Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Chaos paradigm

A must watch: a high quality BBC documentary on the great paradigm shift that happened through the second half of the 20th century from the Newtonian paradigm of a clockwork universe, not to Relativity or Quantum Uncertainty, but straight into Chaos.

It lasts exactly 1 hour.
Found at In Defense of Marxism, which has an article on it, with a few punctual criticisms and some of its politico-economical implications.
I understand that the film has an spiritual (emotional) and intellectual value and is worth watching even for those in the know, so to say, of Chaos science. Because it is not so easy to comprehend this new unavoidable paradigm and the film certainly aids to that in many ways. Understanding Chaos may be even more important than understanding Relativity, because Einstein’s theory only applies to some aspects of reality, while Chaos applies to everything.
It is this overwhelming influence of Chaos mathematics and physics what makes this understanding so crucial, whichever one’s field or fields of interest: it applies to evolution and human prehistory surely and it also is in the economy, in social organization and even in the intimacy of our souls (psyche).
Self organization, feedback, fractality (the part and the whole are usually similar), unpredictability of even very simple systems, orders as forms of chaos and not anymore its opponents and critically the real option for a small incident to precipitate a major reaction if the conditions are adequate albeit unpredictably so (the butterfly effect).
We have no choice but to embrace Chaos if we are to do something in it.
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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Chaos, science


Origin of Neolithic crops

There is a new and quite interesting paper the reviews the domestication of the key Neolithic crops:
Worth a good read but I’ll mention here the most relevant conclusions:



Wheat close-up
Einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum) is native as wild from Anatolia or the Zagros area, most probably it was domesticated in modern Kurdistan (aka SE Turkey), in Çayönü or Cafer Höyük. Frome there it spread, along with PPNB to Syria and Palestine.
Emmer and Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum) is native from the Levant and the Zagros but not Anatolia peninsula. It was also domesticated (most probably) in the early PPNB of Kurdistan (Çayönü), spreading soon after the Damascus basin of Syria, where the Emmer variant may have been selected for (Tell Aswad). Cypriot evidence is declared unconvincing by the authors but not totally rejected.
Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is a sturdier cereal even if also less valued than wheat. In its wild form it has a similar principal distribution as T. turgidum (Levant and Zagros but not Anatolia), although it also scatters through the Iranian plateau. The earliest clear domesticated variants are from Syria (Tell Aswad) and Cyprus, but soon also expanded to Southern Kurdistan (Jarmo), Iraq (Ali Kosh) and Palestine (Jericho).
Bitter vecht (Vicia ervilia): it is not really studied in this paper. It has an ample wild origin area and was maybe domesticated in Anatolia or Levant.
Lentil (Lens culinaris): the wild variant is scattered through much of West Asia but it is relatively rare with preference for stony and disturbed soils. It appears along with early cereals in wild form but the first clearly domesticated case is from Yiftah’el, North Palestine (aka Israel), within a middle PPNB context.
Pea (Pisum sativum): there are two wild forms, one scattered through the Mediterranean and the other more specific of West Asia. This one (P. humile) is the one proposed here to be the main ancestor of cultivated peas (but with weak support). The earliest finds are from Syria, Kurdistan and Palestine but the first large amounts are from Southern Anatolia: Çatalhöyük and Erbaba. The discerning of wild and domesticated type is no easy in this case but the available evidence seems to support Çatalhöyük or nearby areas for the domestication of this pulse in the middle or late PPNB.

Potaje de garbanzos y collejas5
Chickpea soup Castilian style
Chickpea (Cicer arietinum): ever wanted to know what Cicero means? It mens chickpea indeed. Anecdotes apart, the wild chickpea is almost exclusive of the Northern Kurdistan (SE Turkey). Naturally the first consumption findings are also from that area (Çayönü, Tell Abu Hureyra, Aşıklı Höyük – all from early PPNB). It is however impossible to tell from sure if theyw were already domesticated of wild. Contemporary remains from Jerciho however must be domesticated (as the wild form is not found in the region).

Other early crops:

Flax flowers
Flax flowers
Flax (Linum usitatissimum): flax can be used for fibers (surely at the origin of textile crafts) and for oil. Wild flax is widespread across the Mediterranean basin and even as far North as South England or Crimea.
Genetic data indicates that the first agricultural use of flax was not fiber but oil, even if flax fibers were already used before Neolithic (30 Ka. ago in Georgia). The earliest finds come from Çanönü and Tell Aswad. However the earliest reasonably safe case of a domesticated variant is from Jericho, just a few centuries later. Some time later (9th millennium BP) the first known fiber clothes are known (Nahal Hemar cave, Palestine), however this kind of evidence is highly subject to climatic conditions (extreme dryness here).

Discussion notes:

PPNA people did not make pottery but stone vessels (source)
It is interesting that no evidence of early domestication is found for PPNA. Does this suggest that this culture of Palestine and Syria was maybe not Neolithic after all? The main attribute of this culture of the Levant is their granaries but what did they store in them if all the crops were domesticated further North or in a later date? Only barley and maybe peas are from the Levant first according to this paper but from PPNB dates anyhow. So, are we missing something or were PPNA “farmers” actually mere large-scale semisedentary gatherers, i.e. Mesolithic instead of truly Neolithic? Your call.
On the other hand it is also interesting that nearly all early domesticates seem to be from the area of Kurdistan, which in my understanding, illuminates the mystery of Göbekli Tepe, which looks like the spiritual center of early Neolithic or at least the consolidated Neolithic of PPNB (notice that while the early village is from PPNA, the enclosure is from PPNB dates).

Göbekli Tepe – I always see a plow here – call me crazy if you wish

Middle Paleolithic of Nefud (Arabia)

Yellow lines outline the deserts of Arabia, Nefud being at the North
Just a brief mention of a potentially important archaeological discovery of Middle Paleolithic deposits in the Nefud Desert, north of Arabia Peninsula.
Found via Neanderfollia[cat].


Major hydrological variations associated with glacial and interglacial climates in North Africa and the Levant have been related to Middle Paleolithic occupations and dispersals, but suitable archaeological sites to explore such relationships are rare on the Arabian Peninsula. Here we report the discovery of Middle Paleolithic assemblages in the Nefud Desert of northern Arabia associated with stratified deposits dated to 75,000 years ago. The site is located in close proximity to a substantial relict lake and indicates that Middle Paleolithic hominins penetrated deeply into the Arabian Peninsula to inhabit landscapes vegetated by grasses and some trees. Our discovery supports the hypothesis of range expansion by Middle Paleolithic populations into Arabia during the final humid phase of Marine Isotope Stage 5, when environmental conditions were still favorable.

Being pay per view I have little more to say. However this paper should be put in context with the following:
  • Armitage 2011 (PPV, discussed here), which proposed a coastal migration c. 125 Ka. ago via South Arabia
  • Petraglia 2010 (accessible at Scribd) which extensively analyzes occupations Middle Paleolithic occupations in Arabia and South Asia
  • Bailey 2009 (Lower and Middle Paleolithic in Arabia peninsula) and Rose 2010 (Persian Gulf, then firm or swampy land, oasis). Both discussed here along with Fields 2007 on modeling migrations across South Asia.

A debate is left open on whether these findings of Nefud belong to our species or that of Neanderthals (or whatever). It is known that c. 70 Ka. Neanderthals were in parts of West Asia, at least in Syria, Palestine and Iraq… 
But it is also considered most plausible nowadays that our own species was expanded by then along the arch around the Indian Ocean, from Arabia to SE Asia. 
And this pesky desert of the Nefud is right in the middle… your call.

The Arctic Neanderthals

Byzovaya tools
There’s been a bit of noise with the confirmation of the vanishing of Neanderthals from the Caucasus c. 40,000 years ago (but this was something we already knew, right?) but specially with the demonstration that the artifacts found in one of the most northernly sites of the time (Byzovaya, in today’s Komi Republic) are typical Mousterian as others from Central and Eastern Europe of the time and hence most probably of Neanderthal making.
It is interesting to notice that this site is not really new, and that there is another even more northernly site, Mamontovaya Kurya, further north, above the Arctic Circle. However when Svensen and Pavlov reviewed the site (see below) they argued for modern H. sapiens based only in the prejudice that no other Neanderthal sites were known so far North.

“Neanderthal finds” refers to skeletal ones only and they have forgotten Palestine anyhow

It is important to emphasize that no skeletal remains have been found and that the adscription of these Mousterian findings to the species H. neanderthalensis is founded on the fact that only Neanderthals are known to have used that kind of Mousterian technology in that area. One could make a knee-jerk not Neanderthals case but it seems quite futile after considering the general context.

This finding seems to reinforce the idea of a penetration of our ancestors of the H. sapiens species in all Western Eurasia c. 40,000 years ago (50-30 Ka. roughly) fragmenting the pre-existent Neanderthal populations into a handful of isolated pockets (Komi Republic, Southern Iberia, Croatia, Southern Italy…), which would be made up of very few people each, eventually succumbing anyhow either to further expansions of our ancestors, ecological pressures or mere lack of genetic diversity caused by fragmentation itself.
On the other hand it emphasizes the striking intelligence and adaptability of Neanderthals, able to colonize such an extreme habitat.


(Thanks to Tim, by the way).


Grammar fundamental found?

Noam Chomsky
An experiment with English speakers with low or no exposure to other languages found what may be some support for Chomsky’s theory of grammar innateness, which has been questioned as of late. 
The experiment performed by linguists of Johns Hopkins University found that, when taught an “alien” (artificial) language, humans found several word orders valid but others very hard to assume. So they would accept the following kind of constructions (all meaning three blue cups):
  • Three blue cups
  • Three cups blue
  • Cups blue three
But not blue cups three. This kind of construction in which the adjective precedes the noun but the numeral is after it is extremely rare in real human languages and the experiment’s subjects found it also very awkward, having increased difficulty in learning it.
Source: Science Daily.

Posted by on May 14, 2011 in human evolution, linguistics, mind, psychology


More ancient mtDNA maps of Europe: the Neolithic and Chalcolithic

With these two maps of the Neolithic/Chalcolithic period, I will consider my mapping project more or less complete. It can still be improved with a map from the Bronze Age, I guess, specially as this is the time when mtDNA H seems to advance to Northern Europe, but by the moment I consider the collection quite complete.
As with my previous maps of the Paleolithic period, I have not just taken for granted the haplogroups reported by the authors (sometimes quite surprisingly) but I have checked myself which haplogroup they should belong to with the help of PhyloTree
The only exception are the peripheral Basque samples from Izagirre and De la Rúa, which I could not manage to find out which markers were detected, so I have mentioned them in a separate inset – because they are under the strict identification standards I have followed for all the rest.
The Neolithic and Chalcolithic ancient mtDNA maps are as follow:

The time-frame descriptive tags correspond to pan-European chronological frames, regardless of local development. 
Previously I posted (in November) three maps for the Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic (this last one including a contemporary sample from Syria/Kurdistan, which is already Neolithic). They were:

All the data I used came via the Ancient DNA pages of Jean Manco, though in some cases I had to browse the relevant papers as well. 
For the record, the first clear appearances of the following large haplogroups are as follow:
  • U2: 30 Ka BP: Kostenki, Russia
  • H: 25 Ka BP: Sunghir, Russia (H17’27). 
    • If you don’t like this one, then Epipaleolithic Portugal (H1b)
  • U5 and JT (JT*): 18 Ka BP: Nerja, Andalusia, Spain 
  • U4: 12 Ka BP: Taforalt, Morocco
  • HV0 (probably V): Neolithic Portugal and East Germany
  • K: 11 Ka BP: Tell Halula (Neolithic Syria/Kurdistan)
  • N1, W, J and T: Neolithic Central Europe 
  • X: Neolithic West France 

I also spotted an “Oriental” lineage in Chalcolithic Castelló: either D1 or G1a1 (one of the five L3(xR) in the map).

    Disclaimer: I carefully checked all reported sequences against the most recent builds of PhyloTree, trying to assume nothing. Surely most sequences have been correctly identified as far as the data and scientific knowledge allow, however if you spot any mistake, please let me know. I hate mistakes.

    PS- Spreadsheet (ods format) that I used in this work is uploaded here (for one year).


    ArchaeoNews May 7

    Yesterday the latest ArchaeoNews bulletin (from Stone Pages) arrived to my mailbox. Here there are some of the news items that I found more interesting:

    Cave bear remains argued to be clue to Grotte Chauvet paintings’ age

    Radiocarbon dating demonstrates quite convincingly that the famous Paleolithic artwork, starring in the latest Herzog’s film, is from some 30-32,000 years BP, what would be well in the Aurignacian period but some archaeologists from California had trouble accepting such old dates.
    To further confirm the date of the Chauvet rock art, another archaeologist, J.M. Elalouf used as reference the remains of cave bears found in the site, which have been dated with C14 to 37,000 to 29,000 years BP, roughly coincident with the previous data. 
    There is little doubt that the bears painted in Chauvet are the extinct cave bear species and not the surviving brown bear because their skulls are quite different. 
    Additionally Elalouf analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of the cave bears, concluding that they were all closely related and hence were probably already endangered before they final extinction. 
    Full story at New Scientist
    See also in this blog: Paleolithic rock art found in Mañaria (Biscay), which may be not that old but still old enough to support obliquely the Chauvet datings. 

    Parts of lion-man sculpture found

    In another case of very old artwork, as the age of the lion-man of Stadel, estimated to be c. 32,000 years old, also from the Aurigñacian period, has seen missing parts found in new digs at this Bavarian cave. 
    The lack of context of this finding has suggested some that it was some sort of votive offering at an otherwise unused, taboo, cave.
    It is hoped that the ancient sculpture will be complete in few years, as the dig is finished.
    Full story at M&C.

    Neolithic to Gupta era remains found in Uttar Pradesh 
    Not much info is provided but at DNA anyhow. 
    Bronze Age findings in North China may be from Xizhou dynasty
    Again not much info provided but at The Hindu

    Does Hoffecker attempt to rescue ‘modern behavior’ theories from the junk yard?

    John Hoffecker working at Kostenki
    I hope not because I do respect this archaeologist for what I have read of his work but that is what I gather from this press release at Eureka Alert.
    The use of terms like collective mind may suggest otherwise but it seems to me a new attempt to justify the biological intellectual superiority of H. sapiens on slippery grounds.
    However one may need to read his book Landscape of the Mind: Human Evolution and the Archaeology of Thought, which is what all this noise seems to be about.