Category Archives: pre-history

A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome

A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome

Neandertals, the closest evolutionary relatives of present-day humans, lived in large parts of Europe and western Asia before disappearing 30,000 years ago. We present a draft sequence of the Neandertal genome composed of more than 4 billion nucleotides from three individuals. Comparisons of the Neandertal genome to the genomes of five present-day humans from different parts of the world identify a number of genomic regions that may have been affected by positive selection in ancestral modern humans, including genes involved in metabolism and in cognitive and skeletal development. We show that Neandertals shared more genetic variants with present-day humans in Eurasia than with present-day humans in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that gene flow from Neandertals into the ancestors of non-Africans occurred before the divergence of Eurasian groups from each other.

To cut a long story short…

The authors suggest that non-Africans having about 1-4% Neanderthal ancestry is the most likely explanation for the variation in the DNA they have found. It’s not an absolute. A much less likely but not impossible scenarios is that the variation is due to population structure in Africa prior to the OOA, which may relate with the earlier separation of the ancestors of modern Africans and non-Africans inside Africa, although John Hawkes thinks this is so unlikely he was surprised they gave it space on the paper.

But, considering the number of genes in non Africans that have a time depth that is considerably older than the OOA movement (over 1 million years on one in one study by Hammer et al), and I think there is now decent evidence for Neanderthal ancestry in non-Africans.

I have some issues with the paper. Modern humans were in the near East about 120k ago, keeping company with Neanderthals for many millennia, but the interbreeding date comes out at 80,000 to 50,000 years. What were they doing with the rest of the time?

Such a scenario is compatible with the archaeological record, which shows that modern humans appeared in the Middle East before 100,000 years ago whereas the Neandertals existed in the same region after this time, probably until 50,000 years ago.

  And they observe that modern Europeans don’t seem to have a higher amount of Neanderthal ancestry than anyone else. But then they add:

 This possibility can be addressed by the determination of genome sequences from pre agricultural early modern humans in Europe (85). It is also possible that if the expansion of modern humans occurred differently in Europe than in the Middle East, for example by already large populations interacting with Neandertals, then there may be little or no trace of any gene flow in present-day Europeans even if interbreeding occurred.  

Which is what I suspect is more likely. I’d also like to address the apparent lack of modern human ancestry in the Neanderthals: well a quick look at the dates of the remains sampled; not younger than 38,000 BP. Which is prior to the date modern humans started to move into that part of Europe. Possibly a future investigation of later dated remains would show some AMH ancestry in them, as their appearance suugests they may be hybrids. I think the  Lagar Velho specimen would be a possible source, although it would be a pity to damage the specimen, possibly the Gorham’s Cave bones could yield relevant information.

Tracing the Origin and Spread of Agriculture in Europe

Tracing the Origin and Spread of Agriculture in Europe
Ron Pinhasi1*, Joaquim Fort2, Albert J. Ammerman3

1 School of Human and Life Sciences, Whitelands College, Roehampton University, London, United Kingdom, 2 Departament de Fisica, E.P.S. P-II, Universitat de Girona, Campus de Montilivi, Catalonia, Spain, 3 Department of Classics, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, United States of America

The origins of early farming and its spread to Europe have been the subject of major interest for some time. The main controversy today is over the nature of the Neolithic transition in Europe: the extent to which the spread was, for the most part, indigenous and animated by imitation (cultural diffusion) or else was driven by an influx of dispersing populations (demic diffusion). We analyze the spatiotemporal dynamics of the transition using radiocarbon dates from 735 early Neolithic sites in Europe, the Near East, and Anatolia. We compute great-circle and shortest-path distances from each site to 35 possible agricultural centers of origin—ten are based on early sites in the Middle East and 25 are hypothetical locations set at 5° latitude/longitude intervals. We perform a linear fit of distance versus age (and vice versa) for each center. For certain centers, high correlation coefficients (R > 0.8) are obtained. This implies that a steady rate or speed is a good overall approximation for this historical development. The average rate of the Neolithic spread over Europe is 0.6–1.3 km/y (95% confidence interval). This is consistent with the prediction of demic diffusion (0.6–1.1 km/y). An interpolative map of correlation coefficients, obtained by using shortest-path distances, shows that the origins of agriculture were most likely to have occurred in the northern Levantine/Mesopotamian area

Personally, I’d go for Zagros/southern Turkey, but it’s close enough. I’m okay with the ‘ time at which the spread began can be estimated, under the same hypothesis of linearity (straight fits in Figure 2), to fall within the interval of 9,000–10,500 years before present (BP; uncalibrated years) or 10,000–11,500 BP (calibrated years)'; as domesticates turn up at about 10,500 in Cyprus, which would suggest the expansion started prior to then, which would suggest domestication of animals could be as much as 11,500 years old in the Mesopotamian area. This also bring the temple at Gobekli Tepe into the very early Neolithic (11,500 BP), although the rye at Abu Hureyra is still a bit of a problem to a simple, single start to the Neolithic.

Pinhasi and Pluciennik [26], in their analysis of craniometric affinities between populations, point to the homogeneity between Çatal Höyük and early Neolithic Greek and south-eastern European groups. This homogeneity contrasts with the pronounced heterogeneity found among other Pre-Pottery Neolithic groups in the Near East. On the basis of these results, they hypothesize that a founder population from central Anatolia (represented by specimens from Çatal Höyük) spread into south-east and central Europe. The results of the shortest-path analysis of the POAs could be consistent with their position, since they suggest that Çatal Höyük falls in the region adjacent to the one with the maximum R-values

We concur with Özdoan’s assertion that “an unbiased reassessment of the evidence strongly implies that there were multiple paths in the westward movement of the Neolithic way of life” ([36], pp. 51–52). Aceramic Neolithic levels at sites on Cyprus (late ninth millennium BC [calibrated]), Crete and the Argolid (eight and early seventh millennia BC [calibrated]) are strongly suggestive of an initial population dispersal wave from one or more centers in the Near East [37]. At the present time, it is unclear whether farming reached south-east Europe by means of a secondary demic expansion from Anatolia or as a continuation of the initial dispersal involving Cyprus, Crete, and mainland south-east Greece. In any event, Figure 3B does provide, at this stage of research, spatial information regarding differing grades of likelihood for tracing the origins of agriculture.

Delayed Use of Food Resources among Early Holocene Foragers of the Libyan Sahara

Dismantling Dung: Delayed Use of Food Resources among Early Holocene Foragers of the Libyan Sahara

At Uan Afuda, and other Early Holocene sites of the Acacus mountains, in the Libyan Sahara, dung layers and plant accumulation are a major, but repeatedly neglected, feature of hunter-gatherer communities. To understand the formation and meaning of such features, a multidimensional analysis has been undertaken, combining micromorphological, palynological, botanical, archaeozoological, and archaeological data. The hypothesis here formulated is twofold: plant accumulations are evidence of anthropic activity aimed at the storage of fodder; and dung layers are related to a forced penning of a ruminant, very likely Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia). The exploration of these two features has hinted at the existence of a deep reciprocal relationship, which has been interpreted as the cultural control of wild Barbary sheep, leading to a delayed use of food resources. This behavior may be considered an opportunistic strategy adopted to minimize the effects of lean periods and implicates increasing cultural complexity within Late Acacus Saharan forager societies of the 9th millennium B.P.

Studying the ‘management’ of Barbary sheep (a kind of gazelle related to sheep and goats) during the Holocene. The paper points out a few flaws with Ehrets use of the terms ‘to drive’ etc in proto Northern Sudanic…

Of interest here is the evidence that the first forms of a planned or delayed use of resources in NorthAfrica were initially directed toward animal rather than plant resources. As a matter of fact, with the Proto-Northern-Sudanic, the roots dedicated to the vegetal world are grains and grindstones, not necessarily implicating either a delayed use of resources, or a possible incipient domestication. Conversely, with regard to the animal universe, the root “to drive” may be referred to a kind of hunting or also other activities. Since examples of hunting performed by means of fences are not known in North Africa, the idea that the root may be related to the driving of animals in specific areas (corrals?) appears to be appropriate. Finally, the root “to milk” is also linked to a typical secondary exploitation, as may be seen in the case of Bos exploitation at Bir Kiseiba in the eastern Sahara.

So I’m not the only person who spotted it. The fact that captured wild animals were being ‘kept’ in the Sahara not that far away from Nabta in space and time does have a bearing on the suggested cattle domestication there. A similar scenario to the Barbary sheep would seem more likely, as physically distinguishable domesticated cattle only appear along with Neolithic Asian goats and sheep, and don’t show an closer point of origin like Nabta with dates for domesticated cattle radiating out from the area (fully domesticated cattle should have been seen from dates as old as 8,300 bp in Egypt and Nubia if that were the case- but they aren’t). It would be interesting to look at the bone isotope values of pre-domestication sites in both Asia and north Africa to see it they were using dairy from tamed animals.

The history and spread of donkeys in Africa

The history and spread of donkeys in Africa

The domestication and historical development of the donkey are traced through archaeological and linguistic associations. The donkey is indigenous to the African continent and its wild progenitor is usually considered to be the Nubian wild ass. Historically, a chain of races of wild ass spread from the Atlas Mountains to the Red Sea and probably as far south as the border of present-day northern Kenya. The wild ass may well have been domesticated several times, given the semi-feral production systems under which it was managed until recently. Records of domestic asses begin in Egypt in the fourth millennium BC. The extent to which the wild ass penetrated the interior of Africa is unknown. Faunal remains and rock art representations are extremely rare, which is somewhat at odds with the widespread distribution and economic importance of the donkey in Africa today. This apparent contradiction can probably be explained by the fact that donkeys have been of most importance to poor households and have consequently had low prestige. The spread of the donkey across Africa was linked with the proliferation of long distance caravans. It is argued that greater attention to the nearly extinct wild ass and to traditional management systems could be helpful in the future development of the donkey in Africa.

In brief – donkeys domesticated probably in the Egypt/Nubia area at the beginning of the neolithic in Africa about 6,500 years ago. Their expansion also seems to mark the expansion of sorghum as a crop, so assuming a similar date for both domestications seems reasonable. I can tell you from memory the oldest donkey remains in Syria/Iraq are about 4,800 years old, similar for sorghum. I have another item around here somewhere on this subject. The conclusion is…

The donkey is certainly derived from the African wild ass, although it may have been domesticated several times in regions of its former range no longer represented by its present-day distribution. This appears to be confirmed by studies of terms for donkey in various African language families. Egypt remains the most likely centre for its early development for agricultural work, although without further archaeology outside the Nile Valley this is uncertain.

Using ancient DNA to examine genetic continuity at the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Portugal

Using ancient DNA to examine genetic continuity at the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Portugal

Two main mechanisms for the introduction of agriculture at the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic in Portugal have been proposed: indigenous adoption and colonisation. Distinguishing between these mechanisms can be regarded as a question of genetic continuity or discontinuity at the transition. A genetic comparison of late Mesolithic and early Neolithic populations at the transition using ancient DNA is described here. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was extracted from human remains collected in several Mesolithic sites of the Sado estuary and from Neolithic cave sites. Phylogenetic analysis, based on the mitochondrial hypervariable region 1 (HVSI), and comparison with DNA from modern European populations was performed. The absence of mtDNA haplogroup J in the ancient Portuguese Neolithic sample suggests that this population was not derived directly from Near Eastern farmers. The Mesolithic and Neolithic groups show genetic discontinuity implying colonisation at the Neolithic transition in Portugal.

A study of Mesolithic and Neolithic Mt DNA from sites inPortugal.


J shows iself to be absent from the Mesolithic and Neolithic samples, and there was some loss of diversity in less common Hg’s. There’s a fair difference between the Mesolithic and Neolithic samples, suggestin population discontinuity-probably a large amount of immgration at the start of the neolithic, although the lack of J suggests this wasn’t from the near East



It also mentions isotope studies on the bones show a very abrupt change from the Meolithic Maritime diet to the land based Neolithic diet, the same as in Britain.

Sharp shift in diet at onset of Neolithic in Britain

Sharp shift in diet at onset of Neolithic

The introduction of domesticated plants and animals into Britain during the Neolithic cultural period between 5,200 and 4,500 years ago is viewed either as a rapid event or as a gradual process that lasted for more than a millennium. Here we measure stable carbon isotopes present in bone to investigate the dietary habits of Britons over the Neolithic period and the preceding 3,800 years (the Mesolithic period). We find that there was a rapid and complete change from a marine- to a terrestrial-based diet among both coastal and inland dwellers at the onset of the Neolithic period, which coincided with the first appearance of domesticates. As well as arguing against a slow, gradual adoption of agriculture and animal husbandry by Mesolithic societies, our results indicate that the attraction of the new farming lifestyle must have been strong enough to persuade even coastal dwellers to abandon their successful fishing practices.

From this it seems the swap from hunter gatherer to farmer in Britain was very quick, with the ancient Britons abandoning the old ways wholesale.


Who made the early Aurignacian? The dental evidence.

Who made the early Aurignacian? Evidence from isolated teeth.

Page 5

S.E. Bailey. Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig), Department of
Anthropology, New York University.

Neandertals and anatomically modern humans overlapped in Europe between 45- and 30,000 BP. Unfortunately, the human fossil record during this important time period is sparse. What is preserved is fragmentary and consists primarily of jaws and isolated teeth. This has led some to question whether we can determine if Neandertals or anatomically modern humans were responsible for the early Aurignacian. The goals of this study were, first, to investigate whether root lengths can help differentiate these two taxa; and second, to combine these data with tooth crown traits to assess the taxonomic affiliation of isolated teeth from two early Aurignacian sites (Brassempouy and La Ferrassie).

Root lengths were measured from the lingual aspect of permanent teeth of Neandertals (maximum n=15) and Upper Paleolithic modern humans (maximum n=10). The student’s t-test showed that the mean root lengths of I1, I2, C’, I1, I2, C, P3, P4 and M2 were significantly longer in Neandertals than in Upper Paleolithic moderns (p<0.05), with no overlap in the ranges of I1, I1, C’, and P4. At Brassempouy, the root lengths of the two I1s, C’ and M2 fall more than three standard deviations below the Neandertal mean. Likewise, the single I1 from Le Ferrassie possesses a root that is too short to be considered Neandertal. Additionally, the tooth crowns at both Brassempouy and La Ferrassie lack any diagnostically Neandertal traits. Thus, the preponderance of dental evidence suggests that anatomically modern humans, not Neandertals, are associated with these early Aurignacian sites.

And also by the same author… 

Who made the Early Aurignacian? A Reconsideration of the Brassempouy Dental Remains

The dental human remains from the early Aurignacian layers of Brassempouy (Landes) have been recently described by Henry-Gambier et al. (2004). We provide a critical re-assessment of the features that have led these authors to conclude that the taxonomic status of these fossils is uncertain. Although the works of one of us (S.B.) have been partly used and cited by Henry-Gambier et al. (2004), we disagree with the conclusions that have been drawn from them. In our view and based on the available evidence, the early Aurignacian dental remains from Brassempouy are unambiguously modern in their anatomy. They indeed provide further evidence that the makers of the ancient Aurignacian were early anatomically modern Europeans.

 The second link contains a more complete article.I’ll refrain from mentioning that if the remains are so similar at times that they can only be categorised as one or the other with difficulty.. surely this would suggest some overlap between the two genetically as well as physically.