Ancient Legacies

Kevin Lewis

May 22, 2021

The Biogeography of Human Diversity in Cognitive Ability
Aurelio José Figueredo, Steven Hertler & Mateo Peñaherrera-Aguirre
Evolutionary Psychological Science, June 2021, Pages 106–123


After many waves of out-migration from Africa, different human populations evolved within a great diversity of physical and community ecologies. These ambient ecologies should have at least partially determined the selective pressures that shaped the evolution and geographical distribution of human cognitive abilities across different parts of the world. Three different ecological hypotheses have been advanced to explain human global variation in intelligence: (1) cold winters theory (Lynn, 1991), (2) parasite stress theory (Eppig, Fincher, & Thornhill, 2010), and (3) life history theory (Rushton, 1999, 2000). To examine and summarize the relations among these and other ecological parameters, we divided a sample of 98 national polities for which we had sufficient information into zoogeographical regions (Wallace, 1876; Holt et al., 2013). We selected only those regions for this analysis that were still inhabited mostly by the aboriginal populations that were present there prior to the fifteenth century AD. We found that these zoogeographical regions explained 71.4% of the variance among national polities in our best measure of human cognitive ability, and also more concisely encapsulated the preponderance of the more specific information contained within the sampled set of continuous ecological parameters.

Sex differences in the pelvis did not evolve de novo in modern humans
Barbara Fischer et al.
Nature Ecology & Evolution, May 2021, Pages 625–630


It is commonly assumed that the strong sexual dimorphism of the human pelvis evolved for delivering the relatively large human foetuses. Here we compare pelvic sex differences across modern humans and chimpanzees using a comprehensive geometric morphometric approach. Even though the magnitude of sex differences in pelvis shape was two times larger in humans than in chimpanzees, we found that the pattern is almost identical in the two species. We conclude that this pattern of pelvic sex differences did not evolve de novo in modern humans and must have been present in the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, and thus also in the extinct Homo species. We further suggest that this shared pattern was already present in early mammals and propose a hypothesis of facilitated variation as an explanation: the conserved mammalian endocrine system strongly constrains the evolution of the pattern of pelvic differences but enables rapid evolutionary change of the magnitude of sexual dimorphism, which in turn facilitated the rapid increase in hominin brain size.

Central Oregon obsidian from a submerged early Holocene archaeological site beneath Lake Huron
John O’Shea et al.
PLoS ONE, May 2021


Obsidian, originating from the Rocky Mountains and the West, was an exotic exchange commodity in Eastern North America that was often deposited in elaborate caches and burials associated with Middle Woodland era Hopewell and later complexes. In earlier times, obsidian is found only rarely. In this paper we report two obsidian flakes recovered from a now submerged paleolandscape beneath Lake Huron that are conclusively attributed to the Wagontire obsidian source in central Oregon; a distance of more than 4,000 km. These specimens, dating to ~ 9,000 BP, represent the earliest and most distant reported occurrence of obsidian in eastern North America.

The inverted dead of Britain's Bronze Age barrows: A perspective from Conceptual Metaphor Theory
Rob Wiseman, Michael Allen & Catriona Gibson
Antiquity, forthcoming


Barrows are a prominent feature of Britain's Bronze Age landscape. While they originated as burial monuments, they also appear to have acquired other roles in prehistory. British prehistorians, however, have been hampered in their interpretations of these monuments, as they are wary of speculating about how Bronze Age people might have conceptualised their dead. Here, the authors suggest that a recurring pattern of inversion is significant. They use Conceptual Metaphor Theory to argue that Bronze Age people in Britain saw their dead inhabiting an inverted underworld directly beneath the surface of the earth. This interpretation would explain not only burial practices, but also some of the barrows’ other apparent functions, such as guarding boundaries and controlling routeways.

Runes from Lány (Czech Republic) - The oldest inscription among Slavs. A new standard for multidisciplinary analysis of runic bones
Jiří Macháček et al.
Journal of Archaeological Science, March 2021


When Roman administration and legions gradually withdrew from the outer provinces after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, they created a power void filled by various groups. The dynamic Migration Period that followed is usually considered to have ended when the Germanic Lombards allegedly left Central Europe and were replaced by Slavs. Whether or how Slavic and Germanic tribes interacted, however, is currently disputed. Here we report the first direct archaeological find in support of a contact: a bone fragment dated to ~600 AD incised with Germanic runes but found in Lány, Czechia, a contemporaneous settlement associated with Slavs. We documented and authenticated this artifact using a combined approach of use-wear analysis with SEM microscopy, direct radiocarbon dating, and ancient DNA analysis of the animal bone, thereby setting a new standard for the investigation of runic bones. The find is the first older fuþark inscription found in any non-Germanic context and suggests that the presumed ancestors of modern Slavic speakers encountered writing much earlier than previously thought.


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