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Human Origins Leiden

New article: Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex

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Authors: Paola Villa and Wil Roebroeks

Journal: PLOS ONE


Abstract: Neandertals are the best-studied of all extinct hominins, with a rich fossil record sampling hundreds of individuals, roughly dating from between 350,000 and 40,000 years ago. Their distinct fossil remains have been retrieved from Portugal in the west to the Altai area in central Asia in the east and from below the waters of the North Sea in the north to a series of caves in Israel in the south. Having thrived in Eurasia for more than 300,000 years, Neandertals vanished from the record around 40,000 years ago, when modern humans entered Europe. Modern humans are usually seen as superior in a wide range of domains, including weaponry and subsistence strategies, which would have led to the demise of Neandertals. This systematic review of the archaeological records of Neandertals and their modern human contemporaries finds no support for such interpretations, as the Neandertal archaeological record is not different enough to explain the demise in terms of inferiority in archaeologically visible domains. Instead, current genetic data suggest that complex processes of interbreeding and assimilation may have been responsible for the disappearance of the specific Neandertal morphology from the fossil record.

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Citation: Villa P, Roebroeks W (2014) Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex. PLoS ONE 9(4): e96424. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096424


New article: On the Variability of the Dmanisi Mandibles

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Authors: José María Bermúdez de Castro, María Martinón-Torres, Mark Jan Sier, Laura Martín-Francés

Abstract: The description of a new skull (D4500) from the Dmanisi site (Republic of Georgia) has reopened the debate about the
morphological variability within the genus Homo. The new skull fits with a mandible (D2600) often referred as ‘big’ or
‘enigmatic’ because of its differences with the other Dmanisi mandibles (D211 and D2735). In this report we present a
comparative study of the variability of the Dmanisi mandibles under a different perspective, as we focus in morphological
aspects related to growth and development. We have followed the notion of modularity and phenotypic integration in
order to understand the architectural differences observed within the sample. Our study reveals remarkable shape
differences between D2600 and the other two mandibles, that are established early in the ontogeny (during childhood or
even before) and that do not depend on size or sexual dimorphism. In addition, D2600 exhibits a mosaic of primitive and
derived features regarding the Homo clade, which is absent in D211 and D2735. This mosaic expression is related to the
location of the features and can be explained under the concept of modularity. Our study would support the possibility of
two different paleodemes represented at the Dmanisi site. This hypothesis has been previously rejected on the basis that all
the individuals were constrained in the same stratigraphic and taphonomic settings. However, our revision of the complex
Dmanisi stratigraphy suggests that the accumulation could cover an undetermined period of time. Even if ‘‘short’’ in
geological terms, the hominin accumulation was not necessarily synchronic. In the same line we discard that the differences
between D2600 and the small mandibles are consequence of wear-related dentoalveolar remodeling. In addition, dental
wear pattern of D2600 could suggest an adaptation to a different ecological niche than the other Dmanisi individuals.

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New article: Fire production in the deep past? The expedient strike-a-light model

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Authors: Andrew Sorensen, Wil Roebroeks, Annelou van Gijn

Journal: Journal of Archaeological Science


Abstract: Clear examples of tools used to artificially ignite fire are virtually absent in the archaeological record until the late Upper Palaeolithic. One explanation is that, until this point, hominins were (by and large) simply fire users dependent on the environment to provide conflagrations for exploitation, as opposed to fire producers. An alternate scenario is that the tools they used to perform this task are difficult to recognise in artefact assemblages. To account for this, we propose the ’expedient strike-a-light model’, a concept that draws inspiration from the apparent ad hoc nature of many hunter-gatherer lithic technologies, especially those of the Middle Palaeolithic. The model contends early flint strike-a-lights were not formalised or specialised tools used to kindle multiple fires, as seen in later time periods. Instead, we postulate that flakes, retouched implements or other fragments made from siliceous lithic raw materials were utilised on a very short-term basis in conjunction with the minerals marcasite or pyrite (sulphuric iron) to generate fire. Building on previous research and our own experimental data, we establish criteria to identify expedient fire-lighting tools, and discuss the testing of our research model on five Middle Palaeolithic assemblages. Although results were negative from this limited data set, this research offers an alternative view of early fire production and a protocol for recognising expedient strike-a-light technology.

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Citation: Sorensen, A.C., Roebroeks, W., and van Gijn, A., 2014. Fire production in the deep past? The expedient strike-a-light model, Journal of Archaeological Science 42, 476-486. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.11.032

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