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.

Uruá flutes

Photo credit:  Kieron Nelson (Link)

"Kalapalo men playing uruá flutes at the Kuarup Ritual at Aiha Village in the Xingu Indigenous Park (Brazil). Two men in their feather headdresses play bamboo Uruá flutes. One tube of the giant Uruá double flute is over 2 meters long, the other is 1.5 meters. The tubes, about five centimeters in diameter, are made by lashing two lengths of bamboo together."

Bamboo Flutes Exploration (this blog)

Bamboo World Ecozone

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Las largas trompetas de los Andes

author:  Edgardo Civallero

2nd edition, with pictures
published online on April 18th, 2014
(Link) issuu online publication

Miradero, 5
November 5th, 2013

From these publications:

Trompeta name:  Bocina
Region:  Bolivia, Equador
Materials:  yarumo, or guarumo (Cecropia peltata), or a flowering stem variety of penco or cabuyo azul (Furcraea andina), or bamboo (Rhipidocladum harmonicum).  A cow horn or plastic horn are used for the amplifier.

Trompeta name:  Yungor
Region:  Central and Southern Andes of Puru in the regions of Junín, Huancavelica, Ayacucho, Apurimac, and Arequipa
MaterialsAgave americana, or Sambucus nigra, or bamboo (Bambusácea selvática)
Festival(s):  Used in the July 25th Festival to celebrate Tayta Huamani, Lord of the Hills, and to celebrate the ancestral rites of Tinyanakuy.

Trompeta name:  Wakar'hanti or Wakaranti
Region:  Province of Salta, Northwest Argentina, Province of Santa Cruz, Southeast Bolivia
Materials:   Arundo donax 

Trompeta name:  Clarín de Cajamarca
Region:   Northern Peru
MaterialsArundo donax

Trompeta name:  Caña chapaca
Region:   Province of Tarija, Bolivia
MaterialsArundo donax

Trompeta name:  Clarín atacameño
Region:  Musical instrument of the Atacameño people who inhabited the region from the Loa River and the Atacama Desert in the Chilean north, as well as the neighboring provinces of northwest Argentina and southwest Bolivia.
Materials:   Arundo donax
Festival(s):   This clarín is used in Atacameño festivals during the dry season.

Trompeta name:  Trutruka
Region:  Mapuche people, Chile
MaterialsChusquea culeou

Trompeta name:  Ñolkiñ
Region:  Mapuche people, Chile; Lafkenche territory; particulary notable in the community of Cañete (province of Arauco)
Materials Bromelia landbecki
Festival(s):  Ngillatin rituals of the Mapuche (Link)

Bamboo Flutes Exploration (this blog)

Bamboo World Ecozone

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Belarmino Kilkitripay, Músico Mapuche

Balarmino Kilkitripay playing the trutruka, a traditional bamboo instrument of the Mapuche people in Southern South America.

Bamboo Flutes Exploration (this blog)

Bamboo World Ecozone

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Cerutti Mastodon Site: Archaeological or Paleontological?

Eric Boëda, Christophe Griggo & Christelle Lahaye
Published online: 22 Jun 2017
(Link) pdf available at research gate

from the paper:

Once we have examined the appropriateness of the anthropogenic nature of the artifacts and the fact that we are confronted with a place of fracturing activity, it is obviously necessary to examine the chronological data which are crucial because they suggest that Cerutti is the oldest known site in the Americas. For this purpose, the lead author sought the advice of a specialist in the methods used (optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and uranium-thorium (U-Th) dating), coauthor Lahaye. Indeed, without collagen the radiocarbon dates were immediately excluded from the methodological pool of dating. Instead, both dating methods used in this work converged on Pleistocene ages of the site. Quartz grains studied with OSL were too close to or beyond the limit of the method, so that only minimum ages could be deduced. They show the sediment surrounding the fossils of the Cerutti Mastodon site were not exposed to natural light for at least 60–70 ka. It can be deduced, if all the depositional and post-depositional phenomena are well understood, that the fossils enclosed in the site’s sediments are older than 60–70 ka. U-Th measurements on bones also can only be considered as minimum ages of bones’ burial. The results of analyses of different bones are consistent, giving an age of ca. 130.7 ± 9.4 ka. Combining OSL and U-Th results, in a well understood stratigraphic context, leads to the conclusion that the Cerutti mastodon dates to around 130 ka.

The resolution of the methods used does not allow a very precise chronological result (130.7 ± 9.4 ka), thus situating the site at the interface between the end of  the latest glacial (MIS 6), which is interpreted to have been a cold phase like the last glacial maximum and the beginning of the rapid warming which marked the beginning of the latest interglacial (MIS 5e). This chronological position makes it difficult to discuss the origins of this group of individuals and the process of their dispersal. For, assuming that they were newcomers, depending on the date taken into account, on the one hand they could have existed at the maximum extent of the glaciers blocking the land passage between Alaska and the Great Plains of North America, with the lowering of sea level more than 100 meters and the creation of a land bridge between Asia and North America. On the other hand, the alternative situation would have been characterized by a rise in sea level, which may have led to the closing of the land bridge but at the same time the opening of a corridor after the disappearance of glaciers, with the formation of large lakes as consequences. So, when in time are we situated, exactly? The fauna is not sufficiently informative to make us lean to one alternative or the other. Nonetheless, the coastal seaway remained a permanent solution whatever the climates.

Perhaps, however, these were not newcomers but instead descendants of generations already present in the Americas. But let us guard ourselves during this time of scientific upheaval to give priority to just those facts which alone have heuristic value. All the scenarios that we envisage must remain heuristic scenarios and not a paradigm, as we had with “Clovis first”.  Keep in mind that the facts once verified remain paramount.  We experienced this ourselves in Piauí in South America, where our successive and repeated discoveries in the same geographical area testified not to the presence of a “Robinson Crusoe” but to a large perennial population that existed for at least 5000 years between 35 and 40 ka (Boëda et al. 2016). This means that scientific research, finally rid of traditional ideological locks, can focus on the expansion of prospecting, taking into account the geomorphological changes of the Pleistocene. We have to look for the sites, in the places where they are likely to be, under water or under many meters of sediment.

We are left finally with one last problem: the creators of the Cerutti feature. Holen et al. (2017) provide a realistic picture of the situation in Asia. We have a fairly broad choice of candidates – late Homo erectus, Neanderthal, archaic Homo sapiens, or even Denisovan. In the absence of hominin remains, some researchers will consider these candidates’ respective cognitive aspects when making a taxonomic attribution. For our part, having experience across Asia from north to south, we would be suspicious of any specific biological/cultural fit. We are dealing with technical worlds quite different from our Western and African references. From experience, let us guard against prejudice and remain open to all possibilities.

To conclude, I endorse the last sentence of Holen et al.’s (2017) article by extending it to all of America:  this discovery calls for further archaeological investigation of the North and South American strata of early-late Pleistocene age.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

An updated age for the Xujiayao hominin from the Nihewan Basin, North China: Implications for Middle Pleistocene human evolution in East Asia

Hong Ao, Chun-Ru Lui, Andrew P. Roberts, Peng Zhang, Xinwen Xu
Journal of Human Evolution
Volume 106, May 2017, Pages 54-65
(Link) open access

from the paper:

Implications for hominin evolution

The Xujiayao Homo fossils have mixed characteristics associated with European Neanderthals, Asian H. erectus, and modern H. sapiens (Jia and Wei, 1976; Jia et al., 1979; Wu, 1980; Bae, 2010; Wu et al., 2013, 2014; Wu and Trinkaus, 2014; Xing et al., 2015), which makes it difficult to affiliate the Xujiayao hominins to “classic” H. erectus, modern humans, or Neanderthals. Thus, the Xujiayao hominins were assigned to archaic H. sapiens (Jia and Wei, 1976; Jia et al., 1979; Wu, 1980; Wu and Poirier, 1995), although this unique term in China is controversial as noted by later studies (e.g., Rightmire, 1998; Dennell and Petraglia, 2012). Our updated chronology makes the Xujiayao Homo fossils among the oldest archaic H. sapiens in China. They are contemporaneous with the earliest archaic H. sapiens remains in eastern China from Chaoxian (310–360 ka; Shen et al., 2010). Combining the archaic H. sapiens remains from New Cave (248–269 ka; Shen et al., 2004a) at Zhoukoudian, Dali (∼270 ka; Xiao et al., 2002) and Jinniushan (∼260 ka; Rosenberg et al., 2006), it appears that archaic H. sapiens occupied a vast area across China during the mid-Pleistocene. Unlike some African mid-Pleistocene Homo individuals that were associated with Acheulian stone tools (Rightmire, 2008), the archaic H. sapiens from Xujiayao and other East Asian sites (e.g., Jinjiushan and New Cave) were associated with a relatively simple Oldowan-like technology (Bae, 2010; cf. Fig. 4). Despite having a simple technology, the Xujiayao hominins were able to successfully obtain regular sources of animal fat and protein that probably helped them to survive harsh mid-latitude northeast Asian winters. Surface modifications on long bone midshafts indicate that the Xujiayao hominins were skilled large mammal (e.g., horse) hunters and had access to high utility (meat-bearing, marrow-rich) long bones (Norton and Gao, 2008), which was important for overwintering in the >40°N temperate zone.

Homo erectus occupation of East Asia started at 1.7–1.6 Ma and persisted to ∼400 ka as suggested by fossils from Yuanmou Basin (∼1.7 Ma; Zhu et al., 2008), Nanjing (580–620 ka; Zhao et al., 2001), Hexian (400–420 ka; Grün et al., 1998), and Yunxian (0.936 Ma; Dennell, 2015) in South China and Gongwangling (1.62–1.63 Ma; Zhu et al., 2015), Chenjiawo (0.65 Ma; An and Ho, 1989), and Zhoukoudian (0.4–0.77 Ma; Shen et al., 2001, 2009) in North China (Fig. 10). In Africa, H. erectus was giving way to Homo heidelbergensis during the terminal Early Pleistocene to the earliest mid-Pleistocene (ca 600–800 ka; Rightmire, 1998, 2008, 2009, 2013). Until now, Homo fossils with unambiguous affinities to H. heidelbergensis have not been reported from East Asia (Bae, 2010), although some divergences of Yunxian crania from the standard H. erectus pattern imply links to H. heidelbergensis (Rightmire, 1998; Stringer, 2002). Whether H. heidelbergensis dispersed to East Asia remains enigmatic. Further in-depth study of Homo fossils and more material are needed to assess the history of H. heidelbergensis in Asia. However, persistence of H. erectus in East Asia to at least 400 ka, when H. heidelbergensis was giving way to Homo neanderthalensis in Europe (Rightmire, 1998), does not support the replacement of H. erectus by H. heidelbergensis in East Asia (Groves and Lahr, 1994; Etler, 2004). Coexistence of H. heidelbergensis and H. erectus is possible if the presence of early mid-Pleistocene H. heidelbergensis is documented in East Asia. Based on more precise recent ages for various Homo fossils established in recent years and without regard to previous imprecise ages that were underestimated by U-series dating of bones, it is possible that archaic H. sapiens (370–250 ka) may have not interacted with the older H. erectus (1700–400 ka) or younger modern H. sapiens (<150 ka) in East Asia, as indicated by our updated Chinese Homo chronostratigraphy in Figure 10.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Paleoart of the Lower Paleolithic

Robert Bednarik
(Link) open access pdf

from the paper:


The subject of this paper, the very earliest forms of art-like products created by hominins, is of fundamental importance to both the Arts and the Humanities. In the sciences it is essential to cast propositions in cause and effect formats: while a disease is defined by its symptoms, it should rightly be expressed as a function of its etiology. What we define as Arts and Humanities are entirely self-referential and anthropocentric pursuits and it is useful to occasionally place them into the greater epistemological context of reality: how things might really be in the world. Protagoras’ dictum that man is the measure of everything explains the Humanities and leaves the Sciences with a quandary. But pursuing cause and effect issues has proved fairly successful over the centuries, and it might be useful in examining where the Arts and the Humanities originate. As a species we have, despite our ingenuity, so far failed to explain how the contents of our crania form concepts of the world from the sensory input reaching them, and an explanation of how we manage to develop constructs of reality has largely eluded us thus far. In part this may be attributable to our inability to recognize the role of exograms, the externalized memory traces constituting the thing we call culture (Bednarik 2014), in the way we connect with external reality. It might then be useful to investigate how the human ability of creating exograms, which is one of the few human faculties not shared with other animals (others being metarepresentation, recursion, and autonoetic consciousness), came into existence.

This is not an easy task and has never been attempted by the gatekeepers of the human past, Pleistocene archaeologists and paleoanthropologists, who are more concerned with the tools and skeletal architecture of our ancestors. Indeed, very few authors have even concerned themselves with the phenomenon of exograms so far (Bednarik 1987; Donald 1991), and the exograms of the human past have either been ignored or explained away as "art" or "symbols" by archaeologists. There is no evidence that they were either. Just as the humanistic definitions of culture and civilization lack scientific significance and relevance, humanistic comprehension of art and symbols is impaired by simplistic understanding of what these concepts embody. Paleoart (a generic term defining art-like productions preceding written records) was not necessarily "art," in the sense of that term today (Davies 1991; Stecker 1997; Carroll 2000); nor can we know if it was symbolic (involving referent and referrer). The term "art" always derives from an ethnocentric concept: "the status of an artifact as a work of art results from the ideas a culture applies to it, rather than its inherent physical or perceptible qualities. Cultural interpretation (an art theory of some kind) is therefore constitutive of an object’s arthood" (Danto 1988). It would be preposterous to contend that modern (Westernized) humans could fathom the ideas past cultures applied to paleoart tens or hundreds of millennia ago. They cannot even establish the status of recent ethnographic works (Dutton 1993) with any objective understanding: interpretation is inseparable from the art work (Danto 1986: 45; Convey 2014). To regard paleoart as art is therefore an application of an etic and ethnocentric idea to products of societies about whose emic parameters nothing is known in most cases ("emic" refers to knowledge and interpretation within a culture, "etic" refers to interpretation by another culture).

Here it will be attempted to define what is currently known about the earliest surviving exograms, which are collectively defined as "paleoart". Palaeoart of the Lower Paleolithic period seems to have been found for well over 150 years but it has remained largely ignored, misinterpreted, or its existence was fundamentally denied. Most archaeologists and paleoanthropologists of recent decades attempt to refute anthropogenically modified objects located in Lower and Middle Paleolithic contexts as being taphonomic accidents or "natural" in origin. Their presumption is that all Lower and Middle Paleolithic humans (including Homo habilis, H. rudolfensis, H. ergaster, H. georgicus, H. erectus, H. heidelbergensis, and H. sapiens neanderthalensis ) were cognitively incapable of expressing themselves through "art" or exograms. They "know" these hominins were cognitively incapable of expression because they were not modern humans; they have been convicted of mental deficiency by negative evidence (Speth 2004). This is despite the clear evidence that these hominins have engaged in maritime colonization since approximately a million years ago, and have crossed sea barriers of up to 180 km to reach over twenty islands and one continent prior to having "Upper Paleolithic" technology (Bednarik 1999).

How did such biased perceptions develop historically? They begin with the (still present among many archaeologists) assumption that de Mortillet’s divisions of European Paleolithic stone tools into the Lower, Middle, and Upper "stages" correspond to biological grades of Lower, Middle, and Upper Paleolithic European humans (Monnier 2006). Next came Marcelin Boule’s classification of all Neanderthals as deficient degenerates on the basis of his analysis of the geriatric male from La Chappelle-aux-Saints. It is still common in the media and pop-culture for Boule’s caricature to be regarded as valid. Then came the "New Archaeology" of Lewis Binford, who with his students wanted to practice a new, explicitly "scientific", archaeology, mainly through a process of accusing other archaeologists of subjectivity and imprecision. Such accusations were accompanied by criticisms of earlier interpretations of the archaeological record, especially regarding European Neanderthal sites. Then we experienced the famous Wolpoff-Stringer debate, which was followed by the Krings et al. (1997) paper on the Neanderthal DNA, after which many people discounted any similarities between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. The success of the marketing campaign promoting the replacement ("African Eve") hypothesis (Thompson 2014) began to wane only with the erosion of its credibility (Bednarik 2008a) in recent years. Denying archaic humans cognitive abilities of any consequence has become a fossilized "unstable orthodoxy" in archaeological reasoning (Thompson 2014), but one that is squarely refuted by the data reviewed here.

This paper summarizes the currently available credible evidence of "symbolic" or non-utilitarian behavior from the Lower Paleolithic, the earliest period of human tool making (beginning at least 3 million years ago and ending very roughly 200,000 years ago). Material evidence of this kind is defined as "palaeoart;" whether or not this constitutes art in the modern accepted usage of that term is irrelevant. The primary issue is that this material is crucial in considering the cognitive and intellectual status of the period’s hominins. For purely descriptive purposes the relevant evidence can readily be divided into a few groups: small perforated objects that may have been used as beads or pendants, petroglyphs, indications of pigment use, proto-figurines, engravings on portable objects, and unmodified objects that are thought to have been carried around because of some outstanding property (manuports).

Palaeoart finds of this earliest time of exogram use are still exceedingly rare, and among those reported some are of doubtful status or have fairly been rejected. The evidence presented here has been culled from a much greater corpus of reported finds. It consists of specimens that constitute either convincing evidence of symbolism, or that provide such compelling aspects that they deserve to be seriously considered in this context. I have examined most of the crucial specimens myself and their listing here indicates that I accept their authenticity after careful analysis. In the cases where reasonable reservations are appropriate I will try to present these fairly.

(read more)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Evidence of Hominin Use and Maintenance of Fire at Zhoukoudian

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Use of red ochre by early Neandertals

Wil Roebroeks, Mark J. Siera, Trine Kellberg Nielsena, Dimitri De Loecker, Josep Maria Parés, Charles E. S. Arps, and Herman J. Müchere
July 27th, 2011
(Link) open access


The use of manganese and iron oxides by late Neandertals is well documented in Europe, especially for the period 60–40 kya. Such finds often have been interpreted as pigments even though their exact function is largely unknown. Here we report significantly older iron oxide finds that constitute the earliest documented use of red ochre by Neandertals. These finds were small concentrates of red material retrieved during excavations at Maastricht-Belvédère, The Netherlands. The excavations exposed a series of well-preserved flint artifact (and occasionally bone) scatters, formed in a river valley setting during a late Middle Pleistocene full interglacial period. Samples of the reddish material were submitted to various forms of analyses to study their physical properties.  All analyses identified the red material as hematite. This is a nonlocal material that was imported to the site, possibly over dozens of kilometers. Identification of the Maastricht-Belvédère finds as hematite pushes the use of red ochre by (early) Neandertals back in time significantly, to minimally 200–250 kya (i.e., to the same time range as the early ochre use in the African record).

Friday, June 23, 2017

Early evidence of stone tool use in bone working activities at Qesem Cave, Israel

Andrea Zupancich, Stella Nunziante-Cesaro, Ruth Blasco, Jordi Rosell, Emanuela Cristiani, Flavia Venditti, Cristina Lemorini, Ran Barkai & Avi Gopher
Scientific Reports 6,
Article number: 37686
25 November 2016
(Link) open access


For a long while, the controversy surrounding several bone tools coming from pre-Upper Palaeolithic contexts favoured the view of Homo sapiens as the only species of the genus Homo capable of modifying animal bones into specialised tools. However, evidence such as South African Early Stone Age modified bones, European Lower Palaeolithic flaked bone tools, along with Middle and Late Pleistocene bone retouchers, led to a re-evaluation of the conception of Homo sapiens as the exclusive manufacturer of specialised bone tools. The evidence presented herein include use wear and bone residues identified on two flint scrapers as well as a sawing mark on a fallow deer tibia, not associated with butchering activities. Dated to more than 300 kya, the evidence here presented is among the earliest related to tool-assisted bone working intended for non-dietary purposes, and contributes to the debate over the recognition of bone working as a much older behaviour than previously thought. The results of this study come from the application of a combined methodological approach, comprising use wear analysis, residue analysis, and taphonomy. This approach allowed for the retrieval of both direct and indirect evidence of tool-assisted bone working, at the Lower Palaeolithic site of Qesem Cave (Israel).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pleistocene Palaeoart of Africa

Robert G. Bednarik
Arts 2013, 2, 6-34
8 February 2013

 From the paper:

"The Tan-Tan proto-sculpture from the fluvial terrace deposit on the north bank of the River Draa in southern Morocco is from a rich assemblage of middle Acheulian lithics, which in this region are in the order of between 300 and 500 ka old. The quartzite object is of natural form, but has been modified. Five of symmetrically located eight grooves that emphasize its human form were made by careful impact, and traces of haematite suggest that it was once coated in red colour (Bednarik 2001, 2003b) [45, 50]."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Early Evidence for Brilliant Ritualized Display: Specularite Use in the Northern Cape (South Africa) between ∼500 and ∼300 Ka

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

A note on the meaning of "linear" in this blog's title

This blog is borne out of my desire to understand human origins from a technical, science based perspective.  I focus primarily on the last million years of hominin existence.  
Regarding the title of this blog linearpopulationmodel [linear population model], linear does not imply or connote that this blog favors a first order linear straight line progression for human evolution.  On the contrary, my impression is that human evolution is a geography distributed, dynamic, climate driven process and should be modeled as a weakly to strongly higher order linear complex system over time and geography.
In terms of dynamic higher order linear system modeling that has shown promise for the understanding of human evolution, I've been particular encouraged by the work of researchers such as Richard Durban and Stephen Schiffels [1], Joshua Paul, Matthias Steinrücken and Yun S. Song [2][3], and Jeff Wall [4].
Thanks for entertaining my clarification on this point!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Recalibrating Archaic Admixture in Homo sapiens

I was looking at the data in the just published Hublin et al. paper, and the paper published by Rightmire back in January.  I realized that the reason that archaic admixture in H. sapiens is estimated as being low (less than 4%) is that the recent Neandertal and Denisovan samples used by Svante Pääbo's and David Reich's research groups are ill chosen in terms of the time periods they look at.  This only shows that H. sapiens, who had diverged genetically from Neanderthals and Denisovans 400,000 and 600,000 years before present, approximately, was sufficiently diverged that admixture was a low probability event.  The Neanderthal and Denisovan samples used to test admixture are less than 100,000 years old.   They are not 600,000-200,000 years old, and cannot tell us about the gradual divergence, or not, of hominins in Africa and Eurasia.

Here's an incomplete list of hominin crania:

The relationship is not well established, but it is increasingly apparent that an immediate ancestor of H. sapiens is H. heidelbergensis.  The range of H. heidelbergensis stretched from Germany to Ethiopia between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago.  This is based on the small number of H. heidelbergensis samples that exist for that period:  the Mauer Mandible, Petralona, Arago 21, and Bodo.  The range of H. heidelbergensis seems to shift further southward into Africa after 400,000 years ago, but that is difficult to assert when there are so few samples, and these are not securely dated.

What is clear is that archaic H. sapiens appears between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago in Africa, and probably derives mostly from H. heidelbergensis in Africa. What is very much not clear is the degree to which H. sapiens derives ancestry from Neanderthals, Denisovans, H. heidelbergensis, and H. erectus outside Africa in the period between 300,000 and 100,000 years ago.  We have no autosomal ancient DNA samples for Neanderthals, Denisovans, H. heidelbergensis and H. erectus from this period. 

Scientists who make these bold assertions about limited archaic admixture should qualify that their samples are very late in terms of the time that a high degree of admixture between H. sapiens and other humans would have been occurring.   I think this is especially true when talking about Asia, where it is somewhat apparent from the Dali, Jinnuishan, and Xuchang crania, that early archaic H. sapiens probably had a much broader range than Africa after 300,000 years ago.

It is frequently asserted, based on the distribution and characteristics of contemporary human DNA, that most humans left Africa no earlier than 80,000 years ago, and those that did went extinct.  There is no basis for these statements based on the admixture outside Africa argument.  The Denisovan and Neandertal samples used to make this assertion are too late and too sparse to test archaic admixture outside Africa.  These tests assume low mobility and little intermixing between African and Non-African groups between 400,000 and 80,000 years ago.  I doubt that is the case.

The process of the early formation of H. sapiens is probably much more complex than we've imagined.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Pebbles of Contention: Archaeologists can't reach consensus on the Peopling of the Americas

Bernardo Esteves
January, 2014

"Closing the conference at Santa Fe [2013], Tom Dillehay, the leader of the excavations at Monte Verde which had marked the demise of Clovis First, asked for permission to make a digression. He defended the decolonization of scientific research and recommended that colleagues open their minds to new possibilities. He also addressed critics who had taken issue with his work and the research of others, making special reference to Stuart Fiedel’s remarks on the French-Brazilian excavations at Piauí. “What kind of monkey produces an archeological site?” he asked. “I hope that the next generation of scholars doesn’t have to go through the bullshit that some of us went through. I welcome the next generation of researchers.”"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Rethinking Human Prehistory

About two years ago, I went to an American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) meeting.  I attended a session on the evolution of human cognition.  One of the presenters talked about his work on exploring how stone tool making was formative in the development of human cognition.

Several months earlier, I had been speaking with Mary First Rider, a Niitsitapi Elder in Alberta, Canada.  Mary is a primary source for the Blackfoot Dictionary of Roots, Stems and Affixes.  She is also one of a small number of speakers who speak High Blackfoot, the archaic polite form of the Blackfoot Language.  While speaking with her, she confided that her mother taught her how to make bone needles from a specific part of the Buffalo.  I was startled to realize that the practice of making bone needles was still in the immediate living experience of the Blackfoot.  Blackfoot traditional clothing is exquisitely adorned with beads and other decoration to express the history of the wearer and their family.  It is the Blackfoot women who make these clothes from the hides they manufacture, with the tools they make.  It is they that pass down the patterns and their family histories through the generations.

The Blackfoot have never bought into what archaeologists and linguists have told them about their history.  They have their own history.  Their language and knowledge system is intimately tied to the land on which they live.  Blackfoot today will tell you plainly that they were on their land before the last Ice Age.  For a long time, they were told by scientists that this could not be the case because their land was entirely covered by glaciers during the last Ice Age.  That now appears not be the case and certainly, the southern portion of their traditional territory, bounded on the south by the Yellowstone River, was cold and steppe like but habitable, during the Ice Age.  (For those interested in the Anzick-1 burial site and DNA sample, this site is within the traditional Blackfoot territory as described in Article 3 of the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty.  The Blackfoot agreed in this treaty to allow signatories of the Treaty to hunt on Blackfoot territory in the area of "Twenty Five Yard Creek", now the Shields River, under a 99 year lease.  The Anzick-1 burial site overlooks the Shields River and is north of the Yellowstone River, so it is definitely within the traditional territory of the Blackfoot.)

So at the AAPA a few years ago, I was thinking about Mary, and the making of bone needles passed from Blackfoot mothers to daughters for millennia, while listening to this person at the AAPA talk about tool making and cognition.  Afterward, I talked to him, and inquired if he had ever thought about tools other than stone tools.  If tool making was broader than just the stone tools that survive degradation, how would that impact our view of the formation of cognition?  If cognition is related to tool making, what about bone tools?  Doesn't focusing only on stone tools distort thinking about the relationship of tool making to cognition?  I also attempted to talk to this AAPA presenter about the process of clothing manufacture, and how that might have influenced cognition.  At this point, the presenter told me that clothing manufacture was very recent, and therefore likely had no influence on human cognition.  I wondered how he was so sure that clothing manufacture was recent.  I also thought about Mary First Rider, and what knowledge has been lost due to our presumptuous notions about the recentness of human clothing.

And speaking about the impact of presumptuous notions regarding human origins, the Recent Out of Africa "Eve" Hypothesis (ROoA) has had its own damaging impacts.  One impact of the ROoA, among many, is that it has left the Clovis First Hypothesis and the Beringia Standstill Model virtually unchallenged for the last hundred years.

The hypothesized distance covered by humans from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco 300,000 years ago to Florisbad, South Africa 260,000 years ago was 12,000 kilometers.  That's further than the distance from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco to South Korea (only 11,000 kilometers).  How probable is it that the archaic modern humans in Jebel Irhoud 300,000 years ago managed to cross 12,000 kilometers across the African continent in 50,000 years, yet were still confined to Africa until 80,000 years ago?  And again, given that Beringia was easily passable from 200,000 to 130,000 years ago, and again from 65,000 years ago to 20,000 years ago, how is it that scientists still cling to the Clovis First Model and the Beringia Standstill Model to explain the origin of Native Americans?

I'm happy to finally see some scientific papers begin to refute the ROoA model.  Many people suspect that human origins were more complex.  It has been suffocating and career destroying for some archaeologists, geneticists and anthropologists who have tried to argue for more complex origins.  Don't think so?  Here's a short and very incomplete list:

Louis Leakey in the last years of his life was heavily criticized, even by his own wife Mary Leakey, for being open minded about the Calico Early Man site in California (Link)

Canadian archaeologist Thomas E. Lee had his funding cut when he suggested that the Sheguiandah Site on Manitoulin Island was at least 30,000 years old.  Opposition brought Lee's work to a premature end, and he found his papers rejected by leading journals for being "too controversial."

Canadian Jacques Cinq-Mars was excommunicated from archaeology and had difficulty getting his papers published for suggesting that artifacts at Bluefish Cave in the Yukon were approximately 30,000 years old.

The disastrous case of Hueyatlaco destroyed the career of Cynthia Irwin-Williams.

And then there are all the people that decided not to study archaeology or anthropology when they realized that these fields are operating under suffocating, unquestionable ideologies and assumptions.  I know that many Native Americans have great difficulty studying archaeology or anthropology for these reasons . . . And they are not the only ones!

We have a whole industry of professional people, institutions and organizations that go on plugging the Recent Simple Out of Africa Theory, the Clovis First Theory and the Beringia Standstill Theory.  Asian Archaeologists are dismissed as being "nationalistic" and wrong for suggesting that there is evidence of some continuity in the Asian Archaeological record older than 80,000 years ago.  Again and again, the public is told that modern humans left Africa at the earliest 80,000 years ago and that archaic admixture in modern humans outside Africa and Australia is no higher than "4%".  The archaeologists, geneticists and anthropologists who uphold these statements all know each other, attend conferences together multiple times a year, and mutually benefit from a network of very friendly journalists who are always on hand to accommodate and promote their work without question.  These professionals review each other papers.  Any aspiring young person interested in these fields has to spend years at low pay climbing up the ladder, keeping careful to not offend any of their more senior overlords, and must never touch any of the archaeological third rails.

I am bored, and sad, with this state of affairs.  I think of what we never learned and can't understand because our models, assumptions and systems of knowledge acquisition for the understanding of human origins are so broken.

Ann Gibbons Misleads on the Data and Interpretation of the Jebel Irhoud Crania Paper

A significant paper, New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens,  was published in Nature yesterday, setting back the date for the emergence of modern humans to at least 315,000 years ago.  In the paper, they conclude that the emergence of Homo sapiens was a Pan African phenomenon.

The data in the paper indicate that Irhoud 1, 2, 10, 11 and 21, in terms of their cranial and dental morphology, are intermediate between recent modern humans, and Middle Pleistocene hominins from Africa, the Levant, the Homo heidelbergensis Mauer Jaw and Zhoukoudian Upper Cave 1.

It is indeed a mystery to me then that Ann Gibbons, in her Science Magazine write up for this paper, shows a map only of African crania samples:

The text at the top of the figure states:  "New dates and fossils from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco suggest that our species emerged across Africa" leaving the public to be unaware of the likely broader emergence of Homo sapiens both in Africa and in Eurasia:  no map or crania are shown on Ann Gibbon's map for the Mauer Jaw, the Levant crania, or Zhoukoudian Upper Cave 1, which, according to the Jebel Irhoud paper, are certainly more closely related to Jebel Irhoud 1, 2, and 11 than the Rising Star skull shown on the map.

For anyone interested in this topic, I would suggest looking deeply at the excellent data and plots in the paper, including the supplemental data, and ignore the misleading, lazy journalistic spin in some articles.  Draw your own conclusions about the significance of the Jebel Irhoud crania.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens

Jean-Jacques Hublin, Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer, Shara E. Bailey, Sarah E. Freidline, Simon Neubauer, Matthew M. Skinner, Inga Bergmann1, Adeline Le Cabec, Stefano Benazzi, Katerina Harvati & Philipp Gunz

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. sapiens[1] or evolved gradually over the last 400 thousand years[2]. 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.

Figure 1 | Facial reconstruction of Irhoud 10. a, b, Frontal (a) and basal
(b) views. This superimposition of Irhoud 10 (beige) and Irhoud 1 (light
blue) represents one possible alignment of the facial bones of Irhoud 10.
Nine alternative reconstructions were included in the statistical shape
analysis of the face (see Methods and Fig. 3). The maxilla, zygomatic bone
and supra-orbital area of Irhoud 10 are more robust than for Irhoud 1.
Scale bar, 20 mm.
Extended Data Figure 2 | Dental morphology. a, Shape–space PCA
plot of Late Early and Middle Pleistocene archaic Homo, Neanderthals and
RMH M1 crown outlines. The deformed mean crown outlines in
the four directions of the PCs are drawn at the extremity of each axis.
Sample compositions and abbreviations can be found in the Methods.

Extended Data Figure 2 | Dental morphology
b. EDJ morphology of the M2 and P4. Top left, the PCA analysis of the
EDJ shape of the M2 places Irhoud 11 intermediate between H. erectus
and RMH (along with other north Africa fossil humans) and distinct from
Neanderthals. Surface models illustrate EDJ shape changes along PC1
(bottom left) and PC2 (top right); the former separating H. erectus from
RMH, Neanderthals and north African EMH and the latter separating
Neanderthals from RMH and north African EMH. Bottom right, a PCA
analysis of the EDJ shape of the P4 groups Irhoud 11 with modern and
fossil humans.
Extended Data Figure 3 | Shape analysis of I2 roots. A between-group
PCA shows a complete separation between Neanderthals and a worldwide
sample of recent modern humans based on subtle shape differences.
Irhoud 11 (pink star) plots at the fringes of RMH, close to the EMH from
Contrebandiers 1 (Tem). Colour-coded Procrustes group mean shapes
are plotted in the same orientation as the I2 root surface of Irhoud 11.
Although Irhoud 11 is more similar, overall, to Neanderthals in terms
of root size, its root shape is clearly modern. The H. erectus specimen
KNM-WT 15000 and hypothetical EMH Tabun C2 have incisor root
shapes similar to Neanderthals, suggesting that roots that are labially
more convex than in RMH represent a conserved primitive condition with
limited taxonomical value. Sample compositions and abbreviations can be
found in the Methods.
Extended Data Figure 4 | Shape analysis of the external vault. a, PC
scores of PC1 and PC2 of external braincase shape in H. erectus, archaic
Middle Pleistocene Homo, geographically diverse RMH and Neanderthals.
Results are consistent with the analysis of endocranial shape (Fig. 3a).
However, several EMH and Upper Palaeolithic specimens fall outside the
RMH variation. This is probably owing to the projecting supraorbital tori
in these specimens.

Extended Data Figure 4 | Shape analysis of the external vault.
b, Shape changes associated with PC1 (two standard
deviations in either direction) shown as thin-plate spline deformation
grids in lateral and oblique view. PC1 captures a contrast between
elongated braincases with projecting supraorbital tori (low scores, in
black) and a more globular braincase with gracile supraorbital tori (high
scores, in red). Sample compositions and abbreviations can be found in the