Tag: pleistocene

Does the discovery of 1.77-million-year-old skeletons rewrite history? ~ Video

Dr Lordkipanidze and colleagues The latest discoveries the 1.77-million-year-old skeletons of three adults and a teenager have legs and feet adapted for long-distance walking and running, similar to those of modern humans, but have hands and arms ...

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Armenian site challenges assumptions about stone age technology



By Justin Beach, Daily Digest News



Many archeologists believe that Levallois technology was invented in Africa and then spread to Eurasia during a mass migration roughly 300,000 years ago. This view is so pervasive that it is generally used to mark the transition from the Lower to the Middle Paleolithic era.

However, tools found at a site in Armenia demonstrate that the technological shift more likely happened independently, in a variety of human groups at different times rather than spreading en mass during the migration from Africa.

 
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The site Nor Geghi 1, in Armenia, is preserved between two lava flows which occurred roughly 200,000 to 400,000 years ago. Ancient floodplain sediments between the lava flows contain a variety of archeological materials from the Paleolithic era. The dating of volcanic ash within the sediments show that the artifacts date from a 10,000 year period between 335,000 and 325,000 years ago.

Examples of both biface and, the more advanced Levallois technology are among the tools found at the site.


“The combination of these different technologies in one place suggests to us that, about 325,000 years ago, people at the site were innovative,” said Daniel Adler, associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut and the study’s lead author, in a statement.

Biface technology involves chipping away pieces from a stone, in this case obsidian, to create a tool such as a hand axe. In biface technology the pieces chipped away are discarded. The Levallois technique demonstrates more efficient use of materials by exercising greater control over the chipping process. The chips removed using the Levallois technique were generally of a size and shape to be useful for other purposes.

“If I were to take all the artifacts from the site and show them to an archaeologist, they would immediately begin to categorize them into chronologically distinct groups,” said Adler.

However, a comparison of the tools along with similar tools from Africa, the Middle East and Europe demonstrates that the technological evolution was intermittent and gradual and occurred independently in a variety of populations, rather than all at once because of a demographic shift.

The research from Adler and his colleagues can be found in the September 26 edition of the journal Science.
 

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800,000 year old human footprints discovered in England



Footprints
The footprints on Happisburgh beach are possibly those of a family in search of food.

bbc.com

By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News

Scientists have discovered the earliest evidence of human footprints outside of Africa, on the Norfolk Coast in the East of England.

The footprints are more than 800,000 years old and were found on the shores of Happisburgh.

They are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe. 

Details of the extraordinary markings have been published in the science journal Plos One.

Infographic

The footprints have been described as "one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery that has been made on [Britain's] shores," by Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum.
"It will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe," he told BBC News.

The markings were first indentified in May last year during a low tide. Rough seas had eroded the sandy beach to reveal a series of elongated hollows. 

I walked with Dr Ashton along the shore where the discovery was made. He recalled how he and a colleague stumbled across the hollows: "At the time, I wondered 'could these really be the case? If it was the case, these could be the earliest footprints outside Africa and that would be absolutely incredible."
"The footprints are one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery, that has been made on these shores” Dr Nick Aston British Museum
Such discoveries are very rare. The Happisburgh footprints are the only ones of this age in Europe and there are only three other sets that are older, all of which are in Africa.

"At first, we weren't sure what we were seeing," Dr Ashton told me, "but it was soon clear that the hollows resembled human footprints."

The hollows were washed away not long after they were identified. The team were, however, able to capture the footprints on video that will be shown at an exhibition at London's Natural History Museum later this month.

The video shows the researchers on their hands and knees in cold, driving rain, engaged in a race against time to record the hollows. Dr Ashton recalls how they scooped out rainwater from the footprints so that they could be photographed. "But the rain was filling the hollows as quickly as we could empty them," he told me.

"When I was told about the footprints, I was absolutely stunned” Dr Isabelle De Groote Liverpool John Moores University

The team took a 3D scan of the footprints over the following two weeks. A detailed analysis of these images by Dr Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool John Moores University confirmed that the hollows were indeed human footprints, possibly of five people, one adult male and some children. 

Dr De Groote said she could make out the heel, arch and even toes in some of the prints, the largest of which would have filled a UK shoe size 8 (European size 42; American size 9) . 

"When I was told about the footprints, I was absolutely stunned," Dr De Groote told BBC News. 

"They appear to have been made by one adult male who was about 5ft 9in (175cm) tall and the shortest was about 3ft. The other larger footprints could come from young adult males or have been left by females. The glimpse of the past that we are seeing is that we have a family group moving together across the landscape." 

Diagram of footprint scene


It is unclear who these humans were. One suggestion is that they were a species called Homo antecessor, which was known to have lived in southern Europe. It is thought that these people could have made their way to what is now Norfolk across a strip of land that connected the UK to the rest of Europe a million years ago. They would have disappeared around 800,000 years ago because of a much colder climate setting in not long after the footprints were made.

It was not until 500,000 years ago that a species called Homo heidelbergensis lived in the UK. It is thought that these people evolved into early Neanderthals some 400,000 years ago. The Neanderthals then lived in Britain intermittently until about 40,000 years ago - a time that coincided with the arrival of our species, Homo sapiens.

There are no fossils of antecessor in Happisburgh, but the circumstantial evidence of their presence is getting stronger by the day.

In 2010, the same research team discovered the stone tools used by such people. And the discovery of the footprints now all but confirms that humans were in Britain nearly a million years ago, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, who is also involved in the research at Happisburgh.

"This discovery gives us even more concrete evidence that there were people there," he told BBC News. "We can now start to look at a group of people and their everyday activities. And if we keep looking, we will find even more evidence of them, hopefully even human fossils. That would be my dream".

Happisburgh
The prints were first noticed when a low tide uncovered them
Footprints
The sea has now washed away the prints - but not before they were recorded

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Could Cave Carving Be First Neanderthal Art?


This abstract cave carving is possibly the first known example of Neanderthal rock art. The etching covers an area of about 47 square inches (300 square centimeters). Stewart Finlayson


news.discovery.com

Around 39,000 years ago, a Neanderthal huddled in the back of a seaside cave at Gibraltar, safe from the hyenas, lions and leopards that might have prowled outside. Under the flickering light of a campfire, he or she used a stone tool to carefully etch what looks like a grid or a hashtag onto a natural platform of bedrock.

Archaeologists discovered this enigmatic carving during an excavation of Gorham's Cave two years ago. They had found Neanderthal cut marks on bones and tools before, but they had never seen anything like this. The researchers used Neanderthal tools to test how this geometric design was made — and to rule out the possibility the "artwork" wasn't just the byproduct of butchery. They found that recreating the grid was painstaking work.


"This was intentional — this was not somebody doodling or scratching on the surface," said study researcher Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum. But the discovery poses much more elusive questions: Did this engraving hold any symbolic meaning? Can it be considered art? 

Close cousins

Neanderthals roamed Eurasia from around 200,000 to 30,000 years ago, when they mysteriously went extinct. They were the closest known relatives of modern humans, and recent research has suggested that Neanderthals might have behaved more like Homo sapiens than previously thought: They buried their dead, they used pigments and feathers to decorate their bodies, and they may have even organized their caves.

Despite a growing body of evidence suggesting Neanderthals may have been cognitively similar to modern humans, a lack of art seemed to be the "the last bastion" for the argument that Neanderthals were much different from us, Finlayson said.

"Art is something else — it's an indication of abstract thinking," Finlayson told Live Science.

Archaeologists recently pushed back the date of hand stencil paintings found at El Castillo cave in northern Spain to 40,800 years ago, which opens the possibility that Neanderthals created this artwork. But there is no solid archaeological evidence to link Neanderthals to the paintings. 


Gorham's Cave

In Gorham's Cave, Finlayson and colleagues were surprised to find a series of deeply incised parallel and crisscrossing lines when they wiped away the dirt covering a bedrock surface. The rock had been sealed under a layer of soil that was littered with Mousterian stone tools (a style long linked to Neanderthals). Radiocarbon dating indicated that this soil layer was between 38,500 and 30,500 years old, suggesting the rock art buried underneath was created sometime before then. 

Gibraltar is one of the most famous sites of Neanderthal occupation. At Gorham's Cave and its surrounding caverns, archaeologists have found evidence that Neanderthals butchered seals, roasted pigeons and plucked feathers off birds of prey. In other parts of Europe, Neanderthals lived alongside humans — and may have even interbred with them. But 40,000 years ago, the southern Iberian Peninsula was a Neanderthal stronghold. Modern humans had not spread into the area yet, Finlayson said.

To test whether they were actually looking at an intentional design, the researchers decided to try to recreate the grid on smooth rock surfaces in the cave using actual stone tools left behind in a spoil heap by archaeologists who had excavated the site in the 1950s. More than 50 stone-tool incisions were needed to mimic the deepest line of the grid, and between 188 and 317 total strokes were probably needed to create the entire pattern, the researchers found. Their findings were described yesterday (Sept. 1) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Finlayson and his colleagues also tried to cut pork skin with the stone tools, to test whether the lines were merely the incidental marks left behind after the Neanderthals had butchered meat. But they couldn't replicate the engraving.

"You cannot control the groove if you're cutting through meat, no matter how hard you try," Finlayson said. "The lines go all over the place."

A simple grid is no Venus figurine


The Neanderthals' brand of abstract expressionism might not have impressed Homo sapiens art critics of the day.

"It's very basic. It's very simple," said Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. "It's not a Venus. It's not a bison. It's not a horse."

By the late Stone Age, modern humans who settled in Europe were already dabbling in representational art. At least a dozen different species of animals — including horses, mammoths and cave lions — are depicted in the Chauvet Cave paintings, which are up to 32,000 years old. The anatomically explicit Venus figurine discovered at Hohle Fels Cave in southwestern Germany dates back to 35,000 years ago. Other busty female statuettes — the Venus of Galgenberg and the Venus of Dolní Vestonice — date back to about 30,000 years ago.

"There is a huge difference between making three lines that any 3-year-old kid would be able to make and sculpting a Venus," Hublin, who was not involved in the study, told Live Science.
Hublin said this discovery doesn't close the question of Neanderthals' cognitive skills. Proof that Neanderthals were capable of making a deliberate rock carving isn't evidence that they were regularly making art, he said.

"My own feeling is that if Neanderthals regularly used symbols, and given their longtime occupation throughout large parts of the Old World, we probably would have found clearer evidence by now," said Harold Dibble, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who also was not involved in the study.

Dibble said he was convinced these markings were deliberate, but scientists need "more than a few scratches — deliberate or not — to identify symbolic behavior on the part of Neanderthals."

"Symbols, by definition, have meanings that are shared by a group of people, and because of that, they are often repeated," Dibble wrote in an email. "By itself, this is a unique example and without any intrinsic meaning … the question is not 'Could it be symbolic?' but rather 'Was it symbolic?' And to demonstrate that, it would be very important to have repeated examples."

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Neanderthals & Modern Humans Tolerated One Another

Paula Marie Navarra     ...

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Several Paleolithic Cultures Flourished In North Africa before Sumer


African-Tool-Diversity
(Courtesy The British Museum)


OXFORD, ENGLAND—A new study of Paleolithic stone tools from 17 sites in North Africa shows that between 130,000 and 75,000 years ago, there were at least four separate populations in the region, each with its own distinctive cultural traits, reports phys.org. Researchers led by University of Oxford visiting scholar Eleanor Scerii made 300,000 measurements on stone tools and combined the data with enviromental reconstuctions of prehistoric North Africa to analyze how modern human populations dispersed across the Sahara using ancient rivers and streams that no longer exist. "This is the first time that scientists have identified that early modern humans at the cusp of dispersal out of Africa were grouped in separate, isolated and local populations," says Scerii. "Our picture of modern human demography around 100,000 years ago is that there were a number of populations, varying in size and degree of genetic contact, distributed over a wide geographical area." According to Scerii, the team's work supports the theory that modern humans left Africa before 60,000-50,000 years ago.

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