Monthly Archives: December 2012

Chinese elephant species went extinct only 3000 years ago

And not 10,000 as it was believed until now.
Researchers have found that the elephant that existed in North China until c. 3000 years ago was not the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) but another species that was believed extinct much earlier Paleoloxodon sp. or straight tusked elephant. The species or a closely related one went extinct in Europe some 30,000 years ago but survived in East Asia until… now we know that until the Iron Age in fact.
According to the BBC:

To investigate whether these mammals continued to live beyond the Pleistocene epoch and into the Holocene (the current geological epoch), the team re-examined fossilised elephant teeth discovered in Holocene layers of rock in North China during the 1900s.

And found them to be unmistakably Paleoloxodon, not Elephas.
Interestingly, the evidence was also in bronze art from the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, which depicted elephants with two “fingers” in their trunks, like the African elephants but never the Asian ones.

Ref. Ji Li et al., The latest straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon)? “Wild elephants” lived 3000 years ago in North China. Quaternary International 2012. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.10.039].


Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Bronze Age, China, East Asia, elephants


Alert: Brazilian mining project to destroy dozens of archaeological sites in the Amazon

At least 24 caves, which hold major archaeological relevance for the understanding of the early inhabitation of the Amazon basin, will be destroyed by a gigantic iron mine project in the region of Carajás (Pará, Brazil). 
While the area is a national forest and the Brazilian law demands in principle that archaeological sites be preserved, the government has given Vale, the Brazilian mining giant, what amounts to a blank license for the destruction of whatever stands in their way.
Not just that, but Vale holds control over what ongoing research can disclose of the importance of the caves:
Renato Kipnis, a respected archaeologist in São Paulo whom Vale hired to
survey the caves of Carajás, said that Vale had prohibited him from
discussing their archaeological significance, because of a
confidentiality agreement Vale had required him to sign. Later, a Vale
spokeswoman allowed Mr. Kipnis to be interviewed by e-mail, but only if
the company was allowed to vet his replies. 

In written replies screened by Vale, he marveled at the importance of the caves. 
Source: New York Times
NASA image of the already existing Carajás mine
1 Comment

Posted by on December 19, 2012 in America, archaeology, Brazil, Latin America, Native Americans


Videos of the Iruña-Veleia Congress (I)

As you may recall, the International Congress on Iruña-Veleia took place in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Basque Country) earlier this month. The complete written reports can be found at Euskararen Jatorria.
These videos have been published at Iputztar (YouTube user). Some have already been posted in this blog (so I will only include a link) and we can expect that more will be published in the near future (it seems to me that the list is very much incomplete as of now). Most are in Spanish language, with some Basque also, but at least one is in English.
Full playlist of the Congress’ videos in sequence (for people with plenty of time).
00 – Sarrera (Introduction) → YouTube link.
01 – Antonio Rodríguez Colmenero (archaeologist, epigraphist) → YouTube link[es], in this blog.
02 – Edward C. Harris (archaeologist) → YouTube link[en], in this blog.
03 – Eliseo Gil (archaeologist, former director of Iruña-Veleia digs, accused of falsification by the most surreal linguists’ gang ever, accusations never proven). In Spanish:

04 – Xabier Rentería synthesizes the reports of some of those who claim that the graffiti are false (Julio Núñez, archaeologist, and Joaquín Gorrochategui, linguist), who rejected to go to the congress. In Basque:


05 – Idoia Filloy (archaeologist, member of the Iruña-Veleia team, also accused). In Spanish:

06 – Francisco Javier Santos Arévalo (archaeometrist, physicist) on how to date the shards reliably. In Spanish:
07 -Joaquín Baxarias Tibau (archaeologist) on the very revealing bone artifacts of Iruña-Veleia. In Spanish:

The interventions of linguists Luis Silgo Gauche and Antonio Arnaiz Villena are still not available in video. 
Special thanks to Ostraka Euskalduna[eu] for keeping me updated on the matter.
See label Iruña-Veleia for background in (mostly) English.

Dear reader…

As I mentioned weeks ago, this blog is so far a backup of the original one. When I first migrated, some months ago, I was pretty much persuaded that Blogger was growingly eviler and that I needed to change but then inertia and the lack of a justify format button in the WP editor (uh-oh, I think I just found it!) have kept me in Blogger and this version is (at least by the moment) an irregularly updated backup.

I know that some people has found my blog first at WordPress and some have even joined as followers, however that way they will only get updated feed irregularly and in highly indigestible large bouts. So I’d suggest that you check and join the original version while it lasts (which may be months, years… not yet decided) instead.

Also, I want to apologize because the last two updates or so only included titles and not full texts. I seem to have fixed that, probably caused by setting the Blogger feed to “short” instead of “full”. For that reason you may have received double feeds for many posts or failed to find information you were interested in. My most sincere apologies.

Thanks for your interest and may the Maya calendar be merciful to you.

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 18, 2012 in Uncategorized



Evidence of marine exploitation 250,000 years ago in North Africa

Dr. Cantillo in a cave access
According to news reports, Juan Jesús Cantillo the University of Cádiz has argued in his (successful) doctoral thesis that the exploitation of marine resources in Benzú Cave (Ceuta, North Africa) has some 250,000 years of antiquity instead of the mere 100,000 that has been proposed for such kind of economy by other scholars always in search of absolutist dividing lines between what is “modern human” and what is something else. 
99% of the coastal resources exploited by the ancient inhabitants of Benzú are limpets, albeit of a variant quite larger than modern ones. While no bones have been found that could inform us of the human species involved in this economy of coastal exploitation, some artifacts appear to be similar to those used by Neanderthals across the Gibraltar Strait. If confirmed, this would also imply intercontinental navigation, even if across a narrow strait of maybe some 5 km (in the worst of the Ice Ages, today it has 14.3 km).
Source[es]: El Pueblo de Ceuta (h/t Pileta de Prehistoria). I could not find the thesis online yet but it says it was successfully defended earlier this month.

Posted by on December 16, 2012 in navigation, Neanderthal, North Africa


Rodríguez Colmenero on the Iruña-Veleia graffiti (video in Spanish)

The videos of the International Congress on Iruña-Veleia are being gradually released. I recently shared here the conference by Edward C. Harris, and now is time for Antonio Rodríguez Colmenero (renowned Galician archaeologist, historian and epigraphist). Follows video: 45 mins in Spanish language (good quality):

He discusses in some depth, often by contrasting with other Roman era sites, the alphabet, the Christian inscriptions, the errors being product of children education (most of the findings appear to come from a school), the already ongoing Latin→Romance evolution and often also only attributable to mischievous or ignorant misreadings by modern people with limited knowledge but a big mouth (i.e. not errors but in interpretation).
Source: En el Ángulo Oscuro[es].

The Paleolithic of the Three Gorges region of China

The controversial construction of the Three Gorges Dam served at least to make some extensive and intensive archaeological research in the area, evidencing human presence in much of the last million years. 

Pei Shuwen et al., Middle to Late Pleistocene hominin occupation in the Three Gorges region, South China. Quaternary International (2012). Pre-publication free accessLINK (PDF) [doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2012.04.016]


The contributions of the Chinese Paleolithic record to broader ranging paleoanthropological debates have long been difficult to decipher. The primary problem that hinders many contributions that include or focus on the Chinese record is that relatively few regions outside of the main flagship sites/basins (e.g., Zhoukoudian, Nihewan Basin, Bose Basin) have been intensively researched. Fortunately, systematic archaeological survey and excavations in the Three Gorges region, South China over the past two decades has led to the discovery of a number of important hominin fossils and Paleolithic stone artifact assemblages that have contributed to rethinking of ideas about hominin adaptations in Pleistocene China. This paper provides a detailed review of the results of recent paleoanthropological, particularly Paleolithic archaeological, research from this region.

The Three Gorges region is located in the transitional zone between the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze River (Changjiang River). Vertebrate paleontological studies indicate that the faunas from this region belong primarily to the AiluropodaeStegodon faunal complex, a group of taxa representative of a subtropical forest environment. Systematic field surveys identified sixteen Paleolithic sites in caves and along the fluvial terraces of the Yangtze River. Based on geomorphology, biostratigraphy, and geochronology studies, these sites were formed during the Middle to Late Pleistocene. Follow up excavations at these sites led to the discovery of a large number of Paleolithic stone artifacts, Pleistocene mammal fossils, as well as some hominin fossils. Analysis of these materials has provided the opportunity to reconstruct hominin technological and mobility patterning in a restricted spatial point. The Paleolithic technology from the Three Gorges region is essentially an Oldowan-like industry (i.e., Mode 1 core and flake technologies) comprised of casual cores, whole flakes, fragments, and chunks as well as a low percentage of retouched pieces. The utilized stone raw material is primarily high sphericity cobbles and limestone, which were locally available along the ancient river bed and surrounding terraces. Most of the artifacts are fairly large in size. All flaking is by direct hard hammer in a single direction without core preparation. Unifacial choppers are the predominant core category, with fewer bifacial choppers, sporadic discoids, polyhedrons, and bifaces. The flake types demonstrate that the first stage of core reduction is represented by a low percentage of Type III and VI flakes. Some flakes are retouched unifacially by direct hard hammer percussion on the dorsal surface of the blanks. Archaic Homo sapiens and modern H. sapiens identified from some of the cave deposits are likely the hominins responsible for the production of the stone artifacts. Implications for Oldowan-like technological patterning in South China are discussed.

There is rather high detail in this paper in spite of the stone tools of East Asia tending almost invariably to simple flake forms hard to classify, arguably caused by the lack of good quality materials. But I guess that the most relevant of all is this chronology:
Of great interest are no doubt the human (or hominin) fossils found in these and previous digs. If my recollection is correct these are:
  • Xinlong cave (Wushan Co., c. 118-154 Ka): Four hominin permanent teeth were recovered during the 2001 excavation field season (Fig. 2). These hominin fossils have been tentatively assigned to archaic H. sapiens, though more detailed morphometric analysis is warranted.
  • Leiping cave (Wushan Co., middle or late Pleistocene): Hominin fossils including one occipital, some fragments of skull, and a frontal bone of one juvenile, and one upper incisor were collected from the sediments and tentatively assigned to archaic H. sapiens
  • Migong cave (Wushan Co., c. 13,100 BP): The hominin fossils are two fragments of parietal bones which belong to one individual (Fig. 2) and can be assigned to modern H. sapiens.
  • An archaic jaw bone was also found in the 1950s without context.

It is not clear if by archaic Homo sapiens the authors mean Homo sapiens with debatable archaic features or, using obsolete terminology, other species of Homo such as Homo erectus. I’m guessing that the latter but no idea.