Publications by authors named "James Blinkhorn"

15 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

Earliest known human burial in Africa.

Nature 2021 May 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

The Middle to Later Stone Age transition at Panga ya Saidi, in the tropical coastal forest of eastern Africa.

J Hum Evol 2021 Apr 11;153:102954. Epub 2021 Mar 11.

Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745, Jena, Germany; Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, 600 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, D.C., USA; School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, 4072, Australia.

The Middle to Later Stone Age transition is a critical period of human behavioral change that has been variously argued to pertain to the emergence of modern cognition, substantial population growth, and major dispersals of Homo sapiens within and beyond Africa. However, there is little consensus about when the transition occurred, the geographic patterning of its emergence, or even how it is manifested in the stone tool technology that is used to define it. Here, we examine a long sequence of lithic technological change at the cave site of Panga ya Saidi, Kenya, that spans the Middle and Later Stone Age and includes human occupations in each of the last five Marine Isotope Stages. In addition to the stone artifact technology, Panga ya Saidi preserves osseous and shell artifacts, enabling broader considerations of the covariation between different spheres of material culture. Several environmental proxies contextualize the artifactual record of human behavior at Panga ya Saidi. We compare technological change between the Middle and Later Stone Age with on-site paleoenvironmental manifestations of wider climatic fluctuations in the Late Pleistocene. The principal distinguishing feature of Middle from Later Stone Age technology at Panga ya Saidi is the preference for fine-grained stone, coupled with the creation of small flakes (miniaturization). Our review of the Middle to Later Stone Age transition elsewhere in eastern Africa and across the continent suggests that this broader distinction between the two periods is in fact widespread. We suggest that the Later Stone Age represents new short use-life and multicomponent ways of using stone tools, in which edge sharpness was prioritized over durability.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2021.102954DOI Listing
April 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

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

Neural networks differentiate between Middle and Later Stone Age lithic assemblages in eastern Africa.

PLoS One 2020 26;15(8):e0237528. Epub 2020 Aug 26.

Pan-African Evolution Research Group, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany.

The Middle to Later Stone Age transition marks a major change in how Late Pleistocene African populations produced and used stone tool kits, but is manifest in various ways, places and times across the continent. Alongside changing patterns of raw material use and decreasing artefact sizes, changes in artefact types are commonly employed to differentiate Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) assemblages. The current paper employs a quantitative analytical framework based upon the use of neural networks to examine changing constellations of technologies between MSA and LSA assemblages from eastern Africa. Network ensembles were trained to differentiate LSA assemblages from Marine Isotope Stage 3&4 MSA and Marine Isotope Stage 5 MSA assemblages based upon the presence or absence of 16 technologies. Simulations were used to extract significant indicator and contra-indicator technologies for each assemblage class. The trained network ensembles classified over 94% of assemblages correctly, and identified 7 key technologies that significantly distinguish between assemblage classes. These results clarify both temporal changes within the MSA and differences between MSA and LSA assemblages in eastern Africa.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0237528PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7449415PMC
October 2020

Microliths in the South Asian rainforest ~45-4 ka: New insights from Fa-Hien Lena Cave, Sri Lanka.

PLoS One 2019 2;14(10):e0222606. Epub 2019 Oct 2.

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

Microliths-small, retouched, often-backed stone tools-are often interpreted to be the product of composite tools, including projectile weapons, and efficient hunting strategies by modern humans. In Europe and Africa these lithic toolkits are linked to hunting of medium- and large-sized game found in grassland or woodland settings, or as adaptations to risky environments during periods of climatic change. Here, we report on a recently excavated lithic assemblage from the Late Pleistocene cave site of Fa-Hien Lena in the tropical evergreen rainforest of Sri Lanka. Our analyses demonstrate that Fa-Hien Lena represents the earliest microlith assemblage in South Asia (c. 48,000-45,000 cal. years BP) in firm association with evidence for the procurement of small to medium size arboreal prey and rainforest plants. Moreover, our data highlight that the lithic technology of Fa-Hien Lena changed little over the long span of human occupation (c. 48,000-45,000 cal. years BP to c. 4,000 cal. years BP) indicating a successful, stable technological adaptation to the tropics. We argue that microlith assemblages were an important part of the environmental plasticity that enabled Homo sapiens to colonise and specialise in a diversity of ecological settings during its expansion within and beyond Africa. The proliferation of diverse microlithic technologies across Eurasia c. 48-45 ka was part of a flexible human 'toolkit' that assisted our species' spread into all of the world's environments, and the development of specialised technological and cultural approaches to novel ecological situations.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0222606PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6774521PMC
March 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Continuity of mammalian fauna over the last 200,000 y in the Indian subcontinent.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2014 Apr 7;111(16):5848-53. Epub 2014 Apr 7.

Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, United Kingdom.

Mammalian extinction worldwide during the Late Pleistocene has been a major focus for Quaternary biochronology and paleoecology. These extinctions have been variably attributed to the impacts of climate change and human interference. However, until relatively recently, research has been largely restricted to the Americas, Europe, and Australasia. We present the oldest Middle-Late Pleistocene stratified and numerically dated faunal succession for the Indian subcontinent from the Billasurgam cave complex. Our data demonstrate continuity of 20 of 21 identified mammalian taxa from at least 100,000 y ago to the present, and in some cases up to 200,000 y ago. Comparison of this fossil record to contemporary faunal ranges indicates some geographical redistribution of mammalian taxa within India. We suggest that, although local extirpations occurred, the majority of taxa survived or adapted to substantial ecological pressures in fragmented habitats. Comparison of the Indian record with faunal records from Southeast and Southwest Asia demonstrates the importance of interconnected mosaic habitats to long-term faunal persistence across the Asian tropics. The data presented here have implications for mammalian conservation in India today, where increasing ecological circumscription may leave certain taxa increasingly endangered in the most densely populated region of the world.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1323465111DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4000863PMC
April 2014