Society bloomed with gentler personalities, more feminine faces: Technology boom 50,000 years ago correlated with less testosterone

Date: August 1, 2014

Source: Duke University

Summary: Scientists have shown that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming. Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in. Technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament by dialing back aggression with lower testosterone levels.


A composite image shows the facial differences between an ancient modern human with heavy brows and a large upper face and the more recent modern human who has rounder features and a much less prominent brow. The prominence of these features can be directly traced to the influence of the hormone testosterone.


Modern humans appear in the fossil record about 200,000 years ago, but it was only about 50,000 years ago that making art and advanced tools became widespread.


A new study appearing Aug. 1 in the journal Current Anthropology finds that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming.

"The modern human behaviors of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament," said lead author Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah who began this work as a senior at Duke University.

The study, which is based on measurements of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls, makes the argument that human society advanced when people started being nicer to each other, which entails having a little less testosterone in action.

Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in, and those changes can be traced directly to testosterone levels acting on the skeleton, according to Duke anthropologist Steven Churchill, who supervised Cieri's work on a senior honors thesis that grew to become this 24-page journal article three years later.

What they can't tell from the bones is whether these humans had less testosterone in circulation, or fewer receptors for the hormone.

The research team also included Duke animal cognition researchers Brian Hare and Jingzhi Tan, who say this argument is in line with what has been established in non-human species.

In a classic study of Siberian foxes, animals that were less wary and less aggressive toward humans took on a different, more juvenile appearance and behavior after several generations of selective breeding.

"If we're seeing a process that leads to these changes in other animals, it might help explain who we are and how we got to be this way," said Hare, who also studies differences between our closest ape relatives -- aggressive chimpanzees and mellow, free-loving bonobos.

Those two apes develop differently, Hare said, and they respond to social stress differently. Chimpanzee males experience a strong rise in testosterone during puberty, but bonobos do not. When stressed, the bonobos don't produce more testosterone, as chimps do, but they do produce more cortisol, the stress hormone.

Their social interactions are profoundly different and, relevant to this finding, their faces are different, too. "It's very hard to find a brow-ridge in a bonobo," Hare said.

Cieri compared the brow ridge, facial shape and interior volume of 13 modern human skulls older than 80,000 years, 41 skulls from 10,000 to 38,000 years ago, and a global sample of 1,367 20th century skulls from 30 different ethnic populations.

The trend that emerged was toward a reduction in the brow ridge and a shortening of the upper face, traits which generally reflect a reduction in the action of testosterone.

There are a lot of theories about why, after 150,000 years of existence, humans suddenly leapt forward in technology. Around 50,000 years ago, there is widespread evidence of producing bone and antler tools, heat-treated and flaked flint, projectile weapons, grindstones, fishing and birding equipment and a command of fire. Was this driven by a brain mutation, cooked foods, the advent of language or just population density?

The Duke study argues that living together and cooperating put a premium on agreeableness and lowered aggression and that, in turn, led to changed faces and more cultural exchange.

"If prehistoric people began living closer together and passing down new technologies, they'd have to be tolerant of each other," Cieri said. "The key to our success is the ability to cooperate and get along and learn from one another."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

Robert L. Cieri, Steven E. Churchill, Robert G. Franciscus, Jingzhi Tan, Brian Hare. Craniofacial Feminization, Social Tolerance, and the Origins of Behavioral Modernity. Current Anthropology, 2014; 55 (4): 419 DOI: 10.1086/677209

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Duke University. "Society bloomed with gentler personalities, more feminine faces: Technology boom 50,000 years ago correlated with less testosterone." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140801171114.htm>.


Climate change and drought in ancient times

Dr. Simone Riehl

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11 August 2014 Universitaet Tübingen


Under embargo until 11 August 2014 19:01 GMT


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The influence of climate on agriculture is believed to be a key factor in the rise and fall of societies in the Ancient Near East. Dr. Simone Riehl of Tübingen University’s Institute for Archaeological Science and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment has headed an investigation into archaeological finds of grain in order to find out what influence climate had on agriculture in early farming societies. Her findings are published in this week’s PNAS – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


She and her team analyzed grains of barley up to 12,000 years old from 33 locations across the Fertile Crescent to ascertain if they had had enough water while growing and ripening. Riehl found that periods of drought had had noticeable and widely differing effects on agriculture and societies in the Ancient Near East, with settlements finding a variety of ways to deal with the problem.


The 1,037 ancient samples were between 12,000 and 2,500 years old. They were compared with modern samples from 13 locations in the former Fertile Crescent. Dr. Riehl and her team measured the grains’ content of two stable carbon isotopes. When barley grass gets insufficient water while growing, the proportion of heavier carbon isotopes deposited in its cells will be higher than normal. The two isotopes 12C und 13C remain stable for thousands of years and can be measured precisely – giving Simone Riehl and her colleagues reliable information on the availability of water while the plants were growing.


They found that many settlements were affected by drought linked to major climate fluctuations. “Geographic factors and technologies introduced by humans played a big role and influenced societies’ options for development as well as their particular ways of dealing with drought,” says Riehl. Her findings indicate that harvests in coastal regions of the northern Levant were little affected by drought; but further inland, drought lead to the need for irrigation or, in extreme cases, abandonment of the settlement.


The findings give archaeologists clues as to how early agricultural societies dealt with climate fluctuations and differing local environments. “They can also help evaluate current conditions in regions with a high risk of crop failures,” Riehl adds. The study is part of a German Research Foundation-backed project looking into the conditions under which Ancient Near Eastern societies rose and fell.



Attached files

Samples taken from these sites: Top, left to right: Ghab Valley (western Syria), Iron Age settlement of Zincirli, Hatay Province (SE Turkey), and Hittite-era settlement of Nerik (near Samsun,Turkey); Middle, left to right: irrigation channel below Tel Halaf (northern Syria), barley growing near Zincirli, Hatay Province (SE Turkey), and a field in the same place after the harvest; Bottom, left to right: irrigation channel near Zincirli, fields near Zincirli and arid lands with field in Jabroud Region (SW Syria).landscapes. Photos: Simone Riehl/University of Tübingen

Full bibliographic information

Simone Riehl, Konstantin Pustovoytov, Heike Weippert, Stefan Klett, Frank Hole:Drought stress variability in ancient Near Eastern agricultural systems evidenced by δ13C in barley grain. PNAS – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Week of 11 August 2014.



Lavish tomb buried for 2,100 years with gold and treasure discovered in China

LIZZIE DEARDEN   Tuesday 05 August 2014


Archaeologists believe the mausoleum was for Liu Fei, who died in 128BC after 26 years ruling over the kingdom of Jiangdu during the Western Han dynasty.


Lying hidden up a mountain near populated areas of modern day Xuyi County, in Jiangsu province, the complex had already been looted several times when discovered by historians.


But thousands of artifacts, including treasure made of gold, silver, bronze and jade remained, according to a report in the Chinese Archaeology journal.


Bronze elephants and rhinoceros models were found for the first time, providing significant evidence of trade between ancient China and foreign countries. 


Several life-size chariot and dozens of smaller chariots had been left to accompany Liu Fei into the afterlife.


A team of archaeologists from the Museum of Nanjing excavated the site over two years, revealing three main tombs, 11 "attendant tombs", two chariot and horse pits, two weaponry pits, and the remains of a wall that originally encompassed the complex.


The team said their work was a "rescue excavation" as the site was threatened by quarrying.


A large earth mound 150 metres high once covered the king's tomb, with two long shafts leading to a burial chamber, where Liu Fei had been equipped with everything needed for the afterlife.


His coffin had been damaged and the body itself was gone but fragments of a “jade burial suit” were found.


A stockpile of weapons, included iron swords, spearheads, crossbows and knives alongside chariots inlaid with gold and silver.


The tomb of Liu Fei, the ruler of the Jiangdu kingdom in the Chinese empire The tomb of Liu Fei, the ruler of the Jiangdu kingdom in the Chinese empire For entertainment, archaeologists also found chime bells, zithers and jade tuning pegs decorated with dragons among musical instruments.


An ancient “treasury” with more than 100,000 banliang coins – the first unified currency of the Chinese empire – was found to cater for Liu Fei’s financial needs and there were goose-shaped lamps to light his way.


The king was also provided with a kitchen complete with bronze cauldrons, steamers, wine vessels, cups and pitchers. Seashells, animal bones and fruit seeds were found as evidence of food left for him.


Liu Fei was renowned for admiring "daring and physical prowess" by contemporary historians, who said his way of life was marked by "extreme arrogance and luxury", Live Science reported.


A second tomb adjacent to his, named M2, contained an unknown person of high standing and contained pottery, lacquer goods, gold and silver.


"The 'jade coffin' from M2 is the most significant discovery," archaeologists wrote.


"Although the central chamber was looted, the structure of the jade coffin is still intact, which is the only undamaged jade coffin discovered in the history of Chinese archaeology."


Another tomb contained artifacts engraved with the surname "Nao", the name of Liu Fei’s famous consort, Lady Nao, whose beauty was apparently so great that she went on to be a consort for his son Liu Jian and then for another king.


The Chinese empire was hugely wealthy in the second century BC but warring kingdoms challenged the Emperor’s power.


Liu Jian, Liu Fei’s son, allegedly plotted against the Emperor as ruler of Jiangdu seven years after his father’s death and his kingdom was seized.


In reports after the saga, writers alleged Liu Jian had engaged in bizarre behaviour, including having an orgy with 10 women in a tent above his father’s tomb.



New Nazca Lines geoglyphs uncovered by gales and sandstorms in Peru

LIZZIE DEARDEN   Monday 04 August 2014


High winds and sandstorms in Peru have revealed previously undiscovered geoglyphs in the ancient Nazca Lines.


Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, a pilot and researcher, found the new shapes while flying over the desert last week, El Comercio reported.


He believes one of the geoglyphs depicts a snake 60 metres long and 4 metres wide, near the famous “hummingbird”.


A bird, camelids (possibly llamas) and a zig zag line are among the lines found etched into the ground on hills in the El Ingenio Valley and Pampas de Jumana.


Archaeologists are already trying to confirm whether they match the Paracas culture in the Ica region of Peru, which flourished from 800BC to 100BC and influenced complex textiles and ceramics at Nazca as well as the lines.


Ruben Garcia Sota, head of Ica’s archaeological authority, told El Comercio the latest discovery was “a valuable contribution to our knowledge of ancient Nazca”.


One archaeologist, Orefici Giuseppe Pecci, said the geoglyphs confirmed the close relationship between the ancient artworks and water.


The Nazca Lines cover an area of approximately 280 square miles and are believed to have been scratched into the ground over a thousand years between 500BC and 500AD.


UNESCO, which designated the area a World Heritage Site in 1994, describes the Nazca Lines as “a unique and magnificent artistic achievement that is unrivalled in its dimensions and diversity anywhere in the prehistoric world”.


Their quality, size and continuity put them among archaeology’s greatest enigmas and they are believed to have been used for astronomical rituals.


Animals, birds, insects, plants and imaginary beings are depicted as well as lines and geometric figures several kilometres long.


The largest creature is a 285 metre-long pelican and other famous geoglyphs include a spider, monkey and lizard.


One strange creature has two human hands, one with only four fingers, and everyday objects like looms are also seen.



National Trust acquires 2,600-year-old Iron Age fort Hambledon Hill



One of Britain’s most important archaeological sites – a vast Iron Age hill fort at Hambledon Hill, Dorset – has been acquired by the National Trust.


It is the organisation’s most significant archaeological acquisition for more than 30 years. With £450,000 from bequests and from Natural England, the Trust has purchased the 2,600-year-old monument from a local family charitable trust which had owned it since the early 1980s.


Together with a neighbouring National Trust-owned hill fort, Hod Hill, the monuments constitute the organization’s most important archaeological complex after the Stonehenge landscape and Avebury.


It’s now planning to protect its newly-acquired Hambledon Hill site from being damaged by encroaching scrubland and other vegetation.


The vast triple-banked hill fort – one of the largest and most impressive in Britain – covers 67 acres and has four miles of grass-covered earthen ramparts.


Its defensive ditches – up to 21 metres deep – are among the most impressive in the world. Inside the hill fort, which is in reality a fortified Iron Age town, visitors can still see some 300 Iron Age hut platforms and walk along the long-abandoned prehistoric streets.


The newly acquired site includes not only the Iron Age hill fort, but also two 5,500-year-old neolithic ritual enclosures, a huge neolithic communal tomb and Bronze Age burial mounds. A full archaeological survey of the monuments will be carried out by the National Trust next year.


The site, already a national nature reserve, is also exceptionally important from a natural history perspective, and is home to nine rare orchids, at least a dozen rare and endangered butterflies, mammals and birds.


“This acquisition is extremely significant because of the site’s rare flora and fauna and because the Iron Age hill fort is among the three most important such archaeological monuments in the country. Together with the Neolithic and Bronze Age earthworks on the site, it covers 3,500 years of British prehistory,” said a National Trust spokesperson.  



Archaeology dig reveals water technology of Roman Colchester

12:53pm Friday 8th August 2014 in Local News


An archaeological dig has provided an insight into the advanced water system that served Roman Colchester.


The Colchester Archaeological Trust is examining land off the High Street as part of the £30million redevelopment of the Williams & Griffin department store.


Archaeologists have found iron collars and fossilised wood, which are believed to have formed part of the town’s Roman water mains.


Philip Crummy, trust director, said: "Colchester was quite technological for a Roman town and was able to provide pressurised water."



Major finds unearthed on Hinkley bypass dig

3:30pm Sunday 10th August 2014 in Bridgwater Area News By Rebecca Jones


IMPORTANT finds dating back to the Iron Age and Roman period have been uncovered at the site of a new bypass to be built as part of the Hinkley C project.


Archaeologists working at the site of the Cannington bypass revealed their discoveries to local residents on Thursday when EDF Energy and Somerset County Council invited local stakeholders to take a look.


The dig is being carried out at the site of a planned Cannington bypass which will be built to help serve the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.


Experts from the dig team were on hand to guide residents through the finds, which included remains of a substantial stone building dating from Roman times with underfloor heating and traces of painted wall plaster.


Remains of a prominent building dating from around the 2nd to 3rd Centuries AD and traces of Iron Age buildings were also found at the site.


Bob Croft, Somerset’s county archaeologist, said: “What we have found surviving here are some of the most complete Roman buildings in West Somerset. Dating from around 200 AD, such Roman buildings are relatively uncommon here.


“So this is a rare opportunity to record and understand part of West Somerset's Roman history.”

Once the dig is completed, the careful work of cleaning, identifying and interpreting the finds and other evidence will begin.


A report will then be produced and the special finds and archives deposited at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.


Cllr David Hall, deputy leader of Somerset County Council, said: “This is a fascinating and exciting find that expands our knowledge of Somerset's rich history. Development such as this bypass helps drive archaeology as we simply wouldn't have had the opportunity to see the site today otherwise.


“There is more painstaking work to do in recording and understanding the finds. It is great to think that some will then be incorporated into a replica Roman exhibit being built at Avalon Marshes and available for more people to see.”


A new bypass to the west of Cannington was approved as part of the Development Consent Order for Hinkley Point C to ensure that construction traffic travels around the village once it has been completed.


To enable EDF Energy to start construction of the bypass later this year the company began preparatory works at the site in April, including ecological works, vegetation clearance and archaeological investigations.


David Eccles, of EDF said: “These archaeological works, along with ecological activity earlier this year, signal preparations are well underway on the bypass project with main construction to start later in 2014.”


Archaeologists say Anglo-Saxon sword discovery "couldn't have been better scripted"

By Ben Miller | 05 August 2014


X-rays will be carried out on an Anglo-Saxon sword found alongside beads, bodies and more in neolithic Wiltshire


Archaeologists have praised the timing and good fortune of a barrow dig on Salisbury Plain which has culminated in the discovery of 13 Anglo-Saxon graves, adding to around 62 already found at the site during previous excavations.


A surprising Anglo-Saxon burial, found in a crouched position, a range of weapons, including spearheads and shield bosses, and the fourth example of a brooch-bearing woman were among the highlights during five weeks of investigations at Barrow Clump, a Neolithic settlement which later became a Bronze Age burial mound and Saxon cemetery,


 “The finding of the Anglo-Saxon sword, by Steve Winterton, couldn’t have been better scripted,” said Phil Andrews, of Wessex Archaeology, who admitted that this year’s excavations had exceeded his “relatively modest” expectations.


“Perhaps my most satisfying moment was the discovery of Lieutenant Colonel Hawley’s late 19th century excavation trench – something we had failed to find in previous seasons.


"Having a cherry-picker on site on Thursday gave us a chance to see the results of our work from above.


"The final burial was lifted on Friday and all recording completed. The last people left site on Saturday and by the end of Tuesday the excavation trenches had been backfilled and we said our farewells to Barrow Clump.


“It proved to be a very good year for beads, particularly glass, with a range of shapes, sizes and colours found with three of the female burials.


“Barrow Clump has always come up with pleasant surprises, and it is without doubt a site to remember for all the right reasons.”


Processing and post-excavation work will continue for the rest of the year, including x-rays of the sword.



Barn found at 'lost' medieval manor in Croxton Kerrial, Leicestershire

8 August 2014 Last updated at 10:28 Share this pageEmailPrint


The tithe barn, which the team is in the process of excavating, measures 26m long by 7m wide (85 feet long by 23 feet wide)


Archaeologists working on the site of a "lost" medieval manor house in Leicestershire say they have found a tithe barn, shop buildings and artefacts including a metal strap-end carved with a dragon.


The finds were made at Croxton Kerrial, near the Lincolnshire border, where digging began in 2012.


The 12th Century house had disappeared from maps by the 1790s.


Tony Connolly, who is leading the dig, said the finds were "quite amazing".


'Fantastic finds'

Mr Connolly, who chairs the Framland Local Archaeology Group, said he had started digging in the field, near the village church, on a hunch.


He said: "I'm writing a history of the village and I found references to the manor house but nobody knew anything about it.


The tin alloy strap end, engraved with a dragon, was discovered in a medieval well near the barn

"This site was empty and seemed a likely candidate for where the house might once have been. It's quite amazing what we have found.


"We have the house and when we stripped off the topsoil, we found a tithe barn measuring 26m long by 7m wide [85 feet long by 23 feet wide] which we are in the process of excavating.


Mr Connolly says the village of Croxton Kerrial took part of its name from the De Kerrial family who became lords of the manor following the Norman conquest

The De Kerrials left in 1336 and the manor was taken over by Croxton Abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries


After that, the village became part of the Belvoir Castle estate and the manor house fell into disrepair

"We have also excavated an area of cobbled stones surrounded by buildings, which we believe would have been a dairy, a blacksmiths and a bakery."


Mr Connolly said the team had also found a 1.2m [four feet] deep well containing "beautifully clear water".


"At the bottom we made two fantastic finds - a metal strap end for a belt with a dragon engraved on it and a 12th Century jug which we reassembled.


"The handle had snapped which made us think the jug was dropped down the well by a manor servant."


Mr Connolly said he hoped the pieces would go on display at nearby Belvoir Castle.


He said excavations would continue at the site until at least 2015.