Thursday, February 28, 2019

Oldest tattoo tool in western North America

IMAGE: This is a close up of a 2,000-year-old cactus spine tattoo tool discovered by WSU archaeologist Andrew Gillreath-Brown. view more 
Credit: Bob Hubner/WSU
PULLMAN, Wash. - Washington State University archaeologists have discovered the oldest tattooing artifact in western North America.
With a handle of skunkbush and a cactus-spine business end, the tool was made around 2,000 years ago by the Ancestral Pueblo people of the Basketmaker II period in what is now southeastern Utah.
Andrew Gillreath-Brown, an anthropology PhD candidate, chanced upon the pen-sized instrument while taking an inventory of archaeological materials that had been sitting in storage for more than 40 years.
He is the lead author of a paper on the tattoo tool which was published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
His discovery pushes back the earliest evidence of tattooing in western North America by more than a millennium and gives scientists a rare glimpse into the lives of a prehistoric people whose customs and culture have largely been forgotten.
"Tattooing by prehistoric people in the Southwest is not talked about much because there has not ever been any direct evidence to substantiate it," Gillreath-Brown, 33, said. "This tattoo tool provides us information about past Southwestern culture we did not know before."
Tattooing is an artform and mode of expression common to many indigenous cultures worldwide. However, little is known about when or why the practice began.
This is especially the case in places like the southwestern United States, where no tattoos have been identified on preserved human remains and there are no ancient written accounts of the practice.
Instead, archaeologists have relied on visual depictions in ancient artwork and the identification of tattoo implements to trace the origins of tattooing in the region.
Previously, bundled and hafted, or handled, cactus spine tattoo tools from Arizona and New Mexico provided the best archaeological examples of early tattoo implements from the Southwest. The earliest of these have been dated to between AD 1100-1280.
So when Gillreath-Brown came across a very similar looking implement from a site in Utah that is 1,000 years older, he knew he had found something special.
"When I first pulled it out of the museum box and realized what it might have been I got really excited," said Gillreath-Brown, who himself wears a large sleeve tattoo of a turtle shell rattle, mastodon, water, and forest on his left arm.
The tool consists of a 3 ½ inch wooden skunkbush sumac handle bound at the end with split yucca leaves and holding two parallel cactus spines, stained black at their tips.
"The residue staining from tattoo pigments on the tip was what immediately piqued my interest as being possibly a tattoo tool," Gillreath-Brown said.
Encouraged by Aaron Deter-Wolf, a friend and co-author of the study who had done ancient tattooing and edited several books on the subject, Gillreath-Brown analyzed the tips with a scanning electron microscope, X-ray florescence and energy dispersive ray spectroscopy. For good measure, he did several test tattoos using a replica on pig skin.
He saw the crystalline structure of pigment and determined it likely contained carbon, a common element in body painting and tattooing.
The find, said Gillreath-Brown, "has a great significance for understanding how people managed relationships and how status may have been marked on people in the past during a time when population densities were increasing in the Southwest."

Earlier emergence of malaria in Africa

Institut Pasteur
IMAGE: New research suggests an earlier emergence of malaria in Africa. view more 
Credit: © Institut Pasteur
Malaria, which claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year - mainly children and especially in Africa -, is one of the leading causes of death by an infectious agent, the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. In research on malaria, the genetic mutation that causes sickle cell anemia (also known as drepanocytosis), a chronic disease that is often fatal in children under five, caught the attention of the scientific community very early on because it also provides protection against malaria. After carrying out extensive research into the βS mutation by performing full sequencing of the HBB gene together with a large-scale genomic study on 479 individuals from 13 populations from Sub-Saharan Africa, scientists from the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS were able to reveal that malaria emerged in Africa at least 20,000 years ago - and not at the same time as the adoption of agriculture 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. The findings will be published in the American Journal of Human Genetics on February 28, 2019.
Individuals carrying the βS mutation in the HBB gene who do not develop sickle-cell anemia - healthy carriers - demonstrate increased resistance to malaria infection. This evolutionary paradox, first revealed in the early 1950s - a mutation that is by definition harmful but promotes the survival of some individuals -, means that βS can be seen both as an emblematic example of natural selection in humans and above all as an ideal marker for malaria research, since the date of emergence of βS corresponds with the minimum date for the emergence of malaria.
Research carried out in recent decades suggests that the date of emergence of βS, and therefore also malaria, coincides with the dates on which agriculture is known to have been adopted as the main means of livelihood in Central Africa around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. The scientific community had long accepted the existence of a causal link between the emergence of agriculture and the spread of malaria in Africa. But nothing was known about the history of malaria in African populations that did not adopt agriculture.
Drawing on new genetic data obtained by scientists from the Human Evolutionary Genetics Unit at the Institut Pasteur, a study carried out by Institut Pasteur and CNRS scientists Guillaume Laval and Lluis Quintana-Murci, in close collaboration with the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, and the IRD, has cast doubt on the role of agriculture in the emergence of malaria in Africa. The results of this collaborative scientific research, based on a novel formalization of the specific natural selection method generally accepted in the case of βS, show that this mutation emerged around 20,000 years ago. These new findings therefore indicate that malaria was rife well before the adoption of agriculture - contradicting widely held interpretations.
The research also shows that the βS mutation emerged more recently, approximately 4,000 years ago, in hunter-gatherer populations.
Changes in the equatorial forest during this period - most likely because of an episode of climate change and/or a period of increased deforestation owing to the emergence of agriculture, are thought to have facilitated the spread of malaria among pygmy populations. "We show that the βS mutation, which provides resistance to malaria, may have been spread by agricultural populations who came into contact with these populations of hunter-gatherers during the Bantu migration, when farming communities crossed the equatorial forest and set out on the major migratory routes to the eastern and southern regions of Sub-Saharan Africa," comments Guillaume Laval, lead author of the paper. "These results shed new light on a little-known chapter in the history of malaria and demonstrate the beneficial effects of admixture for some aspects of public health, such as the spread of mutations conferring resistance to various pathogens among human populations," adds Lluis Quintana-Murci, joint last author of the paper.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Northwest Coast clam gardens nearly 2,000 years older than previously thought

IMAGE: A study led by SFU archaeology professor Dana Lepofsky and Hakai Institute researcher Nicole Smith reveals that clam gardens, ancient Indigenous food security systems located along B.C.'s coast, date back... view more 
Credit: Nicole Smith
A study led by SFU archaeology professor Dana Lepofsky and Hakai Institute researcher Nicole Smith reveals that clam gardens, ancient Indigenous food security systems located along B.C.'s coast, date back at least 3,500 years--almost 2,000 years older than previously thought. These human-built beach terraces continue to create habitat for clams and other sea creatures to flourish in the area.
For thousands of years, First Nations of the Northwest Coast, from Alaska to Washington, relied on clams as a staple food. Clam gardens have helped Indigenous peoples prevent the depletion of this important food resource despite ongoing harvesting to support the growth of dense and widespread human populations.
"Oral traditions, songs, and local Indigenous knowledge, as well as the archaeological record indicate that clam gardens were built and used throughout the coast," says Dana Lepofsky. "However, because clam gardens are constructed of rock, it is difficult to determine the age of these features using standard archaeological techniques.
"The findings in this study provide unequivocal evidence for long-term and sustainable management of coastal ecosystems by Northwest Coast peoples -- and supports what they have always said about their traditional marine management practices."
For the study, published in ,
the researchers analyzed multiple clam gardens located on Quadra Island, British Columbia. They used radiocarbon dating on the clams and other marine organisms that were trapped when the clam garden walls were built, as well as the accumulating sediment.
The researchers combined this information with the history of changing sea levels in the area to achieve a more accurate read than previous studies.
"This traditional form of mariculture has been used continuously for 3500 years and into the present day, and it holds potential to become a model for how local, sustainable food systems could operate in the future," says Nicole Smith.

Clam gardens are traditional mariculture structures consisting of a rock wall and flat terrace that serve as a sheltered habitat for clams in intertidal zones of beaches. It is known that these gardens increase clam productivity and abundance and have long been important food sources for coastal Indigenous cultures. However, since clam gardens often have complex formation histories, they can be difficult to date, and it is thus difficult to track mariculture trends through time.
In this study, Smith, Lepofsky, and colleagues surveyed nine ancient clam gardens on Quadra Island, British Columbia. At each site, they identified suitable samples for constraining the age of construction of the gardens, focusing on shell samples from within or beneath the garden walls and beneath the terraces. In total, they collected 35 radiocarbon dates on the shells of clams, snails, and barnacles ranging from at least 3,500 years ago to the 20th Century.
The authors also corroborated their dates with data on the regional history of sea level change, and with dates from other marine management features in the region. They provide a set of guidelines for determining accurate ages of three different forms of clam gardens, which they hope will allow for more detailed tracking of mariculture history in the Americas. They note, however, that their methods are only a start, and will likely require fine-tuning at clam gardens and other mariculture sites from different regions and ages.
The authors add: "By documenting that clam gardens are at least 3,500 years old, this study supports what coastal First Nations of the Pacific Northwest have always known: managing clams, in the form of clam gardens, is an age old practice and fundamental to long-term food security."

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

'Ibiza is different', genetically

An investigation reveals that Ibizans are genetically different from the rest of Spain inhabitants. The genetic difference is comparable to that between Basques and the rest of peninsular inhabitants, considered a genetic anomaly to date.
Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Barcelona

IMAGE: These are remains of the Phoenician settlement of Sa Caleta (Ibiza). view more 
Credit: UPF
Ibiza is different." That is what the hundreds of standard-bearers of the "hippie" movement who visited the Pitiusan Island during the 60s thought, fascinated by its climate and its unexplored nature. What they did not imagine was that the utmost unique feature of the island was in its inhabitants. Now a study led by Francesc Calafell, principal investigator of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) - a mixed center of the UPF and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) reveals that the genes of Ibiza natives are really different. Yes indeed, the island is unique.
The piece of work, published in the European Journal of Human Genetics with the collaboration of researchers from the American University of Lebanon and the University of Otago, reveals that current Ibizans come from the Catalan invaders who repopulated the island from the 13th century.
The result seems to conflict with the history of the island, which had been invaded and inhabited by many peoples previously, from the Phoenicians and Carthaginians to the Romans and Arabs. In a previous work - this time led by Zalloua and with the collaboration of Francesc Calafell and Benjamí Costa, Director of the Archaeological Museum of Ibiza -, researchers had already observed that the original settlers, the Phoenicians, did not seem to have much in common with current Ibizans, but had not located the source of their genetic heritage.
"The famine that followed the Franco-Ottoman attack in 1536 along with the epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Ibizan people in 1652 was a major demographic crisis for the island; this would explain the current absence of ancient genetic traits in the islanders, as well as their differentiation, since the current population descends from a small number of survivors of these calamities, "says Simone Biagini, PhD student in Francesc Calafell's group and first author of the study.
To discover the origin of Ibizan genes, scientists have determined the genetic information of 163 volunteers from 3 regions of Spain (Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands) and have used 69 Spanish samples previously published. To evaluate the connection with the Phoenician genome, samples of ancient DNA from the Phoenician necropolis of Puig des Molins, in Ibiza, and 257 samples of modern DNA from the Middle East and North Africa have been used.
"Although we expected that there was no genetic link with the Phoenicians, the genetic singularity of today's Ibizan people is very surprising," says Benjamí Costa, who has collaborated in the genetic analysis of ancient Phoenician samples.
The information on the Ibizan population contributed by the study of Calafell, also a professor at UPF, could shed light on other scenarios where there has been a similar geographical segregation. However, not all Mediterranean islands follow the same pattern: while Ibiza and Sardinia are clearly differentiated populations, Mallorca, Menorca and Sicily peoples are much more similar to mainland inhabitants.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Ancient poop helps show climate change contributed to fall of Cahokia

A new study shows climate change may have contributed to the decline of Cahokia, a famed prehistoric city near present-day St. Louis. And it involves ancient human poop.
Published today [Feb. 25, 2019] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study provides a direct link between changes in Cahokia's population size as measured through a unique fecal record and environmental data showing evidence of drought and flood.
"The way of building population reconstructions usually involves archaeological data, which is separate from the data studied by climate scientists," explains lead author AJ White, who completed the work as a graduate student at California State University, Long Beach. "One involves excavation and survey of archaeological remains and the other involves lake cores. We unite these two by looking at both kinds of data from the same lake cores."
Last year, White and a team of collaborators -- including his former advisor Lora Stevens, professor of paleoclimatology and paleolimnology at California State University, Long Beach, and University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Anthropology Sissel Schroeder -- showed they could detect signatures of human poop in lake core sediments collected from Horseshoe Lake, not far from Cahokia's famous mounds.
These signatures, called fecal stanols, are molecules produced in the human gut during digestion and eliminated in feces. As the people of Cahokia pooped on land, some of it would have run off into the lake. The more people who lived and defecated there, the more stanols evident in lake sediments.
Because the sediments of a lake accumulate in layers, they allow scientists to capture snapshots of time throughout the history of a region through sediment cores. Deeper layers form earlier than layers found higher up, and all of the material within a layer is roughly the same age.
White found that fecal stanol concentrations at Horseshoe Lake rise and fall similarly to estimates of Cahokia's population from better-established archaeological methods.
Schroeder, a scholar of the Cahokia area, says that excavations of the houses in and near Cahokia show human occupation of the site intensified around A.D. 600, and by 1100, the six-square-mile city reached its peak population. At the time, tens of thousands of people called it home.
Archaeological evidence also shows that by 1200, Cahokia's population was on the decline and the site was abandoned by its mound-building Mississippian inhabitants by 1400.
Scientists have uncovered a number of explanations for its eventual abandonment, including social and political unrest and environmental changes.
For instance, in 2015, co-author Samuel Munoz, a former UW-Madison graduate student and now a professor at Northeastern University, was actually the first to collect one of the Horseshoe Lake sediment cores White used in his study and he found evidence that the nearby Mississippi River flooded significantly around 1150.
White's latest study ties the archaeological and environmental evidence together.
"When we use this fecal stanol method, we can make these comparisons to environmental conditions that hither to now we haven't really been able to do," says White, now a PhD student at UC Berkeley.
Using Munoz's core and another White collected on Horseshoe Lake, the research team measured the relative amount of fecal stanols from humans present in sediment layers. They compared these to stanol levels known to come from bacteria in the soil in order to establish a baseline concentration for each layer.
They examined the lake cores for evidence of flooding and also looked for climate indicators that would inform them whether climate conditions were relatively wet or dry. These indicators, the ratio of a heavy form of oxygen to a light one, can show changes in evaporation and precipitation. Stevens explains that as water evaporates, the light form of oxygen goes with it, concentrating the heavy form.
The lake core showed that summer precipitation likely decreased around the onset of Cahokia's decline. This could have affected the ability of people to grow their staple crop maize.
A number of different changes begin to happen in the archaeological record around 1150, Schroeder explains, including the number and density of houses and the nature of craft production.
These are all indicators of "some kind of socio-political or economic stressors that stimulated a reorganization of some sort," she says. "When we see correlations with climate, some archaeologists don't think climate has anything to do with it, but it's difficult to sustain that argument when the evidence of significant changes in the climate shows people are facing new challenges."
This has resonance today, she adds.
"Cultures can be very resilient in face of climate change but resilience doesn't necessarily mean there is no change. There can be cultural reorganization or decisions to relocate or migrate," Schroeder says. "We may see similar pressures today but fewer options to move."
For White, the study highlights the nuances and complications common to so many cultures and shows how environmental change can contribute to social changes already at play.

Neanderthals walked upright just like the humans of today U

IMAGE: Virtual reconstruction of the skeleton found in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, based on high-resolution 3D surface scans of the spine and pelvis. view more 
Credit: Martin Häusler, UZH
Neanderthals are often depicted as having straight spines and poor posture. However, these prehistoric humans were more similar to us than many assume. University of Zurich researchers have shown that Neanderthals walked upright just like modern humans - thanks to a virtual reconstruction of the pelvis and spine of a very well-preserved Neanderthal skeleton found in France.
An upright, well-balanced posture is one of the defining features of Homo sapiens. In contrast, the first reconstructions of Neanderthals made in the early 20th century depicted them as only walking partially upright. These reconstructions were based on the largely preserved skeleton of an elderly male Neanderthal unearthed in La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France.
Changing perspectives Since the 1950s, scientists have known that the image of the Neanderthal as a hunched over caveman is not an accurate one. Their similarities to ourselves - both in evolutionary and behavioral terms - have also long been known, but in recent years the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. "Focusing on the differences is back in fashion," says Martin Haeusler, UZH specialist in evolutionary medicine. For instance, recent studies have used a few isolated vertebrae to conclude that Neanderthals did not yet possess a well-developed double S-shaped spine.
However, a virtual reconstruction of the skeleton from La Chapelle-aux-Saints has now delivered evidence to the contrary. This computer-generated anatomical model was created by the research group led by Martin Haeusler from the University of Zurich and included Erik Trinkaus from Washington University in St. Louis. The researchers were able to show that both the individual in question as well as Neanderthals in general had a curved lumbar region and neck - just like the humans of today.
Sacrum, vertebrae and signs of wear as evidence When reconstructing the pelvis, the researchers discovered that the sacrum was positioned in the same way as in modern humans. This led them to conclude that Neanderthals possessed a lumbar region with a well-developed curvature. By putting together the individual lumbar and cervical vertebrae, they were able to discern that the spinal curvature was even more pronounced. The very close contact between the spinous processes - the bony projections off the back of each vertebra - became clear, as did the prominent wear marks that were in part caused by the curvature of the spine.
Recognizing similarities Wear marks in the hip joint of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton also pointed to the Neanderthals having an upright posture similar to that of modern humans. "The stress on the hip joint and the position of the pelvis is no different than ours," says Haeusler. This finding is also supported by analyses of other Neanderthal skeletons with sufficient remnants of vertebrae and pelvic bones. "On the whole, there is hardly any evidence that would point to Neanderthals having a fundamentally different anatomy," explains Haeusler. "Now is the time to recognize the basic similarities between Neanderthals and modern humans and to switch the focus to the subtle biological and behavioral changes that occurred in humans in the late Pleistocene."

New research casts doubt on cause of Angkor's collapse

University of Sydney
New University of Sydney research has revealed the ancient Cambodian city of Angkor underwent a gradual decline in occupation rather than an abrupt collapse.
Researchers have long debated the causes of Angkor's demise in the 15th century. Historical explanations have emphasised the role of aggressive neighbouring states, and the abandonment of Angkor in 1431 A.D. has been portrayed as a catastrophic demographic collapse.
However, new scientific evidence shows that the intensity of land use within the economic and administrative centre of the city declined gradually more than 100 years before the supposed collapse, implying a very different end to the city.
Associate Professor Dan Penny from the University of Sydney's School of Geosciences examined sediment drill-cores extracted from the moat surrounding Angkor Thom, the last and largest of Angkor's walled citadels.
"Changes in land use leave tell-tale traces in sedimentary deposits that can be measured. Measuring these traces in drill-cores allows us to reconstruct what people were doing in the landscape over long periods of time," Associate Professor Penny said.
In a new study published in the prestigious PNAS journal, Associate Professor Penny and co-authors show that evidence for forest disturbance, soil erosion and burning all declined in the first decades of the 14th century, suggesting a sustained decline in land-use in the commercial and administrative heart of the ancient city. By the end of the 14th century, the moat was covered in floating swamp vegetation, which indicates that it was no longer being maintained.
The findings suggest Angkor's demise was not a catastrophic collapse caused by the Ayutthayan invasion or by infrastructural failure, but a gradual demographic shift by the urban elite.
"Our study suggests the inhabitants didn't leave Angkor because the infrastructure failed, rather the infrastructure failed (or was not maintained or repaired) because the urban elite had already left," said Associate Professor Penny.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Foxes were domesticated by humans in the Bronze Age

IMAGE: Artistic representation of a woman of the Bronze Age accompanied by a dog and a fox. view more 
Credit: J. A. Peñas
In the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula, between the third and second millennium BC, a widespread funeral practice consisted in burying humans with animals. Scientists have discovered that both foxes and dogs were domesticated, as their diet was similar to that of their owners.
The discovery of four foxes and a large number of dogs at the Can Roqueta (Barcelona) and Minferri (Lleida) sites stands out among the many examples of tombs in different parts of the north-eastern peninsula. These burials reveal a generalized funeral practice that proliferated in the Early to Middle Bronze Age: that of burying humans together with domestic animals.
What is most striking about these sites is the way of burying the dead in large silos, along with their dogs and a few foxes. "We discovered that in some cases the dogs received a special kind of food. We believe this is linked to their function as working dogs. Besides, one of the foxes shows signs of having already been a domestic animal in those times," Aurora Grandal-d'Anglade, co-author of a study on the relationship between humans and dogs through their diet published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, has said to to Sinc.
By means of studying stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen, as well as archaeological, archaeobiological and anthropological studies, researchers have been able to compare the diets of buried animals with their owners´ diet. A total of 37 dogs, 19 domestic ungulates and 64 humans were analyzed. The results indicate that the dogs' diet was similar to that of humans.
The isotopic study of the Minferri foxes shows a varied diet: in some cases it looks similar to that of the dogs at that site, and in another it looks more like that of a wild animal or one that had little contact with humans.
"The case of the Can Roqueta fox is very special, because it is an old animal, with a broken leg. The fracture is still in its healing process, and shows signs of having been immobilized (cured) by humans. The feeding of this animal is very unusual, as it is more akin to a puppy dog's. We interpret it as a domestic animal that lived for a long time with humans," explains Grandal.
Large dogs used for transporting loads The study points out that, in some particular cases in Can Roqueta, there was a specific cereal-rich food preparation for larger dogs probably used for carrying loads, and for at least one of the foxes.
"These specimens also show signs of disorders in the spinal column linked to the transport of heavy objects. Humans were probably looking for a high-carbohydrate diet because the animals developed a more active job, which required immediate calorie expenditure. It may seem strange that dogs were basically fed with cereals, but this was already recommended by the first-century Hispano-Roman agronomist Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella , in his work De re rustica", says Silvia Albizuri Canadell, co-author of the work and archaeozoologist at the University of Barcelona.
Other animals, such as cows, sheep or goats are noted for an herbivorous diet. Their function was probably to provide milk, meat or wool rather than serve as a work force. "The horse was not yet widespread in those societies, no traces of it can be found until later times," adds the scientist.
In general, humans and dogs show somewhat higher isotopic signals than ungulates, which indicates a certain (not very high) consumption of animal protein, "not necessarily much meat; they could be, for example, derived from milk," explains Grandal. Archaeological objects included sieves that served as 'cheese making devices'.
Moreover, men seem to have included more meat than women in their diet. As for dogs, their diet may have been mainly from leftovers of what humans ate, mostly more similar to that of women and children. "That's why we thought they were more linked to these domestic environments," says the researcher. There are many ethnographic parallels that indicate this relationship between women and dogs.
Feeding and treatment of foxes and dogs The fundamental role of dogs during the Bronze Age, when livestock, along with agriculture, constituted the basis of the economy, was that of the surveillance and guidance of herds. They were also responsible for taking care of human settlements, given the risk posed by the frequent presence of dangerous animals such as wolves or bears.
"The characteristics of dogs include their great intelligence, easy trainability and, undoubtedly, their defensive behaviour. As if that were not enough, this animal was used until the nineteenth century AD in North America, Canada and Europe for light transport on its back and for dragging carts and sleds. It also functioned as a pack animal on the Peninsula during the Bronze Age," Albizuri Canadell claims.
Some archaeological specimens from North America show bone disorders that stem from the pulling of 'travois'. There are also accounts by the first colonizers of the use of dogs in these tasks by Indian populations until the nineteenth century AD, although they had not been identified in Europe until a few years ago.
"It was the Can Roqueta specimens under study that triggered the alarm about the use of this animal for light loads since antiquity, and they're an exceptional case in Europe," says Albizuri Canadell.
Similar pathologies have also been recently identified in the vertebrae of Siberian Palaeolithic dogs, leading one to think that one of the first tasks since their early domestication was the pulling of sleds and travois, in addition to hunting.
Its role as a transport animal in the first migrations and human movements through glacial Europe could have been fundamental and much more important than believed until recently.
The reason for animal offerings Exceptional findings, such as those of tomb #88 and #405 of the Minferri site (Lleida), show that during the Bronze Age there were already well-differentiated funeral treatments in human communities.
"In the two structures mentioned above, the remains of three individuals were found together with animal offerings. In tomb #88 there was the body of an old man with the remains of a whole cow and the legs of up to seven goats. Theremains of a young woman with the offering of a whole goat, two foxes and a bovine horn were also found," states Ariadna Nieto Espinet, an archaeologist from the University of Lleida and also the co-author of the study.
Structure #405 uncovered the body of an individual, possibly a woman, accompanied by the whole bodies of two bovines and two dogs. "We still don't know why only a few people would have had the right or privilege to be buried with this type of offering, unlike what happens with the vast majority of burials," the expert points out.
In Can Roqueta, clear differences have also been observed in the deposits of domestic animals within the tombs of adults, both men and women, which are even reflected in children's tombs. From this we can infer the existence of an inheritance of social status from birth.
"It is tempting to think that if we understand domestic animals as a very important part of the agro- pastoral agro-shepherding economy of the Bronze Age and of the belongings of some people in life, these could be an indicator of the wealth of the deceased individual or of his clan or family," argues Nieto Espinet.
"It seems that species such as bovines and dogs, two of the most recurring animals in funeral offerings, are those that might have played a fundamental role in the economy and work as well as in the symbolic world, becoming elements of ostentation, prestige and protection," she concludes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Pottery reveals America's first social media networks

Ancient Indigenous societies, including Mississippian Mound cultures, were built through social networks, PNAS study suggests
Washington University in St. Louis
IMAGE: Examples of the kinds of pottery produced by people living across southern Appalachia between AD 800 and 1650. The unique symbols were stamped onto the pottery when the clay was... view more 
Credit: Jacob Lulewicz
Long before Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and even MySpace, early Mississippian Mound cultures in America's southern Appalachian Mountains shared artistic trends and technologies across regional networks that functioned in similar ways as modern social media, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.
"Just as we have our own networks of 'friends' and 'followers' on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, societies that existed in North America between 1,200 and 350 years ago had their own information sharing networks," said Jacob Lulewicz, lecturer of archaeology in the Department of Anthropology in Arts & Sciences.
"Our study found a way to reconstruct these indigenous communication networks," he said. "Our analysis shows how these networks laid the groundwork for Native American political systems that began developing as far back as 600 A.D."
Embargoed for release Feb. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study utilizes sophisticated social network analysis to map social and political connections that helped unite friends and families in dozens of Native American villages well before the arrival of European explorers.
The findings are based on a messaging archive that is preserved not in bytes, but in bits of pottery sherds -- fragments -- unearthed over many years in archaeology digs at dozens of Mississippian culture sites scattered across southern Appalachia.
Focusing on subtle evolving changes in the technologies used to temper and strengthen pottery and the cultural symbols used to decorate them, the study provides a detailed chronological map of how new pottery techniques signified connections between these communities.
The ceramics database includes 276,626 sherds from 43 sites across eastern Tennessee, and 88,705 sherds from 41 sites across northern Georgia. The collection represents pottery created between 800 and 1650 A.D., a period that saw the gradual emergence and later decline of powerful chiefdoms that controlled wide networks of villages in the region.
The study focuses on villages clustered around the site of Etowah in Bartow County, Georgia, an important Mississippian community that included several low earthen mounds with large ceremonial buildings. It served as the regional seat of social, political, economic and religious power across the region -- influence that reached its peak between 1050 to 1325 A.D.
These chiefdoms were still in place when the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto became one of the first Europeans to visit the region in 1540 A.D.
De Soto's accounts of autonomous villages loosely bound together under the influence of a single powerful chief, then residing at the town of Coosa in what is today northern Georgia, have long influenced how historians characterize the social and political structures of these and other early Eastern North American societies.
Lulewicz' findings suggest that the ruling elites drew their power from social networks created by the masses.
The emergence of powerful Native American chiefdoms and the centralized leadership, elaborate religious movements and institutionalized inequality that came with them, he argues, were built upon foundations created by the wider, pre-existing social networks of common people -- systems that proved to be more stable and durable than any interactions dictated by elite chiefs.
"What I show in the paper is that while we see things like the emergence of super powerful chiefs and the rise of major economic inequalities, the very foundations of society -- especially relationships and networks of kinship and family and reciprocity -- remained virtually unchanged over 1,000 years," Lulewicz said. "That is, even though elite interests and political strategies waxed and waned and collapsed and flourished, very basic relationships and networks were some of the strongest, most durable aspects of society."
His findings suggest that strong social connections between common people have always played an important role in helping societies guard themselves against the vagaries of unpredictable leaders and ruling classes.
Pointing to the role that digital social networks and social media play in contemporary revolutions, and how modern states are often quick to monitor, control or even shut down access to these virtual networks, shows that our connections continue to be valuable social instruments, he said.
"This is super interesting -- at least to me as a social scientist -- for understanding how political movements actually play out," he said. "It doesn't come down to any particular, innate attribute of leaders and elites. What is comes down to is how those individuals are able to leverage the networks in which they are embedded. Even though chiefs emerge at about 1000 A.D., over the next 650 years, chiefs actually shift their strategies of political and economic control. They tap into different parts of their networks, or leverage their connections in very different ways throughout time."
"Because these very basic networks were so durable, they allowed these societies -- especially common people -- to buffer against and mediate the uncertainties associated with major political and economic change. They may have said, 'You go live on top of that huge mound and do your sacred rituals, and we will go about life as usual for the most part.' These communication networks served as a social constant for these people and allowed their cultures to persist for thousands of years even across transformations that could have been catastrophic."

Neandertals' main food source was definitely meat

IMAGE: Tooth of an adult Neandertal from Les Cottés in France. Her diet consisted mainly of the meat of large herbivore mammals. view more 
Credit: © MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/ A. Le Cabec
Neandertals' diets are highly debated: they are traditionally considered carnivores and hunters of large mammals, but this hypothesis has recently been challenged by numerous pieces of evidence of plant consumption. Ancient diets are often reconstructed using nitrogen isotope ratios, a tracer of the trophic level, the position an organism occupies in a food chain. Neandertals are apparently occupying a high position in terrestrial food chains, exhibiting slightly higher ratios than carnivores (like hyenas, wolves or foxes) found at the same sites. It has been suggested that these slightly higher values were due to the consumption of mammoth or putrid meat. And we also know some examples of cannibalism for different Neandertal sites.

Paleolithic modern humans, who arrived in France shortly after the Neandertals had disappeared, exhibit even higher nitrogen isotope ratios than Neandertals. This is classically interpreted as the signature of freshwater fish consumption. Fishing is supposed to be a typical modern human activity, but again, a debate exists whether or not Neandertals were eating aquatic resources. When Klervia Jaouen, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and first author of the study, and collaborators discovered high nitrogen isotope ratios in the collagen of two Neandertals falling in the range of modern humans, they wondered whether this could a signature of regular fish consumption.

The Neandertals come from Les Cottés and Grotte du Renne, in France, two sites where no fish remains have been found. However, the measurements were performed on a tooth root, which recorded the diet between four to eight years of the individual's life, and on a bone of a one-year-old baby. These high nitrogen isotope ratios could also indicate that the Neandertals were not weaned at this age, contradicting in the case of the Les Cottés Neandertal (the one whose tooth root was analyzed) former pieces of evidence of early weaning around one year of age. In other words, many explanations (e.g. freshwater fish consumption, putrid meat, late weaning or even cannibalism) could account for such high values, and identifying the factor involved could change our understanding of Neandertals' lifestyles.
Analysis of amino acids In order to explain these exceptionally high nitrogen isotope ratios, Jaouen and collaborators decided to use a novel isotope technique. Compound-specific isotope analyses (CSIA) allow to separately analyze the amino acids contained in the collagen. Some of the amino acid isotope compositions are influenced by environmental factors and the isotope ratios of the food eaten. Other amino acid isotope ratios are in addition influenced by the trophic level. The combination of these amino acid isotope ratios allows to decipher the contribution of the environment and the trophic level to the final isotope composition of the collagen.
"Using this technique, we discovered that the Neandertal of Les Cottés had a purely terrestrial carnivore diet: she was not a late weaned child or a regular fish eater, and her people seem to have mostly hunted reindeers and horses", says Jaouen. "We also confirmed that the Grotte du Renne Neandertal was a breastfeeding baby whose mother was a meat eater". Interestingly, this conclusion matches with the observations of the zooarcheologists.
The study also illustrates the importance of this new isotope technique for future investigations into ancient human and Neandertal diets. Using compound-specific isotope analysis allowed the researchers not to misinterpret the global nitrogen isotope ratio which was exceptionally high. Michael P. Richards of the Simon Fraser University in Canada comments: "Previous isotope results indicated a primarily carnivorous diet for Neandertals, which matches the extensive archaeological record of animal remains found and deposited by Neandertals. There has recently been some frankly bizarre interpretations of the bulk isotope data ranging from Neandertals primarily subsisting on aquatic plants to eating each other, both in direct contrast to the archaeological evidence. These new compound-specific isotope measurements confirm earlier interpretations of Neandertal diets as being composed of mainly large herbivores, although of course they also consumed other foods such as plants."
Monotonous diet In addition to confirming the Neandertals as terrestrial carnivores, this work seems to indicate that these hominins had a very monotonous diet over time, even once they had started to change their material industry, possibly under the influence of modern humans. The baby Neandertal of Grotte du Renne was indeed found associated to the Châtelperronian, a lithic technology similar to that of modern humans. Late Neandertals were therefore very humanlike, painting caves and wearing necklaces, but unlike their sister species, did not seem to enjoy fishing.
Jean-Jacques Hublin, director of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, comments: "This study confirms that when Homo sapiens arrived in Europe and met Neandertals, they were in direct competition for the exploitation of large mammals". "The systematic use of the combination of CSIA and radiocarbon dating will help to understand if the two species really had the same subsistence strategies during those crucial times", concludes Sahra Talamo, a researcher at the Leipzig Max Planck Institute.

The monkey hunters: Humans colonize South Asian rainforest by hunting primates

IMAGE: This is an exterior view of the entrance of Fa-Hien Lena cave in Sri Lanka. view more 
Credit: O. Wedage
A multidisciplinary study has found evidence for humans hunting small mammals in the forests of Sri Lanka at least 45,000 years ago. The researchers discovered the remains of small mammals, including primates, with evidence of cut-marks and burning at the oldest archaeological site occupied by humans in Sri Lanka, alongside sophisticated bone and stone tools. The hunting of such animals is an example of the uniquely human adaptability that allowed H. sapiens to rapidly colonize a series of extreme environments apparently untouched by its hominin relatives.
In a new paper published in Nature Communications, an international team of scientists has revealed novel evidence for the unique adaptability of Homo sapiens. The study, led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, alongside colleagues from Sri Lankan and other international institutions, shows that human populations were able to specialize in the hunting of small arboreal animals for tens of thousands of years. This is the oldest and longest record of sophisticated, active primate hunting by foragers. This work also highlights the distinctive ecological capacities of H. sapiens relative to its hominin ancestors and relatives.
Tropical rainforests: a unique challenge Recent research has demonstrated that our species adapted to a diversity of extreme environments as they spread around the world, including deserts, high altitude settings, palaeoarctic conditions, and tropical forests. Previously, however, discussion of the migration of our species into Europe, the Middle East, and Asia has often focused on our increased efficiency in hunting, butchering, and consuming medium to large game in open 'savanna' settings. Alternatively, coastal settings have been seen as important sources of protein, stimulating human evolution and migration.
Tropical rainforests have been somewhat neglected in discussions of human migrations and dispersal. In public and academic perception, these environments are often seen as isolated barriers to human movement, with disease, dangerous animals, and limited resources all posing challenges. In particular, when compared to the large animals of open savannas, small, fast forest monkeys and squirrels are difficult to capture and provide smaller amounts of protein.
Small mammals and hunting complexity The procurement of small mammals has long been considered a feature of technological and behavioural 'complexity' or 'modernity' unique to our species. Previous research in Europe and West Asia has linked increased capture and consumption of agile small mammals both to human population growth and to climatically-driven crises. Traditionally, these have been considered to be particularly extreme ~20,000 years ago.
However, the onset and behavioural context of small mammal hunting in other parts of the world, particularly Asia, has remained poorly studied. This is particularly the case outside of temperate environments. "Over the last two decades, research has highlighted human occupation of tropical rainforests in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Melanesia at least as early as 45,000 years ago, so the potential for human reliance on small mammals in these settings prior to 20,000 years ago seems likely," says co-senior author Dr. Patrick Roberts of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
A Sri Lankan specialty Sri Lanka has been a prominent part of discussions of early human adaptations to tropical rainforests, though there has been a general lack of systematic, detailed analysis of animal remains associated with archaeological sites on the island. For the current study, the researchers produced new chronological information, analysis of animal remains, and studies of lithic and bone tool assemblages from Fa-Hien Lena Cave, the site of the earliest fossil and archaeological evidence of H. sapiens in Sri Lanka.
"The results demonstrate specialized, sophisticated hunting of semi-arboreal and arboreal monkey and squirrel populations from 45,000 years ago in a tropical rainforest environment," says Oshan Wedage, lead author of the study, of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Co-author Dr. Noel Amano, also of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, adds, "This was complemented by sophisticated bone tool technologies which were, in turn, created from the bones of hunted monkeys."
Fine-tuned adaptations, not 'monkey business' Together, the results of this new work demonstrate a highly tuned focus on monkey and other small mammal hunting over 45,000 years. A sustained focus on adult monkeys throughout this time period suggests that this strategy continued to be sustainable during this lengthy period and that the tropical rainforests were not over-taxed by human presence and practices.
"This 'monkey menu' was not a one-off, and the use of these difficult-to-catch resources is one more example of the behavioural and technological flexibility of H. sapiens," says Prof. Michael Petraglia of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, a senior author of the study. Further detailed analysis of the tools and animal remains left behind by early members of our species promises to yield more insights into the variety of strategies that enabled H. sapiens to colonize the world's continents and left us the last hominin standing.

Quarrying of Stonehenge 'bluestones' dated to 3000 BC

IMAGE: This is the Stonehenge quarry. view more 
Credit: UCL
Excavations at two quarries in Wales, known to be the source of the Stonehenge 'bluestones', provide new evidence of megalith quarrying 5,000 years ago, according to a new UCL-led study.

Geologists have long known that 42 of Stonehenge's smaller stones, known as 'bluestones', came from the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, west Wales. Now a new study published in Antiquity pinpoints the exact locations of two of these quarries and reveals when and how the stones were quarried.

The discovery has been made by a team of archaeologists and geologists from UCL, Bournemouth University, University of Southampton, University of the Highlands and Islands and National Museum of Wales, which have been investigating the sites for eight years.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Archaeology) and leader of the team, said: "What's really exciting about these discoveries is that they take us a step closer to unlocking Stonehenge's greatest mystery - why its stones came from so far away."

"Every other Neolithic monument in Europe was built of megaliths brought from no more than 10 miles away.

We're now looking to find out just what was so special about the Preseli hills 5,000 years ago, and whether there were any important stone circles here, built before the bluestones were moved to Stonehenge."

The largest quarry was found almost 180 miles away from Stonehenge on the outcrop of Carn Goedog, on the north slope of the Preseli hills.

"This was the dominant source of Stonehenge's spotted dolerite, so-called because it has white spots in the igneous blue rock. At least five of Stonehenge's bluestones, and probably more, came from Carn Goedog," said geologist Dr Richard Bevins (National Museum of Wales).

In the valley below Carn Goedog, another outcrop at Craig Rhos-y-felin was identified by Dr Bevins and fellow geologist Dr Rob Ixer (UCL Archaeology) as the source of one of the types of rhyolite - another type of igneous rock - found at Stonehenge.

According to the new study, the bluestone outcrops are formed of natural, vertical pillars. These could be eased off the rock face by opening up the vertical joints between each pillar. Unlike stone quarries in ancient Egypt, where obelisks were carved out of the solid rock, the Welsh quarries were easier to exploit.

Neolithic quarry workers needed only to insert wedges into the ready-made joints between pillars, then lower each pillar to the foot of the outcrop.

Although most of their equipment is likely to have consisted of perishable ropes and wooden wedges, mallets and levers, they left behind other tools such as hammer stones and stone wedges.

"The stone wedges are made of imported mudstone, much softer than the hard dolerite pillars. An engineering colleague has suggested that hammering in a hard wedge could have created stress fractures, causing the thin pillars to crack. Using a soft wedge means that, if anything were to break, it would be the wedge and not the pillar," said Professor Parker Pearson.

Archaeological excavations at the foot of both outcrops uncovered the remains of man-made stone and earth platforms, with each platform's outer edge terminating in a vertical drop of about a metre.
"Bluestone pillars could be eased down onto this platform, which acted as a loading bay for lowering them onto wooden sledges before dragging them away," said Professor Colin Richards (University of the Highlands and Islands), who has excavated Britain's only other identified megalith quarry in the Orkney islands, off the north coast of Scotland.

An important aim of Professor Parker Pearson's team was to date megalith-quarrying at the two outcrops. In the soft sediment of a hollowed-out track leading from the loading bay at Craig Rhos-y-felin, and on the artificial platform at Carn Goedog, the team recovered pieces of charcoal dating to around 3000 BC.

The team now thinks that Stonehenge was initially a circle of rough, unworked bluestone pillars set in pits known as the Aubrey Holes, near Stonehenge, and that the sarsens (sandstone blocks) were added some 500 years later.

The new discoveries also cast doubt on a popular theory that the bluestones were transported by sea to Stonehenge.

"Some people think that the bluestones were taken southwards to Milford Haven and placed on rafts or slung between boats and then paddled up the Bristol Channel and along the Bristol Avon towards Salisbury Plain. But these quarries are on the north side of the Preseli hills so the megaliths could have simply gone overland all the way to Salisbury Plain," said Professor Kate Welham (Bournemouth University).

Monday, February 18, 2019

A shared past for East Africa's hunter-gatherers

A genomic analysis suggests African hunting and gathering groups diverged from a common ancestry, and underscores the role of infectious disease and diet as drivers of local adaptation
University of Pennsylvania
IMAGE: With the help of a local translator, Simon Thompson from Sarah Tishkoff's lab (University of Pennsylvania) and Dawit Wolde-Meskel (collaborator from Addis Ababa University) explain the research project on African... view more 
Credit: Tishkoff lab
Languages that involve "clicks" are relatively rare worldwide but are spoken by several groups in Africa. The Khoisan language family includes a handful of these click languages, spoken by hunter-gatherer groups in southern and eastern Africa. But the grouping of these populations into a single language family has been controversial, with some linguists convinced that a few of the languages are too different to be classified together.
A genomic study of 50 African populations led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania adds some clarity to the relationships between these click-speaking groups and many others. The results point to a relatively recent shared ancestry for a few of the click-speaking hunter-gatherer populations, indicating they are more closely related to one another than to their neighbors that practice other subsistence lifestyles, such as farming or animal herding.
The analysis, one of the most extensive of its kind of ethnically diverse populations in Africa, also demonstrates the importance of infectious disease, immunity, and diet in shaping the diversity of popluations across Africa. The work is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"It's very rare to have a study of this many groups that are genetically different in terms of ancestry, in their susbsistence patterns, and are geographicaly dispersed as well," says Sarah Tishkoff, a geneticist and Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor who was the senior author on the paper. "This allows us to characterize population structure and demographic history as well as to look at signatures of natural selection acting on these populations."
The analysis builds upon decades of work by the Tishkoff lab and African collaborators to explore African genetic diversity. The research, says Tishkoff, facilitates genomics research overall by examining populations that have been otherwise understudied, and it can play a role in identifying genetic variants that influence health and disease in Africa and around the world.
This study probes deeply into the genomic landscape of 840 Africans, identifying 621,000 separate nucleotides in the DNA of each participant.
The 50 groups surveyed are spread across sub-Saharan Africa and include almost all groups that practice a hunting-and-gathering lifestyle, or have until recently.
Tishkoff, Scheinfeldt, and colleagues were particularly interested in what these study participants' genomes would reveal about ancient relationships among hunter-gatherer populations, particularly those speaking languages that had been classified as Khoisan. East Africa's Hadza and Sandawe hunter-gatherers had been labeled Khoisan by some linguistic analyses, grouped with southern Africa's San hunter-gatherers.
"Some linguists say it's not correct to place all of these into the Khoisan family, arguing that the Hadza and Sandawe languages are so different from each other and from the San that they really should be in separate language classifications," says Tishkoff.
The researchers also included study participants from the Dahalo of Ethiopia, who have never been studied genetically but speak a language with remnant clicks. "It's an ongoing question in linguistics and genetics," Tishkoff says, "and we wanted to ask the question, 'Do these groups with click phonemes have a common genetic ancestry?'"
They were also curious to know whether a shared subsistence lifestyle practice--that of hunting and gathering--indicated a shared ancestry. Among the 16 hunter-gatherer populations they studied was a group called the Sabue who live in southwestern Ethiopia, surrounded by pastoralist groups. The Sabue had never before participated in genomic research and speak a language that is thus far unclassified.
Using the genetic information they obtained to map out the populations' likely relationships to one another, the researchers unexpectedly found that four hunter-gatherer populations--the Hadza, Sandawe, Dahalo, and Sabue, each of whom dwell in distinct areas of eastern Africa--clustered together.
"Typically what we see is that populations cluster by geography, but here we're seeing an exception to that," Tishkoff says. "Here you have three groups that either speak a click language, have remnant clicks, or have an unclassified language, and they're showing a common ancestry even though they're spread across different countries."
Although the researchers could not identify a uniquely shared ancestry between these four groups of eastern African Khoisan hunter-gatherers and the southern African San people, who also speak a language with clicks, they did observe shared ancestry between the San and rainforest hunter-gatherers from Central Africa, despite being geographically far apart.
In contrast, other hunter-gatherer groups, such as the Wata, El Molo, and Yaaku, appeared more genetically similar to neighboring agriculturalist and pastorlist groups.
The common ancestry for the four East Africa hunter-gatherer groups dates back more than 20,000 years ago, according to the team's analysis, around the beginning of the last glacial maximum, when ice covered extensive portions of Earth and the climate was much different than it is today.
"The idea is that this may have changed environmental conditions and introduced a barrier between populations," says Laura Scheinfeldt, the lead author who was a research associate in Tishkoff's lab, and is now with the Coriell Institute for Medical Research.
The researchers' techniques also allowed for a better understanding of the forces that have acted to differentiate the groups they studied.
"What we found was the strongest signatures of adaptation tended to be population-specific," says Scheinfeldt. In other words, targets of natural selection were different in the different groups and may well have contributed to the uniqueness of each.
Despite these individual differences, the categories of the genes that were selected were shared among populations, the researchers discovered.
"Genes involved in immune responses, diet, and metabolism were the broad categories that we saw coming up over and over again," Scheinfeldt notes. "We know infectious disease in general is a very strong pressure, and, when you look solely at how prevalent malaria is, that also explains some of the patterns we see in adaptive signatures. Just that one disease is a very strong selective pressure."
In future studies, Tishkoff and colleagues will be zooming in to see how particular genetic variants may affect physical traits in the people who possess them, studies that could shed light on genetic causes of disease susceptibility. They'll also be using powerful whole-genome sequencing techniques to further illuminate the relationships among Africa's diverse populations.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Biocolonizer species are putting the conservation of the granite at Machu Picchu at risk

IMAGE: There is a wide variety of biocolonizer species that are putting the conservation of the granite at Machu Picchu at risk. view more 
Credit: Héctor Morillas / UPV/EHU
The Sacred Rock is one of the most important monuments at the Inca sanctuary Machu Picchu, located in the Cusco region in Peru. It is a granitic rock that the Inca culture used for religious worship as it was regarded as the gateway between earth and heaven. Owing to the location and climate conditions of the site, many rocks in the archaeological city are affected by biocolonization. And at the Sacred Rock in particular "it is possible to see various exfoliation processes; in other words, there are small losses of material that are causing small areas of the rock to flake," explained the UPV/EHU PhD holder and lecturer Héctor Morillas. He is conducting various pieces of research work relating to Machu Picchu in collaboration with the IBeA research group of the Department of Analytical Chemistry and with the Department of Plant Biology and Ecology at the UPV/EHU's Faculty of Science and Technology.
By applying a non-destructive, multi-analytical methodology, the researchers have determined the role played by the species of lichens, algae, mosses, cyanobacteria, etc. colonizing the Sacred Rock with respect to the conservation problems it is displaying. As Morillas explained, "once these species penetrate the material through some kind of minor deterioration that has been forming, they attach themselves to the material itself so that they can feed off the minerals belonging to the rock, gradually degrading it. As time passes, these micro-organisms can cause minor delamination that could result in the progressive loss of this rock".
Monitoring biogenic pigments to determine depth After determining the family to which each of the species of micro-organisms found in numerous micro samples of the rock belongs, as well as which biogenic pigments are excreted by each of them, "we carried out in-depth profiling to predict how far these micro-organisms may have penetrated". That way, the researchers have concluded that "there is a wide variety of biocolonizer species in the Sacred Rock, most of which have penetrated through the porous substrate, and which could be one of the factors responsible for the stress being enduring by this rock", said Doctor Morillas, who currently lectures in the UPV/EHU's Department of Mathematics and Experimental Sciences Didactics.
This piece of research is just one of the studies being conducted by the UPV/EHU's group of researchers at this location. In fact, the diagnosis of the conservation state of various buildings, such as temples, houses or meditation areas in the archaeological city, has also begun; at the same time, the building material used throughout Machu Picchu has been analysed and "we are also studying possible alterations in the granitic material owing to possible incorrect restoration carried out in the past in certain places at Machu Picchu". The researcher has also conducted "an ecotoxicity study of the city itself and all the surrounding area of the Archaeological Park where we have analysed the soil, air and rainwater for potential contaminants". What is more, Morillas has analysed rock paintings located in the park and has been able to specify the materials used to produce them; "these paintings are believed to date back much earlier than the pre-Hispanic era". Finally, the researcher added that "thanks to all this we are drawing up the bases of a project with various universities and institutions in other countries to study the conservation of emblematic UNESCO locations".

Dog burial as common ritual in Neolithic populations of north-eastern Iberian Peninsula

IMAGE: Top: remains of adult dog in partial anatomical connection in La Serreta. Bottom: dog in anatomical connection between human skeletons, in the necropolis Bòbila Madurell. view more 
Credit: UB-UAB
Coinciding with the Pit Grave culture (4200-3600 years before our era), coming from Southern Europe, the Neolithic communities of the north-eastern Iberian Peninsula started a ceremonial activity related to the sacrifice and burial of dogs. The high amount of cases that are recorded in Catalonia suggests it was a general practice and it proves the tight relationship between humans and these animals, which, apart from being buried next to them, were fed a similar diet to humans'.
This is the conclusion of a research study led by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and the University of Barcelona (UB), which provides new data to describe and understand the presence of dogs in sacred and funerary spaces of the middle Neolithic in the Iberian Peninsula, and gets an insight on the relation between humans and these animals. The study has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
The study analyses the remains of twenty-six dogs found in funerary structures from four sites and necropolises of the Barcelona region, and has conducted an isotopic analysis for eighteen of them, to determine whether the relation with their owners included other aspects, such as a control of their diet.
Dogs were aged between one month and six years old, predominating hose between twelve and eighteen years old, and had homogeneous sizes, between forty and fifty centimetres high. These were mainly buried in circular graves, together or near the humans, although some have been found separately in nearby graves and one was found at the entrance of the mortuary chamber. The skeletons were semi-complete in anatomical connection -only one was found as full, near a kid- without bone fractures or marks due manipulation by evisceration, or any signs of predators.
"Choosing young animals aged up to one year old suggests there was an intention in the sacrifice. Although we can think it was for human consumption, the fact that these were buried near humans suggests there was an intention and a direct relation with death and the funerary ritual", says Silvia Albizuri, researcher from the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP) of the UB and first author of the article. "This hypothesis is consistent, in addition, with the fact that they are found in an area of cultural influence that gives a symbolic value to the dog during that period, such as Southern France or Northern Italy".
A diet rich in cereal and vegetables, controlled by humans The isotopic study of the remains and its comparison with humans' and other herbivorous animals' diet in the site shows the diet of most of these animals was similar to the diet of humans, with a high presence of cereal, such as corn, and vegetables. In two puppies and two adult dogs, nutrition was mainly vegetarian and only a few cases had a diet rich in animal protein.
"These data show a close coexistence between dogs and humans, and probably, a specific preparation of their nutrition, which is clear in the cases of a diet based on vegetables. They would probably do so to obtain a better control of their tasks on security and to save the time they would have to spend looking for food. This management would explain the homogeneity of the size of the animals", says Eulàlia Subirà, researcher in the Research Group on Biological Anthropology (GREAB) of UAB.
Little-studied animals The presence of dogs in prehistoric disposal structures is not common, which makes it a little-studied group among domestic animals. Their presence in graves is even lower. This is why the presence of these skeletons in anatomical connection like the ones in this study is considered exceptional.
There have been older cases of individual isolated burials in the Iberian Peninsula, but only later documented as a general practice related to the funerary ritual. This ritual spread and lasted during a hundred years, until the Iron Age.
Regarding food, there are only a few studies, with some cases of mixed diets in France, Anatolia and China. "Recently, we saw dogs have ten genes with a key function for starch and fat digestion, which would make the carbohydrates assimilation more efficient than its ancestor's, the wolf. Our study helps reaching the conclusion that during the Neolithic, several vegetables were introduced to their nutrition", notes Eulàlia Subirà.
The study allows reinforcing the idea that dogs played an important role in the economy of Neolithic populations, taking care of herds and settlements. That may be the vital relation that turned them into a companion in death or symbols in funerary rituals, the researchers conclude.

Safe harbor for Native residents during the Mission era and beyond


Latest findings will be discussed during the Society for California Archaeology annual meeting March 7-10 in Sacramento
University of California - Santa Cruz
IMAGE: This obsidian point was recovered from the site of a 19th-century Coast Miwok village. view more 
Credit: Carolyn Lagattuta
Contrary to the dominant narrative of cultural extinction, indigenous residents of Marin County survived colonization, preserving and passing on their traditions and cultural practices, says a UC Santa Cruz anthropologist who will present his latest research during a conference in March.
"We hear the story of loss and termination, but the Coast Miwok and other Native people survived the Mission period," says archaeologist Tsim Schneider, an assistant professor of anthropology who has spent years recovering and analyzing artifacts from sites throughout Marin County. "This is a story of persistence, community, refuge, and protection away from the missions and the long, colonizing arm of the federal government."
Schneider will join other researchers in a discussion of their latest findings during the annual meeting of the Society for California Archaeology, which takes place March 7-10 in Sacramento.
Overlooked history of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo in Marin County Most fourth-graders in California are required to study the Mission era that began in 1769 and ended in the 1830s, building models of the Catholic churches that still dot the landscape from San Diego to Sonoma. However, few residents of the San Francisco Bay Area know the tumultuous history of the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo people.
Much of what is now Marin County, including Point Reyes and Tomales Bay, was home to multiple small-scale indigenous communities with distinct histories and identities. Schneider, a member of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (the federally recognized and sovereign tribe of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo people), collaborates with Lee Panich, associate professor of anthropology at Santa Clara University, to explore three sites in Marin County.
Schneider and Panich use ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and hand excavation to explore archaeological sites where household items and other artifacts of daily and ritual life are buried. They have recovered the remains of obsidian and chert cutting tools, animal remains (shell and fish bones, bones of domestic pigs), as well as charred plant remains, all of which offer clues to the persistence of residents and the transformation of their diets and lifestyles. Evidence of stone-tool making, fishing and shellfish gathering, and ceremonies reveal a "pattern of activity taking place outside the missions" that counters the familiar story that Native peoples were entirely confined to colonial missions or, later in time, the reservations and rancherias established by the United States Government.
Indigenous communities in the early 1800s There certainly was significant forced and voluntary relocation of Native residents from Marin County to San Francisco's Mission Dolores, which was established in 1776, but the mission was not walled off: Written accounts attest to life beyond the mission grounds and the persistence of assorted life-affirming practices for Native peoples, including hunting and gathering, mortuary rites, child birth, night dances, and other indigenous practices, said Schneider.
"Native people were still engaging with their world," he said. "They were staying mobile and connected to their landscapes."
Schneider sees the continuation of these practices during the mission era as the foundation for the enduring resilience of Coast Miwok communities that followed. For instance, Schneider and Panich are analyzing remains from a mid-1800s community at Toms Point on Tomales Bay. On that site, 3,000-year-old Coast Miwok villages became a thriving trading post in the mid-19th century after a Boston sailor named George Thomas Wood jumped ship.
Schneider is also examining artifacts associated with an 1852 shipwreck that took place near the trading post site. He is documenting and analyzing obsidian projectile points, nails, grinding stones for seeds and nuts, dishware, bottle glass, rolled copper beads, and iron spikes.
"We see evidence that they applied traditional skills to imported materials," said Schneider.
"We can use archaeology to show motion, dynamism, and engagement with the landscape," he said, adding that Native residents were "relatively untouched" until the early 1800s, when Franciscan missionaries responded to the establishment of Fort Ross, a mercantile colony of the Russian-American Company, by constructing Mission San Rafael on Coast Miwok land.
Toms Point By the 1840s, the trading post at Toms Point was thriving, with Native labor powering the hide and tallow business. Founder George Wood married a Coast Miwok woman from Tomales Bay; the story of intermarriage among Coast Miwok and Europeans in the region becomes personal for Schneider, who traces his ancestry to a similar relationship formed in 1840s Bodega Bay.
Today, Toms Point is privately owned. Schneider conducts his archaeological work in consultation with the land owner and Graton Rancheria. The Graton Rancheria, a patch of marginal land west of Petaluma, was designated tribal land by the federal government in 1920; it was terminated by Congress in 1958, and restored in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.
Schneider collaborates closely with Graton Rancheria's Sacred Sites Protection Committee and its tribal historic preservation office. In 2016, he led a group of advanced undergraduates and graduate students from UC Santa Cruz on a four-week field expedition that focused on three sites: the trading post and two additional sites with dates of occupation extending to at least 4,000 years ago.
This detailed work follows a survey conducted by UC Berkeley anthropologists in the early 1900s--a time Schneider refers to as a "darker era" when archaeologists mapping sites around the San Francisco Bay regularly excavated Native American graves with no consultation or regard for tribal customs.
Schneider has also led field trips and workshops with members of the Coast Miwok tribal community--children, as well as adults and elders--many of whom now live in the Central Valley and beyond. "Because of great distances and the high price of living in coastal California, not many tribal members get to visit the places where their ancestors were living and working," he said. "It's been 150 years since the Coast Miwok people were on Toms Point, but they were here for 13 millennia and counting. It's important to respect the tribe and the cultural trauma they experienced by the long arm of colonialism."
Schneider is gratified to see evidence of "the capacity of Native people to make the best of awful conditions, using their traditions in ways to help them thrive."

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

First Neanderthal footprints found in Gibraltar

The prestigious international journal Quaternary Science Reviews has just published a paper which has involved the participation of Gibraltarian scientists from The Gibraltar National Museum alongside colleagues from Spain, Portugal and Japan. The results which have been published come from an area of the Catalan Bay Sand Dune.
This work started ten years ago, when the first dates using the OSL method were obtained. It is then that the first traces of footprints left by vertebrates were found. In subsequent years the successive natural collapse of sand has revealed further material and has permitted a detailed study including new dates.
The sand sheets in the rampant dunes above Catalan Bay are a relic of the last glaciation, when sea level was up to 120 metres below present levels and a great field of dunes extended eastwards from the base of the Rock. The identified footprints correspond to species which are known, from fossil material, to have inhabited Gibraltar. The identified footprints correspond to Red Deer, Ibex, Aurochs, Leopard and Straight-tusked Elephant. In addition the scientists have found the footprint of a young human (106-126 cm in height), possibly Neanderthal, which dates to around 29 thousand years ago. It would coincide with late Neanderthal dates from Gorham's Cave.
If confirmed to be Neanderthal, these dunes would become only the second site in the world with footprints attributed to these humans, the other being Vartop Cave in Romania. These findings add further international importance to the Gibraltar Pleistocene heritage, declared of World Heritage Value in 2016.
The research was supported by HM Government of Gibraltar under the Gibraltar Caves Project and the annual excavations in the Gibraltar Caves, with additional support to the external scientists from the Spanish EU project MICINN-FEDER: CGL2010-15810/BTE.
Minister for Heritage John Cortes MP commented, "This is extraordinary research and gives us an incredible insight into the wildlife community of Gibraltar's past. We should all take a moment to imagine the scene when these animals walked across our landscape. It helps us understand the importance of looking after our heritage. I congratulate the research team on uncovering this fascinating, hidden evidence of our Rock's past."

Friday, February 8, 2019

Latest Archaeological Reports

Southeast Asia

Humans colonized diverse environments in Southeast Asia and Oceania during the Pleistocene

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 1 week ago
[image: IMAGE] *IMAGE: *Lowland Palawan, the Philippines -- Southeast Asia offers a particularly exciting region in regard of early hominin movements across the supposed "Movius Line " a boundary previously argued to separate populations.... view more Credit: Noel Amano Investigations into what it means to be human have often focused on attempts to uncover the earliest material traces of 'art', 'language', or technological 'complexity'. More recently, however, scholars have begun to argue that more attention should be paid to the ecological uniqueness of our species. A new study, p... more »

'X-ray gun' helps researchers pinpoint the origins of pottery found on ancient shipwreck

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 3 hours ago
Field Museum [image: IMAGE] *IMAGE: *Ceramic bowls in situ at the Java Sea Shipwreck site. view more Credit: (c) Field Museum, Anthropology. Photographer Pacific Sea Resources. About eight hundred years ago, a ship sank in the Java Sea off the coast of the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. There are no written records saying where the ship was going or where it came from--the only clues are the mostly-disintegrated structure of the vessel and its cargo, which was discovered on the seabed in the 1980s. Since the wreck's recovery in the 1990s, researchers have been piecing toge... more »

New findings show Magic Mountain archaeological site is older than originally understood

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 1 day ago
--> An archaeological site near Golden, Colorado, was occupied by humans thousands of years earlier than originally understood, according to new research conducted by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in partnership with the Paleocultural Research Group and the University of Kansas Odyssey Archaeological Research Program. The site, nicknamed Magic Mountain, served as a campground for nomadic hunter-gatherers for millennia. The Museum, PCRG and OARP have conducted fieldwork there for the past few summers. The site was also excavated in the 1950s and 1990s. Previous excavations... more »

Vikings enjoyed a warmer Greenland

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 2 days ago
Northwestern University [image: IMAGE] *IMAGE: *This is a 21st-century reproduction of Thjodhild's church on Erik the Red's estate (known as Brattahlíð) in present day Qassiarsuk, Greenland. view more Credit: G. Everett Lasher/Northwestern University A new study may resolve an old debate about how tough the Vikings actually were. Although TV and movies paint Vikings as robust souls, braving subzero temperatures in fur pelts and iron helmets, new evidence indicates they might have been basking in 50-degree summer weather when they settled in Greenland. After reconstructing souther... more »

Solving the ancient mysteries of Easter Island

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 4 weeks ago
*VIDEO: *Binghamton University archaeologist Carl Lipo has shed light on some of the ancient mysteries of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) through his ongoing research. The ancient people of Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile) built their famous ahu monuments near coastal freshwater sources, according to a team of researchers including faculty at Binghamton University, State University of New York. The island of Rapa Nui is well-known for its elaborate ritual architecture, particularly its numerous statues (moai) and the monumental platforms that supported them (ahu.) Researchers have long w... more »


Peasant farmers began transforming diets across the Old World 7,000 years ago

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 1 day ago
 Since the beginning of archaeology, researchers have combed the globe searching for evidence of the first domesticated crops. Painstakingly extracting charred bits of barley, wheat, millet and rice from the remains of ancient hearths and campfires, they've published studies contending that a particular region or country was among the first to bring some ancient grain into cultivation. Now, an international team of scientists, led by Xinyi Liu of Washington University in St. Louis, has consolidated findings from hundreds of these studies to plot a deta... more »

The Caucasus: Complex interplay of genes and cultures

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 4 days ago
Genetic studies of ancient populations in the Caucasus region testify to the complex interaction of populations from the Eurasian steppe and the Caucasus Mountains in the Bronze Age Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History [image: IMAGE] *IMAGE: *Twin peaks of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in the Caucasus (5600 m). The Caucasus is a crucial contact zone in the history of Europe, both genetically and culturally. During... view more Credit: Sabine Reinhold An international research team, coordinated by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SH... more »

Ancient fortress reveals how prehistoric civilizations of Central Asia lived

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 1 week ago
Russian Science Communication Association [image: IMAGE] *IMAGE: *View of the Uzundara citadel from above. view more Credit: Nigora Dvurechenskaya *et al.* Scientists from Russia and Uzbekistan found a unified fortification system that on the northern border of ancient Bactria. This country existed in the III century BC. The fortress found blocked the border and protected the oases of Bactria from the nomads raids. During the excavations, scientists revealed the fortress citadel, drew up a detailed architectural plan and collected rich archaeological material indicating the construct... more »

New studies reveal deep history of archaic humans in southern Siberia

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 1 week ago
Oxford University scientists have played a key role in new research identifying the earliest evidence of some of the first known humans - Denisovans and Neanderthals, in Southern Siberia. Professor Tom Higham and his team at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford worked in collaboration with a multi-disciplinary team from the UK, Russia, Australia, Canada and Germany, on the detailed investigation over the course of five years, to date the archaeological site of Denisova cave. Situated in the foothills of Siberia's Altai Mountains, it is the only site ... more »

Ancient Mongolian skull is the earliest modern human yet found in the region

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 1 week ago
[image: IMAGE] *IMAGE: *This is a view of the find spot in the Salkhit Valley, Mongolia © Institute of History and Archaeology & Academy of Sciences (Mongolia). view more Credit: © Institute of History and Archaeology & Academy of Sciences (Mongolia) A much debated ancient human skull from Mongolia has been dated and genetically analysed, showing that it is the earliest modern human yet found in the region, according to new research from the University of Oxford. Radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis have revealed that the only Pleistocene hominin fossil discovered in Mongolia, initi... more »

On the steppes of Genghis Khan – Mongolia’s nomads

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 3 weeks ago
The new international special exhibition at Moesgaard Museum tells the fascinating story of Genghis Khan and the nomads of the Mongolian steppes. For more than a millennium, Mongolian nomads made their mark on contacts between East and West, through belligerent expansion and by controlling trade routes across steppe and desert. The story of Genghis Khan and his ravaging horsemen, who, by brilliant military strategies, created the foundations for the greatest empire the world has ever seen, is well known. Through his enormous conquests in the early 13th century, this commander from th... more »


Modern humans replaced Neanderthals in southern Spain 44,000 years ago

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 1 week ago
A study carried out in Bajondillo Cave (in the town of Torremolinos, in the province of Malaga) by an international team made up of researchers from Spain, Japan and the U.K. revealed that modern humans replaced Neanderthals 44,000 years ago. This study, published today in the journal *Nature Ecology and Evolution* and in which University of Cordoba and University of Granada scientists participated, demonstrates that replacing Neanderthals for modern humans in southern Iberia is an early, not late, occurrence, in the context of Western Europe. That is to say it happened 5,000 years ... more »

Neanderthal hunting spears could kill at a distance

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 1 week ago
[image: IMAGE] *IMAGE: *This is a replica spear produced by Owen O'Donnell, an alumnus of UCL Institute of Archaeology. view more Credit: Annemieke Milks (UCL) Neanderthals have been imagined as the inferior cousins of modern humans, but a new study by archaeologists at UCL reveals for the first time that they produced weaponry advanced enough to kill at a distance. The study, published in *Scientific Reports*, examined the performance of replicas of the 300,000 year old Schöningen spears - the oldest weapons reported in archaeological records - to identify whether javelin throwers ... more »

Careful Conservation of the Tomb of Tutankhamen Wraps After a Decade of Work

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 2 weeks ago
[image: The north wall of the burial chamber depicts three separate scenes, ordered from right to left. In the first, Ay, Tutankhamen’s successor, performs the “opening of the mouth” ceremony on Tutankhamen, who is depicted as Osiris, lord of the underworld. In the middle scene, Tutankhamen, dressed in the costume of the living king, is welcomed into the realm of the gods by the goddess Nut. On the left, Tutankhamen, followed by his ka (spirit twin), is embraced by Osiris.] The north wall of the burial chamber depicts three separate scenes, ordered fromright to left. In the fir... more »

Near East

11,500-year-old animal bones in Jordan suggest early dogs helped humans hunt

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 3 weeks ago
[image: IMAGE] *IMAGE: *Selection of gazelle bones from Space 3 at Shubayqa 6 displaying evidence for having been in the digestive tract of a carnivore. view more Credit: University of Copenhagen 11,500 years ago in what is now northeast Jordan, people began to live alongside dogs and may also have used them for hunting, a new study from the University of Copenhagen shows. The archaeologists suggest that the introduction of dogs as hunting aids may explain the dramatic increase of hares and other small prey in the archaeological remains at the site. Dogs were domesticated by humans a... more »

Archeological discovery yields clues to how our ancestors may have adapted to their environment

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 5 weeks ago
During the Stone Age ancestral humans lived with a variety of animal species along what was an area of wetlands in the middle of the Jordanian desert. The site, in the town of Azraq Basin, has been excavated and has revealed an abundance of tools and animal bones from up to 250,000 years ago, leading to better understanding of how ancestral humans have adapted to this changing environment. James Pokines, PhD, associate professor of forensic anthropology at Boston University School of Medicine, was a leader of the excavation with a team from the Azraq Marshes Archaeological and Paleo... more »

Illuminating women's role in the creation of medieval manuscripts

Jonathan KantrowitzatArchaeology News Report - 4 weeks ago
[image: IMAGE] *IMAGE: *This is a magnified view of lapis lazuli particles embedded within medieval dental calculus. view more Credit: Monica Tromp During the European Middle Ages, literacy and written texts were largely the province of religious institutions. Richly illustrated manuscripts were created in monasteries for use by members of religious institutions and by the nobility. Some of these illuminated manuscripts were embellished with luxurious paints and pigments, including gold leaf and ultramarine, a rare and expensive blue pigment made from lapis lazuli stone. In a stud... more »