Tag Archives: Middle Paleolithic

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

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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

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

Neandertal

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

UC Davis research finds Neandertals, not modern humans, made first specialized bone tools in Europe

New finds demonstrate: Neandertals were the first in Europe to make standardized and specialized bone tools – which are still in use today.

Two research teams from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands have jointly reported the discovery of Neandertal bone tools coming from their excavations at two neighboring Paleolithic sites in southwest France (Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l’Azé). The tools are unlike any others previously found in Neandertal sites, but they are similar to a tool type well known from later modern human sites and still in use today by high-end leather workers. This tool, called a lissoir or smoother, is shaped from deer ribs and has a polished tip that, when pushed against a hide, creates softer, burnished and more water resistant leather. The bone tool is still used today by leather workers some 50 thousand years after the Neandertals and the first anatomically modern humans in Europe.

Image Credit: Quelle / UC Davis

Image Credit: Quelle / UC Davis

Sorting through tiny bone remnants in the University of California, Davis paleoanthropology lab in 2011, undergraduate student Naomi Martisius discovered a peculiar piece.

The fragment she found was from a French archaeological site, and it turned out to be a part of an early, specialized bone tool used by a Neanderthal before the first modern humans appeared in Europe.

“At the time, I had no idea about the impact of my discovery,” said Martisius.

A decade of excavation by two international teams provided Martisius with her opportunity. Their findings, and hers, have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Previously these types of bone tools have only been associated with modern humans,” said Teresa E. Steele, associate professor of anthropology at UC Davis, who also served as adviser to Martisius at UC Davis and at archaeological excavations in France.

“However, our identification of these pieces in secure Neanderthal contexts leaves open the possibility that we have found, for the first time, evidence that Neanderthals may have influenced the technology of modern humans,” she said.

A virtual reconstruction of the most complete lissoir, sections through the bone (middle), and the thickness of the bone color coded (bottom) showing thinning at the tip. © Abri Peyrony & Pech-de-l’Azé I Projects.

A virtual reconstruction of the most complete lissoir, sections through the bone (middle), and the thickness of the bone color coded (bottom) showing thinning at the tip.
© Abri Peyrony & Pech-de-l’Azé I Projects.

The tools were made about 50,000 years ago by Neanderthals to smooth tough animal hides. Earlier researchers had theorized that such tools were only made by the modern humans that came after Neanderthals. Leatherworkers today still use similar tools to smooth and refine leather into high-end purses and jackets.

A reconstruction of how lissoirs, made of deer ribs, could have been used to prepare hides to make them more supple, lustrous and impermeable. The natural flexibility of ribs helps keep a constant pressure against the hide without tearing it. The bottom half of the figure illustrates how the downward pressure ultimately results in a break that produces small fragments like three of the reported bones. © Abri Peyrony & Pech-de-l’Azé I Projects

A reconstruction of how lissoirs, made of deer ribs, could have been used to prepare hides to make them more supple, lustrous and impermeable. The natural flexibility of ribs helps keep a constant pressure against the hide without tearing it. The bottom half of the figure illustrates how the downward pressure ultimately results in a break that produces small fragments like three of the reported bones.
© Abri Peyrony & Pech-de-l’Azé I Projects

These particular tools were found in deposits of stone tools typical of Neanderthal settlements and the bones of hunted animals including reindeer, red deer and bison. Of the four pieces Martisius identified, three were from the site of Abri Peyrony, France. The researchers at that site sent the animal bones to Steele’s lab at UC Davis where Martisius studied the material.

Map and stratigraphic sections of Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l’Azé I. (A) View north of Abri Peyrony after 2010 excavation. (B) East section of Abri Peyrony with stars indicating the levels containing the reported bones. (C) View of the Pech I 3-m MTA section. (D) East section of Pech I with the star indicating the location (1 m from the drawn section) of the reported bone (more plans and photos in the SI Appendix). Only the MTA was discovered at both sites.

Map and stratigraphic sections of Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l’Azé I. (A) View north of Abri Peyrony after 2010 excavation. (B) East section of Abri Peyrony with stars indicating the levels containing the reported bones. (C) View of the Pech I 3-m MTA section. (D) East section of Pech I with the star indicating the location (1 m from the drawn section) of the reported bone (more plans and photos in the SI Appendix). Only the MTA was discovered at both sites.

Martisius, now in her second year of doctoral studies at UC Davis, will continue her research on these bone tools where she will be conducting experimental studies to manufacture and use new, similar animal bone tools for comparison.

The Neanderthal tools will be examined using sophisticated imaging techniques to compare them with the ones first made by the first modern humans in Europe and the ones Martisius will manufacture at UC Davis. She also plans to look at animal bones from nearby sites to see if she can identify additional pieces made by Neanderthals.

The archaeological sites in France where these tools were discovered have been explored for over 100 years, but modern archaeological techniques enabled researchers to recognize these smaller artifacts now identified as pieces of once-sophisticated tools, Steele said.

“For now the bone tools from these two sites (Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l’Azé(are one of the better pieces of evidence we have for Neandertals developing on their own a technology previously associated only with modern humans”, explains Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He and Michel Lenoir of the University of Bordeaux have been excavating the site of Abri Peyrony where three of the bones were found.

“If Neandertals developed this type of bone tool on their own, it is possible that modern humans then acquired this technology from Neandertals. Modern humans seem to have entered Europe with pointed bone tools only, and soon after started to make lissoirs. This is the first possible evidence for transmission from Neandertals to our direct ancestors,” says Marie Soressi of Leiden University in The Netherlands. With William Rendu of the CNRS, Soressi and her team found the first of four bone tools during their excavation at the classic Neandertal site of Pech-de-l’Azé I.

However, we cannot eliminate the possibility that these tools instead indicate that modern humans entered Europe and started impacting Neandertal behavior earlier than we can currently demonstrate. Resolving this problem will require sites in central Europe with better bone preservation.

Photographs and drawings of the Abri Peyrony (AP) and Pech-de-l’Azé I (PA I) bone tools. (A) AP-7839. (B) AP-4209. (C) AP-4493. (D) PA I G8-1417. (E and F) G8-1417 cortical side showing a uniform shine, rounding and slight crushing of the distal end. (G) G8-1417 trabecular bone with no rounding or striations and a bending fracture. (H) Close-up of tip polish on AP-4209 showing gradient from cortical bone to polished trabecular bone to fresh trabecular bone. (I) Close-up of facet on AP-4209. See also SI Appendix, Section S5.

Photographs and drawings of the Abri Peyrony (AP) and Pech-de-l’Azé I (PA I) bone tools. (A) AP-7839. (B) AP-4209. (C) AP-4493. (D) PA I G8-1417. (E and F) G8-1417 cortical side showing a uniform shine, rounding and slight crushing of the distal end. (G) G8-1417 trabecular bone with no rounding or striations and a bending fracture. (H) Close-up of tip polish on AP-4209 showing gradient from cortical bone to polished trabecular bone to fresh trabecular bone. (I) Close-up of facet on AP-4209. See also SI Appendix, Section S5.

How widespread this new Neandertal behavior was is a question that remains. The first three found were fragments less than a few centimeters long and might not have been recognized without experience working with later period bone tools. It is not something normally looked for in this time period.

“However, when you put these small fragments together and compare them with finds from later sites, the pattern in them is clear”, comments McPherron. “Then last summer we found a larger, more complete tool that is unmistakably a lissoir like those we find in later, modern human sites or even in leather workshops today.”

Microwear analysis conducted by Yolaine Maigrot of the CNRS on of one of the bone tools shows traces compatible with use on soft material like hide. Modern leather workers still use similar tools today

Photomicrographs of the Pech I (G8-1417) bone showing details of the polish and striations (A–D). Use-wear traces on the upper side of an experimental bone lissoir used to soften dry hide with a longitudinal motion after 5 min of use (E) and after 10 min of use (F).

Photomicrographs of the Pech I (G8-1417) bone showing details of the polish and striations (A–D). Use-wear traces on the upper side of an experimental bone lissoir used to soften dry hide with a longitudinal motion after 5 min of use (E) and after 10 min of use (F).

“Lissoirs like these are a great tool for working leather, so much so that 50 thousand years after Neandertals made these, I was able to purchase a new one on the Internet from a site selling tools for traditional crafts,” says Soressi. “It shows that this tool was so efficient that it had been maintained through time with almost no change. It might be one or perhaps even the only heritage from Neandertal times that our society is still using today.”

These are not the first Neandertal bone tools, but up to now their bone tools looked like stone tools and were made with stone knapping percussive techniques

“Neandertals sometimes made scrapers, notched tools and even handaxes from bone. They also used bone as hammers to resharpen their stone tools,” says McPherron. “But here we have an example of Neandertals taking advantage of the pliability and flexibility of bone to shape it in new ways to do things stone could not do.”

The bone tools were found in deposits containing typical Neandertal stone tools and the bones of hunted animals including horses, reindeer, red deer and bison. At both Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l’Azé I, there is no evidence of later occupations by modern humans that could have contaminated the underlying levels. Both sites have only evidence of Neandertals.

To know the age of the bone tools, Sahra Talamo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology applied radiocarbon dating to bones found near the bone tools themselves. At Pech-de-l’Azé I, Zenobia Jacobs of the University of Wollongong applied optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating to sediments from the layer with the bone tool. The results place the Pech-de-l’Azé I bone tool to approximately 50 thousand years ago. This is well before the best evidence of modern humans in Western Europe, and it is much older than any other examples of sophisticated bone tool technologies.

Shannon P. McPherron is the senior archaeologist in the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He excavates in Ethiopia, Morocco and southwest France, and started the Abri Peyrony project along with Dr. Michel Lenoir of the CNRS in 2009. The goal of his work in southwest France is to better understand Neandertal adaptations just prior to the arrival of modern humans. In Africa his research is focused on the archaeology of anatomically modern humans contemporary with European Neandertals and on the earliest evidence for stone tool use.

Marie Soressi is assistant professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands. Through on-going or recent multidisciplinary and international excavations that she is leading, she focuses on better understanding the demise of Neandertals and the expansion of anatomically modern human populations. She excavates in France, and has also worked in South-Africa. She is a research associate to the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and recently acted as project leader for the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeology (INRAP).

Excavation permits and funding were provided by the Musée National de Préhistoire des Eyzies, the Service Régional de l’Archéologie d’Aquitaine, the Service Départemental de l’Archéologie de la Dordogne, the Commission inter-régionale de la Recherche Archéologique d’Aquitaine, the Conseil Général de Dordogne, the Australian Research Council (DP1092438) and the Max Planck Society.

Sources: April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online / Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Research News

The article, “Neandertals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe,” is available online.

Neandertals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe

PNAS August 27, 2013 vol. 110 no. 35 14186-14190

Marie Soressia; Shannon P. McPherronc; Michel Lenoire; Tamara Dogandžićc; Paul Goldbergf; Zenobia Jacobsh; Yolaine Maigroti; Naomi L. Martisius; Christopher E. Millerk; William Rendul; Michael Richards; Matthew M. Skinnerc; Teresa E. Steelec; Sahra Talamoc & Jean-Pierre Texier.

Abstract

Modern humans replaced Neandertals ∼40,000 y ago. Close to the time of replacement, Neandertals show behaviors similar to those of the modern humans arriving into Europe, including the use of specialized bone tools, body ornaments, and small blades. It is highly debated whether these modern behaviors developed before or as a result of contact with modern humans. Here we report the identification of a type of specialized bone tool, lissoir, previously only associated with modern humans. The microwear preserved on one of these lissoir is consistent with the use of lissoir in modern times to obtain supple, lustrous, and more impermeable hides. These tools are from a Neandertal context proceeding the replacement period and are the oldest specialized bone tools in Europe. As such, they are either a demonstration of independent invention by Neandertals or an indication that modern humans started influencing European Neandertals much earlier than previously believed. Because these finds clearly predate the oldest known age for the use of similar objects in Europe by anatomically modern humans, they could also be evidence for cultural diffusion from Neandertals to modern humans.

Specialized bone technology first appears in Africa and is widespread in Europe after the arrival of modern humans with the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic. Modern humans shaped bone by grinding and polishing to produce standardized or so-called formal tools that were used for specific functions. Examples of Neandertal bone tools do exist; however, most of these were made through percussion to mimic existing stone tools, such as handaxes, scrapers, and denticulates. Standardized bone tools in forms distinct from stone tools and shaped by grinding and polishing occur in the Châtelperronian and Uluzzian, but (i) whether Neandertals made these assemblage types is debated and, furthermore, (ii) their late date means that Neandertals could have been influenced by modern humans already in Europe. Examples with earlier dates are disputed. For example, the site of Saltzgitter-Lebenstedt yielded several mammoth ribs modified by percussion and then shaped by grinding. However, these ribs lack standardization, they do not match known bone-tool types, their intended use is unclear, and they are not repeated at other Neandertal sites. Similarly, the site of Grosse Grotte yielded a mammoth rib fragment with modifications reported as consistent with standardized bone tools . Although there are stone tools in the level associated with the rib, the majority of the fauna represents use of the cave by cave bears, there are clear indications of carnivore modifications on the bones, and there are no other traces of human impact on the bones (e.g., cutmarks). The problems with these two examples are illustrative of the difficulties demonstrating early Neandertal standardized bone tools. As a result, these bones are excluded from lists of Neandertal bone tool repertoires. Here we report four lissoir fragments that were recovered from recent excavations in three separate and radiometrically dated archaeological deposits at two Neandertal sites. Lissoirs (French: to make smooth, smoother) are a formal, standardized bone-tool type, made by grinding and polishing, interpreted as being used to prepare hides, and previously only associated with modern humans. These bones are the earliest evidence of specialized bone tools associated with Neandertals.

Further reading: PNAS August 27, 2013 vol. 110 no. 35 14186-14190 (open source).

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Filed under Bone technology, Cognitive Archeology, Homo neanderthalensis, Human Evolution, Middle Paleolithic, Middle/Upper Palaeolithic Transition, Paleolithic, Uncategorized

Who was eating salmon 45,000 years ago in the Caucasus?

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Were bears or lions involved in salmon accumulation in the Middle Palaeolithic of the Caucasus? An isotopic investigation in Kudaro 3 cave

Hervé Bocherensa; Gennady Baryshnikov & Wim Van Neerc

Abstract
Bone fragments of large anadromous salmon in the Middle Palaeolithic archaeological layers of Kudaro 3 cave (Caucasus) suggested fish consumption by archaic Hominins, such as Neandertals. However, large carnivores such as Asiatic cave bears (Ursus kudarensis) and cave lions (Panthera spelaea) were also found in the cave and could have been responsible for such an accumulation. The diet of these carnivores was evaluated using carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopes in faunal bone collagen. The results suggest that anadromous fish were neither part of the diet of either cave bear (vegetarian) or cave lion (predators of herbivores from arid areas) and therefore provide indirect support to the idea that Middle Palaeolithic Hominins, probably Neandertals, were able to consume fish when it was available.

Why did anatomically modern humans replace Neandertals in Europe around 40,000 years ago?

Who Was Eating Salmon 45,000 Years Ago in the Caucasus? Neandertals Probably Not as Rigid in Their Diet as Thought.

One hypothesis suggests that Neandertals were rigid in their dietary choice, targeting large herbivorous mammals, such as horse, bison and mammoths, while modern humans also exploited a wider diversity of dietary resources, including fish. This dietary flexibility of modern humans would have been a big advantage when competing with Neandertals and led to their final success.

In a joint study, Professor Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tübingen, Germany, together with colleagues from the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, Russia and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, Belgium have found at a cave in the Caucasus Mountains indirect hints of fish consumption by Neandertals. The scientists challenge the hypothesis of evolutionary advantage of modern humans on basis of dietary choice. Bone analyses ruled out cave bears and cave lions to have consumed the fish whose remains were found at the Caucasian cave.

The hypothesis on dietary differences between modern humans and Neandertals is based on the study of animal bones found in caves occupied by these two types of hominids, which can provide clues about their diet, but it is always difficult to exclude large predators living at the same time as being responsible for at least part of this accumulation. One such case occurs in a cave located on the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, called Kudaro 3.

There, the bone fragments of large salmon, migrating from marine water to their freshwater spawning places, were found in the Middle Palaeolithic archaeological layers, dated to around 42 to 48,000 years ago, and probably deposited by Neandertals. Such remains suggested that fish was consumed by these archaic Humans. However, large carnivores, such as Asiatic cave bears (Ursus kudarensis) and cave lions (Panthera spelaea) were also found in the cave and could have brought the salmon bones in the caves.

To test this hypothesis, the possible contribution of marine fish in the diet of these carnivores was evaluated using carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopes in faunal bone collagen, comparing these isotopic signatures between predators and their potential prey. The results indicate that salmons were neither part of the diet of cave bears (they were purely vegetarian, like their European counterparts) or cave lions (they were predators of herbivores from arid areas).

This study provides indirect support to the idea that Middle Palaeolithic Hominins, probably Neandertals, were able to consume fish when it was available, and that therefore, the prey choice of Neandertals and modern humans was not fundamentally different,

says Hervé Bocherens. He assumes that more than diet differences were certainly involved in the demise of the Neandertals.

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Filed under Homo neanderthalensis, Middle Paleolithic

This stone hand-axe was discovered in West Tofts (Norfolk, England). It is believed to be about 200,000 years old.

This stone hand-axe was discovered in West Tofts (Norfolk, England). It is believed to be about 200,000 years old.

The Earliest Art

Arguably the earliest example of art produced by humans is a necklace made of shell beads, dating to around 100,000 years ago. These beads were found in Israel (Vanhaeren et al., 2006) and are over twice the age of the more famous European cave art! Although this is the most ancient piece of human art, many examples of imagery and art have been found that predate the emergence of our species. Art, it would seem, is not uniquely human.

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18/09/2013 · 9:51 AM