One more Homo species?

11 July 2013 Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum


The ancestry of the Homo floresiensis remains is much disputed. The critical questions are: Did it represent an extinct hominin species? Could it be a Homo erectus population, whose small stature was caused by island dwarfism? Or was the individual, to whom skull number LB1 belonged, a modern human suffering from a pathology which caused its very small brain and skull? Proposed possible explanations include microcephaly, Laron Syndrome or endemic hypothyroidism.


The scientists applied the methods of 3D geometric morphometrics to analyze the shape of the LB1 cranium in the context of both a large fossil human comparative sample, as well as a large sample of modern human crania suffering from microcephaly and other pathological conditions. Geometric morphometrics methods use 3D coordinates of cranial surface anatomical landmarks, computer imaging and multivariate statistical analysis to achieve a detailed analysis of shape.


This was the most comprehensive study to date to simultaneously evaluate the two competing hypotheses about the status of Homo floresiensis.


The study found that the LB1 cranium shows greater affinities to the fossil Homo sample than it does to pathological modern humans. Although some superficial similarities were found between fossil, LB1, and pathological modern human crania, additional features linked LB1 exclusively with fossil Homo. The team could therefore refute the hypothesis of pathology.


“Our findings provide the most comprehensive evidence to date linking the Homo floresiensis skull with extinct fossil human species rather than with pathological modern humans. Our study therefore refutes the hypothesis that this specimen represents a modern human with a pathological condition, such as microcephaly”, stated the authors.




Attached files

Important shape differences captured by statistical analysis of the cranium after removing size differences. Healthy modern humans (Top left); modern humans with microcephaly (Bottom left); LB1 (Homo floresiensis) (Top right, shown in purple); and fossil humans belonging to the genus Homo (Bottom right). These images highlight how much taller and rounder the modern human braincase is compared to the other three groups when viewed from the side. More importantly, these images also illustrate how much more similar the LB1 skull is to fossil humans compared to modern humans suffering from microcephaly - a condition that results in a small brain size and therefore skull size - particularly in its low and elongated silhouette. The other two pathological conditions examined in this study, "cretinism" and Laron Syndrome, more closely resemble the healthy modern human condition than any of the other conditions. © Katerina Harvati


Full bibliographic information

Baab, Karen L.; Mc Nulty, Kieran P.; Harvati, Katerina: Homo floresiensis contextualized: a geometric morphometric comparative analysis of fossil and pathological human samples, PLOS ONE (2013) http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0069119



Excavations Uncover Earliest Middle Paleolithic Stone Tools in India

Thu, Jul 11, 2013


Finds could have implications for dispersal of early modern humans out of Africa into southern Asia.


The subject of how and when the earliest dispersal of modern humans out of Africa into Eurasia occurred has long been in dispute among scholars. A number of recent studies have raised new finds with different interpretations and sometimes conflicting results.


Now, scientists investigating a site in the Thar Desert of northeastern India have uncovered stone artifacts that indicate the presence of humans, possibly modern humans, as much as 95,000 years ago in an area that once was wetter than it is today. Their analysis and conclusions, published June 12, 2013 in the scientific journal, Quaternary Science Reviews, have added new fuel to the debate about the timing and route of dispersal of humans out of Africa into southern Asia, including the even bigger question.........What species were they?


The international team of scientists, led by James Blinkhorn, Post-Doctoral Fellow with the Université Bordeaux in France, excavated a 3 meter wide step-trench to a depth of 4.48 meters at the site of Katoati, a site where previous surveys indicated the presence of stone artifacts and the potential for stratified sediments for detailed archaeological investigation and study. Their excavation revealed eight sedimentary strata, most of which were dated using the Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating technique, a methodology for measuring doses from ionizing radiation, most often applied to dating ancient materials in geological sediments. Stone artifact assemblages were recovered from most of the sediment layers, including comparatively large collections from three of the layers, including the two earliest (oldest) layers in age, going back to as much as 95,000 years ago. 


"Overall, the lithic (stone) assemblages appear to have been produced following periods of fluvial (water) activity in a predominantly C4 habitat", report Blinkhorn, et al. This means that humans were living and working in an area, now desert, that featured plants such as sorghum type grasses and amaranth. Moreover, reports Blinkhorn, "the Katoati findings corroborate the archaeological evidence from 16R Dune, indicating the presence of hominin populations in the Thar Desert between 80 and 40 ka". The site known as "16R Dune", another archaeological site on the eastern edge of the Thar desert, was excavated years ago but a recent revisiting of the data and application of updated dating techniques revealed a range for artifacts at the site between 80,000 and 40,000 years ago.*


But dating of the oldest layers at Katoati pushed the timeline back even further. "The archaeological findings clearly extend the occurrence of Middle Palaeolithic hominins in South Asia to MIS (Marine Isotope Stage) 5c, or ca 95 ka (95,000 years ago)", Blinkhorn adds.*


Another significant result of their analysis of the finds showed that the artifacts bore characteristics very similar to those exhibited by artifacts found in Arabia and the Sahara in Africa. The African artifacts have been assigned to the Middle Stone Age (280,000 years ago to about 50-25,000 years ago), a lithic type and time period that has been associated by scholarly consensus with both anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) as well as archaic Homo sapiens, sometimes referred to as Homo helmei.


The findings have also upset the traditional consensus model of the dispersal of early modern humans out of Africa based on identification of the emergence and dispersal of Homo sapiens with a certain type of stone tool industry -- namely, what has been described as Upper Paleolithic (or Later Stone Age in Africa) technology, a more sophisticated technology consisting of such stone artifacts as thin, retouched bifacials, blades and bladelets.


"The presence of Middle Palaeolithic technologies in the Thar Desert at ca 60 ka (60,000 years ago) clearly occurs within the timeframe that have been suggested by genetic studies for the arrival of H. sapiens in South Asia," writes Blinkhorn et al.  "This contradicts the hypothesis that modern humans arrived in South Asia using small crescentic forms that are markedly similar to those that define the so-called Howiesons Poort (bladelet type) technology. Comparable technologies, principally based around microblade production, are not observed in South Asia until 40 -30 ka, or after the Last Glacial Maximum in the Thar Desert. Instead, the Katoati evidence is consistent with arguments for the dispersal of H. sapiens populations using Middle Palaeolithic technologies."*


* Blinkhorn, J., et al., Middle Palaeolithic occupation in the Thar Desert during the Upper Pleistocene: the signature of a modern human exit out of Africa?, Quaternary Science Reviews (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2013.06.012



Late Palaeolithic burial found in southeast France

Article created on Sunday, July 14, 2013


Since March 2013, a team of INRAP archaeologists have been investigating at Cuges-les-Pins, the scene of a development project commissioned by the urban community of Aubagne and Etoile in southeastern France. Besides a Neolithic settlement, researchers are presently excavating a Palaeolithic burial.


Only 200 graves from this period have been found in Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals. The individual currently being excavated at Cuges-les-Pins is attributed to the late Palaeolithic (11 000 and 12 000 years BC).


An exceptional discovery

Although this skeleton is only partially excavated and many questions remain, it is already an exceptional discovery. Flints and evidence for a structure show an outdoor camp probably contemporary with the burial.


The flint tools found in the fill of the grave are characteristic of Epigravettian (or Tardigravettien), present in the Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe in the late Upper Paleolithic. A Carbon-14 dating, currently under way, will clarify the chronology of this burial, the first of this culture to be found in France.


Burial practices of the Epigravettian period are well documented in the Italian peninsula; from Veneto to Sicily. Eight sites have yielded almost forty individuals. However, all these graves are in caves or rock shelters, the Cuges-les-Pins example is the only one so far known to be buried outside.


In the Italian graves, the dead are usually buried lying on their backs and are accompanied with tools, remains of fauna and ochre. It is not possible at this stage to say if Cuges-les-Pins has associated grave goods, or to determine its anthropological characteristics (age, sex, disease or possible injury). Sediments located above the body, however, included three small beads in the shape of perforated Mediterranean snail shells: Cyclops neritea. More than a thousand shells of this type were discovered covering two children at the Grotte des Enfants in Liguria, northwestern Italy.


Neolithic occupation

Neolithic occupation is also present at this site and include pottery, flint, bone tools, grinding wheels, and ornamental elements. These artefacts can be dated to the beginning of the Middle Neolithic (4500 – 4000 BCE). Archaeologists are excavating the many grain pits which were filled with rubbish after their abandonment. Others are digging post holes associated with buildings, houses or barns.


A large circular enclosure with a diameter of about 40 m and with a fence is also present. It is a unique structure in the Neolithic context for this region and may have been used to protect livestock.


Source: INRAP



Time and a Place: A luni-solar 'time-reckoner' from 8th millennium BC Scotland

The capacity to conceptualise and measure time is amongst the most important achievements of human societies, and the issue of when time was 'created' by humankind is critical in understanding how society has developed. A pit alignment, recently excavated in Aberdeenshire (Scotland), provides an intriguing contribution to this debate. This structure, dated to the 8th millennium BC, has been re-analysed and appears to possess basic calendrical functions. The site may therefore provide the earliest evidence currently available for 'time reckoning' as the pit group appears to mimic the phases of the Moon and is structured to track lunar months. It also aligns on the south east horizon and a prominent topographic point associated with sunrise on the midwinter solstice. In doing so the monument anticipates problems associated with simple lunar calendars by providing an annual astronomic correction in order to maintain the link between the passage of time indicated by the Moon, the asynchronous solar year, and the associated seasons. The evidence suggests that hunter-gatherer societies in Scotland had both the need and ability to track time across the year, and also perhaps within the month, and that this occurred at a period nearly five thousand years before the first formal calendars were created in Mesopotamia.



Mexico unveils stone-age etchings

9 July 2013 Last updated at 09:11


Archaeologists in Mexico have catalogued thousands of etchings carved into stones that they believe were made by hunter-gatherers 6,000 years ago.


The carvings, known as petroglyphs, mostly consist of wavy lines and concentric circles, with some images representing deer tracks.


Some 8,000 images were found at the site in Narigua in northern Mexico.


Experts say the etchings may be part of hunter-gatherer initiation rites, or representations of stars.


The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) says it is now preparing to allow tourists into the site, some 100km (60 miles) west of the city of Monterrey.


INAH archaeologist Gerardo Rivas said there was evidence of hunter-gatherer tribes having lived in the area.


He said many of their settlements were temporary, but evidence of cooking implements and stoves still remained.


He said the petroglyphs may reveal clues as to the level of sophistication of the tribes, and the kinds of tools they were able to manufacture.



Inscriptions found in Shanghai pre-date 'oldest Chinese language by 1,400 years'

Markings on artefacts from Zhuangqiao relics site date to 5,000 years ago and include string of words, says archaeologist

Associated Press in Beijing

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 July 2013 19.16 BST 


Primitive inscriptions dating back about 5,000 years – and believed to be 1,400 years older than the most ancient written Chinese language – have been discovered in Shanghai, archaeologists report.


Chinese scholars are divided over whether the markings, found on artefacts at the Zhuangqiao relics site south of the modern city, are words or something simpler. But they believe the discovery will shed light on the origins of Chinese language and culture.


The oldest writing in the world is believed to be from Mesopotamia (now Iraq), dating back slightly more than 5,000 years. Chinese characters are believed to have been developed independently.


The Chinese inscriptions were found on more than 200 pieces dug out from the neolithic Liangzhu relics site. The pieces are among thousands of fragments of ceramic, stone, jade, wood, ivory and bone excavated from the site between 2003 and 2006, Xu Xinmin, the lead archaeologist, said.


Chinese scholars, of archaeology and ancient writing, who met last weekend in Zhejiang province to discuss the finding, thought the inscriptions did not indicate a developed writing system. However Xu said there was evidence of words on two pieces of stone axes.


One of the pieces has six word-like shapes strung together and resembles a short sentence.


"They are different from the symbols we have seen in the past on artefacts," Xu said. "The shapes, and the fact that they are in a sentence-like pattern, indicate they are expressions of some meaning."


The six characters are arranged in a line, and three resemble the modern Chinese character for human beings. Each shape has two to five strokes.


"If five to six of them are strung together like a sentence, they are no longer symbols but words," said Cao Jinyan, a scholar of ancient writing at Zhejiang University. He said the markings should be regarded as hieroglyphics.


He said there were also stand-alone shapes with more strokes. "If you look at the composition, you will see they are more than symbols."


But Liu Zhao, an archaeologist at Fudan University, Shanghai, suggested there was not sufficient material for a conclusion. "I don't think they should be considered writing by the strictest definition. We do not have enough material to pin down the stage of those markings in the history of ancient writings."


For now the Chinese scholars are calling the markings primitive writing, a vague term that suggests they are somewhere between symbols and words.


The oldest known Chinese writing has been found on animal bones (known as oracle bones) dating to 3,600 years ago, at the time of the Shang dynasty.



'Vampire' Graveyard Unearthed In Poland; Beheaded Skeletons Found In Tell-Tale Burial Position

Researchers may have unearthed a "vampire" graveyard in Poland.

The Huffington Post  |  By Meredith Bennett-Smith Posted: 07/12/2013 6:38 pm EDT  |  Updated: 07/14/2013 2:48 pm EDT


Researchers came across a spooky discovery when they unearthed a graveyard that appeared to contain the skeletons of four Poles suspected of being vampires..


Four skeletons were found at the site in Gliwice, a town in southern Poland, according to Polish Radio English. All four bodies had been beheaded and buried with their heads between their legs.


Decapitation was a common fate for suspected vampires among Slavic areas in the period following the introduction of Christianity, the Telegraph reports. The bodies were then buried with their heads between their legs in an attempt to prevent the skeletons from rising from the dead.


There is speculation that the bodies were buried in the 16th century, the Independent notes. However, many questions still remain.


“It's very difficult to tell when these burials were carried out,” archaeologist Dr. Jacek Pierzak told the Dziennik Zachodni newspaper, per Polish Radio English.


A devout Roman Catholic country, Poland is home to a vocal community of exorcists and vampire-believers. In 2011, a week-long exorcism conference focused on examining "the current fashion for vampirism in Europe and the world-over, schizophrenia and other mental disorders as well as the devil’s deceit during exorcism," according to Agence France-Presse.


One of the latest high-profile excavations of suspected vampires occurred in 2012 near the city of Sozopol, Bulgaria, according to Time. Archaeologists there discovered a pair of 700-year-old remains that had been stabbed through the heart with iron rods -- a Bulgarian burial customary for suspected vampires in the 14th century. Close to 100 so-called vampire graves were discovered in the eastern European country recently, the outlet notes.