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> Latest publications : North Africa, Sahara, West Africa - in french
> Latest publications : Central Africa - in french

2015 NEWS CONTENTS:

> Earliest Known Stone Tools Planted the Seeds of Communication and Language, 12 January 2015
> New research suggests pre-Homo human ancestral species used human-like hand postures much
    earlier than was previously thought
, 23 January 2015
> Skull clue to exodus from Africa, 28 January 2015
> Archaeologist begins dig in the Sudan, Nile River Valley area, 30 January 2015
> Research continues into 3000 year-old Nok culture of sub-Saharan Africa, 8 February, 2015
> Barley and wheat residues in Neolithic cemeteries of Central Sudan and Nubia, 9 February 2015
> Recording endangered archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa, 20 February 2015
> Humans may have migrated out of Africa in phases based on the weather, 21 February 2015
> Trail of Tools Reveals Modern Humans‘ Path Out of Africa, 24 February 2015
> Study Lends New Support to Theory that Early Humans were Scavengers, 3 March 2015
> 'First human' discovered in Ethiopia, 4 March 2015
> Ancient Fossils Reveal Diversity in the Body Structure of Human Ancestors, 9 March 2015
> A carpet of stone tools in the Sahara, 11 March 2015
> East African Fossil Finds Show Early Human Diversity, 19 March 2015
> 'Little Foot' pushes back age of earliest South African hominids (South Africa), 1 April 2015
> Early modern humans hugged riverine woodland environments in Africa, 7 April 2015
> Scientists discover world's oldest stone tools (Kenya), 20 May 2015
> New human ancestor species from Ethiopia lived alongside Lucy's species (Ethiopia), 27 May 2015
> Modern humans migrated out of Africa via Egypt, suggests genetic study, 28 May 2015
> Ethiopia Aksum excavation uncovers 2000 year old jewellery predating Roman trade, 8 June 2015
> Hidden secrets of 1491 world map revealed via multispectral imaging, 12 June 2015
> Africa's ancient art to be saved, with your help, 25 June 2015
> New study shows South Africans using milk-based paint 49,000 years ago (South Africa), 30 June 2015
> Forgotten World: The Stone-walled Settlements of the Mpumalanga Escarpment (South Africa), 1 July
    2015
> Poles discovered a unique 6.5 thousand years old burial in Egypt (Egypt), 6 July 2015
> South African sites reveal more about early modern human culture (South Africa), 10 July 2015
> Researchers report evidence of earliest stone tool usage (Ethiopia), 15 August 2015
> If modern humans never existed......, 20 August 2015
> Excavating meaning from the complex myths of southern Africa's San people (Southern Africa), 17
    August 2015
> Prehistoric climate variability a key factor in human evolution, say scientists (Africa), 26 August 2015
> Scientists Discover New Early Human Species (South Africa), 10 September 2015
> Earliest evidence for ambush hunting by early humans in the Kenyan Rift (Kenya), 15 September 2015
> Fossilized ear bones reveal human ancestors heard higher frequencies (Africa), 25 September 2015
> Human Ancestor Candidate Sported Hands and Feet Much Like Modern Humans (South Africa), 6 October
    2015
> From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations (Africa), 9 October 2015
> Modern humans out of Africa sooner than thought (China & Africa)), 14 October 2015
> Plague infected humans much earlier than previously thought (Africa), 22 October 2015
> Latest study suggests early human dispersal into Spain through Strait of Gibraltar (Morocco - Spain), 2
    January 2016



The interior of Cueva Victoria. Nano Sanchez, Wikimedia Commons
Latest study suggests early human dispersal into Spain through Strait of Gibraltar
2 January 2016
Most recent dating places one wave of human dispersal out of Africa into southeastern Spain at almost one million years ago.
Using state-of-the-art dating methodologies, a team of scientists have obtained or confirmed a date range between .9 and .85 Mya (million years ago) as a time when a species of Old World monkey (Theropithecus) and an early species of human occupied the cave site of Cueva Victoria in southeastern Spain. It is a location not far from where many scientists have hypothesized that humans may have crossed over into Europe from North Africa through the Strait of Gibraltar at a time when seal levels were low enough to provide a land bridge between the two continents.
Using paleomagnetism, uranium-thorium, and vertebrate biostratigraphy dating techniques, Luis Gibert of the University of Barcelona, Spain, and colleagues from several other institutions conducted testing on fossiliferous breccia samples and other deposit samples from the cave. Their results showed that the fossil evidence for the Theropithecus presence was constrained to a range between .9 and .85 Mya. Similar dates have been obtained through previous studies on the Cueva Negra cave in the same region of Spain, which contained evidence of early human (Homo) fossils associated with what is arguably considered to be the earliest Acheulean-type stone tools in Europe.
The authors of the study suggest that the presence of the same species of Theropithecus, including Homo, at about the same time in North Africa, coupled with the absence of Theropithecus fossils elsewhere in Europe, supports the hypothesis of a dispersal of the two primates (Theropithecus and Homo) through the Strait of Gibraltar almost 1 million years ago. During this time, sea levels were low enough to create a land bridge at the Strait between Africa and Europe.
Previous studies by other teams have also suggested another, earlier human dispersal into southeastern Spain through the Strait of Gibraltar at about 1.3 million years ago, and the famous research and Homo fossil discoveries at Dmanisi in Georgia have suggested an even earlier Homo dispersal out of Africa, possibly through the Levant and up through Anatolia to the southern Caucasus at around 1.8 million years ago.
The study is published in press in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/winter-2015-2016/article/latest-study-suggests-early-human-dispersal-into-spain-through-strait-of-gibraltar

 


he photo shows a Bronze
Age human skull from
the Yamnaya culture
painted with red ochre. Yamnaya later developed into the Afanasievo
culture of Central Asia,
one of the cultures that carried the early strains
of Y. pestis.
Plague infected humans much earlier than previously thought
22 October 2015
Plague infections were common in humans 3,300 years earlier than the historical record suggests, reports a study published October 22 in Cell. By sequencing the DNA of tooth samples from Bronze Age individuals from Europe and Asia, the researchers discovered evidence of plague infections roughly 4,800 years ago. But it was at least another thousand years until the bacterium that causes the disease, Yersinia pestis, acquired key changes in virulence genes, allowing it to spread via fleas and evade the host immune system.
"We found that the Y. pestis lineage originated and was widespread much earlier than previously thought, and we narrowed the time window as to when it developed," says senior study author Eske Willerslev of the Center for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen. "This study changes our view of when and how plague influenced human populations and opens new avenues for studying the evolution of diseases."
Y. pestis was the notorious culprit behind the sixth century's Plague of Justinian, the Black Death, which killed 30%-50% of the European population in the mid-1300s, and the Third Pandemic, which emerged in China in the 1850s. Earlier putative plagues, such as the Plague of Athens nearly 2,500 years ago and the second century's Antonine Plague, have been linked to the decline of Classical Greece and the undermining of the Roman army. However, it has been unclear whether Y. pestis could have been responsible for these early epidemics because direct molecular evidence for this bacterium has not been obtained from skeletal material older than 1,500 years.
Based on their recent work, Willerslev, Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg, and their collaborators suspected that the plague could have shaped human populations much earlier than previously thought. A few months ago, they published a high-profile population genomics study of Eurasian individuals from the Bronze Age (c. 3000 BC to 1500 BC), which they showed was a highly dynamic period involving large-scale migrations and population replacements that were responsible for shaping major parts of present-day demographic structure in both Europe and Asia.
But the reason for these migrations was not clear. "One of the scenarios we discussed was the idea that large epidemics could have facilitated such dynamics," says study co-first author Morten Allentoft of the Center for GeoGenetics, University of Copenhagen. "Perhaps people were migrating to get away from epidemics or re-colonizing new areas where epidemics had decimated the local populations. Could it be, for example, that plague was present in humans already in these prehistoric times?"
To answer this question, the researchers screened 89 billion raw DNA sequence reads obtained from the teeth of 101 Bronze Age individuals from Europe and Asia. These teeth were obtained from various museums and archaeological excavations. They discovered Y. pestis DNA in seven of these individuals, whose teeth were dated between 2794 BC and 951 BC (early Iron Age). Evolutionary analysis revealed that the most recent common ancestor of all known Y. pestis strains is 5,783 years old--thousands of years older than previous estimates.
Moreover, Y. pestis genomes from the Bronze Age lacked a gene called Yersinia murine toxin (ymt), which is known to protect the pathogen inside the flea gut and thereby enable the spread of plague to humans via an insect vector. However, this gene was present in the Y. pestis genome from the Iron Age individual, suggesting that plague became transmissible by fleas between approximately 3,700 and 3,000 years ago. This new finding conflicts with previous studies suggesting that the ymt gene was acquired early in Y. pestis evolution due to its importance in the pathogen's life cycle.
Besides widespread transmission through fleas, another secret to Y. pestis' success has been its stealthy evasion of the host immune system. In mammals, the immune system has evolved to recognize and mount protective responses against a protein called flagellin, which is the principal component of the flagella--the whip-like appendage that helps bacteria move around. In all previously known Y. pestis strains, a mutation in the flhD gene has prevented the expression of the flagellin protein.
However, this mutation was not present in the two oldest Bronze Age individuals, and the flagella system was still in the process of devolving in the youngest Bronze Age individual. Taken together, the findings suggest that Y. pestis did not fully adapt as a flea-borne mammalian pathogen until the beginning of the first millennium BC, giving rise to the historically recorded plagues.
"The underlying evolutionary mechanisms that facilitated the evolution of Y. pestis are still present today, and learning from this will help us understand how future pathogens may arise or develop increased virulence," says co-first study author Simon Rasmussen of the Technical University of Denmark. "Additionally, our study changes the historical understanding of this extremely important human pathogen and makes it possible that other so-called plagues, such as the Plague of Athens and the Antonine Plague, could have been caused by Y. pestis."
In future studies, the researchers will look for evidence of plague in other geographic regions and time periods to get a better grasp of the history of this disease. They will also search for ancient DNA remains of other blood-borne bacteria and viruses. "Our findings reveal that one can find ancient pathogenic microbes in ancient human material showing no obvious morphological signs of disease," Willerslev says. "So plague is just one disease to look at, and one could explore all kinds of diseases like this in the future."

Source: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-10/cp-pih101515.php

 


47 human teeth found
from the Fuyan Cave, Daoxian Credit: S. Xing
and X-J. Wu
Modern humans out of Africa sooner than thought
14 October 2015
Human teeth discovered in southern China provide evidence that our species left the African continent up to 70,000 years earlier than prevailing theories suggest, a study published on Wednesday said.
Homo sapiens reached present-day China 80,000-120,000 years ago, according to the study, which could redraw the migration map for modern humans.
"The model that is generally accepted is that modern humans left Africa only 50,000 years ago," said Maria Martinon-Torres, a researcher at University College London and a co-author of the study.
"In this case, we are saying the H. sapiens is out of Africa much earlier," she told the peer-reviewed journal Nature, which published the study.
While the route they travelled remains unknown, previous research suggests the most likely path out of East Africa to east Asia was across the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East.
The findings also mean that the first truly modern humans - thought to have emerged in east Africa some 200,000 years ago - landed in China well before they went to Europe.
There is no evidence to suggest that H. sapiens entered the European continent earlier than 45,000 years ago, at least 40,000 years after they showed up in present-day China.
The 47 teeth exhumed from a knee-deep layer of grey, sandy clay inside the Fuyan Cave near the town of Daoxian closely resemble the dental gear of "contemporary humans," according to the study.
They could only have come from a population that migrated from Africa, rather than one that evolved from an another species of early man such as the extinct Homo erectus, the authors said.
The scientists also unearthed the remains of some 38 mammals, including specimens of five extinct species, one of them a giant panda larger than those in existence today.
No tools were found.
"Judging by the cave environment, it may not have been a living place for humans," lead author Wu Liu from the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing told AFP.
Why not Europe?
The study, published in the journal Nature, also rewrites the timeline of early man in China.
Up to now, the earliest proof of H. sapiens east of the Arabian Peninsula came from the Tianyuan Cave near Beijing, and dated from no more than 40,000 years ago.
The new discovery raises questions about why it took so long for H. sapiens to find their way to nearby Europe.
"Why is it that modern humans - who were already at the gates - didn't really get into Europe?", Martinon-Torres asked.
Wu and colleagues propose two explanations.
The first is the intimidating presence of Neanderthal man. While this species of early human eventually died out, they were spread across the European continent up until at least some 50,000 years ago.
"The classic idea is that H. sapiens... took over the Neanderthal empire, but maybe Neanderthals were a kind of ecological barrier, and Europe was too small a place" for both, Martinon-Torres said.
Another impediment might have been the cold.
Up until the Ice Age ended 12,000 years ago, ice sheets stretched across a good part of the European continent, a forbidding environment for a new species emerging from the relative warmth of East Africa.
"H. sapiens originated in or near the tropics, so it makes sense that the species' initial dispersal was eastwards rather than northwards, where winter temperatures rapidly fell below freezing," Robin Dennell of the University of Exeter said in a commentary, also in Nature.
Martinon-Torres laid out some of the questions to be addressed in future research, using both genetics and fossil records.
A near miss
"What are the origins of these populations, and what was their fate? Did they vanish? Could they be the ancestors of later and current populations that entered Europe?"
She also suggested there might have been "different movements and migrations" out of Africa, not just one.
Besides the prehistoric panda, called Ailuropoda baconi, the scientists found an extinct species of a giant spotted hyaena.
An elephant-like creature called Stegodon orientalis and a giant tapir, also present, were species that may have survived into the era when the Chinese had developed writing, some 3500 years ago.
The cache of teeth nearly went unnoticed, Wu told AFP.
He and his Chinese colleagues discovered the cave - and its menagerie of long-deceased animals - in the 1980s, but had no inkling that it also contained human remains.
But 25 years later, while revisiting the site, Wu had a hunch.
"By thinking about the cave environment, we realised that human fossils might be found there," he told AFP by email. "So we started a five-year excavation."

Source: http://phys.org/news/2015-10-modern-humans-africa-sooner-thought.html

 


In Mota cave, located in
the Gamo highlands of Ethiopia, a group of NSF-supported researchers excavation a rock cairn.
They discovered under it
a burial site containing
the remains of a 4,500-
year skeleton.
Credit: Kathryn and John Arthur
From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations
9 October 2015
Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding him. The team named the man "Bayira," which means "firstborn" in the Gamo language, a common name in the region.
Today, in an article in the journal Science, that research team, supported in part by the National Science Foundation's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate (SBE), revealed that there was another kind of treasure within the skeleton. Using DNA extracted from the bones, geneticists working with the researchers have been able to provide the first ancient human genome sequence from Africa. The genome has the potential to provide new clues about how ancient African populations lived and interacted with humans in other parts of the world.
Traditionally, population geneticists have reconstructed past human population expansions using genetic information from living populations. They use African populations as the baseline to compare against populations whose ancestors migrated out of Africa. But such reconstructions can be complicated by the fact that many modern African populations have some non-African genes, in large part due to genetic admixture with Eurasians who migrated back into Africa during the last 3,000 years.
Bayira, however, predates those recent Eurasian migration events, making him an even better baseline for making inferences about human population history.
By comparing Bayira's DNA to that of ancient Europeans and modern populations, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the Eurasians who migrated to Africa descended from populations of Early Neolithic farmers that colonized Europe roughly 7,000 years ago. And they were able to show that the Eurasian migrations into Africa left a larger genetic signature - and reached a broader geographic area - than previously thought.
Kathryn Arthur and John Arthur, archaeologists at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, and their colleagues, including SBE-funded archaeologist Matthew Curtis of Ventura College and UCLA Extension, found the skeletal remains unexpectedly during a research trip to study the culture history of living residents of Ethiopia's Gamo highlands.
"When we started working on this project, we had no real conception that it would turn out like this," Kathryn Arthur said. "We weren't looking for human remains. It was very surprising, and very exciting."
The skeleton is thousands of years old, but he is a Homo sapiens - a modern human. If he were alive today, "He'd probably be a little smaller than we are in height," she said. "We know that he had brown hair and brown eyes. He'd look pretty much like we do."
Kathryn Arthur discussed the work she and research team members - including Mauro Coltorti and Pierluigi Pieruccini of the University of Siena, and Jay Stock of the University of Cambridge - performed in Ethiopia, and some of the mysteries of Bayira that researchers are still working to solve.
Q. How did you and your collaborators find Bayira?
A. John and I have been working in the Gamo highlands of Ethiopia for 20 years studying artisans. We were doing ethnoarchaeology - looking at potters and stone-tool using leatherworkers - and we noticed that there's a lot of social stratification in Gamo society. We were wondering what the history of that was. We called in Matthew Curtis and together we were awarded our first NSF grant in 2006 and a second in 2010. We began by working with the community, finding significant historical sites.
One of the places the people there took me to was Mota Cave, in 2011. They said they used to hide here in the late 19th century and early 20th century during wars. And I thought, "Oh, this place has a dirt floor, it has potential for preserving some artifacts and features from the past." We'd already excavated some other historical sites, and began our excavation of Mota Cave in 2012. In 2012, we came across these human remains with Stone Age tools. We knew from the obsidian stone tools that it was clearly a lot older than what we thought it was going to be. You can find Later Stone Age tools up to about 2,000 years old, but these were clearly more classic Later Stone Age tools.
Q. This wasn't someone who happened to die in a cave - your research says it's the earliest burial in southwestern Ethiopia. How did the skeleton look?
A. When the team was uncovering the burial, they noticed that he was laying on his side in a crouched position, kind of curled up, with his head on a flat stone. The individual was facing west and in the current culture of the Gamo highlands, that's the direction that women are buried in. Everyone originally thought the remains were of a woman. But of course, when Jay examined him at the National Museum in Ethiopia, he turned out to be a man. After all, we should expect some cultural differences over 5,000 years!
Q. What new light does this skeleton shed on the ancient people who lived in those highlands?
A. From an archaeological perspective, it gives us some interesting information not just about migrations, but about the life of this individual. It was a highland environment where we found him, and as he dated to nearly 2,000 years before any known food production in the region, he was very likely a hunter-gatherer. We don't know how mobile he might have been - there's very little archaeology for the Holocene epoch [12,000 years to the present] in Southern Ethiopia. Much more of the research there has focused on early hominids. We didn't know if this was someone who moved between the highlands and the lowlands or not.
What's interesting is that his genome says he's highly adapted to his environment. That means long-term occupation of the highlands. The highlands see a lot of erosion, so we don't find a lot of intact archaeological sites—and there are not a lot of caves like this with deposits. It's hard to see how densely the highlands were populated.
Q. What sort of terrain were you, and Bayira, when he was alive, dealing with?
A. It's very mountainous. The top of the highlands is about 9,000 feet. The cave's at about 6,000 feet. It's possible to drive close to the cave, sometimes, depending on the weather and the road. The cave looks into the highlands itself, but you can also see the river and the lowlands. It's a pretty spectacular view.
Q. What's genetically significant about Bayira?
A. Bayira predates some of the Eurasian population's larger migrations into North Africa—or other interactions with northern populations. The geneticists could use him as a baseline to look at the difference between Bayira, the modern African population, and Neolithic Eurasian populations.
This is "genetics-speak," but it's fascinating to me that living populations in Africa have this West Eurasian admixture. To me, that just shows how much interaction the continent has been involved in. It really overturns a lot of stereotypes and tropes we have about Africa being isolated prior to the colonial period. Obviously, they were interacting with other populations in a significant way. It was more than just trade. It was genetic interaction. They were tying their lives together through creating future generations.
Q. This must be exciting work, and an exciting discovery, for an archaeologist.
A. It is, and we love to do it. It's fun and exciting - not just the excavation, but working with the people who are living there today.

Source: http://phys.org/news/2015-10-skeleton-insights-ancient-migrations.html

 


The Homo naledi hand
and foot were uniquely
adapted for both tree
climbing and walking
upright.
Credit Peter Schmid and William Harcourt-Smith
| Wits University
Human Ancestor Candidate Sported Hands and Feet Much Like Modern Humans
6 October 2015
The newly discovered Homo naledi species walked much like us and had hands that could manipulate objects similar to that of modern human hands, say researchers.
After extensive study of the hand and foot fossils of the newly discovered species H. naledi, 1550 fossil elements of which were recovered in 2013 in the Rising Star cave system in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage region of South Africa, scientists are suggesting that this hominin may have been uniquely adapted for both tree climbing and walking as dominant forms of movement, while also being capable of precise manual manipulation.
The research was conducted by a team of international scientists associated with the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, home of the Rising Star Expedition team that discovered the largest hominin find yet made on the African continent.
According to the researchers, when considered together, these papers, published in the journal Nature and entitled The foot of Homo naledi and The hand of Homo naledi, relate a decoupling of the upper and lower limb function in H. naledi, and provide an important insight into the skeletal form and function that may have characterized early members of the Homo genus.
The foot of Homo naledi
Lead author William Harcourt-Smith and colleagues describe the H. naledi foot based on 107 foot elements from the Dinaledi Chamber, including a well preserved adult right foot. The 107 elements also included assorted parts provisionally assigned to two other adults and a juvenile. They show the H. naledi foot shares many features with a modern human foot, indicating it was well-adapted for standing and walking on two feet. However, the authors note it differs in having more curved toe bones (proximal phalanges), indicating a significant tree-climbing capacity, a characteristic more associated with more 'primitive' homins and other primates.
"It was a striding long-distance traveler with an arched foot and a non-grasping big toe with subtle differences from humans today in having somewhat more curved toes and a reduced arch," said lead study author Jeremy DeSilva of Dartmouth College. "It looks like what the foot of Homo erectus might look like. H. erectus is the earliest human with body proportions similar to our own, with long legs, short arms. It might be closely related to H. erectus, but the brain is smaller and it has a Lucy-like shoulder with curved fingers. This is a new combination that we haven't seen before."
The hand of Homo naledi
Another lead author, Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent and colleagues, describe the H. naledi hand based on nearly 150 hand bones from the Dinaledi Chamber, including a nearly complete adult right hand (missing only one wrist bone) of a single individual, which is a rare find in the human fossil record.
The H. naledi hand reveals a unique combination of anatomy that has not been found in any other fossil human before. The wrist bones and thumb show anatomical features that are shared with Neanderthals and modern humans and suggest powerful grasping and the ability to use stone tools.
However, the finger bones are more curved than most early fossil human species, such as Lucy's species Australopithecus afarensis, suggesting that H. naledi still used their hands for climbing in the trees. This mix of human-like features in combination with more primitive features demonstrates that the H. naledi hand was both specialized for possible complex tool-use activities, as well as for climbing locomotion.
"The tool-using features of the H. naledi hand in combination with its small brain size has interesting implications for what cognitive requirements might be needed to make and use tools, and, depending on the age of these fossils, who might have made the stone tools that we find in South Africa," says Kivell.
DeSilva says that throughout Africa there were probably a variety of hominin-like creatures living in microhabitats, evolving different kinds of adaptations to survive in their environments. "Humans are like every other animal on the planet. Our evolutionary history is mixed.”
"It's a mosaic, lots of different experiments," he continued, "and we just happen to be the only one left, for whatever reason."

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-2015/article/human-ancestor-candidate-sported-hands-and-feet-much-like-modern-humans

 


Skull of the Taung Child, the first Australopithecus africanus fossil find, discovered by Raymond Dart in South Africa in
1924
Fossilized ear bones reveal human ancestors heard higher frequencies
25 September 2015
Research into human fossils dating back to approximately two million years ago reveals that the hearing pattern resembles chimpanzees, but with some slight differences in the direction of humans.
Rolf Quam, assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, led an international research team in reconstructing an aspect of sensory perception in several fossil hominin individuals from the sites of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans in South Africa. The study relied on the use of CT scans and virtual computer reconstructions to study the internal anatomy of the ear. The results suggest that the early hominin species Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus, both of which lived around 2 million years ago, had hearing abilities similar to a chimpanzee, but with some slight differences in the direction of humans.
Humans are distinct from most other primates, including chimpanzees, in having better hearing across a wider range of frequencies, generally between 1.0-6.0 kHz. Within this same frequency range, which encompasses many of the sounds emitted during spoken language, chimpanzees and most other primates lose sensitivity compared to humans.
"We know that the hearing patterns, or audiograms, in chimpanzees and humans are distinct because their hearing abilities have been measured in the laboratory in living subjects," said Quam. "So we were interested in finding out when this human-like hearing pattern first emerged during our evolutionary history."
Previously, Quam and colleagues studied the hearing abilities in several fossil hominin individuals from the site of the Sima de los Huesos (Pit of the Bones) in northern Spain. These fossils are about 430,000 years old and are considered to represent ancestors of the later Neandertals. The hearing abilities in the Sima hominins were nearly identical to living humans. In contrast, the much earlier South African specimens had a hearing pattern that was much more similar to a chimpanzee.
In the South African fossils, the region of maximum hearing sensitivity was shifted towards slightly higher frequencies compared with chimpanzees, and the early hominins showed better hearing than either chimpanzees or humans from about 1.0-3.0 kHz. It turns out that this auditory pattern may have been particularly favorable for living on the savanna. In more open environments, sound waves don't travel as far as in the rainforest canopy, so short range communication is favored on the savanna.
"We know these species regularly occupied the savanna since their diet included up to 50 percent of resources found in open environments" said Quam. The researchers argue that this combination of auditory features may have favored short-range communication in open environments.
That sounds a lot like language. Does this mean these early hominins had language? "No," said Quam. "We're not arguing that. They certainly could communicate vocally. All primates do, but we're not saying they had fully developed human language, which implies a symbolic content."
The emergence of language is one of the most hotly debated questions in paleoanthropology, the branch of anthropology that studies human origins, since the capacity for spoken language is often held to be a defining human feature. There is a general consensus among anthropologists that the small brain size and ape-like cranial anatomy and vocal tract in these early hominins indicates they likely did not have the capacity for language.
"We feel our research line does have considerable potential to provide new insights into when the human hearing pattern emerged and, by extension, when we developed language," said Quam.
Ignacio Martinez, a collaborator on the study, said, "We're pretty confident about our results and our interpretation. In particular, it's very gratifying when several independent lines of evidence converge on a consistent interpretation."
How do these results compare with the discovery of a new hominin species, Homo naledi, announced just two weeks ago from a different site in South Africa?
"It would be really interesting to study the hearing pattern in this new species," said Quam. "Stay tuned."
The study was published on Sept. 25 in the journal Science Advances.

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-2015/article/fossilized-ear-bones-reveal-human-ancestors-heard-higher-frequencies

 


Earliest evidence for ambush hunting by early humans in the Kenyan Rift
15 September 2015
Around one million years ago, early humans were skilful at using the landscape features of the Kenyan Rift to ambush and kill their prey, according to new research published in Scientific Reports.
The area was a popular grazing site for larger animals (e.g., giant gelada baboons, elephants, hippopotami and the spotted hyenas) due to its locally high nutrient levels and the presence of an ancient freshwater lake, together with the relative lack of dangerous predators, such as lions.
An interdisciplinary team of anthropologists and earth scientists have shown that animal movements were constrained to particular pathways due to the restrictions imposed by the landscape.
Early humans became adept at predicting these pathways enabling them to ambush large and dangerous animals as evidenced by the butchered remains present at the site, in association with numerous stone tools.
Previous discoveries in the Olorgesailie region of the Kenyan Rift include a large number of Acheulean hand axes, associated with the butchery of large mammals and indicated that the area was well populated with hominins, who returned to the site repeatedly.
The region looks significantly different today than it would have done a million years ago due to a combination of climate changes, earthquakes and volcanism.
However, the research teams were able to adjust for the effects of fault motion, making corrections for erosion and the deposit of sediment, to create a model of the ancient landscape and show how our ancestors could have exploited it.
Dr Sally Reynolds (Bournemouth University), lead researcher in the UK, explains how innovative modelling methods enabled the team to make their discoveries, "By reconstructing the topographic setting in the area and examining the trace nutrients in soils there now and interviewing local Maasai leaders about current animal grazing activities, we were able to build up a picture of animal movements around one million years ago."
Explaining why the landscape of the area a million years ago would have been conducive to ambush-based hunting techniques, Dr Reynolds said, "The Olorgesailie region was particularly well placed for ambushing larger animals because the landscape limited the routes taken by those animals as they travelled through the area.
"Areas of higher elevation provided excellent lookout points as well. There was also good access to reliable drinking water and a ready supply of workable stone for the creation of hunting tools, making it an ideal location for hominin occupation."
The work provides a new and exciting landscape based framework in which to evaluate this and other hominin sites and as such will change the way we interpret our ancestral record.
The work was carried out by researchers from Bournemouth University, Ludwig Maximilians University, the Kenyan National Agricultural Research Laboratory and the National Museums of Kenya and Institute de Physique du Globe de Paris, and in collaboration with the University of York as a part of the European Research Council (ERC) EU DISPERSE Grant.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150915090705.htm

 


Massive South African fossil trove shakes up the human family tree
Scientists Discover New Early Human Species
10 September 2015
In late 2013 and early 2014 they uncovered more than 1,550 bones representing at least 15 ancient individuals from a small, dark, nearly inaccessible chamber in the "Rising Star" cave system in South Africa. . Long a caving destination for spelunkers, the Rising Star system is part of a complex of limestone caves near what is called "The Cradle of Humankind," a World Heritage Site in Gauteng province well known for critical paleoanthropological discoveries of early humans. But at any level, this particular discovery was an extremely rare event. Then, after meticulous analysis of the bones, this international team of scientists knew they had come across something remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, they decided to designate the bones as belonging to an entirely new species of hominin. They called it Homo naledi.
Designated as the "Dinaledi Chamber", the finds within have gone on record as the largest single assemblage of hominin fossils in any one location in Africa. What's more, "the combination of anatomical features in H. naledi distinguishes it from any previously known species," said Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand. Berger led the two expeditions* that discovered and recovered the fossils. "With almost every bone in the body represented multiple times, Homo naledi is already practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage."
So what were these scientists looking at?
"Overall, Homo naledi looks like one of the most primitive members of our genus, but it also has some surprisingly human-like features, enough to warrant placing it in the genus Homo," said John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, U.S., an expedition participant and a senior author of the research paper describing the new species. "H. naledi had a tiny brain, about the size of an average orange (about 500 cubic centimeters), perched atop a very slender body." The research shows that on average H. naledi stood approximately 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) tall and weighed about 45 kilograms (almost 100 pounds).
A gracile creature with a brain not much larger than a chimpanzee.
But this was no chimpanzee. This was something else. Something more human.
According to the examining scientists, this creature had teeth and skull features similar to those of the earliest-known members of our genus, such as Homo habilis. Certain key features of the hands suggested "tool-using capabilities", according to Dr. Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent, U.K., who was part of the team that studied H. naledi's anatomy. And the feet were even more telling. Other than a few notable characteristics, they were "virtually indistinguishable from those of modern humans," said Dr William Harcourt-Smith of Lehman College, City University of New York, and the American Museum of Natural History, who led the study of H. naledi's feet. Its feet, combined with its long legs, he suggested, indicated that the species was well-suited for upright, long-distance walking-just like us. These were all trademark traits attributable to humans.
But there were clearly more "primitive", ape-like traits, as well. The much smaller brain, for one. The shoulders were much more similar to those of apes, and like apes, the fingers of the hand had "extremely curved fingers, more curved than almost any other species of early hominin, which clearly demonstrates climbing capabilities," said Kivell-features that facilitated a tree-climbing life. Moreover, this creature exhibited a short, ape-like torso and the pelvis resembled that of an Australopithecine, a more ape-like protohuman relative, fossils of which have now long been a part of the broad range of hominin finds in Africa to date.

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/fall-2015/article/scientists-discover-new-early-human-species

 


Evidence from Africa and China suggests early humans adapted and evolved in response to environmental variability
Prehistoric climate variability a key factor in human evolution, say scientists
26 August 2015
In a newly published paper, Smithsonian anthropologist Richard Potts and anthropologist J. Tyler Faith of the University of Queensland, Australia, relate in detail the results of years of study defining a predictive model of climate and environmental variability correlated with key changes or stages in human evolution in East Africa and China. The study, in concert with previous studies, challenges some long-held theories about what has driven the mechanisms of human evolution.
The model, say the authors, predicts eight long periods of environmental instability in East Africa correlated with times of hominin evolutionary innovations as a result of natural selection resulting from the variability. The research also included data derived from palynological study in the Nihewan Basin of China, where evidence suggests that early humans survived and successfully adapted to a new, radically changed environment.
"Unstable climate conditions favored the evolution of the roots of human flexibility in our ancestors," says Potts. "The narrative of human evolution that arises from our analyses stresses the importance of adaptability to changing environments, rather than adaptation to any one environment, in the early success of the genus Homo."
The paper is at least in part a reflection of the core of Pott's years of research in East Africa and China, at sites such as the Olorgesailie Basin, the Turkana and Olduvai Basins, the Tugen Hills and the Hadar Basin, all in East Africa; and the the Nihewan Basin in China. Much of his research has focused on testing what he has penned the variability selection hypothesis, which proposes that it was adaptability to change, not the long-held notion of specialization, that was a key to human evolution. It challenges the long-held "savanna hypothesis", which has suggested that our genus, Homo, emerged and evolved at least in part due to adaptations (such as walking upright, dietary change, a larger brain and body, and making tools) as a result of a major, gradual climate change from a warmer, wetter forest environment on the African continent to a cooler, drier one that resulted in the spread of a savanna grassland. This latest study report follows a recent study published in the journal Science, wherein he and co-author colleagues Susan Antón, professor of anthropology at New York University, and Leslie Aiello, president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, reported results from comprehensive research on shifting paleoclimates, ancient stone tools, isotopes found in teeth, and cut marks found on animal bones in East Africa. The findings have supported an emerging new consensus that suggests a rethinking of some of the long-held assumptions about human origins and evolution.

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/summer-2015/article/prehistoric-climate-variability-a-key-factor-in-human-evolution-say-scientists

 


The San are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa, where they have lived for millennia.
Credit: Shutterstock.
Excavating meaning from the complex myths of southern Africa's San people
17 August 2015
The San are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa, where they have lived for millennia. The term San is commonly used to refer to a diverse group of hunter-gatherers living in the region who share historical and linguistic connections. They were also called Bushmen, but this term is considered derogatory and is no longer used.
David Lewis-Williams has spent 53 years studying the San people, publishing his first article in 1962. His 20th book on the San - Myth and Meaning: San-Bushman Folklore in Global Context - has just been published (see extract below).
Lewis-Williams believes that the future of the San is uncertain. South Africa began passing laws in the 1960s to take over large sections of the traditional hunting lands of the Kalahari San for game and nature reserves. Although the South African government is now much more helpful, the San people hardly have any land on which to hunt and gather. Lewis-Williams says they face a battle to hang onto customs in the face of modernisation. The small number that remain stick to their beliefs and traditions.
In his latest book, Lewis-Williams excavates meaning from the complex mythological stories of the San-Bushmen to create a larger theory of how myth is used in culture. He says the myths are not detailed in the paintings, but that the paintings and the myths derive from the same set of religious beliefs.
Lewis-Williams explores the connection between myths and rock paintings in the Drakensberg. The paintings on the walls were not pictures of myths but actually important words or phrases - what he called small but valuable "nuggets" - about San life.
Extract from Myth and Meaning: San-Bushman Folklore in Global Context
One of the results of my own work has been that apparently simple texts such as the Song of the Broken String are studded with far-reaching words and concepts that are unintelligible to, and therefore easily missed by, modern readers.
These "nuggets", as I call them, encapsulate meanings that bring San lore and myth to life. Specific narratives are seldom pan-San, but, as we shall see, nuggets frequently are.
Nuggets should not be confused with the cross-cultural narrative motifs that, for instance, the folklorist Sigrid Schmidt used in her valuable catalogue of Khoesan folklore.
Nor are nuggets equivalents of Claude Levi-Strauss' "mythemes" that, in his formulation, frequently comprise a subject and a predicate. Rather, nuggets are single words denoting, for example, items of material culture that have rich associations, or parts of the natural environment with cryptic connotations.
They may also be idiomatic turns of phrase that are opaque to outsiders, or ellipses that hearers would have been expected to complete from their own knowledge. Although diverse, nuggets are important because they invoke reticulations of fundamental beliefs and associations that may not be explicitly expressed in the text.
As a narrative proceeds, they add up to a powerful, all-embracing cognitive and affective context. They provide a counterpoint to the manifest plot of a tale, enriching its harmonies and resonances.
The manifest meaning, or "lesson", of a narrative (if we assume one can be discerned) should be seen within this, for Westerners, allusive and often elusive context. My use of the concept of nuggets explores, in part, the same territory as the notion of "key symbols".
Although broader than key symbols, the notion of nuggets does imply a summarising or synthesising function. In Sherry Ortner's words, they "relate the respondent to the grounds of the system as a whole". Respondents seldom analyse nuggets or key symbols, but they have absorbed their referents in the course of daily life.
Indeed, nuggets are part of the "taken-for-granted" aspects of myth. Often indigenous narrators ignore the most important contexts and elements of a myth as being so obvious that they cannot imagine that their auditors do not think in terms of them. They themselves seldom, if ever, articulate them.
In ancient Greece, for instance, writers and speakers rarely retold myths in detail. They more commonly merely referred to an incident or character in a myth on the assumption that their readers or hearers would know the full narrative.
Similarly with the San, we must constantly remember that in traditional circumstances the hearers were already familiar with the whole tale. They would mentally fill in "missing" episodes or details as the narrator progressed.
It was therefore not necessary for narrators to spell out every incident in the tales that they were performing. It was not even necessary that a tale be told through to its end: everyone knew how it ended. The taken-for-granted factor was high.
Within an encompassing intellectual universe like this, a small part, a nugget, can readily stand for a vast, unarticulated whole. Indeed, synecdoche is intrinsic to a San speaker's recounting and manipulation of narratives.
In Chapter 7 I argue that this principle applies, in modified form, to San imagemaking as well. An appreciation of nuggets soon destroys the illusion of simplicity in myth and art.

Source: http://phys.org/news/2015-08-excavating-complex-myths-southern-africa.html

 


The natural diversity of
large mammals is shown
as it would appear
without the impact of
modern man (Homo sapiens). The figure
shows the variation in
the number of large mammals (45 kg or
larger) that would have occurred per 100 x 100 kilometer grid cell. The numbers on the scale indicate the number of species.
Illustration courtesy
Soren Faurby.
If modern humans never existed......
20 August 2015
The fact that the greatest diversity of large mammals is found in Africa reflects past human activities - and not climatic or other environmental constraints. This is determined in a new study, which presents what the world map of mammals would look like if modern humans (Homo sapiens) had never existed.
In a world without humans, most of northern Europe would probably now be home to not only wolves, Eurasian elk (moose) and bears, but also animals such as elephants and rhinoceroses.
This is demonstrated in a new study conducted by researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark. In a previous analysis, they have shown that the mass extinction of large mammals during the Last Ice Age and in subsequent millennia (the late-Quaternary megafauna extinction) is largely explainable by the expansion of modern human (Homo sapiens) populations across the world. In this follow-up study, they investigate what the natural worldwide diversity patterns of mammals would be like in the absence of past and present human impacts, based on estimates of the natural distribution of each species according to its ecology, biogeography and the current natural environmental template. They provide the first estimate of how the mammal diversity world map would have appeared without the impact of modern man.
"Northern Europe is far from the only place in which humans have reduced the diversity of mammals - it's a worldwide phenomenon. And, in most places, there's a very large deficit in mammal diversity relative to what it would naturally have been", says Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, who is one of the researchers behind the study.
Africa is the last refuge
The current world map of mammal diversity shows that Africa is virtually the only place with a high diversity of large mammals. However, the world map constructed by the researchers of the natural diversity of large mammals shows far greater distribution of high large-mammal diversity across most of the world, with particularly high levels in North and South America, areas that are currently relatively poor in large mammals.
"Most safaris today take place in Africa, but under natural circumstances, as many or even more large animals would no doubt have existed in other places, e.g., notably parts of the New World such as Texas and neighboring areas and the region around northern Argentina-Southern Brazil. The reason that many safaris target Africa is not because the continent is naturally abnormally rich in species of mammals. Instead it reflects that it's one of the only places where human activities have not yet wiped out most of the large animals," says Postdoctoral Fellow Soren Faurby, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, who is the lead author on the study.
The existence of Africa's many species of mammals is thus not due to an optimal climate and environment, but rather because it is the only place where they have not yet been eradicated by humans. The underlying reason includes evolutionary adaptation of large mammals to humans as well as greater pest pressure on human populations in long-inhabited Africa in the past.
Better understanding helps nature preservation
The study's openly accessible data set of natural range maps for all late-Quatenary mammals provides researchers with the first opportunity to analyze the natural patterns in the species diversity and composition of mammals worldwide. Hereby, it can be used to provide a better understanding of the natural factors that determine the biodiversity in a specific area.
Today, there is a particularly large number of mammal species in mountainous areas. This is often interpreted as a consequence of environmental variation, where different species have evolved in deep valleys and high mountains. According to the new study, however, this trend is much weaker when the natural patterns are considered.
"The current high level of biodiversity in mountainous areas is partly due to the fact that the mountains have acted as a refuge for species in relation to hunting and habitat destruction, rather than being a purely natural pattern. An example in Europe is the brown bear, which now virtually only live in mountainous regions because it has been exterminated from the more accessible and most often more densely populated lowland areas," explains Soren Faurby.
Hereby, this new study can provide an important base-line for nature restoration and conservation.
The study has been published in the scientific journal Diversity and Distributions.

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/summer-2015/article/if-modern-humans-never-existed

 


This is a detail of the
marks on a fossilized rib
bone, one of the two controversial bones.
"The best match we have
for the marks, using
currently available data, would still be butchery
with stone tools," says Emory University anthropologist Jessica Thompson.
Photo courtesy
Zeresenay Alemseged.
Researchers report evidence of earliest stone tool usage
15 August 2015
In a study recently published in press in the Journal of Human Evolution, an international team of scientists report evidence that fossilized faunal (animal) remains recovered from Pliocene hominin-bearing deposits show butchery marks - cut marks that were likely made with stone tools. The subject fossil remains and their characteristic marks, they suggest, are dated to the time period of the earliest stone tools, or about 3 million years ago.
Jessica Thompson of Emory University, along with colleagues from other American universities and the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, examined a large assemblage of fossils collected from the Hadar Formation at Dikika, Ethiopia, an area known to have yielded significant hominin finds bearing on the early stages of human evolution. Scrutinizing them through microscopic technigues, they were able to determine that two fossil specimens, taken from a site locality designated 'DIK-55', collectively showed "twelve marks interpreted to be characteristic of stone tool butchery damage."
The 12 marks on the two specimens - a long bone from a creature the size of a medium antelope and a rib bone from an animal closer in size to a buffalo - most closely resemble a combination of purposeful cutting and percussion marks, Thompson says. "When these bones were hit, they were hit with enormous force and multiple times."
The paper supports the original interpretation that the damage to the two bones is characteristic of stone tool butchery, published in Nature in 2010. That finding was sensational, since it potentially pushed back evidence for the use of stone tools, as well as the butchering of large animals, by about 800,000 years.
The Nature paper was followed in 2011 by a rebuttal in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggesting that the bones were marked by incidental trampling in abrasive sediments. That sparked a series of debates about the significance of the discovery and whether the bones had been trampled.
For the current paper, Thompson and her co-authors examined the surfaces of a sample of more than 4000 other bones from the same deposits. They then used statistical methods to compare more than 450 marks found on those bones to experimental trampling marks and to the marks on the two controversial specimens.
"We would really like to understand what caused these marks," Thompson says. "One of the most important questions in human evolution is when did we start eating meat, since meat is considered a likely explanation for how we fed the evolution of our big brains."
Evidence shows that our genus, Homo, emerged around 2.8 million years ago. Until recently, the earliest known stone tools were 2.6 million years old. Changes had already been occurring in the organization of the brains of the human lineage, but after this time there was also an increase in overall brain size. This increased size has largely been attributed to a higher quality diet.
While some other apes are known to occasionally hunt and eat animals smaller than themselves, they do not hunt or eat larger animals that store abundant deposits of fat in the marrow of their long bones. A leading hypothesis in paleoanthropology is that a diet rich in animal protein combined with marrow fat provided the energy needed to fuel the larger human brain.
The animal bones in the Dikika site, however, have been reliably dated to long before Homo emerged. They are from the same sediments and only slightly older than the 3.3-million-year-old fossils unearthed from Dikika belonging to the hominid species Australopithecus afarensis.
Thompson specializes in the study of what happens to bones after an animal dies. "Fossil bones can tell you stories, if you know how to interpret them," she says.
A whole ecosystem of animals, insects, fungus and tree roots modify bones. Did they get buried quickly? Or were they exposed to the sun for a while? Were they gnawed by a rodent or chomped by a crocodile? Were they trampled on sandy soil or rocky ground? Or were they purposely cut, pounded or scraped with a tool of some kind?
One way that experimental archeologists learn to interpret marks on fossil bones is by modifying modern-day bones. They hit bones with hammer stones, feed them to carnivores and trample them on various substrates, then study the results.
Based on knowledge from such experiments, Thompson was one of three specialists who diagnosed the marks on the two bones from Dikika as butchery in a blind test, before being told the age of the fossils or their origin.
The PNAS rebuttal paper, however, also used experimental methods and came to the conclusion that the marks were characteristic of trampling.
Thompson realized that data from a larger sample of fossils were needed to chip away at the mystery.
The current paper investigated with microscopic scrutiny all non-hominin fossils collected from the Hadar Formation at Dikika. The researchers collected a random sample of fossils from the same deposits as the controversial specimens, as well as nearby deposits. They measured shapes and sizes of marks on the fossil bones. Then they compared the characteristics of the fossil marks statistically to the experimental marks reported in the PNASrebuttal paper as being typical of trampling damage. They also investigated the angularity of sand grains at the site and found that they were rounded - not the angular type that might produce striations on a trampled bone.
"The random population sample of the fossils provides context," Thompson says. "The marks on the two bones in question don't look like other marks common on the landscape. The marks are bigger, and they have different characteristics."
Trample marks tend to be shallow, sinuous or curvy. Purposeful cuts from a tool tend to be straight and create a narrow V-shaped groove, while a tooth tends to make a U-shaped groove. The study measured and quantified such damage to modern-day bones for comparison to the fossilized ones.
"Our analysis shows with statistical certainty that the marks on the two bones in question were not caused by trampling," Thompson says. "While there is abundant evidence that other bones at the site were damaged by trampling, these two bones are outliers. The marks on them still more closely resemble marks made by butchering."
One hypothesis is that butchering large animals with tools occurred during that time period, but that it was an exceedingly rare behavior. Another possibility is that more evidence is out there, but no one has been looking for it because they have not expected to find it at a time period this early.
The Dikika specimens represent a turning point in paleoanthropology, Thompson says. "If we want to understand when and how our ancestors started eating meat and moving into that ecological niche, we need to refine our search images for the field and apply these new recovery and analytical methods. We hope other researchers will use our work as a recipe to go out and systematically collect samples from other sites for comparison."
In addition to Dikika, other recent finds are shaking up long held views of hominin evolution and when typical human behaviors emerged. This year, a team led by archeologist Sonia Harmand in Kenya reported unearthing stone tools that have been reliably dated to 3.3 million years ago, or 700,000 years older than the previous record.
"We know that simple stone tools are not unique to humans," Thompson says. "The making of more complex tools, designed for more complex uses, may be uniquely human."
The findings are significant in light of recent discoveries in East Africa that may be effectively pushing back the clock or even blurring the human evolutionary line between the earliest species of the Homo genus (early human ancestors) and an earlier or more 'primitive' genus known as the Australopithecines (a proto-human ancestor).
But who were the possible hominins responsible for the Dikika cut marks? Fossil remains of Australopithecus afarensis are (as of this writing) the only hominin fossils found in the area of Dikika dated to the same time period, though many more finds and much more work remains to be done before the toolmaker can be identified, if ever.

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/summer-2015/article/researchers-report-evidence-of-earliest-stone-tool-usage

 


Blombos Still Bay points. Courtesy University of
the Witwatersrand
South African sites reveal more about early modern human culture
10 July 2015
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa - Two of South Africa's most famous archaeological sites, Sibudu and Blombos, have revealed that Middle Stone Age groups who lived in these different areas, more than 1,000 kilometres apart, used similar types of stone tools some 71,000 years ago, but that there were differences in the ways that these tools were made.
"This was not the case at 65,000 years ago when similarities in stone tool making suggest that similar cultural traditions spread across South Africa," says Professor Lyn Wadley, archaeologist from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Wadley is part of an international team of researchers from South Africa, France, the US and Italy who published the results of their systematic study of Middle Stone Age (MSA) stone tool technologies in a paper, titled: The Still Bay and Howiesons Poort at Sibudu and Blombos: Understanding Middle Stone Age technologies, in the journal, PLoS One, on 10 July 2015.
The team also includes Wits University's Professor Christopher Henshilwood, as well as lead author Sylvain Soriano (France), Paola Villa (US), and others (*).
The researchers undertook systematic technological and typological analysis on two types of Middle Stone Age assemblages - Still Bay and Howiesons Poort - from two of the most famous archaeological sites from this time period in South Africa, Blombos Cave in the Western Cape and Sibudu in KwaZulu-Natal. At these sites we find much of the archaeological evidence for the origins of modern human behaviour.
In the paper, using their own and published data from other sites, the researchers report on the diversity between stone artifact assemblages and discuss to what extent they can be grouped into homogeneous lithic sets.
In agreement with results of previous studies of broadly contemporaneous Howiesons Poort assemblages by other analysts, the researchers' analysis argues for some uniformity in this cultural entity among sites spread across a vast region from the Western Cape to the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.
Despite the use of different rock types in each site, Howiesons Poort craftsmen follow the same pattern to knap stone. Small blades were produced and used as blanks for "penknife-like" backed and pointed tools, hafted and used both as cutting devices and composite elements of hunting weaponry.
This supports the idea of a long-lasting system of complex behavioural traditions that may have been socially transmitted by teaching and verbal instructions. The study also implies that the Howiesons Poort complex was not static, but underwent gradual changes through time.
A similar approach was used in the analysis of the Still Bay assemblages from Sibudu and Blombos. At Sibudu, stone knapping was almost completely oriented towards the production of thin, long, double pointed stone points.
These points were designed for a primary use as cutting devices and a long re-sharpening process was applied to these tools to ensure their long-life use. These points were also used as tips of hunting weapons.

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/summer-2015/article/south-african-sites-reveal-more-about-early-modern-human-culture

 


The deceased in the
grave No. 11.
Photo by A. Czekaj-Zastawny
Poles discovered a unique 6.5 thousand years old burial in Egypt
6 July 2015
Traces of intentional injury in the form of cuts on the femur have been discovered on the remains of one of the dead found during this year's excavations carried out in the Western Desert in Egypt. It is the first known case of such treatment from the Neolithic period in this part of Africa.
Discovery has been made by the expedition led by Prof. Jacek Kabacinski from the Poznan branch of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS. Polish research area in the desert, called Gebel Ramlah, is located near the southern border of Egypt with Sudan, about 140 km west of Abu Simbel. Poles have been working there since 2009 and making important discoveries from the beginning, including an unusual cemetery of newborns.
This year, they discovered a further part of the cemetery and investigated 60 new burials, this time belonging to adults. In the grave marked with number 11, which contained the remains of two dead, one bearing traces of deliberate damage to the body in the form of cuts on the femur - yet such treatments were unknown to scientists who study the Neolithic in North Africa and Eastern Europe. In another grave they discovered the remains of unprecedented in this area tomb structures, consisting of stone slabs which lined the interior of the cavity, in which the deceased had been buried.
Another interesting find, according to Prof. Kabacinski, is also the burial of a man whose body, after the burial, was showered with fragments of broken pottery, stone products and lumps of red dye. The remains of the deceased were also unusual - anthropologists noticed the pathology of numerous bones in the form of overgrowth of femoral bone, fractures and abnormal bone adhesions. Above his head archaeologists found a fragment of Dorcas gazelle skull with horns, which probably served as a headdress, worn during a ceremony. Similar finds known from European Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites suggest that it is a grave of a person who performed magical rites, perhaps associated with hunting - the researchers suggest.
Research project at Gebel Ramlah is carried out as part of the activities of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition IAE PAS, in collaboration with the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of University of Warsaw. The work is financed by the National Science Centre.
PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland

Source: http://scienceinpoland.pap.pl/en/news/news,405679,poles-discovered-a-unique-65-thousand-years-old-burial-in-egypt.html

 


Forgotten World: The Stone-walled Settlements of the Mpumalanga Escarpment
1 July 2015
We have much to learn from the Bakoni. For one, they taught us that political centralisation does not necessarily equate economic development. They also debunk colonial perceptions that prior to the arrival of settler farming, African agriculture was rudimentary, subsistence oriented, transient and barely capitalised.
The Bakoni
This is what recent archaeological and historical research in the area known as Bokoni in Mpumalanga has revealed. The Bakoni, the Koni people who first emerged in this area around the 1500s and lived here until around the 1820s, were advanced farming communities that created stone-walled sites – the remnants of which still cover vast areas in Mpumalanga today.
According to The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg researchers, historian Professor Peter Delius and archaeologist Dr Alex Schoeman, it is now clear that the Bakoni practised advanced technological and agricultural innovation and techniques long before Africa was colonised.
Their book, Forgotten World – The Stone-walled Settlements of the Mpumalanga Escarpment, as well as an hour-long documentary, aim to create awareness and to inform on a “forgotten” part of South Africa’s history and heritage that has for too long been ignored.
Delius and Schoeman elaborated on their research project during the National Research Foundation Science for Society Lecture held at Wits University on 11 June 2015.
Unique systems
"This intensive farming system was unique in South Africa and was the largest intensive farming system in southern and eastern Africa. It included massive investment in stone terracing, cattle kraals and which allowed for the cultivation of rich, volcanic soils on the hill sides of the escarpment," Delius said.
Crop cultivation was combined with closely managed livestock production in which cattle were kept at the heart of the settlements at night and during the day were able to feed on the diverse grasslands.
"It is also connected to systems of long distance trade which span the interior that linked to the east coast and to the vast and ancient Indian Ocean trading system. So this was not an isolated society, an isolated world, it was part of a much bigger regional system," Delius said.

Source: http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/07/2015/forgotten-world-the-stone-walled-settlements-of-the-mpumalanga-escarpment

 


New study shows South Africans using milk-based paint 49,000 years ago
30 June 2015
An international research team led by the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa has discovered a milk-and ochre-based paint dating to 49,000 years ago that inhabitants may have used to adorn themselves with or to decorate stone or wooden slabs.
While the use of ochre by early humans dates to at least 250,000 years ago in Europe and Africa, this is the first time a paint containing ochre and milk has ever been found in association with early humans in South Africa, said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and lead study author. The milk likely was obtained by killing lactating members of the bovid family such as buffalo, eland, kudu and impala, she said.
"Although the use of the paint still remains uncertain, this surprising find establishes the use of milk with ochre well before the introduction of domestic cattle in South Africa," said Villa. "Obtaining milk from a lactating wild bovid also suggests that the people may have attributed a special significance and value to that product."
The powdered paint mixture was found on the edge of a small stone flake in a layer of Sibudu Cave, a rock shelter in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Africa, that was occupied by anatomically modern humans in the Middle Stone Age from roughly 77,000 years ago to about 38,000 years ago, said Villa. While ochre powder production and its use are documented in a number of Middle Stone Age South African sites, there has been no evidence of the use of milk as a chemical binding agent until this discovery, she said.
A paper on the subject was published online June 30 in PLOS ONE. Co-authors were from the Italian Institute of Paleontology in Rome, Italy; the University of Geneva in Switzerland; the University of Pisa in Italy; the University of Monte St. Angelo in Naples, Italy; and the University of Oxford in England. The excavation was directed by Professor Lyn Wadley of the University of Witwatersrand, also a paper co-author.
Cattle were not domesticated in South Africa until 1,000 to 2,000 years ago, said Villa. Wild South African bovids are known to separate from the herd when giving birth and usually attempt to hide their young, a behavior that may have made them easy prey for experienced Middle Stone Age hunters, she said.
The dried paint compound is preserved on the stone flake that may have been used as a mixing implement to combine ochre and milk, or as an applicator, said Villa. The team used several high-tech chemical and elemental analyses to verify the presence of casein, the major protein of milk, on the flake.
At both African and European archaeological sites, scientists have found evidence of ochre -- a natural pigment containing iron oxide than can range from yellow and orange to red and brown - dating back 250,000 years. By 125,000 years ago, there is evidence ochre was being ground up to produce a paint powder in South Africa.
It has been proposed the ochre was sometimes combined by ancient Africans with resin or plant gum to use as an adhesive for attaching shafts to stone tools or wooden bone handles, Villa said. It also may have been used to preserve hides and for body paint, she said, noting that a roughly 100,000-year-old ochre-rich compound blended with animal marrow fat was found at the Middle Stone Age site of Blombos Cave in South Africa.
Body painting is widely practiced by the indigenous San people in South Africa, and is depicted in ancient rock art. While there are no ethnographic precedents for mixing ochre with milk as a body paint, the modern Himba people in Namibia mix ochre with butter as a coloring agent for skin, hair and leather clothing, Villa said.

Source: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-06/uoca-nss063015.php

 


Endangered rock art up
to 77,000 years old is disappearing and needs
to be protected urgently.
Africa's ancient art to be saved, with your help
25 June 2015
Thousands of examples of millennial old art carved into rocks and on the walls of caves are under threat as their location is often unknown and unprotected from artefact thieves.
Despite providing some of the oldest art in the world, Africa's rock art tradition has long been overlooked by archaeologists and art historians alike.
Now the British Museum and Kenyan-based archaeological charity TARA (Trust for African Rock Art) are working to preserve this endangered heritage.
"The Museum wants to make Africa's rock art available to both scholars and the general public alike. We hope to both protect and share this remarkable history for free with a global audience," says Elizabeth Galvin, Curator of the African Rock Art Image Project.
The rock art tradition began in Africa 50,000 years ago, but abstract engravings may be up to 77,000 years old. It long predates writing, so serves as an important historical window into the culture and beliefs of early humans, and the world in which they lived. Today only a handful of isolated groups engage in the tradition, with a few sites still being used for fertility and rainmaking rituals.
The places in which ancient rock art is found have been little documented and largely unprotected, leading to a deterioration of the sites and the art itself. In 1996, TARA was set up, in order to record and protect the rich rock art heritage of the African continent.
The Nairobi-based NGO are committed to improving awareness about this tradition, and the endangered state that rock art sites are in.
"The ultimate aim is to record all this incredible heritage for humanity before it's too late," says David Coulson, TARA's Executive Chairman.
TARA signed the partnership agreement with the British Museum, so that the Museum could use a digital copy of TARA's photographic archive to educate people further about rock art. Since the sites are often fairly inaccessible geographically, and susceptible to natural and man-made destruction, the project will allow both academics and general audiences greater access to the tradition.
It will be the first time that such an extensive rock art archive will be available to the British public, and will provide one of the most complete public databases on African rock art in the world. 25,000 digital photos of sites from across Africa will be included, alongside material from archaeological and anthropological research.
The collection will include images of sites across the Fezzan of Southwest Libya, with dates ranging from 10,000 BC to 100 AD. Sites in the Messak Sattafet and the Acacus Mountains, (part of the Tadrart-Acacus trans-frontier UNESCO World Heritage site) will feature, depicting a wide range of subjects, from hippopotami to men in chariots. A survey of the South African sites will show the different styles and subject matters of the Khoi, San and other groups of humans from thousands of years ago. As well as this early art, the collection will also exhibit engravings and graffiti by European settlers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In East Africa, the TARA archive will reveal geometric paintings and engravings by Twa forager-hunters as well as images of livestock, shields and clan markings made by Maasai and Samburu pastoralists in rock shelters. In these photos, 'rock gongs' - rocks with natural resonance once used for communication - feature prominently.

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/africas-ancient-art-to-be-saved-with-your-help-10345300.html

 


The multispectral image
of the map reveals text
and details invisible to
the naked eye.
Hidden secrets of 1491 world map revealed via multispectral imaging
12 June 2015
Henricus Martellus, a German cartographer working in Florence in the late 15th century, produced a highly detailed map of the known world. According to experts, there is strong evidence that Christopher Columbus studied this map and that it influenced his thinking before his fateful voyage.
Martellus' map arrived at Yale in 1962, the gift of an anonymous donor. Scholars at the time hailed the map's importance and argued that it could provide a missing link to the cartographic record at the dawn of the Age of Discovery. However, five centuries of fading and scuffing had rendered much of the map's text and other details illegible or invisible, limiting its research value.
A team of researchers and imaging specialists is recovering the lost information through a multispectral-imaging project. Their work is yielding discoveries about how the world was viewed over 500 years ago.
Last August the five-member team visited the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where for years the Martellus map hung from a wall outside the reading room. (It was recently moved to the Yale University Art Gallery for storage while the library is under renovation.) The team, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, photographed the map in 12 reflective colors, including several frequencies beyond the range of visible light. Those images were processed and analyzed with high-tech software.
"We've recovered more information than we dared to hope for," says Chet Van Duzer, a map historian who is leading the project.
The map, which dates to about 1491 and depicts the Earth's surface from the Atlantic in the west to Japan in the east, is dotted with descriptions in Latin of various regions and peoples. A text box visible over northern Asia describes the people of "Balor" who live without wine or wheat and subsist on deer meat.
Van Duzer says the new images reveal many such descriptions. For instance, text uncovered in southern Asia describe the "Panotii" people as having ears so large that they could use them as sleeping bags.
Newly revealed text in eastern Asian is borrowed from "The Travels of Marco Polo." From the discrepancies in wording, Van Duzer has determined that Martellus used a manuscript version of the travelogue, not the sole printed edition in Latin that existed at the time.
Perhaps the most interesting revelations, say the researchers, concern southern Africa. By studying visible river systems and legible place names, Van Duzer had previously determined that Martellus based his depiction of the region on the Egyptus Novelo map, which survives in three manuscripts of Ptolemy's "Geography." The Egyptus Novelo used geographical data from native Africans, not European explorations. It is thought that the map was based on information shared by three Ethiopian delegates to the Council of Florence in 1441.
The new images show that the Martellus map's depiction of southern Africa extends further east than the known versions of the Egyptus Novelo do, suggesting that the German cartographer was working from a more complete version of the map that showed the eastern reaches of the continent.
"It's a seminal and tremendously important document of African mapping by the people of Africa, in this case preserved by a western source," says Van Duzer.
The new images also have helped Van Duzer to determine how the Martellus map influenced later cartographers. The map is similar to a world map drawn by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in 1507, which was the first map to apply the name "America" to the New World. The multispectral images show many of the same texts on Martellus' map in the same locations as on the 1507 map, confirming that the Martellus map was an essential source for Waldseemüller, says Van Duzer. At the same time, he notes, the cartographers' works are not identical: Waldseemüller borrowed most of his place names in coastal Africa from a different map.
"It puts you in the mapmaker's workshop," says Van Duzer. "It's easy to imagine Waldseemüller at his desk consulting various sources."
Waldseemüller was not alone in contemplating Martellus' work. Van Duzer says it is nearly certain that Columbus examined the Martellus map, or a map very similar to it.
Writings by Columbus's son Ferdinand indicate that the explorer had expected to find Japan where Martellus depicted it, and with the same orientation, far off the Asian coast, and with its main axis running north and south. No other surviving maps from the period show Japan with that configuration, says Van Duzer.
In addition, the journal of one of Columbus's crewmembers, who believed the expedition was sailing along island chains in southern Asia, describes the region much as it is depicted in the Martellus map.
Revealing the map's faded details provides a more complete picture of Columbus's perception of geography, notes the historian.
"It's always interesting to learn how people conceived the world at that period in history," says Van Duzer. "The late 15th century was a time when people's image of the world was changing so rapidly. Even within Martellus's own career, what he was showing of the world expanded dramatically."
The discoveries are the result of painstaking effort. The multispectral images are processed using special software that finds the precise combination of spectral bands to enhance the visibility of text. The work involves a lot of experimentation.
The map's text was written in a variety of pigments, which complicates the task of recovering lost letters because individual pigments respond differently to light.
"We're still finding things," says Professor Roger Easton of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at Rochester Institute of Technology. "We're focusing on these difficult cartouches and text blocks. One day last week we pulled out 11 characters. The next day, we got several words."
Easton estimates the team has uncovered about 80% of recoverable text. Some of the text is entirely invisible before processing. The team is currently at work uncovering details in the region around Java.
Once the project is completed, the new images will be made available to scholars and the public on the Beinecke Library's website.

Source: http://phys.org/news/2015-06-hidden-secrets-world-revealed-multispectral.html

 


A Christian Orthodox girl
sings with her choir on a
road on the outskirts of present-day Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is a place
steeped in legend where Christianity was adopted
in the later part of the Aksumite period in
fourth and fifth centuries. The new archaeological finds date back even earlier.
Ethiopia Aksum excavation uncovers 2000 year old jewellery predating Roman trade
8 June 2015
Excavation of the ancient city of Aksum in northern Ethiopia has uncovered jewellery and artefacts dating back to the first and second centuries, indicating the Roman Empire was trading there much earlier than believed so far.
One of the graves shows a woman buried, curled up on her side, gazing into a Roman bronze mirror. Sporting a beautiful bronze ring, the woman was also wearing a necklace of thousands of tiny beads, and a beaded belt, clearly indicating her high status.
Near the body was a lump of eyeliner placed nearby in a bronze spoon.
Louise Schofield, a former British Museum curator, who headed the major six-week excavation believes the woman she has nicknamed "sleeping beauty" was beautiful and much loved, going by the positioning of the body and the objects.
Two perfectly preserved drinking beakers, a flask to catch the tears of the dead and a clay jug could have contained food for afterlife, says Schofield.
She hopes the contents can be analysed, writes the Observer.
The team also found skeletons of warriors wearing large iron bangles.
A glass perfume flask and another female skeleton wearing a valuable necklace of 1,065 coloured glass beads are among the other finds.
Aksum, the capital of the Aksumite kingdom that ruled parts of north-east Africa for centuries before 940 AD, formed a major link in the trade between the Roman Empire and India.
Very little is known about this civilisation as also about Ethiopian past.
A new species of hominin, called Australopithecus deyiremeda, closely related to the famous "Lucy" species Australopithecus afarensis was discovered in the Afar region of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, which was believed to have been the last stop in Africa for early humans who migrated to other continents, was recently ousted from that position by a genome analysis study which showed more similarities between the Egyptian and Eurasian genomes than Ethiopian and Eurasian ones.

Source: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ethiopia-aksum-excavation-uncovers-2000-year-old-jewellery-predating-roman-trade-1504921

 


Human genome
sequences from
Ethiopians and Egyptians point to a Northern exit
out of Africa as the most likely route by the
ancestors of all Eurasians.
Image courtesy Luca
Pagani
Modern humans migrated out of Africa via Egypt, suggests genetic study
28 May 2015
How and when the first modern human populations emerged out of Africa to settle Europe and Asia has been at the center of a long-standing debate among researchers and scholars. The results of a new genetic study, however, suggests that modern humans made their first successful major migration out of Africa around 55,000 - 60,000 years ago through Egypt, and not from further south through Ethiopia, as suggested by another proposed theory.
Dr. Luca Pagani, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge in the UK, and his colleagues analyzed the genetic information from six modern Northeast African populations (100 Egyptians, and five Ethiopian populations each represented by 25 people).
"Two geographically plausible routes have been proposed: an exit through the current Egypt and Sinai, which is the northern route, or one through Ethiopia, the Bab el Mandeb strait, and the Arabian Peninsula, which is the southern route," Dr. Pagani explains. "In our research, we generated the first comprehensive set of unbiased genomic data from Northeast Africans and observed, after controlling for recent migrations, a higher genetic similarity between Egyptians and Eurasians than between Ethiopians and Eurasians."
It suggests that Egypt was most likely the way out of Africa.
The team also used high-quality genomes to estimate the time that the populations split from one another: people outside Africa split from the Egyptian genomes more recently than from the Ethiopians (55,000 as opposed to 65, 000 years ago), supporting the idea that Egypt was the last stop on the route out of Africa.
"While our results do not address controversies about the timing and possible complexities of the expansion out of Africa, they paint a clear picture in which the main migration out of Africa followed a northern, rather than a southern route," says Dr Toomas Kivisild, a senior author from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge.
The northern route is also best supported by the known genetic mixture of all non-Africans with Neanderthals, who were present in the Levant at the time, and with the recent discovery of early modern human fossils in Israel (close to the northern route) dating to around 55,000 years ago.
"This important study still leaves questions to answer," says Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, a senior author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "For example, did other migrations also leave Africa around this time, but leave no trace in present-day genomes? To answer this, we need ancient genomes from populations along the possible routes. Similarly, by adding present-day genomes from Oceania, we can discover whether or not there was a separate, perhaps Southern, migration to these regions."
"Our approach shows how it is possible to use the latest genomic data and tools to answer these intriguing questions of our human origins and migrations," he added.
In addition to providing insights on the evolutionary past of all Eurasians with their new findings, the researchers have also developed an extensive public catalog of the genomic diversity in Ethiopian and Egyptian populations.
"This information will be of great value as a freely available reference panel for future medical and anthropological studies in these areas," says Dr. Pagani.
The findings are published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2015/article/modern-humans-migrated-out-of-africa-via-egypt-suggests-genetic-study

 


Holotype upper jaw of a
new human ancestor species found on March
4, 2011.
Credit: Yohannes Haile-Selassie, Cleveland Museum of Natural
History
New human ancestor species from Ethiopia lived alongside Lucy's species
27 May 2015
A new relative joins "Lucy" on the human family tree. An international team of scientists, led by Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, has discovered a 3.3 to 3.5 million-year-old new human ancestor species. Upper and lower jaw fossils recovered from the Woranso-Mille area of the Afar region of Ethiopia have been assigned to the new species Australopithecus deyiremeda. This hominin lived alongside the famous "Lucy's" species, Australopithecus afarensis. The species will be described in the May 28, 2015 issue of the international scientific journal Nature.
Lucy's species lived from 2.9 million years ago to 3.8 million years ago, overlapping in time with the new species Australopithecus deyiremeda. The new species is the most conclusive evidence for the contemporaneous presence of more than one closely related early human ancestor species prior to 3 million years ago. The species name "deyiremeda" (day-ihreme-dah) means "close relative" in the language spoken by the Afar people.
Australopithecus deyiremeda differs from Lucy's species in terms of the shape and size of its thick-enameled teeth and the robust architecture of its lower jaws. The anterior teeth are also relatively small indicating that it probably had a different diet.
"The new species is yet another confirmation that Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis, was not the only potential human ancestor species that roamed in what is now the Afar region of Ethiopia during the middle Pliocene," said lead author and Woranso-Mille project team leader Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. "Current fossil evidence from the Woranso-Mille study area clearly shows that there were at least two, if not three, early human species living at the same time and in close geographic proximity."
"The age of the new fossils is very well constrained by the regional geology, radiometric dating, and new paleomagnetic data," said co-author Dr. Beverly Saylor of Case Western Reserve University. The combined evidence from radiometric, paleomagnetic, and depositional rate analyses yields estimated minimum and maximum ages of 3.3 and 3.5 million years.
"This new species from Ethiopia takes the ongoing debate on early hominin diversity to another level," said Haile-Selassie. "Some of our colleagues are going to be skeptical about this new species, which is not unusual. However, I think it is time that we look into the earlier phases of our evolution with an open mind and carefully examine the currently available fossil evidence rather than immediately dismissing the fossils that do not fit our long-held hypotheses," said Haile-Selassie.
Scientists have long argued that there was only one pre-human species at any given time between 3 and 4 million years ago, subsequently giving rise to another new species through time. This was what the fossil record appeared to indicate until the end of the 20th century. However, the naming of Australopithecus bahrelghazali from Chad and Kenyanthropus platyops from Kenya, both from the same time period as Lucy's species, challenged this long-held idea. Although a number of researchers were skeptical about the validity of these species, the announcement by Haile-Selassie of the 3.4 million-year-old Burtele partial foot in 2012 cleared some of the skepticism on the likelihood of multiple early hominin species in the 3 to 4 million-year range.
The Burtele partial fossil foot did not belong to a member of Lucy's species. However, despite the similarity in geological age and close geographic proximity, the researchers have not assigned the partial foot to the new species due to lack of clear association. Regardless, the new species Australopithecus deyiremeda incontrovertibly confirms that multiple species did indeed co-exist during this time period.
This discovery has important implications for our understanding of early hominin ecology. It also raises significant questions, such as how multiple early hominins living at the same time and geographic area might have used the shared landscape and available resources.
Discovery of Australopithecus deyiremeda:
The holotype (type specimen) of Australopithecus deyiremeda is an upper jaw with teeth discovered on March 4, 2011, on top of a silty clay surface at one of the Burtele localities. The paratype lower jaws were also surface discoveries found on March 4 and 5, 2011, at the same locality as the holotype and another nearby locality called Waytaleyta. The holotype upper jaw was found in one piece (except for one of the teeth which was found nearby), whereas the mandible was recovered in two halves that were found about two meters apart from each other. The other mandible was found about 2 kilometers east of where the Burtele specimens were found.
Location of the Discovery:
The fossil specimens were found in the Woranso-Mille Paleontological Project study area located in the central Afar region of Ethiopia about 325 miles (520 kilometers) northeast of the capital Addis Ababa and 22 miles (35 kilometers) north of Hadar ("Lucy's" site). Burtele and Waytaleyta are local names for the areas where the holotype and paratypes were found and they are located in the Mille district, Zone 1 of the Afar Regional State.
The Woranso-Mille Project:
The Woranso-Mille Paleontological project conducts field and laboratory work in Ethiopia every year. This multidisciplinary project is led by Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Additional co-authors of this research include: Dr. Luis Gibert of University of Barcelona (Spain), Dr. Stephanie Melillo of the Max Planck Institute (Leipzig, Germany), Dr. Timothy M. Ryan of Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Mulugeta Alene of Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), Drs. Alan Deino and Gary Scott of the Berkeley Geochronology Center, Dr. Naomi E. Levin of Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Beverly Z. Saylor of Case Western Reserve University. Graduate and undergraduate students from Ethiopia and the United States of America also participated in the field and laboratory activities of the project.

Source: http://phys.org/news/2015-05-human-ancestor-species-ethiopia-lucy.html

 


Sammy Lokorodi, a
resident of Kenya's northwestern desert who works as a fossil and
artifact hunter, led the
way to the trove of 3.3 million-year-old tools.
Courtesy West Turkana Archaeological Project
Scientists discover world's oldest stone tools
20 May 2015
Earth Institute at Columbia University - Scientists working in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya have found stone tools dating back 3.3 million years, long before the advent of modern humans, and by far the oldest such artifacts yet discovered. The tools, whose makers may or may not have been some sort of human ancestor, push the known date of such tools back by 700,000 years; they also may challenge the notion that our own most direct ancestors were the first to pound two rocks together to create a new technology.
The discovery is the first evidence that an even earlier group of proto-humans may have had the thinking abilities needed to figure out how to make sharp-edged tools. The stone tools mark "a new beginning to the known archaeological record," say the authors of a new paper about the discovery, published today in the leading scientific journal Nature.
"The whole site's surprising, it just rewrites the book on a lot of things that we thought were true," said geologist Chris Lepre of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University, a co-author of the paper who precisely dated the artifacts.
The tools "shed light on an unexpected and previously unknown period of hominin behavior and can tell us a lot about cognitive development in our ancestors that we can't understand from fossils alone," said lead author Sonia Harmand, of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University and the Universite Paris Ouest Nanterre.
Hominins are a group of species that includes modern humans, Homo sapiens, and our closest evolutionary ancestors. Anthropologists long thought that our relatives in the genus Homo - the line leading directly to Homo sapiens - were the first to craft such stone tools. But researchers have been uncovering tantalizing clues that some other, earlier species of hominin, distant cousins, if you will, might have figured it out.
The researchers do not know who made these oldest of tools. But earlier finds suggest a possible answer: The skull of a 3.3-million-year-old hominin, Kenyanthropus platytops, was found in 1999 about a kilometer from the tool site. A K. platyops tooth and a bone from a skull were discovered a few hundred meters away, and an as-yet unidentified tooth has been found about 100 meters away.
The precise family tree of modern humans is contentious, and so far, no one knows exactly how K. platyops relates to other hominin species. Kenyanthropus predates the earliest known Homo species by a half a million years. This species could have made the tools; or, the toolmaker could have been some other species from the same era, such as Australopithecus afarensis, or an as-yet undiscovered early type of Homo.
Lepre said a layer of volcanic ash below the tool site set a "floor" on the site's age: It matched ash elsewhere that had been dated to about 3.3 million years ago, based on the ratio of argon isotopes in the material. To more sharply define the time period of the tools, Lepre and co-author and Lamont-Doherty colleague Dennis Kent examined magnetic minerals beneath, around and above the spots where the tools were found.
The Earth's magnetic field periodically reverses itself, and the chronology of those changes is well documented going back millions of years. "We essentially have a magnetic tape recorder that records the magnetic field ... the music of the [earth's] outer core," Kent said. By tracing the variations in the polarity of the samples, they dated the site to 3.33 million to 3.11 million years.
Lepre's wife and another co-author, Rhoda Quinn of Rutgers, studied carbon isotopes in the soil, which along with animal fossils at the site allowed researchers to reconstruct the area's vegetation. This led to another surprise: The area was at that time a partially wooded, shrubby environment. Conventional thinking has been that sophisticated tool-making came in response to a change in climate that led to the spread of broad savannah grasslands, and the consequent evolution of large groups of animals that could serve as a source of food for human ancestors.
One line of thinking is that hominins started knapping - pounding one rock against another to make sharp-edged stones - so they could cut meat off of animal carcasses, said paper co-author Jason Lewis of the Turkana Basin Institute and Rutgers. But the size and markings of the newly discovered tools "suggest they were doing something different as well, especially if they were in a more wooded environment with access to various plant resources," Lewis said. The researchers think the tools could have been used for breaking open nuts or tubers, bashing open dead logs to get at insects inside, or maybe something not yet thought of.
"The capabilities of our ancestors and the environmental forces leading to early stone technology are a great scientific mystery," said Richard Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the research. The newly dated tools "begin to lift the veil on that mystery, at an earlier time than expected," he said.
Potts said he had examined the stone tools during a visit to Kenya in February.
"Researchers have thought there must be some way of flaking stone that preceded the simplest tools known until now," he said. "Harmand's team shows us just what this even simpler altering of rocks looked like before technology became a fundamental part of early human behavior."
Ancient stone artifacts from East Africa were first uncovered at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania in the mid-20th century, and those tools were later associated with fossil discoveries in the 1960s of the early human ancestor Homo habilis. That species has been dated to 2.1 million to 1.5 million years ago.
Subsequent finds have pushed back the dates of humans' evolutionary ancestors, and of stone tools, raising questions about who first made that cognitive leap. The discovery of a partial lower jaw in the Afar region of Ethiopia, announced on March 4, pushes the fossil record for the genus Homo to 2.8 million years ago. Evidence from recent papers, the authors note, suggests that there is anatomical evidence that Homo had evolved into several distinct lines by 2 million years ago.
There is some evidence of more primitive tool use going back even before the new find. In 2009, researchers at Dikika, Ethiopia, dug up 3.39 million-year-old animal bones marked with slashes and other cut marks, evidence that someone used stones to trim flesh from bone and perhaps crush bones to get at the marrow inside. That is the earliest evidence of meat and marrow consumption by hominins. No tools were found at the site, so it's unclear whether the marks were made with crafted tools or simply sharp-edged stones. The only hominin fossil remains in the area dating to that time are from Australopithecus afarensis.
The new find came about almost by accident: Harmand and Lewis said that on the morning of July 9, 2011, they had wandered off on the wrong path, and climbed a hill to scout a fresh route back to their intended track. They wrote that they "could feel that something was special about this particular place." They fanned out and surveyed a nearby patch of craggy outcrops. "By teatime," they wrote, "local Turkana tribesman Sammy Lokorodi had helped [us] spot what [we] had come searching for."
By the end of the 2012 field season, excavations at the site, named Lomekwi 3, had uncovered 149 stone artifacts tied to tool-making, from stone cores and flakes to rocks used for hammering and others possibly used as anvils to strike on.
The researchers tried knapping stones themselves to better understand how the tools they found might have been made. They concluded that the techniques used "could represent a technological stage between a hypothetical pounding-oriented stone tool use by an earlier hominin and the flaking-oriented knapping behavior of [later] toolmakers." Chimpanzees and other primates are known to use a stone to hammer open nuts atop another stone. But using a stone for multiple purposes, and using one to crack apart another into a sharper tool, is more advanced behavior.
The find also has implications for understanding the evolution of the human brain. The toolmaking required a level of hand motor control that suggests that changes in the brain and spinal tract needed for such activity could have occurred before 3.3 million years ago, the authors said.
"This is a momentous and well-researched discovery," said paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University, who was not involved in the study. "I have seen some of these artifacts in the flesh, and I am convinced they were fashioned deliberately." Wood said he found it intriguing to see how different the tools are from so-called Oldowan stone tools, which up to now have been considered the oldest and most primitive.
Lepre, who has been conducting fieldwork in eastern Africa for about 15 years, said he arrived at the dig site about a week after the discovery. The site is several hours' drive on rough roads from the nearest town, located in a hot, dry landscape he said is reminiscent of Arizona and New Mexico. Lepre collected chunks of sediment from a series of depths and brought them back to Lamont-Doherty for analysis. He and Kent used a bandsaw to trim the samples into sugar cube-size blocks and inserted them into a magnetometer, which measured the polarity of tiny grains of the minerals hematite and magnetite contained in the sediment.
"The magnetics pretty much clinches that the age is something like 3.3 million years old," said Kent, who also is a professor at Rutgers.
Earlier dating work by Lepre and Kent helped lead to another landmark paper in 2011: a study that suggested Homo erectus, another precursor to modern humans, was using more advanced tool-making methods 1.8 million years ago, at least 300,000 years earlier than previously thought.
"I realized when you [figure out] these things, you don't solve anything, you just open up new questions," said Lepre. "I get excited, then realize there's a lot more work to do."

Source: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2015/article/scientists-discover-world-s-oldest-stone-tools

 


As the ancient savanna grasslands expanded in Africa, early modern
humans lived and
foraged near rivers and lakes, such as Lake Victoria. View of
Rusinga island.
Early modern humans hugged riverine woodland environments in Africa
7 April 2015
Research in genetics and across a variety of archaeological sites in Africa and beyond has shown that anatomically modern humans (AMH) dispersed between regions within and also out of Africa from 70,000 to 35,000 years ago. Paleoanthropologists have long suggested that environmental changes have played a key role in this process. However, a clear understanding of the complexity and how this took place has been lacking due to the deficiency of archaeological evidence in association with paleoenvironmental data.
In a recent study conducted by Nicole Garrett of the University of Minnesota and colleagues, researchers have revealed additional information by applying stable isotope analysis of paleosols and fauna remains associated with Middle Stone Age (MSA) archaeological sites on Rusinga and Mfangano islands in Lake Victoria in East Africa.
Along with bifacial points and Levallois flakes and cores typically identified with the presence of AMH, the sites contained the remains of ancient fauna long extinct, including mammals that inhabit wetland/riverine-type environments, as well as mammals that lived on the dry, open grasslands of the African savanna. Some of the fossil remains featured cut marks likely created by stone tools.
"The Pleistocene faunas from Rusinga and Mfangano contain the largest number of extinct species of any Pleistocene site in East Africa during the last 400,000 years," wrote the study authors in the detailed research report, published in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Most telling, however, was the specific mix of fauna found in association with the human lithic artifact sites. Along with taxa that lived in wet environments, such as Hippopotamus, they also found evidence of ungulates related to gazelles, widebeest and zebra, mammals that thrived primarily in dry, open grassland environments. Results of their analysis suggested a period when the climate had become drier, even drier than today, with the expansion of the savanna open grasslands, while leaving wetter, woodland refugia for humans and other mammals around critical riverine or lake areas.
"As the expanse of Lake Victoria is largely rainfall dependent, this and other lines of evidence imply a substantial reduction [anciently] in water level, likely transforming Rusinga and Mfangano into topographic highpoints on a grassland landscape, which would have supported more wooded habitats in an otherwise rich open grassland ecosystem," wrote the authors. "The association of stone tools with the paleosols and fossils sampled here suggest that, in some cases, humans persisted during intervals of drier conditions with expanded grassland cover rather than migrating into wetter habitats. They did this by exploiting locally closed and well-watered habitats within the larger grassland communities."
The researchers estimate that the layers at the sites that contain the artifacts and fossils range in age between 100,000 and 45,000 years ago, containing the critical time period when early modern humans were dispersing between equatorial East Africa and Central Africa, as well as dispersing out of Africa into the rest of the world.
The detailed report has been published as an article in press in the online version of the Journal of Human Evolution.

Source : http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2015/article/early-modern-humans-hugged-riverine-woodland-environments-in-africa

 


OLD SOUTH: Researchers have dated Little Foot, a South African fossil
skeleton that includes
this skull, to 3.67 million years ago. If the new
age holds up, it makes Little Foot the oldest
known hominid in that
part of Africa.
'Little Foot' pushes back age of earliest South African hominids
1 April 2015
Lucy's species, an East African hominid line called Australopithecus afarensis, had a South African counterpart, a new study finds.
A nearly complete fossil skeleton from South Africa's Sterkfontein Caves dates to 3.67 million years ago, making it roughly 1 million years older than any other South African hominid, say geochemist Darryl Granger of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and his colleagues. Dubbed Little Foot by one of its discoverers, the skeleton represents a species originally proposed for fossils at a nearby site in 1948, Australopithecus prometheus, the scientists contend in the April 2 Nature.
Previous estimates of the specimen's age ranged from roughly 3 million to 2 million years ago. The new date, if correct, would make Little Foot contemporary with Lucy's species, which lived in East Africa from about 4 million to 3 million years ago.
"Little Foot's new date is a reminder that there could well have been many species of Australopithecus extending over a much wider area of Africa than just the small number of fossil sites in East Africa and South Africa," says study coauthor Ronald Clarke, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Clarke has worked since 1997 to free much of Little Foot's skeleton from rock that had encased it (SN: 8/10/13, p. 29). Gradual sinking of cave sediments created gaps later filled by calcite deposits as water flowed down the walls or along the floor of the cave. That made it difficult to know whether Little Foot lay in rock from its own time or later.
Granger and his colleagues measured the decay of radioactive forms of aluminum and beryllium in 11 samples from quartz surrounding Little Foot's skeleton. Decay of each element occurs at known rates shortly after sediment is buried. Nine of the 11 samples displayed comparable levels of decay, the researchers say, indicating that the rock was deposited on a single occasion.
Calculations based on decay rates of each radioactive substance produced the new age estimate.
Granger's group used the same technique to date stone artifacts found elsewhere in Sterkfontein Caves to 2.18 million years ago. Stone tools at nearby South African sites also date to around 2 million years ago.
While sediment dates for the Sterkfontein artifacts appear solid, Little Foot may not be as old as the new report concludes, remarks geoarchaeologist Andy Herries of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. "Few, if any," fossil deposits in South Africa date to as early as 3.67 million years ago, says Herries, who has conducted dating studies at Sterkfontein and nearby caves. Rushing water or other natural events may have moved sediment dated by Granger's team from an older to a younger part of the cave where Little Foot lay, Herries cautions.
"Little Foot is certainly somewhere between 3.7 million and 2.2 million years old," he says.
Even if Little Foot lived 3.67 million years ago, "it's interesting but hardly shocking that australopithecines might be that old in South Africa," comments paleoanthropologist William Jungers of Stony Brook University in New York. Several Australopithecus species evolved in East Africa around that time, suggesting that other variants of the ancient genus could have emerged elsewhere in Africa, he says.
Clarke argues that Little Foot's distinctively shaped molar teeth, flat face and other traits justify assigning it to a new species. But many researchers, including Herries and Jungers, classify hundreds of Australopithecus fossils recovered at Sterkfontein Caves, including those of Little Foot, as Australopithecus africanus. Sterkfontein's A. africanus fossils are generally regarded as between 2.6 million and 2 million years old.
Editor's note: This story was updated on April 2, 2015, to clarify the history of Little Foot's species name, the difficulty in dating the fossil and the shape of Little Foot's teeth.

Source : https://www.sciencenews.org/article/%E2%80%98little-foot%E2%80%99-pushes-back-age-earliest-south-african-hominids

 


The Koobi Fora field
center near Lake
Turkana, Kenya.
East African Fossil Finds Show Early Human Diversity
19 March 2015
Modern scholarship on human evolution has generally accepted the suggestion that there were some key changes in the skeletal anatomy of early humans sometime between the two genuses, Australopithecus, and Homo. Australopithecus, the proto-human thought to be ancestral to the more direct human line of Homo, is considered to have featured more primitive, ape-like characteristics. Homo, by contrast, has been thought to feature new, derived characteristics approaching the morphology more typically associated with human-like physical traits.
But given the relative scarcity of early Homo fossil remains, comparatively less is known about the earliest Homo postcranial morphologies. A recent study by an international team of Homo fossil remains uncovered in Kenya, however, has provided a few more clues reflecting on the diversity and complexity of early Homo differentiation during the earliest periods of the emergence of humans from the still obscure primordial mix of a time when some species of Australopithecus are thought to have coexisted with their 'more advanced' Homo counterparts. The team examined a partial ilium (the uppermost and largest bone of the pelvis), and a femur (thigh bone) found at the famous hominin fossil site of Koobi Fora, Kenya, dating to 1.9 Ma (millions of years ago). They found that the specimens featured attributes commonly associated with the genus Homo. But they also found morphological characteristics not typically seen in eastern African early Homo erectus fossils: "The geometry of the femoral midshaft and contour of the pelvic inlet do not resemble that of any specimens attributed to H. erectus from eastern Africa," summarized the study authors in their report, which will soon be published in the Journal of Human Evolution. "This new fossil confirms the presence of at least two postcranial morphotypes within early Homo, and documents diversity in postcranial morphology among early Homo species that may reflect underlying body form and/or adaptive differences."*
Koobi Fora has long been known as a key region containing hominin fossils that have shed light on human evolution over the last 4.2 million years. It is described as a ridge or outcrop of Pliocene/Pleistocene sediments that preserve a prolific record of mammal fossils, including early hominin species. The ridge is being eroded into a badlands terrain by rivers draining into modern Lake Turkana. Anciently, Lake Turkana provided a good habitable lake environment for a variety of mammals, including early humans. In 1968, Richard Leakey, the son of famous paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey, established the Koobi Fora Base Camp, a field center for hominin studies, at Lake Turkana.

Source : http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2015/article/east-african-fossil-find-shows-early-human-diversity

 


The carpet of lithics - a view across a valley in
the Messak landscape. Image: Foley/Mirazón
Lahr
A carpet of stone tools in the Sahara
11 March 2015
A new intensive survey of the Messak Settafet escarpment, a massive outcrop of sandstone in the middle of the Saharan desert, has shown that stone tools occur "ubiquitously" across the entire landscape: averaging 75 artefacts per square metre, or 75 million per square kilometre.
Researchers say the vast 'carpet' of stone-age tools - extracted from and discarded onto the escarpment over hundreds of thousands of years - is the earliest known example of an entire landscape being modified by hominins: the group of creatures that include us and our ancestral species.
Build-up of tools
The Messak Settafet runs a total length of 350 km, with an average width of 60 km. Parts of the landscape are 'anthropogenic', or man-made, through build-up of tools over hundreds of thousands of years.
The research team have used this and other studies to attempt to estimate the volume of stone tools discarded over the last one million years of human evolution on the African continent alone. They say that it is the equivalent of more than one Great Pyramid of Giza per square kilometre of the entire continent (2.1 x 1014 cubic metres of rock).
"The Messak sandstone, now in the middle of the vast sand seas of Libya, would have been a high quality rock for hominins to fracture - the landscape is in effect a carpet of stone tools, most probably made in the Middle and Upper Pleistocene," said Dr Robert Foley, from the Leverhulme Centre for Evolutionary Studies at the University of Cambridge, who conducted the research with colleague Dr Marta Mirazón Lahr.
"The term 'anthropocene' is now used to denote the point at which humans began to have a significant effect on the environment," said Mirazón Lahr. "The critical time may well be the beginning of the industrial revolution about 200 years ago. Some talk of an 'early anthropocene' about 10,000 years ago when forests began being cleared for agriculture.
"Making stone tools, however, dates back more than two million years, and little research has been done on the impact of this activity. The Messak Settafet is the earliest demonstrated example of the scars of human activity across an entire landscape; the effects of our technology on the environment may be considerably older than previously thought," Mirazón Lahr said.
Surface survey
The survey, conducted in 2011, involved randomly selecting plots of one metre squared across the parts of the plateau surface. In each square, the researchers sifted through all the stones to identify the number that showed evidence of modification through hominin activity - evidence such as a 'bulb of percussion': a bulge or curved dent on the surface of a stone tool produced by the angular blows of hominin percussion. The average number of artefacts across all sample squares was 75.
At the simple end, large flakes of stone would have been opportunistically hacked from boulders to be used for cutting or as weapons. At the more sophisticated level, researchers found evidence that specific tools had been used to wedge into the stone in order split it.
"It is clear from the scale of activity how important stone tools were, and shows that African hominins were strongly technologically dependent," said Foley. "Landscapes such as these must have been magnets for hominin populations, either for 'stone foraging trips' or residential occupation."
Stone tool dependence
The researchers say that if - as seems likely - the success of Stone Age communities depended significantly on tool technology, there would be enormous advantage to knowing, remembering and indeed controlling access to areas with a "super-abundance" of raw materials, such as the Messak Settafet.
"Hominins may well have become tethered to these areas, unable to stray too far if survival depended on access to the raw materials for tools, and forced to make other adaptations subservient to that need," said Mirazón Lahr.
One way that the environmental impact of hominin tool excavation may have been positive for later humans is through the clusters of small quarrying pits dotted across the landscape (ranging up to 2 metres in diameter, and 50 centimetres in depth).
Trapping stones
These pits would have retained moisture - with surface water still visible today after rains - and the small pools would have attracted game. In many of these pits, the team found 'trapping stones': large stones used for traps and ties for game and/or cattle during the last 10,000 years.
By combining their data with previous extensive surveys carried out across Africa, the researchers attempted to estimate roughly how much stone had been used as tools and discarded during human evolution.
Although stone tool manufacture dates back at least 2.5 million years, the researchers limited the estimate to one million years. Based on their and others research, they standardised population density (based on extant hunter-gatherers), tool volume, the number of tools used by one person in a year and the amount of resulting debris per tool.
They estimate an average density of between 0.5 and 5 million stone artefacts per square kilometre of Africa. When converted into an estimate of volume, this is the equivalent of between 42 to 84 million Great Pyramids of Giza.
Researchers say this would be the equivalent of finding between 1.3 and 2.7 Great Pyramids per square kilometre throughout Africa.

The study is published in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Source : http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/03/2015/a-carpet-of-stone-tools-in-the-sahara

 


1.9 million-year-old pelvis and femur bone fossils of early humans in Kenya reveal that there were
more distinctive species
of early humans than previously thought.
Ancient Fossils Reveal Diversity in the Body Structure of Human Ancestors
9 March 2015
COLUMBIA, Mo. - Recently released research on human evolution has revealed that species of early human ancestors had significant differences in facial features. Now, a University of Missouri researcher and her international team of colleagues have found that these early human species also differed throughout other parts of their skeletons and had distinct body forms. The research team found 1.9 million-year - old pelvis and femur fossils of an early human ancestor in Kenya, revealing greater diversity in the human family tree than scientists previously thought.
"What these new fossils are telling us is that the early species of our genus, Homo, were more distinctive than we thought. They differed not only in their faces and jaws, but in the rest of their bodies too," said Carol Ward, a professor of pathology and anatomical sciences in the MU School of Medicine. "The old depiction of linear evolution from ape to human with single steps in between is proving to be inaccurate. We are finding that evolution seemed to be experimenting with different human physical traits in different species before ending up with Homo sapiens."
Three early species belonging to the genus Homo have been identified prior to modern humans, or Homo sapiens. Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis were the earliest versions, followed by Homo erectus and then Homo sapiens. Because the oldest erectus fossils that have been found are only 1.8 million years old, and have different bone structure than the new fossil, Ward and her research team conclude that the fossils they have discovered are either rudolfensis or habilis. Ward says these fossils show a diversity in the physical structures of human ancestors that has not been seen before.
"This new specimen has a hip joint like all other Homo species, but it also has a thinner pelvis and thighbone compared to Homo erectus," Ward said. "This doesn't necessarily mean that these early human ancestors moved or lived differently, but it does suggest that they were a distinct species that could have been identified not just from looking at their faces and jaws, but by seeing their body shapes as well. Our new fossils, along with the other new specimens reported over the past few weeks, tell us that the evolution of our genus goes back much earlier than we thought, and that many species and types of early humans coexisted for about a million years before our ancestors became the only Homo species left."
A small piece of the fossil femur was first discovered in 1980 at the Koobi Fora site in Kenya. Project co-investigator Meave Leakey returned to the site with her team in 2009 and uncovered the rest of the same femur and matching pelvis, proving that both fossils belonged to the same individual 1.9 million years ago.
Ward's co-investigators include recent MU graduate Ashley Hammond of Stony Brook University, current MU graduate student Elizabeth Moffett, geologist Craig Feibel from Rutgers University, Louise and Meave Leakey of the Turkana Basin Institute and Stony Brook University, Michael Plavcan of the University of Arkansas, Matthew Skinner of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and Fred Spoor of the University College London. The fossils are housed at the National Museums of Kenya.
This study was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Source : http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2015/0309-ancient-fossils-reveal-diversity-in-the-body-structure-of-human-ancestors/

 


The fossil's teeth are smaller than those of other human relatives
'First human' discovered in Ethiopia
4 March 2015
Scientists have unearthed the jawbone of what they claim is one of the very first humans.
The 2.8 million-year-old specimen is 400,000 years older than researchers thought that our kind first emerged.
The discovery in Ethiopia suggests climate change spurred the transition from tree dweller to upright walker.
The head of the research team told BBC News that the find gives the first insight into "the most important transitions in human evolution".
Prof Brian Villmoare of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas said the discovery makes a clear link between an iconic 3.2 million-year-old hominin (human-like primate) discovered in the same area in 1974, called "Lucy".
Could Lucy's kind - which belonged to the species Australopithecus afarensis - have evolved into the very first primitive humans?
"That's what we are arguing," said Prof Villmoare.
But the fossil record between the time period when Lucy and her kin were alive and the emergence of Homo erectus (with its relatively large brain and humanlike body proportions) two million years ago is sparse.
The 2.8 million-year-old lower jawbone was found in the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, by Ethiopian student Chalachew Seyoum. He told BBC News that he was "stunned" when he saw the fossil.
"The moment I found it, I realised that it was important, as this is the time period represented by few (human) fossils in Eastern Africa."
The fossil is of the left side of the lower jaw, along with five teeth. The back molar teeth are smaller than those of other hominins living in the area and are one of the features that distinguish humans from more primitive ancestors, according to Professor William Kimbel, director of Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins.
"Previously, the oldest fossil attributed to the genus Homo was an upper jaw from Hadar, Ethiopia, dated to 2.35m years ago," he told BBC News.
"So this new discovery pushes the human line back by 400,000 years or so, very close to its likely (pre-human) ancestor. Its mix of primitive and advanced features makes the Ledi jaw a good transitional form between (Lucy) and later humans."
A computer reconstruction of a skull belonging to the species Homo habilis, which has been published in Nature journal, indicates that it may well have been the evolutionary descendant of the species announced today.
The researcher involved, Prof Fred Spoor of University College London told BBC News that, taken together, the new findings had lifted a veil on a key period in the evolution of our species.
"By discovering a new fossil and re-analysing an old one we have truly contributed to our knowledge of our own evolutionary period, stretching over a million years that had been shrouded in mystery," he said.
The dating of the jawbone might help answer one of the key questions in human evolution. What caused some primitive ancestors to climb down from the trees and make their homes on the ground.
A separate study in Science hints that a change in climate might have been a factor. An analysis of the fossilised plant and animal life in the area suggests that what had once been lush forest had become dry grassland.
As the trees made way for vast plains, ancient human-like primates found a way of exploiting the new environmental niche, developing bigger brains and becoming less reliant on having big jaws and teeth by using tools.
Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London described the discovery as a "big story".
He says the new species clearly does show the earliest step toward human characteristics, but suggests that half a jawbone is not enough to tell just how human it was and does not provide enough evidence to suggest that it was this line that led to us.

Source : http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31718336

 


Thanks to big cats, early hominins could get a
decent meal out on the African savanna as much
as two million or more
years ago.
Study Lends New Support to Theory that Early Humans were Scavengers
3 March 2015
In a very real way, it may have been the lion and the long-extinct sabertoothed cat, not the dog, that was 'man's best friend', if we go back far enough into human prehistory.
In a recently published study in the Journal of Human Evolution, author and paleoanthropologist Briana Pobiner of the Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program shows that it was entirely feasible for early humans living on the African savanna as much as two million or more years ago to acquire enough calories simply by lying in wait and scavenging the remains of prey left by lions or big sabertoothed cats after they finished eating the first cuts.
She concluded this after spending several months in Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy nature preserve observing, examining, and analyzing large carnivore kills scattered across its grasslands. According to Pobiner, even though it is a modern landscape and environment, it isn't much different than some of the landscapes that early human ancestors inhabited millions of years ago.
"The site is a great analogue for the kinds of African savanna environments where hominins are thought to have lived," said Pobiner. "The habitats - both types and varieties - were probably similar, and in this particular place, lions were the dominant predator. This may have been very much like past carnivore communities during the time our ancestors were starting to eat meat from larger animals, when we have evidence that felids - ancient lions, leopards, and three species of sabertoothed cats - lived alongside our ancestors and may have been the dominant kinds of carnivores at this time." She points to ancient sites such as Koobi Fora and Olduvai Gorge in East Africa that have yielded evidence of the earliest stone tools, with ancient environments very similar to that of present-day Ol Pejeta where big felids coexisted with humans.
A typical day in the field for Pobiner would begin with listening to a short wave radio for any mention from the conservancy about spotting lions or hearing them roar during the night - particularly if they were eating prey. On a lucky day, she would drive her Land Cruiser along with an armed guard out to the lion site and then simply stop to observe them at a safe distance while they ate. The armed guard was critical. "I didn't want to become prey myself - to be charged by an elephant, rhino, buffalo, or other angry ungulate," she said. About one hour after the lions were done and had left the scene, she and her assisting guard would finally approach the kill, meticulously document the remains with photographs and notes, and then pick up the carcass and place it into the back of the Land Cruiser. Later, another assistant would carefully remove the meat from the bones with wooden tools so as not to make any marks that might be confused with tooth marks, and then boil the bones clean. Once the bones were dry, they would be ready for further study.
Apart from potentially angry ungulates, the work was not without other challenges.
"It turns out lions don't kill things all that often," Pobiner says. "So getting a large enough sample size was challenging. Another challenge was sometimes having difficulty getting around to get to the carcasses even with my sturdy vehicle during the rainy season when it got really muddy or if I inadvertently drove into a warthog burrow."
For her efforts, however, Pobiner's work has its rewards. Like others before her, this study could hold answers to questions related to the ongoing debate about early human behavior before the advent of more modern hunting tools and techniques. The debate has revolved around the 'man the hunter' hypothesis, which suggests that early humans who lived as much as two million or more years ago procured their meat needs primarily through hunting, versus the 'man the scavenger' hypothesis, which proposes that the early humans procured these needs mostly by scavenging the remains left by other preying carnivores, such as lions, sabertoothed cats, hyenas, and other animals. Subsumed within the 'man the scavenger' hypothesis has been the question of whether these early humans scavenged primarily as aggressive, confrontational, "power" scavengers who competed with the other carnivores for first access to the prey (such as scaring or beating off a lion from its hunted and killed prey), or as 'passive' scavengers who waited until other carnivores got their first prime cuts and then safely went in to pick the carcass for the scraps after the other big carnivores had left the scene. Specifically, Pobiner's study results indicated that, even after the other large carnivores had their complete fill of the prey and left the carcass to the elements, there would have been enough meat in the scraps to provide a decent meal for a scavenging hominin afterwards. In other words, early humans could have made a living as passive scavengers.
"The most surprising finding was simply the large quantity of meat that lions leave when they eat their kills, which was more than anyone had observed before," stated Pobiner. "In fact, the leftover meat from just one zebra kill made by lions could have provided almost 6,100 calories for our early human ancestors - that's the entire daily caloric requirements of almost three adult male Homo erectus individuals, or just over 11 Big Macs. Not bad for a "lowly" scavenger!"
"Part of the criticism of the idea of a scavenging niche is whether there would even be enough meat on a lion kill worth scavenging, especially "passively" scavenging - waiting for the lions to be completely finished rather than chasing them off their kill in "active" or "confrontational" scavenging. My research answers a resounding "yes" to that question."
Pobiner has clocked countless hours researching how and when eating meat, a key source of calories, protein and other nutrients, became an important factor in the ultimate evolutionary success of humans.
"Diet is such a crucial part of an organism's adaptation, and understanding when and how hominins started incorporating meat from large animals into their diets can give us insight into other key adaptations that characterize our lineage - brain size increase, body size increase, home range and group size increase, moving into novel habitats and environments, interactions with other predators, and sophisticated communication and planning, for instance," she said. "We went from being mostly prey to being the most dominant predator on earth, or at least one of them, in a mere 2.5 million years."
The detailed study report is published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Source : http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/winter-01012015/article/study-lends-new-support-to-theory-that-early-humans-were-scavengers

 


A 55,000-year-old partial
skull found in Manot Cave
in western Galilee in
January 2015 suggests
that modern humans
were in the Levant
around the same time
as Neanderthals.


Early Homo sapiens,
known from fossils found
at Omo and Herto in
Ethiopia, began making
stone tools in the Nile
Valley of Egypt some
150,000 years ago.
Previous studies have
traced their path out of
Africa through Sinai to
the Levant. New research
reveals a second, more
southerly route through
Arabia, where modern
human populations
lingered for some 50,000
years before migrating
north to the Levant.
There they interbred with Neanderthals − and
perhaps borrowed some
of their tool−making techniques.


A Nubian stone core
(bottom right) and point (bottom left) are fit back together (top). Early
modern humans in Egypt around produced such triangular points by
chipping away the edges
of a core. Later modern humans in the Middle
East used a more
efficient technique to make multiple points from a single core. Photograph by Jeff I. Rose
Trail of Tools Reveals Modern Humans‘ Path Out of Africa
24 February 2015
Early Homo sapiens lingered in a lush Arabia before encountering Neanderthals in the Levant.
Where did our species come from, and how did we get from there to everywhere?
Genetic studies have supplied a convincing answer to the first question: Our modern human ancestors evolved in Africa, then swept across Eurasia beginning some 60,000 to 50,000 years ago. Now, a pair of American archaeologists claim to have uncovered the route those early Homo sapiens took on their way to populating the planet.
By following the broken trail of stone tools that modern humans left behind like bread crumbs marking their path, researchers propose that our ancestors took a circuitous path through Arabia, pausing there for some 50,000 years when it was a green oasis. Then they journeyed on to the Middle East, where they first encountered Neanderthals.
Stylistic and manufacturing similarities, the archaeologists say, connect the dots between tools made first in the Nile Valley of Egypt, then in the Arabian Peninsula, and, finally, in Israel. Those tools became progressively smaller and more sophisticated, similar to the evolution of mobile phones today.
"Archaeologists have always focused so much on 'out of Africa and into the Middle East' that we've missed an entire chapter of the human expansion in Arabia," says archaeologist Jeffrey Rose of the Ronin Institute, based in New Jersey, co-author of a new report published this month in Quartar.
Our species' birthplace was in Africa about 200,000 years ago, according to fossils from sites such as Omo and Herto Bouri in Ethiopia. While these fossils look modern, however, the populations they represent didn't begin to act fully modern until later.
A tool kit known as the Emiran, dated to almost 50,000 years ago, defines the transition between archaic and modern human behavior − at least as far as tool-making goes. But since the discovery of the first Emiran tools − points, blades, and scrapers found in a cave near the Sea of Galilee in Israel in 1951 − archaeologists have puzzled over where this more advanced way of making tools began.
"The Emiran is the bridge technology," says Rose, who is also a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. "But where did these guys come from?"
Out of ... Arabia?
Working with his former thesis adviser, archaeologist Anthony Marks of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Rose studied all of the stone tools he could get his hands on in Arabia, northeastern Africa, and the Middle East.
In their new report, the pair says the evolution of stone tools in the region began in the Nile Valley of Egypt 150,000 to 130,000 years ago. These Nilotic hunter-gatherers in Egypt made Nubian tools by chipping away edges of a stone core in a systematic way to produce a single triangular point, which could be attached to a spear, for example.
While other researchers have proposed that the Egyptian Nubian toolmakers moved rapidly to the Middle East, where they invented the Emiran, Rose and Marks argue that they went to Arabia first − and that it was their Arabian descendants who would later develop the Emiran.
In their report, the researchers describe two different types of tool kits that appear to be offshoots of the Egyptian Nubian in Arabia and were developed 110,000 to 50,000 years ago: the Dhofar Nubian and the Mudayyan industries of the Nejd Plateau of Oman.
From the Dhofar Nubian to the Mudayyan, stone points get smaller and more elongated over time, becoming more similar to the Emiran tools, perhaps because the modern humans were using them as projectile points to hunt smaller, quick-moving animals as the climate got drier and finding food became more challenging. The people who made the Mudayyan tools in Oman were most likely hunting small animals like lizards and rodents, says Rose.
In their scenario, Rose and Marks suggest that the Arabian toolmakers pushed north into the Middle East when the climate changed dramatically in Arabia about 75,000 years ago. At that time, Arabia was beset by drought, which parched lakes and underground streams and converted grasslands into sand dunes.
By contrast, the climate began to grow wetter and more humid in the Middle East 60,000 years ago, drawing animals − and hunters − northward, according to the scenario proposed by Rose and Marks. There, modern humans made a major breakthrough: Instead of producing just one tool from a single stone by striking the core in one direction, from top to bottom, as their Nubian ancestors did, they learned how to strike many elongated blades from the top and the bottom of a single core, in succession − a telltale feature of the Emiran and subsequent Upper Paleolithic industries.
Neanderthal Connection
But in a surprising twist, the researchers also propose that the modern humans who made the Emiran were influenced by archaic people, possibly Neanderthals, who left behind fossils in Israel some 70,000 to 50,000 years ago, as well as more primitive tools, called Mousterian. The scientists say the Emiran tools are made in the same systematic manner as Egyptian Nubian tools, but closely resemble the local Mousterian tools.
The timing fits with genetic studies that suggest that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals when they arrived in the Middle East. A 55,000-year-old modern human skull from Manot Cave in Israel, reported last month, has provided new evidence that the moderns were there at the same time as Neanderthals.
Not everyone agrees that the Emiran hunter-gatherers' tool-making was influenced by their Neanderthal neighbors. The Emiran "has nothing to do with Neanderthals," says Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef, who proposed a decade ago that the Emiran was made by Egyptian Nubians when they moved directly to the Middle East.
Regardless of who influenced the Emiran toolmakers, the long and winding path that led to modern tools may have taken a lengthy detour through Arabia.
"The Arabian region was not just the route to somewhere else, which it has often been considered in various dispersal scenarios," says paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London. "It was at times a significant location in its own right for early modern humans and perhaps for Neanderthals too."

Source : http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150224-africa-stone-tools-modern-humans-arabia-emiran-nubian-origins/

 




Map showing location of
the study site and extent
of bajada system in
southeast Arabia,
including other identified sections of the Al Ain fan
(UAE − United Arab
Emirates). Image: Parton
et al
Humans may have migrated out of Africa in phases based on the weather
21 February 2015
Considerable debate surrounds the migration of human populations out of Africa. Two predominant hypotheses concerning the timing contrast in their emphasis on the role of the Arabian interior and its changing climate. In one scenario, human populations expanded rapidly from Africa to southern Asia via the coastlines of Arabia approx. 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Another model suggests that dispersal into the Arabian interior began much earlier (approx. 75,000 to 130,000 years ago) during multiple phases, when increased rainfall provided sufficient freshwater to support expanding populations.
Ash Parton and colleagues fall into the second camp, “The dispersal of early human populations out of Africa is dynamically linked with the changing climate and environmental conditions of Arabia. Although now arid, at times the vast Arabian deserts were transformed into landscapes littered with freshwater lakes and active river systems. Such episodes of dramatically increased rainfall were the result of the intensification and northward displacement of the Indian Ocean Monsoon, which caused rainfall to reach across much of the Arabian Peninsula.“

Al Sibetah alluvial fan
Parton and colleagues writing in Geology, present a unique alluvial fan aggradation record from southeast Arabia spanning the past approx. 160,000 years. Situated along the proposed southern dispersal route, the Al Sibetah alluvial fan sequence provides a unique and sensitive record of landscape change in southeast Arabia. This record is to date the most comprehensive terrestrial archive from the Arabian Peninsula, and provides evidence for multiple humid episodes during both glacial and interglacial periods.
Evidence from the Al Sibetah alluvial fan sequence indicates that during insolation maxima, increased monsoon rainfall led to the widespread activation of drainage systems and grassland development throughout regions that were important for the dispersal of early human populations.

Incoming solar radiation
Previously, the timing of episodes of increased humidity was largely linked to global interglacials, with the climate of Arabia during the intervening glacial periods believed to be too arid to support human populations. Parton and colleagues suggest, however, that periods of increased rainfall were not driven by mid-high latitude deglaciations every ~100,000 years, but by periods of maximum incoming solar radiation every ~23,000 years.
They write, “The occurrence of humid periods previously identified in lacustrine or speleothem records highlights the complexity and heterogeneity of the Arabian paleoclimate, and suggests that interior migration pathways through the Arabian Peninsula may have been viable approximately every 23,000 years since at least marine isotope state (MIS) 6,“ about 191 thousand years ago.

Source : http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/02/2015/humans-may-have-migrated-out-of-africa-in-phases-based-on-the-weather

 


Prof. David kennedy
prepares to take aerial photographs of archaeological sites in Jordan. Image: David Connolly
Recording endangered archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa
20 February 2015
A project has been launched to record the archaeological heritage of the Middle East and North Africa, arguably the most significant region in the world for its archaeological remains. It is under increasing threat from massive and sustained population explosion, agricultural development, urban expansion, warfare, and looting.
The new project, entitled Endangered Archaeology, has been launched at Oxford and Leicester Universities, funded by the Arcadia Fund.

Record and monitor
The researchers are using satellite imagery and aerial photos, such as Google Earth, to record and monitor the most endangered, and often undocumented, archaeological sites across the Middle East and North Africa. Nearly all the archaeological remains are made of stone or earth and are visible from the air. They include tombs, settlements, forts, towns, cities, and field and irrigation systems of all periods − from prehistory to the 20th century. Many of the countries are currently inaccessible on the ground due to ongoing conflicts. Recent work in Jordan by Professor David Kennedy and Dr Robert Bewley has already shown the scale and intensity of development, and that the methodology works, which is why it is being applied on a larger scale across the region.
Project director Dr Bewley, from Oxford University‘s School of Archaeology, said: “This exciting project is very timely as the threats to the region‘s most important archaeological sites are increasing at an unprecedented pace and the situation is only going to become more critical if we don‘t act now.“

Open-access database
The research team estimates that across the Middle East and North Africa there could be as many as 3-5 million archaeological sites, many of which are under immediate threat, and even more are likely to become endangered in the future. Information about the historical context and condition of each of the sensitive sites will be made available in an open-access database. The information can then be used by everyone, but especially by local archaeologists and volunteers in each of the countries.
Where possible, the project will cooperate with local authorities responsible for the protection of sites, Departments of Antiquities or similar agencies. It is hoped that through the project, a network of local “wardens“ will be created to manage and preserve the landscape and sensitive sites.
Professor Andrew Wilson, the project‘s Principal Investigator, said: “The project will provide tools and strategies for the future conservation and management of threatened heritage, both individual sites and entire archaeological landscapes. This region contains the world‘s richest concentration of significant archaeological remains spanning prehistory, the Persian, Greek, Roman, and Islamic empires.“
The project‘s website will be available next month and the database with images and contextual information will follow later in the year.

Source : http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/02/2015/recording-endangered-archaeology-of-the-middle-east-and-north-africa

 


Plant particles found
during the excavation of
this Neolithic cemetery in
Nubia (Sudan) turned
out to be traces of
domestic cereals when analysed in a lab.
Barley and wheat residues in Neolithic cemeteries of Central Sudan and Nubia
9 February, 2015
Dr. Welmoed Out from Kiel University said, “With our results we can verify that people along the Nile did not only exploit gathered wild plants and animals but had crops of barley and wheat.“
These types of crops were first cultivated in the Middle East about 10,500 years ago and spread out from there to Central and South Asia as well as to Europe and North Africa — the latter faster than expected.
“The diversity of the diet was much greater than previously assumed,“ states Out and adds: “Moreover, the fact that grains were placed in the graves of the deceased implies that they had a special, symbolic meaning.“
The research team, coordinated by Welmoed Out and the environmental archaeologist Marco Madella from Barcelona, implemented, among other things, a special high-quality light microscope as well as radiocarbon analyses for age determination. Hereby, they were supported by the fact that mineral plant particles, so-called phytoliths, survive very long, even when other plant remains are no longer discernible. In addition, the millennia-old teeth, in particular adherent calculus, provide evidence on the diet of these prehistoric humans due to the starch granules and phytoliths contained therein.

Source : http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/02/2015/barley-and-wheat-residues-in-neolithic-cemeteries-of-central-sudan-and-nubia

 


A terracotta piece
unearthed from the Daji
Gwana site in 2010. It is
one of the most complete
figures found by the archaeologists of the
Goethe University, and
adorns the cover of the
catalogue for the
exhibition at the
Liebieghaus in Frankfurt. (Copyright: Peter Breunig)
Research continues into 3000 year-old Nok culture of sub-Saharan Africa
8 February, 2015
The scientific team of the Institute for Archaeological Sciences, which has been researching the Nok Culture in Nigeria since 2005, can continue its successful work: The German Research Foundation (DFG) will support the total 12-year duration of the planned long-term project for another three years with 1.6 million euros.
However, the study of the Nok Culture, which is the source of the oldest figurative art in sub-Saharan Africa at 2000 to 3000 years old, will not be able to proceed as planned, because of the political unrest in Nigeria, and in particular the attacks of the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram: “The security risk for the team is too great, so we need to postpone the field work in Nigeria and adjust to the situation, which will hopefully improve,“ said Prof. Dr. Peter Breunig. The Frankfurt archaeologist has been making regular visits to the West African country since 1989.
In the meantime, the ten researchers are planning to evaluate the recent excavation sites and the current inventory of finds from 79 archaeological sites, and to undertake the processing, publication and internet presentation of extensive, previously collated data.
Looting continues
The Frankfurt results could soon represent the only and definitive knowledge about this Culture. Looters, who have been active in Nigeria for decades, are scarcely affected by the political unrest, and are continuing their business as usual: “The sculptures are very highly sought after on the international art market. In their search for these treasures, the looters systematically destroy one site after another“, laments Breunig.
In addition to the up-to one metre tall, over 2000-year-old terracotta figures found in many excavation sites, the scientists also encountered other finds such as pottery, stone tools, iron objects and plant remains, the evaluation of which will provide a comprehensive picture of the Nok Culture. On this topic, the Frankfurt archaeologist says: “For example, the ceramic vessels, which differ in form and decoration, allow us to identify developmental stages, which form a basis for the chronology of the Nok Culture.“
One particular portion of the project, led by archaeobotanist, Prof. Dr. Katharina Neumann, is dedicated to the plant remains that are regularly found in the excavation areas. They provide information about the environment and the economy. It is already apparent that only a small number of crops were used during the Nok Culture. “From the beginning, millet and a type of bean featured, along with various wild fruits; only after the end of the Nok Culture did oil palm and a grain called “fonio“ also appear,“ explains Neumann.
The societal development in the Nok Culture from small groups of hunter-gatherers to large communities with increasingly complex forms of human communal life is considered by archaeologists to be an overarching theme. “The Nok Culture, with its enigmatic use of the innumerable terracotta figures, represents a promising example of this development,“ adds Breunig. From the context of the finds, the archaeologists conclude that at least some of the sculptures were probably associated with ancestor worship.
Iron smelting
The Frankfurt archaeological team wants to learn more about the settlement patterns and the economy, social organization, and the role played here by the advent of iron metallurgy as a major technological revolution. While the chronology and structure of the sites was the focus of the first two phases of the DFG funding, over the next three years the researchers will devote their efforts to the regional differences in the distribution area of the Nok Culture, which comprises an area nearly five times the size of the state of Hessen. The program will include, among other things, exemplary studies of a large settlement area, in which many Nok Culture sites are found and which promise an insight into the settlement habits of the people, as well as stations for iron smelting. The Nok Culture provides clues to the earliest iron in sub-Saharan Africa, which needs to be substantiated further.
The DFG also funded the successful major sculpture exhibition, which took place from October 2013 to March 2014 in cooperation with the Frankfurt Liebieghaus. Over 100 sculptures and fragments of the Nok Culture were on display, along with a summary of the research results to date. All objects from the exhibition in Frankfurt have now been returned to the relevant federal authority in Nigeria, where they are displayed in an exhibition in the state capital of Kaduna. They were only on loan for scientific analysis and the Frankfurt exhibition.

Source : http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/02/2015/research-continues-into-3000-year-old-nok-culture-of-sub-saharan-africa

 


Michele Buzon, a Purdue
University associate
professor of anthropology,
is excavating Nubian
burial sites in Tombos, Sudan
Archaeologist begins dig in the Sudan, Nile River Valley area
30 January 2015
A Purdue University archaeologist is excavating in Tombos, Sudan, to answer questions about the Egyptian and Nubian cultures from thousands of years ago.
Michele Buzon, an associate professor of anthropology, is excavating Nubian burial sites dated 1500-1050 BCE in the Nile River Valley to better understand the relationship between the Nubians and Egypt's New Kingdom Empire. She is focusing on a time, starting about 1500 BCE, when Egyptians colonized the area to gain access to trade routes on the Nile River.
"What is known about this time often comes from Egyptian history, and we think they integrated more than Egyptian texts convey," said Buzon, a bioarchaeologist. "By excavating the burial tombs we'll investigate if there was intermarriage and how they interacted in general as well as if Egyptians absorbed Nubian culture. Artifacts, burial structure and even burial positions will provide some clues."
Buzon is excavating at Tombos, in the Nubian Desert in the far north of Sudan, through late February, and she will be excavating Tombos pyramids, which have remnants of the superstructure with shafts underneath. She is collaborating with Stuart Tyson Smith, professor of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Barbara. This is her fifth excavation in the region.
This research is funded by the National Science Foundation. A member of the Sudan Department of Antiquities also will be on the research site during the dig. The project, starting with excavation and including data analysis, will last three years. After Buzon returns, her graduate assistants will analyze excavated materials and visit the site for additional fieldwork.

Source : http://phys.org/news/2015-01-archaeologist-sudan-nile-river-valley.html

 


Skull clue to exodus from Africa
28 January, 2015
An ancient skull discovered in Israel could shed light on the migration of modern humans out of Africa some 60,000 years ago.
This migration led to the colonisation of the entire planet by our species, as well as the extinction of other human groups such as the Neanderthals.
The skull from Manot Cave dates to 55,000 years ago and may be the closest we've got to finding one of the earliest migrants from Africa.
Details appear in Nature journal.
"The skull is very gracile - there is nothing that makes it any different from a modern skull," Prof Israel Hershkovitz, from Tel Aviv University, told the Nature podcast.
"But it also has traits that are found in older specimens."
He added: "This is the first evidence that shows indeed there was a large wave of migrants out of East Africa, crossing the Sahara and the Nubian desert and inhabiting the eastern Mediterranean region 55,000 years ago. So it is really a key skull in understanding modern human evolution."
Physical features of the skull, such as a distinctive "bun-shaped" region at the back, resemble those found in the earliest modern humans from Europe.
This "implies that the Manot people were probably the forefathers of many of the early, Upper Palaeolithic populations of Europe", Prof Hershkovitz said.
Chris Stringer, research Leader in human origins at London's Natural History Museum, commented: "Manot might represent some of the elusive first migrants in the hypothesised out-of-Africa event about 60,000 years ago, a population whose descendants ultimately spread right across Asia, and also into Europe."
Prof Stringer, who was not involved with the study, added: "Its discovery raises hopes of more complete specimens from this critical region and time period."
The find is also of interest because this individual lived at around the time when modern humans are thought to have interbred with Neanderthals.
All non-Africans possess a small amount of Neanderthal ancestry, pointing to an interbreeding event just after modern humans left their homeland but before they diversified into different populations.
The Middle East is a good candidate region for this event, because it was the first waypoint on the migration and previous discoveries show Neanderthals were there at the same time as moderns.
Details of another ancient human find were unveiled this week in the journal Nature Communications.
A human jawbone dredged up by fishermen 25km off the coast of Taiwan revealed a primitive-looking fossil which appears to date to within the last 200,000 years (though possibly as much as the last 450,000 years).
"The jawbone is short and wide, with a very thick body and large teeth, raising interesting questions about its classification," said Chris Stringer.
He said the Penghu jawbone could represent a late example of Homo erectus, an archaic human ancestor which may still have been present in mainland north-east Asia 400,000 years ago.
It shows some similarities with other human remains from Africa, Java and Europe, but with distinctive characteristics that preclude its easy inclusion in existing categories.
Another possibility is that it represents one of the Denisovans, an ancient Asian relative of the Neanderthals, known only from DNA extracted from teeth and a finger bone found at a cave in central Siberia.
"If Penghu is indeed a long-awaited Denisovan jawbone, it looks more primitive than I would have expected - unfortunately no ancient DNA has been reported from it," said Prof Stringer.
"As the authors note, this enigmatic fossil is difficult to classify, but it highlights the growing and not unexpected evidence of human diversity in the Far East, with the apparent co-existence of different lineages in the region prior to, and perhaps even contemporary with, the arrival of modern humans some 55,000 years ago."

Source : http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31022975

 


Hand precision grip
Example of a human
forceful precision grip,
grasping a Australopithecus africanus first metacarpal
of the thumb (3-2 million years old)
New research suggests pre-Homo human ancestral species used human-like hand postures much earlier than was previously thought
23 January 2015
University anthropologists, working with colleagues from University College London , the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) and the Vienna University of Technology (Austria), have produced the first research findings to support archaeological evidence for stone tool use among fossil australopiths 3-2 million years ago.
The distinctly human ability for forceful precision (e.g. when turning a key) and power “squeeze” gripping (e.g. when using a hammer) is linked to two key evolutionary transitions in hand use: a reduction in arboreal climbing and the manufacture and use of stone tools. However, it is unclear when these locomotory and manipulative transitions occurred.
Dr Matthew Skinner, Senior Lecturer in Biological Anthropology and Dr Tracy Kivell, Reader in Biological Anthropology, both of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation, used new techniques to reveal how fossil species were using their hands by examining the internal spongey structure of bone called trabeculae. Trabecular bone remodels quickly during life and can reflect the actual behaviour of individuals in their lifetime.
The researchers first examined the trabeculae of hand bones of humans and chimpanzees. They found clear differences between humans, who have a unique ability for forceful precision gripping between thumb and fingers, and chimpanzees, who cannot adopt human-like postures. This unique human pattern is present in known non-arboreal and stone tool-making fossil human species, such as Neanderthals.
The research, titled Human-like hand use in Australopithecus africanus, shows that Australopithecus africanus, a 3-2 million-year-old species from South Africa traditionally considered not to have engaged in habitual tool manufacture, has a human-like trabecular bone pattern in the bones of the thumb and palm (the metacarpals) consistent with forceful opposition of the thumb and fingers typically adopted during tool use.
These results support previously published archaeological evidence for stone tool use in australopiths and provide skeletal evidence that our early ancestors used human-like hand postures much earlier and more frequently than previously considered.
Human-like hand use in Australopithecus africanus, (Matthew M. Skinner, Nicholas B. Stephens, Zewdi J. Tsegai, Alexandra C. Foote, N. Huynh Nguyen,Thomas Gross, Dieter H. Pahr, Jean-Jacques Hublin,Tracy L. Kivell) is published on 23 January in Science magazine.

Source : http://www.kent.ac.uk/news/environment/3803/early-human-ancestors-used-their-hands-like-modern-humans

 


A typical Oldowan simple stone chopper tool.
Earliest Known Stone Tools Planted the Seeds of Communication and Language
12 January 2015
Two and a half million years ago, our hominin ancestors in the African savanna crafted rocks into shards that could slice apart a dead gazelle, zebra or other game animal. Over the next 700,000 years, this butchering technology spread throughout the continent and, it turns out, came to be a major evolutionary force, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Liverpool and the University of St. Andrews, both in the UK. Combining the tools of psychology, evolutionary biology and archaeology, scientists have found compelling evidence for the co-evolution of early Stone Age slaughtering tools and our ability to communicate and teach, shedding new light on the power of human culture to shape evolution.
To be reported Jan. 13 in the journal Nature Communications, the study is the largest to date to look at gene-culture co-evolution in the context of prehistoric Oldowan tools, the oldest-known cutting devices. It suggests communication among our earliest ancestors may be more complex than previously thought, with teaching and perhaps even a primitive proto-language occurring some 1.8 million years ago.
"Our findings suggest that stone tools weren't just a product of human evolution, but actually drove it as well, creating the evolutionary advantage necessary for the development of modern human communication and teaching," said Thomas Morgan, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at UC Berkeley.
"Our data show this process was ongoing two and a half million years ago, which allows us to consider a very drawn-out and gradual evolution of the modern human capacity for language and suggests simple 'proto-languages' might be older than we previously thought," Morgan added.
Morgan and University of Liverpool archaeologist Natalie Uomini arrived at their conclusions by conducting a series of experiments in teaching contemporary humans the art of "Oldowan stone-knapping," in which butchering "flakes" are created by hammering a hard rock against certain volcanic or glassy rocks, like basalt or flint.
Oldowan stone-knapping dates back to the Lower Paleolithic period in eastern Africa, and remained largely unchanged for 700,000 years until more sophisticated Acheulean hand-axes and cleavers, which marked the next generation of stone tool technology, came on the scene. It was practiced by some of our earliest ancestors, such as Homo habilis and the even older Australopithecus garhi, who walked on two legs, but whose facial features and brain size were closer to those of apes.
In testing five different ways to convey Oldowan stone-knapping skills to more than 180 college students, the researchers found that the demonstration that used spoken communication - versus imitation, non-verbal presentations or gestures - yielded the highest volume and quality of flakes in the least amount of time and with the least waste.
To measure the rate of transmission of the ancient butchery technology, and establish whether more complex communication such as language would get the best results, study volunteers were divided into five- or 10-member "learning chains." The head of the chain received a knapping demonstration, the raw materials and five minutes to try their hand at it. That person then showed it to the next person in the chain, who in turn showed the next person, and so on. Their competence picked up significantly with verbal instruction.
"If someone is trying to learn a skill that has lots of subtlety to it, it helps to engage with a teacher and have them correct you," Morgan said. "You learn so much faster when someone is telling you what to do."
As for what the results mean for the Oldowan hominins: "They were probably not talking," Morgan said. "These tools are the only tools they made for 700,000 years. So if people had language, they would have learned faster and developed newer technologies more rapidly."
Without language, one can assume that a hominin version of, say, Steve Jobs would have been hard-pressed to pass on visionary ideas. Still, the seeds of language, teaching and learning were planted due to the demand for Oldowan tools, the study suggests, and at some point hominins got better at communicating, hence the advent of Acheulean hand-axes and cleavers some 1.7 million years ago.
"To sustain Acheulean technology, there must have been some kind of teaching, and maybe even a kind of language, going on, even just a simple proto-language using sounds or gestures for 'yes' or 'no,' or 'here' or 'there,'" Morgan said.
Indeed, the data suggest that when the Oldowan stone-tool industry started, it was most likely not being taught, but communication methods to teach it were developed later.
"At some point they reached a threshold level of communication that allowed Acheulean hand axes to start being taught and spread around successfully and that almost certainly involved some sort of teaching and proto-type language," Morgan said.

Source : http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/winter-01012015/article/earliest-known-stone-tools-planted-the-seeds-of-communication-and-language

 


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