Summoning the Past

Kevin Lewis

April 10, 2021

Shamanic Ritual and Ancient Circumpolar Migrations: The Spread of the Dark Tent Tradition through North Asia and North America
Charles Stépanoff
Current Anthropology, forthcoming


Several recent studies have shed light on the migrations and admixtures that led to the peopling of the Americas. Very little is known, however, about the religious concepts and the ritual life of the Arctic groups that migrated between Asia and America. Shamanic worldviews based on oral transmission are often considered timeless, and their ancient history is supposedly impossible to know. This article provides a comparative study of ritual techniques to identify transcontinental connections between Siberian and North American groups. Through an extensive ethnographic comparison, it shows that indigenous peoples of the North share a ritual tradition, the “dark tent,” across 10,000 km around the pole, from Western Siberia to Labrador and the American plains. Drawing on recent genetic data, it hypothesizes that this ritual technique, grounded in an animistic cosmology, expanded from Western Siberia to the east and was introduced into North America by the Paleo-Eskimo approximately 5,000 years ago.

Early Neolithic salt production at Street House, Loftus, north-east England
Stephen Sherlock
Antiquity, forthcoming


Evidence for prehistoric salt production in Britain has been confined to the Bronze and Iron Ages. This article presents new evidence for Early Neolithic (3800–3700 BC) salt-working at Street House, Loftus, in north-east England. This deeply stratified coastal site has yielded the remains of a brine-storage pit and a saltern with at least three associated hearths, together with an assemblage of flint and stone tools, ceramic vessel sherds and briquetage. A process of production is suggested and parallels are drawn from contemporaneous European and later British sites. This discovery has the potential to influence future Neolithic studies considering subsistence, early technologies and exchange mechanisms.

The primitive brain of early Homo
Marcia Ponce de León et al.
Science, 9 April 2021, Pages 165-171


The brains of modern humans differ from those of great apes in size, shape, and cortical organization, notably in frontal lobe areas involved in complex cognitive tasks, such as social cognition, tool use, and language. When these differences arose during human evolution is a question of ongoing debate. Here, we show that the brains of early Homo from Africa and Western Asia (Dmanisi) retained a primitive, great ape–like organization of the frontal lobe. By contrast, African Homo younger than 1.5 million years ago, as well as all Southeast Asian Homo erectus, exhibited a more derived, humanlike brain organization. Frontal lobe reorganization, once considered a hallmark of earliest Homo in Africa, thus evolved comparatively late, and long after Homo first dispersed from Africa.

Initial Upper Palaeolithic humans in Europe had recent Neanderthal ancestry
Mateja Hajdinjak et al.
Nature, 8 April 2021, Pages 253–257


Modern humans appeared in Europe by at least 45,000 years ago, but the extent of their interactions with Neanderthals, who disappeared by about 40,000 years ago, and their relationship to the broader expansion of modern humans outside Africa are poorly understood. Here we present genome-wide data from three individuals dated to between 45,930 and 42,580 years ago from Bacho Kiro Cave, Bulgaria. They are the earliest Late Pleistocene modern humans known to have been recovered in Europe so far, and were found in association with an Initial Upper Palaeolithic artefact assemblage. Unlike two previously studied individuals of similar ages from Romania and Siberia who did not contribute detectably to later populations, these individuals are more closely related to present-day and ancient populations in East Asia and the Americas than to later west Eurasian populations. This indicates that they belonged to a modern human migration into Europe that was not previously known from the genetic record, and provides evidence that there was at least some continuity between the earliest modern humans in Europe and later people in Eurasia. Moreover, we find that all three individuals had Neanderthal ancestors a few generations back in their family history, confirming that the first European modern humans mixed with Neanderthals and suggesting that such mixing could have been common.

A genome sequence from a modern human skull over 45,000 years old from Zlatý kůň in Czechia
Kay Prüfer et al.
Nature Ecology & Evolution, forthcoming


Modern humans expanded into Eurasia more than 40,000 years ago following their dispersal out of Africa. These Eurasians carried ~2–3% Neanderthal ancestry in their genomes, originating from admixture with Neanderthals that took place sometime between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago, probably in the Middle East. In Europe, the modern human expansion preceded the disappearance of Neanderthals from the fossil record by 3,000–5,000 years. The genetic makeup of the first Europeans who colonized the continent more than 40,000 years ago remains poorly understood since few specimens have been studied. Here, we analyse a genome generated from the skull of a female individual from Zlatý kůň, Czechia. We found that she belonged to a population that appears to have contributed genetically neither to later Europeans nor to Asians. Her genome carries ~3% Neanderthal ancestry, similar to those of other Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers. However, the lengths of the Neanderthal segments are longer than those observed in the currently oldest modern human genome of the ~45,000-year-old Ust’-Ishim individual from Siberia, suggesting that this individual from Zlatý kůň is one of the earliest Eurasian inhabitants following the expansion out of Africa.


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