Primitive Culture

Kevin Lewis

May 20, 2023

The oldest plans to scale of humanmade mega-structures
Rémy Crassard et al.
PLoS ONE, May 2023 


Data on how Stone Age communities conceived domestic and utilitarian structures are limited to a few examples of schematic and non-accurate representations of various-sized built spaces. Here, we report the exceptional discovery of the up-to-now oldest realistic plans that have been engraved on stones. These engravings from Jordan and Saudi Arabia depict ‘desert kites’, humanmade archaeological mega-traps that are dated to at least 9,000 years ago for the oldest. The extreme precision of these engravings is remarkable, representing gigantic neighboring Neolithic stone structures, the whole design of which is impossible to grasp without seeing it from the air or without being their architect (or user, or builder). They reveal a widely underestimated mental mastery of space perception, hitherto never observed at this level of accuracy in such an early context. These representations shed new light on the evolution of human discernment of space, communication, and communal activities in ancient times.

Human adaptation to diverse biomes over the past 3 million years
Elke Zeller et al.
Science, 12 May 2023, Pages 604-608 


To investigate the role of vegetation and ecosystem diversity on hominin adaptation and migration, we identify past human habitat preferences over time using a transient 3-million-year earth system-biome model simulation and an extensive hominin fossil and archaeological database. Our analysis shows that early African hominins predominantly lived in open environments such as grassland and dry shrubland. Migrating into Eurasia, hominins adapted to a broader range of biomes over time. By linking the location and age of hominin sites with corresponding simulated regional biomes, we also find that our ancestors actively selected for spatially diverse environments. The quantitative results lead to a new diversity hypothesis: Homo species, in particular Homo sapiens, were specially equipped to adapt to landscape mosaics.

A weakly structured stem for human origins in Africa
Aaron Ragsdale et al.
Nature, forthcoming 


Despite broad agreement that Homo sapiens originated in Africa, considerable uncertainty surrounds specific models of divergence and migration across the continent. Progress is hampered by a shortage of fossil and genomic data, as well as variability in previous estimates of divergence times. Here we seek to discriminate among such models by considering linkage disequilibrium and diversity-based statistics, optimized for rapid, complex demographic inference. We infer detailed demographic models for populations across Africa, including eastern and western representatives, and newly sequenced whole genomes from 44 Nama (Khoe-San) individuals from southern Africa. We infer a reticulated African population history in which present-day population structure dates back to Marine Isotope Stage 5. The earliest population divergence among contemporary populations occurred 120,000 to 135,000 years ago and was preceded by links between two or more weakly differentiated ancestral Homo populations connected by gene flow over hundreds of thousands of years. Such weakly structured stem models explain patterns of polymorphism that had previously been attributed to contributions from archaic hominins in Africa. In contrast to models with archaic introgression, we predict that fossil remains from coexisting ancestral populations should be genetically and morphologically similar, and that only an inferred 1–4% of genetic differentiation among contemporary human populations can be attributed to genetic drift between stem populations. We show that model misspecification explains the variation in previous estimates of divergence times, and argue that studying a range of models is key to making robust inferences about deep history.

Reconstructing Middle and Upper Paleolithic human mobility in Portuguese Estremadura through laser ablation strontium isotope analysis 
Bethan Linscott et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 May 2023 


Understanding mobility and landscape use is important in reconstructing subsistence behavior, range, and group size, and it may contribute to our understanding of phenomena such as the dynamics of biological and cultural interactions between distinct populations of Upper Pleistocene humans. However, studies using traditional strontium isotope analysis are generally limited to identifying locations of childhood residence or nonlocal individuals and lack the sampling resolution to detect movement over short timescales. Here, using an optimized methodology, we present highly spatially resolved 87Sr/86Sr measurements made by laser ablation multicollector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry along the growth axis of the enamel of two marine isotope stage 5b, Middle Paleolithic Neanderthal teeth (Gruta da Oliveira), a Tardiglacial, Late Magdalenian human tooth (Galeria da Cisterna), and associated contemporaneous fauna from the Almonda karst system, Torres Novas, Portugal. Strontium isotope mapping of the region shows extreme variation in 87Sr/86Sr, with values ranging from 0.7080 to 0.7160 over a distance of c. 50 km, allowing short-distance (and arguably short-duration) movement to be detected. We find that the early Middle Paleolithic individuals roamed across a subsistence territory of approximately 600 km2, while the Late Magdalenian individual parsimoniously fits a pattern of limited, probably seasonal movement along the right bank of the 20-km-long Almonda River valley, between mouth and spring, exploiting a smaller territory of approximately 300 km2. We argue that the differences in territory size are due to an increase in population density during the Late Upper Paleolithic.

Demographic history and genetic structure in pre-Hispanic Central Mexico
Viridiana Villa-Islas et al.
Science, 12 May 2023


Aridoamerica and Mesoamerica are two distinct cultural areas in northern and central Mexico, respectively, that hosted numerous pre-Hispanic civilizations between 2500 BCE and 1521 CE. The division between these regions shifted southward because of severe droughts ~1100 years ago, which allegedly drove a population replacement in central Mexico by Aridoamerican peoples. In this study, we present shotgun genome-wide data from 12 individuals and 27 mitochondrial genomes from eight pre-Hispanic archaeological sites across Mexico, including two at the shifting border of Aridoamerica and Mesoamerica. We find population continuity that spans the climate change episode and a broad preservation of the genetic structure across present-day Mexico for the past 2300 years. Lastly, we identify a contribution to pre-Hispanic populations of northern and central Mexico from two ancient unsampled “ghost” populations.

Punitive justice serves to restore reciprocal cooperation in three small-scale societies
Léo Fitouchi & Manvir Singh
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming 


Fines, corporal punishments, and other procedures of punitive justice recur across small-scale societies. Although they are often assumed to enforce group norms, we here propose the relation-restoration hypothesis of punitive justice, according to which punitive procedures function to restore dyadic cooperation and curtail conflict between offender and victim following violations of reciprocal obligations. We test this hypothesis's predictions using observations of justice systems in three small-scale societies. We code ethnographic reports of 97 transgressions among Kiowa equestrian foragers (North America); analyze a sample of 302 transgressions among Mentawai horticulturalists (Indonesia); and review retributive procedures documented among Nuer pastoralists (South Sudan). Consistent with the relation-restoration hypothesis, we find that third-party punishment is rare; that most third-party involvement aims at resolving conflicts; that costs paid by offenders serve to achieve forgiveness by repairing victims; that punitive justice is accompanied by ceremonial procedures aimed at limiting conflict and restoring goodwill; and that failures to impose costs contribute to a decline in reciprocal cooperation. Although we document rare instances of third-party punishment among the Kiowa (6.6% of offenses), punitive justice more often serves as restorative justice, appeasing victims' urge for revenge while not overly harming offenders' interests to ensure reconciliation.


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