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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Several volcanoes may have severily damaged Neanderthals


This is the hypothesis proposed by Liuvob Golovanova in the latest issue of Current Anthropology, according to Science News.

Golovanova's team has found two different volcanic ash layers in the Neanderthal  site of Mezmaiskaya, in the North Caucasus, the first one is dated to c. 45 Ka ago and the second one to c. 40 Ka ago. This one seems to have sealed the fate of Neanderthals in the Caucasus. 

Some time later, c. 38-37 Ka ago, items that are mostly associated with Homo sapiens, such as perforated shell ornaments, bone points and other items, appear at the site. 

A similar situation is found, as far as I know, in the not too distant site of Kostenki, in southern Russia. The 40 Ka eruption is also associated with the cold episode known as HE4 and has been related to the expansion of Aurignacian culture in SW Europe. 

However it must be noted that in the same issue, geologist Biagio Giacio, challenges Golovanova's account, mentioning the presence of artifacts under the ash layer in several Mediterranean locations. I presume that these are the same sites that Julien Riel-Salvatore has been digging in Southern Italy, of Uluzzian culture. 

Riel-Salvatore stands today at his blog by his published claims of Uluzzian being a Neanderthal industry, mostly because of the existence of a Mousterian (probably Neanderthal) buffer in Central Italy arguably preventing Sapiens influences from arriving,  but other researchers have already proposed that it is of H. sapiens manufacture because of it srather unmistakable Upper Paleolithic style, including bone tools (unknown to have been ever made by Neanderthals), and specially the presence of perforated decorations. 

The debate continues. 

Ref. L.V. Golovanova et al. Significance of ecological factors in the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition. Current Anthropology. Vol. 51, October 2010, p. 655. doi:10.1086/656185.

8 comments:

Maria Lluïsa said...

"Some time later, c. 38-37 Ka ago, items that are mostly associated with Homo sapiens, such as perforated shell ornaments, bone points and other items, appear at the site. "

From what I read, Golovanova proposes that neanderthal extinction was due to volcanoes and had nothing to do with modern human arrival in Europe. According to him, it's even possible that neanderthals, who died more than 40 Ka and modern humans, who arrived in Europe at 37-38 Ka never coexisted. That'd explain why europeans don't carry more neanderthal DNA than Papuans.
However, there are sites in Europe dating more than 40 Ka which show PA and Aurignacian industries, which are associated with moderns.
If moderns didn't invent Aurignacian, which industry carried with them when they arrived in Europe?

"Riel-Salvatore stands today at his blog by his published claims of Uluzzian being a Neanderthal industry, mostly because of the existence of a Mousterian (probably Neanderthal) buffer in Central Italy arguably preventing Sapiens influences from arriving"

He said he thinks Uluzzian was invented exclusively by neanderthals and had no relationship with modern human industries. However, it's suspicious to me the fact that Uluzzian was chronologically and culturally so close to many Upper paleolithic industries associated with modern humans.

What's your opinion on this?

Maju said...

"According to him"...

It's 'him' or 'her'? My understanding of Russian surnames' system is that if it ends in -ova is a woman and if it ends in -ov is a man. But I may be wrong. :)

Anyhow...

"According to him, it's even possible that neanderthals, who died more than 40 Ka and modern humans, who arrived in Europe at 37-38 Ka never coexisted. That'd explain why europeans don't carry more neanderthal DNA than Papuans".

Well, you have some modern Europeans before those dates in the Balcans/Central Europe area. At least Pestera cu Oase. If Bachokirian-Bohunician and/or proto-Aurignacian are AMH industries, that's another support for H. sapiens as early as 48 Ka in Europe, even if maybe not East Europe or the Caucasus.

They'd be living near the Neanderthals of Vindija, so contact surely happened in some parts of Europe. Though maybe they just watched each other from the distance with distrust, who knows?

Also there is a good case, I understand, for at least possible contact in West and Central Asia since c. 50 Ka ago (regardless of much earlier contacts in the Skhul/Qahfez episode).

And Europeans, specially those first Europeans, came from West Asia.

"If moderns didn't invent Aurignacian, which industry carried with them when they arrived in Europe?"

Have you read the Hoffecker 2009 paper? He argues for, in principle, all UP industries to be made by H. sapiens except Chatelperronian-Szeletian (and this one has been challenged recently anyhow).

It's hard to say but there is certainly a point in assuming all are potentially made by AMHs. Of course you can also take the opposite stand, as Millán Mozota does, and say none of them are creation of Homo Sapiens, nothing until Gravettian is because there is no hard evidence that it is.

Personally I am inclined rather towards Hoffecker's and that also means Golovanova's views. But maybe evidence contradicts them in the future.

"What's your opinion on this?"

I have already written a reply to his comment, which will be surely visible soon (he has admin approval enabled). Essentially I think he's committing an error by assuming by default that Uluzzian is a Neanderthal industry (a common belief maybe but not demonstrated in any way).

My central question is whether is there a more or less clear local transition from Mousterian to Ulzzian or rather, as I understood from his papers, that Uluzzian is an intrusive industry even if we don't know its origins yet.

I find his reasoning quite weak, because the same that there is little (some there may be) evidence for "acculturation of Neanderthals" by Sapiens' influence, there's no reason to think that isolated Neanderthals in southern Italy would suddenly invent something that is so similar (different too but very related in any case) to other techno-cultures that are in general attributed to Homo sapiens.

So I am skeptic of his "defense of Neanderthal genius" in this case. There should be something to prove that Uluzzian is a Neanderthal and not a Sapiens industry in order to make that argumentation.

Maria Lluïsa said...

"It's 'him' or 'her'? My understanding of Russian surnames' system is that if it ends in -ova is a woman and if it ends in -ov is a man. But I may be wrong. :)"

Sorry! I had no idea, because I though Golovanova was the surname, although I don't have any knowledge of Russian :(, I can't tell when a surname is feminine or masculine, but if you're convinced Golovanova is a woman, I believe it.

"Well, you have some modern Europeans before those dates in the Balcans/Central Europe area. At least Pestera cu Oase. If Bachokirian-Bohunician and/or proto-Aurignacian are AMH industries, that's another support for H. sapiens as early as 48 Ka in Europe, even if maybe not East Europe or the Caucasus. "

Yes, but apparently that's not true for Mezmaiskaya, and she completely ignored other sites dated more than 40Ka... that's why other anthropologists criticised her views.


"Have you read the Hoffecker 2009 paper? He argues for, in principle, all UP industries to be made by H. sapiens except Chatelperronian-Szeletian (and this one has been challenged recently anyhow). "

Do you mean this?
http://www.pnas.org/content/106/38/16040.full

Yes, I agree mostly with him/her. Aurignacian seems to be a modern human industry. PA, possibly as well. Although we have no skeletal remains, I found this to be quite interesting:

"If the Bohunician assemblages are proxies for colonizing groups of modern humans entering Europe at ≈48,000 cal BP, then it appears that such groups did not spread into Western Europe at this time (GI 12). The reasons for this are unclear, but seem likely to be related to the local Neanderthal population, which continued to occupy the region at least until the time of the CI eruption and beginning of HE4 (40,000 cal BP). "

If East European neanderthals made Bohunician, I don't find this to be quite logical: why didn't west European neanderthals adopt this industry? Why does it follow a pattern of east-west migration? Why did their industries resemble those of modern humans (Ahmarian)?
And also: if modern humans were living in the Middle East by more than 60Ka, why couldn't they arrive to Europe by less than 50Ka, if they were spreading rapidly across the globe?

"I find his reasoning quite weak, because the same that there is little (some there may be) evidence for "acculturation of Neanderthals" by Sapiens' influence, there's no reason to think that isolated Neanderthals in southern Italy would suddenly invent something that is so similar (different too but very related in any case) to other techno-cultures that are in general attributed to Homo sapiens."

I agree. That's quite puzzling, if we consider for example, that the last neanderthals who lived in Gibraltar by 30Ka, apparently made Mousterian industries, and not Chatelperronian nor other 'transitional' ones. If Italian neanderthals were able to innovate by their own, why not Iberian neanderthals?

Maju said...

I checked at Wikipedia and definitively -ov/-ova, -ev/-eva and some other typical Russuian surname endings have gender duality, so the sister (or even wife, as they traditionally take the husband's surname) of Gorvachov is Gorvachova. In fact I remember well his wife being addressed as Raisa Gorvachova.

So Golovanova is a woman. John Hoffecker is however most probably a man (because of the first name). Most difficult are East Asian surnames for me, sincerely, not only I am unable to differentiate man from woman but even which part is the name and which one the surname.

Solved the gender issue...

Maju said...

"Do you mean this?
http://www.pnas.org/content/106/38/16040.full"

Yes.

"Yes, I agree mostly with him/her. Aurignacian seems to be a modern human industry".

He goes beyond Aurignacian, he argues that most European early UP cultures are, specially Bohunician (incl. Bachokirian) and Proto-Aurignacian, which are typologically very close to Aurigancian proper and have precedents in Palestine which are unmistakably made by AMHs. He argues for Aurignacian proper to have been derived from Bohunician specifically, already in Central Europe.

"Although we have no skeletal remains"...

Pestera cu Oase is from the Bohunician/Early Aurignacian area and age, even if is not directly related to any industry.

"If East European neanderthals made Bohunician, I don't find this to be quite logical: why didn't west European neanderthals adopt this industry?"

Who says that Neanderthals made the Bohunician? Bohunician is not an "East European" industry but a Central European one (and with Bachokirian also a Balcanic one). AMHs surely did not arrive to East Europe until the Aurignacian era, c. 40Ka ago, though with somewhat different (but still "Aurignacoid") industries.

Hoffecker says Western Europe (Franco-Cantabrian region primarily, maybe also Germany and Italy) as opposed to Central Europe (Middle Danube and the Balcans), no East Europe (former USSR). He's discussing the Aurignacian expansion in that paragraph.

However in 2009 the adscription of Chatelperronian to Neanderthals had not yet been challenged. If Bar Yosef and Bordes are correct, then the AMH expansion was faster and older (by some 8 to 3 Ka, depending on whether you consider proto-Aurigancian or Chatelperronian and what dates you accept as valid).

After the Bar Yosef/Bordes paper, a serious possibility is open: that the expansion of H. sapiens, not only in West Asia and SE/Central Europe but also in most of West Europe, was very fast and happened in the 48-43 Ka range, with peak c. 44 Ka maybe, with Neanderthals surviving in Iberia, Central Italy, parts of Croatia and most East Europe (i.e. wherever late Mousterian is attested). This won't be consensuated any time soon anyhow I figure but is now a serious hypothesis.

terryt said...

"I had no idea, because I though Golovanova was the surname"

It is. Russian surnames are genderised. The tennis players Safin and Safina are brother and sister.

"Most difficult are East Asian surnames for me"

The surname is usully the first one. That's why most Koreans' names start 'Kim'.

"If East European neanderthals made Bohunician, I don't find this to be quite logical: why didn't west European neanderthals adopt this industry?"

The spread could well have been gradual. There's no need for the technology to have been rapidly adopted by neighbouring populations. That also applies to the comment, 'if modern humans were living in the Middle East by more than 60Ka, why couldn't they arrive to Europe by less than 50Ka, if they were spreading rapidly across the globe?'

"Why does it follow a pattern of east-west migration?"

Wouldn't we expect that direction of flow?

"Why did their industries resemble those of modern humans (Ahmarian)?"

Aculturation and genetic introgression?

Maju said...

"The surname is usually the first one".

Yes but some people westernize it and it becomes the other way around.

Anyhow what I meant is that I could not tell a man from a woman by name if they are East Asian. Nothing too important anyhow.

Maju said...

"5) The Hoabinhian should not be referred to as a 'Mesolithic' phenomenon"

I doubt that number 5 means it should be called Paleolithic."

That is exactly what it means. 17,000 years ago there was no Neolithic anywhere.

Anyhow that was a conference. If there is a Hoabhinian Neolithic (and AFAIK there is), that's it.

The term Mesolithic is used capriciously. Probably they meant that there is no evidence of autochtonous forager-farmer transition like in the Fertile Crescent, the archetypal Mesolithic area (Kebaran, Zarzian...) but that there was a forager and farmer Hoabinhian but no evidence of gradual evolution between both.

Probably the same applies to Capsian in North Africa, which is first Epipaleolithic and then Neolithic (but this may be slightly more confuse because there's some evidence of Mesolithic transition in Egypt, where Capsian probably originated).

"So it's hardly a characteristic 'microlith'".

That's irrelevant. The term Neolithic refers to agriculture and pastoralism, to an economy and not anymore to artifacts such as polished stone adzes or pottery. Microliths define mode 5 of stone technology, which is typical of Epipaleolithic and Mesolithic in West Eurasia but is early UP in India and AFAIK very rare in East Asia.

Trying to apply Eurocentric categories to all the world does not help.

Besides the sumatralith may be typical but is not the only kind of Hoabinhian tool. AFAIK they used mode 4 (blades) to some extent and specially flake-based tools. Ask an expert anyhow.

"The lack of microliths in the industry also argues against your association of Homo sapiens with the expansion of microlithic technology".

I didn't make such association, I just said that it first appeared in India some 38 Ka ago and certainly among members of our species. But human expansion does not seem to be directly related with them: they are just a technological stage or even style, which probably spread by cultural diffusion mostly.

"So they had agriculture, basic as it may have been. Does that too make them Neolithic?"

I do not know. It is possible but your quote is not clarifying:

"While Solheim noted that the specimens may 'merely be wild species gathered from the surrounding countryside', he claimed that the inhabitants at Spirit Cave had 'an advanced knowledge of horticulture'".

Guess it depends what you want to believe, as the specimens could well be wild species. Or maybe not.

There's some indications that not just in Indochina but also in New Guinea there was some very early cultivation but the evidence is inconclusive.

In Europe too there are occasional indications of at least pastoralism. Some years ago there was a discovery of a pot with remnants of milk or something like that in the area of Switzerland that pre-dated the usually defined Neolithic by some 2000 years. And let's not forget the bridles engraved in so many Magdalenian horse heads.

You can choose to believe it or not, as the evidence is weak but there's still some indication at least.