I stumbled recently on this terrific lecture series, which was given in 2008 at Gustavus Adolphus College. The lectures are available online and are a great review of genetics and archaeology related to human origins. (link)
Archaeologist Curtis Marean discusses his Pinnacle Point research which explores a possible South African refuge for humans 200 thousand years ago. He also discusses other possible locations in Africa where humans may have originated. (link)
Geneticist Svante Paabo presents his work on neadertal-human genetics as of 2008. (link)
Geneticist Marcus W. Feldman, who's research team developed the program STRUCTURE, describes his team's autosomal test results. Beginning at 32 minutes into the discussion, he shows how human migration under the serial founder effect yields an approximately linear genetic variation. (link)
Archeaologist Dennis Stanford gives an exciting comparative lecture on Solutrean, Clovis and pre-Clovis lithics. (link)
Evolutionary Anthropologist Robin I. M. Dunbar describes social network size and its evolutionary relationship to brain size. (link)
Professor of Theology J. Wentzel van Huyssteen discusses the challenges and possibilities presented by theological, symbolic and scientific interpretations of human origins. (link)
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Rock painting at Tassili n'Ajjer, Algeria
The sea level climate record tells us that there were glacial maximums 150 ky ago and 20 ky ago. Glacial maximums are associated with dryer and colder climates in most areas of the world, including Africa. There's evidence that during these colder and drier glacial periods, hunting strategies in Africa are shifted from a Generalized Grassland Model to a Seasonal Grassland Model that includes seasonal use of tactical hunting methods (link). Additionally, the sea level is at its lowest during glacial maximums and was approximately 120 meters lower than today both 150 ky ago and 20 ky ago.
We also know from the geological record that there were periods when it was much wetter in the Sahara and the Arabian peninsula than today. During the Abbassia Pluvial, North Africa experienced a wet and rainy period lasting from 120 ky ago to 90 ky ago. During the Mousterian Pluvial, which lasted from 50 to 30 ky ago, the Sahara was again a greener place than it is today. The Neolithic Subpluvial was the most recent period in which the Sahara and Arabian Peninsula were wetter.
Blue Marble 3000 World has a good simulation of the glacial-pluvial process at work since the Last Glacial Maximum. The effect of the Neolithic Subpluvial as it contributes toward a greener Sahara and Arabian Peninsula is beautifully rendered.
Lake Victoria disappears in about 15,000BC and reappears at about 12,000BC. Note the sudden greening of the Sudan and Arabian Peninsula at about 9000 BC, then another green sweep northward into the Maghreb in 7000BC. Between 9000BC and 8500BC, Lake Chad grows into a lake that is almost the size of the Caspian Sea. At about 4500BC, the pluvial system in the Sahara begins to collapse. Patches of grassland persist in the Southern Arabian peninsula, Niger, Southern Algeria including Tassili N'Ajjer and de l'Ahaggar National Parks, and the Sudan until 2000BC. Lake Chad drys up.
From the archaeological record, we know that each of these pluvial expansions into the Sahara and the Arabian Peninsula brought people northward. From the genetic record, it appears that the Neolithic Subpluvial also brought people southward (link).
For humans, who didn't have a macro view of the climate they were experiencing, glacial maximums would have necessitated a switch to tactical hunting methods. They would have become more dependant on migratory animals for their food(150 kya and 20kya). As the pluvial patterns swept northward, migratory animals and their hunters would have moved northward into the expanding grassland of the Sahara and the Arabian Peninsula (120-90 kya) and (50-30 kya). The collapse of these systems would strand some of the migratory hunters on the north side of the Sahara and Arabian peninsula.
More recently, the collapse of the Neolithic Subpluvial has "stranded" wayfarers on either side of the Arabian peninsula(link) and on both sides of the Sahara.
There's a cyclic process at work, pushing hunters toward a tactical migratory hunting pattern during dry glacial periods, followed by a transformation of the desert into an inviting grassland for migratory game and hunters, followed by a pluvial collapse, stranding and pushing some hunters northward, well beyond their African origin.
It's also interesting to point out that a few of these migratory hunters would have been able to take advantage of the lower Mediterranean sea level.
The cycle is aptly demonstrated by the distribution and phylogeny of Haplogroup E.
Figure 1 (Semino et al)
Phylogeny and frequency distributions of Hg E and its main subclades (panels A-G.) The numbering of mutations is according to the Y Chromosome Consortium (YCC) (YCC 2002, Jobling and Tyler-Smith 2003). To the left of the phylogeny, the ages (in 1,000 years) of the boxed mutations are reported with their SEs (Zhivotovsky et al. 2004). [See the paper for the author's further comments on this figure.]
Consider: E-M35 crosses a wet Sahara into the Mahgreb and into the Arabian peninsula at the end of the Mousterian Pluvial. Some descendants of E-M78 take advantage of a lower Mediterranean and cross from Tunisia into Sicily. Subsequently, E-M78 again cross the Adriatic into the Balkans during the Upper Paleolithic. Their E-V13 descendants establish themselves on the Balkan peninsula during the Mesolithic (link).
The climate driven cyclic Out of Africa process is most aptly demonstrated by Haplogroup E because it is more recent (Mousterian Pluvial) than other earlier Out of Africa migrations. However, the cyclic climate process likely applies to earlier Out of Africa migrations, including those of Haplogroups D and F.
North African Archaeological Sites:
Was North Africa the Launch Pad for Modern Human Migrations?
Late quarternary climatic reconstruction for the mahgreb (North Africa)
82,000-year-old shell beads from North Africa and implications for the origins of modern human behavior
African Archaeological Sites:
Hunter Gatherer Foraging Strategies in Tropical Grasslands: Model Building and Testing in the East African Middle and Late Stone Age
Related Posts from this site:
The Mediterranean Coastline During the LGM
Refining the eustatic sea-level curve since the Last Glacial Maximum using far and intermediate field sites
Evidence for African seasonal grassland tactical hunting during the Last Glacial Maximum
Eaten out of house and home: Homo Sapiens outruns and out hunts their Neandertal cousins
Monday, May 23, 2011
Last Glacial Maximum Coastline and Vegetation
map courtesy of the National Geophysical Data Center (Link here for legend)
The impact of glacial maximums are many and include dry and cold conditions. However, their most obvious impact is that of sea level. At the height of the LGM approximately 22kya, the worlds oceans were approximately 110 meters lower than they are today. Even 10kya, the oceans were 40 meters lower than today.
It is interesting to consider the Mediterranean with a lower sea level.
As shown in the above map, Tunisia is connected or almost connected to the toe of Sicily. Certainly, even 10kya, the crossing would be less than 40km and the opposing shoreline would be within view.
The Aegean Sea would be smaller.
Anatolia would be contiguous with Europe.
Cyprus would be less than 40km from the mainland of Anatolia.
The boot of Italy would be very closely connected to Othonoi. This would connect Italy to Greece.
The Adriatic would be much smaller. Northern Italy would be more directly connected to the Balkans.
Corsica and Sardinia would be connected and also closer to mainland Italy than today.
Ireland, England and France would be contiguous.
A glacier would separate Northern Italy from France.
I'm not sure about the Straight of Gibraltar.
(Update (May 28th): During the glacial maximums 20 kya and 150 kya, the Straight of Gibraltar was narrower, especially at the Camarinal Sill, (Link))
It would be great to see an underwater topological map of the Mediterranean, but so far, I haven't managed to locate one. In any case, this does help to explain how, for instance, North Africans might have crossed into Italy or even Greece. They didn't have to be ocean going seafarers to do so. It also helps to explain the degree of genetic continuity between Greeks and Italians.
I thought I'd mention it, even though so far, I haven't managed to get that underwater topological map.
The Fleming et al paper which I reference in the previous post also shows that the sea level was at least 60 meters lower than today even 50kya, meaning that the Mediterranean coastline of today is an aberration. With the exception of the last 10 thousand years, it has been relatively easy to cross from Tunisia to Sicily, from the heel of Italy to Greece, from Northern Italy to Corsica and Sardinia, from Anatolia to the Balkans and from Anatolia to Cyprus.
Moreover, there was a period 150kya when these crossings would also have been more accessible than they are today.
Refining the eustatic sea-level curve since the Last Glacial Maximum using far and intermediate field sites
(a) The eustatic curve of the nominal ice model.
(b) The eustatic contributions since the Last Glacial Maximum for the three principle ice sheets
(Figure 3 from the paper)
Fleming et al
The eustatic component of relative sea-level change provides a measure of the amount of ice transferred between the continents and oceans during glacial cycles. This has been quantified for the period since the Last Glacial Maximum by correcting observed sea-level change for the glacio-hydro-isostatic contributions using realistic ice distribution and earth models. During the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) the eustatic sea level was 125 plus or minus 5 m lower than the present day, equivalent to a land-based ice volume of .4:6–4:9/ 107 km3. Evidence for a non-uniform rise in eustatic sea level from the LGM to the end of the deglaciation is examined. The initial rate of rise from ca. 21 to 17 ka was relatively slow with an average rate of ca. 6 m/ka, followed by an average rate of ca. 10 m/ka for the next 10 ka. Significant departures from these average rates may have occurred at the time of the Younger Dryas and possibly also around 14 ka. Most of the decay of the large ice sheets was completed by 7 ka, but 3–5 m of water has been added to the oceans since that time.
Lukenya Hill Archeological Site, Athi-Kapiti Plain, Kenya
Hunter-Gatherer Foraging Strategies in Tropical Grasslands:
Model Building and Testing in the East African Middle and Late Stone Age
Curtis W. Marean
Hunter–gatherer adaptations to moist tropical grasslands are not well known from either the ethnographic or the archaeological record. This is unfortunate as grassland adaptations are clearly significant to human biological and behavioral evolution. The most effective strategy for remedying this problem is to develop models for grassland exploitation based on strong understandings of the ecological similarities and differences between cold, temperate, and tropical grasslands. Cold, temperate, and tropical grasslands are similar in that water and raw materials are often scarce and the most abundant large mammals are gregarious and mobile. Tropical grasslands differ from cold and temperate grasslands by having a greater diversity and biomass of edible above-ground plants and plants with underground storage organs, making carbohydrate availability greater and less seasonal. Large mobile mammals and resident large mammals are more diverse and have greater biomass in tropical grasslands. Overall, tropical grasslands are a richer and less seasonally punctuated environment than either cold or temperate grasslands. A comparison of ethnographic data regarding variation in foraging strategies in different cold, temperate, and tropical settings lead to the construction of three models for hunter–gatherer exploitation of tropical grasslands: a Generalized Grassland Model (no specialized tactical hunting—considered the favored model given modern African grassland conditions), a Seasonal Grassland Model (only seasonal use of specialized tactical hunting techniques—considered unlikely for Africa), and a Specialized Grassland Model (regular use of specialized tactical hunting strategies—considered highly unlikely for Africa). A preliminary test of these models shows the Athi-Kapiti Plains Holocene archaeological evidence is most consistent with the Generalized Grassland Model. The Last Glacial Maximum is most consistent with the Seasonal Grassland Model. A single MSA occupation also suggests that specialized tactical hunting strategies were used. These differences in hunting strategies were probably due to the differences in ecological conditions between the Holocene and the Last Glacial Maximum.
From page 217 of the paper:
Several lines of evidence converge to suggest that GvJm46 [Lukenya Hill, Athi-Kapiti Plain, Kenya] was a mass-kill site where the small extinct alcelaphine antelope was repeatedly killed in Late Pleistocene LSA and MSA times: (1) the open location in a natural topographic trap situated in a bottleneck along a well documented migration route, (2) the concentration of one species of grassland antelope compared to high diversities of large ungulates at contemporary nearby residential sites, (3) the catastrophic/life-structure mortality profile, and (4) the likelihood that GvJm46 represents many different kill events.
Map of Kenya, with Athi River and Plain at Center Bottom
World Vegetation Map During the Last Glacial Maximum with African grassland, including Southern Kenya, shown in dark green.
Embarking on an Exploration of the E Haplogroup Dispersal with relation to ADMIXTURE
Dating the end of Mass Gazelle Hunting on the Khabur River
Dating the end of Mass Gazelle Hunting on the Khabur River
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Heatwave and drought in Russia, 2010 (Link)
"The rule of thumb among crop ecologists is that for each one degree celsius rise in temperature, we can expect a ten percent decline in grain yields, so that's the sort of simplest link between rising temperatures and grain yields. More fundamentally, agriculture as it exists today has evolved during an 11,000 year period in which there has been rather remarkable climate stability, so agriculture is designed to maximize production with that climate system, but that climate system is now changing, so that now, with each passing year, the agricultural system and the climate system are more and more out of sync with each other. It used to be that when there was a weather event like a monsoon failure in India or a drought in the former Soviet Union, within a year or so, things would go back to normal. Now, there is no norm to go back to. Things are in a constant state of flux."
NPR Fresh Air interview with Lester Brown (Link)
World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, Lester Brown
Earth Policy Institute
Saturday, May 14, 2011
San Bushmen African Rock Art Depicting an Eland (Link)
The idea that Neandertals were good hunters has been suggested for several years and was reported in 2006. Neandertals likely also had the capacity for language as they possessed the Homo Sapiens FOXP2 variants for language. Additionally, the Gaudzinski-Windheuser and Niven paper suggests that Middle Paleolithic Neandertals were top predators who unselectively hunted large ungulates such as reindeer. They seem to have specialized in eating the bone marrow from these animals.
By the Upper Paleolithic 30,000 years ago, when it is anticipated that Homo Sapiens began to dominate the Eurasian picture, the evidence suggests that Eurasians were eating both meat and bone marrow from bovids, cervids, and caprines. Birds and other small game animals increasingly formed part of the Upper Paleolithic diet. The large numbers of single species remains in archaeological kill sites suggests that both Upper Paleolithic Homo Sapiens and Middle Paleolithic Neanderthals seem to have sometimes used mass kill communal hunting strategies.
Which brings us to the modern remnants of mass kill communal hunting strategies, which have persisted where there are bovids or cervids that are not amenable to domestication. In particular, deer, reindeer, buffalo and gazelles are not amenable to domestication. It is for these animals that driveline and trap hunting strategies have, until recently, persisted across the globe. As demonstrated by these examples, there are remarkably detailed similarities in the methods used to hunt remnant populations of bovids and cervids:
Sami Reindeer Funnel Trapping System
Dating the end of Mass Gazelle Hunting on the Khabur River
Nomads of South Siberia: the pastoral economies of Tuva: HUNTING TECHNIQUES
Hunting Caribou with Inukshuiit
Communal Buffalo Hunting: Driveline, Jumps and Pounds
In areas of the globe with climates that were more hospitable to domesticated bovids, cervids and caprines, driveline and trap systems have entirely disappeared. However, driveline and trap methods don't leave much to the imagination as to how sheep, cattle and goats were domesticated. Hunters who used the driveline and trap system clearly understood the migration patterns and habits of the animals they hunted. Their survival depended on this intimate knowledge. Communal hunters must have eventually realized that certain species of bovids and caprines were more docile and did not necessary have to be killed on the spot after being trapped. Domestication would have provided them a more steady supply of meat before the next hunt. Over time, they saved and bred the most docile animals. Only on the climate margins, where it was either too hot or too cold for domesticated cattle, goats and sheep did communal driveline and trap hunting persist.
The recent discover of a driveline and trap communal hunting system for gazelles in Syria is significant. It extends the possibility that driveline and trap systems were used across the gazelle kingdom, which would include Africa. I have voiced my observation that there is a concordance between the distribution of haplogroup E and the historical distribution of gazelles. (See Gazelle Hunters.)
In the y-dna phylogeny of Homo Sapiens,
it is y-dna haplogroups E and FGHIJKLMNOPQR that dominate the genetic picture of the Middle East, interior Eurasia and the Americas. African y-dna haplogroups are dominated by A, B and E. Haplogroups C and D follow a coastal route from Africa all the way to the Pacific Rim.
The geographic distribution of y-dna haplogroups E and FGHIJKLMNOPQR are concordant with the Upper Paleolithic geographic distribution of gazelles, bovids, caprines, and cervids. The modern societies that are dominant with men with these haplogroups traditionally have diets and cultural rituals that are centered on the eating of bovids, caprines and cervids. Whether it is the traditional Boeuf En Daube of Southern France, Kokoretsi of Greece, Haggis of Scotland, Arab Shawarma, Goat-Meat-on-a-Stick in West Africa, Jordanian Mansaf, Berber Mechoui, Mongolian Barbeque, Khlav Kalash or American Burgers, it is evident that the descendants of E and FGHIJKLMNOPQR haplogroup(y-dna) dominant cultures have a penchant for the meat and/or milk of large undulates. They also possess a history of either domesticating these animals and/or utilizing communal hunting strategies to corral and kill seasonally large quantities of meat.
By comparison, y-dna haplogroups B, C and D dominant cultures have diets that are more diversified, with fish, reptiles, fish eggs, bird eggs and small mammals constituting a larger portion of their protein diet.
Haplogroup A(y-dna) is present in Africa. It is strongly associated with the Khoisan, San or Bushmen people of South Africa and Namibia and with the Dinka, Shillik, Nuba and other pastoral people of the Sudan. A deeper understanding of the autosomal genetic history of the Khoisan, against a Bantu (E haplogroup dominant) background, was explored in last year's open source paper Complete Khoisan and Bantu genomes from Southern Africa. The Khoisan are the most genetically diverse of the living descendants of Homo Sapiens and they also likely preserve some cultural remnants of our distant Homo Sapiens past. Given their position in Africa, the Khoisan (or Bushmen) also would be the least likely to have any traces of either Neandertal or Denisovan genetics.
Can we learn anything from Khoisan hunting strategies and culture that would give us a clue as to what Homo Sapiens had as an advantage over Neanderthals and Denisovans?
The San employ an extraordinary hunting strategy called persistance hunting which requires the capacity for endurance running. Here's the youtube video:
Recent research by David Raichlen and his team at the University of Arizona, Tucson, corroborates that Neandertals did not have the endurance running capabilities of the San.
Somewhere on their journey between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Homo Sapiens refined their persistence hunting technique. The desert kite find in Syria is significant because it locates the refinement of San persistence hunting into Eurasian driveline and trap persistance hunting between Africa and the Arabian peninsula. As Homo Sapiens came into contact with the Neandertal, they may even have borrowed some hunting tricks such as exploiting migratory paths and pitfalls. Once driveline and trap hunting persistance techniques for large ungulates were perfected, the ability to endurance run allowed long range multiday round ups of bovids, caprines and cervids.
The demise of the Neandertal is therefore likely due to nothing more than Homo Sapiens outrunning and out hunting their Neandertal cousins. "Eaten out of house and home" comes to mind.
By S. I. Vainshtein
"Marals were hunted with the aid of pipes (murgu in eastern Tuva, amyrga in the west), which imitated the call of the male. They were between 60 and 70 cm long and were made in the following way: a piece of cedar wood was carved into a conical shape; it was then cut in half, and the two halves were hewn out, fastened together, and wrapped up in birch bark; the pointed end was inserted into a horn mouthpiece with a hole in it."
"When hunting roe-deer or musk-deer, the Tuvinians used a special sqeaker called ediski, a piece of birch bark about 4.5 by 5 cm, which was folded double. It was used also by the Shors, who called it by the same name; by the Khakass, who called it symyskha or symysky; and by the Kirghiz and the Mongols."
"Hunting in Tuva was done not only on an individual basis, but also by the artel, a type of collective (worker's guild) with ancient traditions. The composition of artels in the nineteenth an early twentieth centuries was not fixed, since they came together usually towards the beginning of the hunting season and dissolved when it ended, re-forming into different groups for the subsequent year's hunting. Membership had nothing to do with kinship ties, rather it was based on roughly equal hunting ability, and this often brought representatives of different aals together. It was usual, of course, for a father and his son or the brothers of one aal to belong to the same artel, but this was not always so. The artel was headed by the most experienced and most senior hunter. All the members of the artel would, as far as possible, take with them equal amounts of food and ammunition, which were pooled and used collectively. The bag was shared out strictly equally, regardless of each man's contribution to the pool; equal shares were given to the young man who had joined his father in the hunt for the first time and to the old, experienced hunter. If anything was left over, it was given to the most successful hunter, which did not necessarily mean the leader."
"In Todja, according to the old men's tales, abattis in the mid-nineteenth century were built by the men of an entire clan. The right to use an abattis usually belonged only to those who had built them."
"The Todjins practised one other form of collective hunting for ungulates, called kedeer. In autumn and early winter the hunters noted from the animals' tracks which path the herd had followed when leaving the mountain taiga for the valley; in spring, with the advent of warmer weather, the animals returned to the mountains by the same route and the hunters ambushed them."
"In spring, usually at the end of March, many of the men formed into groups to go hunting across the frozen snow on skis (ydalaar). In eastern Tuva such groups, including beaters and gunmen, were known as tuspaar. Early in the morning, when the snow-crust was still hard, the gunmen would hide in the valley, while the beaters accompanied by two or three of their best dogs, which were trained to pursue an animal across the hard snow, went up into the mountains on their skis. The animal would head for the valley in the attempt to escape form its pursuers, and there it would run into the ambush. The ydalaar hunting method was used also to catch fur-bearing animals, including the sable."
"The commonest form of hunting in Tuva, especially in Todja, was the chase/hunt (turalaar, or in central Tuva, duralap angnaar, and in western Tuva, segirtip angnaar), in which between four and ten hunters took part, or sometimes as many as twenty. A group of seven, for example, would consist of two beaters, agjylar, and five gunmen, turajylar. The gunmen would climb up to the pass and, speading out in a broken line, they would lie in wait. Meanwhile, the beaters hit the tree-trunks with sticks and filled the forest with loud shouting while moving towards the ambush, either on foot or on horseback. The frightened prey would run through the undergrowth towards the pass, where the gunmen were waiting."
"When elks, roe-deer, saiga antelopes, and other ungulates were caught and killed, their meat was divided equally among all the beaters while the skins and horns went to the gunman who had made the kill."
Friday, May 13, 2011
"The reindeer assemblage from Salzgitter Lebenstedt indicates a procurement tactic different from the evidence provided by the bovid assemblages. Hunting at Salzgitter Lebenstedt can be characterized as seasonally restricted unselective killing with subsequent exploitation of only high nutritional resources. The topographic setting of Salzgitter Lebenstedt, in a small, steep valley which joins a major wide river valley is extremely well suited for hunting reindeer (Spiess, 1979) and is comparable to the German Late Glacial camps Meiendorf and Stellmoor in the Ahrensburger Tunnel valley(Rust, 1943; Tode, 1953; Gronnow, 1987; Bratlund, 1996). For the Ahrensburgian level(Dryas 3, ca. 12000 CAL. BP) at the latter site, patterns of reindeer exploitation were interpreted along the same lines as for Salzgitter Lebenstedt (Gronnow, 1987). The Ahrensburger Tunneltal and Salzgitter data indicate a remarkable degree of similarity in the physical treatment of reindeer prey by late Glacial hunters (Gaudzinski & Roebroeks, 2000)."
Saami Sacred Stones in Karelia (Link)
The Saami people of Norway, nomadic reindeer hunters until three hundred years ago, were known to have constructed fence lines and used natural obstacles to funnel reindeer into traps. Moreover, the Saami took advantage of known migratory paths of the reindeer to anticipate their arrival. It is that these systems were used used prior to and during the Viking period and well into the Middle Ages. The reindeer spoils, including the meat, skin, and antlers were of significant economic and social importance. Oddly enough, the Saami have a tradition of stone markers, similar to the Inukshuk. These stone marker "creatures" may have assisted in guiding the reindeer down the trapping systems. However, a sense of the practical significance of these statues for hunting seems to have been lost.
In any case, like other ungulate hunters, the Saami prospered due to their ability to design, cooperate and deploy a mass hunting system.
Ancient wild reindeer pitfall trapping systems as indicators for former migration patters and habitat use in the Dovre region, southern Norway, Per Jordhoy
Hunting and Gathering by the Saami, Jonathan Snatic
Saami Sacred Stones in Karelia, heninen.net
The Inuit (Eskimos) are known to have hunted Caribou, which is the Canadian word for reindeer, with stone Inukshuiit (singular Inukshuk), or stone figures that look like humans. These Inukshuiit were set up in a funnel like pattern to channel the charibou to a hillside or enclosure, where the Caribou met the hunters. (Link)
The Blackfoot of Southern Alberta and Montana are known to have used a hunting technique very similar to the Syrian desert kite technique. Prior to the introduction of the horse in the Americas, the driveline (kite) and jump or pound (corral) technique was the dominant method of mass buffalo hunting in the North American Prairie. The techniques are aptly described at the Royal Alberta Museam website here. What is evident with the method is that it required a great deal of coordination and planning by all members of the community. However, the pay-off was big: enough food, housing and clothing for months to come. The method would have served the hunters well, either through a long North American winter or a long Syrian summer.
The most famous North American Buffalo Jump is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, so named for a lead hunter or "buffalo runner" who had been assigned to lead the buffalo over the cliff, but was not able to get out of the way. A short two minute visit describes this site:
Most of us are familiar with the iconic teepee, but the thought that a teepee traditionally would have been constructed of twelve buffalo hides is rarely mentioned. Construction likely would have required mass hunting techniques such as drivelines, jumps and pounds, to create a village of teepees.
Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains, Jack W. Brink, 2008
Arial view of two circular stone "corrals" on the left, with the long V kite structures extending to the right
Researchers at the University of Haifa and at the Smithsonian announced in April their research on their detailed work that shows two desert kite structures at Tell Kuran in Syria's Khabur River Basin are dated to 5000 years ago. Their work indicates that at one time, gazelles in the Syrian Desert were abundant and migrated from their breeding grounds near the Arabian peninsula in the south, to green pastures in the north, where they gave birth. (Link)
The research emphasizes the past importance of the gazelle to people in the Khabur River Basin, as well as gives an indication of why the gazelle today is near extinction on the Arabian peninsula, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Tell Kuran is in the Ar'Raqqa - Deir Ezzor - Al Hasakah Archaeological Triangle on the Khabur River. It is a region of significant archaeological importance which has been inhabited at least since Lower Paleolithic. Preliminary results of the prehistoric survey in the Khabur Basin, Syria: 1990-91 seasons, Nishiaki, et al. states: "The Khabur basin is in fact an interesting region, which lies between the Levant and Mesopotamia, and on the margins of another cultural area in Anatolia and the Zagros."
The curious absence of arrowheads at some early Neolithic Tigris and Euphrates archeological sites, in combination with clear evidence for a large game diet, may be explained by such mass hunting/corral technologies. For example, at Nemrik, "The technique of hunting is less clear. There are bolas stones, but few ‘spear’ straighteners. Arrow heads are exceptional and exotic, occurring only in some burials." See Hunters of Nemrik, Molleson, page 6.
It is likely that the Tell Kuran desert kite find marks the beginning of the end of mass gazelle hunting in this region. Its beginning surely extends at a minimum back to the period when hunters began experimenting with domestication 10,000 years ago. See Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, diffusion and impact, Zeder.
Gazelles caught in ancient Syrian "killing zones" (Link)