Publications by authors named "Rainer Grün"

43 Publications

Dating the skull from Broken Hill, Zambia, and its position in human evolution.

Nature 2020 04 1;580(7803):372-375. Epub 2020 Apr 1.

CHER, Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, London, UK.

The cranium from Broken Hill (Kabwe) was recovered from cave deposits in 1921, during metal ore mining in what is now Zambia. It is one of the best-preserved skulls of a fossil hominin, and was initially designated as the type specimen of Homo rhodesiensis, but recently it has often been included in the taxon Homo heidelbergensis. However, the original site has since been completely quarried away, and-although the cranium is often estimated to be around 500 thousand years old-its unsystematic recovery impedes its accurate dating and placement in human evolution. Here we carried out analyses directly on the skull and found a best age estimate of 299 ± 25 thousand years (mean ± 2σ). The result suggests that later Middle Pleistocene Africa contained multiple contemporaneous hominin lineages (that is, Homo sapiens, H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis and Homo naledi), similar to Eurasia, where Homo neanderthalensis, the Denisovans, Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonensis and perhaps also Homo heidelbergensis and Homo erectus were found contemporaneously. The age estimate also raises further questions about the mode of evolution of H. sapiens in Africa and whether H. heidelbergensis/H. rhodesiensis was a direct ancestor of our species.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2165-4DOI Listing
April 2020

Last appearance of Homo erectus at Ngandong, Java, 117,000-108,000 years ago.

Nature 2020 01 18;577(7790):381-385. Epub 2019 Dec 18.

Department of Anthropology and Museum of Natural History, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA.

Homo erectus is the founding early hominin species of Island Southeast Asia, and reached Java (Indonesia) more than 1.5 million years ago. Twelve H. erectus calvaria (skull caps) and two tibiae (lower leg bones) were discovered from a bone bed located about 20 m above the Solo River at Ngandong (Central Java) between 1931 and 1933, and are of the youngest, most-advanced form of H. erectus. Despite the importance of the Ngandong fossils, the relationship between the fossils, terrace fill and ages have been heavily debated. Here, to resolve the age of the Ngandong evidence, we use Bayesian modelling of 52 radiometric age estimates to establish-to our knowledge-the first robust chronology at regional, valley and local scales. We used uranium-series dating of speleothems to constrain regional landscape evolution; luminescence, argon/argon (Ar/Ar) and uranium-series dating to constrain the sequence of terrace evolution; and applied uranium-series and uranium series-electron-spin resonance (US-ESR) dating to non-human fossils to directly date our re-excavation of Ngandong. We show that at least by 500 thousand years ago (ka) the Solo River was diverted into the Kendeng Hills, and that it formed the Solo terrace sequence between 316 and 31 ka and the Ngandong terrace between about 140 and 92 ka. Non-human fossils recovered during the re-excavation of Ngandong date to between 109 and 106 ka (uranium-series minimum) and 134 and 118 ka (US-ESR), with modelled ages of 117 to 108 thousand years (kyr) for the H. erectus bone bed, which accumulated during flood conditions. These results negate the extreme ages that have been proposed for the site and solidify Ngandong as the last known occurrence of this long-lived species.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1863-2DOI Listing
January 2020

Apidima Cave fossils provide earliest evidence of Homo sapiens in Eurasia.

Nature 2019 07 10;571(7766):500-504. Epub 2019 Jul 10.

Museum of Anthropology, Medical School, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Greece.

Two fossilized human crania (Apidima 1 and Apidima 2) from Apidima Cave, southern Greece, were discovered in the late 1970s but have remained enigmatic owing to their incomplete nature, taphonomic distortion and lack of archaeological context and chronology. Here we virtually reconstruct both crania, provide detailed comparative descriptions and analyses, and date them using U-series radiometric methods. Apidima 2 dates to more than 170 thousand years ago and has a Neanderthal-like morphological pattern. By contrast, Apidima 1 dates to more than 210 thousand years ago and presents a mixture of modern human and primitive features. These results suggest that two late Middle Pleistocene human groups were present at this site-an early Homo sapiens population, followed by a Neanderthal population. Our findings support multiple dispersals of early modern humans out of Africa, and highlight the complex demographic processes that characterized Pleistocene human evolution and modern human presence in southeast Europe.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1376-zDOI Listing
July 2019

A new species of Homo from the Late Pleistocene of the Philippines.

Nature 2019 04 10;568(7751):181-186. Epub 2019 Apr 10.

National Museum of the Philippines, Manila, The Philippines.

A hominin third metatarsal discovered in 2007 in Callao Cave (Northern Luzon, the Philippines) and dated to 67 thousand years ago provided the earliest direct evidence of a human presence in the Philippines. Analysis of this foot bone suggested that it belonged to the genus Homo, but to which species was unclear. Here we report the discovery of twelve additional hominin elements that represent at least three individuals that were found in the same stratigraphic layer of Callao Cave as the previously discovered metatarsal. These specimens display a combination of primitive and derived morphological features that is different from the combination of features found in other species in the genus Homo (including Homo floresiensis and Homo sapiens) and warrants their attribution to a new species, which we name Homo luzonensis. The presence of another and previously unknown hominin species east of the Wallace Line during the Late Pleistocene epoch underscores the importance of island Southeast Asia in the evolution of the genus Homo.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1067-9DOI Listing
April 2019

Rocks, teeth, and tools: New insights into early Neanderthal mobility strategies in South-Eastern France from lithic reconstructions and strontium isotope analysis.

PLoS One 2019 3;14(4):e0214925. Epub 2019 Apr 3.

Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University, Nathan QLD, Australia.

Neanderthals had complex land use patterns, adapting to diversified landscapes and climates. Over the past decade, considerable progress has been made in reconstructing the chronology, land use and subsistence patterns, and occupation types of sites in the Rhône Valley, southeast France. In this study, Neanderthal mobility at the site of Payre is investigated by combining information from lithic procurement analysis ("chaîne evolutive" and "chaîne opératoire" concepts) and strontium isotope analysis of teeth (childhood foraging area), from two units (F and G). Both units date to the transition from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 8 to MIS 7, and show similar environmental conditions, but represent contrasting occupation durations. Level Gb (unit G) represents a long-term year-round use, in contrast to short-term seasonal use of the cave in level Fb (unit F). For both levels, lithic material and food were generally collected from a local to semi-local region. However, in level Gb, lithic materials were mainly collected from colluviums and food collected in the valley, whereas in level Fb, lithic procurement focused primarily on alluvial deposits and food was collected from higher elevation plateaus. These procurement or exchange patterns might be related to flint availability, knapping advantages of alluvial flint or occupation duration. The site of Payre is located in a flint rich circulation corridor and the movement of groups or exchanges between groups were organized along a north-south axis on the plateaus or towards the east following the river. The ridges were widely used as they are rich in flint, whereas the Rhône Valley is not an important source of lithic raw materials. Compared to other western European Middle Palaeolithic sites, these results indicate that procurement strategies have a moderate link with occupation types and duration, and with lithic technology. The Sr isotope ratios broadly match the proposed foraging areas, with the Rhône Valley being predominantly used in unit G and the ridges and limestone plateaus in unit F. While lithic reconstructions and childhood foraging are not directly related this suggests that the three analysed Neanderthals spend their childhood in the same general area and supports the idea of mobile Neanderthals in the Rhône Valley and neighbouring higher elevation plateaus. The combination of reconstructing lithic raw material sources, provisioning strategies, and strontium isotope analyses provides new details on how Neanderthals at Payre practised land use and mobility in the Early Middle Palaeolithic.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0214925PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6447223PMC
December 2019

Age estimates for hominin fossils and the onset of the Upper Palaeolithic at Denisova Cave.

Nature 2019 01 30;565(7741):640-644. Epub 2019 Jan 30.

Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

Denisova Cave in the Siberian Altai (Russia) is a key site for understanding the complex relationships between hominin groups that inhabited Eurasia in the Middle and Late Pleistocene epoch. DNA sequenced from human remains found at this site has revealed the presence of a hitherto unknown hominin group, the Denisovans, and high-coverage genomes from both Neanderthal and Denisovan fossils provide evidence for admixture between these two populations. Determining the age of these fossils is important if we are to understand the nature of hominin interaction, and aspects of their cultural and subsistence adaptations. Here we present 50 radiocarbon determinations from the late Middle and Upper Palaeolithic layers of the site. We also report three direct dates for hominin fragments and obtain a mitochondrial DNA sequence for one of them. We apply a Bayesian age modelling approach that combines chronometric (radiocarbon, uranium series and optical ages), stratigraphic and genetic data to calculate probabilistically the age of the human fossils at the site. Our modelled estimate for the age of the oldest Denisovan fossil suggests that this group was present at the site as early as 195,000 years ago (at 95.4% probability). All Neanderthal fossils-as well as Denisova 11, the daughter of a Neanderthal and a Denisovan-date to between 80,000 and 140,000 years ago. The youngest Denisovan dates to 52,000-76,000 years ago. Direct radiocarbon dating of Upper Palaeolithic tooth pendants and bone points yielded the earliest evidence for the production of these artefacts in northern Eurasia, between 43,000 and 49,000 calibrated years before present (taken as AD 1950). On the basis of current archaeological evidence, it may be assumed that these artefacts are associated with the Denisovan population. It is not currently possible to determine whether anatomically modern humans were involved in their production, as modern-human fossil and genetic evidence of such antiquity has not yet been identified in the Altai region.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0870-zDOI Listing
January 2019

Wintertime stress, nursing, and lead exposure in Neanderthal children.

Sci Adv 2018 10 31;4(10):eaau9483. Epub 2018 Oct 31.

The Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Environmental Health Sciences Laboratory, Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY 10029, USA.

Scholars endeavor to understand the relationship between human evolution and climate change. This is particularly germane for Neanderthals, who survived extreme Eurasian environmental variation and glaciations, mysteriously going extinct during a cool interglacial stage. Here, we integrate weekly records of climate, tooth growth, and metal exposure in two Neanderthals and one modern human from southeastern France. The Neanderthals inhabited cooler and more seasonal periods than the modern human, evincing childhood developmental stress during wintertime. In one instance, this stress may have included skeletal mobilization of elemental stores and weight loss; this individual was born in the spring and appears to have weaned 2.5 years later. Both Neanderthals were exposed to lead at least twice during the deep winter and/or early spring. This multidisciplinary approach elucidates direct relationships between ancient environments and hominin paleobiology.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aau9483DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6209393PMC
October 2018

Response to Comment on "The earliest modern humans outside Africa".

Science 2018 10;362(6413)

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel 3498838, Israel.

Our original claim, based on three independent numerical dating methods, of an age of ~185,000 years for the Misliya-1 modern human hemi-maxilla from Mount Carmel, Israel, is little affected by discounting uranium-series dating of adhering crusts. It confirms a much earlier out-of-Africa expansion than previously suggested by the considerably younger (90,000 to 120,000 years) Skhul/Qafzeh hominins.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aat8964DOI Listing
October 2018

A reassessment of the early archaeological record at Leang Burung 2, a Late Pleistocene rock-shelter site on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

PLoS One 2018 11;13(4):e0193025. Epub 2018 Apr 11.

Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.

This paper presents a reassessment of the archaeological record at Leang Burung 2, a key early human occupation site in the Late Pleistocene of Southeast Asia. Excavated originally by Ian Glover in 1975, this limestone rock-shelter in the Maros karsts of Sulawesi, Indonesia, has long held significance in our understanding of early human dispersals into 'Wallacea', the vast zone of oceanic islands between continental Asia and Australia. We present new stratigraphic information and dating evidence from Leang Burung 2 collected during the course of our excavations at this site in 2007 and 2011-13. Our findings suggest that the classic Late Pleistocene modern human occupation sequence identified previously at Leang Burung 2, and proposed to span around 31,000 to 19,000 conventional 14C years BP (~35-24 ka cal BP), may actually represent an amalgam of reworked archaeological materials. Sources for cultural materials of mixed ages comprise breccias from the rear wall of the rock-shelter-remnants of older, eroded deposits dated to 35-23 ka cal BP-and cultural remains of early Holocene antiquity. Below the upper levels affected by the mass loss of Late Pleistocene deposits, our deep-trench excavations uncovered evidence for an earlier hominin presence at the site. These findings include fossils of now-extinct proboscideans and other 'megafauna' in stratified context, as well as a cobble-based stone artifact technology comparable to that produced by late Middle Pleistocene hominins elsewhere on Sulawesi.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0193025PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5894965PMC
July 2018

Homo sapiens in Arabia by 85,000 years ago.

Nat Ecol Evol 2018 05 9;2(5):800-809. Epub 2018 Apr 9.

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

Understanding the timing and character of the expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa is critical for inferring the colonization and admixture processes that underpin global population history. It has been argued that dispersal out of Africa had an early phase, particularly ~130-90 thousand years ago (ka), that reached only the East Mediterranean Levant, and a later phase, ~60-50 ka, that extended across the diverse environments of Eurasia to Sahul. However, recent findings from East Asia and Sahul challenge this model. Here we show that H. sapiens was in the Arabian Peninsula before 85 ka. We describe the Al Wusta-1 (AW-1) intermediate phalanx from the site of Al Wusta in the Nefud desert, Saudi Arabia. AW-1 is the oldest directly dated fossil of our species outside Africa and the Levant. The palaeoenvironmental context of Al Wusta demonstrates that H. sapiens using Middle Palaeolithic stone tools dispersed into Arabia during a phase of increased precipitation driven by orbital forcing, in association with a primarily African fauna. A Bayesian model incorporating independent chronometric age estimates indicates a chronology for Al Wusta of ~95-86 ka, which we correlate with a humid episode in the later part of Marine Isotope Stage 5 known from various regional records. Al Wusta shows that early dispersals were more spatially and temporally extensive than previously thought. Early H. sapiens dispersals out of Africa were not limited to winter rainfall-fed Levantine Mediterranean woodlands immediately adjacent to Africa, but extended deep into the semi-arid grasslands of Arabia, facilitated by periods of enhanced monsoonal rainfall.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0518-2DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5935238PMC
May 2018

The earliest modern humans outside Africa.

Science 2018 Jan;359(6374):456-459

Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Haifa, Mount Carmel 3498838, Israel.

To date, the earliest modern human fossils found outside of Africa are dated to around 90,000 to 120,000 years ago at the Levantine sites of Skhul and Qafzeh. A maxilla and associated dentition recently discovered at Misliya Cave, Israel, was dated to 177,000 to 194,000 years ago, suggesting that members of the clade left Africa earlier than previously thought. This finding changes our view on modern human dispersal and is consistent with recent genetic studies, which have posited the possibility of an earlier dispersal of around 220,000 years ago. The Misliya maxilla is associated with full-fledged Levallois technology in the Levant, suggesting that the emergence of this technology is linked to the appearance of in the region, as has been documented in Africa.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aap8369DOI Listing
January 2018

U-series dating and classification of the Apidima 2 hominin from Mani Peninsula, Southern Greece.

J Hum Evol 2017 08 9;109:22-29. Epub 2017 Jun 9.

Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia; Research Centre of Human Evolution, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, QLD 4111, Australia.

Laser ablation U-series dating results on a human cranial bone fragment from Apidima, on the western cost of the Mani Peninsula, Southern Greece, indicate a minimum age of 160,000 years. The dated cranial fragment belongs to Apidima 2, which preserves the facial skeleton and a large part of the braincase, lacking the occipital bone. The morphology of the preserved regions of the cranium, and especially that of the facial skeleton, indicates that the fossil belongs to the Neanderthal clade. The dating of the fossil at a minimum age of 160,000 years shows that most of the Neanderthal traits were already present in the MIS 6 and perhaps earlier. This makes Apidima 2 the earliest known fossil with a clear Neanderthal facial morphology. Together with the nearby younger Neanderthal specimens from Lakonis and Kalamakia, the Apidima crania are of crucial importance for the evolution of Neanderthals in the area during the Middle to Late Pleistocene. It can be expected that systematic direct dating of the other human fossils from this area will elucidate our understanding of Neanderthal evolution and demise.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2017.04.008DOI Listing
August 2017

The age of the hominin fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and the origins of the Middle Stone Age.

Nature 2017 06;546(7657):293-296

Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, Leipzig 04103, Germany.

The timing and location of the emergence of our species and of associated behavioural changes are crucial for our understanding of human evolution. The earliest fossil attributed to a modern form of Homo sapiens comes from eastern Africa and is approximately 195 thousand years old, therefore the emergence of modern human biology is commonly placed at around 200 thousand years ago. The earliest Middle Stone Age assemblages come from eastern and southern Africa but date much earlier. Here we report the ages, determined by thermoluminescence dating, of fire-heated flint artefacts obtained from new excavations at the Middle Stone Age site of Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, which are directly associated with newly discovered remains of H. sapiens. A weighted average age places these Middle Stone Age artefacts and fossils at 315 ± 34 thousand years ago. Support is obtained through the recalculated uranium series with electron spin resonance date of 286 ± 32 thousand years ago for a tooth from the Irhoud 3 hominin mandible. These ages are also consistent with the faunal and microfaunal assemblages and almost double the previous age estimates for the lower part of the deposits. The north African site of Jebel Irhoud contains one of the earliest directly dated Middle Stone Age assemblages, and its associated human remains are the oldest reported for H. sapiens. The emergence of our species and of the Middle Stone Age appear to be close in time, and these data suggest a larger scale, potentially pan-African, origin for both.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature22335DOI Listing
June 2017

The age of and associated sediments in the Rising Star Cave, South Africa.

Elife 2017 05 9;6. Epub 2017 May 9.

Evolutionary Studies Institute and the National Centre for Excellence in PalaeoSciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Wits, South Africa.

New ages for flowstone, sediments and fossil bones from the Dinaledi Chamber are presented. We combined optically stimulated luminescence dating of sediments with U-Th and palaeomagnetic analyses of flowstones to establish that all sediments containing fossils can be allocated to a single stratigraphic entity (sub-unit 3b), interpreted to be deposited between 236 ka and 414 ka. This result has been confirmed independently by dating three teeth with combined U-series and electron spin resonance (US-ESR) dating. Two dating scenarios for the fossils were tested by varying the assumed levels of Rn loss in the encasing sediments: a maximum age scenario provides an average age for the two least altered fossil teeth of 253 +82/-70 ka, whilst a minimum age scenario yields an average age of 200 +70/-61 ka. We consider the maximum age scenario to more closely reflect conditions in the cave, and therefore, the true age of the fossils. By combining the US-ESR maximum age estimate obtained from the teeth, with the U-Th age for the oldest flowstone overlying fossils, we have constrained the depositional age of to a period between 236 ka and 335 ka. These age results demonstrate that a morphologically primitive hominin, survived into the later parts of the Pleistocene in Africa, and indicate a much younger age for the fossils than have previously been hypothesized based on their morphology.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.24231DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5423772PMC
May 2017

Early human symbolic behavior in the Late Pleistocene of Wallacea.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2017 04 3;114(16):4105-4110. Epub 2017 Apr 3.

Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane, QLD, Australia 4111.

Wallacea, the zone of oceanic islands separating the continental regions of Southeast Asia and Australia, has yielded sparse evidence for the symbolic culture of early modern humans. Here we report evidence for symbolic activity 30,000-22,000 y ago at Leang Bulu Bettue, a cave and rock-shelter site on the Wallacean island of Sulawesi. We describe hitherto undocumented practices of personal ornamentation and portable art, alongside evidence for pigment processing and use in deposits that are the same age as dated rock art in the surrounding karst region. Previously, assemblages of multiple and diverse types of Pleistocene "symbolic" artifacts were entirely unknown from this region. The Leang Bulu Bettue assemblage provides insight into the complexity and diversification of modern human culture during a key period in the global dispersal of our species. It also shows that early inhabitants of Sulawesi fashioned ornaments from body parts of endemic animals, suggesting modern humans integrated exotic faunas and other novel resources into their symbolic world as they colonized the biogeographically unique regions southeast of continental Eurasia.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1619013114DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5402422PMC
April 2017

The Acheulian and Early Middle Paleolithic in Latium (Italy): Stability and Innovation.

PLoS One 2016 15;11(8):e0160516. Epub 2016 Aug 15.

Département de Préhistoire, Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, UMR 7194, 75013, Paris, France.

We present here the results of a technological and typological analysis of the Acheulian and early Middle Paleolithic assemblages from Torre in Pietra (Latium, Italy) together with comparisons with the Acheulian small tools of Castel di Guido. The assemblages were never chronometrically dated before. We have now 40Ar/39Ar dates and ESR-U-series dates, within a geomorphological framework, which support correlations to marine isotope stages. The Acheulian (previously correlated to MIS 9) is now dated to MIS 10 while the Middle Paleolithic is dated to MIS 7. Lithic analyses are preceded by taphonomic evaluations. The Levallois method of the Middle Paleolithic assemblage is an innovation characterized by the production of thin flake blanks without cortex. In contrast, the small tool blanks of the Acheulian were either pebbles or thick flakes with some cortex. They provided a relatively easy manual prehension. The choice of Levallois thin flake blanks in the Middle Paleolithic assemblage suggest that the new technology is most likely related to the emergence of hafting. Accordingly, the oldest direct evidence of hafting technology is from the site of Campitello Quarry in Tuscany (Central Italy) where birch-bark tar, found on the proximal part of two flint flakes, is dated to the end of MIS 7. Nevertheless, a peculiar feature of the Middle Paleolithic at Torre in Pietra is the continuous presence of small tool blanks on pebbles and cores and on thick flake albeit at a much lower frequency than in the older Acheulian industries. The adoption of the new technology is thus characterized by innovation combined with a degree of stability. The persistence of these habits in spite of the introduction of an innovative technique underlies the importance of cultural transmission and conformity in the behavior of Neandertals.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0160516PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4985512PMC
July 2017

Age and context of the oldest known hominin fossils from Flores.

Nature 2016 06;534(7606):249-53

Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth &Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia.

Recent excavations at the early Middle Pleistocene site of Mata Menge in the So'a Basin of central Flores, Indonesia, have yielded hominin fossils attributed to a population ancestral to Late Pleistocene Homo floresiensis. Here we describe the age and context of the Mata Menge hominin specimens and associated archaeological findings. The fluvial sandstone layer from which the in situ fossils were excavated in 2014 was deposited in a small valley stream around 700 thousand years ago, as indicated by (40)Ar/(39)Ar and fission track dates on stratigraphically bracketing volcanic ash and pyroclastic density current deposits, in combination with coupled uranium-series and electron spin resonance dating of fossil teeth. Palaeoenvironmental data indicate a relatively dry climate in the So'a Basin during the early Middle Pleistocene, while various lines of evidence suggest the hominins inhabited a savannah-like open grassland habitat with a wetland component. The hominin fossils occur alongside the remains of an insular fauna and a simple stone technology that is markedly similar to that associated with Late Pleistocene H. floresiensis.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature17663DOI Listing
June 2016

Direct U-series analysis of the Lezetxiki humerus reveals a Middle Pleistocene age for human remains in the Basque Country (northern Iberia).

J Hum Evol 2016 Apr 20;93:109-19. Epub 2016 Mar 20.

Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia.

In 1964, a human humerus was found in a sedimentary deposit in Lezetxiki Cave (Basque Country, northern Iberia). The first studies on the stratigraphy, associated mammal faunal remains and lithic implements placed the deposits containing the humerus into the Riss glacial stage. Direct chronometric evidence has so far been missing, and the previous chronostratigraphic framework and faunal dating gave inconsistent results. Here we report laser ablation U-series analyses on the humerus yielding a minimum age of 164 ± 9 ka, corresponding to MIS 6. This is the only direct dating analysis of the Lezetxiki humerus and confirms a Middle Pleistocene age for this hominin fossil. Morphometric analyses suggest that the Lezetxiki humerus has close affinities to other Middle Pleistocene archaic hominins, such as those from La Sima de los Huesos at Atapuerca. This emphasizes the significance of the Lezetxiki fossil within the populations that predate the Neanderthals in south-western Europe. It is thus an important key fossil for the understanding of human evolution in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene, a time period when a great morphological diversity is observed but whose phylogenetic meaning is not yet fully understood.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2016.02.001DOI Listing
April 2016

Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia.

Nature 2016 Apr 30;532(7599):366-9. Epub 2016 Mar 30.

Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia.

Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin species discovered in Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia), has generated wide interest and scientific debate. A major reason this taxon is controversial is because the H. floresiensis-bearing deposits, which include associated stone artefacts and remains of other extinct endemic fauna, were dated to between about 95 and 12 thousand calendar years (kyr) ago. These ages suggested that H. floresiensis survived until long after modern humans reached Australia by ~50 kyr ago. Here we report new stratigraphic and chronological evidence from Liang Bua that does not support the ages inferred previously for the H. floresiensis holotype (LB1), ~18 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (kyr cal. BP), or the time of last appearance of this species (about 17 or 13-11 kyr cal. BP). Instead, the skeletal remains of H. floresiensis and the deposits containing them are dated to between about 100 and 60 kyr ago, whereas stone artefacts attributable to this species range from about 190 to 50 kyr in age. Whether H. floresiensis survived after 50 kyr ago--potentially encountering modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through southeast Asia, such as Denisovans--is an open question.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature17179DOI Listing
April 2016

Earliest hominin occupation of Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Nature 2016 Jan;529(7585):208-11

Centre for Archaeological Science, School of Earth &Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales 2522, Australia.

Sulawesi is the largest and oldest island within Wallacea, a vast zone of oceanic islands separating continental Asia from the Pleistocene landmass of Australia and Papua (Sahul). By one million years ago an unknown hominin lineage had colonized Flores immediately to the south, and by about 50 thousand years ago, modern humans (Homo sapiens) had crossed to Sahul. On the basis of position, oceanic currents and biogeographical context, Sulawesi probably played a pivotal part in these dispersals. Uranium-series dating of speleothem deposits associated with rock art in the limestone karst region of Maros in southwest Sulawesi has revealed that humans were living on the island at least 40 thousand years ago (ref. 5). Here we report new excavations at Talepu in the Walanae Basin northeast of Maros, where in situ stone artefacts associated with fossil remains of megafauna (Bubalus sp., Stegodon and Celebochoerus) have been recovered from stratified deposits that accumulated from before 200 thousand years ago until about 100 thousand years ago. Our findings suggest that Sulawesi, like Flores, was host to a long-established population of archaic hominins, the ancestral origins and taxonomic status of which remain elusive.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature16448DOI Listing
January 2016

The first archaic Homo from Taiwan.

Nat Commun 2015 Jan 27;6:6037. Epub 2015 Jan 27.

Department of Life Science, Tunghai University, 0704 PO Box 988, No. 181, Sector 3, Taichung Port Road, Taichung 40704, Taiwan.

Recent studies of an increasing number of hominin fossils highlight regional and chronological diversities of archaic Homo in the Pleistocene of eastern Asia. However, such a realization is still based on limited geographical occurrences mainly from Indonesia, China and Russian Altai. Here we describe a newly discovered archaic Homo mandible from Taiwan (Penghu 1), which further increases the diversity of Pleistocene Asian hominins. Penghu 1 revealed an unexpectedly late survival (younger than 450 but most likely 190-10 thousand years ago) of robust, apparently primitive dentognathic morphology in the periphery of the continent, which is unknown among the penecontemporaneous fossil records from other regions of Asia except for the mid-Middle Pleistocene Homo from Hexian, Eastern China. Such patterns of geographic trait distribution cannot be simply explained by clinal geographic variation of Homo erectus between northern China and Java, and suggests survival of multiple evolutionary lineages among archaic hominins before the arrival of modern humans in the region.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms7037DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4316746PMC
January 2015

Middle pleistocene human remains from Tourville-la-Rivière (Normandy, France) and their archaeological context.

PLoS One 2014 8;9(10):e104111. Epub 2014 Oct 8.

Department of Anthropology, Washington University, Saint Louis, Missouri, United States of America.

Despite numerous sites of great antiquity having been excavated since the end of the 19th century, Middle Pleistocene human fossils are still extremely rare in northwestern Europe. Apart from the two partial crania from Biache-Saint-Vaast in northern France, all known human fossils from this period have been found from ten sites in either Germany or England. Here we report the discovery of three long bones from the same left upper limb discovered at the open-air site of Tourville-la-Rivière in the Seine Valley of northern France. New U-series and combined US-ESR dating on animal teeth produced an age range for the site of 183 to 236 ka. In combination with paleoecological indicators, they indicate an age toward the end of MIS 7. The human remains from Tourville-la-Rivière are attributable to the Neandertal lineage based on morphological and metric analyses. An abnormal crest on the left humerus represents a deltoid muscle enthesis. Micro- and or macro-traumas connected to repetitive movements similar to those documented for professional throwing athletes could be origin of abnormality.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0104111PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4189787PMC
June 2015

The chronostratigraphy of the Haua Fteah cave (Cyrenaica, northeast Libya).

J Hum Evol 2014 Jan 12;66:39-63. Epub 2013 Dec 12.

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK. Electronic address:

The 1950s excavations by Charles McBurney in the Haua Fteah, a large karstic cave on the coast of northeast Libya, revealed a deep sequence of human occupation. Most subsequent research on North African prehistory refers to his discoveries and interpretations, but the chronology of its archaeological and geological sequences has been based on very early age determinations. This paper reports on the initial results of a comprehensive multi-method dating program undertaken as part of new work at the site, involving radiocarbon dating of charcoal, land snails and marine shell, cryptotephra investigations, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of sediments, and electron spin resonance (ESR) dating of tooth enamel. The dating samples were collected from the newly exposed and cleaned faces of the upper 7.5 m of the ∼14.0 m-deep McBurney trench, which contain six of the seven major cultural phases that he identified. Despite problems of sediment transport and reworking, using a Bayesian statistical model the new dating program establishes a robust framework for the five major lithostratigraphic units identified in the stratigraphic succession, and for the major cultural units. The age of two anatomically modern human mandibles found by McBurney in Layer XXXIII near the base of his Levalloiso-Mousterian phase can now be estimated to between 73 and 65 ka (thousands of years ago) at the 95.4% confidence level, within Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 4. McBurney's Layer XXV, associated with Upper Palaeolithic Dabban blade industries, has a clear stratigraphic relationship with Campanian Ignimbrite tephra. Microlithic Oranian technologies developed following the climax of the Last Glacial Maximum and the more microlithic Capsian in the Younger Dryas. Neolithic pottery and perhaps domestic livestock were used in the cave from the mid Holocene but there is no certain evidence for plant cultivation until the Graeco-Roman period.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2013.10.001DOI Listing
January 2014

U-series and radiocarbon analyses of human and faunal remains from Wajak, Indonesia.

J Hum Evol 2013 May 5;64(5):356-65. Epub 2013 Mar 5.

Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Postbus 9517, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands.

Laser ablation U-series dating results on human and faunal bone fragments from Wajak, Indonesia, indicate a minimum age of between 37.4 and 28.5 ka (thousands of years ago) for the whole assemblage. These are significantly older than previously published radiocarbon estimates on bone carbonate, which suggested a Holocene age for a human bone fragment and a late Pleistocene age for a faunal bone. The analysis of the organic components in the faunal material show severe degradation and a positive δ(13)C ratio indicate a high degree of secondary carbonatisation. This may explain why the thermal release method used for the original age assessments yielded such young ages. While the older U-series ages are not in contradiction with the morphology of the Wajak human fossils or Javanese biostratigraphy, they will require a reassessment of the evolutionary relationships of modern human remains in Southeast Asia and Oceania. It can be expected that systematic direct dating of human fossils from this area will lead to further revisions of our understanding of modern human evolution.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2012.11.002DOI Listing
May 2013

Confirmation of a late middle Pleistocene age for the Omo Kibish 1 cranium by direct uranium-series dating.

J Hum Evol 2012 Nov 5;63(5):704-10. Epub 2012 Sep 5.

Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia.

While it is generally accepted that modern humans evolved in Africa, the specific physical evidence for that origin remains disputed. The modern-looking Omo 1 skeleton, discovered in the Kibish region of Ethiopia in 1967, was controversially dated at ~130 ka (thousands of years ago) by U-series dating on associated Mollusca, and it was not until 2005 that Ar-Ar dating on associated feldspar crystals in pumice clasts provided evidence for an even older age of ~195 ka. However, questions continue to be raised about the age and stratigraphic position of this crucial fossil specimen. Here we present direct U-series determinations on the Omo 1 cranium. In spite of significant methodological complications, which are discussed in detail, the results indicate that the human remains do not belong to a later intrusive burial and are the earliest representative of anatomically modern humans. Given the more archaic morphology shown by the apparently contemporaneous Omo 2 calvaria, we suggest that direct U-series dating is applied to this fossil as well, to confirm its age in relation to Omo 1.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2012.07.006DOI Listing
November 2012

First hominine remains from a ~1.0 million year old bone bed at Cornelia-Uitzoek, Free State Province, South Africa.

J Hum Evol 2012 Sep 26;63(3):527-35. Epub 2012 Jul 26.

Florisbad Quaternary Research, National Museum, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa.

We report here on evidence of early Homo around 1.0 Ma (millions of years ago) in the central plains of southern Africa. The human material, a first upper molar, was discovered during the systematic excavation of a densely-packed bone bed in the basal part of the sedimentary sequence at the Cornelia-Uitzoek fossil vertebrate locality. We dated this sequence by palaeomagnetism and correlated the bone bed to the Jaramillo subchron, between 1.07 and 0.99 Ma. This makes the specimen the oldest southern African hominine remains outside the dolomitic karst landscapes of northern South Africa. Cornelia-Uitzoek is the type locality of the Cornelian Land Mammal Age. The fauna contains an archaic component, reflecting previous biogeographic links with East Africa, and a derived component, suggesting incipient southern endemism. The bone bed is considered to be the result of the bone collecting behaviour of a large predator, possibly spotted hyaenas. Acheulian artefacts are found in small numbers within the bone bed among the fossil vertebrates, reflecting the penecontemporaneous presence of people in the immediate vicinity of the occurrence. The hominine tooth was recovered from the central, deeper part of the bone bed. In size, it clusters with southern African early Homo and it is also morphologically similar. We propose that the early Homo specimen forms part of an archaic component in the fauna, in parallel with the other archaic faunal elements at Uitzoek. This supports an emergent pattern of archaic survivors in the southern landscape at this time, but also demonstrates the presence of early Homo in the central plains of southern Africa, beyond the dolomitic karst areas.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2012.06.004DOI Listing
September 2012

The Later Stone Age calvaria from Iwo Eleru, Nigeria: morphology and chronology.

PLoS One 2011 15;6(9):e24024. Epub 2011 Sep 15.

Paleoanthropology, Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoecology, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany.

Background: In recent years the Later Stone Age has been redated to a much deeper time depth than previously thought. At the same time, human remains from this time period are scarce in Africa, and even rarer in West Africa. The Iwo Eleru burial is one of the few human skeletal remains associated with Later Stone Age artifacts in that region with a proposed Pleistocene date. We undertook a morphometric reanalysis of this cranium in order to better assess its affinities. We also conducted Uranium-series dating to re-evaluate its chronology.

Methodology/principal Findings: A 3-D geometric morphometric analysis of cranial landmarks and semilandmarks was conducted using a large comparative fossil and modern human sample. The measurements were collected in the form of three dimensional coordinates and processed using Generalized Procrustes Analysis. Principal components, canonical variates, Mahalanobis D(2) and Procrustes distance analyses were performed. The results were further visualized by comparing specimen and mean configurations. Results point to a morphological similarity with late archaic African specimens dating to the Late Pleistocene. A long bone cortical fragment was made available for U-series analysis in order to re-date the specimen. The results (∼11.7-16.3 ka) support a terminal Pleistocene chronology for the Iwo Eleru burial as was also suggested by the original radiocarbon dating results and by stratigraphic evidence.

Conclusions/significance: Our findings are in accordance with suggestions of deep population substructure in Africa and a complex evolutionary process for the origin of modern humans. They further highlight the dearth of hominin finds from West Africa, and underscore our real lack of knowledge of human evolution in that region.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0024024PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3174138PMC
March 2012

The age of the 20 meter Solo River terrace, Java, Indonesia and the survival of Homo erectus in Asia.

PLoS One 2011 29;6(6):e21562. Epub 2011 Jun 29.

Laboratory of Bio and Paleoanthropology, Faculty of Medicine, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Homo erectus was the first human lineage to disperse widely throughout the Old World, the only hominin in Asia through much of the Pleistocene, and was likely ancestral to H. sapiens. The demise of this taxon remains obscure because of uncertainties regarding the geological age of its youngest populations. In 1996, some of us co-published electron spin resonance (ESR) and uranium series (U-series) results indicating an age as young as 35-50 ka for the late H. erectus sites of Ngandong and Sambungmacan and the faunal site of Jigar (Indonesia). If correct, these ages favor an African origin for recent humans who would overlap with H. erectus in time and space. Here, we report (40)Ar/(39)Ar incremental heating analyses and new ESR/U-series age estimates from the "20 m terrace" at Ngandong and Jigar. Both data sets are internally consistent and provide no evidence for reworking, yet they are inconsistent with one another. The (40)Ar/(39)Ar analyses give an average age of 546±12 ka (sd±5 se) for both sites, the first reliable radiometric indications of a middle Pleistocene component for the terrace. Given the technical accuracy and consistency of the analyses, the argon ages represent either the actual age or the maximum age for the terrace and are significantly older than previous estimates. Most of the ESR/U-series results are older as well, but the oldest that meets all modeling criteria is 143 ka+20/-17. Most samples indicated leaching of uranium and likely represent either the actual or the minimum age of the terrace. Given known sources of error, the U-series results could be consistent with a middle Pleistocene age. However, the ESR and (40)Ar/(39)Ar ages preclude one another. Regardless, the age of the sites and hominins is at least bracketed between these estimates and is older than currently accepted.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0021562PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3126814PMC
December 2011

Stratigraphy and chronology of the WLH 50 human remains, Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area, Australia.

J Hum Evol 2011 May;60(5):597-604

Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia.

We present a detailed description of the geological setting of the burial site of the WLH 50 human remains along with attempts to constrain the age of this important human fossil. Freshwater shells collected at the surface of Unit 3, which is most closely associated with the human remains, and a carbonate sample that encrusted the human bone were analysed. Gamma spectrometry was carried out on the WLH 50 calvaria and TIMS U-series analysis on a small post-cranial bone fragment. OSL dating was applied to a sample from Unit 3 at a level from which the WLH 50 remains may have eroded, as well as from the underlying sediments. Considering the geochemistry of the samples analysed, as well as the possibility of reworking or burial from younger layers, the age of the WLH 50 remains lies between 12.2 ± 1.8 and 32.8 ± 4.6 ka (2-σ errors).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.12.001DOI Listing
May 2011