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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

Middle Stone Age human occupation and dispersals in the Messak plateau (SW Libya, central Sahara)

by Emanuele Cancellieri and Savino di Lernia

(Open access source: Quaternary International 300:142-152, 2013 via

Aterian artefacts from Messak: a-f: tanged point; g-m: tanged piece (see text for details).Scale bar: 5 cm (drawings: E. Cancellieri).

Research conducted since the 1990s in SW Libya has provided wide-ranging data on the Pleistocene archaeology of this vast region, which principally relies on surface scatters of lithic artefacts, a series of soundings and two MSA/Aterian dated sites. The Middle Stone Age of the region is thought to date from roughly MIS 6/5 to approximately 60 ka (the latest dated Aterian occurrence). Its distribution varies from sand seas to mountain ranges, with different states of preservation and archaeological visibility. This paper presents data from the last surveys (2010–2011) carried out on 46 transects across the Messak massif. One component of the research strategy was specifically designed to handle the impressive Pleistocene record through sampling a series of spots placed at fixed distances along predetermined survey strips. Field documentation of the techno-typological traits allowed the creation of a territorial data-set used to infer patterns of raw material exploitation, technological variability and the significance of the principal chrono-cultural markers. Quartzarenite, the most available and used raw material, is a diffusely distributed resource. This should have played a role in patterns of land use and mobility and, ultimately, in the composition of archaeological assemblages, mostly characterised by complete reduction sequences. Variability in the application of the Levallois method highlights widespread adoption of recurrent and lineal schemes. Among the latter, point production is extremely rare. The retouched blanks inventory is dominated by scrapers and notches, whereas more specialised tool classes (i.e., tanged pieces, points, foliates) are less common. The dimensions of a small sample of Aterian artefacts provisionally signal a higher degree of homogeneity among pointed tanged specimens than other types. Despite the overwhelming presence of roughly labelled MSA contexts, these show little evidence of a MSA stricto sensu chrono-cultural signature, among which scanty but precise elements are comparable with the sub-Saharan and Nile valley early Middle Stone Age, reinforcing the picture of multiple dispersals across the Sahara and North Africa around MIS 6/5. The evolution of MSA occupation and its cultural trajectories is difficult to assess, while the last phases, represented here by the Aterian, can be framed in hyperarid MIS 4 – after the dates from Acacus – and likely represent the adaptation of residual groups almost confined to mountain environments.

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20/09/2013 · 4:13 PM

Skeletal evidence for variable patterns of handedness in chimpanzees, human hunter–gatherers, and recent British populations

lithic knapping

Jay T. Stock, Meghan K. Shirley, Lauren A. Sarringhaus, Tom G. Davies and Colin N. Shaw

chimp knapping

Previous studies have shown a strong correspondence between long bone bilateral asymmetry and reported handed- ness. Here, we compare the pattern of asymmetry in mechanical properties of the humerus and second metacarpal of Pan troglodytes, recent British industrial and medieval populations, and a broad range of human hunter–gatherers, to test whether technological variation corresponds with lateralization in bone function. The results suggest that P. troglodytes are left-lateralized in the morphology of the humerus and right-lateralized in the second metacarpal, while all human populations are predominantly right-biased in the morphology of these bones. Among human pop- ulations, the second metacarpals of 63% of hunter–gatherers show right-hand bias, a frequency similar to that found among chimpanzees. In contrast, the medieval and recent British populations show over 80% right-lateralization in the second metacarpal. The proportion of individuals displaying right-directional asymmetry is less than the expected 90% among all human groups. The variation observed suggests that the human pattern of right-biased asymmetry developed in a mosaic manner throughout human history, perhaps in response to technological development.

(Open access source: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1286:86-89, 2013)

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19/09/2013 · 6:07 PM