Publications by authors named "Christopher E Miller"

9 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

Issues of theory and method in the analysis of Paleolithic mortuary behavior: A view from Shanidar Cave.

Evol Anthropol 2020 Sep 11;29(5):263-279. Epub 2020 Jul 11.

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

Mortuary behavior (activities concerning dead conspecifics) is one of many traits that were previously widely considered to have been uniquely human, but on which perspectives have changed markedly in recent years. Theoretical approaches to hominin mortuary activity and its evolution have undergone major revision, and advances in diverse archeological and paleoanthropological methods have brought new ways of identifying behaviors such as intentional burial. Despite these advances, debates concerning the nature of hominin mortuary activity, particularly among the Neanderthals, rely heavily on the rereading of old excavations as new finds are relatively rare, limiting the extent to which such debates can benefit from advances in the field. The recent discovery of in situ articulated Neanderthal remains at Shanidar Cave offers a rare opportunity to take full advantage of these methodological and theoretical developments to understand Neanderthal mortuary activity, making a review of these advances relevant and timely.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/evan.21854DOI Listing
September 2020

The MIS5 Pietersburg at '28' Bushman Rock Shelter, Limpopo Province, South Africa.

PLoS One 2018 10;13(10):e0202853. Epub 2018 Oct 10.

CNRS, UMR 7041, ArScAn-AnTET, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, Paris, France.

In the past few decades, a diverse array of research has emphasized the precocity of technically advanced and symbolic practices occurring during the southern African Middle Stone Age. However, uncertainties regarding the regional chrono-cultural framework constrain models and identification of the cultural and ecological mechanisms triggering the development of such early innovative behaviours. Here, we present new results and a refined chronology for the Pietersburg, a techno-complex initially defined in the late 1920's, which has disappeared from the literature since the 1980's. We base our revision of this techno-complex on ongoing excavations at Bushman Rock Shelter (BRS) in Limpopo Province, South Africa, where two Pietersburg phases (an upper phase called '21' and a lower phase called '28') are recognized. Our analysis focuses on the '28' phase, characterized by a knapping strategy based on Levallois and semi-prismatic laminar reduction systems and typified by the presence of end-scrapers. Luminescence chronology provides two sets of ages for the upper and lower Pietersburg of BRS, dated respectively to 73±6ka and 75±6ka on quartz and to 91±10ka and 97±10ka on feldspar, firmly positioning this industry within MIS5. Comparisons with other published lithic assemblages show technological differences between the Pietersburg from BRS and other southern African MIS5 traditions, especially those from the Western and Eastern Cape. We argue that, at least for part of MIS5, human populations in South Africa were regionally differentiated, a process that most likely impacted the way groups were territorially and socially organized. Nonetheless, comparisons between MIS5 assemblages also indicate some typological similarities, suggesting some degree of connection between human groups, which shared similar innovations but manipulated them in different ways. We pay particular attention to the end-scrapers from BRS, which represent thus far the earliest documented wide adoption of such tool-type and provide further evidence for the innovative processes characterizing southern Africa from the MIS5 onwards.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0202853PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6179383PMC
March 2019

The earliest evidence for Upper Paleolithic occupation in the Armenian Highlands at Aghitu-3 Cave.

J Hum Evol 2017 09 7;110:37-68. Epub 2017 Jul 7.

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, 31905, Israel.

With its well-preserved archaeological and environmental records, Aghitu-3 Cave permits us to examine the settlement patterns of the Upper Paleolithic (UP) people who inhabited the Armenian Highlands. We also test whether settlement of the region between ∼39-24,000 cal BP relates to environmental variability. The earliest evidence occurs in archaeological horizon (AH) VII from ∼39-36,000 cal BP during a mild, moist climatic phase. AH VI shows periodic occupation as warm, humid conditions prevailed from ∼36-32,000 cal BP. As the climate becomes cooler and drier at ∼32-29,000 cal BP (AH V-IV), evidence for occupation is minimal. However, as cooling continues, the deposits of AH III demonstrate that people used the site more intensively from ∼29-24,000 cal BP, leaving behind numerous stone artifacts, faunal remains, and complex combustion features. Despite the climatic fluctuations seen across this 15,000-year sequence, lithic technology remains attuned to one pattern: unidirectional reduction of small cores geared towards the production of bladelets for tool manufacture. Subsistence patterns also remain stable, focused on medium-sized prey such as ovids and caprids, as well as equids. AH III demonstrates an expansion of social networks to the northwest and southwest, as the transport distance of obsidian used to make stone artifacts increases. We also observe the addition of bone tools, including an eyed needle, and shell beads brought from the east, suggesting that these people manufactured complex clothing and wore ornaments. Remains of micromammals, birds, charcoal, pollen, and tephra relate the story of environmental variability. We hypothesize that UP behavior was linked to shifts in demographic pressures and climatic changes. Thus, by combining archaeological and environmental data, we gain a clearer picture about the first UP inhabitants of the Armenian Highlands.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2017.05.010DOI Listing
September 2017

Excavations at Schöningen and paradigm shifts in human evolution.

J Hum Evol 2015 Dec 2;89:1-17. Epub 2015 Dec 2.

Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, Einsteinweg 2, 2333 CC Leiden, The Netherlands.

The exceptional preservation at Schöningen together with a mixture of perseverance, hard work, and sheer luck led to the recovery of unique finds in an exceptional context. The 1995 discovery of numerous wooden artifacts, most notably at least 10 carefully made spears together with the skeletons of at least 20 to 25 butchered horses, brought the debate about hunting versus scavenging among late archaic hominins and analogous arguments about the purportedly primitive behavior of Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals to an end. Work under H. Thieme's lead from 1992 to 2008 and results from the current team since 2008 demonstrate that late H. heidelbergensis or early Neanderthals used sophisticated artifacts made from floral and faunal materials, in addition to lithic artifacts more typically recovered at Lower Paleolithic sites. The finds from the famous Horse Butchery Site and two dozen other archaeological horizons from the edges of the open-cast mine at Schöningen provide many new insights into the technology and behavioral patterns of hominins about 300 ka BP during MIS 9 on the Northern European Plain. An analysis of the finds from Schöningen and their contexts shows that the inhabitants of the site were skilled hunters at the top of the food chain and exhibited a high level of planning depth. These hominins had command of effective means of communication about the here and now, and the past and the future, that allowed them to repeatedly execute well-coordinated and successful group activities that likely culminated in a division of labor and social and economic patterns radically different from those of all non-human primates. The unique preservation and high quality excavations have led to a major paradigm shift or "Schöningen Effect" that changed our views of human evolution during the late Lower Paleolithic. In this respect, we can view the behaviors documented at Schöningen as a plausible baseline for the behavioral sophistication of archaic hominins of the late Middle Pleistocene and subsequent periods.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.10.003DOI Listing
December 2015

The depositional environments of Schöningen 13 II-4 and their archaeological implications.

J Hum Evol 2015 Dec 2;89:71-91. Epub 2015 Sep 2.

Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoecology, University of Tübingen, Rümelinstr. 23, 72070 Tübingen, Germany; Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology, University of Tübingen, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany.

Geoarchaeological research at the Middle Pleistocene site of Schöningen 13 II-4, often referred to as the Speerhorizont, has focused on describing and evaluating the depositional contexts of the well-known wooden spears, butchered horses, and stone tools. These finds were recovered from the transitional contact between a lacustrine marl and an overlying organic mud, originally thought to be a peat that accumulated in place under variable moisture conditions. The original excavators proposed that hominin activity, including hunting and butchery, occurred on a dry lake shore and was followed by a rapid sedimentation of organic deposits that embedded and preserved the artifacts. Our geoarchaeological analysis challenges this model. Here, we present evidence that the sediments of Schöningen 13 II-4 were deposited in a constantly submerged area of a paleolake. Although we cannot exclude the possibility that the artifacts were deposited during a short, extreme drying event, there are no sedimentary features indicative of surface exposure in the sediments. Accordingly, this paper explores three main alternative models of site formation: anthropogenic disposal of materials into the lake, a geological relocation of the artifacts, and hunting or caching on lake-ice. These models have different behavioral ramifications concerning hominin knowledge and exploitation of the landscape and their subsistence strategies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.07.008DOI Listing
December 2015

On the evidence for human use and control of fire at Schöningen.

J Hum Evol 2015 Dec 16;89:181-201. Epub 2015 Jun 16.

Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology, University of Tübingen, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany; Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoecology, University of Tübingen, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany.

When and how humans began to control fire has been a central debate in Paleolithic archaeology for decades. Fire plays an important role in technology, social organization, subsistence, and manipulation of the environment and is widely seen as a necessary adaptation for the colonization of northern latitudes. Many researchers view purported hearths, burnt wooden implements, and heated flints from Schöningen as providing the best evidence for the control of fire in the Lower Paleolithic of Northern Europe. Here we present results of a multianalytical study of the purported hearths along with a critical examination of other possible evidence of human use or control of fire at Schöningen. We conclude that the analyzed features and artifacts present no convincing evidence for human use or control of fire. Our study also shows that a multianalytical, micro-contextual approach is the best methodology for evaluating claims of early evidence of human-controlled fire. We advise caution with macroscopic, qualitative identification of combustion features, burnt flint, and burnt wood without the application of such techniques as micromorphology, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, organic petrology, luminescence, and analysis of mineral magnetic parameters. The lack of evidence for the human control of fire at Schöningen raises the possibility that fire control was not a necessary adaptation for the human settlement of northern latitudes in the Lower Paleolithic.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.04.004DOI Listing
December 2015

A previously undescribed organic residue sheds light on heat treatment in the Middle Stone Age.

J Hum Evol 2015 Aug 12;85:22-34. Epub 2015 Jun 12.

Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Department of Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany.

South Africa has in recent years gained increasing importance for our understanding of the evolution of 'modern human behaviour' during the Middle Stone Age (MSA). A key element in the suite of behaviours linked with modern humans is heat treatment of materials such as ochre for ritual purposes and stone prior to tool production. Until now, there has been no direct archaeological evidence for the exact procedure used in the heat treatment of silcrete. Through the analysis of heat-treated artefacts from the Howiesons Poort of Diepkloof Rock Shelter, we identified a hitherto unknown type of organic residue - a tempering-residue - that sheds light on the processes used for heat treatment in the MSA. This black film on the silcrete surface is an organic tar that contains microscopic fragments of charcoal and formed as a residue during the direct contact of the artefacts with hot embers of green wood. Our results suggest that heat treatment of silcrete was conducted directly using an open fire, similar to those likely used for cooking. These findings add to the discussion about the complexity of MSA behaviour and appear to contradict previous studies that had suggested that heat treatment of silcrete was a complex (i.e., requiring a large number of steps for its realization) and resource-consuming procedure.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.05.001DOI Listing
August 2015

Satsurblia: new insights of human response and survival across the Last Glacial Maximum in the southern Caucasus.

PLoS One 2014 29;9(10):e111271. Epub 2014 Oct 29.

Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel.

The region of western Georgia (Imereti) has been a major geographic corridor for human migrations during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic (MP/UP). Knowledge of the MP and UP in this region, however, stems mostly from a small number of recent excavations at the sites of Ortvale Klde, Dzudzuana, Bondi, and Kotias Klde. These provide an absolute chronology for the Late MP and MP-UP transition, but only a partial perspective on the nature and timing of UP occupations, and limited data on how human groups in this region responded to the harsh climatic oscillations between 37,000-11,500 years before present. Here we report new UP archaeological sequences from fieldwork in Satsurblia cavein the same region. A series of living surfaces with combustion features, faunal remains, stone and bone tools, and ornaments provide new information about human occupations in this region (a) prior to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) at 25.5-24.4 ka cal. BP and (b) after the LGM at 17.9-16.2 ka cal. BP. The latter provides new evidence in the southern Caucasus for human occupation immediately after the LGM. The results of the campaigns in Satsurblia and Dzudzuana suggest that at present the most plausible scenario is one of a hiatus in the occupation of this region during the LGM (between 24.4-17.9 ka cal. BP). Analysis of the living surfaces at Satsurblia offers information about human activities such as the production and utilisation of lithics and bone tools, butchering, cooking and consumption of meat and wild cereals, the utilisation of fibers, and the use of certain woods. Microfaunal and palynological analyses point to fluctuations in the climate with consequent shifts in vegetation and the faunal spectrum not only before and after the LGM, but also during the two millennia following the end of the LGM.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111271PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4213019PMC
June 2015

Neandertals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2013 Aug 12;110(35):14186-90. Epub 2013 Aug 12.

Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands.

Modern humans replaced Neandertals ∼40,000 y ago. Close to the time of replacement, Neandertals show behaviors similar to those of the modern humans arriving into Europe, including the use of specialized bone tools, body ornaments, and small blades. It is highly debated whether these modern behaviors developed before or as a result of contact with modern humans. Here we report the identification of a type of specialized bone tool, lissoir, previously only associated with modern humans. The microwear preserved on one of these lissoir is consistent with the use of lissoir in modern times to obtain supple, lustrous, and more impermeable hides. These tools are from a Neandertal context proceeding the replacement period and are the oldest specialized bone tools in Europe. As such, they are either a demonstration of independent invention by Neandertals or an indication that modern humans started influencing European Neandertals much earlier than previously believed. Because these finds clearly predate the oldest known age for the use of similar objects in Europe by anatomically modern humans, they could also be evidence for cultural diffusion from Neandertals to modern humans.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1302730110DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761603PMC
August 2013