Publications by authors named "Alison Crowther"

21 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

67,000 years of coastal engagement at Panga ya Saidi, eastern Africa.

PLoS One 2021 26;16(8):e0256761. Epub 2021 Aug 26.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

The antiquity and nature of coastal resource procurement is central to understanding human evolution and adaptations to complex environments. It has become increasingly apparent in global archaeological studies that the timing, characteristics, and trajectories of coastal resource use are highly variable. Within Africa, discussions of these issues have largely been based on the archaeological record from the south and northeast of the continent, with little evidence from eastern coastal areas leaving significant spatial and temporal gaps in our knowledge. Here, we present data from Panga ya Saidi, a limestone cave complex located 15 km from the modern Kenyan coast, which represents the first long-term sequence of coastal engagement from eastern Africa. Rather than attempting to distinguish between coastal resource use and coastal adaptations, we focus on coastal engagement as a means of characterising human relationships with marine environments and resources from this inland location. We use aquatic mollusc data spanning the past 67,000 years to document shifts in the acquisition, transportation, and discard of these materials, to better understand long-term trends in coastal engagement. Our results show pulses of coastal engagement beginning with low-intensity symbolism, and culminating in the consistent low-level transport of marine and freshwater food resources, emphasising a diverse relationship through time. Panga ya Saidi has the oldest stratified evidence of marine engagement in eastern Africa, and is the only site in Africa which documents coastal resources from the Late Pleistocene through the Holocene, highlighting the potential archaeological importance of peri-coastal sites to debates about marine resource relationships.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0256761PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8389378PMC
August 2021

Collagen fingerprinting traces the introduction of caprines to island Eastern Africa.

R Soc Open Sci 2021 Jul 28;8(7):202341. Epub 2021 Jul 28.

School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Queensland, Australia.

The human colonization of eastern Africa's near- and offshore islands was accompanied by the translocation of several domestic, wild and commensal fauna, many of which had long-term impacts on local environments. To better understand the timing and nature of the introduction of domesticated caprines (sheep and goat) to these islands, this study applied collagen peptide fingerprinting (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry or ZooMS) to archaeological remains from eight Iron Age sites, dating between 300 and 1000 CE, in the Zanzibar, Mafia and Comoros archipelagos. Where previous zooarchaeological analyses had identified caprine remains at four of these sites, this study identified goat at seven sites and sheep at three, demonstrating that caprines were more widespread than previously known. The ZooMS results support an introduction of goats to island eastern Africa from at least the seventh century CE, while sheep in our sample arrived one-two centuries later. Goats may have been preferred because, as browsers, they were better adapted to the islands' environments. The results allow for a more accurate understanding of early caprine husbandry in the study region and provide a critical archaeological baseline for examining the potential long-term impacts of translocated fauna on island ecologies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.202341DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8316820PMC
July 2021

Earliest known human burial in Africa.

Nature 2021 05 5;593(7857):95-100. Epub 2021 May 5.

UMR 5199 CNRS De la Préhistoire à l'Actuel: Culture, Environnement, et Anthropologie (PACEA), Université Bordeaux, Talence, France.

The origin and evolution of hominin mortuary practices are topics of intense interest and debate. Human burials dated to the Middle Stone Age (MSA) are exceedingly rare in Africa and unknown in East Africa. Here we describe the partial skeleton of a roughly 2.5- to 3.0-year-old child dating to 78.3 ± 4.1 thousand years ago, which was recovered in the MSA layers of Panga ya Saidi (PYS), a cave site in the tropical upland coast of Kenya. Recent excavations have revealed a pit feature containing a child in a flexed position. Geochemical, granulometric and micromorphological analyses of the burial pit content and encasing archaeological layers indicate that the pit was deliberately excavated. Taphonomical evidence, such as the strict articulation or good anatomical association of the skeletal elements and histological evidence of putrefaction, support the in-place decomposition of the fresh body. The presence of little or no displacement of the unstable joints during decomposition points to an interment in a filled space (grave earth), making the PYS finding the oldest known human burial in Africa. The morphological assessment of the partial skeleton is consistent with its assignment to Homo sapiens, although the preservation of some primitive features in the dentition supports increasing evidence for non-gradual assembly of modern traits during the emergence of our species. The PYS burial sheds light on how MSA populations interacted with the dead.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03457-8DOI Listing
May 2021

Ancient proteins provide evidence of dairy consumption in eastern Africa.

Nat Commun 2021 01 27;12(1):632. Epub 2021 Jan 27.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

Consuming the milk of other species is a unique adaptation of Homo sapiens, with implications for health, birth spacing and evolution. Key questions nonetheless remain regarding the origins of dairying and its relationship to the genetically-determined ability to drink milk into adulthood through lactase persistence (LP). As a major centre of LP diversity, Africa is of significant interest to the evolution of dairying. Here we report proteomic evidence for milk consumption in ancient Africa. Using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) we identify dairy proteins in human dental calculus from northeastern Africa, directly demonstrating milk consumption at least six millennia ago. Our findings indicate that pastoralist groups were drinking milk as soon as herding spread into eastern Africa, at a time when the genetic adaptation for milk digestion was absent or rare. Our study links LP status in specific ancient individuals with direct evidence for their consumption of dairy products.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-20682-3DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7841170PMC
January 2021

Mobilizing the past to shape a better Anthropocene.

Nat Ecol Evol 2021 03 18;5(3):273-284. Epub 2021 Jan 18.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

As our planet emerges into a new epoch in which humans dominate the Earth system, it is imperative that societies initiate a new phase of responsible environmental stewardship. Here we argue that information from the past has a valuable role to play in enhancing the sustainability and resilience of our societies. We highlight the ways that past data can be mobilized for a variety of efforts, from supporting conservation to increasing agricultural sustainability and food security. At a practical level, solutions from the past often do not require fossil fuels, can be locally run and managed, and have been tested over the long term. Past failures reveal non-viable solutions and expose vulnerabilities. To more effectively leverage increasing knowledge about the past, we advocate greater cross-disciplinary collaboration, systematic engagement with stakeholders and policymakers, and approaches that bring together the best of the past with the cutting-edge technologies and solutions of tomorrow.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-01361-4DOI Listing
March 2021

Continuity of the Middle Stone Age into the Holocene.

Sci Rep 2021 01 11;11(1):70. Epub 2021 Jan 11.

Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology, University of Cologne, 50931, Cologne, Germany.

The African Middle Stone Age (MSA, typically considered to span ca. 300-30 thousand years ago [ka]), represents our species' first and longest lasting cultural phase. Although the MSA to Later Stone Age (LSA) transition is known to have had a degree of spatial and temporal variability, recent studies have implied that in some regions, the MSA persisted well beyond 30 ka. Here we report two new sites in Senegal that date the end of the MSA to around 11 ka, the youngest yet documented MSA in Africa. This shows that this cultural phase persisted into the Holocene. These results highlight significant spatial and temporal cultural variability in the African Late Pleistocene, consistent with genomic and palaeoanthropological hypotheses that significant, long-standing inter-group cultural differences shaped the later stages of human evolution in Africa.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-79418-4DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7801626PMC
January 2021

Multidisciplinary evidence for early banana (Musa cvs.) cultivation on Mabuyag Island, Torres Strait.

Nat Ecol Evol 2020 10 10;4(10):1342-1350. Epub 2020 Aug 10.

School of Archaeology and Anthropology, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.

Multiproxy archaeobotanical analyses (starch granule, phytolith and microcharcoal) of an abandoned agricultural terrace at Wagadagam on Mabuyag Island, Torres Strait, Australia, document extensive, low-intensity forms of plant management from at least 2,145-1,930 cal yr BP and intensive forms of cultivation at 1,376-1,293 cal yr BP. The agricultural activities at 1,376-1,293 cal yr BP are evidenced from terrace construction, banana (Musa cultivars) cultivation and dramatic transformations to the local palaeoenvironment. The robust evidence for the antiquity of horticulture in western Torres Strait provides an historical basis for understanding the diffusion of cultivation practices and cultivars, most likely from New Guinea. This study also provides a methodological template for the investigation of plant management, potentially including forms of cultivation that were practiced in northern Australia before European colonization.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1278-3DOI Listing
October 2020

Ancient genomes reveal complex patterns of population movement, interaction, and replacement in sub-Saharan Africa.

Sci Adv 2020 Jun 12;6(24):eaaz0183. Epub 2020 Jun 12.

Department of Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

Africa hosts the greatest human genetic diversity globally, but legacies of ancient population interactions and dispersals across the continent remain understudied. Here, we report genome-wide data from 20 ancient sub-Saharan African individuals, including the first reported ancient DNA from the DRC, Uganda, and Botswana. These data demonstrate the contraction of diverse, once contiguous hunter-gatherer populations, and suggest the resistance to interaction with incoming pastoralists of delayed-return foragers in aquatic environments. We refine models for the spread of food producers into eastern and southern Africa, demonstrating more complex trajectories of admixture than previously suggested. In Botswana, we show that Bantu ancestry post-dates admixture between pastoralists and foragers, suggesting an earlier spread of pastoralism than farming to southern Africa. Our findings demonstrate how processes of migration and admixture have markedly reshaped the genetic map of sub-Saharan Africa in the past few millennia and highlight the utility of combined archaeological and archaeogenetic approaches.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaz0183DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7292641PMC
June 2020

The domestication syndrome in vegetatively propagated field crops.

Ann Bot 2020 03;125(4):581-597

University College London, Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London, UK.

Background: Vegetatively propagated crops are globally significant in terms of current agricultural production, as well as for understanding the long-term history of early agriculture and plant domestication. Today, significant field crops include sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum), potato (Solanum tuberosum), manioc (Manihot esculenta), bananas and plantains (Musa cvs), sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), yams (Dioscorea spp.) and taro (Colocasia esculenta). In comparison with sexually reproduced crops, especially cereals and legumes, the domestication syndrome in vegetatively propagated field crops is poorly defined.

Aims And Scope: Here, a range of phenotypic traits potentially comprising a syndrome associated with early domestication of vegetatively propagated field crops is proposed, including: mode of reproduction, yield of edible portion, ease of harvesting, defensive adaptations, timing of production and plant architecture. The archaeobotanical visibility of these syndrome traits is considered with a view to the reconstruction of the geographical and historical pathways of domestication for vegetatively propagated field crops in the past.

Conclusions: Although convergent phenotypic traits are identified, none of them are ubiquitous and some are divergent. In contrast to cereals and legumes, several traits seem to represent varying degrees of plastic response to growth environment and practices of cultivation, as opposed to solely morphogenetic 'fixation'.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcz212DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7102979PMC
March 2020

Archaeological assessment reveals Earth's early transformation through land use.

Science 2019 08;365(6456):897-902

Environmentally transformative human use of land accelerated with the emergence of agriculture, but the extent, trajectory, and implications of these early changes are not well understood. An empirical global assessment of land use from 10,000 years before the present (yr B.P.) to 1850 CE reveals a planet largely transformed by hunter-gatherers, farmers, and pastoralists by 3000 years ago, considerably earlier than the dates in the land-use reconstructions commonly used by Earth scientists. Synthesis of knowledge contributed by more than 250 archaeologists highlighted gaps in archaeological expertise and data quality, which peaked for 2000 yr B.P. and in traditionally studied and wealthier regions. Archaeological reconstruction of global land-use history illuminates the deep roots of Earth's transformation and challenges the emerging Anthropocene paradigm that large-scale anthropogenic global environmental change is mostly a recent phenomenon.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aax1192DOI Listing
August 2019

Specialized rainforest hunting by Homo sapiens ~45,000 years ago.

Nat Commun 2019 02 19;10(1):739. Epub 2019 Feb 19.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, 07745, Jena, Germany.

Defining the distinctive capacities of Homo sapiens relative to other hominins is a major focus for human evolutionary studies. It has been argued that the procurement of small, difficult-to-catch, agile prey is a hallmark of complex behavior unique to our species; however, most research in this regard has been limited to the last 20,000 years in Europe and the Levant. Here, we present detailed faunal assemblage and taphonomic data from Fa-Hien Lena Cave in Sri Lanka that demonstrates specialized, sophisticated hunting of semi-arboreal and arboreal monkey and squirrel populations from ca. 45,000 years ago, in a tropical rainforest environment. Facilitated by complex osseous and microlithic technologies, we argue these data highlight that the early capture of small, elusive mammals was part of the plastic behavior of Homo sapiens that allowed it to rapidly colonize a series of extreme environments that were apparently untouched by its hominin relatives.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-08623-1DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6381157PMC
February 2019

Publisher Correction: 78,000-year-old record of Middle and Later Stone Age innovation in an East African tropical forest.

Nat Commun 2018 06 5;9(1):2242. Epub 2018 Jun 5.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Kahlaische Strasse 10, Jena, D-07745, Germany.

The originally published version of this Article contained an error in Fig. 3, whereby an additional unrelated graph was overlaid on top of the magnetic susceptibility plot. Furthermore, the Article title contained an error in the capitalisation of 'Stone Age'. Both of these errors have now been corrected in both the PDF and HTML versions of the Article.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-04753-0DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5988799PMC
June 2018

78,000-year-old record of Middle and Later stone age innovation in an East African tropical forest.

Nat Commun 2018 05 9;9(1):1832. Epub 2018 May 9.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Kahlaische Strasse 10, Jena, D-07745, Germany.

The Middle to Later Stone Age transition in Africa has been debated as a significant shift in human technological, cultural, and cognitive evolution. However, the majority of research on this transition is currently focused on southern Africa due to a lack of long-term, stratified sites across much of the African continent. Here, we report a 78,000-year-long archeological record from Panga ya Saidi, a cave in the humid coastal forest of Kenya. Following a shift in toolkits ~67,000 years ago, novel symbolic and technological behaviors assemble in a non-unilinear manner. Against a backdrop of a persistent tropical forest-grassland ecotone, localized innovations better characterize the Late Pleistocene of this part of East Africa than alternative emphases on dramatic revolutions or migrations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-04057-3DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5943315PMC
May 2018

The Comoros Show the Earliest Austronesian Gene Flow into the Swahili Corridor.

Am J Hum Genet 2018 01;102(1):58-68

Evolutionary Medicine Group, Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Moléculaire et Imagerie de Synthèse UMR 5288 CNRS, Université Toulouse III, Université de Toulouse, Toulouse 31073, France. Electronic address:

At the dawn of the second millennium, the expansion of the Indian Ocean trading network aligned with the emergence of an outward-oriented community along the East African coast to create a cosmopolitan cultural and trading zone known as the Swahili Corridor. On the basis of analyses of new genome-wide genotyping data and uniparental data in 276 individuals from coastal Kenya and the Comoros islands, along with large-scale genetic datasets from the Indian Ocean rim, we reconstruct historical population dynamics to show that the Swahili Corridor is largely an eastern Bantu genetic continuum. Limited gene flows from the Middle East can be seen in Swahili and Comorian populations at dates corresponding to historically documented contacts. However, the main admixture event in southern insular populations, particularly Comorian and Malagasy groups, occurred with individuals from Island Southeast Asia as early as the 8 century, reflecting an earlier dispersal from this region. Remarkably, our results support recent archaeological and linguistic evidence-based suggestions that the Comoros archipelago was the earliest location of contact between Austronesian and African populations in the Swahili Corridor.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ajhg.2017.11.011DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5777450PMC
January 2018

Reconstructing Prehistoric African Population Structure.

Cell 2017 Sep;171(1):59-71.e21

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK; British Institute in Eastern Africa, Nairobi 30710, Kenya.

We assembled genome-wide data from 16 prehistoric Africans. We show that the anciently divergent lineage that comprises the primary ancestry of the southern African San had a wider distribution in the past, contributing approximately two-thirds of the ancestry of Malawi hunter-gatherers ∼8,100-2,500 years ago and approximately one-third of the ancestry of Tanzanian hunter-gatherers ∼1,400 years ago. We document how the spread of farmers from western Africa involved complete replacement of local hunter-gatherers in some regions, and we track the spread of herders by showing that the population of a ∼3,100-year-old pastoralist from Tanzania contributed ancestry to people from northeastern to southern Africa, including a ∼1,200-year-old southern African pastoralist. The deepest diversifications of African lineages were complex, involving either repeated gene flow among geographically disparate groups or a lineage more deeply diverging than that of the San contributing more to some western African populations than to others. We finally leverage ancient genomes to document episodes of natural selection in southern African populations. PAPERCLIP.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2017.08.049DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5679310PMC
September 2017

Reconstructing Asian faunal introductions to eastern Africa from multi-proxy biomolecular and archaeological datasets.

PLoS One 2017 17;12(8):e0182565. Epub 2017 Aug 17.

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

Human-mediated biological exchange has had global social and ecological impacts. In sub-Saharan Africa, several domestic and commensal animals were introduced from Asia in the pre-modern period; however, the timing and nature of these introductions remain contentious. One model supports introduction to the eastern African coast after the mid-first millennium CE, while another posits introduction dating back to 3000 BCE. These distinct scenarios have implications for understanding the emergence of long-distance maritime connectivity, and the ecological and economic impacts of introduced species. Resolution of this longstanding debate requires new efforts, given the lack of well-dated fauna from high-precision excavations, and ambiguous osteomorphological identifications. We analysed faunal remains from 22 eastern African sites spanning a wide geographic and chronological range, and applied biomolecular techniques to confirm identifications of two Asian taxa: domestic chicken (Gallus gallus) and black rat (Rattus rattus). Our approach included ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis aided by BLAST-based bioinformatics, Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) collagen fingerprinting, and direct AMS (accelerator mass spectrometry) radiocarbon dating. Our results support a late, mid-first millennium CE introduction of these species. We discuss the implications of our findings for models of biological exchange, and emphasize the applicability of our approach to tropical areas with poor bone preservation.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0182565PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5560628PMC
October 2017

Reply to Westaway and Lyman: Emus, dingoes, and archaeology's role in conservation biology.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016 08 26;113(33):E4759-60. Epub 2016 Jul 26.

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena D-07743, Germany;

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1610697113DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4995951PMC
August 2016

Reply to Ellis et al.: Human niche construction and evolutionary theory.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016 08 15;113(31):E4437-8. Epub 2016 Jul 15.

School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2PG, United Kingdom;

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1609617113DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4978256PMC
August 2016

Ecological consequences of human niche construction: Examining long-term anthropogenic shaping of global species distributions.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016 Jun;113(23):6388-96

School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2PG, United Kingdom;

The exhibition of increasingly intensive and complex niche construction behaviors through time is a key feature of human evolution, culminating in the advanced capacity for ecosystem engineering exhibited by Homo sapiens A crucial outcome of such behaviors has been the dramatic reshaping of the global biosphere, a transformation whose early origins are increasingly apparent from cumulative archaeological and paleoecological datasets. Such data suggest that, by the Late Pleistocene, humans had begun to engage in activities that have led to alterations in the distributions of a vast array of species across most, if not all, taxonomic groups. Changes to biodiversity have included extinctions, extirpations, and shifts in species composition, diversity, and community structure. We outline key examples of these changes, highlighting findings from the study of new datasets, like ancient DNA (aDNA), stable isotopes, and microfossils, as well as the application of new statistical and computational methods to datasets that have accumulated significantly in recent decades. We focus on four major phases that witnessed broad anthropogenic alterations to biodiversity-the Late Pleistocene global human expansion, the Neolithic spread of agriculture, the era of island colonization, and the emergence of early urbanized societies and commercial networks. Archaeological evidence documents millennia of anthropogenic transformations that have created novel ecosystems around the world. This record has implications for ecological and evolutionary research, conservation strategies, and the maintenance of ecosystem services, pointing to a significant need for broader cross-disciplinary engagement between archaeology and the biological and environmental sciences.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1525200113DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4988612PMC
June 2016

Ancient crops provide first archaeological signature of the westward Austronesian expansion.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016 06 31;113(24):6635-40. Epub 2016 May 31.

School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 2PG, United Kingdom; Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, D-07743 Jena, Germany.

The Austronesian settlement of the remote island of Madagascar remains one of the great puzzles of Indo-Pacific prehistory. Although linguistic, ethnographic, and genetic evidence points clearly to a colonization of Madagascar by Austronesian language-speaking people from Island Southeast Asia, decades of archaeological research have failed to locate evidence for a Southeast Asian signature in the island's early material record. Here, we present new archaeobotanical data that show that Southeast Asian settlers brought Asian crops with them when they settled in Africa. These crops provide the first, to our knowledge, reliable archaeological window into the Southeast Asian colonization of Madagascar. They additionally suggest that initial Southeast Asian settlement in Africa was not limited to Madagascar, but also extended to the Comoros. Archaeobotanical data may support a model of indirect Austronesian colonization of Madagascar from the Comoros and/or elsewhere in eastern Africa.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1522714113DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4914162PMC
June 2016

Continental Island Formation and the Archaeology of Defaunation on Zanzibar, Eastern Africa.

PLoS One 2016 22;11(2):e0149565. Epub 2016 Feb 22.

Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.

With rising sea levels at the end of the Pleistocene, land-bridge or continental islands were formed around the world. Many of these islands have been extensively studied from a biogeographical perspective, particularly in terms of impacts of island creation on terrestrial vertebrates. However, a majority of studies rely on contemporary faunal distributions rather than fossil data. Here, we present archaeological findings from the island of Zanzibar (also known as Unguja) off the eastern African coast, to provide a temporal perspective on island biogeography. The site of Kuumbi Cave, excavated by multiple teams since 2005, has revealed the longest cultural and faunal record for any eastern African island. This record extends to the Late Pleistocene, when Zanzibar was part of the mainland, and attests to the extirpation of large mainland mammals in the millennia after the island became separated. We draw on modeling and sedimentary data to examine the process by which Zanzibar was most recently separated from the mainland, providing the first systematic insights into the nature and chronology of this process. We subsequently investigate the cultural and faunal record from Kuumbi Cave, which provides at least five key temporal windows into human activities and faunal presence: two at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), one during the period of post-LGM rapid sea level rise and island formation, and two in the late Holocene (Middle Iron Age and Late Iron Age). This record demonstrates the presence of large mammals during the period of island formation, and their severe reduction or disappearance in the Kuumbi Cave sequence by the late Holocene. While various limitations, including discontinuity in the sequence, problematize attempts to clearly attribute defaunation to anthropogenic or island biogeographic processes, Kuumbi Cave offers an unprecedented opportunity to examine post-Pleistocene island formation and its long-term consequences for human and animal communities.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0149565PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4763145PMC
July 2016
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