Ancient Tradition

Kevin Lewis

November 07, 2020

Female hunters of the early Americas
Randall Haas et al.
Science Advances, November 2020


Sexual division of labor with females as gatherers and males as hunters is a major empirical regularity of hunter-gatherer ethnography, suggesting an ancestral behavioral pattern. We present an archeological discovery and meta-analysis that challenge the man-the-hunter hypothesis. Excavations at the Andean highland site of Wilamaya Patjxa reveal a 9000-year-old human burial (WMP6) associated with a hunting toolkit of stone projectile points and animal processing tools. Osteological, proteomic, and isotopic analyses indicate that this early hunter was a young adult female who subsisted on terrestrial plants and animals. Analysis of Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene burial practices throughout the Americas situate WMP6 as the earliest and most secure hunter burial in a sample that includes 10 other females in statistical parity with early male hunter burials. The findings are consistent with nongendered labor practices in which early hunter-gatherer females were big-game hunters.

Origins and genetic legacy of prehistoric dogs
Anders Bergström et al.
Science, 30 October 2020, Pages 557-564


Dogs were the first domestic animal, but little is known about their population history and to what extent it was linked to humans. We sequenced 27 ancient dog genomes and found that all dogs share a common ancestry distinct from present-day wolves, with limited gene flow from wolves since domestication but substantial dog-to-wolf gene flow. By 11,000 years ago, at least five major ancestry lineages had diversified, demonstrating a deep genetic history of dogs during the Paleolithic. Coanalysis with human genomes reveals aspects of dog population history that mirror humans, including Levant-related ancestry in Africa and early agricultural Europe. Other aspects differ, including the impacts of steppe pastoralist expansions in West and East Eurasia and a near-complete turnover of Neolithic European dog ancestry.

The prehistoric roots of Chinese cuisines: Mapping staple food systems of China, 6000 BC–220 AD
Xinyi Liu & Rachel Reid
PLoS ONE, November 2020


We conducted a meta-analysis of published carbon and nitrogen isotope data from archaeological human skeletal remains (n = 2448) from 128 sites cross China in order to investigate broad spatial and temporal patterns in the formation of staple cuisines. Between 6000–5000 cal BC we found evidence for an already distinct north versus south divide in the use of main crop staples (namely millet vs. a broad spectrum of C3 plant based diet including rice) that became more pronounced between 5000–2000 cal BC. We infer that this pattern can be understood as a difference in the spectrum of subsistence activities employed in the Loess Plateau and the Yangtze-Huai regions, which can be partly explained by differences in environmental conditions. We argue that regional differentiation in dietary tradition are not driven by differences in the conventional “stages” of shifting modes of subsistence (hunting-foraging-pastoralism- farming), but rather by myriad subsistence choices that combined and discarded modes in a number of innovative ways over thousands of years. The introduction of wheat and barley from southwestern Asia after 2000 cal BC resulted in the development of an additional east to west gradient in the degree of incorporation of the different staple products into human diets. Wheat and barley were rapidly adopted as staple foods in the Continental Interior contra the very gradual pace of adoption of these western crops in the Loess Plateau. While environmental and social factors likely contributed to their slow adoption, we explored local cooking practice as a third explanation; wheat and barley may have been more readily folded into grinding-and-baking cooking traditions than into steaming-and-boiling traditions. Changes in these culinary practices may have begun in the female sector of society.

The age of Clovis — 13,050 to 12,750 cal yr B.P.
Michael Waters, Thomas Stafford & David Carlson
Science Advances, October 2020


Thirty-two radiocarbon ages on bone, charcoal, and carbonized plant remains from 10 Clovis sites range from 11,110 ± 40 to 10,820 ± 10 14C years before the present (yr B.P.). These radiocarbon ages provide a maximum calibrated (cal) age range for Clovis of ~13,050 to ~12,750 cal yr B.P. This radiocarbon record suggests that Clovis first appeared at the end of the Allerød and is one of at least three contemporary archaeological complexes in the Western Hemisphere during the terminal Pleistocene. Stemmed projectile points in western North America are coeval and even older than Clovis, and the Fishtail point complex is well established in the southern cone of South America by ~12,900 cal yr B.P. Clovis disappeared ~12,750 cal yr B.P. at the beginning of the Younger Dryas, coincident with the extinction of the remaining North American megafauna (Proboscideans) and the appearance of multiple North American regional archaeological complexes.

Denisovan ancestry and population history of early East Asians
Diyendo Massilani et al.
Science, 30 October 2020, Pages 579-583

We present analyses of the genome of a ~34,000-year-old hominin skull cap discovered in the Salkhit Valley in northeastern Mongolia. We show that this individual was a female member of a modern human population that, following the split between East and West Eurasians, experienced substantial gene flow from West Eurasians. Both she and a 40,000-year-old individual from Tianyuan outside Beijing carried genomic segments of Denisovan ancestry. These segments derive from the same Denisovan admixture event(s) that contributed to present-day mainland Asians but are distinct from the Denisovan DNA segments in present-day Papuans and Aboriginal Australians.

A Dynamic 6,000-Year Genetic History of Eurasia’s Eastern Steppe
Choongwon Jeong et al.
Cell, forthcoming


The Eastern Eurasian Steppe was home to historic empires of nomadic pastoralists, including the Xiongnu and the Mongols. However, little is known about the region’s population history. Here, we reveal its dynamic genetic history by analyzing new genome-wide data for 214 ancient individuals spanning 6,000 years. We identify a pastoralist expansion into Mongolia ca. 3000 BCE, and by the Late Bronze Age, Mongolian populations were biogeographically structured into three distinct groups, all practicing dairy pastoralism regardless of ancestry. The Xiongnu emerged from the mixing of these populations and those from surrounding regions. By comparison, the Mongols exhibit much higher eastern Eurasian ancestry, resembling present-day Mongolic-speaking populations. Our results illuminate the complex interplay between genetic, sociopolitical, and cultural changes on the Eastern Steppe.

Denisovan DNA in Late Pleistocene sediments from Baishiya Karst Cave on the Tibetan Plateau
Dongju Zhang et al.
Science, 30 October 2020, Pages 584-587


A late Middle Pleistocene mandible from Baishiya Karst Cave (BKC) on the Tibetan Plateau has been inferred to be from a Denisovan, an Asian hominin related to Neanderthals, on the basis of an amino acid substitution in its collagen. Here we describe the stratigraphy, chronology, and mitochondrial DNA extracted from the sediments in BKC. We recover Denisovan mitochondrial DNA from sediments deposited ~100 thousand and ~60 thousand years ago (ka) and possibly as recently as ~45 ka. The long-term occupation of BKC by Denisovans suggests that they may have adapted to life at high altitudes and may have contributed such adaptations to modern humans on the Tibetan Plateau.

Paleogenetic evidence of a Pyrenean Neolithic family: Kinship, physical appearance and biogeography multidisciplinary analysis
Cláudia Gomes et al.
Journal of Archaeological Science, forthcoming


One of the most important Neolithic necropolises in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula is La Feixa del Moro (3975-3790 cal. BC), located at 1335 mamsl in the Pyrenees (Juberri, Sant Julia de Lòria, Andorra). Within the scarcity of multiple simultaneous Neolithic burials, the main importance of La Feixa del Moro lies in the fact that it is one of the very few cases to suggest a biological family burial, comprising two adults and a newborn baby. Accordingly, the purpose of the present work was the multidisciplinary interpretation of the necropolis in the Neolithic context of the Pyrenees, on a potential route between the Iberian Peninsula and Europe. Therefore, kinship and biogeographic analyses were performed, as well as external visible characteristics phenotyping. Our results suggest the possibility of a traditional nuclear family, pointing to a very probable relation between the newborn and both adults. First, two mitochondrial haplotypes and two lineages were determined: H1, for the presumable mother and newborn, and U5, for the presumed father. Second, regarding their physical appearance, they all had brown eyes, the adult female and the neonate had dark brown hair, while the adult male's hair was dark red-brown. Finally, it was possible to confirm the sex of two of the individuals, as the newborn baby gender was also confirmed by the High Troughoutput Sequencing analysis. The multidisciplinary analysis of the La Feixa del Moro burial place envisions a very probable familial burial. Not only does the genetic evidence point to biological kinship, but also the archaeological record indicates a habitational area surrounding the burial site. The similar artefacts and the care shown during the funerary ritual suggest a probable biological Neolithic family.

Selection against archaic hominin genetic variation in regulatory regions
Natalie Telis, Robin Aguilar & Kelley Harris
Nature Ecology & Evolution, November 2020, Pages 1558–1566


Traces of Neandertal and Denisovan DNA persist in the modern human gene pool, but have been systematically purged by natural selection from genes and other functionally important regions. This implies that many archaic alleles harmed the fitness of hybrid individuals, but the nature of this harm is poorly understood. Here, we show that enhancers contain less Neandertal and Denisovan variation than expected given the background selection they experience, suggesting that selection acted to purge these regions of archaic alleles that disrupted their gene regulatory functions. We infer that selection acted mainly on young archaic variation that arose in Neandertals or Denisovans shortly before their contact with humans; enhancers are not depleted of older variants found in both archaic species. Some types of enhancer appear to have tolerated introgression better than others; compared with tissue-specific enhancers, pleiotropic enhancers show stronger depletion of archaic single-nucleotide polymorphisms. To some extent, evolutionary constraint is predictive of introgression depletion, but certain tissues’ enhancers are more depleted of Neandertal and Denisovan alleles than expected given their comparative tolerance to new mutations. Foetal brain and muscle are the tissues whose enhancers show the strongest depletion of archaic alleles, but only brain enhancers show evidence of unusually stringent purifying selection. We conclude that epistatic incompatibilities between human and archaic alleles are needed to explain the degree of archaic variant depletion from foetal muscle enhancers, perhaps due to divergent selection for higher muscle mass in archaic hominins compared with humans.


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