Monthly Archives: October 2013

Having the stomach for it: a contribution to Neanderthal diets?


Laura T. Buck & Chris B. Stringer

Due to the central position of diet in determining ecology and behaviour, much research has been devoted to uncovering Neanderthal subsistence strategies. This has included indirect studies inferring diet from habitat reconstruction, ethnographic analogy, or faunal assemblages, and direct methods, such as dental wear and isotope analyses. Recently, studies of dental calculus have provided another rich source of dietary evidence, with much potential. One of the most interesting results to come out of calculus analyses so far is the suggestion that Neanderthals may have been eating non-nutritionally valuable plants for medicinal reasons. Here we offer an alternative hypothesis for the occurrence of non-food plants in Neanderthal calculus based on the modern human ethnographic literature: the consumption of herbivore stomach contents.

Quaternary Science Reviews, in press 2013



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01/10/2013 · 8:19 PM

Early Clovis knew their land and stone


Via Phys.Org

Some 60 km southeast of Socorro, N.M., a low gravel ridge runs above the Chupadera Wash in the Rio Grande Rift Valley. The remote Mockingbird Gap is a dry, narrow strip half a mile long, but thousands of years ago it was a lush wetland – and a popular site for an early Clovis culture, judging by the wealth of projectile points found there.


Recently, anthropologist Marcus Hamilton, a postdoctoral fellow at SFI and the University of New Mexico, and colleagues examined 296 projectile points from two locations: Mockingbird Gap and a region in the central Rio Grande Rift collected by the late geologist Robert Weber over 60 years ago, the earliest and biggest collection of Clovis tools yet found.

The broad, bifacial spear points fit the manufacturing pattern the Clovis used 13,000 years ago. Geological analyses link all the points’ obsidian, chert, and other high quality stone to a handful of rock outcrops, mostly nearby but some hundreds of kilometers away.

“The two assemblages are probably linked, as all the raw materials are coming from known outcrops in the northwest corner of New Mexico,” Hamilton says. “It suggests strongly that the same people probably settled in this region for a while.”

The clusters of artifacts suggest different camping events, possibly by groups coming together, briefly, over many years, to camp seasonally amid a verdant Pleistocene riverside.

Hamilton’s research interests include understanding how human ecology evolved, particularly its shift from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to more settled agrarian societies.

The study of Clovis points “gives you a nice flavor of what human adaptation and human ecology looked like at the time, where Mockingbird Gap was a summer camp,” he says.
One distant source of obsidian, Cow Canyon, is so small that residents “would have to know it, not stumble across it,” he says.

A novel find was a set of miniature points, just a few millimeters long, that might have been children’s toys or pieces flintknappers practiced on while learning point making techniques.

The rich findings in this poorly documented region indicate that early human arrivals to North America adapted to the landscape in part by learning a vast geographic region in great detail, the paper notes.
The paper was published in American Antiquity (April 2013)

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Filed under America peopling, Human Behaviour, Human Dispersals, Lithic technology

Human Hair Confirmed in Prehistoric Hyena Feces



Via News Discovery

Human hair found in fossilized hyena poop suggests that our ancestors satisfied the hunger of others during prehistoric times.

The fossilized dung, part of a “hyena latrine,” will be described in the upcoming October issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science. The latrine was first found a few years ago at Gladysvale cave in the Sterkfontein Valley of South Africa, but it recently went through an additional barrage of testing.

Our ancestors there lived around a literally wild bunch about 257,000 years ago.



“Based on the fossil hairs identified here, this research has established that brown hyenas shared the Sterkfontein Valley with hominins, warthog, impala, zebra and kudu,” authors Phillip Taru and Lucinda Backwell of the University of the Witwatersrand wrote.

They continued, “Apart from humans, these animals are associated with savanna grasslands, much like the Highveld environment of today.”

It sounds like there are three ways in which the hairs could have wound up where they did:

  1. The hyena ate a person(s). This happens even today, so it’s very possible.
  2. The hyena scavenged a dead person’s body.
  3. Somehow the hyena consumed a blob of human hair. Hey, you never know. If the hyena were hungry enough, it might have sampled all kinds of weird things.

What’s clear, at least, is that humans were at the site.

NEWS: Ancient Humans May Have Dined on Hyenas


As the researchers wrote, “Hair provides evidence of inland occupation by archaic Homo sapiens or modern humans.” The hair lacked scales, which could provide yet another useful clue.

“A lack of hair scales has been documented in human hair subject to pathology, a condition observed when studying our diabetic colleague’s hair as part of the human comparative sample,” Taru and Backwell explained.

Life in a cave could have led to many bad hair days, though. “Abrasion of the hair resulting from inhabiting rock crevices” could have led to lack of scales, according to the authors.

It’s impressive how valuable an old hair stuck in hyena poop can be. Future investigations will likely focus on the region in South Africa to learn more about our human ancestors there and how they interacted with other species.


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Filed under Human Evolution, Middle Stone Age, Paleolithic

An Ochered Fossil Marine Shell From the Mousterian of Fumane Cave, Italy


Via PLOS/one

Marco Peresani; Marian Vanhaeren; Ermanno Quaggiotto; Alain Queffelec & Francesco d’Errico.

Fumane Cave

A scanty but varied ensemble of finds challenges the idea that Neandertal material culture was essentially static and did not include symbolic items. In this study we report on a fragmentary Miocene-Pliocene fossil marine shell, Aspa marginata, discovered in a Discoid Mousterian layer of the Fumane Cave, northern Italy, dated to at least 47.6-45.0 Cal ky BP. The shell was collected by Neandertals at a fossil exposure probably located more than 100 kms from the site. Microscopic analysis of the shell surface identifies clusters of striations on the inner lip. A dark red substance, trapped inside micropits produced by bioeroders, is interpreted as pigment that was homogeneously smeared on the outer shell surface. Dispersive X-ray and Raman analysis identify the pigment as pure hematite. Of the four hypotheses we considered to explain the presence of this object at the site, two (tool, pigment container) are discarded because in contradiction with observations. Although the other two (“manuport”, personal ornament) are both possible, we favor the hypothesis that the object was modified and suspended by a ‘thread’ for visual display as a pendant. Together with contextual and chronometric data, our results support the hypothesis that deliberate transport and coloring of an exotic object, and perhaps its use as pendant, was a component of Neandertal symbolic culture, well before the earliest appearance of the anatomically modern humans in Europe.

The broken Aspa marginata shell (a) from the Mousterian stratigraphic Unit A9 of Fumane Cave and three complete natural fossil shells (b–d) of the same species from Pliocene deposits close to Asti, Piemonte region, Italy. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068572.g003

The broken Aspa marginata shell (a) from the Mousterian stratigraphic Unit A9 of Fumane Cave and three complete natural fossil shells (b–d) of the same species from Pliocene deposits close to Asti, Piemonte region, Italy. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068572.g003

Stratigraphy of the Fumane Cave sequence in squares 137-147

Stratigraphy of the Fumane Cave sequence in squares 137-147.

Neandertal symbolic behavior is a controversial issue that has attracted much debate over the last thirty years. Recent discoveries and reappraisals of ancient finds suggest that Neandertals were engaged in symbolically mediated behavior before the earliest appearance of anatomically modern humans in Europe. Burials of adults and children in and outside Europe are often considered the most striking evidence supporting the idea that intentional symbolic acts were part of Neandertal cultures. Grave goods in the form of faunal remains, stone and bone tools, engraved bone, and rock slab engraved with cupules are reported at Neandertal primary burials from France and East Asia. Rare objects such as crystals and fossils were apparently collected at Mousterian sites such as Combe Grenal and Chez Pourré-Chez-Comte. Naturally perforated and ochered marine shells were recovered in Mousterian levels dated to ca 50 ky BP at Cueva de Los Aviones and Cueva Antón in the Iberian Peninsula. Cave sites from Italy, France and Spain yielded evidence of intentional extraction of feathers or terminal pedal phalanges of large raptors and other birds. Use of pigment, as old as 200-250 ky BP, becomes widespread after 60 ky and is associated with the discovery of pigment processing tools and pigment containers. This growing body of evidence creates a more dynamic image of Neandertal cultures and challenges the idea that they were essentially static, closed to innovation and without symbolic imaging.

Here we report on a fossil marine shell, Aspa marginata, discovered in a Mousterian layer (A9) of the Fumane Cave, northern Italy dated to 47.6 cal ky BP. We provide detailed information on the find and its context, investigate the potential sources of the fossil shell, document human modifications, and discuss its significance in the debate on the use of symbolic materials by Neandertals.

Read more at Open access source: PLoS ONE 8(7): e68572, 2013.

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Filed under Homo neanderthalensis, Human Behaviour, Middle Paleolithic