The discovery of Chauvet cave, at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Ardèche), in 1994, was an important event for our knowledge of palaeolithic parietal art as a whole. Its painted and engraved figures, thanks to their number (425 graphic units), and their excellent state of preservation, provide a documentary thesaurus comparable to that of the greatest sites known, and far beyond what had already been found in the group of Rhône valley caves (Ardèche and Gard). But its study – when one places it in its natural regional, cultural and thematic framework – makes it impossible to see it as an isolated entity of astonishing precocity. This needs to be reconsidered, and the affinities that our research has brought to light are clearly incompatible with the very early age which has been attributed to it. And if one extends this examination to the whole of the Franco-Cantabrian domain, the conclusion is inescapable: although Chauvet cave displays some unique characteristics (like every decorated cave), it belongs to an evolved phase of parietal art that is far removed from the motifs of its origins (known from art on blocks and on shelter walls dated by stratigraphy to the Aurignacian, in France and Cantabrian Spain). The majority of its works are therefore to be placed, quite normally, within the framework of the well-defined artistic creations of the Gravettian and Solutrean. Moreover, this phase of the Middle Upper Palaeolithic (26,000–18,000) coincides with a particularly intensive and diversified local human occupation, unknown in earlier periods and far less dense afterwards in the Magdalenian. A detailed critique of the treatment of the samples subjected to AMS radiocarbon dating makes it impossible to retain the very early age (36,000 cal BP) attributed by some authors to the painted and engraved figures of Chauvet cave.
Category Archives: Upper Paleolithic
|Minatogawa 1 (source)|
The origins of the First Americans remain contentious. Although Native Americans seem to be genetically most closely related to east Asians1, 2, 3, there is no consensus with regard to which specific Old World populations they are closest to4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Here we sequence the draft genome of an approximately 24,000-year-old individual (MA-1), from Mal’ta in south-central Siberia9, to an average depth of 1×. To our knowledge this is the oldest anatomically modern human genome reported to date. The MA-1 mitochondrial genome belongs to haplogroup U, which has also been found at high frequency among Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic European hunter-gatherers10, 11, 12, and the Y chromosome of MA-1 is basal to modern-day western Eurasians and near the root of most Native American lineages5. Similarly, we find autosomal evidence that MA-1 is basal to modern-day western Eurasians and genetically closely related to modern-day Native Americans, with no close affinity to east Asians. This suggests that populations related to contemporary western Eurasians had a more north-easterly distribution 24,000 years ago than commonly thought. Furthermore, we estimate that 14 to 38% of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population. This is likely to have occurred after the divergence of Native American ancestors from east Asian ancestors, but before the diversification of Native American populations in the New World. Gene flow from the MA-1 lineage into Native American ancestors could explain why several crania from the First Americans have been reported as bearing morphological characteristics that do not resemble those of east Asians2, 13. Sequencing of another south-central Siberian, Afontova Gora-2 dating to approximately 17,000 years ago14, revealed similar autosomal genetic signatures as MA-1, suggesting that the region was continuously occupied by humans throughout the Last Glacial Maximum. Our findings reveal that western Eurasian genetic signatures in modern-day Native Americans derive not only from post-Columbian admixture, as commonly thought, but also from a mixed ancestry of the First Americans.
- 10.3% among the Burusho
- 6.8% among the Kalash
- 3.4% among the Gujarati
Here we can appreciate that MA-1 is closest to Native Americans but still rather intermediate between them and South and West Eurasians. Interestingly East Asians are quite distant instead, suggesting that MA-1 was still not too much admixed with that continental population, unlike what happens with Native Americans, who are essentially East Asian in the autosomal and mtDNA aspects. So this kid appears to be some sort of a “missing link” in the Paleolithic ethnogenesis of Native Americans.
- Y-DNA, which among Native Americans is essentially haplogroup Q (plus some C3, which is from NE Asia). By phylogenetically hierarchical diversity, haplogroup Q must have coalesced in West or Central Asia (or maybe South Asia?), very possibly in or near Iran. The NE Asian and Native American branches are clearly derived, even if more important numerically today.
- mtDNA, which among Native Americans is essentially from NE Asia (A, C, D), middle East Asia (B) but also in a small amount from West Asia (X2).
- Archaeology: we can track, more or less directly, the proto-NAs by means of following the Upper Paleolithic sequence in Siberia and nearby areas.
- C. 47,000 years ago (calBP) H. sapiens with Aurignacoid technology (i.e. linked to West Eurasian earliest Upper Paleolithic) reached Altai, displacing the Neanderthals to the Northern fringes of the district.
- C. 30,000 years ago, Upper Paleolithic (“mode 4”) technology with roots in Altai reached other parts of Siberia, Mongolia and North China, from where it expanded eastwards and southwards gradually in a process of, probably, cultural diffusion.
- By c. 17,000 years ago they were already in North America and c. 15,000 years ago in South America. In the LGM they were probably in Beringia already (but this is only indirectly attested so far).
Update (Dec 6): R* and P* (and other rare clades) among Central Asians
A reader sent me copy of the study by Wei-Hua Shou et al. (2010) titled Y-chromosome distributions among populations in Northwest China identify significant contribution from Central Asian pastoralists and lesser influence of western Eurasians, published by Nature (doi:10.1038/jhg.2010.30).
While it is not the bit of info I was recalling above, it does add some information about unmistakable R(xR1,R2) and P(xQ,R) among Central Asian populations (from P.R. China territory). In detail:
- R* is found in 5/31 Tayiks, 1/41 Kazakhs and 1/50 Uyghurs.
- P* is found in 1/31 Tayiks and 1/43 Kirgizes.
Also of interest should be the presence of:
- Q(xQ1) in 8/35 Dongxiang (a Mongol ethnicity), 1/45 Kirgizes and 1/50 Tu (another Mongol ethnicity).
- F(xG,H,I,J,K) in 2/32 Yugu (Yugurs, a distinct Uyghur sub-ethnicity), 2/41 Kazakh, 1/31 Tayiks and 1/50 Tu.
- K(xN,O,P) in 32/533 total (i.e. 6% in Easternmost Central Asia), among which are most notable: 9/50 Uyghurs, 6/23 Uzbeks, 6/27 Bao’an (another small Mongol ethnicity), 3/32 Xibo (a Tungusic ethnicity), 2/32 Yugu and 2/5 Mongols. I guess that it is possible that this is a distinct K subclade, although it can well be either part of MNOPS (NO*?) or also belong to LT (L?).
- R2 in 1/31 Tayiks and 2/27 Bao’an.
Note: their unfounded insistence on most unlikely H. heidelbergensis shared origins of Neanderthals and us casts some doubt on elements of their reasoning however.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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).
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
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.
Update (Jun 18): complementary review of the full paper now available here.
It has been argued recently that the initial dispersal of anatomically modern humans from Africa to southern Asia occurred before the volcanic “supereruption” of the Mount Toba volcano (Sumatra) at ∼74,000 y before present (B.P.)—possibly as early as 120,000 y B.P. We show here that this “pre-Toba” dispersal model is in serious conflict with both the most recent genetic evidence from both Africa and Asia and the archaeological evidence from South Asian sites. We present an alternative model based on a combination of genetic analyses and recent archaeological evidence from South Asia and Africa. These data support a coastally oriented dispersal of modern humans from eastern Africa to southern Asia ∼60–50 thousand years ago (ka). This was associated with distinctively African microlithic and “backed-segment” technologies analogous to the African “Howiesons Poort” and related technologies, together with a range of distinctively “modern” cultural and symbolic features (highly shaped bone tools, personal ornaments, abstract artistic motifs, microblade technology, etc.), similar to those that accompanied the replacement of “archaic” Neanderthal by anatomically modern human populations in other regions of western Eurasia at a broadly similar date.
|South Asian artifacts from ~30-50 Ka BP.|
By “genetic evidence” they obviously mean “molecular clock” nonsense, so it is not evidence at all but mere speculation. However I am indeed very interested in knowing in detail what they mean by “archaeological evidence”, because they seem to get into direct confrontation with much accumulated evidence, first and foremost all of Petraglia’s research in both India and Arabia but also with the quite strong evidence for pre-60 Ka human presence in Australia and growing evidence for pre-60 Ka modern humans in SE Asia (in some cases even as old as 100 Ka).
- They dedicate much text to attempt to justify a particular version of mainstream “molecular clock” hypothesis, which are clearly broke in my understanding. The kind of arguments “rebated” are more or less what I have been putting forward since many years ago. Ironically their “molecular clock” estimates make N and R much older than M, what I absolutely oppose (just count mutations downstream of the L3 node).
- No real attention is given instead to the geographical structure/distribution of major mtDNA haplogroups, only mentioned in relation to “molecular clock” speculations.
- The criticism of the African affinity of the Jwalapuram (Jurreru Valley) cores (Petraglia 2007) focuses on dismissal of any possibility of comparison, rather than on alternative comparisons.
- Another “criticism” is that there is no apparent connection between Jwalapuram and the Nubian Complex (why there should be any?, it is not the only East African techno-culture, nor the only group that shows indications of traveling to Arabia in the Abbassia Pluvial).
- Also it is “criticized” that the most comparable African culture, Howiesons Poort) is not recorded before c. 71 Ka BP (what IMO may indicate late cultural dispersals to Southern Africa from East Africa, for example, but, hey!, Mellars is fencing off balls like crazy at his conservative goal).
- They find clear similitudes between Indian and African microlithic industries (apparently related to the development of “mode 4” in both areas, as well as in West Eurasia). Indian industries are dated to c. 38-40 Ka BP, while African ones are dated to c. 49 Ka BP (Kenya) or later. However West Eurasian ones have dates as old as 55 Ka BP (not for Mellars, who remains stuck in older date references which he describes as ∼40–45 ka [calibrated (cal.) before present (B.P.)]), what really suggest that we are talking here not of the “out of Africa” but of the West Eurasian colonization process (necessarily from further into Asia, genetic phylo-geographic structure demands) with offshoots to the nearby regions.
- Another element of late Africa-India “similitude” they find is “the remarkable, double bounded criss-cross design incised on ostrich eggshell”, dated in India (Patne) to at least ∼30 ka (cal. B.P.), much earlier in South Africa. For Mellars this is beyond the range of either pure coincidence or entirely independent and remarkably convergent cultural evolutionary processes. Hmmm, really? Or are we before a clear case of wishful thinking as happens with the Solutrean-Clovis relationship hypothesis? Isn’t it 30 Ka BP anyhow well beyond any reasonable expectations for the OoA time frame, including Mellar’s own conjectures?
- Mellars accepts the paradox that the geographical limits of these highly distinctive microblade and geometric microlithic technologies are confined to the Indian subcontinent, with no currently documented traces of these technologies in regions farther to the east. And then makes up excuses for it, such as biological and cultural bottlenecks caused by “founder effects”, mysteriously leading to a loss or simplification of cultural and technological know-how, as well as fininding new and contrasting environments (in the same latitudes?!)
- Even in the case of Arabian colonization, Mellars shows to be in a very defensive attitude, admitting only to the reality of the Palestinian sites with clearly modern skulls, as well as to the area of Nubian Complex colonization (on whose peculiarities he insists a lot, as if it would be the only expression of the wider MSA techno-complex), disdaining all the other MSA colonization areas and, often ill-defined, variants.
This paper provides a broad overview of the current state of archaeogenetic research in Arabia. We summarise recent studies of mitochondrial DNA and lactase persistence allele -13915*G in order to reconstruct the population histories of modern Arabs. These data, in turn, enable us to assess different scenarios for the peopling of the Peninsula over the course of the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. The evidence supports the posited existence of Arabian refugia, although it is inconclusive which (e.g. Persian Gulf basin, Yemeni highlands and/or Red Sea basin) was/were responsible for housing ancestral populations during the Last Glacial Maximum. Synthesising genetic and archaeological data sets, we conclude that a substantial portion of the present South Arabian gene pool derives from a deeply rooted population that underwent significant internal growth within Arabia some 12,000 years ago. At the same time, we interpret the disappearance of Nejd Leptolithic archaeological sites in southern Arabia around 8000 years ago to represent the termination of a significant component of the Pleistocene gene pool.