Publications by authors named "Nikos Kourampas"

7 Publications

  • Page 1 of 1

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

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

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

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

People of the ancient rainforest: late Pleistocene foragers at the Batadomba-lena rockshelter, Sri Lanka.

J Hum Evol 2011 Sep 20;61(3):254-69. Epub 2011 Jul 20.

Sri Lanka Department of Archaeology, Excavation Branch, Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.

Batadomba-lena, a rockshelter in the rainforest of southwestern Sri Lanka, has yielded some of the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in South Asia. H. sapiens foragers were present at Batadomba-lena from ca. 36,000 cal BP to the terminal Pleistocene and Holocene. Human occupation was sporadic before the global Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Batadomba-lena's Late Pleistocene inhabitants foraged for a broad spectrum of plant and mainly arboreal animal resources (monkeys, squirrels and abundant rainforest snails), derived from a landscape that retained equatorial rainforest cover through periods of pronounced regional aridity during the LGM. Juxtaposed hearths, palaeofloors with habitation debris, postholes, excavated pits, and animal and plant remains, including abundant Canarium nutshells, reflect intensive habitation of the rockshelter in times of monsoon intensification and biome reorganisation after ca. 16,000 cal BP. This period corresponds with further broadening of the economic spectrum, evidenced though increased contribution of squirrels, freshwater snails and Canarium nuts in the diet of the rockshelter occupants. Microliths are more abundant and morphologically diverse in the earliest, pre-LGM layer and decline markedly during intensified rockshelter use on the wane of the LGM. We propose that changing toolkits and subsistence base reflect changing foraging practices, from shorter-lived visits of highly mobile foraging bands in the period before the LGM, to intensified use of Batadomba-lena and intense foraging for diverse resources around the site during and, especially, following the LGM. Traces of ochre, marine shell beads and other objects from an 80 km-distant shore, and, possibly burials reflect symbolic practices from the outset of human presence at the rockshelter. Evidence for differentiated use of space (individual hearths, possible habitation structures) is present in LGM and terminal Pleistocene layers. The record of Batadomba-lena demonstrates that Late Pleistocene pathways to (aspects of) behavioural 'modernity' (composite tools, practice of symbolism and ritual, broad spectrum economy) were diverse and ecologically contingent.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.04.001DOI Listing
September 2011
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