Tag Archives: European

Paleolithic Europe populated from Asia

First Europeans Came From Asia, Not Africa, Tooth Study Suggests
Kate Ravilious
for National Geographic News
August 6, 2007
Europe’s first early human colonizers were from Asia, not Africa, a new analysis of more than 5,000 ancient teeth suggests.
Researchers had traditionally assumed that Europe was settled in waves starting around two million years ago, as our ancient ancestors—collectively known as hominids—came over from Africa.
But the shapes of teeth from a number of hominid species suggest that arrivals from Asia played a greater role in colonizing Europe than hominids direct from Africa.
These Asian hominids may have originally come from Africa, the scientists note, but had evolved independently for some time.
“Asia was also an important center for hominid speciation,” said Maria Martinón-Torres, a scientist at the National Research Center on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain, who led the study.
The finding suggests that the hominid family tree could be much more complex than previously thought (explore an interactive atlas of human migration).
Species from the genus Australopithecus and the genus Homo arrived in Europe between two million and 300,000 years ago.
Until recently, a lack of fossils from this time period had made it difficult to piece together hominid evolution and migration patterns.
But using the latest fossil findings, Martinón-Torres and colleagues were able to examine more than 5,000 teeth from two-million-year-old Australopithecus and Homo skeletons from Africa, Asia, and Europe.
The shape of the teeth offered clues about each species’ genetic lineages.
“Teeth are like the safe-box of the genetic code,” Martinón-Torres said.
That’s because—compared to bones—teeth change shape very little once they are formed, and their shape is strongly influenced by genetics.
The researchers classified each of the teeth using more than 50 indicators, such as fissure patterns, overall size, and length-to-width ratio.
“We looked at the entire landscape of the teeth—the mountains, valleys, ridges—everything,” Martinón-Torres said.
What they found is that European teeth were more similar to Asian teeth than they were to African teeth.
However, the results don’t rule out African influence on European genes.
“This finding does not necessarily imply that there was not genetic flow between continents,” Martinón-Torres and colleagues write in their paper, “but emphasizes that this interchange could have been both ways.”
The work will be published in tomorrow’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Fluid Migrations
Rather than a one-way stream of people coming from Africa, Martinón-Torres and colleagues think there must have been a more fluid pattern of migrations.
“Just because people had come out of Africa didn’t mean that they couldn’t turn around and go back again,” she said.
The researcher also believes that climate, food, and geography were major influences on hominid migration patterns.
The Sahara, for example, presented a big barrier for movement out of Africa and directly into Europe (see photos and read a related feature about athletes who ran across the Sahara earlier this year).
Rather than struggling across the Sahara, it appears that human ancestors spread in many directions before arriving in Europe.
Erika Hagelberg, a geneticist from the University of Oslo in Norway, is impressed with the study, but cautious about how it should be interpreted.
“The study shows that the genetic impact of Asia on Europe is stronger than that of Africa. But the teeth can’t tell us the direction or the time when people migrated,” she said.
Nonetheless, the new study does complement direct gene studies and supports the idea that hominids evolved independently in many different parts of the world.
“The fossil teeth are a way to study the traits of past peoples,” Hagelberg said, “and help balance the work being done on the genes of people alive today.”

Well, duh, we knew that from the fossils. Nice to have corroborating evidence though.

Possible evidence for Mesolithic agriculture in Europe.

Mesolithic agriculture in Switzerland? A critical review of the evidence.

February 2007.  

Accumulating palaeobotanical evidence points to agricultural activity in Central Europe well before the onset of the Neolithic, commonly dated at ca 5500–5200 cal BC. We reinvestigated an existing pollen profile from Soppensee with refined taxonomical resolution by further subdividing the Cerealia pollen type into Triticum t. and Avena t. because the sediments at this site currently provide the highest temporal resolution and precision for the period of interest among all sites in Switzerland. Our new results are in agreement with previous high-resolution investigations from Switzerland showing scattered but consistent presence of pollen of Cerealia, Plantago lanceolata, and other cultural plants or weeds during the late Mesolithic period (6700–5500 cal BC). Chronologically, this palynological evidence for sporadic agricultural activities coincides with a major break in material culture at ca 6700 cal BC (i.e. the transition from early to late Mesolithic). Here, we review possible arguments against palaeobotanical evidences of Mesolithic agriculture (e.g. chronological uncertainties, misidentification, contamination, long-distance transport) and conclude that none of these can explain the consistent pollen pattern observed at several sites. The palynological evidence can, of course, not prove the existence of pre-ceramic agriculture in Central Europe. However, it is so coherent that this topic should be addressed by systematic archaeobotanical analyses in future archaeological studies. If our interpretation should turn out to be true, our conclusions would have fundamental implications for the Neolithic history of Europe. Currently, it is intensely debated whether Central European agriculture developed locally under the influence of incoming ideas from areas where Neolithic farming had already developed earlier (e.g. southeastern Europe) or whether it was introduced by immigrating farmers. On the basis of our results, we suggest that agriculture developed locally throughout the late Mesolithic and Neolithic. Mesolithic trading networks connecting Southern and Central Europe also support the hypothesis of a slow and gradual change towards sessile agriculture, probably as a result of incoming ideas and regional cultural transformation.

Unfortunately I can’t reproduce the whole article here. But I have the conclusion..

Indications of agricultural activity during almost the entire late Mesolithic are recorded in many pollen profiles. It seems highly unlikely that the palynological evidence of cultivated plants and adventive weeds could have originated from sources other than Mesolithic agriculture in the region, though we cannot completely exclude this reservation. The archaeological evidence is still less clear. The few credible radiocarbon dates suggest a chronological framework for the late Mesolithic between 6700 and 5500 cal BC, and the beginning of the proper Neolithic (i.e. agriculture,livestock, pottery and stone axes) around the middle of the sixth millennium BC. There is no credible evidence of bones from domesticated animals (with exception of dogs) from late Mesolithic assemblages, whereas in the early Neolithic goat and sheep (imported animals) played animportant role.

Considering the general palaeovegetational patterns and their chronology, we postulate a connection between the occurrence of the earliest cereal and weed pollen and thes triking cultural change at the transition from the early tot he late Mesolithic.

Equivalent developments can be observed in large parts of Europe. Agricultural adoption by indigenous hunter-gatherers as opposed to the partial or wholesale immigration of agriculturalists is a complex issue. Our combined palaeobotanical and archaeological evidences are in favour of the hypothesis of a gradual change, probably owing to incoming ideas and regional cultural transformation. In the Near East and in southern Europe (Greece, Italy), a pre-ceramic (or aceramic) Neolithic had developed before the onset of pottery-based agriculture. This innovation (cultivation of cereals without ceramic production) reached continental Greece at about the end of the eighth millennium BC and southern Italy at ca 7000 cal BC

Our systematic finds of pollen of cereals and weeds are younger than these dates (first clusters around 6600–6500 cal BC, although one single Triticum pollen grain occurred at ca 7800 cal BC at Soppensee).However, if they represent agricultural activities, such a rapid spread of agriculture across the European continent (reaching almost simultaneously Bavaria in the east and France in the west) could be explained by dynamic Mesolithic (exchange) networks transporting the idea of agriculture. Moreover, the material culture of the Central European late Mesolithic probably developed autochthonously, but with strong influences from the Mediterranean region. Given the striking change in material culture at 6700 cal BC we cannot, however, reject the hypothesis of an immigration of people from southern Europe that may have influenced local Mesolithic groups. Similarly, combined palaeobotanical and archaeological data (gradual increase of pollen indicative of agricultural activity over centuries, high continuity in silex culture) suggest that the proper Neolithic at ca 5500 cal BC developed autochthounously and that immigration of people as suggested for the loess areas of Central Europe was of minor relevance, which is corroborated by recent genetic results.

 Nonetheless, considering the disagreement with other palaeogenetic studies, more localised genetic samples are needed tothoroughly address this question.

The unambiguous proof for early (pre-ceramic) agricultural activities in Central Europe requires finds of cereal macroremains The lack of suchf inds in Switzerland is a consequence of two reasons. Owing to the (humid) climatic conditions resulting in very high biological activity and thus high decomposition ratesin the soils, such grains are seldom preserved in an archaeological context in Central Europe As a matter of fact, Swiss late Mesolithic archaeological excavations yielded no finds of any plants at all, except from charcoal and carbonised Corylus nutshells. Of course, this does not mean that other plant resources were not used by the late Mesolithic people. Instead, it rather mirrors poor preservation conditions and especially the complete lack of systematic archaeobotanical analyses. Given the palynological indications for agricultural activities, the inclusion ofarchaeobotanical, archaeozoological and palynological approaches is highly desirable for future archaeological investigations covering the late Mesolithic period. Indeed,cereal grains may have been occasionally charred (e.g. in orclose to a fire place). Unambiguous evidence such as cereal grains within cultural layers older than 5500 cal BC would imply the presence of a pre-ceramic Neolithic in Central Europe, which would correspond to what is currently called the late Mesolithic period.

One of the plants he names as being common is P. lanceolata, plantian (a wheat field weed). He suggests a moblile life where crops are planted and then left, which would definitely be very interesting. What really needs to be done is sift through the fire remains to find cereal grains.

Interestingly, someone else shares my view that Mesolithic Europeans could have been planting nut trees. Would this be a ‘Mesolithic revolution’?

From ‘The Cambridge World History of Food’.

During the Mesolithic, hazelnut bushes spread rapidly to many parts of Europe, as evidenced by pollen diagrams. This is in contrast to the vegetation development of the earlier interglacials. Hazelnuts are heavy, with low dispersal rates, so that it is very unlikely that the plant diffused unaided to all parts of northern Europe at the same time. Instead, it has often been assumed that hazelnuts were culturally dispersed by Mesolithic peoples (Firbas 1949: 149; Smith 1970: 81—96). Indeed, the distribution of these nuts is recorded by pollen analysis in the Mesolithic layer of Hohen Viecheln at the border of Lake Schwerin in northern Germany (Schmitz 1961: 29).

I suggest that someone takes a trip to the area around Francthi cave in Greece, and starts searching for lentil, almond, pistachio and vetch pollen. If it is absent before about 11,000 BP, that would more or less prove that those plants were imported and cultivated prior to grains, and it would place agriculture in Europe at 2,000 years earlier.

Oldest European calendar on a clay pot

Zagreb – A Croatian archaeologist claims to have deciphered Europe’s oldest calendar from a ceramic pot with a decorative pattern of stars which matches those seen on calendars in Egypt and Sumer.

Archaeologist Aleksandar Durman has dedicated years of research to the pot, which was unearthed in 1978 in an ancient copper smelter in the eastern Croatian town of Vinkovci.

Durman says the earliest calendars appeared around 3000 BC and that he only recently realised the importance of the markings on the pot, which dates from the Vucedol culture around 2600BC.

He says the Stonehenge prehistoric monument in Britain, which is known to be a form of calendar, was finished several hundred years after the pot was made.

‘This is an entirely astral calendar’
Durman discovered that the markings on it appeared to be illustrations of constellations visible in the sky from the 45th parallel.

“Unlike other ancient calendars, usually based on the movements of the moon or the sun, this is an entirely astral calendar,” he says.

Durman says that on the planes of eastern Slavonia, people of Vucedol could not find a fixed point on the horizon to observe the sun’s movements so they had to rely on the orderly rising and setting of stars to measure time.

He found that each season of the year was represented, in one of the four strips on the pot, by constellations dominating the sky in those months. With comparison to the Sumerian, Egyptian, Indian and other ancient calendars, the constellations were easy to recognise, Durman says.

The markings confirm that the constellation of Orion had a special place in the Vucedol people’s view of the world – it essentially heralded the beginning of a new year.
“In the times of the Vucedol culture, Orion’s belt, which is the dominant winter constellation, sank under the horizon exactly on March 21, thus marking the spring equinox,” Durman says.

The characteristic symbols also decorated hundreds of pieces of pottery of the Vucedol culture – named after an archeological site near the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, about 300km east of Zagreb – displayed in an exhibition in the capital.

The Vucedol culture emerged around 3000BC on the right bank of the River Danube in eastern Croatia among migrants from the subcontinent or present-day Iran.

The people of Vucedol were originally cattle breeders, but with the discovery of copper smelting, their culture began to flourish and later spread throughout central and southeast Europe.

They had a highly-structured society, whose notables were buried with golden jewellery.

The copper worker was an important figure in this shamanist culture, as he was regarded as someone who could reach into the womb of the Earth to take the ore and with his craft interfere in the natural processes.

“A metallurgist had a role of the shaman and was considered as having the ability to control the passage of time, and thus the calendar,” Durman says.

The Vucedol people also practised human sacrifice in complicated rituals.

A story of one of these rituals was recorded on a piece of pottery bearing symbols of Mars, Venus and the constellation of Pleiades. The piece was discovered in a grave beside skeletons of a man and a woman in Vucedol in 1985.

The bodies, covered with charcoal, were probably sacrificed after a rare celestial phenomenon involving the passage of Mars and Venus through the Pleiades, researchers led by Durman suggest.

“In shamanist beliefs, Mars and Venus are the most important planets and their followers on the Earth were probably poisoned and buried as some kind of a message,” Durman concluded. – Sapa-AFP