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Category Archives: MP-UP transition

Indian Microlithic industry almost contemporary of Western initial UP and LSA

Mehtakheri toolkit
That is what a new study has found, albeit on just one date. Based on that they argue that the recent claim by Mellars et al. (see also here) about an extremely late date for the migration out of Africa (OOA) becomes more plausible.
Sheila Mishra et al., Continuity of Microblade Technology in the Indian Subcontinent Since 45 ka: Implications for the Dispersal of Modern Humans. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069280]
However considering the pivotal role played by South Asia in the genetics of Humankind after the OOA it is still impossible that this microlithic industry corresponds with that process, because the migration and successive Eurasian expansion must:
  1. Have minimal dates of well before 60-55 Ka ago, time when the presence of H. sapiens becomes undeniable from Palestine to SE Asia and Australia
  2. Go at least largely through South Asia; because the distribution and basal diversity of mtDNA M and R, as well Y-DNA F demand it without any reasonable alternatives. 
The authors themselves acknowledge that the finding is inconclusive in this debate but they choose to lean for a revised Mellars-style interpretation on their own subjectivity.
Their hypothesis is not exactly like Mellars et al. These proposed an extremely late (c. 40-35 Ka BP) OoA, which would imply also extremely late colonization of East Asia and Australasia by Homo sapiens (via South Asia). In order to “explain” the lack East Asian blade-like technologies (necessary for the old professor’s ideas about “modern human behavior”) they proposed that the Eastern colonization was led by small populations who somehow lost the technology. But well, as I discussed back in the day, the hypothesis does not stand.
Mishra’s revised hypothesis is somewhat more coherent (but still very unlikely): she proposes that East Asia and Australia were actually colonized with Middle Paleolithic technology (neither blades nor microblades) in the time demanded by archaeological data and that South Asia instead was not colonized by our species until c. 45,000 BP, possibly because there was some kind of intelligent archaic hominin (Hathnora?), which blocked the expansion of our species initially.
However the hypothesis is still plagued by problems:
  1. As I said above, any model that dictates that South Asia was not central to the expansion of Homo sapiens in Eurasia and surroundings must be wrong: genetics demand otherwise. A settlement of South Asia that is posterior to that of East Asia, Papua and/or West Eurasia (other than the initial Arabian trailblazers or boaters) simply does not make any sense.
  2. The African microblade technology is still quite older (70-60 Ka BP) than the South Asian findings and the similitude may well be a mirage or a matter of convergent evolution. Not the only time that people reinvent the same thing separated by time and space: look for example at Neolithic, which was developed at least in four separate regions of the World, maybe more; or look at the Solutrean style of retouch, used in many different Paleolithic cultures separated by time and space (Africa, Europe, America, etc.)
  3. It would require that Homo sapiens would travel through Altai and all the evidence in this North Asian keystone region, a necessary corridor for transcontinental travel before the domestication of camels (or at the very least horses), indicates that it was inhabited by “archaic” hominids (Neanderthals, H. erectus/Denisovans) until c. 47 Ka BP, when industries related to those of West Asia and Europe show up (at later dates associated to H. sapiens remains).
The facts:
A C14 date was obtained for the site of Mehtakheri (near Barwah, Nimar region, Madhya Pradesh) annotated as: >42,900 BP, > 46,555 calBP, >45,028 – 48,081 (68% CI range for the calBP date). Another C14 date from the same site is much more recent (34,380 ± 991 calBP).
They also obtained five of OSL dates for section 2 ranging from 41.6(±3.3) to 47.0(±4.9) Ka ago. Another date for this unit of 55.5(±5.8) was not used by the authors because it corresponds to an unstudied layer.
Section 3 has older dates (65-78 Ka) but it corresponds to the Middle Paleolithic.
The microlithic industry seems to continue in South Asia until the Iron Age, suggesting that Neolithic and later developments did not substantially alter the demography of the subcontinent. 
All this is very informative but the conclusions suggested don’t seem to make any sense. It is much more logical to infer that H. sapiens left Africa with an MSA-like Middle Paleolithic toolkit that was not related to the Nubian culture (the dead horse being beaten once and again by both Mellars and Mishra) but to other ill-defined groups of possible South African affinity (as claimed by Petraglia). Insisting on the Nubian techno-complex, when we do not know it reaching beyond Dhofar (i.e. they did not reach the Persian Gulf “oasis”, unlike Petraglia’s trailblazers or Armitage’s Jebel Faya findings) is taking the part for the whole, as if there was not already a much more widespread and diverse African Middle Paleolithic (MSA, Lupenbiense, Aterian) in those times already.
Instead these data may indicate a relation of some sort with West Eurasian Upper Paleolithic and African Late Stone Age, which are of roughly those dates. This tentative relationship does not imply migration but would just need some cultural contact. 
It would be interesting to know more about the MP-UP transition in the area around Arabia Peninsula in order to develop better theories on this tripartite interaction between the West Eurasian early UP, the African early LSA and the South Asian early microlithic industry. These very possible cultural interactions fit well within the wet phase of the Mousterian Pluvial (c. 50-30 Ka ago).

Update (Jul 11): “microliths” that are not microliths

I just looked for the first time at the technical issue of what is a microlith (~1 cm long, ~0.5 cm wide) and the published toolkits only seem to have one microlith senso stricto: the J4 point. All the rest have lengths of 2 cm or larger, often 5 cm or more.

The presence of some microlith-sized pieces (usually points) in early UP cultures is almost standard: Emirian, Chatelperronian, Aurignacian and Gravettian all them have occasional “microliths” (measured by size) an in all cases these are points, exactly as happens in Mehtakheri.

So these toolkits seem to have more relationship, if anything, with Western Eurasian early UP ones, which are roughly contemporary (Emirian is the only clearly older one).

Furthermore, archaeologist Millán Mozota sees even similitudes with Mousterian flaking style (see comments):

Bladelet flaking is a typical flaking strategy for this blank type
(small pebbles). Specially if the raw material itself is of good enough
quality.

It has been documented, for high quality quartz on
Mousterian sites, like in Grotte Breuil and, if i recall correctly,
other sites in that area of the Italian Peninsula.

Being also puzzled because the inventories described suggest a strong blade/bladelet component, instead of microblades. 

 

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.

 

Ancient North Chinese from 40,000 years ago closely related to modern locals

Tianyuan Cave (source)
The information is sketchy as of now but the news in the press indicate that an Homo sapiens from Tianyuan Cave, near Beijing, whose fragmented remains were discovered in 2003, was closely related to modern East Asians and Native Americans. 
The paper is not yet online but the information released to the media strongly suggests that East Asians were already distinct from other populations some 40,000 years ago. This would seem to be based on the sequencing of the mitochondrial DNA and the explicit mention of Native Americans indicates that the lineage must be A, B, C or D (X, the fifth and less common matrilineage of Native Americans, is not found in East Asians, with some exceptions from Siberia, so we can exclude it safely). 

Ancient DNA from cell nuclei and maternally inherited mitochondria
indicates that this individual belonged to a population that eventually
gave rise to many present-day Asians and Native Americans, says a team
led by Qiaomei Fu and Svante Pääbo, evolutionary geneticists at the Max
Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. 

This would seem to discard some adventurous hypothesis floating around about tremendous demographic changes in the Paleolithic and afterwards, at least for this region. Probably not even when “mode 4” technology arrived to the region (from Altai) c. 30,000 years ago. 
In other words: the seeds of modern populations were already there c. 40,000 years ago in East Asia (and surely also in most other regions) and, even if they may have changed somewhat, they have remained the same at least to some notable degree.
Furthermore, the autosomal DNA also seems to have been sequenced to at least some degree because the researchers state that Denisovan and Neanderthal genetic inputs are at the same levels as modern North Chinese (i.e. some 0% and 2.5% respectively):

The partial skeleton, unearthed in Tianyuan Cave near Beijing in 2003,
carries roughly the same small proportions of Neandertal and Denisovan
genes as living Asians do (SN: 8/25/12, p. 22), the scientists report online January 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Or in the words of the Max Plank Institute:

The genetic profile reveals that this early modern human was related to
the ancestors of many present-day Asians and Native Americans but had
already diverged genetically from the ancestors of present-day
Europeans. In addition, the Tianyuan individual did not carry a larger
proportion of Neanderthal or Denisovan DNA than present-day people in
the region.

This also seems to discard models implying Denisovan admixture happening in Siberia or NE Asia and would indirectly support my own hypothesis of admixture with Homo erectus (for which Denisovans, plausibly an Erectus-Neanderthal hybrid, would be just a proxy) in or near Indonesia.
Sources: Science News, Max Plank Institute.

Update (Jan 22): the paper is already online and is open access (cool!)  I don’t think I have time to discuss it today but will do tomorrow without doubt (other than the sky falls on my head, you know).

 

Châtelperronian was made by Neanderthals

Contrary to some rumors and some skepticism, the archaeology and radiocarbon chronology appear to support only Neanderthals as the material authors of the first “mode 4” stone industry of Western Europe: the Châtelperronian.
They still allow for it, and especially the novel behavior of production and use of durable ornaments (on bone mostly), to have been influenced by the penetration of Homo sapiens.
Jean-Jacques Hublin et al., Radiocarbon dates from the Grotte du Renne and Saint-Césaire support a Neandertal origin for the Châtelperronian. PNAS 2012. Open accessLINK [

]

Abstract


The transition from the Middle Paleolithic (MP) to Upper Paleolithic
(UP) is marked by the replacement of late Neandertals
by modern humans in Europe between 50,000
and 40,000 y ago. Châtelperronian (CP) artifact assemblages found in
central France
and northern Spain date to this time
period. So far, it is the only such assemblage type that has yielded
Neandertal remains
directly associated with UP style
artifacts. CP assemblages also include body ornaments, otherwise
virtually unknown in the
Neandertal world. However, it has been
argued that instead of the CP being manufactured by Neandertals, site
formation processes
and layer admixture resulted in the chance
association of Neanderthal remains, CP assemblages, and body ornaments.
Here, we
report a series of accelerator mass
spectrometry radiocarbon dates on ultrafiltered bone collagen extracted
from 40 well-preserved
bone fragments from the late Mousterian,
CP, and Protoaurignacian layers at the Grotte du Renne site (at
Arcy-sur-Cure, France).
Our radiocarbon results are inconsistent
with the admixture hypothesis. Further, we report a direct date on the
Neandertal
CP skeleton from Saint-Césaire (France).
This date corroborates the assignment of CP assemblages to the latest
Neandertals
of western Europe. Importantly, our
results establish that the production of body ornaments in the CP
postdates the arrival
of modern humans in neighboring regions of
Europe. This new behavior could therefore have been the result of
cultural diffusion
from modern to Neandertal groups. 

Fig. 1. Calibrated ages and boundaries calculated by using OxCal 4.1 (37) and IntCal09 (36). The Grotte du Renne ages are in black and are compared with the Saint-Césaire human [Neanderthal] bone date in red. Asterisk indicates anthropogenically modified bones. The results are linked with the (NGRIP) δ18O climate record.

Importantly, it is also confirmed that Grotte-du-Renne (Arcy-sur-Cure, Burgundy) is one of the last Chatelperronian, and therefore surely Neanderthal, pockets in  Western Europe, co-existing with Aurignacian North-East and South-West of it, what is suggestive of this latter culture, probably the first settlement by Homo sapiens, expanding to SW Europe via Italy rather than Germany.

Finally, according to our results, the CP Neandertals of the Grotte du Renne, Saint-Césaire, and Les Cottés clearly postdate the earliest likely modern humans remains documented in western Europe (43) and largely overlap in time with the early Aurignacian in the Swabian area (44) and in southwestern France (42).

 

Fig. S1. Geographical distribution of the Châtelperronian assemblages and location of the three main Châtelperronian sites discussed in the text.

Hat tip to Linear Population Model.

 

Very fast double change in Earth’s polarity 41,000 years ago

Some 41,000 years ago is not only the age of the Campanian-Ignimbrite eruption and the sudden arrival of people with Aurignacian culture (most probably Homo sapiens) to the heartland of Paleolithic Europe: the Franco-Cantabrian region, sealing the fate of our Neanderthal cousins.
Some 41,000 yeas ago is also, we are told now, the date of the latest polarity reversal of planet Earth.
Researchers from the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), Norbert Nowaczyk and Helge Arz, have found that around that date, any hypothetical compass would have been for some 440 years (est.) completely lost. Some of that time the compasses would have pointed South and the rest the magnetic field was so messed up that failed its normal role of protection against solar radiation, which  was then surely rather dangerous for life on Earth.

The North Pole went mad, then the Phlegrean Fields erupted

Sources and more details: GFZ, PhysOrg, Before It’s News.
Reference study: Nowaczyk, N. R.; Arz, H. W.; Frank, U.; Kind,
J.; Plessen, B. (2012): “Dynamics of the Laschamp geomagnetic excursion
from Black Sea sediments” Earth and Planetary Science Letters (pay per view), 351-352,
54-69. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2012.06.050
 
8 Comments

Posted by on November 20, 2012 in geography, geology, MP-UP transition

 

43,000 years old advanced flake industry from Northern China

The Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences continues producing interesting news: a rich flake industry from Xujiacheng (Zhuanglang County, Gansu Province).
Nine stratigraphic layers were identified, the main bloc of which has been estimated to be 43-36,000 years old.

The stone tool assemblage of this site shows close ties with the Flake Tool Industry (Main Industry) of North China. It provides new materials to discuss human adaptive behavior, migration, and interaction with environment in this area”, said first author LI Feng of the IVPP.

This industry is probably the indication of colonization of this region by Homo sapiens. Unlike in referential West Eurasia, where the main industry (Aurignacoid) is based on blades and was once thought to define the Upper Paleolithic, in East Asia for whichever reasons blade technology only arrived later and our kin used instead a flake based industry. However a quick look at the resulting tools shows that it has not much to envy to the Western blade fashion:

Fig.1 Cores from cultural layer 4B at the Xujiacheng site.
(Image by LI Feng)
Fig.2 Flakes from cultural layer 4B at the Xujiacheng site.
(Image by LI Feng)
Fig.3 Retouched tools from cultural layer 4B at the Xujiacheng site.
1-7, Sidescrapers;8, Denticulate;9, Notch;10, Point;11-14, Drills;15, Chopper.
(Image by LI Feng)

Source: Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (h/t Pileta).