Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Neanderthal extinction as part of the faunal change in Europe during Oxygen Isotope Stage 3

John R. Stewart

"The extinction of the Neanderthals has not been widely considered in the light of the palaeoecology of other mammals. Therefore, a palaeoecological and historical biogeographical analysis of a database of European mammalian fossils for the period covering 60-20 thousand calendar years (approximately OIS 3 and covering the time when Neanderthals became extinct) has been conducted that shed light on the ecological conditions of this period. Broadly the larger mammals in this database form historical biogeographical categories including extant ubiquitous, extant northern and montane, extant eastern, extinct northern and extinct southern taxa. Neanderthals appear to belong to the extinct southern grouping which highlights the lack of attention they had received from the perspective of extinct Late Pleistocene Megafaunal elements. The temporal distribution of taxa confirms the decline towards the Last Glacial Maximum of the southern extinct group and further reveals a decrease in the occurrence of many smaller carnivores. The latter may indicate a decrease in carrying capacity as temperatures decreased which is supported by the decrease in occurrence of mammoths on non-archaeological sites and other similar phenomena documented elsewhere. The geographical distribution of the larger mammals of OIS 3 confirms a retreat towards the South and West of Neanderthals similar to that of the straight-tusked elephant Elephas antiquus and Merck's rhino Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis, both of which also became extinct towards the Last Glacial Maximum. The change in geographical distribution of the European wild ass Equus hydruntinus through OIS 3 may be closest to that of the Neanderthals implying similar tolerances. The results of the palaeoecological and palaeobiogeographical study of Neanderthals prompt a reconsideration of their supposed adaptations. "

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mousterian fauna from Dederiyeh Cave and comparisons with fauna from Umm El Tlel and Douara Cave

C. Griggo


"Currently, Dederiyeh Cave (in northwest Syria) is one of the key sites in the Middle East for better understanding Neanderthal behavior.  The stratigraphic sequence, based on excavations carried out to date, and the large quantity of faunal remains recovered, make palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstructions possible.  Comparisons with assemblages recovered from the sites of Umm El Tlel and Douara Cave (central Syria) illustrate the significant aptitude of Neanderthals for environmental adaptation."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mousterian Hunting Patterns in the Northwestern Caucasus and the Ecology of the Neanderthals

Map of the Caucasus and Surrounding Regions

John F. Hoffecker, Naomi Cleghorn


"The northwestern Caucasus contains a group of cave and open-air sites occupied by Neanderthals during the early and middle phases of the Last Glacial (OIS 4–3). These sites vary widely in terms of topographic setting, elevation, artifacts, and associated faunal remains. Both medium and large mammals (goat, sheep, and bison) were probably hunted at Mezmaiskaya Cave (1300m above sea level), as indicated by the number and location of tool marks on the bones and prime-dominated age mortality profiles. Medium and large mammals (bison and other ungulates) may have been hunted at Il’skaya (100 m above sea level) and Barakaevskaya Cave (900 m above sea level), which also yield prime-dominated mortality profiles. There is no compelling evidence for hominid scavenging. The sites appear to exhibit variations in function and seasonality, and may reflect scheduled exploitation of seasonally abundant resources in different altitudinal zones on the northern slope of the Caucasus Mountains."


"The northwestern Caucasus sites also provide good evidence for Neanderthal hunting of both medium and large ungulates during the Last Glacial. By contrast, there is no compelling evidence for scavenging during this period.  Hunting of medium and large bovids appears especially likely at Mezmaiskaya Cave, where prime-dominated age profiles and widely distributed stone tool marks are documented for bison, sheep, and goat.  Hunting seems most likely to account for the prime-dominated age profiles at Il’skaya I and Barakaevskaya Cave,  but there are less supporting data at these sites."

"Regular hunting of medium and large mammals and a diet high in meat is hardly surprising among the European Neanderthals of the Last Glacial, whose caloric requirements must have been high—possibly comparable to that of modern arctic peoples. Their apparent lack of technological adaptations to cold temperatures, such as tailored clothing and insulated shelters, may have placed further stress on their energy budget (Coon, 1962; Hoffecker, 1999)."

"On the basis of the northwestern Caucasus data, there would appear to have been significant niche overlap and potential resource competition between the Neanderthals and their modern human successors, who probably entered the region between 35000 and 32000 years BP (Golovanova et al., 1999). Despite this probable niche overlap, Neanderthal ecology almost certainly differed from that of modern humans in several ways. There is evidence from various regions, including the northwestern Caucasus, that the Neanderthals might have lived in smaller groups and foraged in smaller home ranges than modern humans (Mellars, 1996; Hoffecker & Baryshnikov, 1998). There are also indications that the Neanderthals may have enjoyed a different relationship with the larger carnivores in their range, although the contrast with modern humans is often not apparent until after 20000 years BP (e.g. Straus,1982)."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Age of Upper Paleolithic Sites in the Middle Dnieper River Basin of Eastern Europe

Rivers of Europe, including the Dnieper

Z A Abramova, G B Grigorieva, G I Zaitseva


"This paper discusses the comparative chronology of Upper Paleolithic sites in the Middle Dnieper River basin, based on archaeological and radiocarbon evidence.  Three chronological periods of the development of the Upper Paleolithic are distinguished in this area.  According to the data obtained, the third period is similar to the European Magdelenian, yet its economies were different.  The base of the subsistence economy for Dnieperian hunters was the procurement of mammoth, while reindeer was the most important for the subsistence of European Magdelenian.  The abundance of mammoths and the raw material in the form of mammoth tusks made a deep impact on both the economy and the material culture of the hunters in the Dnieper River basin.  The C14 dates confirm the chronology subdivision."


"Over the last few years a considerable number of C14 dates became available for UP [Upper Paleolithic] sites Eastern Europe, including more than 90 C14 measurements for the sites discussed here (Synitsyn  et al. 1997) and shown in Table 1. The C14 data sets allow one to define the chronological position of UP sites on the C14 timescale and to correlate them with environmental conditions.  Paelolithic climate investigations (Velichko et al. 1997) enable one to distinguish three major periods of environmental changes for the central and northern regions of the East European Plain. The first period corresponds to the final stage of the Bryansk Inerstadial (25,000-22,000 BP).  The Kotylevo-2, Novgorod-Severski, Berdyzh, and Yurovichi sites belong to just this period."

"The sites belonging to the second period correspond to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) (21,000-17,000 BP); their very existence proves that despite the maximum cooling, the population did not abandon this territory."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mammoth used as food and building resources by Neanderthals

Zooarchaeological study applied to a layer 4, Molodova I (Ukraine)

Laëtitia Demay, Stéphane Péan, Marylène Patou-Mathis


"Considering Neanderthal subsistence, the use of mammoth resources has been particularly discussed. Apart from procurement for food, the use of mammoth bones as building material has been proposed. The hypothesis was based on the discovery made in Molodova I, Ukraine (Dniester valley). In this large multistratified open-air site, a rich Mousterian layer was excavated. Dated to the Inter-Pleniglacial (MIS 3), it has yielded 40 000 lithic remains associated with ca. 3000 mammal bones, mostly from mammoth. Several areas have been excavated: a pit filled with bones, different areas of activities (butchering, tool production), twenty-five hearths and a circular accumulation made of mammoth bones, described as a dwelling structure set up by Neanderthals. Attested dwelling structures made of mammoth bones are known in Upper Paleolithic sites, from Ukraine and Russia, attributed to the Epigravettian tradition."

"This paper presents a zooarchaeological study of large mammal remains from Molodova I layer 4, to understand the modalities of acquisition and utilization of mammoth resources for food and technical purposes, especially to test the hypothesis of using bones as building elements. The number of mammoths is estimated to at least fifteen individuals of all age classes and both sexes, which died during several episodes, near or on the site."

"The taphonomic modifications due to weathering, water percolation and plant roots indicate the location of bones in holes, such as the pit and the basement of the circular accumulation. Secondary actions of carnivores, especially of hyaenid type, are rare on bones, showing that the assemblage was not accumulated by these predators. The anatomical preservation, the age and sex features and the taphonomic data indicate several modalities of mammoth acquisition by hunting, scavenging and collecting."
"Based on anthropogenic marks, mammoth meat has been eaten. The presence of series of striations and ochre on mammoth bones are associated with a technical or symbolic use. Furthermore, mammoth bones have been deliberately selected (long and flat bones, tusks, connected vertebrae) and circularly arranged. This mammoth bone structure could be described as the basement of a wooden cover or as a wind-screen. The inner presence of fifteen hearths, lithic artifacts and waste of mammal butchery and cooking is characteristic of a domestic area, which was probably the centre of a residential camp recurrently settled. It appears that Neanderthals were the oldest known humans who used mammoth bones to build a dwelling structure."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Neanderthals: Victims of their Own Success

Complex modeling experiments conducted at Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Denver Colorado help illustrate the fate of Neanderthals.

"The interdisciplinary team of researchers used archeological data to track behavioral changes in Western Eurasia over a period of 100,000 years and showed that human mobility increased over time, probably in response to environmental change. According to Barton[at ASU], the last Ice Age saw hunter-gathers, including both Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans, range more widely across Eurasia searching for food during a major shift in the Earth’s climate."

"The scientists utilized computer modeling to explore the evolutionary consequences of those changes, including how changes in the movements of Neanderthals and modern humans caused them to interact – and interbreed – more often."

ASU, U Colorado archaeologists find clues to Neanderthal extinction

Neanderthal demise due to many influences, including cultural changes

Culture Enabled Neanderthal Contribution to Human Genome

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Neanderthal Introgression In and Out of Africa

John Hawks posts today on the work of his team as they look at introgression of Neanderthals into Human Populations.  Several of the discoveries are new, including one where he finds evidence of greater Neanderthal introgression in a West African population, Yorubans, compared to an East African population, Luhyans.

read more

Additionally, Maju at the "For what they were... we are" blog, writes a good critique:

Splitting hairs with the Neaderthal affinity

Hawks writes "As we look more closely at the particular gene regions shared between each individual and the Neandertal, we will be able to consider the approximate time that they shared an ancestor for each gene region. That will allow us to distinguish incomplete lineage sorting (ILS) from introgression, although the two will overlap to some extent. We will rely on that test to examine hypotheses about the time and place of population mixture."

So ... we're waiting, with bated breath!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Summary on Out of Africa Human Migrations in WSJ

There was a nice article in the WSJ yesterday, which briefly summarizes the current state of understanding of Out-of-Africa migrations:

Did Early Humans Ride the Waves to Australia?

"Everybody is African in origin. Barring a smattering of genes from Neanderthals and other archaic Asian forms, all our ancestors lived in the continent of Africa until 150,000 years ago. Some time after that, say the genes, one group of Africans somehow became so good at exploiting their environment that they (we!) expanded across all of Africa and began to spill out of the continent into Asia and Europe, invading new ecological niches and driving their competitors extinct."

"There is plenty of dispute about what gave these people such an advantage—language, some other form of mental ingenuity, or the collective knowledge that comes from exchange and specialization—but there is also disagreement about when the exodus began. For a long time, scientists had assumed a gradual expansion of African people through Sinai into both Europe and Asia. Then, bizarrely, it became clear from both genetics and archaeology that Europe was peopled later (after 40,000 years ago) than Australia (before 50,000 years ago)."

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