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New analysis of KNM-ER 47000B supports attributing KNM-ER 47000 to Paranthropus boisei

KNM-ER 47000 is a fossil hominin upper limb skeleton from the Koobi Fora Formation, Kenya (FwJj14E, Area 1A) that includes portions of the scapula, humerus, ulna, and hand. Dated to ∼1.52 Ma, the skeleton could potentially belong to one of multiple hominin species that have been documented in the Turkana Basin during this time, including Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Paranthropus boisei. Although the skeleton lacks associated craniodental material, the partial humerus (described here) preserves anatomical regions (i.e., distal diaphysis, elbow joint) that are informative for taxonomic identification among early Pleistocene hominins. In this study, we analyze distal diaphyseal morphology and the shape of the elbow region to determine whether KNM-ER 47000 can be confidently attributed to a particular species. The morphology of the KNM-ER 47000 humerus (designated KNM-ER 47000B) is compared to that of other early Pleistocene hominin fossil humeri via the application of multivariate ordination techniques to both two-dimensional landmark data (diaphysis) and scale-free linear shape data (elbow). Distance metrics reflecting shape dissimilarity between KNM-ER 47000B and other fossils (and species average shapes) are assessed in the context of intraspecific variation within modern hominid species (Homo sapiens, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, Pongo pygmaeus). Our comparative analyses strongly support attribution of KNM-ER 47000 to P. boisei. Compared to four other partial skeletons that have (justifiably or not) been attributed to P. boisei, KNM-ER 47000 provides the most complete picture of upper limb anatomy in a single individual. The taxonomic identification of KNM-ER 47000 makes the skeleton an important resource for testing future hypotheses related to P. boisei upper limb function and the taxonomy of isolated early Pleistocene hominin remains.

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Estimating the number of hominin individuals occupying the famed FLK Zinj site in the Olduvai Gorge

Humans are the only primates that maintain regular inter-group relationships and meta-group social networks that enable the inter-group flow of individuals. This is the basis of the band/tribe concept in the anthropology of modern foragers. The present work is a theoretical approach to the development of analytical tools to understand group size and the temporal scale of site occupation in the archaeological record. We selected FLK Zinj as one of the oldest examples of a taphonomically-supported anthropogenic site in which both variables (group size and time) could be modelled using a combination of modern forager regression estimates from their camp sizes and estimates derived from the combined use of modern African foragers' meat consumption rates per day per capita during the dry season and minimum estimates of flesh yields provided by the carcass parts preserved at FLK Zinj. This approach provides the basis for a testable hypothesis which should be further tested in other Oldowan sites. An estimate of 18–28 individuals occupying FLK Zinj was made, which is similar to the estimated 16 individuals of one of the 1.5 Ma Ileret Homo erectus footprint trails. It also shows a similar proportional distribution to Dunbar's equations (group size to neocortex ratio) as documented in modern foragers, which suggest that most of the social network of H. erectus was in the meta-group level as is the case of modern foragers. Irrespective of the range of variation discussed for both variables (group size and length of time represented), it is argued that neither small estimates of time nor small group sizes can account for the formation of FLK Zinj.

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Dentition of cave bears from Scladina cave shows morphological variation chronologically over time.

The supposed herbivorous cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) occupied Europe throughout the Quaternary. Being subject to large spatial variation has led to the intensive study on its geographical polymorphism, generating debates on sub-speciation. However, temporal morphological information on the species is somewhat lacking. Here, we apply geometric morphometrics (GMM) technique to investigate temporal morphological variation in molar size and shape of Ursus spelaeus from different chronostratigraphic sediment units in a geographically confined site (Scladina Cave, Belgium), covering approximately 100,000 years.

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Bailongdong Hominin Cave Site is now radiometrically dated to 509,000 years of age

The fossil evidence of hominins in China is crucial to understand the human evolution and dispersal in Eurasia. However, the dating of Chinese Early and Middle Pleistocene hominin record remains a serious problem. In this study, we applied coupled ESR/U-series dating method on Bailongdong hominin cave site in Hubei Province, central China, which is a key area to study early human migration between South and North China. The U-series analyses show that the fossil teeth samples from three horizons are close or beyond equilibrium, which indicate very early uptake or potential loss of uranium. Single saturation exponential fitting of 10 dose points irradiated up to 4 kGy was used for DE determination except one by double saturation exponential fitting with 16 dose points up to 63 kGy. Calculated by two uranium migration models, we obtain a weighted mean age of 509 ± 16 ka for five fossil teeth from layer 2. Combined with cosmogenic nuclides 26Al/10Be burial dating carried out on the cave deposits beneath the fossil layers in previous study, the multi-methods dating study places Bailongdong site at the early stage of Middle Pleistocene, and pinpoints the deposition of the fossil remains to the time of marine isotope stages 13. This is in agreement with the fauna composition and sedimentary characteristics which show a subtropical-tropical warm forest-grass environment. The multi-methods dating of Bailongdong site by both cosmogenic and coupled ESR/U-series methods is a good example for the future chronological studies of early human sites in China.

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Radiometrically dating the volcanic rocks encasing the Engare Sero Footprints using garnet 238U-230Th geochronology

Radioisotopic dates for Late Pleistocene to Holocene silica-undersaturated volcanic rocks are often imprecise, limiting our ability to assess the frequency of eruptions in alkaline volcanic provinces, evaluate related volcanic risk and date associated archaeological sites. Here, we present a new approach to dating alkaline volcanic rocks employing 238U-230Th disequilibrium dating of Ca-rich garnet phenocrysts by laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICPMS). We document analytical protocols and apply this technique to date magmatic garnets from the 472 AD Pollena eruption of Vesuvius (Southern Italy) and from the Engare Sero Footprint Tuff, a volcaniclastic unit attributed to Oldoinyo Lengai (Northern Tanzania). Garnet phenocrysts from the Pollena phonolite yield a well-defined U-Th isochron with a date of 2.28 ± 0.71 ka (1σ) that is indistinguishable from the historical date and suggests that garnet crystallized close to eruption with a pre-eruption residence time of less than 1.6 kyr. Garnets from the Engare Sero Footprint Tuff yield a U-Th isochron date of 4.91 ± 0.58 ka (1σ). This date is compatible with 14C and 40Ar/39Ar dates that bracket tuff deposition to between ∼5 and ∼19 ka but confidently constrains the age of the Engare Sero Footprint Tuff to the mid-Holocene. These examples demonstrate the potential of this new approach for dating Late Pleistocene to Holocene silica-undersaturated volcanic rocks at millennial-scale precision and for investigating magma chamber processes beneath active alkaline volcanoes.

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The bony labyrinth of StW 573 representing Australopithecus prometheus shares similarities with StW 578

Because of its exceptional degree of preservation and its geological age of ∼3.67 Ma, StW 573 makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of early hominin evolution and paleobiology. The morphology of the bony labyrinth has the potential to provide information about extinct primate taxonomic diversity, phylogenetic relationships and locomotor behaviour. In this context, we virtually reconstruct and comparatively assess the bony labyrinth morphology in StW 573. As comparative material, we investigate 17 southern African hominin specimens from Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Makapansgat (plus published data from two specimens from Kromdraai B), attributed to Australopithecus, early Homo or Paranthropus, as well as 10 extant human and 10 extant chimpanzee specimens. We apply a landmark-based geometric morphometric method for quantitatively assessing labyrinthine morphology. Morphology of the inner ear in StW 573 most closely resembles that of another Australopithecus individual from Sterkfontein, StW 578, recovered from the Jacovec Cavern. Within the limits of our sample, we observe a certain degree of morphological variation in the Australopithecus assemblage of Sterkfontein Member 4. Cochlear morphology in StW 573 is similar to that of other Australopithecus as well as to Paranthropus specimens included in this study, but it is substantially different from early Homo. Interestingly, the configuration of semicircular canals in Paranthropus specimens from Swartkrans differs from other fossil hominins, including StW 573. Given the role of the cochlea in the sensory-driven interactions with the surrounding environment, our results offer new perspectives for interpreting early hominin behaviour and ecology. Finally, our study provides additional evidence for discussing the phylogenetic polarity of labyrinthine traits in southern African hominins.

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A review of the latest research at the Etiolles, northern France, during the Magdalenian Period

Since the revolutionary application of Eastern European planimetric field techniques (see Gallay, 2003; Soulier, 2015) and, more broadly, of ‘palethnological’ methods to French sites, notably Pincevent in the late ’60s (Leroi-Gourhan and Brézillon, 1966, 1972), the excavation and study of open air sites have greatly contributed to a finer understanding of the day-to-day life of Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers. Central to André Leroi-Gourhan's new ethnographically-oriented perspective (Leroi-Gourhan, 1936) were a handful of open-air Magdalenian camp sites from the Paris Basin, such as Marsangy, Verberie, Étiolles, and of course, Pincevent.

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New Uranium-Thorium Dates at Klasies River Mouth suggest that the SASU sub-member is 126 years of age

In this paper the new excavations at Klasies River main site are introduced and the first results presented and linked with previous work, establishing a baseline for future reporting. Data from the earliest phase of the SAS member, comprising the basal SASU and SASL sub-members from caves 1 and 1A are discussed. A new U-Th date of 126.0 ± 1.5 ka on flowstone associated with fallen tufa material within the base of the SASU sub-member provides a maximum age for this part of the sequence. The lowermost SASU sub-member formed most likely around 100 000 years ago during a period associated with increased precipitation whereas the age of the underlying SASL sub-member is uncertain. The SASU sub-member contains in situ deposits that include hearths, in contrast to the underlying SASL sub-member that was subject to post depositional disturbance. Despite the different site formation processes the lithic industry of both sub-members is similar although quartz utilization is somewhat more prominent in the SASL sub-member. The main reduction strategy involves a parallel unidirectional convergent method to produce quartzite blade and point blanks with rare retouch. Relatively more browsing fauna and riparian species, indicating more closed environments, occur in the SASU layers. The older SASL sub-member, not previously described as an independent unit, contains relatively more grazers suggesting drier and more open habitats. It is vital to link evidence from coastal sites such as Klasies River to data from the interior to promote insight into modern human origins from a wider landscape perspective. The work of James Brink, to whom this paper is dedicated, is invaluable in developing this connection.

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A partial Homo pelvis from the Early Pleistocene of Eritrea

Here we analyze 1.07–0.99 million-year-old pelvic remains UA 173/405 from Buia, Eritrea. Based on size metrics, UA 173/405 is likely associated with an already described pubic symphysis (UA 466) found nearby. The morphology of UA 173/405 was quantitatively characterized using three-dimensional landmark-based morphometrics and linear data. The Buia specimen falls within the range of variation of modern humans for all metrics investigated, making it unlikely that the shared last common ancestor of Late Pleistocene Homo species would have had an australopith-like pelvis. The discovery of UA 173/405 adds to the increasing number of fossils suggesting that the postcranial morphology of Homo erectus s.l. was variable and, in some cases, nearly indistinguishable from modern human morphology. This Eritrean fossil demonstrates that modern human-like pelvic morphology may have had origins in the Early Pleistocene, potentially within later African H. erectus.

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A Mousterian hunting place in the Southern Jura (Ain)

The Chênelaz cavern is currently the first altitude site in the Southern Jura to display a Mousterian style scene dedicated to Hunting Scenes. This occupation phase corresponds to an interstadial period of the würm period, which is correlated by a 65,000-year uranium-thorium dating. The sample comes from a piece of stalagmitic floor, including several Mousterian artifacts. The Mousterian does not seem to have any concordance with the features known in the Rhône area, but it is likely to have more similarities with the facies of Alpine Jura area.

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Methodological dangers of a dental calculus microbiome analysis

Since at least the 1980s, it has been known that archaeological dental calculus contains preserved cellular structures of oral bacteria, but it was only recently discovered that it is also a robust and long-term reservoir of well-preserved DNA (Adler et al., 2013). Advances in ancient DNA now enable direct comparisons between ancient and modern oral microbial communities. Recently, Weyrich et al. (2017) suggested that preserved dental calculus could be a useful source of information for the reconstruction of Neanderthal behavior, diet, or disease. The authors succeeded in deeply sequencing five Neanderthal individual dental calculus samples, retrieving in three of them (one individual did not provide any genetic data, another was omitted because of possible contamination with modern humans) 93.76% of bacterial sequences, 5.91% archaeal sequences, 0.27% eukaryotic sequences, and 0.06% viral sequences. Shotgun-sequencing of ancient DNA from these specimens brought to light regional differences in Neanderthal ecology: For instance, at Spy Cave, Belgium, a heavily meat-based diet (including woolly rhinoceros and mouflon) was evident, which is characteristic of a steppe environment, whereas at El Sidrón Cave, Spain, no meat eating was detected, but mushrooms, pine nuts, and moss were eaten, reflecting forest gathering. Weyrich et al. (2017) suggested that differences in diet were linked to an overall shift in the oral microbiota, and proposed that meat consumption may have contributed to substantial variation within Neanderthal microbiota. From these dental microbiome data, and notably from phylogenetic analyses of an Archaea species named Methanobrevibacter oralis (10.2 × depth of coverage, the oldest draft microbial genome generated to date, at ∼48 ka), the authors inferred interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals. Based on the molecular clock and a comparison between M. oralis subsp. neandertalis, isolated from a Neanderthal genome, and M. oralis, isolated from modern humans, they concluded that the divergence of these microbial subspecies occurred 143–112 ka, i.e., much later than the divergence between Homo sapiens and H. neanderthalensis (450–700 ka; Stringer, 2016). Based on these dates, Weyrich et al. (2017) concluded that these microorganisms could have been transferred between these hominins during interactions subsequent to their divergence, leading to the inference that modern humans and Neanderthals interbred.

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Four principal methods of Levallois stone tool production identified at Middle and Upper Palaeolithic in Mongolia

Situated on the eastern periphery of Central Asia, Mongolia was a potentially important pathway for the migration of palaeopopulations from the west to the east (and/or vice versa). Possible scenarios for the dispersal of ancient human populations in Mongolia are much more complicated than we initially supposed, due to the limited number of corridors penetrating natural barriers like the mountains of southern Siberia in the north and the arid mountain systems of the Mongolian and Gobi Altai ranges in the south. Nevertheless, we can detect several episodes during which those barriers were crossed by human migrants in the Upper Pleistocene based upon the geographic distribution of various species of Homo. These migration events can be detected by analyzing variability in lithic knapping technology and stone tool assemblages in Mongolia. The earliest two dispersal events we can identify – the Terminal Middle Paleolithic (TMP) and Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) are associated with an extremely complex and enigmatic question: who were the bearers of those cultural traits and did they successively replace one another, or did they co-exist, overlapping culturally? Both the TMP and IUP are associated with the Levallois reduction technology. Here, we attempt to analyze and interpret the entire spectrum of Levallois methods from chronological and technological perspectives, identified in Terminal Middle Paleolithic and Initial Upper Paleolithic assemblages from Mongolia. We identify four principal Levallois methods. The reduction strategies associated with them share features in common with lithic industries from the Russian Altai district in southern Siberia as well as northwestern and north-central China.

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300,000 year old European Brown Bear of Grays Thurrock, UK has a comparable diet to the Sun Bear of southeast Asia

This study presents a new database of dental microwear features for extant bear species, which is used to interpret palaeodiet in brown bear (Ursus arctos) from the late Middle Pleistocene site of Grays Thurrock, U.K. Applying light stereomicroscopy techniques in dental microwear analysis, we highlight, for the first time, that the talonid area of the first lower molar (m1) in extant ursids is most effective in the differentiation of dietary ecospaces. Extant bear species can be separated into different parts of a dietary ecospace revealing microwear features that mirror their dietary preferences. Of particular note is the differentation of ecospaces within modern brown bear populations from different geographical regions and the potential for identifying seasonal variation in diet. The results demonstrate that the diet of the late Middle Pleistocene brown bear from the interglacial site of Grays Thurrock was closely comparable to that of the modern U. arctos from northern Europe, the American black bear (Ursus americanus), and the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). This suggests the dietary importance of fibrous food, as well as soft fruits and invertebrates and a small vertebrate component. This finding is in agreement with climatic conditions and habitats inferred for the MIS 9 interglacial. The creation and testing of a dental microwear database for all modern bear species provides a foundation for subsequent application to other extinct Pleistocene bear populations.

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Palaeolithic cave art identified in Sulawesi Cave

Figurative cave paintings from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi date to at least 35,000 years ago (ka) and hand-stencil art from the same region has a minimum date of 40 ka1. Here we show that similar rock art was created during essentially the same time period on the adjacent island of Borneo. Uranium-series analysis of calcium carbonate deposits that overlie a large reddish-orange figurative painting of an animal at Lubang Jeriji Saléh—a limestone cave in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo—yielded a minimum date of 40 ka, which to our knowledge is currently the oldest date for figurative artwork from anywhere in the world. In addition, two reddish-orange-coloured hand stencils from the same site each yielded a minimum uranium-series date of 37.2 ka, and a third hand stencil of the same hue has a maximum date of 51.8 ka. We also obtained uranium-series determinations for cave art motifs from Lubang Jeriji Saléh and three other East Kalimantan karst caves, which enable us to constrain the chronology of a distinct younger phase of Pleistocene rock art production in this region. Dark-purple hand stencils, some of which are decorated with intricate motifs, date to about 21–20 ka and a rare Pleistocene depiction of a human figure—also coloured dark purple—has a minimum date of 13.6 ka. Our findings show that cave painting appeared in eastern Borneo between 52 and 40 ka and that a new style of parietal art arose during the Last Glacial Maximum. It is now evident that a major Palaeolithic cave art province existed in the eastern extremity of continental Eurasia and in adjacent Wallacea from at least 40 ka until the Last Glacial Maximum, which has implications for understanding how early rock art traditions emerged, developed and spread in Pleistocene Southeast Asia and further afield.

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Early symbolism of the Late Pleistocene caves of southern Germany

The two cave sites of Hohle Fels in the Ach Valley and Vogelherd in the Lone Valley in southwestern Germany have yielded hundreds of personal ornaments and graphic symbolic expressions from the Aurignacian. They are mainly made of mammoth ivory and are among the earliest symbolic expressions worldwide. In this study, we examine the differences and similarities in the symbolic expressions among personal ornaments and symbolic markings from both sites. These finds allow a detailed view of the Aurignacian society in the Swabian Jura and the beginning of modern symbolic behaviour.

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