March 16, 2012

Echoes from the Past (Mar 16)

You know: the stuff that should have been commented if I was perfect or a paid professional - but was not:


Pigmentation reasonably predicted

Yan Klimentidis mentions today that, according to a new paper (Cerqueira 2012, pay per view) as much as 64% of skin pigmentation can be predicted from genes (many of them), reaching to as much as 94% with freckles. The rate of success is much lower however for hair and eye color (44% and 36% respectively).

Are Ethiopians genetically adapted to high altitudes?

I'm generally skeptic of claims of genetic adaption to high altitudes when it does not seem to have ever been demonstrated that this adaption is genetic and not just mere biological flexibility caused by living in the area since childhood. In any case, L. Scheinfeldt 2012 (open access) claims that some candidate genes have been identified for the Amhara.

Taurine cattle could descend from as few as 80 female founders ··> R. Bollognino 2012 (ppv).

Human Evolution

Honey and human evolution: surely you never thought about it before, right? Nutritional anthropologist A. Crittenden thinks that honey may have been more important than meat, based on Hadza practices, which include symbiosis (cooperation) with a bird ··> The Rebel Yell.

Did prehistoric climate change affect human evolution the same as other animals? That is what J.R. Stewart and C.B. Stringer argue in a paper (ppv) ··> Science Daily.


Speculating about Still Bay culture (South Africa) and climate change ··> article by archaeologist J. Tolleson at Nature.

These marks are the first evidence of humans in Ohio
First evidence of hunting in Ohio c. 13,500 years ago ··> Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Universal rock art script? David Sánchez mentions again[es] (I commented in 2010 too) the unusual hypothesisi of G. von Petzinger on the possibility that some sort of universal script used by hunter-gatherers around the world, as the markings on the walls appear to be roughly the same everywhere. I am rather skeptic though but curious anyhow. Among the links provided some are in English: video, The Guardian, New Scientist, UVic Space and Cambridge University.

Neolithic and Chalcolithic

One of the dolmens found in Alcónetar
Göbekli Tepe attracted worshipers from 500 kilometers around: from Cappadocia and the border of Armenia ··> Live Science. 

Some Neolithic settlers may have arrived to Iberia from North Africa (specifically Oran area) ··> Archaeology News Network.

Chalcolithic settlement found in Galicia, between Carballo and Berdoias, not far from the mamoa (dolmen) of O Valouco, as a highway was being built ··> La Voz de Galicia[es].

Two dolmens found in Alcónetar (Extremadura, Spain) as the water of the reservoir of Alcántara, one of the largest in Europe, recede because of unprecedented drought ··> Hoy[es].


  1. Just a few days ago i watched on tv a documentary by bruce parry with the akie people, in Tanzania.

    I was impressed the way of life of akies and the honey is the most important source of food, because the masai people and hunter companies don´t let them enough space to made their traditional way of life.

    I am trying to find a complete online video but i didn´t find it; i give you this link if you are interested.


  2. Thanks. The video doesn't seem to work for me but anyhow I am glad to discover that there are more hunter-gatherers in Tanzania than the better known Hadza and Sandawe.

  3. "estimate that around 80 female aurochs were initially domesticated. Such a low number is consistent with archaeological data indicating that initial domestication took place in a restricted area and suggests the process was constrained by the difficulty of sustained managing and breeding of the wild progenitors of domestic cattle."

    Given that aurochs were quite large, the domestication must have been a heroic project. I would bet that a lot fewer than 80 bulls were involved!

  4. I know that Anatolian aurochs were smaller (hence the fact that modern cattle is generally smaller than classical European aurochs).

    But, anyhow, I imagine that rather than dominating them by violence the strategies of domestication were more of befriending them, specially as youngsters, when all semi-intelligent animals are more open-minded. It may be stuff like giving them salt or other treats by which they get to love you or at least trust you or it may be the more complex feat of breastfeeding the babies of a wild mother you may have killed yourself (or just found abandoned). They won't trust anyone more than their mother... even if she is a human.

    This was surely also the case with wolves/dogs and, I guess with most animals. You can't force them but you can seduce them.

  5. I imagine it could have been done in the same way as elephants by driving them into a kraal with a ring of beaters


    "After capture, a selection were done, and the most promising animals were kept to be tamed...After a period in a Kraal, a cage with wooden bars, were the elephants could be approached in safety, and where the first contact was made with food, water and rewards"

    You could even imagine it starting as a hunting technique where the hunters could drive dangerous animals into a kraal and kill them safely from outside.

  6. I've watched documentaries about such hunting/domesticating techniques and only young elephants were captured, with the help of an already domestic elephant which acts as both bait and teacher. Elephants are anyhow such intelligent, sensible and large animals that they must be somewhat different from others.

    I think that key is to keep female which are normally tamer and get them used to you. For that it's best that they are young and naturally dependent, needing milk or at least being still somewhat needy of maternal/group care in general. This also applies to elephants indeed.

    The exact technique of capture of the founder individuals seems less relevant to me than how they became used to human presence and command after that. Maybe they just adopted random abandoned calves: although I doubt it was the case in general, it's perfectly possible for some individual cases.

    We have to consider that in many cases semi-wild semi-domestic animals also exist: for instance the reindeer packs of the Uralic peoples of the far European North. That may be another example of transition from hunting (practiced by the Uralic and other peoples of Siberia) to herding (in Europe mostly, although there's also the Dukha or Tsaatan in Mongolia and Tuva, who are Altaic-speakers in principle).

  7. "Did prehistoric climate change affect human evolution the same as other animals?"


    "According to one such model, the adoption of a new refugium by a subgroup of a species may lead to important evolutionary changes".

    That is exactly what I claimed in the series of essays Tim posted for me at his blog.

  8. You know that Tim took the blog out, right?

  9. "You know that Tim took the blog out, right?"

    Yes. But I can still access a copy. For example here is the essay in which I explain the specific point:

    And a more basic introductory explanation here:


Please, be reasonably respectful when making comments. I do not tolerate in particular sexism, racism nor homophobia. Personal attacks, manipulation and trolling are also very much unwelcome here.The author reserves the right to delete any abusive comment.

Preliminary comment moderation is... ON (your comment may take some time, maybe days or weeks to appear).