Category Archives: Archaeology

Modern human tool assemblages under and above the Toba ash in India.

After spotting this story on, I traced down the old pdf.


The most interesting part of this (from my POV) was this  (page 42)

The depositional position of the tephra in the Jurreru River Valley, to gether with new chronometric and geochemical evidence, indicates that the ash is a product of the 74,000 year old YTT event (Petraglia et al., 2007). The recovery of Middle Paleolithic assemblages in dated deposits below and above the ash provides the first firm archaeological association, helping to resolve some of the uncertainty about archaeological associations in India. The recovery of Middle Paleolithic industries without major technological changes after the ashfall, indicate that populations survived the super-eruption. We have suggested, based on a variety of datasets, that modern humans were present in the Indian sub continent before the super-eruption, and that these populations survived this event.

I’ve observed that the 60k OOA date is a non-starter based on the arrival of people in Australia ( with TL dates of 55-60k); a pre Toba date is supported for the OOA. I’m still a bit curious why so many seems insistent on a more recent date.  There are modern human sites in Israel dating from 120k (Skhul) to 100k. Not to mention that not the age estimate for the separation of African and non African populations comes to around 140k ago (Cavalli Sforza and at least one other). The moral of this is… never trust a date based on a genetic ‘clock’ unless you can check it with ADNA or archaeological data. The mismatch between the dates on the Paglicci mt DNA (H) and the estimated age of mtDNA type H on one paper should be an example. You’d think they’d start checking against known archaeological dates for population movements/ADNA to improve the accuracy of the estimates.

I have to comment that the estimated ages for expansions in NE Africa in the past few years (about 22-24k for the expansion of M1 from the Nubia area, and 6k for a Chadic expansion) are starting to come close enough to be acceptable, although Y chr dates will probably always be unreliable. Maybe someone should go over all the data for the dates of Eurasian mt DNA to see if they are still getting that pre-Toba date from the mt DNA. I suspect they won’t. There’s a the hint from what’s been published that some of the TL dates in India are now over 100k, which would be interesting if true (no firm source as yet), just this. It would mean that the expansion from Africa would have been fairly rapid into the tropical areas (similar climate, minimal adaptation time) if true.

A few related links, in no particular order so I for my own reference. I hate not being able to find stuff.

Leiterband ceramics and other stray bits of info

More archaeological work in Lower Wadi Howar

A field report I found while looking for info on Leiterband pottery. Most usable quotes for me..

Leiterbandmotifs are the predominant decorative pattern of the earliest pastoral phase of Middle Wadi Howar, but also occur further west in the Chad,

 Leiterbandmotifs, which suggest a date in the fourth or third millennium BC

From a second pdf studying the same area (more interesting than the one above):

On the basis of 15 radiocarbon samples, the Leiterband complex dates chiefly between 5200 and 4000 14C yr

And the sequence goes in Wadi Howar… dotted wavy line (Holocene hunter gatherers) Laqiya (later hunter gatherers), then Leiterband (pastoralist). The oldest Leiterband marked is just a bit younger than 6,000 BP.

The only thing that troubles me mildly is that there is no mention of ovicaprines at the Leiterband sites. Lots of cattle though, and microliths that were probably used to bleed them. However a little digging tells me that ovicaprines were present in 5,500 BP at Al Kadada (which was founded about 6,000 BP), so the animals would have been known to the Leiterband people, just not herded by them. Possibly the lack of ovicaprines was due to the lusher conditions in the Wadi at the time that favoured cattle.

 And another pdf, Aridity, Change and Conflict in Africa, has more information: it seems that small livestock were a slightly later addition (behind by a few hundred years into Northern Sudan).

A look at the geology of the area explains why the Westward migration – Wadi Howar provides a route from the Nile to the West that would still have had water in the Leiterband era.

The development of the pottery design styles in the Wadi Howar region which dates the Leiterband transition to 6,000 BP. This one has the best info on the ceramics and their manufacture .

Well, we have an earliest date of 6,000 BP for the expansion of proto Chadic speakers West along Wadi Howar. So a Neolithic culture is strongly associated with Chadic speakers, which IMO adds more weight to a neolithic date for the expansion of v88 into Africa and it’s ‘marriage’ to L3f3.

The Women of Brassempouy: A Century of Research and Interpretation

The Women of Brassempouy: A Century of Research and Interpretation

The discovery of female figurines at Brassempouy in the 1890’s would launch more than a century of debate and interpretation concerning Paleolithic representations of women. The figurines emerged from the ground into a colonial intellectual and socio-political context nearly obsessed with matters of race. This early racial interpretive frame would only be replaced in the mid 20th century, when prehistorians turned to questions such as fertility and womanhood.

The first figurines were discovered in 1892 under rather tortured circumstances in which their very ownership was the subject of a heated dispute between Edouard Piette and Emile Cartailhac. Their toxic relationship would lead Piette, in his subsequent excavations, to be extremely precise about issues of stratigraphic and spatial provenience. Piette’s publications and archives enabled Henri Delporte to confirm the Gravettian attribution of the figurines and have allowed the present author to create a map of their spatial distribution within the site.

Technological and microscopic analysis of the Brassempouy figurines resolves some lingering questions about the sex of certain of the figurines and suggests an original context of figurine fabrication and the abandonment of unsuccessful sculpting attempts.

Just a pdf I found while surfing, with some interesting info on some of the statuettes.

So, non-Africans are definitely part Neanderthal

Finally the DNA evidence is in from Paabo ect. I thought I detected signs of a back track last year when he said they had probably had sex.

Neanderthal Genome Yields Insights Into Human Evolution and Evidence of Interbreeding With Modern Humans

 “We can now say that, in all probability, there was gene flow from Neanderthals to modern humans,” said the paper’s first author, Richard E. (Ed) Green of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

I’m trying to locate the full text for the Science article later. But my PC time is a bit limited today. However, I am officially entering smug mode now. Told you so.

I image there are a few anthropologists hopping up and down like excited orangutans right now at the news. To quote John Hawks:

Out-of-Africa movement was a major mechanism of recent human evolution. The genetic ancestry of living people is multiregional.


It does define all non-Africans today as an interspecific hybrid population.

From the article..

“The scenario is not what most people had envisioned,” Green said. “We found the genetic signal of Neanderthals in all the non-African genomes, meaning that the admixture occurred early on, probably in the Middle East, and is shared with all descendants of the early humans who migrated out of Africa.”

Which would suggest that the Levant, where modern humans and Neanderthals co-existed for some time about 120k ago was a mixing place for the two. According to the article, between 1% nd 4% of the genomes of non-Africans in Neanderthal in origin, which pretty much tallies with some of the older studies done (they are on the blog if you want to hunt them down).

The estimate of the time of admixture is around 50,000-80,000 years, however I’m not really sure why that should be correct, seeing as they first encountered each other prior to the ‘beach buggy’ colonisation of S/SE Asia, which would kind of place 80k as a bare minimum age, and more like 100k as there is some evidence of modern humans in SE Asia 74k ago under the Toba ash (necessitating a dispersal date for SE Asian populations of about 95k min). I also wonder what implications this has for the route out of Africa, as an exit via the Gate of Tears would make it less likely they’d come into contact with the Med coast Neanderthals of the era. I wonder if the number is more a composite of the very early mix in the Levant, followed by a later addition of Neanderthal DNA in Europe.

Having a happy day :)

The lineage of King Tutankhamun from ancient DNA analysis

The news of the month, kindly posted to me by a friend, is that they have proved via ADNA that the mummy from tomb Kv55 is Akhenaten, son of Amenhotep III and king Tutankhamun’s father, and that the younger lady (KV35) is his mother. It also seems Tut died of malaria and suffered congenital deformities, which I’d guess were the result of incestuous marriages in the royal family. This means that the prior ageing of KV55 as 18 was way off.

This also mean that queen the red-haired queen Tiye (elder lady mummy) was the mother of Kv35 (using logic, they all have the same mt DNA), which might explain why they were found in the same tomb.

I’ve prepared a brief genealogy.


Known grandparents  

 Amenhotep III  and Tiye (whose parents were Tuya and Yuya)

     File:KV55 scull.jpg   

Known parents

Akhenaten (Kv 55)  and  (KV 35).

The actual name of KV35 uncertain but she has been suggested as Nefertiti, these were brother and sister.


 Tutankhamun, who appears to have also married his sister Ankhesenamun.

It would be interesting to see if the mummy in Kv21A is indeed Tut’s wife Ankhesenamun, as she is known to be the daughter of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, and this could give a definitive answer as to whether Kv35 is in fact Nefertiti.  Ankhesenamun has been identified as the mother of one of the fetuses from Tut’s tomb, so this might be on the cards for the future.

Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family
Zahi Hawass, PhD; Yehia Z. Gad, MD; Somaia Ismail, PhD; Rabab Khairat, MSc; Dina Fathalla, MSc; Naglaa Hasan, MSc; Amal Ahmed, BPharm; Hisham Elleithy, MA; Markus Ball, MSc; Fawzi Gaballah, PhD; Sally Wasef, MSc; Mohamed Fateen, MD; Hany Amer, PhD; Paul Gostner, MD; Ashraf Selim, MD; Albert Zink, PhD; Carsten M. Pusch, PhD
JAMA. 2010;303(7):638-647.


  The New Kingdom in ancient Egypt, comprising the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties, spanned the mid-16th to the early 11th centuries BC. The late 18th dynasty, which included the reigns of pharaohs Akhenaten and Tutankhamun, was an extraordinary time. The identification of a number of royal mummies from this era, the exact relationships between some members of the royal family, and possible illnesses and causes of death have been matters of debate.


  To introduce a new approach to molecular and medical Egyptology, to determine familial relationships among 11 royal mummies of the New Kingdom, and to search for pathological features attributable to possible murder, consanguinity, inherited disorders, and infectious diseases.


  From September 2007 to October 2009, royal mummies underwent detailed anthropological, radiological, and genetic studies as part of the King Tutankhamun Family Project. Mummies distinct from Tutankhamun’s immediate lineage served as the genetic and morphological reference. To authenticate DNA results, analytical steps were repeated and independently replicated in a second ancient DNA laboratory staffed by a separate group of personnel. Eleven royal mummies dating from circa 1410-1324 BC and suspected of being kindred of Tutankhamun and 5 royal mummies dating to an earlier period, circa 1550-1479 BC, were examined.

Main Outcome Measures

  Microsatellite-based haplotypes in the mummies, generational segregation of alleles within possible pedigree variants, and correlation of identified diseases with individual age, archeological evidence, and the written historical record.


Genetic fingerprinting allowed the construction of a 5-generation pedigree of Tutankhamun’s immediate lineage. The KV55 mummy and KV35YL were identified as the parents of Tutankhamun. No signs of gynecomastia and craniosynostoses (eg, Antley-Bixler syndrome) or Marfan syndrome were found, but an accumulation of malformations in Tutankhamun’s family was evident. Several pathologies including Köhler disease II were diagnosed in Tutankhamun; none alone would have caused death. Genetic testing for STEVOR, AMA1, or MSP1 genes specific for Plasmodium falciparum revealed indications of malaria tropica in 4 mummies, including Tutankhamun’s. These results suggest avascular bone necrosis in conjunction with the malarial infection as the most likely cause of death in Tutankhamun. Walking impairment and malarial disease sustained by Tutankhamun is supported by the discovery of canes and an afterlife pharmacy in his tomb.

Conclusion  Using a multidisciplinary scientific approach, we showed the feasibility of gathering data on Pharaonic kinship and diseases and speculated about individual causes of death.

According to someone (not me) who has been bothered to enter the Y chr markers as seen on the video, Tut is coming up as R1b. I’d have put money on it being something more like an E1 Y chr, or maybe J as an outside chance…R1b isn’t unknown in Egypt, (see Wood 2005) but isn’t exactly common. R1b appears to have entered Africa from Asia sometime in the Neolithic along with Afro-Asiatic, which is really all I have to say until I get a published source and more detail. Can’t get any detail on the mt DNA, unfortunately. 

For anyone interested, there’s a bunch of videos at the Discovery Channel site about this, with some good shots of Akhenaten in his coffin.

Taforalt man into the Sahara.

L’homme de Taforalt au Sahara, ou le problème de l’extension saharienne des Cromagnoïdes du Maghreb

The important discovery of a cro Magnon settlement in the Southernmost Sahara  dating to the Holocene brings new data on the morphological and geographical evolution of the Cro Magnon population of the Maghreb (Men of Mechta-Afalou-Taforalt). The great resemblance between the men of Taforalt and those of the Sahara (Hassi-el-Abiod, Mali) pose the problem of their origins. Was it a migration from the Maghreb at the beginning of the Holocence aided by favourable climate conditions or regional evolution from the regional Aterien stock mixing with the Cro Magnons of the Maghreb and the Sahara? The numerous climatic changes occurring in this part of the Sahara during the last 30,000 years could be an efficient evolutive promoter and can explain the morpholgical and cultural differences observed between the Sahara and Maghrebian series. However, what will happen later to African Cro magnids in the Maghreb and especially in the Sahara is still an open question.

 I’m not going to translate the whole thing, but it observes that the Mechtoids vanish about 7,0oo years ago (very latest site in the Sahara, but they are gone by 10,000 Bp at the coast when the Capsian culture arrives from the near east) when the proto- mediterranoids arrive, and they are not found in later sites. When I have a little more time I’ll make up a more comprehensive entry involving this and the other work on mechtoid populations and genetics that should explain their origins and relationships a bit more clearly. Please excuse my imperfect translation.


These new discoveries bring three new basic concepts; firstly, African Cro Magnids occupied a vast part of the North of  Africa of the end of Pleistocene until  the beginning of  the Holocene; secondly in spite of regional morphological characteristics, all Mechtoids belong to the same group; thirdly these facts suggest the existence of a common ancestor to these three populations and this ancestor could be represented, until there are other older discoveries, by the Aterian people.

Which I’d have to disagree with, as the stone tool cultures and genetics suggest an expansion from Lower Nubia/Egypt about 24k ago that spawned off the Mechtoid/Kebaran populations, which was roughly equal in terms of back-migrating Eurasian and Nubian-African ancestry. Except for the Taforalt population, which ADNA has shown was entirely Eurasian for mt DNA, and may have been the result of a migration southwards across the straits of Gibraltar about the time of the LGM (20k ago) mixing with the local Mechtoids.

Possible Neolithic cannibalism in Germany

This one  is all over the news today. At a site dating to 7,000 BP in Herxheim, Germany, they have found human remains that seem to bear the signs of being butchered for meat. While this isn’t pleasant, it’s not exactly unheard of from many locations around the world. But the scale, about 500 victims- possibly up to 1000, is unusual.

That’s a lot of corpses for a tiny Stone Age village. There were 10 buildings at most here in the last phase of the Linear Pottery culture of the European Neolithic Age around 5,000 to 4,950 years BC. The corpses weren’t native to this area, researchers have discovered. They came from all over Europe — from the area of what is now Paris, from the Moselle River 100 kilometers to the northwest and even from the Elbe River valley some 400 kilometers away. The broken bits of pottery lying between their ribs reveal their origin. It’s the so-called Linear Pottery that gave the entire population group its name: decorated with linear patterns pressed into the moist clay while it was being made.

 I’d recommend going to the this news article which has a lot of images and more information than I just can’t be bothered to type in right now. The ceramics were apparently from the Paris and Elbe valley about 400 kilometres away, showing how far people had come to get to the site. 

There’s a link to the magazine the full article was in (you need to subscribe).

There’s some disagreement as to whether the people were eaten, the remains seem to have been people in good health and not killed in battle, that had been brought to the region with ceramics that were broken at the site.  It’s quite possible this was some kind of religious behaviour involving de-fleshing of the bones rather than cannibalism. This behaviour only seems to have lasted for a 50 year time span.

Note: I will get around to clearing the comments backlog- I’m down to 200 now…be patient.

Some Observations on Christian Burial Practices at Kellis

Some Observations on Christian Burial Practices at Kellis

Gillian E. Bowen

In 1997 I was invited by Anthony Mills to publish the archaeology of the Kellis 2 cemetery as an adjunct to my work on early Christianity in Egypt. Since that time further Christian burials have been discovered at Kellis other than in this cemetery. The primary aim of this paper is to publish preliminary observations on the burial practices adopted by the Christian community at Kellis in light of what is known of such practices in Egypt. The graves in Kellis 2 are being excavated by archaeologists under the direction of Eldon Molto, who co-ordinates the work of the physical anthropologists. Molto and his team are conducting a range of analyses on the skeletal remains that have added a new dimension to our knowledge of the community. Molto’s analyses include radiocarbon tests of twelve samples in an effort to determine the date of the interments. The interpretation of the results of those analyses presents a broad time-frame that is seemingly at variance with the data from the settlement. This paper, therefore, presents an ideal opportunity to consider this dichotomy and how it might be addressed by  archaeologists and physical anthropologists alike.


A paper on Roman era burials of Egyptians that converted to Christianity, NOT Roman Christians.

The number of Christian burials at Kellis and the lack of identified pagan burials from the end of the third century attest the rapid conversion of the community.

 DNA from modern Egypt suggests that any Roman input was a fraction of one percent, and so it would seem unlikely that a place so far off the beaten track in the South Western Desert would have any large amount of non Egyptian ancestry in it. Dr Molto’s DNA breakdown of the population was that it had mainly northern (Eurasian) maternal haplotypes.

Both populations, ancient and contemporary, fit the north-south clinal distribution of “southern” and “northern” mtDNA types (Graver et al. 2001). However, significant differences were found between these populations. Based on an increased frequency of HpaI 3592 (+) haplotypes in the contemporary Dakhlehian population, the authors suggested that, since Roman times, gene flow from the Sub-Saharan region has affected gene frequencies of individuals from the oasis.

I’ve got the abstract here.

There’s a lot of information on the burial customs, both pagan and Christian in the era.

35,000 year old figurine from Germany


From Hohle Fels in south west Germany and I just love it. Okay, so she looks a bit like a spatchcocked chicken with knockers and stretch marks, but it’s still brilliant. Link

Reconstruction of an early European skull


By Dr Richard Neave. I believe (though I can’t find anything saying this specifically) this is the Peştera cu Oase 2   crania from Romania (edit: John Hawkes also says it this one), which is 40,000 years old and was found by potholers. I can’t find any other crania of this age or date from Romania, so by a process of elimination this would be it. They don’t know if the skull is male or female.

Peştera cu Oase 2 crania.

First of all let me comment my objection to this recon is entirely to do with the really dark skin colour of the head. My main point is that even Southern Africans have a skin colour a lot lighter than this. Modern humans were also resident across North Africa from about 130k ago, and into the near East from about 100k ago- 60k prior to the entry into Europe, so the reason behind the UV-resistant equatorial skin tone escapes me as that area (equator) was left behind about 90k prior to entering Europe. The Khoisan people in the area believed to be where humans evolved are much lighter. I’m also a little unsure as to why he made the nose quite so flared, as the shape seems half way betwen European and African. But then, I have seen some Irish guys with nostrils like that.

Also needing to be taken into consideration is that the European hair colour mutations for fair/brown and red hair date back to over 80k, and that the red hair genes at least  will have had a lightening affect on skin tone. Lighter eye colours also lighten skin colour, and although blue is recent and fairly limited in distribution, other eye colours are much older and wider distributed, even as far as the Ainu and the Hmong.

On the other hand; it has the brow ridges, heavy jaw and wider nose you typical of more archaic samples, as seen in this 26,000 year old ivory head from Europe. The average prognathism in the Paleolithic samples is greater than in modern populations, and probably has a lot to do with the much larger teeth humans had prior to the Neolithic farming revolution.

Judging from the scant art objects the Europeans had straight hair. So.. give him hazel brown eyes and dark brown hair and a lighter Khoisan-ish skin tone and you’d probably be close to an accurate reconstruction of the face.