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

Saturday, June 3, 2017

New finds from China suggest human evolution probably of regional continuity

Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters
3 March 2017

I didn't post on the important announcement of the Xuchang Crania back in March.  Ann Gibbon's reporting on the announcement, to me, was quite confusing, and had extraneous references to Denisovans which are not in the original press announcement.

I finally stumbled on the original press announcement from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, linked here, which is quite clear and easy to read (unlike Ann Gibbons Science Magazine write up).

Xuchang 1 Crania.  A.  superior view.  B.  posterior view.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Phylogeny of Y-chromosome haplogroup C3b-F1756, an important paternal lineage in Altaic-speaking populations

Lan-Hai Wei et al.,
Journal of Human Genetics,
Short Communication,
1 June 2017


In previous studies, a specific paternal lineage with a null value for the Y-chromosome short tandem repeat (Y-STR) marker DYS448 was identified as common among Mongolic- and Turkic-speaking populations. This paternal lineage (temporarily named C3*-DYS448del) was determined to be M217+, M93–, P39–, M48–, M407–, and P53.1–, and its origin and phylogeny remain ambiguous. Here, we analyzed Y-chromosome sequences of 10 male that are related this paternal lineage and redefined it as C3b1a1a1a-F1756 (C3b-F1756). We generated a highly revised phylogenetic tree of haplogroup C3b-F1756, including 21 sub-clades and 360 non-private Y-chromosome polymorphisms. Additionally, we performed a comprehensive analysis of the C3*-DYS448del lineage in eastern Eurasia, including 18270 samples from 297 populations. Whole Y-chromosome sequences, Y-STR haplotypes, and frequency data were used to generate a distribution map, a network, and age estimations for lineage C3*-DYS448del and its sub-lineages. Considering the historical records of the studied populations, we propose that two major sub-branches of C3b-F1756 may correspond to early expansions of ancestors of modern Mongolic- and Turkic-speaking populations. The large number of newly defined Y-chromosome polymorphisms and the revised phylogenetic tree for C3b-F1756 will assist in investigation of the early history of Altaic-speaking populations in the future.

Supplemental Figure S1