Publications by authors named "Eleanor M L Scerri"

15 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

The expansion of Acheulean hominins into the Nefud Desert of Arabia.

Sci Rep 2021 May 12;11(1):10111. Epub 2021 May 12.

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

The Arabian Peninsula is a critical geographic landmass situated between Africa and the rest of Eurasia. Climatic shifts across the Pleistocene periodically produced wetter conditions in Arabia, dramatically altering the spatial distribution of hominins both within and between continents. This is particularly true of Acheulean hominins, who appear to have been more tethered to water sources than Middle Palaeolithic hominins. However, until recently, chrono-cultural knowledge of the Acheulean of Arabia has been limited to one dated site, which indicated a hominin presence in Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 7-6. Here, we report the first dated Acheulean site from the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia, together with palaeoecological evidence for an associated deep, probably fresh-water, lake. The site of An Nasim features varied and often finely flaked façonnage handaxes. Luminescence ages together with geomorphological and palaeoecological evidence indicates that the associated artefacts date to MIS 9. At present, An Nasim represents the oldest yet documented Acheulean sites in Arabia, and adds to a growing picture of regionally diverse stone tool assemblages used by Middle Pleistocene hominins, and likely indicative of repeated population re-entry into the peninsula in wet 'Green Arabia' phases.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-89489-6DOI Listing
May 2021

Nubian Levallois technology associated with southernmost Neanderthals.

Sci Rep 2021 Feb 15;11(1):2869. Epub 2021 Feb 15.

Centre for Quaternary Research, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham Hill, Egham, Surrey, UK.

Neanderthals occurred widely across north Eurasian landscapes, but between ~ 70 and 50 thousand years ago (ka) they expanded southwards into the Levant, which had previously been inhabited by Homo sapiens. Palaeoanthropological research in the first half of the twentieth century demonstrated alternate occupations of the Levant by Neanderthal and Homo sapiens populations, yet key early findings have largely been overlooked in later studies. Here, we present the results of new examinations of both the fossil and archaeological collections from Shukbah Cave, located in the Palestinian West Bank, presenting new quantitative analyses of a hominin lower first molar and associated stone tool assemblage. The hominin tooth shows clear Neanderthal affinities, making it the southernmost known fossil specimen of this population/species. The associated Middle Palaeolithic stone tool assemblage is dominated by Levallois reduction methods, including the presence of Nubian Levallois points and cores. This is the first direct association between Neanderthals and Nubian Levallois technology, demonstrating that this stone tool technology should not be considered an exclusive marker of Homo sapiens.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-82257-6DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7884387PMC
February 2021

Origins of modern human ancestry.

Nature 2021 02 10;590(7845):229-237. Epub 2021 Feb 10.

Ancient Genomics Laboratory, Francis Crick Institute, London, UK.

New finds in the palaeoanthropological and genomic records have changed our view of the origins of modern human ancestry. Here we review our current understanding of how the ancestry of modern humans around the globe can be traced into the deep past, and which ancestors it passes through during our journey back in time. We identify three key phases that are surrounded by major questions, and which will be at the frontiers of future research. The most recent phase comprises the worldwide expansion of modern humans between 40 and 60 thousand years ago (ka) and their last known contacts with archaic groups such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. The second phase is associated with a broadly construed African origin of modern human diversity between 60 and 300 ka. The oldest phase comprises the complex separation of modern human ancestors from archaic human groups from 0.3 to 1 million years ago. We argue that no specific point in time can currently be identified at which modern human ancestry was confined to a limited birthplace, and that patterns of the first appearance of anatomical or behavioural traits that are used to define Homo sapiens are consistent with a range of evolutionary histories.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03244-5DOI Listing
February 2021

Continuity of the Middle Stone Age into the Holocene.

Sci Rep 2021 Jan 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

Beyond multiregional and simple out-of-Africa models of human evolution.

Nat Ecol Evol 2019 10;3(10):1370-1372

Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, London, UK.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0992-1DOI Listing
October 2019

Comparative analysis of Middle Stone Age artifacts in Africa (CoMSAfrica).

Evol Anthropol 2019 Mar 27;28(2):57-59. Epub 2019 Feb 27.

Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, Department of Anthropology, George Washington University, Washington, District of Columbia.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/evan.21772DOI Listing
March 2019

The expansion of later Acheulean hominins into the Arabian Peninsula.

Sci Rep 2018 11 29;8(1):17165. Epub 2018 Nov 29.

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

The Acheulean is the longest lasting cultural-technological tradition in human evolutionary history. However, considerable gaps remain in understanding the chronology and geographical distribution of Acheulean hominins. We present the first chronometrically dated Acheulean site from the Arabian Peninsula, a vast and poorly known region that forms more than half of Southwest Asia. Results show that Acheulean hominin occupation expanded along hydrological networks into the heart of Arabia from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 7 until at least ~190 ka ̶ the youngest documented Acheulean in Southwest Asia. The site of Saffaqah features Acheulean technology, characterized by large flakes, handaxes and cleavers, similar to Acheulean assemblages in Africa. These findings reveal a climatically-mediated later Acheulean expansion into a poorly known region, amplifying the documented diversity of Middle Pleistocene hominin behaviour across the Old World and elaborating the terminal archaic landscape encountered by our species as they dispersed out of Africa.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-35242-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6265249PMC
November 2018

Fossil herbivore stable isotopes reveal middle Pleistocene hominin palaeoenvironment in 'Green Arabia'.

Nat Ecol Evol 2018 12 29;2(12):1871-1878. Epub 2018 Oct 29.

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

Despite its largely hyper-arid and inhospitable climate today, the Arabian Peninsula is emerging as an important area for investigating Pleistocene hominin dispersals. Recently, a member of our own species was found in northern Arabia dating to ca. 90 ka, while stone tools and fossil finds have hinted at an earlier, middle Pleistocene, hominin presence. However, there remain few direct insights into Pleistocene environments, and associated hominin adaptations, that accompanied the movement of populations into this region. Here, we apply stable carbon and oxygen isotope analysis to fossil mammal tooth enamel (n = 21) from the middle Pleistocene locality of Ti's al Ghadah in Saudi Arabia associated with newly discovered stone tools and probable cutmarks. The results demonstrate productive grasslands in the interior of the Arabian Peninsula ca. 300-500 ka, as well as aridity levels similar to those found in open savannah settings in eastern Africa today. The association between this palaeoenvironmental information and the earliest traces for hominin activity in this part of the world lead us to argue that middle Pleistocene hominin dispersals into the interior of the Arabian Peninsula required no major novel adaptation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0698-9DOI Listing
December 2018

Acheulean technology and landscape use at Dawadmi, central Arabia.

PLoS One 2018 27;13(7):e0200497. Epub 2018 Jul 27.

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

Despite occupying a central geographic position, investigations of hominin populations in the Arabian Peninsula during the Lower Palaeolithic period are rare. The colonization of Eurasia below 55 degrees latitude indicates the success of the genus Homo in the Early and Middle Pleistocene, but the extent to which these hominins were capable of innovative and novel behavioural adaptations to engage with mid-latitude environments is unclear. Here we describe new field investigations at the Saffaqah locality (206-76) near Dawadmi, in central Arabia that aim to establish how hominins adapted to this region. The site is located in the interior of Arabia over 500 km from both the Red Sea and the Gulf, and at the headwaters of two major extinct river systems that were likely used by Acheulean hominins to cross the Peninsula. Saffaqah is one of the largest Acheulean sites in Arabia with nearly a million artefacts estimated to occur on the surface, and it is also the first to yield stratified deposits containing abundant artefacts. It is situated in the unusual setting of a dense and well-preserved landscape of Acheulean localities, with sites and isolated artefacts occurring regularly for tens of kilometres in every direction. We describe both previous and recent excavations at Saffaqah and its large lithic assemblage. We analyse thousands of artefacts from excavated and surface contexts, including giant andesite cores and flakes, smaller cores and retouched artefacts, as well as handaxes and cleavers. Technological assessment of stratified lithics and those from systematic survey, enable the reconstruction of stone tool life histories. The Acheulean hominins at Dawadmi were strong and skilful, with their adaptation evidently successful for some time. However, these biface-makers were also technologically conservative, and used least-effort strategies of resource procurement and tool transport. Ultimately, central Arabia was depopulated, likely in the face of environmental deterioration in the form of increasing aridity.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0200497PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6063418PMC
January 2019

Did Our Species Evolve in Subdivided Populations across Africa, and Why Does It Matter?

Trends Ecol Evol 2018 08 11;33(8):582-594. Epub 2018 Jul 11.

Laboratoire Évolution & Diversité Biologique (EDB UMR 5174), Université de Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées, CNRS, IRD, UPS. 118 route de Narbonne, Bat 4R1, 31062 Toulouse cedex 9, France; Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, P-2780-156, Oeiras, Portugal.

We challenge the view that our species, Homo sapiens, evolved within a single population and/or region of Africa. The chronology and physical diversity of Pleistocene human fossils suggest that morphologically varied populations pertaining to the H. sapiens clade lived throughout Africa. Similarly, the African archaeological record demonstrates the polycentric origin and persistence of regionally distinct Pleistocene material culture in a variety of paleoecological settings. Genetic studies also indicate that present-day population structure within Africa extends to deep times, paralleling a paleoenvironmental record of shifting and fractured habitable zones. We argue that these fields support an emerging view of a highly structured African prehistory that should be considered in human evolutionary inferences, prompting new interpretations, questions, and interdisciplinary research directions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2018.05.005DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6092560PMC
August 2018

The North African Middle Stone Age and its place in recent human evolution.

Evol Anthropol 2017 May;26(3):119-135

Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford, U.K.

The North African Middle Stone Age (NAMSA, ∼300-24 thousand years ago, or ka) features what may be the oldest fossils of our species as well as extremely early examples of technological regionalization and 'symbolic' material culture (d'Errico, Vanhaeren, Barton, Bouzouggar, Mienis, Richter, Hublin, McPherron, Louzouet, & Klein, ; Scerri, ; Richter, Grün, Joannes-Boyau, Steele, Amani, Rué, Fernandes, Raynal, Geraads, Ben-Ncer Hublin, McPherron, ). The geographic situation of North Africa and an increased understanding of the wet-dry climatic pulses of the Sahara Desert also show that North Africa played a strategic role in continental-scale evolutionary processes by modulating human dispersal and demographic structure (Drake, Blench, Armitage, Bristow, & White, ; Blome, Cohen, Tryon, Brooks, & Russell, ). However, current understanding of the NAMSA remains patchy and subject to a bewildering array of industrial nomenclatures that mask underlying variability. These issues are compounded by a geographic research bias skewed toward non-desert regions. As a result, it has been difficult to test long-established narratives of behavioral and evolutionary change in North Africa and to resolve debates on their wider significance. In order to evaluate existing data and identify future research directions, this paper provides a critical overview of the component elements of the NAMSA and shows that the timing of many key behaviors has close parallels with others in sub-Saharan Africa and Southwest Asia.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/evan.21527DOI Listing
May 2017

Rethinking the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa.

Evol Anthropol 2015 Jul-Aug;24(4):149-64

Current fossil, genetic, and archeological data indicate that Homo sapiens originated in Africa in the late Middle Pleistocene. By the end of the Late Pleistocene, our species was distributed across every continent except Antarctica, setting the foundations for the subsequent demographic and cultural changes of the Holocene. The intervening processes remain intensely debated and a key theme in hominin evolutionary studies. We review archeological, fossil, environmental, and genetic data to evaluate the current state of knowledge on the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa. The emerging picture of the dispersal process suggests dynamic behavioral variability, complex interactions between populations, and an intricate genetic and cultural legacy. This evolutionary and historical complexity challenges simple narratives and suggests that hybrid models and the testing of explicit hypotheses are required to understand the expansion of Homo sapiens into Eurasia.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/evan.21455DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6715448PMC
May 2016

Unexpected technological heterogeneity in northern Arabia indicates complex Late Pleistocene demography at the gateway to Asia.

J Hum Evol 2014 Oct 8;75:125-42. Epub 2014 Aug 8.

School of Archaeology, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, New Barnett House, 28 Little Clarendon Street, OX1 2HU Oxford, United Kingdom. Electronic address:

The role and significance of the Arabian Peninsula in modern human dispersals out of Africa is currently contentious. While qualitative observations of similarities between Arabian Middle Palaeolithic and African Middle Stone Age (MSA) assemblages have been made, these inferences remain untested and often situated within overly broad dichotomies (e.g., 'Africa' versus the 'Levant'), which distort concepts of geographic scale and subsume local variability. Here, we quantitatively test the hypothesis that assemblages from Jubbah, in the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia are similar to MSA industries from northeast Africa. Based on the quantitative analysis of a suite of metric and morphological data describing lithic reduction sequences, our results show that early and late core reduction at Jubbah is distinct from equivalent northeast African strategies, perhaps as a result of raw material factors. However, specific techniques of core shaping, preparation and preferential flake production at Jubbah draw from a number of methods also present in the northeast African MSA. While two Jubbah lithic assemblages (JKF-1 and JKF-12) display both similarities and differences with the northeast African assemblages, a third locality (JSM-1) was significantly different to both the other Arabian and African assemblages, indicating an unexpected diversity of assemblages in the Jubbah basin during Marine Isotope Stage 5 (MIS 5, ∼125-70,000 years ago, or ka). Along with evidence from southern Arabia and the Levant, our results add quantitative support to arguments that MIS 5 hominin demography at the interface between Africa and Asia was complex.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.07.002DOI Listing
October 2014