Category Archives: Human Behaviour

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

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



Via Past Horizons

While we grapple with the impact of climate change, archaeologists suggest we spare a thought for Aboriginal Australians who had to cope with the last ice age.

“The period scientists call the Last Glacial Maximum, or LGM for short, is the most significant climatic event ever faced by humans on this continent,” Associate Professor Sean Ulm from James Cook University in Cairns said.


The Snowy Mountains. Image: Pee Tern (Wikimedia, used under a CC BY-SA 3.0)

Meeting the challenges of extreme climate change

Research recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science sheds new light on the ways Aboriginal peoples met the challenges of extreme climate change during the Last Glacial Maximum, which peaked around 20,000 years ago.
“The magnitude of change was phenomenal,” said Professor Ulm, a lead researcher on the project and Deputy Director of JCU’s Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science.

“Lakes dried up, forests disappeared, deserts expanded, animals went extinct and vast swathes of the Australian land mass would have been simply uninhabitable.”

10 degrees below present-day level

Annual temperatures plummeted by as much as 10 degrees below present-day levels, with massive reductions in rainfall. Glaciers appeared in the Snowy Mountains and Tasmania.
“This was a time of massive change,” Professor Ulm said. “Sea levels fell more than 120 metres during the LGM, exposing much of the continental shelf and connecting mainland Australia to Papua New Guinea and Tasmania.”
Australian researchers from James Cook University, the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales teamed up with colleagues from Oxford University in the United Kingdom and Simon Fraser University in Canada to use advanced geospatial techniques to analyse archaeological radiocarbon dates from across Australia.

“We are trying to understand how people responded to these extreme conditions,” Professor Ulm said.


Localised environmental ‘refuges’

The researchers found that during times of high climatic stress, human populations contracted into localised environmental ‘refuges’, in well-watered ranges and along major riverine systems, where water and food supplies were reliable.
Co-leader of the study, Alan Williams from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University, said surviving the last ice age required Aboriginal communities to adapt to massive change.
“As much as 80 per cent of Australia was temporarily abandoned by Aboriginal people at the height of the LGM, when conditions were at their worst,” he said.
“Along Australia’s east coast, people contracted to refuge areas with good water supplies – most likely the result of increased summer snow melt coming off mountain ranges like the Victorian Alps, or glacier-fed river systems such as those of the central highlands of Tasmania.”

Significant changes

Professor Ulm said that while those better-watered areas would have provided more reliable resources, Aboriginal people needed to make significant changes to their way of life in order to survive.
“The archaeological evidence reflects major changes in settlement and subsistence patterns at this time,” he said. “Many previously occupied areas were abandoned”.
“There were changes to hunting practices, the types of food people were eating, and the technologies they were using, to deal with new circumstances”.
“We expect there would have been huge impacts on social relationships and religious beliefs as well, but these types of changes are much harder to detect in the archaeological record.
“One thing we can say for sure is that extreme climate change results in the fundamental social and economic reorganisation of society.
“This was certainly true in the past and will be true in the future.”


The research will be published in the December issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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Filed under Australia, Climate Change, Glacial Refugia, Human Behaviour, Human Evolution, Last Glacial Maximum, Paleolithic, Upper Paleolithic