January 18, 2012

Echoes from the Past (Jan 18)

Again lots of short news and hopefully interesting links I have been collecting in the last weeks:

Lower and Middle Paleolithic 

Cova del Gegant Neanderthal jaw
Catalonia: Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA sequenced for the first time. The sequence, obtained from a jaw from Cova del Gegant (Giant's Cave), is fully within normal Neanderthal range ··> Pileta de Prehistoria[es], NeanderFollia[cat], relevant paper[cat] (PDF)

Castile: Stature estimates for Sima de los Huesos (Atapuerca) discussed by John Hawks.

Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic

Romania: stratigraphies and dates revised by new study (PPV) ··> Quaternary International.

Andalusia: oldest ornament made of barnacle's shell (right) found in Nerja Cave ··> Pileta de Prehistoria[es], UNED[es], Universia[es].

England: Star Carr dig to shed light on transition from Paleolithic to Epipaleolithic ··> short article and video-documentary (32 mins) at Past Horizons.

Basque Country: archaeologists consider a barbarity that only 65m are protected against the quarry at Praileaitz Cave (Magdalenian) ··> Noticias de Gipuzkoa[es].

Yemen: 200 tombs said to be Paleolithic discovered in Al Mahwit district, west of Sanaa. Tools and weapons were also found. Other thousand or so artifacts from the same period were found in the Bani Saad area  ··> BBC

Peruvian rock art
Sarawak: Niah Cave being dug again for further and more precise data on the colonization of the region by Homo sapiens ··> Heritage Daily.

Siberia was a wildlife-rich area in the Ice Age ··> New Scientist.

Peru: 10,000 years old cave paintings (right) discovered in Churcampa province ··> Andina.

Neolithic and Chalcolithic

Iberia and North Africa: Southern Iberian and Mediterranean North African early Neolithic could be the same process according to new paper (PPV) ··> Quaternary International.

Galicia: Neolithic and Metal Ages remains to be studied for DNA ··> Pileta de Prehistoria[es].

Texas: very informative burnt hut reveals clues of the natives of the San Antonio area c. 3500 years ago.

Mexico: 2000-years old paintings found Guanajuato ··> Hispanically Speaking News (notice that the photo appears to be act of shameless journalistic low quality, being a European bison painted with European style, probably from Altamira).

Metal ages and historical period

Croatia: oldest known astrological board unearthed at Nakovana (Roman period). The cave was probably some sort of shrine back in the day, maybe because a striking phallic stalagmite. Besides the ivory astrological device, lots of pottery has been found as well ··> Live Science.

The best preserved fragment depicts the sign of Cancer (full gallery)

Basque Country: Iruña-Veleia affair:  Basque autonomous police does not have means to test the authenticity of the findings. The Commission for the Clarification of Iruña-Veleia asks for the tests to be performed in one of the few European laboratories able to do that ··> Noticias de Álava.

Cornwall: replicating sewn-plank boats of the Bronze Age ··> This is Cornwall.

India: cremation urn from the Megalithic period excavated in Kerala ··> The Hindu.

Human genetics and evolution

The six flavors
Centenarians don't have any special genes ··> The Atlantic.

Fat is a flavor: newly discovered sixth flavor in human tongue identifies fat (and usually likes it) ··> Science Daily.

Hominin tooth found in Bulgaria dates from 7 million years ago ··>  Daily Mail.

Anthropology (senso stricto)

The journey of the Tubu women: fascinating documentary in Spanish language about these trans-Saharan trader women available at Pasado y Futuro[es].

Small capuchin monkey bands fight as well as large ones because members are more motivated and have many less defections, even in peripheral conflicts  ··> Science Daily.


Horse genetics again ··> new paper at PLoS Genetics

Fig. 4 - Phylogenetic tree of extant Hippomorpha.


  1. Regarding 'Siberia was a wildlife-rich area in the Ice Age"

    "The samples were extracted from 15,000 to 25,000-year-old frozen sediment in southern Chukotka in north-eastern Siberia. Their age is significant: around 20,000 years ago temperatures plummeted and ice sheets blanketed much of the northern hemisphere - but parts of Siberia, Canada and Alaska apparently stayed ice-free ... Fossils and pollen found in these regions suggest they may have acted as a refuge for plants and animals during this time ... The diversity of fungi found suggests that a brimming plant community thrived in northern Siberia to support them. This range of plants should also have sustained a diverse assembly of mammals - and the samples indeed contain DNA from woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) and moose (Alces alces) dating back to between 15,000 and 25,000 years ago"

    'This range of plants should also have sustained a diverse assembly of mammals', including humans? And '15,000 and 25,000 years ago' was at the height of the Ice Age. Earlier phases would presumably not have been as cold.

    Regarding 'Iberia and North Africa: Southern Iberian and Mediterranean North African early Neolithic could be the same process according to new paper'.

    "By the mid-8th millennium calBP, both sides of the Western Mediterranean were inhabited by hunter-gatherer groups which probably maintained intercontinental contacts".

    That can in no way be considered evidence for Paleolithic contact. Perhaps this more recent period is the time of haplogroup transfer.

    Regarding 'Horse genetics again'.

    That will change the classification of Zebras. Grevey's zebra has been considered a separate line from all the others. Not so. It is now a branch of Grant's zebra, at one time just a subspecies of Hartmann's/Mountain zebra. The other horse species are much as traditionally supposed.

  2. It's an interesting issue: apparently much of Siberia was, even in the height of the Ice Age, when permafrost reached as far south as Beijing in East Asia and Budapest in Europe, free of surface ice, yet also freezing cold.

    How is this possible? Because of dryness: surface ice is formed by essentially snow deposition (frozen rain) year after year. If there is very low humidity, snow does not happen and no surface ice is formed (however there is enough water around to form permafrost some centimeters under the surface and provide minimal moisture to lichens and other specialist life forms).

    This happens in parts of Antarctica today. Actually in most of it snow is very rare but the massive glaciers stemming from the center of the continent keep most of it ice-covered. The areas not covered in ice, in parts of Antarctic Peninsula and Victoria Land (McMurdo dry valleys) are considered to be tundra, even if a very extreme form of it that mostly resembles Mars (but on Earth).

    Overall most of Siberia (good maps of ice sheet cover in Eurasia)was in the Ice Age a very cold (mostly freezing cold) area of low humidity and therefore largely ice-free, allowing some life to exist (including possibly some human specialists in the most benevolent zones). West Siberia however was, at the LGM, mostly covered by a huge ice-dammed lake that included the Ob and Yenisei basins.

    "That can in no way be considered evidence for Paleolithic contact".

    Nobody said that, not me in any case.

    "The other horse species are much as traditionally supposed".

    Doesn't the tree look like donkeys/asses/zebras being a branch of horses, because no particular affinity is obvious between Przewalski's and common horses. I imagine from this tree that equids coalesced in Eurasia and migrated to Africa later on (much as felids, canids and many other animals), being the ass/donkey/zebra branch the African-oriented subgroup, with the others remaining in Eurasia (and North America). Is that right?

  3. "Doesn't the tree look like donkeys/asses/zebras being a branch of horses, because no particular affinity is obvious between Przewalski's and common horses".

    The paper itself comments on how closely related the two types of horses are. Quote:

    "The close relationship between the Przewalski's Horse and the domestic horse was demonstrated by pair-wise genetic distance and MDS".

    They successfully interbreed although having a different chromosome number. In fact the authors point out that is a problem in preserving Przewalski's horse. Quote:

    "This close relationship between the domestic horse and the Przewalski's Horse is also likely a result of relatively recent gene flow between these lineages since divergence from a common ancestor. While Equus przewalskii and Equus caballus have a different number of chromosomes (2n = 66 and 2n = 64, respectively), they can interbreed and produce viable offspring. Since their discovery by the western world in the late 1880s, the question of admixture of the Przewalski's Horse and domestic horse has remained a topic of debate and controversy. Known introgressions took place in the early years of the propagation program that prevented the extinction of the species [24] and, more recently with the offspring of the last wild-caught mare at the Askania Nova breeding center [25]. In addition, there was likely interbreeding of Equus przewalskii and Equus caballus in the wild, as the range of the Przewalski's Horse and the domestic horse overlapped in China, Russia and Mongolia"

    "I imagine from this tree that equids coalesced in Eurasia and migrated to Africa later on"

    Possibly so, but the genus is presumed to have originated in America. Unfortunately no original American horses survive for genotyping.


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