Kevin Lewis

September 02, 2023

Genomic inference of a severe human bottleneck during the Early to Middle Pleistocene transition
Wangjie Hu et al.
Science, 1 September 2023, Pages 979-984 


Population size history is essential for studying human evolution. However, ancient population size history during the Pleistocene is notoriously difficult to unravel. In this study, we developed a fast infinitesimal time coalescent process (FitCoal) to circumvent this difficulty and calculated the composite likelihood for present-day human genomic sequences of 3154 individuals. Results showed that human ancestors went through a severe population bottleneck with about 1280 breeding individuals between around 930,000 and 813,000 years ago. The bottleneck lasted for about 117,000 years and brought human ancestors close to extinction. This bottleneck is congruent with a substantial chronological gap in the available African and Eurasian fossil record. Our results provide new insights into our ancestry and suggest a coincident speciation event.

Hunting, Monogamy, and Economics: Are Humans Like Wolves that Hunt Elephants and Whales?
Christopher Cosans
Human Ecology, August 2023, Pages 597–607


Chimpanzees and bonobos are often considered the best animal models for understanding human evolutionary psychology. However, since wolves and humans evolved to cooperatively hunt animals much larger than themselves, they may provide more useful animal models. Current research on human mating and monogamy remains ambiguous, but wolf research indicates wolf monogamy facilitates imparting the skills necessary for cooperatively hunting large prey. This suggests human monogamy possibly evolved as a similar adaption for hunting large animals. The wolf-human predatory niche places no limit on the drive for large prey size except skill and cooperation. Humans have evolved hunting behaviors to the point of targeting prey as large as elephants and whales, with potential ramifications for impacting ecology.

Trading Goods, Disseminating Knowledge: Indigenous Intercommunication across the Greater Southwest
Peter Whiteley
Journal of Anthropological Research, Fall 2023, Pages 287–306 


Native trade networks are well described for the Greater Southwest from the archaeological and ethnohistoric records: trade goods passed between the Pacific and the Rio Grande along established pathways. But were the goods -- including abalone shells from the Chumash and blue woolen blankets from the Hopi -- transacted in a blind series of material relays, or do they embody geographic and sociocultural knowledge that was actively intercommunicated? According to Francisco Garcés, by June 1769, O’odham of the middle Gila River were already aware of the Portolá expedition’s arrival at San Diego at most two months after it occurred. And in 1771, during his travels in the Colorado delta, Garcés was asked by Kamia if he was looking for Hopis and Zunis. How far did Native knowledge networks extend? Focusing on Garcés’s accounts (1768–1776), this paper inquires into the active transmission of geographic and sociocultural intelligence throughout the Greater Southwest.

More than urns: A multi-method pipeline for analyzing cremation burials
Lukas Waltenberger et al.
PLoS ONE, August 2023 


Burial rites of archaeological populations are frequently interpreted based on cremated remains of the human body and the urn they were deposited in. In comparison to inhumations, information about the deceased is much more limited and dependent on fragmentation, selection of body regions, taphonomic processes, and excavation techniques. So far, little attention has been paid to the context in which urns are buried. In this study, we combined archaeological techniques with anthropology, computed tomography, archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, geochemistry and isotopic approaches and conducted a detailed analysis on a case study of two Late Bronze Age urns from St. Pölten, Austria (c. 1430 and 1260 cal. BCE). The urns were recovered en-bloc and CT-scanned before the micro-excavation. Osteological and strontium isotope analysis revealed that the cremated remains comprised a young adult female and a child that died at the age of 10–12 years. Both individuals had been subject to physiological stress and were likely local. Animal bones burnt at different temperatures suggested different depositional pathways into the urn and pit as part of the pyre, food offerings, and unintentional settlement debris. Eight wild plant and five crop plant species appeared as part of the local landscape, as food offerings and fire accelerants. Sediment chemistry suggests that pyre remains were deposited around the urns during burial. Multi-element geochemistry, archaeobotany, and zooarchaeology provide insights into the Late Bronze Age environment, the process of cremation, the gathering of bones and final funerary deposition.

Deer and Humans in the Early Farming Communities of the Yellow River Valley: A Symbiotic Relationship
Katherine Brunson & Brian Lander
Human Ecology, August 2023, Pages 609–625 


Much of the zooarchaeological research on early agricultural societies in North China focuses on long-term processes of animal domestication. The conventional idea of a simple transition from foraging wild species to farming domesticated ones has obscured ecological relationships that lie somewhere between the two. We argue that early farming strategies in North China may have resembled those of agricultural societies in North America where farmers managed landscapes to create deer habitat, which increased deer populations and facilitated hunting. Deer were one of the main sources of food, antlers, and hides for people in China for thousands of years. Shifting agriculture combined with deer hunting was a less intensive use of the landscape than the intensive agriculture that gradually replaced it. As domesticated cattle, sheep, and goats became more common in East Asia beginning around 5000 years ago, people had less need for the meat, bone, and antlers of deer. By the time Chinese historical texts were written, deer were largely confined to royal hunting parks in the densely populated agricultural centers of North China. A similar dynamic later played out in other regions of China.

Harvesting cereals at Tappeh Sang-e Chakhmaq and the introduction of farming in Northeastern Iran during the Neolithic
Fiona Pichon et al.
PLoS ONE, August 2023 


Tappeh Sang-e Chakhmaq is the only Neolithic site in Northeastern Iran, characterised by aceramic and ceramic levels corresponding to an occupation of 1500 years from the eighth to the end of the sixth millennium BCE. The Western and Eastern Mounds represent the oldest and longest occupation among the sites identified East of the Zagros, providing a unique context to explore the origin and spread of farming outside the core area of the Eastern Fertile Crescent. We present data about the first harvesting activities in the Northeastern Iranian Central Plateau by applying usewear and microtexture analysis through confocal microscopy on sickle gloss blades. Our results indicate a community of pioneer farmers who settled down in the area carrying with them both domestic cereals as well as advanced techniques of cereal cultivation. We demonstrate that most of the tools were used for harvesting cereals in a fully ripened state collected near the ground, indicating a well-established cereal cultivation strategy. The use of straight shafts with parallel inserts in Tappeh Sang-e Chakhmaq, as known in some sites in the Zagros, suggests the dispersal of farming practices and technologies from the Eastern Fertile Crescent north-eastward across Iran. We observe an evolution in the degree of ripeness of harvested cereals along the first four levels of occupation of the Western Mound, where semi-ripe harvesting is relatively important, suggesting that domestic cereals to be harvested before full maturity were introduced into the village. From the topmost of the Western Mound and along the occupation of the Eastern Mound, ripe harvesting is dominant, showing a well-established cultivation strategy of fully mature cereal. This shift could indicate an in-situ evolution towards a better-established agricultural technology, including harvesting riper crops, that would have resulted in higher yields, as cereals were collected when the grain was fully formed.


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