Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The biomechanical significance of the frontal sinus in Kabwe 1 (Homo heidelbergensis)

Ricardo Miguel Godinho, Paul O'Higgins
Journal of Human Evolution
Volume 114, January 2018, Pages 141-153
(Link) open access


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

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A reassessment of the Montmaurin-La Niche mandible (Haute Garonne, France) in the context of European Pleistocene human evolution

Amélie Vialet, Mario Modesto-Mata, María Martinón-Torres, Marina Martínez de Pinillos,  José-María Bermúdez de Castro
PLOS ONE, January 16, 2018


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

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dragon Bone Hill: The Ice-Age Saga of Homo Erectus

Noel Thomas Boaz, Russell L. Ciochon                             
Oxford University Press; February 16, 2004
(Link) Amazon

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The fossil teeth of the Peking Man

Song Xing, María Martinón-Torres, José María Bermúdez de Castro
Nature Scientific Reports, volume 8, Article number: 2066 (2018)
(Link) open access
This study provides new original data, including the endostructure of most Zhoukoudian H. erectus teeth preserved to date, since the publication of Black in 1927 and Weidenreich in 1937. The new evidence ratifies the similarities of Zhoukoudian with other East Asian mid-Middle Pleistocene hominins such as Hexian and Yiyuan, and allows defining a dental pattern potentially characteristic of this population commonly referred to as classic H. erectus. Given the possible chronological overlaps of classic H. erectus with other archaic Homo, the characterization of this group becomes a key issue when deciphering the taxonomy and evolutionary scenario of the Middle Pleistocene hominins in East Asia. Internally, the most remarkable feature of Zhoukoudian teeth is the highly crenulated enamel-dentine junction (EDJ) and its imprint on the roof of the pulp cavity. So far, this “dendrite-like” EDJ has been found only in East Asia Middle Pleistocene hominins although a large group of samples were assessed, and it could be useful to dentally define classic H. erectus in China. The crenulated EDJ surface, together with the stout roots and the taurodontism could be a mechanism to withstand high biomechanical demand despite a general dentognathic reduction, particularly of the crowns, in these populations.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Early Middle Palaeolithic culture in India around 385–172 ka reframes Out of Africa models

Nature volume 554, pages 97101 (01 February 2018)

The earliest modern humans outside Africa

    Israel Hershkovitz,
    Gerhard W. Weber,
    Rolf Quam,
    Mathieu Duval,
    Rainer Grün,
    Leslie Kinsley,
    Avner Ayalon,
    Miryam Bar-Matthews,
    Helene Valladas,
    Norbert Mercier,
    Juan Luis Arsuaga,
    María Martinón-Torres,
    José María Bermúdez de Castro,
    Cinzia Fornai,
    Laura Martín-Francés,
    Rachel Sarig,
    Hila May,
    Viktoria A. Krenn,
    Viviane Slon,
    Laura Rodríguez,
    Rebeca Garcia,
    Carlos Lorenzo,
    Jose Miguel Carretero,
    Amos Frumkin,
    Ruth Shahack-Gross,
    Daniella E. Bar-Yosef Mayer,
    Yaming Cui,
    Xinzhi Wu,
    Natan Peled,
    Iris Groman-Yaroslavski,
    Lior Weissbrod,
    Reuven Yeshurun,
    Alexander Tsatskin,
    Yossi Zaidner,
    Mina Weinstein-Evron
26 Jan 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6374, pp. 456-459
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap8369


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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Conversation at Sithonia

A view of Holy Mount Athos from Sithonia, looking east

This August, I spent a few days in Sithonia visiting a relative on my Greek husband's side.  We got to talking about history (of course), and about the shepherds of Northern Greece, and their yearly movements across hundreds miles as they sought green pastures for their flocks.  Sithonia happens to be one of three fingers that reach out into the Aegean Sea from the Northern Greek mainland.  The two others are Kassandra and Athos.  Athos is the land of Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain of Christian Orthodoxy, the place of many Orthodox Monasteries, and homeland of Aristotle.

As it turns out, Kassandra and Sithonia were until quite recently, the wintering pastures of shepherds who would drive their flocks down from summer pastures in the Pindus mountains, to this temperate wintering ground, more than a hundred miles.  It would take them about a month, and on their journey, they would yearly drive their flocks through Thessaloniki in a ceremonial weeklong parade each October.  They did this until 1970.

This got us thinking about human models of prehistory that assume that somehow people where confined to limited territories over thousands of years.  The shepherds, and their descendants, know better.

My Greek relative then pulled out a book and showed me how Plutarch had written about the British Isles, and that these far distant places were well known by Greeks, even by common people (certainly shepherds).

Domesticated sheep bones appear in Greece approximately 10,000 years ago.  There is no reason to assume that if shepherds were moving across hundreds of miles each year within the last hundred years, that they would not also have done so 10,000 years ago.  Early Neolithic people would easily have spanned an area extending over thousands of miles in the thousand or more years in which early domestication processes occurred.

This is why I find these discussions about the "origin" of the Neolithic, or for that matter, the "origin" of Indo-European languages, to be so utterly misguided.  And looking farther back, there is no reason to think that Pleistocene hunters weren't also highly mobile, and confined only by their ability to find shelter, food and water.

We will never find an origin limited to a few hundred miles for these.  The Neolithic did not "begin" in Anatolia any more than in the Balkans or the Taurus Zagros Mountains.  Nor can the origin of "Indo-European" languages be found in a geographic area limited by a few hundred, or even a few thousand, miles.  The Recent African Origin for modern humans is likely also too simplistic, for the same reason.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ye'kuana Welcoming Music (Bass Flutes & Drums)

Region:  Venezuela and Brazil
People:  Ye'kuana

Bamboo Flutes Exploration (this blog)

Ye'kuana Deer Bone Flute

Region:  Venezuela and Brazil
People:  Ye'kuana

Bamboo Flutes Exploration (this blog)

Ye'kuana Cane Flute

Region:  Venezuela and Brazil
People:  Ye'kuana

Bamboo Flutes Exploration (this blog)

The deep human prehistory of global tropical forests and its relevance for modern conservation

Patrick Roberts, Chris Hunt, Manuel Arroyo-Kalin, Damian Evans and Nicole Boivin
Nature Plants 3, Article number: 17093 (2017)
published online on August 3rd, 2017


Significant human impacts on tropical forests have been considered the preserve of recent societies, linked to large-scale deforestation, extensive and intensive agriculture, resource mining, livestock grazing and urban settlement. Cumulative archaeological evidence now demonstrates, however, that Homo sapiens has actively manipulated tropical forest ecologies for at least 45,000 years. It is clear that these millennia of impacts need to be taken into account when studying and conserving tropical forest ecosystems today. Nevertheless, archaeology has so far provided only limited practical insight into contemporary human–tropical forest interactions. Here, we review significant archaeological evidence for the impacts of past hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists and urban settlements on global tropical forests. We compare the challenges faced, as well as the solutions adopted, by these groups with those confronting present-day societies, which also rely on tropical forests for a variety of ecosystem services. We emphasize archaeology's importance not only in promoting natural and cultural heritage in tropical forests, but also in taking an active role to inform modern conservation and policy-making.

more from the paper:

Early impacts

In the last ten years, the archaeologically-acknowledged start date of human inhabitation of tropical forests has quadrupled in age. There is now clear evidence for the use of tropical forests by our species in Borneo [12-13,34] and Melanesia [35] by c. 45 ka; in South Asia by c. 36 ka [36]; and in South America by c. 13 ka [37]. There are suggestions of earlier rainforest occupation c. 125 ka in Java [38-39], c. 60 ka in the Philippines [40], c. 100 ka in China [41], and in Africa perhaps from the first appearance of Homo sapiens c. 200 ka [42], though further research is required to verify these cases [43]. Early modern humans adapted to diverse tropical forest formations, ranging from the sub-zero temperatures of montane forests to dense, humid, evergreen rainforests, undertaking sophisticated forest mammal hunting and plant processing (e.g. 44). Moreover, people did not just adapt passively to these environments, but from the onset modified them in fundamental ways [10,45], with outcomes that have affected the natural histories of these forests to the present day.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Bering Land Bridge, Mastodon Bones and Creation Beliefs: Seeking to Know the Unknowable

The Sun Came Down: The History of the World as My Blackfeet Elders Told It By Percy Bullchild, Amskapipikuni. Available at
Available from Amazon
Gyasi Ross
Indian Country Today
July 27, 2017

from the article:

My maternal grandpa, Percy Bullchild, wrote a book entitled The Sun Came Down: The History of the World as My Blackfeet Elders Told It. Incredible book. Every single person should read it. Folks who are interested in creation stories should especially read this book.  It is a very substantial and beautiful book full of stories of how things came to be.  As a storyteller, I hope to someday make a work as profound and necessary as his book.

He was our grandpa. We grew up about 200 yards away from his trailer. Those were the stories that I grew up with and pretty much the way that I saw the world. Some people grew up knowing the Bible stories and understanding the world through that great book. Us, we grew up hearing (and then reading) Blackfeet creation stories as our framework for the way we saw ourselves in the Universe. I can’t say that I “knew” that it was true—I wasn’t that woke as a nine year old.  It was just all I knew—it may or may not have been true, but it sounded right to me.

It wasn’t until I moved away from the Blackfeet Reservation that I realized that many people (most people?) did not see the world the same way. In fact, “most people” don’t see the world any one way—there are literally millions and millions of beliefs systems and creations stories and beliefs and worldviews. Most of them are unprovable as being absolutely right or absolutely wrong.  If they were provable, more people would probably subscribe to that particular belief.

Why Did I Tell You This Story?

It occurs to me that “science” functions just like religion as exhibited by some new findings at the so-called “Cerutti Mastodon Site.”  Moreover, science functions just like religion in that everyone—even the so-called “experts,” scientists—disagree passionately about what they believe is the real story.
Especially as it regards history and creation.

The Cerutti Mastodon Site is an archaeological site near San Diego where scientists found five stones alongside a mastodon (big ass ancient elephants) skeleton. There were two anvils and three hammers there. No big deal—people killed big ass animals with tools all over the world.  These ones looked the folks used the tools to get to the yummy bone marrow. BUT…this is important…further testing (using radioactive decay of uranium) on the bones that were split revealed that the beast died about 130,000 years ago!

Well, if the Native people of the Americas only strutted over from Asia thirty thousand years ago, how could that be?

And now these belligerent scientists are at each other’s throats trying to get the other scientists’ bone marrow! Some of these feisty scientists are screaming like a banshee that humans only got out of Africa 60,000 years ago! How could there be folks here 130,000 years ago??  And the other side says that the evidence clearly states that folks were surfing in San Diego long, long ago and we simply have to defer to the evidence!  Rolfe D. Mandel, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Kansas said these tools “…could not happen naturally.”

Another scientist ridiculed that position. Donald Grayson, an archaeologist said “I was astonished, not because it is so good but because it is so bad,” because he just doesn’t buy the evidence.

Sounds eerily Protestant and Catholic:  they look at the same damn thing, say they believe the same thing (science!), and yet find disagreement about it.

(read more)

The Us and Them Phenomena in Archaeology

This morning, I stumbled on a discussion board at the Archaeologica discussion forum referring to my blog.  A quite long diatribe, posted anonymously under a pseudonym, attacks the Portable Rock Art Blog, and my blog.  Apparently, the entire contents of my blog is "suspect" because I happen to have this Portable Rock Art Blog linked in my blog sidebar.

While I do find the Portable Rock Art Blog to be rather far fetched, and even think that most of the objects are not archaeological, the purpose of my blog is to explore, and not obliterate every idea that I think suspect or marginally probable, as so frequently happens in archaeology.   I had been even thinking of dropping the Portable Rock Art Blog because I find some of their posts to be poorly supported by evidence, and not well photographed, but again, who knows if they will come up with something interesting at some point.

That being said, the anonymous critique on the Archaeologica forum comments on the "non-lithic nature" of the articles posted on the Portable Rock Art blog.  There is no discussion of manuports of found objects in this critique; just a wholesale dismissal of the Portable Rock Art blog and, it seems, a dismissal of the idea that people thousands of years ago might have collected objects that symbolized their narratives of the world around them.  A good alternative discussion could touch upon the research of Robert Bednarik (Link), but the anonymous forum commenter does not bring that up.  The us [elite and unquestionable archaeologists and paleoanthropologists] and them [the unwashed masses among the public] phenomena, now so familiar to me in these discussions, rears its nasty head here.

Note I am not even a member of the Archaeologica discussion forum.  I am not in a discussion where someone is saying they disagree with me.  Instead, these comments are leveled at my blog in absentia, without provocation and by inferences made from something as peripheral as the content of a blog sidebar link.

Getting back to the paper at the center of the Archaeologica forum discussion, the Eric Boëda, Christophe Griggo & Christelle Lahaye paper about the Cerutti Mastodon site, published in PaleoAmerica 3:  In general, the archaeological community seems highly resistant to the observations of this paper.  It does indeed challenge the evolutionary model for Homo, popularized in the press in the last twenty years.

For years, many archeaologists and anthropologists have questioned the simplistic human origins model promoted by Chris Stringer, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Bernard Wood, Svante Pääbo, David Reich and Spencer Wells.  Unfortunately, we just did not hear these alternative views because of the overwhelming number of papers promoting the Recent Out of Africa model published at Science magazine, at the twitter feed @Qafzeh, on the Eurogenes Blog, at the Anthrogenica forum, and from a cadre of abiding journalists (especially Ann Gibbons, Carl Zimmer, Ewen Callaway, and Debbie Kennett).  This has drowned out dissenting voices and blocked their publications for years.  Many have left the field of archaeology because of this.

Luckily, a few remain.  I will enjoy reading and following the work of these dissenting voices on my blog, elite and unquestionable archaeologists notwithstanding.