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.

Eurasian Y chromosome R1b in Africa.

Human Y chromosome haplogroup R-V88: a paternal genetic record of early mid Holocene trans-Saharan connections and the spread of Chadic languages

Fulvio Cruciani et al.


Although human Y chromosomes belonging to haplogroup R1b are quite rare in Africa, being found mainly in Asia and Europe, a group of chromosomes within the paragroup R-P25* are found concentrated in the central-western part of the African continent, where they can be detected at frequencies as high as 95%. Phylogenetic evidence and coalescence time estimates suggest that R-P25* chromosomes (or their phylogenetic ancestor) may have been carried to Africa by an Asia-to-Africa back migration in prehistoric times. Here, we describe six new mutations that define the relationships among the African R-P25* Y chromosomes and between these African chromosomes and earlier reported R-P25 Eurasian sub-lineages. The incorporation of these new mutations into a phylogeny of the R1b haplogroup led to the identification of a new clade (R1b1a or R-V88) encompassing all the African R-P25* and about half of the few European/west Asian R-P25* chromosomes. A worldwide phylogeographic analysis of the R1b haplogroup provided strong support to the Asia-to-Africa back-migration hypothesis. The analysis of the distribution of the R-V88 haplogroup in >1800 males from 69 African populations revealed a striking genetic contiguity between the Chadic-speaking peoples from the central Sahel and several other Afroasiatic-speaking groups from North Africa. The R-V88 coalescence time was estimated at 9200–5600 kya, in the early mid Holocene. We suggest that R-V88 is a paternal genetic record of the proposed mid-Holocene migration of proto-Chadic Afroasiatic speakers through the Central Sahara into the Lake Chad Basin, and geomorphological evidence is consistent with this view.

I haven’t had a look at the full text for this yet, but relevant to this is the mt DNA study of Chadic speakers which showed a passage from East Africa (somewhere to the West of the Nile in the Sudan is my guess, it’s the only place the v88 and L3f3 would meet up).

 A date ~8,000 YBP was estimated for the L3f3 sub-haplogroup, which is in good agreement with the supposed migration of Chadic speaking pastoralists and their linguistic differentiation from other Afro-Asiatic groups of East Africa.

Which isn’t inconsistent with the date for V88 proposed at 9,200-5,600 years, and is also a very close match for the arrival of the Neolithic in Africa.

 Just a brief  note on the mt DNA  study: the only Afro-Asiatic speaking group that the Chadic speakers plot closely to is Cushitic, which will probably make Blench happy, as he claims Chadic speakers are a split-off from Cushitic speaking pastoralists. It’s fairly obvious that the male line of Chadic speakers followed a path into Africa via the Sinai, then down the West bank of the Nile and then struck out West to Lake Chad, acquiring wives as they went. The only issue is the exact date. Holocene or Neolithic? Whatever the exact date, this brings the argument for an Asian origin for Afro-Asiatic out again, as (from the DNA here) the odds are 50% that it followed the male line in from Asia. I would like to comment that Chadic has cognates for sheep and goats that look like they share a root with Cushitic and Egyptian, which would at least date proto Chadic to the Neolithic, making the mt DNA date of 8,000 more likely to be close to the actual date for V88 to enter Africa.

The trans-Saharan slave trade – clues from interpolation analyses and high-resolution characterization of mitochondrial DNA lineages

The trans-Saharan slave trade – clues from interpolation analyses and high-resolution characterization of mitochondrial DNA lineages

Background: A proportion of ¼ to ½ of North African female pool is made of typical sub- Saharan lineages, in higher frequencies as geographic proximity to sub-Saharan Africa increases. The Sahara was a strong geographical barrier against gene flow, at least since 5,000  years ago, when desertification affected a larger region, but the Arab trans-Saharan slave trade could have facilitate enormously this migration of lineages. Till now, the genetic consequences of these forced trans-Saharan movements of people have not been ascertained.

Results: The distribution of the main L haplogroups in North Africa clearly reflects the known trans-Saharan slave routes: West is dominated by L1b, L2b, L2c, L2d, L3b and L3d; the Center by L3e and some L3f and L3w; the East by L0a, L3h, L3i, L3x and, in common with the Center, L3f and L3w; while, L2a is almost everywhere. Ages for the haplogroups observed in both sides of the Saharan desert testify the recent origin (holocenic) of these haplogroups in sub-Saharan Africa, claiming a recent introduction in North Africa, further strengthened by the no detection of local expansions.

Conclusions: The interpolation analyses and complete sequencing of present mtDNA sub-Saharan lineages observed in North Africa support the genetic impact of recent trans-Saharan migrations, namely the slave trade initiated by the Arab conquest of North Africa in the seventh century. Sub-Saharan people did not leave traces in the North African maternal gene pool from the time of its settlement, some 40,000 years ago.

I haven’t read the whole paper through yet, but just from reading the bit I put in bold.. I’m sure that a paper on ancient Guanche mtDNA showed an L haplotype or two present which meant they had to be present a few thousand years ago during the colonisation of the Canary islands.

 The majority of lineages (93%) were from West Eurasian origin, being the rest (7%) from sub-Saharan African ascription

And a very ancient age for L6 crossing over into Spain (about 20 kya) from another paper. So I’m going to state emphatically this can’t be correct. Not to mention that the ceramic using Saharan Negroid ’roundhead’ population reached as far as the Acacus mountains (about 10,500 bp) and would have had some contact/gene flow with the coastal Capsians (who were  a near Eastern /Mechtoid mixed people from the cranial studies I’ve seen and the expansion dates of Y chr J1 and H mtDNA). Although  the majority of the L haplotypes in North Africa are due to the slave trade, they can’t ALL be.

I read through this this morning. The most interesting bits of the whole pdf for me were…

Clearly, the main component of the West Eurasian lineages was made of possible Iberian
expanded lineages following the post-glacial climate improvement: H1 (12.35%), V (9.88%)
and U5b (1.23%).

I’d debate the 14k age for this given in the paper… but they had to have arrived before the Taforalt people died as the H, HV /V turns up in those 12k old samples..

A few L3 sequences observed in North Africa have older co-ancestry with other sub-Saharan
regions, but as this occurs in the rarer haplogroups (almost restricted to East Africa), most
probably the scenario will change as these become better characterized. This is the case for
one L3x2 sequence observed in Algeria, which shares an older most recent common ancestor
with two Ethiopian, one Israeli and one Kuwait, at 33,165 ± 4,499 years ago, but one
Ethiopian and the Israeli and Kuwait sequences share a younger ancestor at 19,012 ± 4,200.
Also, one Egyptian L3f2b sequence shares an ancestor with a Chadic one at around 24,809 ±
5,935 years ago
. For L3h1a2 haplogroup, one Egyptian and one Lebanese sequences share a
coalescence age of 26,281 ± 6,139 years old. And for L3h1b, with an age of 36,827 ± 3,772
, one of the North African sequences (one Tunisian and one Moroccan) has a most recent
common ancestor of 14,766 ± 4,448 years old with a sequence from Guinea Bissau.

I’ve been looking for mtDNA that could have accompanied the M78 out of Africa (arriving in the near east and NW Africa about 22k ago). While M1 obviously fits that date, it’s nice to see that some of the L3 dates aren’t incompatible with the m78;  being found in Natufian areas of Israel and Lebanon. The Israel/Kuwait/Ethiopian L3 may be a back-migrating L haplotype, not incompatible with the return of M1 and U, or another haplotype caught up in the Lower Nubian expansion and fanned out into the same areas as the m78/M1.

So far, the two only complete published samples belonging to haplogroup L3k have a North
African origin, one from Libya and one from Tunisia. This haplogroup has a coalescent age of
around 29,251 ± 6,524 years old

Who/where did that come from?

But the most useful thing in the whole paper are the maps, which give a quick over view of L distribution in Africa. I’ve reworked this one in colour, as the original is a bit hard to make out in places.

One of the interesting patterns I noticed was the (quite possibly superficial) relation to the expansion of non-L haplotypes and L3h in E/SE Africa. Also the hotspot for L3h in Northern Sudan, makes me wonder if it may not have been a travelling companion to the non-African mt DNA’s at some time. Unlike Maju, I’d say this looks like it has an origin on the Nile rather in Ethiopia, as it seems to have a relation to the expansion pattern of the M1/M1a/m78  from Lower Nubia/Egypt.

I’m going to have a dig to see what I can find on L3h now…

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.

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 🙂

IQ Population Genetics: It’s not as Simple as You Think

IQ Population Genetics: It’s not as Simple as You Think

A paper I came across while blog surfing. While the IQ stuff is interesting, what really caught my attention was the section on the out of Africa date.

Both genetic evidence (Ingman et al., 2000; Underhill et al., 2001; Zhivotovsky et al., 2003) and the fossil record (White et al., 2003) point to Africa as the likely homeland of our species. According to the most widely accepted scenario, one or more subgroups of early modern humans left Africa between 120,000 and 100,000 years ago to become the ancestors of the non- African populations

Which makes a pleasant change after reading an idiot paper earlier today that was hitting the 40k date. Again.

 And something I didn’t know..

Genes, like drugs, have many side effects. This is called pleiotropy. For example, the average IQ of nearsighted people is 6 to 8 points higher than the average for normal-sighted people.

Although I am familiar with a medical condition called torsion dystonia that raises the IQ of the sufferer by an average of 10 points. An interesting read.

Brain size, relative intelligence, sex and fat.

After re-reading the ludicrous (and I’ll explain why it’s ludicrous) assertion that women have an average IQ five points lower than the male claims from Lynn, I thought I’d dig up some of the facts and figures surrounding this flawed work.

First of all I’m going to put a link to this paper on relative brain size and intelligence by Tom Schoenemann, a professor whose specialist field is the evolution of the human brain. It has several numbers relevant to this subject:

Male:          (55.5 kg body weight, 1361 g brain weight)
Female:    (51.5 kg body weight, 1228 g brain weight)

As you can see, the human male appears to have a brain size proportionally slightly larger than the female. However, one thing  routinely ignored in all these measurements is fat. The average human male  (Western) carries a body fat of about 16%, women carry about 22%. Which means you need to calculate the relative brain size compared to non-fat mass, as fat is a null factor and as far as anyone can tell requires no processing power to control. My IQ at nine stone would be exactly the same if I weighed ten stone, although my relative brain size would have decreased due to the extra fat I now carried. This does not apply to long-term obesity which affects the brain, but the mere gaining of a few pounds has no known effect on IQ.

So from the numbers above the  you would have 25.52 g of brain per kg of body mass (male) vs 23.84 g (female). The female comes out as 93.4% the relative size of the male from this.

Factoring in the difference in body fat… 

 male       55.5- 8.88 (16% fat)  =  46.62  for 1361g, or 29.19g/kg

female    51.5 – 11.33 (22% fat) = 40.17 for 1228g, or  30.57g/kg

And all of a sudden the ‘large relative difference’ (16.6% here) between male and female brain size does a vanishing act. Here women actually seem to have a slightly larger relative brain size, although this may well be from the body fat percentages I used here being slightly askew. I’m not claiming that the percentage for body fat is 100% accurate, and if anyone reading this can link me to a study with the exact figures I’d be grateful, but you get the ballpark idea here.

In the Lynn study he comments how women seem to be doing better than men in spite of having a lower IQ; which suggests to me that the tests he and his colleagues were using were hinky. One of the main uses for IQ tests is to predict academic ability, and really all that Lynn’s test did was establish that his did not measure academic ability well in women or men, which pretty much proved it was slightly biased in favour of the male, and therefore not an accurate measure of intelligence. Gender biasing an IQ test is easy to do if you put in a few extra maths questions and remove a few language questions (in favour of the male). Something similar happened in the early days of IQ testing when a series of IQ tests found women to have a notably higher IQ, until they ‘balanced’ the test out.

This really goes towards ‘what are IQ tests and do they measure general intellegence’ debate. So far (poll a few psychologists) the consensus is that IQ tests are a real indicator of your general intelligence level and are a good predictor of your life outcome. If they weren’t relevant to real life/academic success, the only thing an IQ test would indicate would be how good you are at IQ tests, and your score wouldn’t be even remotely related to how smart you are (see earlier point about the tests Lynn used).

Going back to the Schoenemann paper, he makes it very clear that so far relative brain size and IQ are very strongly correlated:

“It is quite simply a myth that brain size and  IQ are empirically unrelated in modern populations.”

So far all the studies I’ve seen show a correlation between general brain size and IQ of about .4, which is statistically significant. I’m wondering if a more focused MRI/IQ brain size study vs non-fat body mass would reveal a much higher correlation for humans than this.

But essentially, functionally identical relative brain size (when fat is factored in) for male and female makes Lynn’s claims for a 5 point difference extremely hard to support, even more so when he admits that the tests used did not accurately predict academic outcome for the women who took them. In fact, he himself has commented on how racial difference in IQ are supported by the difference in relative brain mass. So how, with no quantitive difference between sexes in relative brain mass, can his claims for a lower average female IQ be correct?

It can’t.

Shame on you for bad science, Dr Lynn.