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Category Archives: Mousterian

Praileaitz cave to have even less protection

The new law of coasts passed by the conservative Spanish government and allowing construction only 20 meters from the coast (it used to be 100m), a scandal on its own right, will have direct effects on the already extremely fragile protection of the cave of Praileaitz, located within an active quarry and holding evidence of human existence from the Magdalenian period but also, we know now, from Neanderthal times some 100-120 Ka ago.
Years ago, the (then unelected) Western Basque Government limited the protection area to just 65m, considered by all experts wildly insufficient (Jean Clottes asked for 500m, for example), however a tribunal ruled later that 50m was enough. This new law allows for constructions and economic activities (such as the quarry) to take place just 20m away from the cave galleries, what may be very damaging.
There are possible mechanisms to counter this legislation but require of a political will that so far has been lacking or rather negative, hostile. 
The utmost fragility of the cave is very apparent in this air view highlighting the archaeological sites near the controversial quarry:

Source: Caminando por Iberia
Some ornamental findings and archaeological works at Praileaitz (Bertan)

Sources[es]: Gara, Caminado por Iberia, Bertan, Amigos de Praileaitz.

Update (May 11): a report (in Spanish language) on the Mousterian and new Magdalenian findings from Praileaitz can be read at Noticias de Gipuzkoa (via Pileta).
 

Neanderthal mtDNA in alleged Italian hybrid from late Mousterian context

The alleged hybrid characteristics are only attributed to morphological data of the bones (the bulk of the paper), what is always subject of great debate. Otherwise most people would just think in terms of Neanderthal, as the individual from Monte Lessini is also from a Mousterian context. By this I do not mean there was no interbreeding in the Neanderthal direction, just that without clear genetic data, I fail to see such morphometric speculations as conclusive in any way.
S. Condemi et al., Possible Interbreeding in Late Italian Neanderthals? New Data from the Mezzena Jaw (Monti Lessini, Verona, Italy). PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059781]

Abstract

In this article we examine the mandible of Riparo Mezzena a Middle Paleolithic rockshelter in the Monti Lessini (NE Italy, Verona) found in 1957 in association with Charentian Mousterian lithic assemblages. Mitochondrial DNA analysis performed on this jaw and on other cranial fragments found at the same stratigraphic level has led to the identification of the only genetically typed Neanderthal of the Italian peninsula and has confirmed through direct dating that it belongs to a late Neanderthal. Our aim here is to re-evaluate the taxonomic affinities of the Mezzena mandible in a wide comparative framework using both comparative morphology and geometric morphometrics. The comparative sample includes mid-Pleistocene fossils, Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. This study of the Mezzena jaw shows that the chin region is similar to that of other late Neanderthals which display a much more modern morphology with an incipient mental trigone (e.g. Spy 1, La Ferrassie, Saint-Césaire). In our view, this change in morphology among late Neanderthals supports the hypothesis of anatomical change of late Neanderthals and the hypothesis of a certain degree of interbreeding with AMHs that, as the dating shows, was already present in the European territory. Our observations on the chin of the Mezzena mandible lead us to support a non abrupt phylogenetic transition for this period in Europe.

While there is little reason to doubt the Neanderthal attribution of these remains, the method of using only HVS-I is a bit antiquated and prone to errors and uncertainties. Follows table S10, with the genetic data (HVS-I) of this and other Neanderthal mtDNA sequences:

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Table S10.
Fossil specimen
Country
mtDNA region
Length (bp)
Diagnostic Neanderthals trasversion in HVR1 according to
Reference
Feldhofer 1
Germany
Complete mtDNA
16565
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Feldhofer 2
Germany
Complete mtDNA
16565
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Mezmaiskaya
Russia
Complete mtDNA
16565
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Vindija 75
Croatia
HVR1
357
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Vindija 77
Croatia
HVR1
31
16256 C/A
Vindija 80 (33.16)
Croatia
Complete mtDNA
31
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Vindija 33.25
Complete mtDNA
16565
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Engis 2
Belgium
HVR1
31
16256 C/A
Le Chapelle-aux-Saint
France
HVR1
31
16256 C/A
Rochers de Villenueve
France
HVR1
31
16256 C/A
Scladina
Belgium
HVR1
123
16256 C/A
Monte Lessini
Italy
HVR1
378
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Monte Lessini Mandibula
Italy
HVR1
31
16256 C/A
This paper
El Sidron SD-441
Spain
HVR1
47
16256 C/A
El Sidron SD-1252
Spain
HVR1
303
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
EL Sidron 1253
Spain
Complete MtDNA
16565
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Valdegoba
Spain
HVR1
303
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Teshik Tash
Uzbekistan
HVR1
190
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
Okladnikov
Russia
HVR1
348
16139 A/T
16256 C/A
Insertion 16263 A
 

Only two dates lead adventurous prehistorians to happily question late Neanderthal survival in Iberia

A recent paper has made the headlines all around questioning the, so far widely accepted, late Neanderthal survival in the Iberian Peninsula. I was so puzzled by the conclusions that I decided to hold back and await if I could muster some more information. Soon I was made to realize that the limelight-seeking authors only provided two new datings and could not even question at all some of the most relevant “late survival” dates like those from Gibraltar or the more recent one of very late Mousterian (22,000 BP) in a remote district of Cantabria (apparently not even known to the authors).
Rachel E. Wood et al., Radiocarbon dating casts doubt on the late chronology of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in southern Iberia. PNAS 2013. Pay per view (6 months embargo) → LINK [doi: 10.1073/pnas.1207656110]
Abstract
It is commonly accepted that some of the latest dates for Neanderthal fossils and Mousterian industries are found south of
the Ebro valley in Iberia at ca. 36 ka calBP (calibrated radiocarbon date ranges). In contrast, to the north of the valley the Mousterian disappears shortly
before the Proto-Aurignacian appears at ca.
42 ka calBP. The latter is most likely produced by anatomically modern
humans. However, two-thirds of dates from the south
are radiocarbon dates, a technique that is
particularly sensitive to carbon contaminants of a younger age that can
be difficult
to remove using routine pretreatment
protocols. We have attempted to test the reliability of chronologies of
11 southern Iberian
Middle and early Upper Paleolithic sites.
Only two, Jarama VI and Zafarraya, were found to contain material that
could be
reliably dated.
In both sites, Middle
Paleolithic contexts were previously dated by radiocarbon to less than
42 ka calBP.
Using ultrafiltration to purify faunal
bone collagen before radiocarbon dating, we obtain ages at least 10 ka 14C
years older, close to or beyond the limit of the radiocarbon method for
the Mousterian at Jarama VI and Neanderthal fossils
at Zafarraya. Unless rigorous pretreatment
protocols have been used, radiocarbon dates should be assumed to be
inaccurate
until proven otherwise in this region.
Evidence for the late survival of Neanderthals in southern Iberia is
limited to one
possible site, Cueva Antón, and
alternative models of human occupation of the region should be
considered. 
From confidential personal communication with qualified prehistorians, I gather the following criticisms:
  • Achieving two new dates (out of eleven trials) is no major hit, even if useful.
  • The results have been oversimplified when presented to the media (and/or by the journalists themselves).
  • The new dates do not disprove that Neanderthals may have been there in later periods.
  • Any conclusions would need to wait for a more extended revision of dates.
  • Collagen preservation is much worse in Southern than Northern Iberia, what may actually imply some need for revision of dates towards more ancient ones (not just the Middle Paleolithic ones but also those from the initial Upper Paleolithic). This part is rather supportive but with due caution.
  • Dates should not be considered alone but in their stratigraphic and archaeological context.
  • The two sites have a very complex stratigraphy, what affects the interpretation of the new dates.
  • There may be pre-conceptions behind this exaggerated claim, such as attachment to the Finlayson model of Neanderthal collapse in Europe before the arrival of modern humans, which is surely wrong.
Also I will add on my own account that, unlike what has been published in some media, this result would not cast absolutely any doubt on the Neanderthal admixture episode, which must have happened not in Europe but, surely, in West Asia long before our ancestors set foot in Europe at all, just at the beginnings of the migration out of Africa (to Asia first of all, not to Europe) c. 125-90 Ka ago.

Update (Feb 12): Basque prehistorian Joseba Ríos Garaizar inaugurates his new blog with an article[es] on this issue. He argues that the two new dates do not seem enough to revolutionize the whole understanding of Neanderthal periodization in SW Europe, especially with the recent re-dating of Saint-Césaire (which confirmed Neanderthal authorship of Chatelperronian and gives a date as late as c. 36 Ka BP, uncalibrated) and the various and also recent datings for Mousterian in the North of the Iberian Peninsula (Arrillor, Fuentes de San Cristobal, Esquilleu, Sopeña) all with dates more recent than 40 Ka BP (uncalibrated). In addition to these Axlor (Basque Country) has a Mousterian layer above another dated to c. 42 Ka BP (uncal.) and Lezetxiki is probably in the same situation. On top of those Mousterian layers many sites have their own Chatelperronian layer, of clear Neanderthal manufacture.

And then there are the already mentioned cases of the anomalous late Mousterian from Cantabria recently dated to 22 Ka BP and several Southern Iberian caves, including Gorham (Gibraltar), which appear also to be more recent than the dates managed by Wood et al.

 

More on the Paleolithic of Nefud (Arabia)

The Nefud or An Nafud is a desert that sits on the North of Arabia Peninsula. Last year, tireless archaeologist Michael Petraglia published a paper on a newly found archaeological culture from that, now so arid, region (see here) dated to c. 75,000 years ago.

Location of the Nefud site of Jubbah (fig. 16 of present study)
It was pay per view however. This new release he has chosen instead the open access journal by default, PLoS ONE:
Michael D. Petraglia et al., Hominin Dispersal into the Nefud Desert and Middle Palaeolithic Settlement along the Jubbah Palaeolake, Northern Arabia. PLoS ONE 2012. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049840]

Abstract

The Arabian Peninsula is a key region for understanding hominin
dispersals and the effect of climate change on prehistoric demography,
although little information on these topics is presently available owing
to the poor preservation of archaeological sites in this desert
environment. Here, we describe the discovery of three stratified and
buried archaeological sites in the Nefud Desert, which includes the
oldest dated occupation for the region. The stone tool assemblages are
identified as a Middle Palaeolithic industry that includes Levallois
manufacturing methods and the production of tools on flakes. Hominin
occupations correspond with humid periods, particularly Marine Isotope
Stages 7 and 5 of the Late Pleistocene. The Middle Palaeolithic
occupations were situated along the Jubbah palaeolake-shores, in a
grassland setting with some trees. Populations procured different raw
materials across the lake region to manufacture stone tools, using the
implements to process plants and animals. To reach the Jubbah
palaeolake, Middle Palaeolithic populations travelled into the
ameliorated Nefud Desert interior, possibly gaining access from multiple
directions, either using routes from the north and west (the Levant and
the Sinai), the north (the Mesopotamian plains and the Euphrates
basin), or the east (the Persian Gulf). The Jubbah stone tool
assemblages have their own suite of technological characters, but have
types reminiscent of both African Middle Stone Age and Levantine Middle
Palaeolithic industries. Comparative inter-regional analysis of core
technology indicates morphological similarities with the Levantine Tabun
C assemblage, associated with human fossils controversially identified
as either Neanderthals or Homo sapiens.

In this study, they report the oldest known Arabian occupation by any kind of humans c. 211,000 years ago:

Though so far a small excavated stone tool assemblage, the recovery of
28 artefacts in a deposit dated to 211±16 ka represents the oldest
reliably dated occurrence in the Arabian Peninsula. We tentatively
associate this assemblage with the Middle Palaeolithic on the basis of
the age of the technology and the recovery of two Levallois flakes.
Although we cannot be certain of the species that manufactured the
artefacts, we note that the lithic assemblages were produced at a time
corresponding with the origin of Homo sapiens in Africa based on mitochondrial DNA [40] and nuclear genomic [41] age estimates and fossil finds [42], [43].
The early JQ-1 artefacts also correspond with the upper age range
limits of the Acheulo-Yabrudian and the Zuttiyeh fossil, potentially
indicating the presence of archaic hominins [44] in Arabia, and possibly early representatives of the Neanderthals [45].

  
However the main findings are still from the 75,000 years old layer, whose cultural affinities and possible maker species are pondered. The most visually accessible result is a PC analysis:

Fig. 17 (Jebel Qattar and Jebel Katefeh are the Jubbah Lake sub-sites)

Notice how the Jubbah subsites (the two Jebels) fall between two Levantine Mousterian sites: El Wad and Tabun C, attributed to Neanderthals. So it is very likely that this colonization represents an expansive attempt by West Asian Neanderthals. 
Possibly related is the also recent finding (Delagnes 2012) of Mousterian in Yemen, dated to c. 55,000 BP. Therefore it would appear that after the expansion of Homo sapiens in Arabia, eventually leading to the colonization of Southern and Eastern Asia, as well as Near Oceania, there was an expansive tendency of Neanderthals as well, which may have helped to partly erase the genetic remnants of the out-of-Africa episode in the most fertile parts of Arabia Peninsula.

 

Late Middle Paleolithic industry of Yemen

Yet another South Arabian industry has been researched and described, this time in the mountain range of Western Yemen, which runs parallel to the Red Sea coast.

Abstract

The recovery at Shi’bat Dihya 1 (SD1) of a dense Middle Paleolithic human occupation dated to 55 ka BP sheds new light on the role of the Arabian Peninsula at the time of the alleged expansion of modern humans out of Africa. SD1 is part of a complex of Middle Paleolithic sites cut by the Wadi Surdud and interstratified within an alluvial sedimentary basin in the foothills that connect the Yemeni highlands with the Tihama coastal plain. A number of environmental proxies indicate arid conditions throughout a sequence that extends between 63 and 42 ka BP. The lithic industry is geared toward the production of a variety of end products: blades, pointed blades, pointed flakes and Levallois-like flakes with long unmodified cutting edges, made from locally available rhyolite. The occasional exploitation of other local raw materials, that fulfill distinct complementary needs, highlights the multi-functional nature of the occupation. The slightly younger Shi’bat Dihya 2 (SD2) site is characterized by a less elaborate production of flakes, together with some elements (blades and pointed flakes) similar to those found at SD1, and may indicate a cultural continuity between the two sites. The technological behaviors of the SD1 toolmakers present similarities with those documented from a number of nearly contemporaneous assemblages from southern Arabia, the Levant, the Horn of Africa and North Africa. However, they do not directly conform to any of the techno-complexes typical of the late Middle Paleolithic or late Middle Stone Age from these regions. This period would have witnessed the development of local Middle Paleolithic traditions in the Arabian Peninsula, which suggests more complex settlement dynamics and possible population interactions than commonly inferred by the current models of modern human expansion out of Africa.

The dates are relatively late, considering we know now of sites in the area since c. 130,000 years ago (in Palestine, Dhofar and Sarjah) but the site is still an interesting addition to the collection of reconstructed stories of the peoples who lived in Arabia early on, whose genetic remnants are still present most probably according to Behar 2008
I find particularly interesting that the peoples of this culture made blade tools, which are previously only common in South Asia. But some “Levallois blades” are known to exist in Mousterian contexts for examples, being different in production from Aurignacoid ones – and this seems to be the case.

In fact the review article I could find at USA Today (h/t Pileta), rather suggests Mousterian affinities in fact:
Most intriguing, the stone tools found at the site fall into the
tradition of older Stone Age tools, rather than ones associated with the
early modern humans thought to have left Africa roughly 60,000 years
ago. They might have belonged to descendants of earlier modern human
migrants from Africa who established themselves in Arabia despite its
desert conditions. Or maybe they belonged to a sister human species,
our Neanderthal cousins, suggest the researchers:

“Our fieldwork at the Wadi Surdud in
Yemen demonstrates that during the period of the supposed expansion of
modern humans out of Africa (60,000 to 50,000 years ago), and their
rapid dispersal toward south-eastern Asia along the western and southern
Arabian coastlines, the interior of this region was, in fact, occupied
by well-adapted human groups who developed their own local technological
tradition, deeply rooted in the Middle Paleolithic. Future research
will likely reveal whether the archaeological assemblages recovered from
the Wadi Surdud can be associated with the descendents of anatomically
modern human groups who occupied the Arabian Peninsula during (this era)
or the southernmost expansion of the Neanderthals.”

Everything is possible but we should not forget that the Homo sapiens of Palestine did use Mousterian technology, a fact that may be related to Neanderthal genetic introgression among us. 
See also category: Out of Africa in this blog. And specially, besides the links in-text, this entry on the various options for the OoA migration, which are necessarily much older than this group.

 

Hafting with bitumen in Neanderthal Romania

Julien Riel-Salvatore mentions today in his blog that another instance of Neanderthal hafting has been discovered, this time in Romania (Râşnov Cave), dated to 33.3-28.9 Ka. BP (uncalibrated) and with Mousterian technology (generally associated with Neanderthals).
A previous case was known to exist in Palestine (Umm el Tlel, c. 40-70 Ka BP). Findings of birch pitch tar, also used for hafting, are even older: 125 Ka in Germany and maybe even older in Italy, evidencing the use of different technical solutions for the same problem.
I refer to A Very Remote Period Indeed for the papers and further details. 
Reconstructed Mousterian spear (source)
 
 

Neanderthals crossed the sea at least once

New research has found that the Ionian islands of Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos were never united to land, what implies that the Mousterian findings (probably Neanderthal-made) belong to peoples who crossed from the mainland, almost necessarily on boat or raft of some sort (they could have swam in theory but hardly with kids and all the family, you know).
Source and more data at New Scientist (found via Pileta).
Reference paper: G. Ferentinos et al., Early seafaring activity in the southern Ionian Islands, Mediterranean Sea. Journal of Archaeological Science 2012. Pay per view.