State of the art forensic techniques reveal evidence of interpersonal violence ca. 30,000 years ago
Elena Kranioti, Dan Grigorescu & Katerina Harvati
PLoS ONE, July 2019
The Cioclovina (Romania) calvaria, dated to ca. 33 cal ka BP and thought to be associated with the Aurignacian lithic industry, is one of the few relatively well preserved representatives of the earliest modern Europeans. Two large fractures on this specimen have been described as taphonomic modifications. Here we used gross and virtual forensic criteria and experimental simulations on synthetic bone models, to investigate their nature. Both forensic trauma pattern analysis and experimental models exclude a postmortem origin for the Cioclovina fractures. Rather, they indicate two incidents of blunt force trauma, the second clearly inflicted with a club-like object. The magnitude and extent of the lesions and the lack of signs of healing indicate a fatal injury. The Upper Paleolithic period is noted for intensified technological innovation, increased symbolic behavior, and cultural complexity. We show that the behavioural repertoire of the earliest modern Europeans also comprised violent inter-personal interactions and murder.
Early human settlement of Sahul was not an accident
Michael Bird et al.
Scientific Reports, June 2019
The first peopling of Sahul (Australia, New Guinea and the Aru Islands joined at lower sea levels) by anatomically modern humans required multiple maritime crossings through Wallacea, with at least one approaching 100 km. Whether these crossings were accidental or intentional is unknown. Using coastal-viewshed analysis and ocean drift modelling combined with population projections, we show that the probability of randomly reaching Sahul by any route is <5% until ≥40 adults are ‘washed off’ an island at least once every 20 years. We then demonstrate that choosing a time of departure and making minimal headway (0.5 knots) toward a destination greatly increases the likelihood of arrival. While drift modelling demonstrates the existence of ‘bottleneck’ crossings on all routes, arrival via New Guinea is more likely than via northwestern Australia. We conclude that anatomically modern humans had the capacity to plan and make open-sea voyages lasting several days by at least 50,000 years ago.
Bioarchaeology of Neolithic Çatalhöyük reveals fundamental transitions in health, mobility, and lifestyle in early farmers
Clark Spencer Larsen et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 June 2019, Pages 12615-12623
The transition from a human diet based exclusively on wild plants and animals to one involving dependence on domesticated plants and animals beginning 10,000 to 11,000 y ago in Southwest Asia set into motion a series of profound health, lifestyle, social, and economic changes affecting human populations throughout most of the world. However, the social, cultural, behavioral, and other factors surrounding health and lifestyle associated with the foraging-to-farming transition are vague, owing to an incomplete or poorly understood contextual archaeological record of living conditions. Bioarchaeological investigation of the extraordinary record of human remains and their context from Neolithic Çatalhöyük (7100–5950 cal BCE), a massive archaeological site in south-central Anatolia (Turkey), provides important perspectives on population dynamics, health outcomes, behavioral adaptations, interpersonal conflict, and a record of community resilience over the life of this single early farming settlement having the attributes of a protocity. Study of Çatalhöyük human biology reveals increasing costs to members of the settlement, including elevated exposure to disease and labor demands in response to community dependence on and production of domesticated plant carbohydrates, growing population size and density fueled by elevated fertility, and increasing stresses due to heightened workload and greater mobility required for caprine herding and other resource acquisition activities over the nearly 12 centuries of settlement occupation. These changes in life conditions foreshadow developments that would take place worldwide over the millennia following the abandonment of Neolithic Çatalhöyük, including health challenges, adaptive patterns, physical activity, and emerging social behaviors involving interpersonal violence.
Comparing fitness and drift explanations of Neanderthal replacement
Daniel Shultz, Marcel Montrey & Thomas Shultz
Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, June 2019
There is a general consensus among archaeologists that replacement of Neanderthals by anatomically modern humans in Europe occurred around 40–35 ka. However, the causal mechanism for this replacement continues to be debated. Proposed models have featured either fitness advantages in favour of anatomically modern humans or invoked neutral drift under various preconditions. Searching for specific fitness advantages in the archaeological record has proven difficult, as these may be obscured, absent or subject to interpretation. To bridge this gap, we rigorously compare the system-level properties of fitness- and drift-based explanations of Neanderthal replacement. Our stochastic simulations and analytical predictions show that, although both fitness and drift can produce replacement, they present important differences in (i) required initial conditions, (ii) reliability, (iii) time to replacement, and (iv) path to replacement (population histories). These results present useful opportunities for comparison with archaeological and genetic data. We find greater agreement between the available empirical evidence and the system-level properties of replacement by differential fitness, rather than by neutral drift.
Supply and demand in prehistory? Economics of Neolithic mining in northwest Europe
Peter Schauer et al.
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, June 2019, Pages 149-160
The extent to which non-agricultural production in prehistory had cost-benefit motivations has long been a subject of discussion. This paper addresses the topic by looking at the evidence for Neolithic quarrying and mining in Britain and continental northwest Europe and asks whether changing production through time was influenced by changing demand. Radiocarbon dating of mine and quarry sites is used to define periods of use. These are then correlated with a likely first-order source of demand, the size of the regional populations around the mines, inferred from a radiocarbon-based population proxy. There are significant differences between the population and mine-date distributions. Analysis of pollen data using the REVEALS method to reconstruct changing regional land cover patterns shows that in Britain activity at the mines and quarries is strongly correlated with evidence for forest clearance by incoming Neolithic populations, suggesting that mine and quarry production were a response to the demand that this created. The evidence for such a correlation between mining and clearance in continental northwest Europe is much weaker. Here the start of large-scale mining may be a response to the arrival by long-distance exchange of high-quality prestige jade axes from a source in the Italian Alps.
New insights into Early Celtic consumption practices: Organic residue analyses of local and imported pottery from Vix-Mont Lassois
Maxime Rageot et al.
PLoS ONE, June 2019
The rich Mediterranean imports found in Early Celtic princely sites (7th-5th cent. BC) in Southwestern Germany, Switzerland and Eastern France have long been the focus of archaeological and public interest. Consumption practices, particularly in the context of feasting, played a major role in Early Celtic life and imported ceramic vessels have consequently been interpreted as an attempt by the elite to imitate Mediterranean wine feasting. Here we present the first scientific study carried out to elucidate the use of Mediterranean imports in Early Celtic Central Europe and their local ceramic counterparts through organic residue analyses of 99 vessels from Vix-Mont Lassois, a key Early Celtic site. In the Mediterranean imports we identified imported plant oils and grape wine, and evidence points towards appropriation of these foreign vessels. Both Greek and local wares served for drinking grape wine and other plant-based fermented beverage(s). A wide variety of animal and plant by-products (e.g. fats, oils, waxes, resin) were also identified. Using an integrative approach, we show the importance of beehive products, millet and bacteriohopanoid beverage(s) in Early Celtic drinking practices. We highlight activities related to biomaterial transformation and show intra-site and status-related differences in consumption practices and/or beverage processing.
How exploitation launched human cooperation
Rahul Bhui, Maciej Chudek & Joseph Henrich
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, June 2019, Pages 73:78
Cooperation plays a crucial role in primate social life. However, the evolution of large-scale human cooperation from the cognitive fundamentals found in other primates remains an evolutionary puzzle. Most theoretical work focuses on positive reciprocity (helping) or coordinated punishment by assuming well-defined social roles or institutions (e.g., punishment pools), sophisticated cognitive abilities for navigating these, and sufficiently harmonious communities to allow for mutual aid. Here we explore the evolutionary and developmental origins of these assumed preconditions by showing how negative indirect reciprocity (NIR) — tolerated exploitation of those with bad reputations — can suppress misbehavior to foster harmonious communities, favor the cognitive abilities often assumed by other models, and support costly adherence to norms (including contributing to public goods). With minimal cognitive prerequisites, NIR sustains cooperation when exploitation is inefficient (victims suffer greatly; exploiters gain little), which is more plausible earlier in human evolutionary history than the efficient helping found in many models. Moreover, as auxiliary opportunities to improve one’s reputation become more frequent, the communal benefits provided in equilibrium grow, although NIR becomes harder to maintain. This analysis suggests that NIR could have fostered prosociality across a broader spectrum of primate societies and set the stage for the evolution of more complex forms of positive cooperation.