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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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Understanding the evolution of the Mousterian technocomplex identified at Ust’-Kanskaya Cave, Altai, Russia

Recent anthropological and archaeological studies have established the significance of the Altai Mountains prehistoric sites, which illustrate complex peopling events. In this paper, we use the chaîne opératoire techno-economic approach to describe the reduction sequences from layers 5 and 3 of Ust’-Kanskaya cave, Gorny Altai, Russia. The Levallois concept is attested in both layers by the presence of cores, flakes, points and blades. However, the majority of the products do not correspond to the cores, which implies a shift at some point of the reduction sequence. Shorter reduction sequences that do not demand such a high degree of predetermination have also been identified. The two layers display similar technological features and can both be associated with the Levalloiso-Mousterian variant of the Altai Middle Palaeolithic.

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Increased use of Chert around 46,000 years ago, suggests the first arrival of Homo sapiens on the island of Flores, Indonesia

Liang Bua, the type site of Homo floresiensis, is a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Flores with sedimentary deposits currently known to range in age from about 190 thousand years (ka) ago to the present. Recent revision of the stratigraphy and chronology of this depositional sequence suggests that skeletal remains of H. floresiensis are between ∼100 and 60 ka old, while cultural evidence of this taxon occurs until ∼50 ka ago. Here we examine the compositions of the faunal communities and stone artifacts, by broad taxonomic groups and raw materials, throughout the ∼190 ka time interval preserved in the sequence. Major shifts are observed in both the faunal and stone artifact assemblages that reflect marked changes in paleoecology and hominin behavior, respectively. Our results suggest that H. floresiensis and Stegodon florensis insularis, along with giant marabou stork (Leptoptilos robustus) and vulture (Trigonoceps sp.), were likely extinct by ∼50 ka ago. Moreover, an abrupt and statistically significant shift in raw material preference due to an increased use of chert occurs ∼46 thousand calibrated radiocarbon (14C) years before present (ka cal. BP), a pattern that continues through the subsequent stratigraphic sequence. If an increased preference for chert does, in fact, characterize Homo sapiens assemblages at Liang Bua, as previous studies have suggested (e.g., Moore et al., 2009), then the shift observed here suggests that modern humans arrived on Flores by ∼46 ka cal. BP, which would be the earliest cultural evidence of modern humans in Indonesia.

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The fossilised Miocene hominin footprints of Crete may not actually be footprints

Gierlinski et al. (2017) report on what they interpret to be Miocene hominin footprints near the seaside village of Trachilos in western Crete. We review the case made by the authors that these ichnites represent bona-fide footprints, and their conclusion that they were made by bipedal hominins. Gierlinski et al.'s study demonstrates a number of problems with data presentation, e.g. a) substrates corresponding to measured prints are not clearly specified, b) no explanation is given for how prints were identified when the authors' own criteria for print identification were not met, c) no consistent morphological detail among prints is provided that could identify them as originating from the same or a similar agent, or one with bilateral symmetry, d) alternative agents that could have produced the prints are not explored, e) no explanation is given as to how their multivariate analyses of print outlines deals with missing data and why it uses non-homologous landmarks, etc. The evidence they present, therefore, is insufficient to support their arguments and conclusions. We remain unconvinced the ichnites are bona-fide footprints, let alone hominin footprints, but discuss some of the criteria employed for distinguishing and recognizing an early hominin footprint.

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Team of taphonomists propose new analytical techniques to identify hominin-induced burning on bone

The understanding of hominin behavior is based on complex factors, frequently obtained from evidence left on the fossils themselves or on accompanying fauna. Fossil bones bearing traits of burning is a major technological innovation in human evolution and behavior. Fire helped hominins to increase their survival by using it as a defensive mechanism against other carnivores, for warming and lighting their camp sites, cooking and many other domestic uses. In this paper we focus on distinguishing evidence of bones heated and burnt at high temperatures that are incongruent with natural fires, and we provide new analytical techniques that expand the criteria to identify signs of bone burning. The presence of burnt bones has special relevance to debates on hominin living strategies and innovations. The undestanding of the many uses of fire elucidates significant evolutionary trends in hominin brain development and modern human behaviour.

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Establishing a protocol for the analysis of stone tools at Lake Mungo, Australia

Undertaking meaningful analysis of stone artefacts obtained from open, surface contexts is a challenge in any setting, and particularly so in the context of a large, complex and eroding Pleistocene dune formation. This study investigates a methodology for identifying surface accumulations on the Lake Mungo lunette from which meaningful data can be obtained. Careful selection of study areas, detailed field mapping, and the use of GIS for data management and distributional analysis are combined to identify types of surface accumulations with different potential for correlation with past environmental conditions. This provides a framework for future analysis of stone artefact technology and thus the investigation of past human behaviour and palaeoenvironmental context at a commensurate scale.

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Looking back at 25 years of research at the famed Homo heidelbergensis site of Schöningen, northern Germany

The open cast mine at Schöningen, Germany, provides the opportunity to study climatic and environmental changes that occurred from the Middle Pleistocene until today. Therefore, researchers from several different institutes and disciplines have been collecting data here for more than 25 years. These studies not only take place on the basis of singular cores, but also mainly in the context of long cross sections through the mine reflecting large landscape areas and biotopes. The quantity as well as the quality of the finds is unique. The Lower Palaeolithic complex includes wooden artefacts, stone artefacts, bones with impact scars and cut marks as well as bone artefacts, charcoal, charred wood and heated flint. Moreover, the countless natural remains of plants (e.g. wood, seeds, roots and leaves), bones, eggshells, molluscs, insects, and microscopic organisms can be used as proxies to understand the landscape and climatic development in Central Europe during the Upper Middle Pleistocene.

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