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Friday, April 11, 2008

Aurignacian origins

The developement and arrival of Aurignacian culture to Europe was maybe a definitory moment. Most likely it was carried by the oldest Homo sapiens ever to step in the continent and these are our ancestors, at least our ancestors with the oldest roots here (others may have arrived later on).

Which are the exact origins of this culture seems to have arisen some scholarly disputes and the last word may not have been said yet. But the last years have provided some interesting papers that seem to be largely coincident. I'm mentioning three of them here:

1. M. Otte and J.K. Kozlowski, Constitution of the Aurignacian through Eurasia (2004): This is a brief paper that suggests that the Aurignacian evolves into its finished more characteristic European form as it marches into the West. Its origins could be somewhere in the Middle East or Central Asia, with related sites in Iraq, Iran, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and even remote Altai. The Bacho-Kirian of Bulgaria is a precursor of finished European Aurignacian.

2. J.K. Kozlowski, A dynamic view of Aurignacian technology (2006): A larger and more technical paper. Kozlowski analyzes here the correlations between Bacho-Kirian (Bulgaria), Ahmarian and Emirian (Palestine and Lebanon) and well defined European Aurignacian, as well as transitional cultures (proto-Aurignacian). For him "Mediterranean" proto-Aurignacian is more directly connected to Ahmarian than to Bacho-Kiro but typical Aurignacian is rather a derivation of Bachokirian itself.

... the analysis of production techniques in regions remote from one another (Poland, France) indicates similarity of technology within the Typical Aurignacian. This technology derived from the Initial Upper Palaeolithic, known as the Bachokirian in southeastern Europe.
3. P. Mellars: Archeology and the Dispersal of Modern Humans in Europe: Deconstructing the 'Aurignacian' (2006): For Mellars Aurignacian originates in Ahmarian (Near East), being Bachokirian an intermediate step. He also suggests two routes for the penetration of Aurignacian in Europe.

But more interestingly, Mellars reveals that recent studies allow for much more precise calibration of existing radiocarbon dates, pushing the arrival of Aurignacian to Europe back by some 5,000 years. Aurignacian colonists would therefore have arrived to most of Europe, roughly 42-41,000 years BP (calibrated) or, in other terms, some 40-39,000 years BCE.

He also provides a nice map:


Manjunat said...

Thanks for the map Maju!

Maju said...

You're welcome. That's the study that Ibra posted in Quetzacoatl, so maybe thanks him rather than me.

It caught my attention as it linked well with the other two, so I wrote this. :)

Manjunat said...

Did he post Mellars study before? I didn't know.

Manjunat said...

By the way, I must say that Hammer and I think E is Aurignacian!

Maju said...

Did he post Mellars study before?

Not before. I was just pushed to lurk into Quetzacoatl forum yesterday by Jhangora-pretending-to-be-Ren (what a shameless slug! You should write about this kind of jerks in the discussion on guilt, or rather: lack of - shame, whatever). Anyhow, that I dont post anymore (and Ren's attitude doesn't seem to have changed at all) doesn't mean I cannot lurk, in the hope of fishing some good link like that one.

Hammer and I think E is Aurignacian!

Find it very ulikely. Remember that E is the dominant Y-DNA clade in virtually all Africa, with only limited presence outside the continent and probably linked to the expansion of Afroasiatic languages (Capsian in North Africa).

Anyhow, do you have a link for that Hammer study?

The more I think on European DNA, the more I suspect it's all largely "Gravettian" (cromagnon). There's certainly some mtDNA (specially U clades) that is surely Aurignacian, but HV and R clades may be Gravettian... unless all DNA date guesstimates are just junk, what is a always very serious possibility.

Maju said...


I meant non-recombining DNA, naturally, specially the Y-DNA. I trust more mtDNA estimates (dunno why really: maybe just because the make more sense).

But there are some real problems: Eastern Europe, never Aurignacian and pretty much Gravettian instead (and according to some classical anthropometrists also more "cromagnid"), is instead higher in what would seem as "Aurignacian" mtDNA U, while Western Europe, where Gravettian was rather intrusive is dominated by "Gravettian" H.

So guess it's just better to keep a prudent distance from such guesses (my own in some cases) and just acept we know very little on how genetic lineages travelled in the Upper Paleolithic. One factor to consider is the necessary low population densities, allowing for high drift.

The only thing we know with some certainty so far is a handful of cromagnon mtDNAs, all them N*. But maybe all aDNA analysis could tend to go up the tree artificially (because of DNA deterioration), like those 25% N1 of Neolithic Europe too.

Genetics is still a young science.

Manjunat said...

Here what I come across about Hammer;

And if memory serves me correctly, Hammer believes that some clade of E is likely a good candidate as the initial entrant into Europe.


I trust more mtDNA estimates (dunno why really: maybe just because the make more sense).

Indeed, mtDNA makes better sense!

Maju said...

Not much info there to make a judgement, really. Just because someone beleives something is not a reason for me to adopt that belief.

E is not just bascially distributed in Africa but the offshots in Europe and West Asia seem to very close to North African and NE African clades. Eurasian E basically looks like an extension of North African and, from all I know, it could be very recent: Epipaleolithic Capsian culture brings E3b to North Africa from Sudan or Ethiopia (along with Berber languages) while other groups permeate into Egypt and Arabia (other Afroasiatic languages), maybe in lesser numbers but with similar cultural impact.

The only two areas with high E3b in Europe are southern Iberia and Greece (and nearby areas). The case of Iberia is quite clear for me: Andalusian Neolithic (plus later migrations). The case of Greece is less clear but could be via West Asia (Neolithic too).

If Aurignacian colonists would have been E we would find other patterns probably. If that ancient Y-DNA would have been totally erased by later arrivals, there's no way to know which was, except drilling the bones of the old ones - what hasn't yet been done for Y-DNA.

So that Hammer seems to be speculating a little bit, right?

Manjunat said...

Why fixation on E3b? Hammer and I beleive some clade of E.

Maju said...

No fixation: it's just the only thing around.

Why do you believe that anyhow? Talking is cheap, believing even cheaper... but to have a chance to be right you need reasons, indications,a hypothesis.

I have not read any hypothesis in all this time, not a reason, not an explanation.