archaeological context of the site, this study brings new insight on Neanderthal behavior and dental morphological variability.
We used microCT data to provide a morphological description and morphometric analysis (diameter measurements and dental tissue volumes) of the Nadale 1 human tooth. Microwear analysis, taphonomical investigation and caries identification were performed using a stereomicroscope and Scanning Electron Microscope.
In terms of morphology (i.e., incipient tuberculum molare, marked mesial marginal ridge and well-developed mid-trigonid crest connecting the protoconid and the metaconid, deep anterior fovea) and size, Nadale 1 presents features frequently observed in Neanderthal lower first deciduous molars. Microscope investigations reveal the presence of a small pit which could be correlated to an incipient caries.
Nadale 1 expands the Italian Middle Palaeolithic fossil record and provides further information on Neanderthal dm1s in terms of dimensional and morphological variability. Furthermore, the presence of an incipient caries brings further data on Neanderthal diet.

  New Tools Identify Key Evolutionary Advantages from Ancient Hominid Interbreeding, di J. Caspermeyer, "Molecular Biology and Evolution", Volume 34, Issue 2, February 2017

Neanderthals. Denisovans. Homo sapiens. Around 50,000 years ago, these hominids not only interbred, but in some cases, modern humans may have also received a special evolutionary advantage from doing so. As more and more data from archaic genomes are becoming available, scientists have become keenly interested in pinpointing these regions to better understand the potential benefits that may have been bestowed to us. One of the most striking recent examples is the EPAS1 gene, which confers a selective advantage in Tibetans by making them less prone to hypoxia at high altitudes. We now know that the Denisovans introduced it into the human gene pool. Inspired by this example, in a new study published in the advanced online edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution, computational biologists Racimo et al. (2016) have developed statistical tools and simulations to successfully identify the signatures of these interbred genomic regions.


The earliest long-distance obsidian transport: Evidence from the ~200 ka Middle Stone Age Sibilo School Road Site, Baringo, Kenya, di N. Blegen, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 103, February 2017, Pages 1–19

This study presents the earliest evidence of long-distance obsidian transport at the ~200 ka Sibilo School Road Site (SSRS), an early Middle Stone Age site in the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya. The later Middle Pleistocene of East Africa (130–400 ka) spans significant and interrelated behavioral and biological changes in human evolution including the first appearance of Homo sapiens. Despite the importance of the later Middle Pleistocene, there are relatively few archaeological sites in well-dated contexts (n < 10) that document hominin behavior from this time period. In particular, geochemically informed evidence of long-distance obsidian transport, important for investigating expansion of intergroup interactions in hominin evolution, is rare from the Middle Pleistocene record of Africa. The SSRS offers a unique contribution to this small but growing dataset. Tephrostratigraphic analysis of tuffs encasing the SSRS provides a minimum age of ∼200 ka for the site. Levallois points and methods of core preparation demonstrate characteristic Middle Stone Age lithic technologies present at the SSRS. A significant portion (43%) of the lithic assemblage is obsidian. The SSRS obsidian comes from three different sources located at distances of 25 km, 140 km and 166 km from the site. The majority of obsidian derives from the farthest source, 166 km to the south of the site. The SSRS thus provides important new evidence that long-distance raw material transport, and the expansion of hominin intergroup interactions that this entails, was a significant feature of hominin behavior ∼200 ka, the time of the first appearance of H. sapiens, and ∼150,000 years before similar behaviors were previously documented in the region.


The morphology of the enamel–dentine junction in Neanderthal molars: Gross morphology, non-metric traits, and temporal trends, di R. M. G. Martin, J. J. Hublin, P. Gunz, M. M. Skinner, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 103, February 2017, Pages 20–44

This study explores the morphological differences between the enamel–dentine junction (EDJ) of maxillary and mandibular molars of Neanderthals (n = 150) and recent modern humans (n = 106), and between an earlier Neanderthal sample (consisting of Pre-Eemian and Eemian Neanderthals dating to before 115 ka) and a later Neanderthal sample (consisting of Post-Eemian Neanderthals dating to after 115 ka). The EDJ was visualised by segmenting microtomographic scans of each molar. A geometric morphometric methodology compared the positioning of the dentine horns, the shape of the marginal ridge between the dentine horns, and the shape of the cervix. We also examined the manifestation of non-metric traits at the EDJ including the crista obliqua, cusp 5, and post-paracone tubercle. Furthermore, we report on additional morphological features including centrally placed dentine horn tips and twinned dentine horns. Our results indicate that EDJ morphology can discriminate with a high degree of reliability between Neanderthals and recent modern humans at every molar position, and discriminate between the earlier and the later Neanderthal samples at every molar position, except for the M3 in shape space. The cervix in isolation can also discriminate between Neanderthals and recent modern humans, except at the M3 in form space, and is effective at discriminating between the earlier and the later Neanderthal samples, except at the M2/M2 in form space. In addition to demonstrating the taxonomic valence of the EDJ, our analysis reveals unique manifestations of dental traits in Neanderthals and expanded levels of trait variation that have implications for trait definitions and scoring.


The Middle Stone Age human fossil record from Klasies River Main Site, di F. E. Grine, S. Wurz, C. W. Marean, "Journal of Human Evolution", Volume 103, February 2017, Pages 53–78

The paleoanthropological significance of Klasies River Main Site derives from its abundant Middle Stone Age (MSA) archaeological debris and the hominin fossils that have featured in discussions about modern human emergence. Despite their significance, the human remains have yet to be contextualized within the spatial, stratigraphic and geochronological framework of the site. We provide an updated overview of the stratigraphy and geochronology of the site, and review the human fossil record in this context. We also provide the first anatomical interpretations of many of the cranial vault fragments. Five hominin specimens derive from the Upper Member and six from the lowermost LBS Member. The vast majority – nearly 40 cataloged specimens – come from the SAS Member; many of these are from a single stratigraphic horizon in a relatively small area in Cave 1. There is a strong cranial bias to the sample; just over 70% of skeletal remains are from the skull. The postcranial skeleton is poorly represented. Excluding the three metatarsals, there are only three long bones in the sample – a clavicle, a proximal radius, and a proximal ulna. Remarkably, humeral, femoral and tibial diaphyses, which are the most durable elements in terms of cortical bone thickness and density, are absent. However, the proportional representation of hominin remains is reminiscent of the “Klasies Pattern” shown by the MSA large bovid skeletal parts. To some degree, this may reflect the excavation and recovery methods that were employed. The vast bulk of the human fossils represent adults. Only three undoubted juvenile individuals are represented – each by a deciduous tooth. This contrasts with other MSA sites along the southern coast of South Africa, where human remains are predominantly juvenile, usually in the form of (possibly exfoliated) deciduous teeth. However, this apparent dissimilarity may also reflect different excavation techniques.

  Evidence for chronic omega-3 fatty acids and ascorbic acid deficiency in Palaeolithic hominins in Europe at the emergence of cannibalism, di J.L. Guil-Guerrero, "Quaternary Science Reviews", Volume 157, 1 February 2017, Pages 176–187

At the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic (M/UP) transition in Western Europe, hominins depended mostly on terrestrial mammals for subsistence, being pointed out that reliance on reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) would have promoted declines in human population densities during that period. Food-composition tables have been compiled for hominins at the M/UP transition, listing protein, fat, energy, different omega-3 fatty acids and ascorbic acid concentrations. These data were used to compute the regular relations between fatty and lean tissues of the main hunted food-animals to meet hominin energy needs. Then, with daily protein intake considered critical, the optimal contribution of the different omega-3 fatty acids from different hunted species to hominin diets were computed. Several faunal assemblages from different human sites at different M/UP periods were used to assess the overall daily intake of the various omega-3 fatty acid classes. The results of the calculations made in this work are quite clear; hominins at the M/UP transition had a deficit of both omega-3 fatty acids and ascorbic acid. Data on human organs summarized here are also conclusive: these contain such nutrients in amounts much higher than reached in the corresponding mammal organs consumed, and thus could have been alternative sources of those nutrients for Palaeolithic hominins. Therefore, nutritional cannibalism detected at such times could have had the function of alleviating these deficits. The evolutionary advantages gained by the consumption of the various omega-3 fatty acids of human origin are also discussed.


The Aggradational Successions of the Aniene River Valley in Rome: Age Constraints to Early Neanderthal Presence in Europe, di F. Marra , P. Ceruleo, L. Pandolfi, C. Petronio, M. F. Rolfo, L. Salari, January 26, 2017, DOI: - free  access -

We revise the chronostratigraphy of several sedimentary successions cropping out along a 5 km-long tract of the Aniene River Valley in Rome (Italy), which yielded six hominin remains previously attributed to proto- or archaic Neanderthal individuals, as well as a large number of lithic artefacts showing intermediate characteristics somewhere between the local Acheulean and Mousterian cultures. Through a method of correlation of aggradational successions with post-glacial sea-level rises, relying on a large set of published 40Ar/39Ar ages of interbedded volcanic deposits, we demonstrate that deposition of the sediments hosting the human remains spans the interval 295–220 ka. This is consistent with other well constrained ages for lithic industries recovered in England, displaying transitional features from Lower to Middle Paleolithic, suggesting the appearance of Mode 3 during the MIS 9-MIS 8 transition. Moreover, the six human bone fragments recovered in the Aniene Valley should be regarded as the most precisely dated and oldest hominin remains ascribable to Neanderthal-type individuals in Europe, discovered to date. The chronostratigraphic study presented here constitutes the groundwork for addressing re-analysis of these remains and of their associated lithic industries, in the light of their well-constrained chronological picture. (...)


Brain enlargement and dental reduction were not linked in hominin evolution, di A. Gómez-Robles et alii, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", January 17, 2017, vol. 114, no. 3, pp. 468–473

The large brain and small postcanine teeth of modern humans are among our most distinctive features, and trends in their evolution are well studied within the hominin clade. Classic accounts hypothesize that larger brains and smaller teeth coevolved because behavioral changes associated with increased brain size allowed a subsequent dental reduction. However, recent studies have found mismatches between trends in brain enlargement and posterior tooth size reduction in some hominin species. We use a multiple-variance Brownian motion approach in association with evolutionary simulations to measure the tempo and mode of the evolution of endocranial and dental size and shape within the hominin clade. We show that hominin postcanine teeth have evolved at a relatively consistent neutral rate, whereas brain size evolved at comparatively more heterogeneous rates that cannot be explained by a neutral model, with rapid pulses in the branches leading to later Homo species. Brain reorganization shows evidence of elevated rates only much later in hominin evolution, suggesting that fast-evolving traits such as the acquisition of a globular shape may be the result of direct or indirect selection for functional or structural traits typical of modern humans.

  Discovery adds rock collecting to Neanderthal's repertoire, 17-JAN-2017

An international group that includes a University of Kansas researcher has discovered a brownish piece of split limestone in a site in Croatia that suggests Neanderthals 130,000 years ago collected the rock that stands out among all other items in the cave. "If we were walking and picked up this rock, we would have taken it home," said David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology who was part of the study. "It is an interesting rock." The finding is important, he said, because it adds to other recent evidence that Neanderthals were capable -- on their own -- of incorporating symbolic objects into their culture. The rock was collected more than 100 years ago from the Krapina Neanderthal site, which has items preserved in the Croatian Natural History Museum in Zagreb, where in recent years the research team has re-examined them. (...)
  The ecological niche and distribution of Neanderthals during the Last Interglacial, di B. M. Benito et alii, "Journal of Biogeography", Volume 44, Issue 1, January 2017, Pages 51–61

In this paper, we investigate the role of climate and topography in shaping the distribution of Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) at different spatial scales. To this end, we compiled the most comprehensive data set on the distribution of this species during the Last Interglacial optimum (MIS 5e) available to date. This was used to calibrate a palaeo-species distribution model, and analyse variable importance at continental and local scales. (...)

  Initial micromorphological results from Liang Bua, Flores (Indonesia): Site formation processes and hominin activities at the type locality of Homo floresiensis, di M. W. Morley et alii, "Journal of Archaeological Science", Volume 77, January 2017, Pages 125–142

Liang Bua, a karstic cave located on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia, is best known for yielding the holotype of the diminutive hominin Homo floresiensis from Late Pleistocene sediments. Modern human remains have also been recovered from the Holocene deposits, and abundant archaeological and faunal remains occur throughout the sequence. The cave, the catchment in which it is located and the gross aggradational phases of the sediment sequence have all been subject to a great deal of scientific scrutiny since the discovery of the holotype of H. floresiensis in 2003. A recent program of geoarchaeological research has extended analyses of the site’s deposits to the microstratigraphic (micromorphological) level. The stratigraphic sequence in the cave is well defined but complex, comprising interstratified sediments of diverse lithologies and polygenetic origins, including volcanic tephras, fine-grained colluvium, coarse autogenic limestone gravels, speleothems and anthropogenic sediments, such as combustion features. The sedimentological and chemical heterogeneity suggest that processes of site formation and diagenesis varied markedly through time, both laterally and vertically. We present initial results from samples collected in 2014 from an excavation area near the rear of the cave, which yielded radiocarbon ages from charcoal that fill an important temporal gap in the chrono-stratigraphic sequence of previously excavated areas of the site. The results indicate marked changes in site environment and hominin activity during the Late Pleistocene, relating primarily to the degree to which the cave was connected to the hydrogeological system and to the varying intensities of use of the cave by hominins. Importantly, we identify anthropogenic signs of fire-use at the site between 41 and 24 thousand years ago, most likely related to the presence of modern humans.

  Two Acheuleans, two humankinds: From 1.5 to 0.85 Ma at Melka Kunture (Upper Awash, Ethiopian highlands), di R. Gallotti, M. Mussi, "JASs Reports-Journal of Anthropological Sciences", Vol. 95 (2017), pp. 1-46

The Acheulean is the longest-lasting human cultural record, spanning approximately 1.5 Ma and three continents. The most comprehensive sequences are found in East Africa, where, in largescale syntheses, the Lower Pleistocene Acheulean (LPA) has often been considered a uniform cultural entity. Furthermore, the emergence and development of Acheulean technology are seen as linked to the emergence and evolution of Homo ergaster/erectus. The criterion for grouping together different lithic assemblages scattered over space and time is the presence of large cutting tools (LCTs), more than of any other component. Their degree of refinement has been used, in turn, as a parameter for evaluating Acheulean development and variability. But was the East African LPA really uniform as regards all components involved in lithic productions? The aim of this paper is to evaluate the techno-economic similarities and differences among LPA productions in a specific micro-regional and environmental context, i.e. at Melka Kunture, in the Ethiopian highlands, and in a specific period of time: between ~1.5 Ma, when some of the earliest Acheulean complexes appeared, and 1.0-0.85 Ma, when LCTs productions became intensive and widespread. Our detailed comparative analyses investigate all aspects and phases of the chaînes opératoires. Since hominin fossil remains were discovered at some of the analyzed sites, we also discuss differences among lithic productions in relation to the changing paleoanthropological record. Our studies show that at Melka Kunture the LPA techno-complexes cannot be grouped into a single uniform entity. The assembled evidence points instead to “two Acheuleans” well-defined by a strong discontinuity in various aspects of techno-economic behaviors. This discontinuity is related to a major step in human evolution: the transition from Homo ergaster/erectus to Homo heidelbergensis. (...)


Index di antiqui Sommario bacheca