November 8, 2010

A role-playing board game on Paleolithic hunter-gatherers

Millán Mozota, reader of this blog and author of a Neanderthal-specialized one in Spanish language, mentions today the existence of a new role-playing game on Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in the European landscape of some 35,000 years ago. 

The game is titled Würm, for the last Ice Age, which bears that name in Europe, and it deals with the adventures of hunter-gatherers of both species believed to have coexisted in that space-time: H. neanderthalensis ("bear-men" in the game) and H. sapiens ("long men"). 

As happens with this kind of games, all the basic material is a rulebook, available for download in PDF format HERE. A de luxe edition is also available HERE (€29.95). The problem for most readers of this blog will surely be that it only seems available in French by the moment. 

Still I must welcome the idea because it is something I have always found missing in the offer of games. And the usual dynamics of role-play games (party of adventurers and such, think The Lord of the Rings if you are unfamiliar) adjusts almost ideally to the kind of dynamics a small hunter-gatherer band would have faced in those times. 

Also, in addition to the thrill and enjoyment of any game, it adds educative value, as the game seems to be rather well documented. Hopefully the game will be successful enough to be translated to other languages. 


Neanderthal and Sapiens newborns were not that different

Also a brief note for Neanderthal-addicts (and in general people interested in human evolution): there is a new open access article at Current Biology on Neanderthal newborn head physiognomy (found at Dienekes). It seems that baby Neanderthals were somewhat but not too different from those of our species. This similitude may be caused by the physiological constraints of birthgiving, because as the adults develop the differences increase quite a bit.

13 comments:

  1. Amazing for the game!! Do you know if the PDF is very large?

    It does seem to me that the article (or some news) tell us that their brains had different developments since age one, or at least that's what I understood.

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  2. IDK, one of them is long enough to take a while to load (9 something MB) but I have all four open right now and they are not killing my computer (a cheap one), so it's fine.

    It has some most beautiful Neanderthal watercolors and then also some different-style ones of Sapiens. All looking very realistic to me, at least for game standards (after all it's a fantasy game, actually the Sapiens people look a bit too modern white to me but well...)

    "It does seem to me that the article (or some news) tell us that their brains had different developments since age one, or at least that's what I understood".

    Yes, the curve graphic shows that the dimensions are somewhat different at birth (but close) and tend to diverge since very early. That's logical, I think. I have already said that both adult skulls are strikingly different in spite of some parallels such as brain size, and the biological purpose of kids is making adults, so logically they have to diverge rapidly to fit the striking adult differences from similar beginnings.

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  3. "It has some most beautiful Neanderthal watercolors and then also some different-style ones of Sapiens. All looking very realistic to me, at least for game standards (after all it's a fantasy game, actually the Sapiens people look a bit too modern white to me but well...)"

    Yes, the paintings are really good, but for example, I find that neandertals have sometimes a very narrow noses, which we know it's false... many of them have blue eyes, which apparently are also quite recent (less than 10.000 years old).
    As for modern humans, I think they represent not the first who left Africa (who in my opinion obviously looked African) but the first European ones. Yes, sometimes they resemble too much modern Europeans, except for having a well build.

    "Yes, the curve graphic shows that the dimensions are somewhat different at birth (but close) and tend to diverge since very early. That's logical, I think. I have already said that both adult skulls are strikingly different in spite of some parallels such as brain size, and the biological purpose of kids is making adults, so logically they have to diverge rapidly to fit the striking adult differences from similar beginnings."

    These differences may explain also differences in behavior. Maybe they were less able to make friends? To think in the future or understanding symbolism? It's quite hard to say.

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  4. Well, we cannot know if Neanderthals had blue eyes or not. It's always a possible ending place along the path of depigmentation. Some animals like wolves have often blue eyes and they are unrelated with those of modern humans. We know that some Neanderthals had red hair but again is a different allele of modern human red hair.

    What we know is that most (not all) modern blue eyes are descendant of a single ancestor, surely someone living in West Eurasia long ago (almost necessarily much more than 10 Ka, not sure where you got that figure from). It is actually the only pigmentation allele with such a large impact.

    "These differences may explain also differences in behavior. Maybe they were less able to make friends? To think in the future or understanding symbolism? It's quite hard to say".

    It is very difficult to say what effects would have a different head shape. The most striking difference for me is the lower vault and nearly lack of forehead, but I am not sure how this correlates with brain areas.

    I recall reading long ago that the differences between chimps and us are concentrated in two areas of the brain: the temporal lobes, mostly related to communication and the frontal lobe, mostly related to rational thought (complex, see below). The rest of our brains is almost the same size of chimps, so except in those two matters we are very similar (in principle: chimps and bonobos are very similar but they are also very different).

    From Wikipedia:

    "The executive functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events. Therefore, it is involved in higher mental functions.

    The frontal lobes also play an important part in retaining longer term memories which are not task-based. These are often memories associated with emotions derived from input from the brain's limbic system. The frontal lobe modifies those emotions to generally fit socially acceptable norms."

    Lobotomy "stunning" illustrates the effects of disconnecting the frontal lobe.

    In the case of Neanderthals I have the impression that their frontal lobe is smaller and instead their occipital and parietal lobe are much larger. These are mainly sensory areas of the brain.

    (continues)

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  5. ...

    From Wikipedia again:

    "The parietal lobe plays important roles in integrating sensory information from various parts of the body, knowledge of numbers and their relations[1], and in the manipulation of objects. Portions of the parietal lobe are involved with visuospatial processing".

    As for the smaller occipital lobe:

    "Significant functional aspects of the occipital lobe is that it contains the primary visual cortex and is the part of the brain where dreams come from."

    So it'd seem that Neanderthals might be better "observers" and we might be better "creators". This is an old theory and may well be wrong anyhow, because there's no clear correlation between modern human head-shapes and mental functions that I know of, as the brain is plastic and adapts to the container a lot. But maybe there's a seed of truth in it anyhow.

    Notice that in the recent study on how the brain flashes when working with Lower Paleolithic technologies, the areas stimulated are all in the back part of the brain, which would be favored possibly in the Neanderthal brain. However the crafters were not inventing tools but just making them on previously known models and training.

    The old theory goes along this lines too, which would explain the apparent relative industry conservatism of Neanderthals: good crafters but poor designers of new solutions (by comparison to us).

    But I am not aware that they had any differences with us in the temporal (lateral) lobes, which are the ones ruling communication, speech and sociality in general, as well as long-term memory.

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  6. "What we know is that most (not all) modern blue eyes are descendant of a single ancestor, surely someone living in West Eurasia long ago (almost necessarily much more than 10 Ka, not sure where you got that figure from). It is actually the only pigmentation allele with such a large impact. "

    http://zeitlerweb.com/about-2/blue-eyes-have-common-ancestor/

    "I recall reading long ago that the differences between chimps and us are concentrated in two areas of the brain: the temporal lobes, mostly related to communication and the frontal lobe, mostly related to rational thought (complex, see below). The rest of our brains is almost the same size of chimps, so except in those two matters we are very similar (in principle: chimps and bonobos are very similar but they are also very different)."

    And grooves. Human brains have much more grooves than a chimpanzee's brain. The grooves allow to compact more gray matter into a small area.


    "Significant functional aspects of the occipital lobe is that it contains the primary visual cortex and is the part of the brain where dreams come from."

    LOL maybe they had a very touching dreams!

    "So it'd seem that Neanderthals might be better "observers" and we might be better "creators". This is an old theory and may well be wrong anyhow, because there's no clear correlation between modern human head-shapes and mental functions that I know of, as the brain is plastic and adapts to the container a lot. But maybe there's a seed of truth in it anyhow. "

    Hmmm... These old theories were based mainly in prejudices: man was the best creation of God or Nature, and neanderthals were only semi-envolved apes.

    I wonder if a neanderthal child raised in a modern human family wouldn't act like one of us. We know that environment also plays a very important role in intellectual/emoticonal development.
    Perhaps neanderthals were quite different, act like different and spoke very different from us 60.000 years ago, but maybe within our society they'd speak, think and act like us.

    "Notice that in the recent study on how the brain flashes when working with Lower Paleolithic technologies, the areas stimulated are all in the back part of the brain, which would be favored possibly in the Neanderthal brain. However the crafters were not inventing tools but just making them on previously known models and training. "

    Yes, but someone had to invent these tools. We see an increase in complexity in the last 2.000.000 years, so the brains of these hominids weren't so "static".

    "But I am not aware that they had any differences with us in the temporal (lateral) lobes, which are the ones ruling communication, speech and sociality in general, as well as long-term memory."

    Very interesting. Apparently the differences in frontal and pre-frontal lobes aren't so huge (I remember it from a BBC's documentary). Maybe they had less strong emotions or spoke a bit slower?

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  7. Alright, molecular clock nonsense - I should have known.

    Let's see: the SNP variant in question is not only found in all Europe (what calls for an earlier date, more in the 15 Ka range, minimum) but it is also found at rather high frequencies, > 15% (always in heterozygous form, which keeps the eyes brown), among Gujarat Indians and even at very low frequencies in Beijing and East Africa.

    I imagine that allele has a quite deep origin in time, possibly from the West Eurasian colonization times, even if it experienced important founder effects only upon the colonization of Europe. The fact that both West and East Europeans, populations largely distinct since some 28 Ka ago, have blue eyes in rather high frequencies is strongly suggestive of a 30-50 Ka age, not a mere 6-10 Ka one.

    "And grooves. Human brains have much more grooves than a chimpanzee's brain. The grooves allow to compact more gray matter into a small area".

    Good point. This is one of the elements, along with stuff like mieline and other that we surely do not know yet, that affect brain functioning and efficiency regardless of head size, which can only be a very rough proxy.

    "... maybe they had a very touching dreams!"

    I feel envious of this (hypothetical) trait. I just love dreaming (as I almost never have nightmares), so better quality dreams would be great. :)

    "I wonder if a neanderthal child raised in a modern human family wouldn't act like one of us. We know that environment also plays a very important role in intellectual/emoticonal development.
    Perhaps neanderthals were quite different, act like different and spoke very different from us 60.000 years ago, but maybe within our society they'd speak, think and act like us".

    Hard to tell but probably. As you say, a lot depends of environmental factors (and we are not that different anyhow). But I always consider the chimp-bonobo dichotomy: they only diverged some 1.8 million years ago and used to be considered part of a single species, however their societies and their natural behavior is totally different. Bonobos seem to be a lot more like us, at least like the best of us.

    "Yes, but someone had to invent these tools".

    I'm not saying they could not invent or that they did not innovate. Just suggesting (hypothetically) that they might have been somewhat less inclined to such innovation and more to reproduction of already tested patterns. Tendency is the key concept.

    "Apparently the differences in frontal and pre-frontal lobes aren't so huge (I remember it from a BBC's documentary)".

    Ok, that's important because I'm just judging from the generic shape of the skull, which is a very poor reference admittedly. A good endocast should tell better, specially as the central sulk marks very clearly the division between the frontal and parietal lobe and that should be apparent.

    "Maybe they had less strong emotions or spoke a bit slower?"

    Not sure about speech but we are the "autistic" ones (potentially with weaker emotions), it seems.

    Anyhow just chatting because I do not have much idea of how a Neanderthal mind might (and society) have been different from ours. Probably not too much but somewhat yes. What exactly? No idea.

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  8. "I imagine that allele has a quite deep origin in time, possibly from the West Eurasian colonization times, even if it experienced important founder effects only upon the colonization of Europe. The fact that both West and East Europeans, populations largely distinct since some 28 Ka ago, have blue eyes in rather high frequencies is strongly suggestive of a 30-50 Ka age, not a mere 6-10 Ka one. "

    So, the 6-10K date is wrong? Then many other dates for other genes, such as blonde hair (11.000 years old) and red hair (20.000) could be also wrong.

    "I feel envious of this (hypothetical) trait. I just love dreaming (as I almost never have nightmares), so better quality dreams would be great. :)"

    Huh, that's not my opinion since I hate dreaming :( Today I had an horrible nightmare, luckily it lasted in 5-10 seconds.

    "I'm not saying they could not invent or that they did not innovate. Just suggesting (hypothetically) that they might have been somewhat less inclined to such innovation and more to reproduction of already tested patterns. Tendency is the key concept. "

    We should keep another thing in mind: anatomical differences appeared much earlier than cultural differences between neandertals and AMH.

    "Not sure about speech but we are the "autistic" ones (potentially with weaker emotions), it seems. "

    Autistic people do have strong emotions, but they often hide them.

    "Anyhow just chatting because I do not have much idea of how a Neanderthal mind might (and society) have been different from ours. Probably not too much but somewhat yes. What exactly? No idea."

    That's annoying and fascinating at the same time :)

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  9. "So, the 6-10K date is wrong?"

    That's my opinion, yes.

    "Then many other dates for other genes, such as blonde hair (11.000 years old) and red hair (20.000) could be also wrong"

    Yes. Or more exactly: there is no guarantee that they are right. They can well be double the time or whatever.

    However none of those genes is as clearly affecting the phenotype as one SNP of the OCA2 genic region (Rs12913832) is on blue eyes. Most traits are very much multi-locus, could be partly epigenetic and we do not know what causes them for as much as 60% or more of the actual cases.

    In the particular case of blond hair, I'm quite sure that this phenotype was there at the time Eurasian colonization, because Australian Aborigines and Melanesians retain it. Instead, red hair is likely to have evolved in Europe as high pheomelanin (reddish skin) black haired people depigmented even further (however there are several SNPs related to red hair, so this evolution surely happened in parallel by several lines).

    "Huh, that's not my opinion since I hate dreaming :( Today I had an horrible nightmare, luckily it lasted in 5-10 seconds".

    :(

    That's pretty bad. I presume that the key step is to become the hero of your dreams (only in dreams, in real life we suck kinda more), taking control of them. I have "always" done that "naturally" and my yoga teacher said it's something good.

    If you have non-addressed traumas they are probably behind such nightmares. So you'd better address them: therapy or... just get your Neanderthal spear and kill them - that's what I'd do (though my style is more like fireballs and such: no nightmare survives) :)

    I love dreaming because is where I can kill all those nuisances (they are my fantasies, so I can do whatever I want with them). In real life they'd get you jailed for that (and jail sucks - not so much for being enclosed but for being ordered around all day and lacking any kind of privacy, not to mention that I hate multitudes).

    "anatomical differences appeared much earlier than cultural differences between neandertals and AMH".

    Hmmm... the two species seem to have mainly their own industries since they emerge as such species, and there are also some differences in the chronology of attested symbolic behavior (but songs, dances and stories leave not trace).

    In general, early Sapiens is not related with Mousterian, while Neanderthal is almost all the time (excepted probably the last millennia).

    "Autistic people do have strong emotions, but they often hide them".

    Hmmm... ok, fair enough. Guess I'm autistic enough to understand that.

    However they are said not to pay attention to other people, or at least not so much, to be somewhat unable to discern emotional cues in others.

    "That's annoying and fascinating at the same time"...

    It is, specially if you feel strongly about Neanderthals, what is not my case. For me they remain a fossil mystery and that's about it. More interesting and relevant than dinosaurs but essentially the same "not me" thing.

    Though actually the small apportion of Neander-genes in us discovered this year should make me change my mind about the "not me" thing. But I am still more fascinated by dolphins and bonobos, and the last remnants of the forager age (Hadza, Bushmen, etc.), which can be observed in reality. Bones and stones have that problem: they are not alive.

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  10. "In the particular case of blond hair, I'm quite sure that this phenotype was there at the time Eurasian colonization, because Australian Aborigines and Melanesians retain it. Instead, red hair is likely to have evolved in Europe as high pheomelanin (reddish skin) black haired people depigmented even further (however there are several SNPs related to red hair, so this evolution surely happened in parallel by several lines). "

    The alleles for red hair were dated at more than 80.000 years old a few years ago, and it was proposed that red hair was of neanderthal origin. However, now we know that's not true.

    "If you have non-addressed traumas they are probably behind such nightmares. So you'd better address them: therapy or... just get your Neanderthal spear and kill them - that's what I'd do (though my style is more like fireballs and such: no nightmare survives) :)"

    Hahahaha, OK, I'll try to fight these nightmares with my neanderthal spear (after all, I should use it for something). Neanderthals were able to fight with huge mammoths, horses, rhinos and wolves; I think they had no problem with nightmares.
    Many thanks for your advices ;)

    "In real life they'd get you jailed for that (and jail sucks - not so much for being enclosed but for being ordered around all day and lacking any kind of privacy, not to mention that I hate multitudes"

    I don't like multitudes either, perhaps I'm a bit autistic :/

    "However they are said not to pay attention to other people, or at least not so much, to be somewhat unable to discern emotional cues in others."

    Girls often hide better their feelings than boys, that's why they're more difficult to detect as such.

    "Though actually the small apportion of Neander-genes in us discovered this year should make me change my mind about the "not me" thing. But I am still more fascinated by dolphins and bonobos, and the last remnants of the forager age (Hadza, Bushmen, etc.), which can be observed in reality."

    I'm also interested in animals and other human cultures, of course. I don't think the small proportion should change your mind, well that's not my case, because I don't resemble them, I still see them as "they". Their culture and languages are extinct, their anatomy is extinct, and their way of life is extinct. That makes them extinct.

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  11. "The alleles for red hair were dated at more than 80.000 years old a few years ago"...

    See why I do not pay any attention to the molecular clock nonsense: it often produces more confusion than clarity.

    "I'll try to fight these nightmares with my neanderthal spear..."

    Sure, do it. And if you need the spear to throw lightning or whatever, remember that dreams are magic and, after all, they are YOUR fantasy, YOUR dream: you are GOD in them.

    "I don't like multitudes either, perhaps I'm a bit autistic :/"

    It's called social anxiety (or in the most severe cases, agoraphobia). Unlike autism, which is more common in men, agoraphobia seems to be more common in women. However both are wide spectrum "disorders", which range from very mild (and rather common) to severe (and uncommon) cases.

    From what I read right now, social anxiety doesn't seem to be directly related with autism anyhow. Probably genuinely autistic people just do not care about social situations, as they tend to have a narrow, compulsive focus of attention.

    You may want to read about Jung's sensitive personality. The interesting thing is that, for Jung's school, this personality is both more vulnerable to trauma (psycho-emotional stress, specially in childhood) but also has more potential than average low-sensitivity people. It seems to be a somewhat blurry but real psychological phenotype, in dynamic equilibrium with other more standard types.

    In any case, the school treats sensitive personalities on a much more favorable light than society and most other psychology schools do normally.

    "Girls often hide better their feelings than boys"...

    But autism is more of a boys' thing. Most autistic people are men and basic autistic trends are surely part of the more-or-less genetic male psycho-type. I think that, unlike what you said, autistic people may "feel less", because they have a narrow scope of attention. It's like they lack peripheral vision, so to say. However the "feel less" phrase should be qualified because they do value quality relationships, and obviously they do suffer the effects of their social limitations.

    "That makes them extinct".

    Except for a few genes in us, which who knows what they do.

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  12. "And if you need the spear to throw lightning or whatever, remember that dreams are magic and, after all, they are YOUR fantasy, YOUR dream: you are GOD in them. "

    I know... but sometimes it's difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

    "The interesting thing is that, for Jung's school, this personality is both more vulnerable to trauma (psycho-emotional stress, specially in childhood) but also has more potential than average low-sensitivity people. It seems to be a somewhat blurry but real psychological phenotype, in dynamic equilibrium with other more standard types."

    Very intersting! It seems you have a broad knowledge of human mental health and psychological theories, like those of Jung.

    "But autism is more of a boys' thing. Most autistic people are men and basic autistic trends are surely part of the more-or-less genetic male psycho-type. I think that, unlike what you said, autistic people may "feel less", because they have a narrow scope of attention. It's like they lack peripheral vision, so to say. However the "feel less" phrase should be qualified because they do value quality relationships, and obviously they do suffer the effects of their social limitations."

    I get the point, although many girls do suffer this disease, but unlike boys it's very difficult to detect. Nowadays, the causes of autism are unknown. It's quite clear there's a genetic component, as well as an environmental one, but nothing more. Even a guy invented a "neanderthal theory of austim" linking this disease with neanderthals, but now we know autism is a very modern human condition.

    www.rdos.net/eng/asperger.htm


    "Except for a few genes in us, which who knows what they do."

    Last time I checked, all scientists who participated in the neanderthal genome project told to everyone that these genes likely had no function. They're junk DNA or pseudogenes, or if you prefer: relic DNA.

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  13. I do not have any "broad knowledge of human mental health and psychological theories, like those of Jung". Just a general interest, like for so many other things.

    Actually I've never been too interested in Jung but this particular facet fell in my hands some months ago and I thought it very interesting, so I kept the link.

    "I get the point, although many girls do suffer this disease, but unlike boys it's very difficult to detect".

    Maybe I exaggerated that gender aspect improperly, I admit.

    "Even a guy invented a "neanderthal theory of austim" linking this disease with neanderthals, but now we know autism is a very modern human condition".

    It would seem so.

    My impression is that there must be cultural, epigenetic elements at play, like unnatural birthgiving with anesthesia, forced positions for women, almost routine cesarean, often long periods of baby-mother isolation after birth, etc. which may imprint babies very negatively, in some cases (maybe within some specific genetic variants), causing "modern" diseases such as autism and schizophrenia.

    I sincerely would not be surprised at all if this is some day demonstrated to be true. I realize (because I had long ago a girlfriend who was very interested in these matters) that the moment of birth is critical emotionally and biologically for the proper development of babies, future adults and that stress at this critical experience may damage psycho-emotionally the newborns (and is not good for mothers either). Even if these conditions may have existed in the past too, I think a lot is possibly caused by this excessive and wrongly thought medicalization of birthgiving.

    I can't prove it but I suspect it is. I have written occasionally on how psycho-emotional stress in early life alters epigenetics:

    http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/2010/09/maternal-care-modifies-gene-regulating.html

    http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/2010/07/breastfeeding-greatly-increases-iq.html

    http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/2010/04/bdnf-gene-confirmed-crucial-in-stress.html

    http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/2010/01/trauma-causes-epigenetics-of-mental.html

    http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/2009/11/stress-in-early-life-alters-genes.html

    "They're junk DNA or pseudogenes, or if you prefer: relic DNA".

    See:

    http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/2010/03/non-coding-dna-actually-codes-indivdual.html

    http://leherensuge.blogspot.com/2008/09/junk-dna-not-junk-after-all.html

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