Friday, May 1, 2020

Examining the Origins of Hafting in South Asia

J. Blinkhorn
Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology (2019) 2:466–481
13 July 2019


The appearance of hafting technologies marks a key shift in hominin behavioural evolution. Hafting first appears in Africa and Western Eurasia across the transition from Late Acheulean to Middle Palaeolithic technologies ~ 300–200 thousand years ago (ka). Hafting technology in South Asia may have emerged as a result of a local innovation, through cultural diffusion or a population dispersal. The resolution of the South Asian Palaeolithic records has improved significantly over the past decade, enabling examination of patterns of change through time in stone tool technologies. Although functional studies of tool use remain limited in the region, a range of indices of hafting appear in stone tool assemblages that offer the first means to evaluate the origins of hafting in South Asia. Rare examples appear in Middle Pleistocene contexts, but indices of hafting appear repeatedly in Middle Palaeolithic assemblages dating within the past 100 thousand years and are commonplace amongst Late Palaeolithic assemblages dating within the past 45 thousand years. This dataset remains too immature to authoritatively resolve between alternate models for the origins of hafting, whereas direct association with discrete hominin populations is hampered by the region’s scant fossil record. Nevertheless, this examination of the origin of hafting technology presents the means to reorient approaches to Late Pleistocene behavioural change in South Asia and integrate them within global debates regarding hominin innovation, demographic interaction and population expansion.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

100,000 years of gene flow between Neandertals and Denisovans in the Altai mountains

Benjamin M Peter
bioRxiv preprint

Summary paragraph

The Siberian Altai mountains have been intermittently occupied by both Neandertals and Denisovans, two extinct hominin groups 1,2. While they diverged at least 390,000 years ago 3,4, later contacts lead to gene flow from Neandertals into Denisovans 5,6. Using a new population genetic method that is capable of inferring signatures of admixture from highly degraded genetic data, I show that this gene flow was much more widespread than previously thought. While the two earliest Denisovans both have substantial and recent Neandertal ancestry, I find signatures of admixture in all archaic genomes from the Altai, demonstrating that gene flow also occurred from Denisovans into Neandertals. This suggests that a contact zone between Neandertals and Denisovan populations persisted in the Altai region throughout much of the Middle Paleolithic. In contrast, Western Eurasian Neandertals have little to no Denisovan ancestry. As I find no evidence of natural selection against gene flow, this suggests that neutral demographic processes and geographic isolation were likely major drivers of human differentiation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Uses and Conservation of Wild Medicinal Food Plants in Loita, Narok County, Kenya

Kariuki Peris Mweru
Doctoral Thesis, University of Nairobi


Indigenous knowledge on wild plants in drylands is utilized by local communities in support of their livelihoods. Unsustainable use of wild plant resources and resultant loss of biodiversity and associated indigenous knowledge has been stated as the greatest threat to biodiversity conservation. This threat is attributed to habitat conversion/degradation and trade that have linked local systems with the global fraternity. This study was carried out to document indigenous knowledge, use and conservation of wild medicinal food plants in Loita Narok County, Kenya. The specific objectives were; i) document indigenous wild plant conservation practices ii) document wild medicinal food plants used by the Loita Maasai iii) assess density and population structure of selected wild medicinal food plants iv) characterize trade in wild medicinal food plants and v) propose future sustainability scenarios for wild medicinal food plant species. The study used a mixed methods research design. Open ended questionnaires were used to document wild medicinal plants and to characterize trade in medicinal food plants in Narok; for density and population structure of selected species, 40 plots nested in eight transects were used; while Landsat images were used to analyze land cover/use changes between the years 1990 and 2010. The data collected was triangulated with key informants interviews, focus group discussions and herbarium specimen data. Quantitative data collected was analyzed and presented using Microsoft excel spreadsheet while thematic and content analysis was used to analyze qualitative data. Thematic land cover ENVI5.0 was used for image classification and thematic change detection. In this study 202 plant species occurring in 141 genera and 66 families were documented as wild medicinal food plants in Loita. Indigenous knowledge on use of these species was passed on within this community through apprenticeship and traditional learning structures of the society (e.g. traditional ceremonies). Wild medicinal food plants were collected from habitats ranging from forest, grassland to bushland. There was differential use of wild medicinal food plants (WMFPs) in Loita depending on age and gender of plant users. Experts such as traditional health practitioners and herders xvi were more knowledgeable about fodder plants. Overall Rhus natalensis had the highest density 64.5. Two species had unique distributions- Acacia nilotica only found outside the forest while Toddalia asiatica was encountered within the forest. The population structure of selected wild medicinal food plant species had reverse J type curves suggesting healthy regeneration however, the species M. africana, Osyris lanceolata were rarely encountered. At least 106 species, mostly trees and shrubs of wild medicinal food plants, were found on sale in the markets. Myrsine africana was scarce and Osyris lanceolata was illegally harvested in Loita and exported through Tanzania. The supply chain in medicinal food plants was short with one or two nodes harvester and retailer (trader). Between 1990 and 2010 the area under forest had decreased by 19.12%. Conversion of indigenous vegetation to farmland contributed more to loss of wild plants than household use and trade. The species Zanthoxylum usambarense, Toddaliia asiatica, M. africana and O. lanceolata are threatened by household use and overharvesting for trade. Urgent intervention is required for O. lanceolata which as the remaining population maybe depleted. Sustainable use of wild plants species and traditional lifestyle of Loita community has contributed to conservation of biodiversity in this landscape. With modernity, increased demand and changing livelihoods there is a decreasing trend of wild plant species. Indigenous land resource management strategies should be strengthened to develop people’s values and positive attitude towards biodiversity conservation. There is need for integration of scientific and indigenous knowledge in use and conservation of plant biodiversity in adaptive management.

Page 56:

"The Loita Maasai have classified their landscape into several cultural zones (Table 4.1).  Each had culturally differentiated uses and this has supported conservation of large tracks of indigenous vegetation within the division.  A traditional way of preservation/conservation was having cultural sites.  Some areas/sites were sacred and were only used for cultural activities.  An example is Loita forest sacred site encompassing several shrines such as Oltukai, Oloitoktok, Oltiyani and Emugurrolkine.

"The Loita Maasai had sacred/cultural species it was taboo to cut such as Oretiti (Ficus thoningii)  and the sacred species Oltiyani (Arundinaria alpina).  It was believed that felling it would result in drought.  The highest point in Loita forest is a sacred site named by this species Oltiyani (A. alpina).

Blog note:  

Arundinaria alpina is also known as Yushania alpina and is a native bamboo of Africa.  Yushania is a genus of the bamboo sub-tribe Arundinarieae.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Identifying and Interpreting Apparent Neanderthal Ancestry in African Individuals

Lu Chen, Aaron B. Wolf, Wenqing Fu, Liming Li, Joshua M. Akey
January 30, 2020


• IBDmix detects archaic ancestry without using a modern human reference population

• African individuals have a stronger Neanderthal ancestry signal than previously thought

• Evidence of back-to-Africa migrations contributing to Neanderthal ancestry in Africans

• Variation in non-African Neanderthal ancestry has been overestimated


Admixture has played a prominent role in shaping patterns of human genomic variation, including gene flow with now-extinct hominins like Neanderthals and Denisovans. Here, we describe a novel probabilistic method called IBDmix to identify introgressed hominin sequences, which, unlike existing approaches, does not use a modern reference population. We applied IBDmix to 2,504 individuals from geographically diverse populations to identify and analyze Neanderthal sequences segregating in modern humans. Strikingly, we find that African individuals carry a stronger signal of Neanderthal ancestry than previously thought. We show that this can be explained by genuine Neanderthal ancestry due to migrations back to Africa, predominately from ancestral Europeans, and gene flow into Neanderthals from an early dispersing group of humans out of Africa. Our results refine our understanding of Neanderthal ancestry in African and non-African populations and demonstrate that remnants of Neanderthal genomes survive in every modern human population studied to date.

Neanderthal genes found for first time in African populations

Hannah Devlin
The Guardian
January 30th, 2020

"African populations have been revealed to share Neanderthal ancestry for the first time, in findings that add a new twist to the tale of ancient humans and our closest known relatives.

(read more)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Kerala Tribal Archery

Ethnobotany of Religious and Supernatural Beliefs of Kurichya, Kerala, India

C. Pramod, M. Sivadasan, N. Anilkumar
Vol. 15, pp 11-19
January 2003
(Link) pdf


Wayanad District, which lies on the north-eastern part of Kerala, is known for its rich biodiversity and abundance of ethnic groups.  Kurichya is the second largest tribal community of this hilly district and has a rich tradition of religion and medicine.  A study of the plants related to the magico-religious beliefs of the Kurichya revealed the use of 40 plant species belonging to 34 genera and 27 families.  Among these, 23 species are used for religious functions, 14 for agricultural ceremonies, 7 for functions related with life cycle, 7 for ritual healing techniques and magical treatments, and 8 species related with sacred or supernatural beliefs.  Details of the uses of the plants and conservational practices employed by Kurichyas are provided.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Constraints in Sustainable Development: A case study of inter-sectoral allocation of bamboo & reed resources in Kerala

Surendranath C
Kerala Research Programme on Local Level Development
Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram
(Link) pdf

Bamboo in a Kerala Village (starting on page 15)

"According to a recent study (Nair et al. 2001), the forests in Wayanad division including the Wayanad North and Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary were the richest in bamboo resources in the State, containing an approximate quantity of 5,65,450 tonnes or 21.50 percentage of the growing stock of bamboo in the state (Ibid). There was also a high degree of species diversity of bamboo in Wayanad district (State of Forest Report 1999), the predominant species being Bambusa bambos.

"Bamboo species in Wayanad district:
Bambusa bambos (L.)Voss
Ochlandra beddomei Gamble
Ochlandra scriptoria (Dennst.)C.E.C. Fisch.
Ochlandra setigera Gamble
Ochlandra travancorica Benth.
Pseudoxytenanthera monadelpha (Thw.) Soderstr. & Ellis
Pseudoxytenanthera stocksii (Munro) Naithani
Schizostachyum beddomei (Fischer) Majumdar
Sinarundinaria wightiana (Nees) Chao & Renv.

"Through a baseline survey, an attempt was made to identify the stakeholders and understand the functioning of the bamboo sector in a common village in the district. The village chosen, Thrikkaipetta in Meppadi Panchayat of Wayanad district, had an average presence of bamboo clumps in the plains that could be found in any village in the hilly Wayanad district. The village also had nearly 100 acres (42 ha) of forested hilly terrain where reeds were available in plenty. The village also had an average concentration of Scheduled Tribe (tribal) population and a high proportion of Schedules Castes, both social groups believed to be historically associated with reeds and bamboo processing.

"The survey sought to identify the different stakeholders in the bamboo sector in the village and assess their socio-economic status to some extent. It tried to understand the organisation of the bamboo economy in the village by looking at the means and volumes of raw material extraction/procurement, the manufacture of marketed and non-marketed products out of bamboo/reed and the marketing of these products. An effort was also made to assess the levels of technology/tool adaptation in the processing of bamboo and reed in the village.

"From the Development Report (Vikasana Rekha) of the Meppadi Panchayat, data on the number of families engaged in bamboo/reed processing in Thrikkaipetta was gathered. Based on this data and inputs from knowledgeable local sources, the households that were engaged in the occupation of bamboo/reed processing were located. The bamboo related activities these families engaged in were identified using questionnaire-based household-level interviews. An attempt was also made to collect details regarding products and applications of bamboo/reed that were common in the village within homes, homestead gardens and agricultural fields.

Village Profile

"Administratively, Thrikkaipetta village formed Ward I area of the Meppadi GramaPanchayat. It is a small village situated on the foothills of the Manikkunnu mala (mala is the local name for hill/mountain), 12 km away from the district headquarters Kalpetta. According to the 1991 census, there were 1,390 male and 1,346 female (total: 2,736) members in the village. The village came under the limits of the Meppadi Forest Range, the foothill of the Manikkunnumala being the administrative boundary between with the forests and the village. The hill proper has been classified as a ‘vested forest'[see footnote 4].

Land use pattern

"Most of the land in the village was used as agricultural land. Pepper and coffee were the major cash crops. Ginger, tapioca and areca nut were cultivated at a modest level. Till recent times, the wetlands in the village were used mostly for rice cultivation. However, large extents of paddy fields in the village were now being used for cultivating banana, ginger etc. Until the 1950’s crops like maize, ragi, sugarcane and tobacco were cultivated in the area. According to local elders, the village was once very rich in bamboo and reed. During the 1940s, migrants from various part of the state had started settling in this village and in the process bamboo and reeds were cleared for cultivation of other crops.

"Cultural celebrations and occasions of the local people still used bamboo in many ways. The major festival of the village was Thira (a ritual dance form), celebrated in various parts of the village. Bamboo and reed were widely used in making the costumes used by the dancers who took part in this ritual. The Mudi of the Thira dancer, which was a symbol of god, used to be made out of bamboo and coconut leaves.

"Out of a total of 789 households in the village, 77 were found to be associated with bamboo handicrafts. These households belonged to three broad groups: the Scheduled Tribes, the Scheduled Castes and a general/mixed group of people comprising of members of different castes and religions associated with the bamboo production unit in the village run by the local NGO Uravu Indigenous Science and Technology Study Centre.

"Traditional bamboo extractors: A large number of families which continued to have close association with bamboo either through its extraction from the forests or through production of items needed for the village were settled on the Manikkunnumala on the fringes of the village. These families were mostly of two tribal groups, Kattunaikka and Thachanadan. They lived inside the forest boundary in small houses having mostly mud walls (50%), bamboo roof structures and grass thatch. The families owned the huts and the small plots on which they stood. All the members on the tribal hamlets possessed ‘possession certificates’ on the land but no title deeds as these forestlands belonged to the Government.

"All families possessed ration cards and voters identity cards. Only male members of the hamlet were involved in bamboo/reed and other MFP collection. A few younger males of the hamlet who were involved in MFP collection had registered themselves as members of a tribal cooperative society. But they enjoyed no other social or job security supports such as memberships in trade unions, welfare funds, life insurance protection, health care etc.

"Out of the households located on the Manikkunnumala, seventy-five percentage of the respondents used firewood and kerosene as cooking fuel. Nearly 25 per cent of the households also used bamboo as firewood. There was no supply of electricity in the hamlet but for a solar streetlight at Vengachola that was found to be in working condition.

"Employment availability to the people in the hamlet was highly seasonal and included agricultural works in the fields, MFP collection from the forests, basket weaving in response to local orders and casual work in the forests. The wages earned were also highly unstable. When jobs were available, male members earned around Rs. 100 per person per day though MFP collection. On an average, a person got 12 days of work in the fields in a month, fetching Rs. 80 per day. This accounted for the largest share of monthly earning and thus the primary source of livelihood income. Only a few members of the hamlet obtained forest management jobs for about three months in a year, (or on an average 7.5 days per month) which, when available, fetched Rs. 50 per day as wages.

"The MFP the people collected through the legal channel of the tribal cooperative society included mostly the roots of ‘kurunthotti’ (Sida cordifolia), honey, ‘aanachunda’ roots and a few other tubers of medicinal importance. There was considerable local demand for MFP in the markets in Wayanad.

"Demand for bamboo and reed came mostly from farmhouses that required both raw bamboo poles and woven products such as baskets and mats. Single-pole ladders made of bamboo were used by every coconut-plucker and almost in all farming households and these fetched a price of Rs. 75-80 per pole of bamboo. Such ladders were in heavy demand during the pepper-harvesting season in Wayanad.

"Five members of the hamlet worked on extracting reed (Ochlandra travancorica) and Oda (Ochlandra scriptoria) for around 10 days a month, except during the rainy season of June-August. This was to feed the bamboo-based craft production centre of the village run by Uravu. It took a full day labour for a person to extract a bundle of 20-25 numbers of reeds and deliver the same at the village down the hill. The local bamboo craft unit purchased a bundle of reed collected from the Manikkunnumala at the rate of Rs. 150-180 per bundle.

"At the present level of demand, the average yearly removal of reeds from 100 acres of forest area and private estates on the Manikkunnumala for meeting rural needs and feeding the local craft centre would come to 5 (persons) X 10 (days) X 9 (months) X 22.5 (numbers) = 10,125 numbers of reeds equivalent to approximately 14 tonnes (@720 reeds=1 tonne.

"As part of the survey, an attempt was made to understand the perception of the bamboo/reed extractors in the village on the status of these resources in the forests and the reasons for the change in the resource status. A set of seven choices was given to the extractor-respondents in order to pinpoint the important factors that affected the availability of resources in the forests. All respondents opined that the availability of both bamboo and reeds had declined within the forest area they were familiar with.

"They identified the most important factors responsible for the decline as (1) forest fires, (2) poor management practices such as failure in taking out fire-lines in the forests and (3) the general change in climate. Twenty three per cent of the respondents thought the intensity of extraction had a significant impact on the decline in resource stock.

"It is significant that the extractors found forest fires to be the major cause of depletion of the bamboo and reed resources in the area and that they linked this with poor management practices adopted by the forest department. This shows that even in areas not yet opened up for large-scale industrial exploitation, forest fires have become an important threat to the forest resources. The perception of the extractor-respondents indicates that even in areas with low levels of extraction, the depletion of resource base is faster than natural regeneration. Their observations also suggest the imperative of adopting assisted natural regeneration measures for improving the resource base.

Bamboo-based production

"In the village, bamboo poles were commonly used for ladders, constructing cattle stays, fences, platforms and traps for catching wild pigs, rats etc. Apart from the general household and rural applications of bamboo, there were three distinct groups of people engaged in bamboo/reed-based production of goods either for own consumption or for the markets:

1. Tribal communities.

2. The Scheduled Caste communities: Mainly members of the Paraya caste, who are traditional bamboo weavers.

3. The relatively new group of bamboo workers belonging to different tribal, caste and religious communities who have obtained training in bamboo processing from Uravu, a local NGO.

Except for the third group of artisans working under the NGO, bamboo-based economic activity was a subsidiary activity carried out for earning supplementary income. Bamboo craft was carried out to meet seasonal demand for products and when other farm or non-farm jobs were not available.

Tribal user groups:

"Kurichya, Kuruma, Paniya, Kattunayakka and Chetty were the tribes who lived in the village. Within the Kurumas, there were two-groups, the Oorali Kurumas and Mullu Kurumas. These communities made several bamboo products such as baskets, winnows, mats, cradles etc. They also made animal and fish traps with bamboo and reed. The Kurichya community also made bows and arrows out of bamboo.  Bamboo shoots used to be a food item of the Kurichyas during the monsoon season. Kurichyas were also known to be skilled in constructing houses with bamboo and mud.

"The tribal community considered water stored inside bamboo culms as a remedy against several stomach disorders and worms. They also used bamboo for construction of houses, cattle sheds etc. The very first school of the village was built with bamboo. For the tribal communities, production of bamboo/reed items was mainly for meeting their own needs. Very few products – a few mats or cradles – were supplied on specific demand to households in the village."

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Bows and Arrows

K. Sudhakar
28 January, 2017

"Kurichiya is a tribe found in Wayanad district of Kerala, India. The name Kurichiya was given to this tribe by the Kottayam Raja (before Pazassi Raja period) as they were experts in archery. The word Kurichiyan is derived from the word kuri (target) and the word chiyan (people). There are other interpretations too for the origin of the word ‘Kurichiya’."

Friday, December 27, 2019

Traditional bamboo uses by the tribes of Gujarat

Arunbhai B Patel
(Link) pdf


The Tribal population in Gujarat is mainly concentrated in the eight districts along the eastern border of the state. 96% live in the Dangs, Valsad, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Panchmahals, Sabarkantha and Banaskantha. The tribal region extends from Sabarkantha district through Panchmahals down to Surat, Valsad and the Dangs. About 92% of the scheduled tribes are from the rural areas.

The Kotwalias tribe of South Gujarat are generally a landless people who primarily depend on bamboo basket making for their livelihood. Their products include split bamboo mats(Palas), threshing trays(Topla) and baskets(Supra).  Some Kotwalia communities still reside within forest areas while others have shifted to agricultural villages but maintain their traditional cottage industry. In the past, Kotwajia communities received low prices from contractors and middle men for their products. Efforts have been made to break this exploitative relationship by harvesting and supplying bamboo quotas to basket making communities and guaranteeing a market by buying back their products. The paper describes the traditional uses of bamboo by the Kotwalia

Hunting Instruments

"Arrows and bows used for hunting are also prepared from bamboos. The bow is prepared after cutting the bamboo from the top.  Instead of cotton string, a very thin [bamboo] strip is used, which is not only as flexible as cotton string, but is also stronger and tighter.  If the arrow is prepared from bamboo, and the hunting part is affixed and is made up of steel, it is known as Bilkhi."

Assessment of In-situ Resource Sustainability of Jala Yangka in Jala, Ruebi Geog, Wangduephodrang

Rinzin Dorji, Tshering Dorji


Yangka is a bamboo species under genus Yushania, (Family Poaceae), which grows above Jala village, in Wangduephodrang district at an altitude of about 2800 meters above sea level (m asl). This bamboo has very important use to the Bhutanese tradition as it is considered the best material for making traditional arrows. Owing its important use, Yangka was collected annually for the purpose either legally or illegally by archers and artisans. Thus, there were concerns that Yangka resource was threatened as Yangka was found in a very small area that is virtually inaccessible.

The study therefore analyzes and presents resource status and factors affecting sustainability of Jala Yangka in its growing area. This was done by analyzing the data collected from temporary study plots of 10 x 10 m (with 20 x 20 m outer) in Yangka growing area at Jala. Species vulnerability assessment was done using a group interview of the respondents from Jala village.

The fact that more number of Yangka clumps and culms were found only in the areas with steep slope in itself acted as explanation for Yangka being threatened primarily by free cattle grazing. The sustainability of Yangka resource in the natural growing area was highly threatened and only few Yangka clumps were taking refuge in areas that were not readily accessible to cattle (60 and 70 percent in the study site). Sadly however, the steep slopes could not provide a safe refuge for Yangka from the collectors. This exacerbated the vulnerability of Yangka. The rapid species vulnerability scored 27, indicating high vulnerability according to the scale.