Monthly Archives: November 2011

Echoes from the Past (Nov 30) – The oldest rock art and other stuff

Again, in short notice, a lot of interesting stuff. Most notably the portrait of the largest bird ever but also a lot of new info on Neanderthal (and Erectus!) Europe, the Iruña-Veleia archaeological scandal, etc.
First of all the giant duck:
Australian Aboriginal Rock Art May Depict Giant Bird Extinct for 40,000 Years : Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) – hat tip to David. The giant bird depicted at Niwarla Gabarnmung is not an emu but a Genyornis newtoni, the largest bird that ever existed. Its extinction date, c. 40,000 years ago, is the most recent possible date for the artwork therefore.

Middle Paleolithic

The origins of Neanderthals could be in Atapuerca

Pileta de Prehistoria: Atapuerca hominins could be a sister species to Neanderthals[es]. Actually much more is claimed in fact: that they are more related to Neanderthals than any other fossil known and that, for that reason and because of chronology, they are the best candidate to be the direct ancestors of Homo neanderthalensis.

A possible issue is that the site of Atapuerca has provided such a huge number of hominin bones that it is very difficult to compare with even the whole collection of all other European sites.
Serbian Homo erectus in the age of Neanderthals
They have found a Homo ergaster or H. erectus dated to before 110,000 (preliminary dating suggested 130-250,000 years). In this period it was believed that only Neanderthals lived in Europe already. Are these ‘erectus’ related to the equally mysterious occupation of Crete also before 130,000 years ago?

Update: the reference paper is this one (hat tip to Neanderthalerin):

Mirjana Roksandic et al., A human mandible (BH-1) from the Pleistocene deposits of Mala Balanica cave (Sićevo Gorge, Niš, Serbia). Journal of Human Evolution 2011. Pay per view.

Other MP:
BBC News – Moreton-in-Marsh Stone Age axe find leads to seaside theory – a Mousterian axe in England with a whole theory on the environment it was once used.
Upper Paleolithic

Beautifully preserved bulls of Qurta

Franchthi Cave revisited: the age of the Aurignacian in south-eastern Europe << Antiquity. The Aurignacian of Greece overlaps at both sides of the Campanian Ignimbrite Eruption c. 41,000 years ago.

Shell ornaments from Franchthi

Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age

Pileta de Prehistoria: “Guide to Galician Petroglyphs” presented[es] – the book (in Galician language) can be found here. It is notable that the authors emphasize the similitudes with petroglyphs from other areas, be them in the Iberian Plateau or in Ireland. Faro de Vigo[es] titles: 4000 years ago there was a single language that linked the British Islands and Galicia.

Iron Age

Iruña-Veleia scandal
New step in the legal and scholarly controversy on the exceptional findings at the Vasco-Roman site of Iruña-Veleia: state attorney demands physical tests to Basque Autonomous Police. Previously the defense had asked for them to be made by the Guardia Civil (Spanish military police corps, similar to the French gendarmerie or Italian carabinieri).
Various mentions in Spanish:
Also  in relation to the Iruña-Veleia scandal Iruina blog tells us[es] (with video reports) that some scientists have exhausted their patience with the local politicians and tribunals and the abuses that they are inflicting on this most important archaeological site (not just for the history of Basques but also for that of the late provincial Roman Empire, including the origins of Romance languages and new religions like Christianity and Isianism) and have decided to bring the matter to the international arena, so the finger of shame would point to those guilty of unforgivable archaeological destruction.  
Human genetics and biology
Maluku people are one genetically regardless of language:

1-China (Han), 2-Austronesian speakers (Maluku), 3-Papuan speakers (Maluku), 4-Highland New Guinea
Sandwalk: What William the Conqueror’s Companions Teach Us about Effective Population Size – An interesting meditation on key concepts of population genetics, using the well known historical incident of the Norman invasion of England in 1066 that almost turned the Brits into provincial French:

Let’s assume that there are 20 well-documented companions [of William the Conqueror]. Only one of these (William Mallet) has possibly passed on his Y chromosome to the present time and even that male line of descent is disputed. This is fully consistent with our understanding of genetics when you consider that most male lines are likely to die out in a few generations. Those that survive ten generations or so are unlikely to become extinct since there will likely be several male lines at that time.

So what were you saying about Genghis Khan?

Neolithic Basque (and Catalan, and Aragonese) mtDNA

Important correction (Nov 29): the two papers mentioned did test for coding region markers, unlike what I mentioned earlier. The corresponding corrections have been inserted in the text in red color and the erroneous comments I made stricken through. My deepest apologies. 

It has lots of mtDNA H, of course, as does that of Portugal (both Epipaleolithic and Neolithic), approaching modern apportions.

Again hat tip to Jean for the finding.
This is a two years old paper that nevertheless has gone totally unnoticed by everybody (maybe because it is only in Spanish language?):
The authors tested not only for HVS-I haplotypes (not the ideal method but the cheap one and hence quite common, sadly enough) but also within the coding region and the locus 73 (defining R0) in the HVS-II region in the Ancient Neolithic necropolis of Paternabidea (Ibero, Navarre, near Pamplona) obtaining 9 useful results (out 13 individuals tested), of which seven were distinct haplotypes. The testing of coding region markers provides guaranteed haplogroups and not just estimates.
The results are:

That is above 50% H with very few Neolithic lineages (surely K, less clearly I, HV). Overall it is quite similar to modern apportions, as happens with the ancient mtDNA of Portugal (Chandler 2005). 
Even if the adscription of what is probably CRS haplotype (ht2) to haplogroup H is sometimes questionable, the identification of other clear H (ht4) and H3 (ht3) haplotypes seems to clarify the matter quite a bit. I could not find the exact HVS-I sequencies, so I can’t judge. 
No individuals buried in the same tomb (“fosa”) share haplotype.
Individual E1 was buried with a pot decorated with Cardium motifs, individual E2 had a necklace which included three variscite beads (semi-precious green stone very popular in the Atlantic Neolithic).

The necropolis of  Paternabidea is dated to c. 6.090-5.960 ± 40 years BP. This is an uncalibrated C14 date, I understand, what should translate as c. 7000 real years ago or c. 5000 years BCE after due calibration, being one of the oldest Neolithic sites in the area (see this previous post for the regional Neolithic chronology).

Addendum: I think this is the right place to post this map that Argiedude sent me with the modern apportions of mtDNA haplogroup H1:

Author: Argiedude

This map seems to suggest a negative cline of this lineage from the sources of the Neolithic phenomenon in SE Europe and West Asia, a possible sign of having suffered some displacement by the newcomers. H3 is instead restricted to SW Europe.

For further info in mtDNA H past and present distribution see this entry at my old blog Leherensuge.

Update: Catalan and Aragonese Neolithic mtDNA

A complementary study on Catalan ancient mtDNA has been published these days, however under a paywall:

C. Gamba et al., Ancient DNA from an Early Neolithic Iberian population supports a pioneer colonization by first farmers. Molecular Ecology 2011. Pay per view.

This are the results:

click to see larger (and legible)
In this case also coding region testing was performed, so the haplogroups reported are certain:
The information obtained from the HVRI sequence (table 4) together with the result of typing different diagnostic coding SNPs allows us to classify each Neolithic sample into its corresponding mitochondrial DNA haplogroup in the well-known mtDNA phylogeny.

X1 and K are likely to be Neolithic. N* is a mystery but unlikely to be Neolithic in principle. All the rest (H and U5) are likely to be pre-Neolithic.

It is notable that the most modern and also likely pre-Neolithic sequence is found in the Aragonese cave of Chaves (67% H, 33%K), farther from the Mediterranean Sea and the Ebro river, towards the Central Pyrenees.

Detail of the results of this study and others on ancient DNA can be found  at Jean Manco’s ancient DNA page (look here for Morocco and Canary Islands).

Update on Gamba’s paper (Dec. 8th):

Argiedude (who remains without access to Google) wrote to me and clarified the following:

  • The reported X1 is X(xX2) in fact according to the published data (could be X1 but also X3, X4 or X*). However X3 used to be known as X1b until a few months ago, while X4 and X* are extremely rare.
  • H20a, which is actually the reported “H20” lineage is almost only found in Europe (notably Iberia). The sources are diverse but he lists: 5 from Spain (including one Canarian but no Moroccans), 2 Hispanics and no Portuguese/Brazilian. In addition he mentions some Sephardi Jews, while Mitosearch lists: 1 Greek, 1 Bavarian, 1 Sicilian, 2 Mexican, 2 Spanish. The oldest source on H20* and H20a being located in West Asia and Europe respectively is Richards 2000.

Update: a Paleolithic Basque mtDNA U5b1 from Aizpea?

Jean Lohizun also pointed me to this other ppv paper on immune polymorphisms. What is notable is that the free supplemental material, lists several mtDNA HVS-I sequences, most of which are from San Juan Ante Porta Latinam (a Chalcolithic Ebro river site already documented for mtDNA) but one is from Aizpea, an ill-known Epipaleolithic site from west-central Navarre. For this site they provide the following sequence: 051-093-189-192-270 (+16,000), which seems to lead to U5b1a’b’c following the latest PhyloTree build. But if you have a second opinion (two markers are missing), I’ll be glad to read it.


Posted by on November 27, 2011 in aDNA, Basque origins, European origins, Iberia, mtDNA, Neolithic


Y-DNA of Basque diaspora in Western USA

Hat tip to Jean for this finding.
As the authors wisely assess the most important inference we can get from this study is how a colonial population diverges from that of the homeland. The Basque colony in North America is not too large (58,000 in all the USA), albeit significant specially in Idaho, Nevada and to lesser extent California (larger numbers but smaller apportion), and the origin is biased towards a single region: the Northern Basque Country (under French rule).
However the results show that they represent very well the ancestral homeland’s haplotypes, only tested in the Southern Basque Country, diverging only somewhat:

Fig. 1 Median-joining haplotype tree: white European Basque (West), black American Basque

This is a good example of how a normal colonial population, even if reduced in founders and numbers, behaves in relation to the ancestral one: it retains most of the lineages. No marked founder effects are apparent anywhere.

Our results demonstrate a very high-level of conservation of the Y chromosome haplotypes characteristic of the European autochthonous Basque population among individuals of the Basque diaspora in the Western USA. No signs of founder haplotypes have been found…

Posted by on November 27, 2011 in Basque culture, USA, Y-DNA


Open sea fishing in Timor 42,000 years ago

Ancient Timorese fishing hooks
A serious attention call today for all those who doubt that boating (or even mariner) skills of Paleolithic peoples could even exist at all. Timorese people were fishing tuna, a pelagic fish, requiring certain serious mariner skills, some 42 thousand years ago, roughly when their distant relatives were making their first incursions into ‘the Neanderlands’ of West Eurasia. 
The ancient Timorese people who dwelt in Jerimalai shelter used elaborate fishing hooks, which are however dated to c. 23-16 Ka ago. These hooks were worked out of shells. With or without hooks, they fished a lot of tuna and parrotfish which are clearly dated to c. 42,000 years ago. These fish can’t be captured from the shore.

By 50,000 years ago, it is clear that modern humans were capable of long-distance sea travel as they colonized Australia. However, evidence for advanced maritime skills, and for fishing in particular, is rare before the terminal Pleistocene/early Holocene. Here we report remains of a variety of pelagic and other fish species dating to 42,000 years before the present from Jerimalai shelter in East Timor, as well as the earliest definite evidence for fishhook manufacture in the world. Capturing pelagic fish such as tuna requires high levels of planning and complex maritime technology. The evidence implies that the inhabitants were fishing in the deep sea.

Media/blog articles: New Scientist, Adelaide Now, Dienekes.


Posted by on November 25, 2011 in fishing, navigation, SE Asia, Upper Paleolithic


Echoes from the Past (Nov 24)

Another long list of interesting news and stuff that I will probably have to neglect dealing with more in depth:

Archaic hominins
Mundo Neandertal: final dating for Australopithecus sediba[es] – who could be our direct ancestor has been dated as precisely as 1.977 ± 0.002 million years ago (that’s very precise!) – see also the paper at Science magazine (ppv).

Smiling Sediba
Human tooth dated to 450,000 years ago found in a Moroccan cave[es] – ABC, the PDF report[fr] also documents remains of a rhinoceros and another more complete H. erectus jaw.

This jaw was found in the same site in 2008 and has a similar date

Update on the above: an academic narrative proposes that these H. erectus senso lato (or H. ergaster) of Morocco might be a last common ancestor between Neanderthals and our species, originating both. Quite controversially, on the same grounds they propose population continuity from these remains up to Aterian culture. The specific evidence is not there that I can see but it’s always interesting to know that such opinion exists. ··> PDF (scroll down for English text), another decades-old ref. in French only by L. Balout.

El Neandertal tonto ¡qué timo!: Backbone curvature and bipedal locomotion in promates[es] – this is big deal instead because it adds to a lot of other anatomical differences between the two big-headed Homo species. See also the paper at AJPA (ppv).
Neanderthals Vanished Because of Their Own Success, Suggests Study | Popular Archaeology – exploring the past – I have read the paper and, honestly, I must disagree with it having any validity other than hypothesis exposition.

Upper paleolithic

The newly found engraving resembles closely others from the same site

Rock art from La Garma cave

Wales: The Kendrick’s Cave horse jawbone « The Heritage Journal. It’s been holographed and a paper has been published for the occasion.

The Kendrick’s Cave decorated horse jaw


The Coa penises: mine is bigger, haw haw!
– a very interesting looking paper that I hope to be able to read in full and comment soon.

Bones kill myth of happy Harappa –  complex story open to interpretation in fact.
Art rocks in Saudi Arabia | Past Horizon – another very interesting material I’d love to mention in a separate entry (date of the art is not know but I’m assuming Neolithic or even more recent from the looks).


Archaeological vandalism and other abuses (often institutional abuses)
Pileta de Prehistoria: Cueva del Tesoro: ten years of abandonment[es]. How the Andalusian authorities ignore important archaeological sites and let them decay and be vandalized.
Pileta de Prehistoria: Chamizo asks again for information on the Chalcolithic Center[es]… of Valencina de la Concepción. The town hall promised such actuations in defense of the megalithic patrimony and has totally just ignored their responsibility and public compromises.

Eliseo Gil
Ostraka euskalduna » Eliseo Gil on trial for three years already[eu] – the former director of the Iruña-Veleia Vasco-Roman site has been on trial for three years already, demanding since day one that physical tests be done in order to confirm the authenticity of the findings and with the chartered provincial government totally ignoring the matter in open disobedience to the court (low rank tribunals in Spain never dare to confront political authority).
Human genetics
PLoS ONE: Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup Background Affects LHON, but Not Suspected LHON, in Chinese Patients – what did I say about English and acronyms abuse? LHON stands for “Leber hereditary optic neuropathy”, which is probably as extremely rare as not to matter at all in evolutionary terms.
“False-positive psychology” | john hawks weblog – interesting take on how (not) to deceive yourself when doing scientific research.

Dog domesticated in SE Asia (claims new study)

random SE Asian pariah dog (source)

The authors describe this region as “Asia South of the Yangtze” (ASY) but I usually call it SE Asia, your call.

Z-L Ding et al., Origins of domestic dog in Southern East Asia is supported by analysis of Y-chromosome DNA. Nature 2011. (Fully accessed on Nov 24 as advance online publication).
The region, specially what they call SW ASY (Indochina, Guangxi and Yunnan) hosts the largest Y-DNA diversity for the domestic variant of the wolf but this is not true of East Asia north of the Yangtze, what may have confused researchers in the past. Instead the Fertile Crescent and Siberia hold the second and third largest diversity figures.

Fig. 1

While five haplotypes have been described, the authors suggest that some 14 male founders are likely. 
Food for thought: if this finding stands (there have been other proposals in the past), considering that dog domestication should be ultimately pre-Aurignacian and considering that there appears to have been a particularly successful branch of the Eurasian humankind which may have originated in SE Asia (Y-DNA mostly MNOPS, mtDNA mostly R) and backflowed across South Asia into the West to conquer the whole subcontinental region to those intelligent and strong cousins: the Neanderthals… the key tech that propelled their success may well have been the dog.
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Posted by on November 24, 2011 in dog, Genetics, SE Asia, Y-DNA


An Iberian criticism to ‘Westward Ho!’

The paper of Peter Rowley-Conwy, Westward Ho!, (Current Anthropology 2011, open access) has become somewhat of a reference when discussing the Neolithic in Europe. It has some good points and very nice looking maps but it takes a radically one-sided bias in favor of the migrationist hypothesis, not just for this or that region but for all the European continent without almost exception. 

This has raised more than one eyebrow. 

The latest have been the authors of Neolítico de la Península Ibérica, a group of academics who sign collectively as Homo neolithicus, and who have extended their criticism of the discussed paper much longer than usual, making in the end a whole article that, because of its interest, I have translated to English as faithfully as possible (with some automaton’s help). Here you have it:

Criticism: The starting point, the Near Eastern origin of the Neolithic elements is correct, as actually shown by DNA analysis of animals and cultivated plants. In contrast the issue is not so clear regarding the human DNA (for both cases see other entries in this blog). Therefore the debate on what or who traveled with the agricultural expansion makes good sense. This work favors the migrationist hypothesis in nearly every corner of Europe. Without a thorough understanding of the prehistoric dynamics in each each of the areas studied, we do not dare to make a rational criticism. However we are surprised, of the use of repeated arguments, as if these were universal, for each region. It is striking the case of milk: the research of lipids has indicated the presence of dairy products -not necessarily milk- in several Neolithic pots (see this blog’s entry “Consumo de leche. ¿Qué queda de la revolución de los productos secundarios?”): The author considers this fact very much revealing because, with the milk, the stress of the first year of settlement in a new place would be avoided. Actually there is not yet enough knowledge of what these dairies meant in the diet of the Neolithic peoples, and its generalization as an argument can not be demonstrated (e.g., for the Iberian Peninsula there are still no studies in this regard).

The text points out the cases of presence of Neolithic elements at an earlier dates than expected -or in Mesolithic contexts- to mostly just discard them. We certainly believe that the cases that triggered the debate in France over the 1970s can hardly be taken into account, but the new ones -which come from safer field work often supplemented with laboratory research- must not be judged with the same criteria. And when the evidence appears most solid it is argued that instead of actual cattle they would be beef imports (a valid argument  for the Netherlands -where the documentation seems important- or for the British Isles). Again this is a hypothetical universal reasoning.

Other reasonings are arguable: a change of diet between the Mesolithic and Neolithic sites only indicates an economic reorientation, but not that it is caused by a migration process.

As for the pottery of La Hoguette, it has been noted its presence in areas free of LBK and at dates prior to this culture. Here the meaning of this pottery style and that of Limbourg have been simplified.

The case of Cardial, as it affects the focus of this blog, deserves a more detailed commentary. The text assumes as oldest dates of Peninsular Neolithic those of Cisterna and Calderao: not just there are older ones -as noted in this blog- but those listed belong to deposits with serious stratigraphic problems -especially Calderao-. On the other hand, the criticisms of Zilhao to Mendandia and La Lámpara appear to us as completely unjustified: actually Zilhao’s text is an anthology of nonsense, offensive for Iberian prehistorians (we do not consider worth even discussing it). Let us recall also that neither the Upper Ebro, where Mendandia lays, nor the Plateau lands, which host La Lámpara, belong to the Cardial domain, nor does the Cantabrian region, whose alleged underdevelopment is more historiographical than real. Indeed the cases of Pendimoun, Arene Candide, Pont de Roque-Haute and Peiró Signado point to maritime movements, but we need to improve the information in order to obtain a more precise picture. For instance, the oldest date of Pont de Roque-Haute comes from a landfill that has other more recent datings (which of them should be associated with their wares? The oldest, the most modern or the one in between?). The case of El Barranquet seems absurd to us: how can a such a convoluted site, lacking a detailed publication and where has not been indicated the relation of date with content, be taken as paradigmatic? Does the work indicate a gap between the Iberian Mesolithic and Neolithic C-14? The entry in this blog “La transición Mesolítica – Neolítica según los datos de C14” seems to suggest otherwise.

In our opinion, the entry of migrants is plausible, but only as one of the tractor elements of the overall process.

Link to original source in Spanish (browse down to “Crítica” in golden type, first comes the exposition of the paper as-it-is in black type).