//Journal of Human Evolution

Journal of Human Evolution

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Articles of Interest

Rabbits in the grave! Consequences of bioturbation on the Neandertal “burial” at Regourdou (Montignac-sur-Vézère, Dordogne)

Journal: Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2017


The understanding of Neanderthal societies, both with regard to their funerary behaviors and their subsistence activities, is hotly debated. Old excavations and a lack of taphonomic context are often factors that limit our ability to address these questions. To better appreciate the exact nature of what is potentially the oldest burial in Western Europe, Regourdou (Montignac-sur-Vézère, Dordogne), and to better understand the taphonomy of this site excavated more than 50 years ago, we report in this contribution a study of the most abundant animals throughout its stratigraphy: the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). In addition to questions surrounding the potential bioturbation of the site's stratigraphy, analysis of the Regourdou rabbits could provide new information on Neandertal subsistence behavior. The mortality profile, skeletal-part representation, breakage patterns, surface modification, and comparison with modern reference collections supports the hypothesis that the Regourdou rabbit remains were primarily accumulated due to natural (attritional) mortality. Radiocarbon dates performed directly on the rabbit remains give ages ranging within the second half of Marine Isotope Stage 3, notably younger than the regional Mousterian period. We posit that rabbits dug their burrows within Regourdou's sedimentological filling, likely inhabiting the site after it was filled. The impact of rabbit activity now brings into question both the reliability of the archaeostratigraphy of the site and the paleoenvironmental reconstructions previously proposed for it, and suggests rabbits may have played a role in the distribution of the Neandertal skeletal remains.

Peoples: Neandertals | Places: Dordogne and Montignac-sur-Vézère | Topics: Burials, Neanderthals, and Rabbits | DNA Type: Ancient DNA

An updated age for the Xujiayao hominin from the Nihewan Basin, North China: Implications for Middle Pleistocene human evolution in East Asia

Journal: Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2017


The Xujiayao site in the Nihewan Basin (North China) is one of the most important Paleolithic sites in East Asia. Twenty Homo fossils, which were previously assigned to an archaic Homo sapiens group, have been excavated along with more than 30,000 lithic artifacts and ∼5000 mammalian fossil specimens. Dating of the Xujiayao hominin has been pursued since its excavation in the 1970s, but its age has remained controversial because of limitations of the dating techniques that have been applied to available materials. Here, we report new ages for the Xujiayao hominin based on combined electron spin resonance (ESR) dating of quartz in the sediments and high-resolution magnetostratigraphy of the fluvio-lacustrine sequence. The magnetostratigraphy suggests that the upper Matuyama and Brunhes polarity chrons are recorded at Xujiayao. The ESR dating results indicate a pooled average age of 260–370 ka for the Homo-bearing layer, which is consistent with its position within the middle Brunhes normal polarity chron indicated by magnetostratigraphy. This age estimate makes the Xujiayao hominin among the oldest mid-Pleistocene hominins with derived Neanderthal traits in East Asia. This age is consistent with the time when early Denisovans, a sister group of Neanderthals, appeared and colonized eastern Eurasia. Our updated age and the Neanderthal-like traits of the Xujiayao Homo fossils, particularly the Denisovan-like molar teeth, make it possible that the Xujiayao hominin could represent an early Denisovan.

Peoples: | Places: East Asia | Topics: Nihewan Basin and Xujiayao site | DNA Type: -

Direct radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis of the Darra-i-Kur (Afghanistan) human temporal bone

Journal: Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2017


The temporal bone discovered in the 1960s from the Darra-i-Kur cave in Afghanistan is often cited as one of the very few Pleistocene human fossils from Central Asia. Here we report the first direct radiocarbon date for the specimen and the genetic analyses of DNA extracted and sequenced from two areas of the bone. The new radiocarbon determination places the find to ∼4500 cal BP (∼2500 BCE) contradicting an assumed Palaeolithic age of ∼30,000 years, as originally suggested. The DNA retrieved from the specimen originates from a male individual who carried mitochondrial DNA of the modern human type. The petrous part yielded more endogenous ancient DNA molecules than the squamous part of the same bone. Molecular dating of the Darra-i-Kur mitochondrial DNA sequence corroborates the radiocarbon date and suggests that the specimen is younger than previously thought. Taken together, the results consolidate the fact that the human bone is not associated with the Pleistocene-age deposits of Darra-i-Kur; instead it is intrusive, possibly re-deposited from upper levels dating to much later periods (Neolithic). Despite its Holocene age, the Darra-i-Kur specimen is, so far, the first and only ancient human from Afghanistan whose DNA has been sequenced.

Peoples: | Places: Afghanistan and Darra-i-Kur cave | Topics: Neolithic and Palaeolithic | DNA Type: Ancient DNA and mtDNA

The environmental context for the origins of modern human diversity: A synthesis of regional variability in African climate 150,000– – 30,000 years ago

Journal: Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2012


We synthesize African paleoclimate from 150 to 30 ka (thousand years ago) using 85 diverse datasets at a regional scale, testing for coherence with North Atlantic glacial/interglacial phases and northern and southern hemisphere insolation cycles. Two major determinants of circum-African climate variability over this time period are supported by principal components analysis: North Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) variations and local insolation maxima. North Atlantic SSTs correlated with the variability found in most circum-African SST records, whereas the variability of the majority of terrestrial temperature and precipitation records is explained by local insolation maxima, particularly at times when solar radiation was intense and highly variable (e.g., 150–75 ka). We demonstrate that climates varied with latitude, such that periods of relatively increased aridity or humidity were asynchronous across the northern, eastern, tropical and southern portions of Africa. Comparisons of the archaeological, fossil, or genetic records with generalized patterns of environmental change based solely on northern hemisphere glacial/interglacial cycles are therefore imprecise. We compare our refined climatic framework to a database of 64 radiometrically-dated paleoanthropological sites to test hypotheses of demographic response to climatic change among African hominin populations during the 150–30 ka interval. We argue that at a continental scale, population and climate changes were asynchronous and likely occurred under different regimes of climate forcing, creating alternating opportunities for migration into adjacent regions. Our results suggest little relation between large scale demographic and climate change in southern Africa during this time span, but strongly support the hypothesis of hominin occupation of the Sahara during discrete humid intervals ?135–115 ka and 105–75 ka. Hominin populations in equatorial and eastern Africa may have been buffered from the extremes of climate change by locally steep altitudinal and rainfall gradients and the complex and variable effects of increased aridity on human habitat suitability in the tropics. Our data are consistent with hominin migrations out of Africa through varying exit points from ?140–80 ka.

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