Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Use of red ochre by early Neandertals

Wil Roebroeks, Mark J. Siera, Trine Kellberg Nielsena, Dimitri De Loecker, Josep Maria Parés, Charles E. S. Arps, and Herman J. Müchere
July 27th, 2011
(Link) open access


The use of manganese and iron oxides by late Neandertals is well documented in Europe, especially for the period 60–40 kya. Such finds often have been interpreted as pigments even though their exact function is largely unknown. Here we report significantly older iron oxide finds that constitute the earliest documented use of red ochre by Neandertals. These finds were small concentrates of red material retrieved during excavations at Maastricht-Belvédère, The Netherlands. The excavations exposed a series of well-preserved flint artifact (and occasionally bone) scatters, formed in a river valley setting during a late Middle Pleistocene full interglacial period. Samples of the reddish material were submitted to various forms of analyses to study their physical properties.  All analyses identified the red material as hematite. This is a nonlocal material that was imported to the site, possibly over dozens of kilometers. Identification of the Maastricht-Belvédère finds as hematite pushes the use of red ochre by (early) Neandertals back in time significantly, to minimally 200–250 kya (i.e., to the same time range as the early ochre use in the African record).

Friday, June 23, 2017

Early evidence of stone tool use in bone working activities at Qesem Cave, Israel

Andrea Zupancich, Stella Nunziante-Cesaro, Ruth Blasco, Jordi Rosell, Emanuela Cristiani, Flavia Venditti, Cristina Lemorini, Ran Barkai & Avi Gopher
Scientific Reports 6,
Article number: 37686
25 November 2016
(Link) open access


For a long while, the controversy surrounding several bone tools coming from pre-Upper Palaeolithic contexts favoured the view of Homo sapiens as the only species of the genus Homo capable of modifying animal bones into specialised tools. However, evidence such as South African Early Stone Age modified bones, European Lower Palaeolithic flaked bone tools, along with Middle and Late Pleistocene bone retouchers, led to a re-evaluation of the conception of Homo sapiens as the exclusive manufacturer of specialised bone tools. The evidence presented herein include use wear and bone residues identified on two flint scrapers as well as a sawing mark on a fallow deer tibia, not associated with butchering activities. Dated to more than 300 kya, the evidence here presented is among the earliest related to tool-assisted bone working intended for non-dietary purposes, and contributes to the debate over the recognition of bone working as a much older behaviour than previously thought. The results of this study come from the application of a combined methodological approach, comprising use wear analysis, residue analysis, and taphonomy. This approach allowed for the retrieval of both direct and indirect evidence of tool-assisted bone working, at the Lower Palaeolithic site of Qesem Cave (Israel).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pleistocene Palaeoart of Africa

Robert G. Bednarik
Arts 2013, 2, 6-34
8 February 2013

 From the paper:

"The Tan-Tan proto-sculpture from the fluvial terrace deposit on the north bank of the River Draa in southern Morocco is from a rich assemblage of middle Acheulian lithics, which in this region are in the order of between 300 and 500 ka old. The quartzite object is of natural form, but has been modified. Five of symmetrically located eight grooves that emphasize its human form were made by careful impact, and traces of haematite suggest that it was once coated in red colour (Bednarik 2001, 2003b) [45, 50]."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Early Evidence for Brilliant Ritualized Display: Specularite Use in the Northern Cape (South Africa) between ∼500 and ∼300 Ka

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

A note on the meaning of "linear" in this blog's title

This blog is borne out of my desire to understand human origins from a technical, science based perspective.  I focus primarily on the last million years of hominin existence.  
Regarding the title of this blog linearpopulationmodel [linear population model], linear does not imply or connote that this blog favors a first order linear straight line progression for human evolution.  On the contrary, my impression is that human evolution is a geography distributed, dynamic, climate driven process and should be modeled as a weakly to strongly higher order linear complex system over time and geography.
In terms of dynamic higher order linear system modeling that has shown promise for the understanding of human evolution, I've been particular encouraged by the work of researchers such as Richard Durban and Stephen Schiffels [1], Joshua Paul, Matthias Steinrücken and Yun S. Song [2][3], and Jeff Wall [4].
Thanks for entertaining my clarification on this point!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Recalibrating Archaic Admixture in Homo sapiens

I was looking at the data in the just published Hublin et al. paper, and the paper published by Rightmire back in January.  I realized that the reason that archaic admixture in H. sapiens is estimated as being low (less than 4%) is that the recent Neandertal and Denisovan samples used by Svante Pääbo's and David Reich's research groups are ill chosen in terms of the time periods they look at.  This only shows that H. sapiens, who had diverged genetically from Neanderthals and Denisovans 400,000 and 600,000 years before present, approximately, was sufficiently diverged that admixture was a low probability event.  The Neanderthal and Denisovan samples used to test admixture are less than 100,000 years old.   They are not 600,000-200,000 years old, and cannot tell us about the gradual divergence, or not, of hominins in Africa and Eurasia.

Here's an incomplete list of hominin crania:

The relationship is not well established, but it is increasingly apparent that an immediate ancestor of H. sapiens is H. heidelbergensis.  The range of H. heidelbergensis stretched from Germany to Ethiopia between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago.  This is based on the small number of H. heidelbergensis samples that exist for that period:  the Mauer Mandible, Petralona, Arago 21, and Bodo.  The range of H. heidelbergensis seems to shift further southward into Africa after 400,000 years ago, but that is difficult to assert when there are so few samples, and these are not securely dated.

What is clear is that archaic H. sapiens appears between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago in Africa, and probably derives mostly from H. heidelbergensis in Africa. What is very much not clear is the degree to which H. sapiens derives ancestry from Neanderthals, Denisovans, H. heidelbergensis, and H. erectus outside Africa in the period between 300,000 and 100,000 years ago.  We have no autosomal ancient DNA samples for Neanderthals, Denisovans, H. heidelbergensis and H. erectus from this period. 

Scientists who make these bold assertions about limited archaic admixture should qualify that their samples are very late in terms of the time that a high degree of admixture between H. sapiens and other humans would have been occurring.   I think this is especially true when talking about Asia, where it is somewhat apparent from the Dali, Jinnuishan, and Xuchang crania, that early archaic H. sapiens probably had a much broader range than Africa after 300,000 years ago.

It is frequently asserted, based on the distribution and characteristics of contemporary human DNA, that most humans left Africa no earlier than 80,000 years ago, and those that did went extinct.  There is no basis for these statements based on the admixture outside Africa argument.  The Denisovan and Neandertal samples used to make this assertion are too late and too sparse to test archaic admixture outside Africa.  These tests assume low mobility and little intermixing between African and Non-African groups between 400,000 and 80,000 years ago.  I doubt that is the case.

The process of the early formation of H. sapiens is probably much more complex than we've imagined.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Pebbles of Contention: Archaeologists can't reach consensus on the Peopling of the Americas

Bernardo Esteves
January, 2014

"Closing the conference at Santa Fe [2013], Tom Dillehay, the leader of the excavations at Monte Verde which had marked the demise of Clovis First, asked for permission to make a digression. He defended the decolonization of scientific research and recommended that colleagues open their minds to new possibilities. He also addressed critics who had taken issue with his work and the research of others, making special reference to Stuart Fiedel’s remarks on the French-Brazilian excavations at Piauí. “What kind of monkey produces an archeological site?” he asked. “I hope that the next generation of scholars doesn’t have to go through the bullshit that some of us went through. I welcome the next generation of researchers.”"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Rethinking Human Prehistory

About two years ago, I went to an American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) meeting.  I attended a session on the evolution of human cognition.  One of the presenters talked about his work on exploring how stone tool making was formative in the development of human cognition.

Several months earlier, I had been speaking with Mary First Rider, a Niitsitapi Elder in Alberta, Canada.  Mary is a primary source for the Blackfoot Dictionary of Roots, Stems and Affixes.  She is also one of a small number of speakers who speak High Blackfoot, the archaic polite form of the Blackfoot Language.  While speaking with her, she confided that her mother taught her how to make bone needles from a specific part of the Buffalo.  I was startled to realize that the practice of making bone needles was still in the immediate living experience of the Blackfoot.  Blackfoot traditional clothing is exquisitely adorned with beads and other decoration to express the history of the wearer and their family.  It is the Blackfoot women who make these clothes from the hides they manufacture, with the tools they make.  It is they that pass down the patterns and their family histories through the generations.

The Blackfoot have never bought into what archaeologists and linguists have told them about their history.  They have their own history.  Their language and knowledge system is intimately tied to the land on which they live.  Blackfoot today will tell you plainly that they were on their land before the last Ice Age.  For a long time, they were told by scientists that this could not be the case because their land was entirely covered by glaciers during the last Ice Age.  That now appears not be the case and certainly, the southern portion of their traditional territory, bounded on the south by the Yellowstone River, was cold and steppe like but habitable, during the Ice Age.  (For those interested in the Anzick-1 burial site and DNA sample, this site is within the traditional Blackfoot territory as described in Article 3 of the 1855 Lame Bull Treaty.  The Blackfoot agreed in this treaty to allow signatories of the Treaty to hunt on Blackfoot territory in the area of "Twenty Five Yard Creek", now the Shields River, under a 99 year lease.  The Anzick-1 burial site overlooks the Shields River and is north of the Yellowstone River, so it is definitely within the traditional territory of the Blackfoot.)

So at the AAPA a few years ago, I was thinking about Mary, and the making of bone needles passed from Blackfoot mothers to daughters for millennia, while listening to this person at the AAPA talk about tool making and cognition.  Afterward, I talked to him, and inquired if he had ever thought about tools other than stone tools.  If tool making was broader than just the stone tools that survive degradation, how would that impact our view of the formation of cognition?  If cognition is related to tool making, what about bone tools?  Doesn't focusing only on stone tools distort thinking about the relationship of tool making to cognition?  I also attempted to talk to this AAPA presenter about the process of clothing manufacture, and how that might have influenced cognition.  At this point, the presenter told me that clothing manufacture was very recent, and therefore likely had no influence on human cognition.  I wondered how he was so sure that clothing manufacture was recent.  I also thought about Mary First Rider, and what knowledge has been lost due to our presumptuous notions about the recentness of human clothing.

And speaking about the impact of presumptuous notions regarding human origins, the Recent Out of Africa "Eve" Hypothesis (ROoA) has had its own damaging impacts.  One impact of the ROoA, among many, is that it has left the Clovis First Hypothesis and the Beringia Standstill Model virtually unchallenged for the last hundred years.

The hypothesized distance covered by humans from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco 300,000 years ago to Florisbad, South Africa 260,000 years ago was 12,000 kilometers.  That's further than the distance from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco to South Korea (only 11,000 kilometers).  How probable is it that the archaic modern humans in Jebel Irhoud 300,000 years ago managed to cross 12,000 kilometers across the African continent in 50,000 years, yet were still confined to Africa until 80,000 years ago?  And again, given that Beringia was easily passable from 200,000 to 130,000 years ago, and again from 65,000 years ago to 20,000 years ago, how is it that scientists still cling to the Clovis First Model and the Beringia Standstill Model to explain the origin of Native Americans?

I'm happy to finally see some scientific papers begin to refute the ROoA model.  Many people suspect that human origins were more complex.  It has been suffocating and career destroying for some archaeologists, geneticists and anthropologists who have tried to argue for more complex origins.  Don't think so?  Here's a short and very incomplete list:

Louis Leakey in the last years of his life was heavily criticized, even by his own wife Mary Leakey, for being open minded about the Calico Early Man site in California (Link)

Canadian archaeologist Thomas E. Lee had his funding cut when he suggested that the Sheguiandah Site on Manitoulin Island was at least 30,000 years old.  Opposition brought Lee's work to a premature end, and he found his papers rejected by leading journals for being "too controversial."

Canadian Jacques Cinq-Mars was excommunicated from archaeology and had difficulty getting his papers published for suggesting that artifacts at Bluefish Cave in the Yukon were approximately 30,000 years old.

The disastrous case of Hueyatlaco destroyed the career of Cynthia Irwin-Williams.

And then there are all the people that decided not to study archaeology or anthropology when they realized that these fields are operating under suffocating, unquestionable ideologies and assumptions.  I know that many Native Americans have great difficulty studying archaeology or anthropology for these reasons . . . And they are not the only ones!

We have a whole industry of professional people, institutions and organizations that go on plugging the Recent Simple Out of Africa Theory, the Clovis First Theory and the Beringia Standstill Theory.  Asian Archaeologists are dismissed as being "nationalistic" and wrong for suggesting that there is evidence of some continuity in the Asian Archaeological record older than 80,000 years ago.  Again and again, the public is told that modern humans left Africa at the earliest 80,000 years ago and that archaic admixture in modern humans outside Africa and Australia is no higher than "4%".  The archaeologists, geneticists and anthropologists who uphold these statements all know each other, attend conferences together multiple times a year, and mutually benefit from a network of very friendly journalists who are always on hand to accommodate and promote their work without question.  These professionals review each other papers.  Any aspiring young person interested in these fields has to spend years at low pay climbing up the ladder, keeping careful to not offend any of their more senior overlords, and must never touch any of the archaeological third rails.

I am bored, and sad, with this state of affairs.  I think of what we never learned and can't understand because our models, assumptions and systems of knowledge acquisition for the understanding of human origins are so broken.

Ann Gibbons Misleads on the Data and Interpretation of the Jebel Irhoud Crania Paper

A significant paper, New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens,  was published in Nature yesterday, setting back the date for the emergence of modern humans to at least 315,000 years ago.  In the paper, they conclude that the emergence of Homo sapiens was a Pan African phenomenon.

The data in the paper indicate that Irhoud 1, 2, 10, 11 and 21, in terms of their cranial and dental morphology, are intermediate between recent modern humans, and Middle Pleistocene hominins from Africa, the Levant, the Homo heidelbergensis Mauer Jaw and Zhoukoudian Upper Cave 1.

It is indeed a mystery to me then that Ann Gibbons, in her Science Magazine write up for this paper, shows a map only of African crania samples:

The text at the top of the figure states:  "New dates and fossils from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco suggest that our species emerged across Africa" leaving the public to be unaware of the likely broader emergence of Homo sapiens both in Africa and in Eurasia:  no map or crania are shown on Ann Gibbon's map for the Mauer Jaw, the Levant crania, or Zhoukoudian Upper Cave 1, which, according to the Jebel Irhoud paper, are certainly more closely related to Jebel Irhoud 1, 2, and 11 than the Rising Star skull shown on the map.

For anyone interested in this topic, I would suggest looking deeply at the excellent data and plots in the paper, including the supplemental data, and ignore the misleading, lazy journalistic spin in some articles.  Draw your own conclusions about the significance of the Jebel Irhoud crania.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco and the pan-African origin of Homo sapiens

Jean-Jacques Hublin, Abdelouahed Ben-Ncer, Shara E. Bailey, Sarah E. Freidline, Simon Neubauer, Matthew M. Skinner, Inga Bergmann1, Adeline Le Cabec, Stefano Benazzi, Katerina Harvati & Philipp Gunz

Fossil evidence points to an African origin of Homo sapiens from a group called either H. heidelbergensis or H. rhodesiensis. However, the exact place and time of emergence of H. sapiens remain obscure because the fossil record is scarce and the chronological age of many key specimens remains uncertain. In particular, it is unclear whether the present day ‘modern’ morphology rapidly emerged approximately 200 thousand years ago (ka) among earlier representatives of H. sapiens[1] or evolved gradually over the last 400 thousand years[2]. Here we report newly discovered human fossils from Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, and interpret the affinities of the hominins from this site with other archaic and recent human groups. We identified a mosaic of features including facial, mandibular and dental morphology that aligns the Jebel Irhoud material with early or recent anatomically modern humans and more primitive neurocranial and endocranial morphology. In combination with an age of 315 ± 34 thousand years (as determined by thermoluminescence dating)[3], this evidence makes Jebel Irhoud the oldest and richest African Middle Stone Age hominin site that documents early stages of the H. sapiens clade in which key features of modern morphology were established. Furthermore, it shows that the evolutionary processes behind the emergence of H. sapiens involved the whole African continent.

Figure 1 | Facial reconstruction of Irhoud 10. a, b, Frontal (a) and basal
(b) views. This superimposition of Irhoud 10 (beige) and Irhoud 1 (light
blue) represents one possible alignment of the facial bones of Irhoud 10.
Nine alternative reconstructions were included in the statistical shape
analysis of the face (see Methods and Fig. 3). The maxilla, zygomatic bone
and supra-orbital area of Irhoud 10 are more robust than for Irhoud 1.
Scale bar, 20 mm.
Extended Data Figure 2 | Dental morphology. a, Shape–space PCA
plot of Late Early and Middle Pleistocene archaic Homo, Neanderthals and
RMH M1 crown outlines. The deformed mean crown outlines in
the four directions of the PCs are drawn at the extremity of each axis.
Sample compositions and abbreviations can be found in the Methods.

Extended Data Figure 2 | Dental morphology
b. EDJ morphology of the M2 and P4. Top left, the PCA analysis of the
EDJ shape of the M2 places Irhoud 11 intermediate between H. erectus
and RMH (along with other north Africa fossil humans) and distinct from
Neanderthals. Surface models illustrate EDJ shape changes along PC1
(bottom left) and PC2 (top right); the former separating H. erectus from
RMH, Neanderthals and north African EMH and the latter separating
Neanderthals from RMH and north African EMH. Bottom right, a PCA
analysis of the EDJ shape of the P4 groups Irhoud 11 with modern and
fossil humans.
Extended Data Figure 3 | Shape analysis of I2 roots. A between-group
PCA shows a complete separation between Neanderthals and a worldwide
sample of recent modern humans based on subtle shape differences.
Irhoud 11 (pink star) plots at the fringes of RMH, close to the EMH from
Contrebandiers 1 (Tem). Colour-coded Procrustes group mean shapes
are plotted in the same orientation as the I2 root surface of Irhoud 11.
Although Irhoud 11 is more similar, overall, to Neanderthals in terms
of root size, its root shape is clearly modern. The H. erectus specimen
KNM-WT 15000 and hypothetical EMH Tabun C2 have incisor root
shapes similar to Neanderthals, suggesting that roots that are labially
more convex than in RMH represent a conserved primitive condition with
limited taxonomical value. Sample compositions and abbreviations can be
found in the Methods.
Extended Data Figure 4 | Shape analysis of the external vault. a, PC
scores of PC1 and PC2 of external braincase shape in H. erectus, archaic
Middle Pleistocene Homo, geographically diverse RMH and Neanderthals.
Results are consistent with the analysis of endocranial shape (Fig. 3a).
However, several EMH and Upper Palaeolithic specimens fall outside the
RMH variation. This is probably owing to the projecting supraorbital tori
in these specimens.

Extended Data Figure 4 | Shape analysis of the external vault.
b, Shape changes associated with PC1 (two standard
deviations in either direction) shown as thin-plate spline deformation
grids in lateral and oblique view. PC1 captures a contrast between
elongated braincases with projecting supraorbital tori (low scores, in
black) and a more globular braincase with gracile supraorbital tori (high
scores, in red). Sample compositions and abbreviations can be found in the

Saturday, June 3, 2017

New finds from China suggest human evolution probably of regional continuity

Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters
3 March 2017

I didn't post on the important announcement of the Xuchang Crania back in March.  Ann Gibbon's reporting on the announcement, to me, was quite confusing, and had extraneous references to Denisovans which are not in the original press announcement.

I finally stumbled on the original press announcement from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, linked here, which is quite clear and easy to read (unlike Ann Gibbons Science Magazine write up).

Xuchang 1 Crania.  A.  superior view.  B.  posterior view.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Phylogeny of Y-chromosome haplogroup C3b-F1756, an important paternal lineage in Altaic-speaking populations

Lan-Hai Wei et al.,
Journal of Human Genetics,
Short Communication,
1 June 2017


In previous studies, a specific paternal lineage with a null value for the Y-chromosome short tandem repeat (Y-STR) marker DYS448 was identified as common among Mongolic- and Turkic-speaking populations. This paternal lineage (temporarily named C3*-DYS448del) was determined to be M217+, M93–, P39–, M48–, M407–, and P53.1–, and its origin and phylogeny remain ambiguous. Here, we analyzed Y-chromosome sequences of 10 male that are related this paternal lineage and redefined it as C3b1a1a1a-F1756 (C3b-F1756). We generated a highly revised phylogenetic tree of haplogroup C3b-F1756, including 21 sub-clades and 360 non-private Y-chromosome polymorphisms. Additionally, we performed a comprehensive analysis of the C3*-DYS448del lineage in eastern Eurasia, including 18270 samples from 297 populations. Whole Y-chromosome sequences, Y-STR haplotypes, and frequency data were used to generate a distribution map, a network, and age estimations for lineage C3*-DYS448del and its sub-lineages. Considering the historical records of the studied populations, we propose that two major sub-branches of C3b-F1756 may correspond to early expansions of ancestors of modern Mongolic- and Turkic-speaking populations. The large number of newly defined Y-chromosome polymorphisms and the revised phylogenetic tree for C3b-F1756 will assist in investigation of the early history of Altaic-speaking populations in the future.

Supplemental Figure S1

Monday, May 29, 2017

Aegean Pleistocene Landscapes Above and Below Sea-Level: Palaeogeographic Reconstruction and Hominin Dispersals

Dimitris Sakellariou and Nena Galanidou
Chapter 22 in:
Volume 20 of the series Coastal Research Library 
pp. 335-359


The Aegean Region has remained marginal to research into human origins despite its key position in the multiple movements of animals between Europe and Asia. A possible explanation for this is that the Palaeolithic remains are invisible because they lie beneath the sea, whilst research in the field was hitherto developed on the mainland. In this chapter we make the submerged land, the coastal zones and the islands a unified research focus to examine the main, long-term and short-term geological and geotectonic processes which have controlled the development of Pleistocene landscapes in the Aegean Region above and below the fluctuating sea-level. We integrate evidence on the geology, tectonics, morphology and hydrogeology of the shallow coastal and shelf areas in order to reconstruct the palaeogeography. Given the variable tectonic evolution and geomorphological configuration of the coastal and shelf areas, we divide the Aegean into nine geographical units. Each unit has its own geotectonic and morphological history and offers a frame of reference to assess land-routes and the natural resources available to hominins at different times of the Pleistocene. We link this palaeogeographic reconstruction to the discussion of the early occupation of Europe. This allows the NE Mediterranean to become part of the discussion about hominin dispersals into Europe through a south-eastern route and gives a more complete view of the variations in Palaeolithic settlement.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pre-Sapiens Man in Greece

View from above Petralona Cave, looking south toward the Aegean Sea 

Aris N. Poulianos
Current Anthropology
Volume 22, Number 3, June 1981

Until only 15 years ago, the Palaeolithic was almost unknown in Greece.  Some important Middle and Upper Palaeolithic sites and materials were discovered in Epirus and Thessaly in the 1960s, but apart from a few handaxes Greece remained terra incognita for the Lower Palaeolithic and the pre-sapiens stages of human development.  In recent years, however, discoveries by members of the Anthropological Association of Greece have radically transformed the situation.

In 1959, at Petralona, a village in Khalkidiki province, south of Thessaloniki, some local men searching for a spring in the mountainside happened upon a hole through which they were able to enter a huge cave full of stalagmites and stalactites.  The following year a primitive human skull was found adhering to a rock in the cave and was removed.  An early examination of this skull and of animal bones from the cave floor led to an estimated age of ca. 70,000 years; a search for the rest of the skeleton involved breaking up of the stalagmite layer and led to the destruction of the human bones.  My systematic excavations in the cave since 1968 have established a detailed stratigraphy, salvaged some human fragments, and proved conclusively that the skeleton and the cave's occupation belong to the Lower and Middle Pleistocene.  No fewer than 27 layers, with thicknesses ranging from 2 cm to 2 m and a total depth of over 15m, have so far been differentiated in the cave's fill.  The original entrance is blocked by a huge cone of sediment.  The layers decrease in thickness as one moves from this entrance to the interior of the cave.  Almost all the layers show traces of human occupation.

The Petralona hominid, known as Archanthropus europaeus petraloniensis, was located in a sort of compartment formed by a large fallen rock which had become wedged against the cave wall, thus constituting a 2 meter squared natural "mausoleum."  The body was in a crouched position with the head slightly elevated and resting on a rock;  it was surrounded by bone awls, burnt animal bones, and stone implements.  All of these finds are from Layer 11, which is the thickest and contains the most tools and other traces of habitation.  It is not surprising that the use of the cave at this time was intensive, since the sediments and fauna indicate a cold, humid climate.  Subsequently it became more humid, and a stalagmitic breccia (Layer 10) covered the floor and walls of the "mausoleum" and made a bridge between the skull and the rock.  During a later, drier phase, the sediments shrank and dropped to 24 cm, but the skull remained suspended, fixed by the stalagmite and thus separated from the rest of the skeleton.

Fauna, sediments, and stratigraphy all point to a late stage of the Lower Pleistocene for Layer 11.  The new dating technique of electron spin resonance gave a figure of 670,000 years, probably the Günz-Mindel interglacial, for Layer 10 and dated the stalagmite of Layer 1 to between 250,000 and 350,000 years.  Before the formation of this top stalagmite, probably by the end of the Mindel glacial, the cave had been abandoned and had closed up.  The uranium/thorium method dated the stalagmite of Layer 10 to a minimum of 400,000 B.P. (the upper limit of this method) and suggested a true age of ca. 600,000.  Palaeomagnetic studies of the sediments have shown an inversion of the earth's magnetic field in layers below 11, but such studies are fraught with problems.  In short, the cave's stratigraphy spans at least half a million years, corresponding to the late Lower and early Middle Pleistocene, Archanthropus having died more than 700,000 years ago, is the most ancient European yet known.

The fragments of post cranial skeleton salvaged from the "mausoleum" suggest that this hominid was a short (about 157 cm), muscular, mature individual.  Thought it is classified as Homo erectus, many features of the skull and skeleton fall within the modern human range.  Fragments of up to 15 other individuals have so far been found in different parts of the cave.

The first ten layers contain bone tools, pebble tools, and handaxes;  this stone industry has been dubbed Petralonian.  A cruder industry, the Crenian, is found in Layer 11 and below.  The type of tool technology used here was not known in Europe until these finds; . . .

(read more)

Bone tools from Broken Hill (Kabwe) cave, Zambia, and their evolutionary significance

LS Barham, AC Pinto Llona, CB Stringer
Before Farming
Volume 2002, Issue 2

Shaped bone tools are now recognised as part of the technological repertoire of some Middle Stone Age hunter-gatherers in southern Africa. Currently accepted dates for the earliest bone working technology in the region range from ~70-90 ka. This study re-examines three bone objects from the site of Broken Hill (Kabwe), Zambia, that were described in the 1940s as formal bone tools. Broken Hill is well known for its fossils of Homo heidelbergensis, a species not previously associated with bone working, and less well known for its small sample of early Middle Stone Age lithic artefacts. The claim for bone tools at Broken Hill takes on added significance in light of new dates from south-central Africa which place the development of stone tool technology (Mode 3) in the later Middle Pleistocene (~300 ka). If these bone objects are indeed tools and associated with the hominid use of the cave, they may be the oldest evidence of bone tool working in the archaeological record. The results are reported of scanning electron microscopy of the surfaces of each putative tool and implications are drawn for the behavioural evolution of H heidelbergensis.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Middle Pleistocene Homo Crania from Broken Hill and Petralona: Morphology, Metric Comparisons, and Evolutionary Relationships

G. Philip Rightmire
Human Paleontology and Prehistory
Part of the series Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology pp 145-159
25 January 2017



A fossilized human cranium was discovered by miners quarrying at Broken Hill (now Kabwe ) in 1921. Broken Hill is one of the best preserved hominins ever recovered from a later Middle Pleistocene locality. Remarkably, no comprehensive descriptive or comparative account has been published since 1928. Overall, Broken Hill resembles Homo erectus . The frontal is flattened with midline keeling, the vault is low, and the massive face is “hafted” to the braincase in such a way as to accentuate facial projection. At the same time, there are apomorphic features shared with later humans. Brain size is 1280 cm3, the temporal squama is arch-shaped, and the upper scale of the occipital is expanded relative to its lower nuchal portion. Specialized characters of the temporomandibular joint region include a raised articular tubercle and a sphenoid spine. Reorientation of the nasal aperture and placement of the incisive canal suggest that the face may be more nearly vertical than in H. erectus. It is apparent that Broken Hill is similar to other African crania from Bodo, Ndutu, and Elandsfontein as well as European fossils including Arago and Petralona. However, the systematic position of these hominins remains controversial. The material has been grouped into a series of grades within a broad H. sapiens category. A very different reading of the record recognizes multiple, distinct taxa and suggests that speciation must have occurred repeatedly throughout the Pleistocene. Still another perspective holds that differences among the African and European specimens are minor and can be attributed to geography and intragroup variation. It is argued that many of the fossils belong together in one widely dispersed taxon. If the Mauer mandible is included within this hypodigm , then the appropriate name is H. heidelbergensis . Treated in a broad sense, H. heidelbergensis is ancestral to both H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens . This study will provide a detailed account of the morphology of Broken Hill and its similarities to other Middle Pleistocene hominins from Africa. Comparisons will include Arago, Petralona, and assemblages such as Sima de los Huesos. My approach will address the taxonomic utility of characters of the vault, cranial base and face, species-level systematics, and evolutionary relationships.

from the chapter:


The cranium from Broken Hill (now Kabwe) remains one of the treasures of prehistory. It was found in 1921, when miners quarrying for lead ore broke into the lower part of an extensive cavern containing quantities of mineralized bones and stone artifacts. Accounts of the circumstances surrounding this discovery are contradictory (Hrdlička 1930). Several additional human fossils, along with animal bones, were collected from the cave fill, but claims for the association of any of these elements with the original cranium remain incompletely documented. Comparative studies of the fauna have demonstrated similarities with the large assemblage from Elandsfontein in South Africa, indicating an early Middle Pleistocene age (Klein 1994; Klein et al. 2006). However, more recent efforts to date individual bones directly using Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) suggest that the Broken Hill material may be of late Middle Pleistocene antiquity (Stringer 2011).

The cranium was described initially by Woodward (1921), who saw resemblances to the Neanderthals then known from Europe but attributed the find to a new species (‘Homo rhodesiensis’). More comprehensive studies were published several years later by Pycraft (1928) and Mourant(1928). While pointing to differences in certain features, Mourant (1928) again argued for a close relationship between Broken Hill and Late Pleistocene Neanderthals. It is now recognized that this comparison was inappropriate.  Broken Hill lacks the specialized characters of Neanderthals but resembles other crania from Elandsfontein in South Africa and Bodo from the Middle Awash of Ethiopia. As a group, these African fossils are broadly similar to hominins from Middle Pleistocene localities in Europe including the Sima de los Huesos in Spain, Arago Cave in France, and Petralona in Greece.

Interpreting this record has been problematic. The number of taxa represented is disputed, and phylogenetic relationships remain to be clarified. In one view, African and European mid-Pleistocene populations can be grouped with later humans within a broad Homo sapiens category. Archaic and modern grades are defined by advances in brain size and skull form. Although changes to the vault and face accumulate in a mosaic pattern, early and late groups are said to follow one another seamlessly, as segments of a single evolving lineage (Bräuer 2007, 2008). A very different reading of the record recognizes multiple, distinct taxa as evidence for speciation occurring repeatedly throughout the Pleistocene (Tattersall and Schwartz 2008; Schwartz and Tattersall 2010). At least two lineages are identified, in addition to Homo erectus and recent humans. A European branch can be traced back via Petralona, Arago, and Sima de los Huesos, deeply into the Middle Pleistocene. Proponents of this view (Arsuaga et al. 1989, 1997; see also Hublin 2009) claim that even the oldest European hominins share apomorphies with Homo neanderthalensis and can reasonably be attributed to this species. A variation on this phylogenetic scheme has been proposed by Martinón-Torres et al. (2012), who find that the Sima de los Huesos teeth are “more Neanderthal” in form than the Mauer or Arago dentitions.

Given this result, Martinón-Torres et al. (2012) suggest that along with an ancient lineage linking the Sima hominins directly with Neanderthals, a second population including Mauer and Arago was present in Europe. This second species must be called Homo heidelbergensis.

A key question is how these European lineages are related to the hominins in Africa. If all of the European fossils are subsumed within Homo neanderthalensis, then the species represented by Broken Hill, Elandsfontein, and Bodo can be called Homo rhodesiensis, following the nomenclature proposed by Woodward (1921). Some (chronologically late) members of this group exhibit morphology that is archaic, coupled with characters suggestive of a link to anatomically modern humans. Still another perspective holds that morphological differences among the most ancient European and African specimens are minor and can be attributed to geography and intragroup variation (Stringer 1983, 1993; Rightmire 1990, 1996, 1998, 2008; Mounier et al. 2009). It can be argued that many of the fossils belong together in one geographically dispersed taxon. If the Mauer mandible is included within the hypodigm, then the appropriate name for this species is Homo heidelbergensis. Treated in this broad sense, Homo heidelbergensis must be ancestral to both Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.

While many of the Middle Pleistocene fossils are incomplete, Broken Hill is clearly one of the most informative specimens. Another is the cranium from Petralona. It is possible to document the extent to which these African and European fossils differ in their craniofacial morphology.

Over the course of nearly a century, Broken Hill has been treated in numerous comparisons involving modern humans, Neanderthals, and earlier Homo. Following Mourant (1928), many of these studies have been based on measurements or, more recently, cranial landmarks used in morphometric analysis (Friess 2010; Harvati et al. 2010, 2011). Another approach has emphasized anatomical description, with attention to the relevance of individual characters. Since it was discovered in 1959, the Petralona cranium has also been studied in detail (Stringer et al. 1979, 1983). This research has produced many useful data, but there is (still) no firm consensus as to the evolutionary significance of either specimen. In this review, I introduce further evidence from measurements and comparative anatomy. My goal is to clarify the relationship of Broken Hill to Petralona, with the goal of testing the null hypothesis that these individuals can be grouped together in one taxon.

Body of chapter omitted here.

Discussion and Conclusion of the paper below:


Hominin fossils are known from numerous Middle Pleistocene localities. It is recognized that these individuals display traits that are derived in comparison to Homo erectus. At the same time, the skulls retain numerous primitive features that set them apart from modern humans. How these diverse mid-Pleistocene assemblages should be classified, and how they fit into the “tree” of human evolution, are important questions. The crania from Broken Hill and Petralona are key specimens, from which inferences concerning the morphology of larger African and European regional populations can be drawn. Of course, all biological populations display variation, and the extent of this variation cannot be gauged adequately from small samples. Particularly for Africa, few complete skulls are available. Nevertheless, the detailed anatomical and metric comparisons conducted here provide information that is useful in evaluating the null hypothesis that Broken Hill and Petralona represent paleodemes of one species.

The two crania are similar in many aspects of form. Both are long with relatively low vertices, and both display massive and projecting supraorbital tori, flattened frontals heavily invaded by complex air sinuses, postorbital narrowing, and occipitals that are flexed relative to those of modern humans. Petralona differs from Broken Hill in having a wider cranial base, a reduced vol/aub ratio, massive supramastoid crests, and a less prominent torus crossing the occipital bone. The well preserved Broken Hill basicranium presents derived (sapiens-like) features including an increased petrotympanic angle associated with (coronal) alignment of the petrous and tympanic axes, “erosion” of the pyramid apex leading to enlargement of the foramen lacerum, a projecting sphenoid spine, and clear definition of an articular tubercle at the anterior margin of the mandibular fossa (Rightmire 1990, 2001, 2008). Insofar as the (damaged and partly obscured) cranial base of Petralona can be evaluated, its morphology resembles that of Broken Hill.

In forward placement of the facial skeleton relative to the anterior cranial fossa, Broken Hill and Petralona are comparable to Homo erectus. At the same time, the lateral margin of the nose is vertical, rather than forward sloping as in Homo erectus. The lower terminus of this border is set back below the overhanging nasal saddle. This reorientation suggests that the facial profile is less prognathic than in Homo erectus. In facial forwardness at subspinale, Broken Hill and Petralona are similar, and the angle at subspinale is reduced in relation to that of the flat-faced Bodo cranium. Both Broken Hill and Petralona possess prominent anterior nasal spines, coupled with spinal crests separating the sill from the subnasal portion of the maxilla.

Elsewhere in the facial skeleton, there is more variation. The Petralona face is broader at the zygomatic arches and exhibits a more robust cheek region than does Broken Hill. The orbital cavities are low and relatively broad. The walls of the maxillae appear to be inflated. Infraorbital foramina are not associated with any grooves or furrows. Neither here nor elsewhere in the cheek region is there much indication of hollowing. Petralona thus stands in some contrast to Broken Hill, where there are localized depressions of the infraorbital surface, even if no canine fossa is developed. These observations have been taken to indicate that not only Petralona but also Arago and other European mid-Pleistocene hominins anticipate the distinctive midfacial morphology of later Neanderthals (Hublin 1998, 2009). As described by Arsuaga et al. (1997), the cheek region of SH 5 is not inflated in the extreme manner of Neanderthals, but it can be interpreted as intermediate in form. How such facial features are evaluated (whether any of them can be judged to be true Neanderthal apomorphies) is critical to determining how the Petralona, Arago, and Sima de los Huesos individuals are related to populations outside of Europe and how the fossils should be treated in phylogenetic schemes.

Information relevant to these questions is advanced by Harvati et al. (2010), who have carried out a geometric morphometric study designed to quantify craniofacial shape in Middle Pleistocene hominins, Neanderthals, and modern humans. This analysis is based (in part) on landmarks situated on the supraorbital torus, the orbits and nasal aperture, the zygomatic bone, and the maxilla. After superimposition with generalized Procrustes analysis (GPA), mean configurations of the groups are assessed visually. When viewed in the transverse plane, configurations confirm that “classic” Neanderthals have “a more convex maxilla” and a more receding infraorbital profile than do recent populations. Importantly, Petralona, Arago, and SH 5 are essentially indistinguishable from Broken Hill and Bodo. Both European and African groups are said to approach (but not match) the Neanderthal condition. Midfacial prognathism is explored by comparing orientation of midsagittal landmarks in relation to lateral portions of the face. The Middle Pleistocene crania appear to have “less anteriorly placed” faces than Neanderthals and to be “nearly identical” to one another in (mean) shape. These findings suggest that there is little basis for claiming that the European mid-Pleistocene hominins are more similar to Neanderthals than their African counterparts. Consequently, Harvati et al. (2010) hypothesize that some facial attributes of Petralona and Arago commonly regarded as “incipient” Neanderthal features may instead be plesiomorphic states.

 A different interpretation invokes the effects of scaling. Size has long been recognized as contributing to variation in craniofacial shape (Lahr and Wright 1996). Maddux and Franciscus (2009) have used a geometric morphometric approach to explore the influence of allometry on the infraorbital region in Middle Pleistocene, Late Pleistocene, and recent populations of Homo. The authors project a grid onto each specimen, fitting it to the boundaries of the infraorbital plate. Landmarks are digitized as the intersections of grid lines and are intended to capture the topography of the underlying curvilinear surface. GPA serves to superimpose the landmarks of all specimens, aligning them to the mean configuration and allowing quantification of size and shape. Principal components analysis suggests that Neanderthals share with European and African mid-Pleistocene crania (and some Upper Paleolithic anatomically modern individuals) a relatively flat infraorbital surface topography.  Most recent human skulls exhibit relatively depressed infraorbital plates. It can be established that the degree of infraorbital depression is clearly correlated with cheek size. There is thus “a growing body of evidence” that changes in facial shape are, at least in part, secondary allometric consequences of reduction in overall size during the evolution of Homo. Maddux and Franciscus (2009) caution against treating features such as an inflated maxilla or a canine fossa as discrete phylogenetic traits. A “puffy” maxilla may not be a Neanderthal apomorphy, and the “canine fossa” of later humans may be a result of decreasing facial size.


If the Broken Hill and Petralona midfacial contours are indeed nearly coincident, and if differences in orbit shape, nasal aperture size, and palatal proportions are taken as indications of the variation to be expected within (all) hominoid populations, then there is little basis in facial form for distinguishing these mid-Pleistocene individuals.

Both the African and the European crania seem to approach Neanderthals in flatness of the infraorbital profile and shape of the maxilla, but neither conforms fully to the Neanderthal condition. Harvati et al. (2010) are inclined to view the Middle Pleistocene morphology as plesiomorphic. But size and scaling must also be considered. It is probable that Broken Hill and Petralona share with Neanderthals (and some Upper Paleolithic humans) a relatively flat infraorbital topography because they have larger faces than recent Homo sapiens (Maddux and Franciscus 2009).

These findings can be read to show that Petralona does not evince true Neanderthal apomorphies in the midface.

Neither Petralona nor Arago can be linked more closely to later European populations than can the African mid-Pleistocene hominins. At the same time, Petralona and Broken Hill share many aspects of facial form, vault proportions, and discrete anatomy. The same conclusion can be drawn from studies of the skull base. It follows that the initial null hypothesis cannot be rejected. The fossils represent paleodemes of a single evolutionary lineage widely dispersed across Africa and Europe. Just how this lineage is related to the Neanderthals, and when the latter emerged as a distinct species, are key questions that remain unresolved.  But it is likely that European and African populations of Homo heidelbergensis did not separate until relatively late in the Middle Pleistocene.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Questions for "Recent Out of Africa" Modelers

Marnie Dunsmore

The most common variant of the Out of Africa Model is this:  Homo sapiens emerge in Africa approximately 200,000 years ago (based on the  Omo remains found in modern-day Ethiopia, which date to 195,000 years ago) and emerge from Africa approximately 100,000 years ago (1).

Under this model, Homo sapiens would be required to stay in Africa for 100,000 years, from 200,000 to 100,000 years ago, and then emerge from Africa 100,000 years ago and reach Arctic Siberia by 45,000 years ago (2).

This would require that for 100,000 years, advanced Homo would expand their range northward no more than 25 meters per year, and then would suddenly expand to Siberia between 100,000 and 45,000 years ago.  This is at a time when the Sahara was at times a grassland and not the desert that it has been for the last eight thousand years and most of the last 70,000 years.  Needless to say, this problematic scenario of complete stasis in the range of early Homo sapiens is almost never discussed by proponents of the Recent Out of Africa Model.

Even more curious is the sudden mobility of Homo sapiens 100,000 years ago.  Suddenly, from 100,000 years ago, to 45,000 years ago, Homo sapiens, under this model, expands at a rate of 250 meters per year, ten times their former dispersal rate, and reaches, as well as adapts to, Arctic Siberia 45,000 years ago.

Some argue that the reason for this is that prior to approximately 100,000 years ago, Eurasia was occupied by other hominins and therefore, that the possibility of range expansion for Homo sapiens was blocked.  It is possible that this is true, but many other scenarios, almost never explored or even considered, are plausible.

Neandertals Revised

"The modern human phenotype evolved in the Middle Pleistocene in Africa and from there expanded its range into Eurasia, reaching the Levant by around 100 ka and possibly surfacing in southern China already at 80 ka."

How China is rewriting the book on human origins

Jane Qiu
Nature News Feature
July 12, 2016

From the article:

“Many Western scientists tend to see Asian fossils and artifacts through the prism of what was happening in Africa and Europe,” says Wu. Those other continents have historically drawn more attention in studies of human evolution because of the antiquity of fossil finds there, and because they are closer to major palaeoanthropology research institutions, he says. “But it's increasingly clear that many Asian materials cannot fit into the traditional narrative of human evolution.”

In its typical form, the story of Homo sapiens starts in Africa. The exact details vary from one telling to another, but the key characters and events generally remain the same. And the title is always 'Out of Africa'.

In this standard view of human evolution, H. erectus first evolved there more than 2 million years ago (see 'Two routes for human evolution'). Then, some time before 600,000 years ago, it gave rise to a new species: Homo heidelbergensis, the oldest remains of which have been found in Ethiopia. About 400,000 years ago, some members of H. heidelbergensis left Africa and split into two branches: one ventured into the Middle East and Europe, where it evolved into Neanderthals; the other went east, where members became Denisovans — a group first discovered in Siberia in 2010. The remaining population of H. heidelbergensis in Africa eventually evolved into our own species, H. sapiens, about 200,000 years ago. Then these early humans expanded their range to Eurasia 60,000 years ago, where they replaced local hominins with a minuscule amount of interbreeding.

A hallmark of H. heidelbergensis — the potential common ancestor of Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans — is that individuals have a mixture of primitive and modern features. Like more archaic lineages, H. heidelbergensis has a massive brow ridge and no chin. But it also resembles H. sapiens, with its smaller teeth and bigger braincase. Most researchers have viewed H. heidelbergensis — or something similar — as a transitional form between H. erectus and H. sapiens.

Unfortunately, fossil evidence from this period, the dawn of the human race, is scarce and often ambiguous. It is the least understood episode in human evolution, says Russell Ciochon, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. “But it's central to our understanding of humanity's ultimate origin.”

The tale is further muddled by Chinese fossils analysed over the past four decades, which cast doubt over the linear progression from African H. erectus to modern humans. They show that, between roughly 900,000 and 125,000 years ago, east Asia was teeming with hominins endowed with features that would place them somewhere between H. erectus and H. sapiens, says Wu (see ‘Ancient human sites’).

“Those fossils are a big mystery,” says Ciochon. “They clearly represent more advanced species than H. erectus, but nobody knows what they are because they don't seem to fit into any categories we know.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Revising the archaeological record of the Upper Pleistocene Arctic Siberia: Human dispersal and adaptations in MIS 3 and 2

Vladimir Pitulko, Elena Pavlova, Pavel Nikolskiy
Quaternary Science Reviews
Volume 165, 1 June 2017, Pages 127–148


As the main external driver, environmental changes largely predetermine human population distribution, especially in the Arctic, where environmental conditions were often too extreme for human survival. Not that long ago the only evidence of human presence here was the Berelekh site in the lower reaches of the Indighirka River. This landmark dates to 13,000–12,000 years ago but it was widely accepted as documentation of the earliest stage of human dispersal in the Arctic. New research discussed here, shows that humans began colonizing the Siberian Arctic at least by the end of the early stage of MIS 3 at around 45,000 years ago. For now, this earliest known stage of human occupation in the arctic regions is documented by the evidence of human hunting. The archaeological record of continued human occupation is fragmentary; nevertheless, evidence exists for each significant phase including the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). Siberian Arctic human populations were likely supported by the local mammoth population, which provided humans with food and raw material in the form of mammoth tusks. Processing of mammoth ivory is recognized widely as one of the most important peculiarities of the material culture of ancient humans. In fact, ivory tool manufacturing is one of the most important innovations of the Upper Palaeolithic in northern Eurasia. Technology that allowed manufacturing of long ivory shafts – long points and full-size spears – was critical in the tree-less open landscapes of Eurasian mammoth steppe belt. These technological skills reach their greatest extent and development shortly before the Last Glacial Maximum but are recognizable until the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary across Northern Eurasia in all areas populated by mammoths and humans. Loss of this stable source of raw material due to the late Pleistocene mammoth extinction may have provoked a shift in post-LGM Siberia to the Beringian microblade tradition. This paper reviews the most important archaeological findings made in arctic Siberia over the last twenty years.

The first archaic Homo from Taiwan

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Early Pleistocene occurrence of Acheulian technology in North China

Figure 2. Characteristic in situ artefacts from the Shuigou-Huixinggou site in the Sanmenxia Basin. Artefacts include: (A) handaxe (P. 2768); (B) cleaver (P. 2769); (C) cleaver (P. 2752); (D) pick (P. 2770); (E) unifacial chopper (P. 2758); (F) bifacial chopper (P. 2763); and (G) spheroid (P. 2774). The line drawings of artefacts are after Huang (1964). (Scale bars: 5 cm).

Early Pleistocene occurrence of Acheulian technology in North China
Xingwen Li, Hong Ao, Mark J. Dekkers, Andrew P. Roberts, Peng Zhang, Shan Lin, Weiwen Huang, Yamai Hou, Weihua Zhang, Zhisheng An
Quaternary Science Reviews 156 (2017) pp. 12-22

From the paper:

1. Introduction
Acheulian technology is characterized by bifacially and unifacially shaped tool types, such as handaxes, cleavers, picks and other large cutting tools (LCTs) (Isaac, 1969; Bar-Yosef and Goren-Inbar, 1993; Goren-Inbar et al., 2000; Semaw et al., 2009; Lepre et al., 2011; Beyene et al., 2013 ;  Diez-Martín et al., 2015). Its appearance represents a technological advance over the preceding Oldowan technology, and is associated with innovative hominin cognitive and adaptive abilities (Goren-Inbar, 2011 ;  Stout, 2011). Current thinking is that Acheulian technology originated in East Africa (possibly West Turkana, Kenya) at least 1.76 million years ago (Ma) (Lepre et al., 2011), that it became distributed somewhat widely across Africa (e.g., Vaal River Valley and Gona) at ∼1.6 Ma (Gibbon et al., 2009 ;  Semaw et al., 2009), and then spread to the Levant at ∼1.4 Ma (Bar-Yosef and Goren-Inbar, 1993), South Asia at 1.5–1.1 Ma (Pappu et al., 2011), and Europe at 1.0–0.9 Ma (Scott and Gibert, 2009 ;  Vallverdú et al., 2014) (Fig. 1). The 0.8–0.9 Ma Acheulian stone stools from South and central China (Hou et al., 2000 ;  de Lumley and Li, 2008) (Fig. 1) suggest that Acheulian technology arose in China at least during the terminal Early Pleistocene. However, there are only a few sites with in situ Acheulian artefacts from North China with ages ranging from the late Mid-Pleistocene to the Late Pleistocene ( Wang et al., 2014 ;  Yang et al., 2014) (Fig. 1). Thus, it remains enigmatic as to how early Acheulian technology can be traced back in North China, compared with its Early Pleistocene occurrence in South and central China.

Sanmenxia Basin (also Sanmen area), which lies on the southeastern Loess Plateau, is a rich source of stone artefacts and is an important area for understanding the early human occupation of North China (Jia et al., 1961; Huang, 1964; Jia, 1985 ;  Li, 1990). The first Early Pleistocene Paleolithic site in China, that is the Xihoudu site dated at 1.4–1.27 Ma (Zhu et al., 2003 ;  Kong et al., 2013), was found in northwestern Sanmenxia Basin (Fig. 1) in 1961–1962 (Jia, 1985). In 1963, 128 stone artefacts were found from 6 localities in eastern Sanmenxia Basin (Huang, 1964). Among the 128 artefacts, 94 were from the Shuigou and Huixinggou sites (Huang, 1964). At that time the chronology of the Chinese loess-paleosol sequence was not yet established; a tentative Mid-Pleistocene age was suggested for the lithic assemblage based on lithostratigraphic arguments (Huang, 1964). Furthermore, when these artefacts were discovered, consensus was that Acheulian handaxes and cleavers were lacking in East Asia during the period when they flourished in Africa and western Eurasia (Movius, 1948). Therefore, the handaxe and cleavers from the Shuigou and Huixinggou sites (Fig. 2) were not recognized and reported as Acheulian artefacts; instead, they were considered to represent different kinds of choppers that are indicative of a chopper-chopping tool industry (Huang, 1964; Huang, 1987; Huang, 1993 ;  Lin, 1992).

In the present study, we reassess the previously excavated lithic assemblage from the Shuigou and Huixinggou sites. We establish a numerical age for the lithic assemblage using magneto-cyclostratigraphy. We provide definitive evidence of an Early Pleistocene date for Acheulian stone tools in North China, which offers an important new window into the distribution of Acheulian technology out of Africa during the late Early Pleistocene.

[See the original paper for sections 2, 3, and 4.]

5.2. Implications for the distribution of Acheulian technology outside of Africa
Current consensus in defining a lithic assemblage to represent typical Acheulian technology depends on the following characteristic attributes: the ability to produce large flake blanks and to recurrently shape these blanks into LCTs that are typologically qualified as Acheulian tool types (i.e., handaxes, cleavers, and picks) (Isaac, 1969; Semaw et al., 2009; Stout, 2011; Beyene et al., 2013; Diez-Martín et al., 2015 ;  Dennell, 2016). Accordingly, the technological traits (i.e., production of large flakes) and typological traits (i.e., readily attribution of LCTs as handaxes, cleavers, and picks), which are documented in the lithic assemblage from the Shuigou-Huixinggou site, point unambiguously to Acheulian technology.

Our newly established age of ∼0.9 Ma for these artifacts provides evidence for the emergence of Acheulian technology in North China as early as the late Early Pleistocene. The tools are slightly older than the Bose Acheulian stone tools, which are considered the oldest in South China and are dated at ∼0.8 Ma with 40Ar/39Ar dating of in situ tektites ( Hou et al., 2000). Combined with 0.9–0.8 Ma ages for Acheulian stone stools from Yunxian in central China (de Lumley and Li, 2008) and from Sangiran in Indonesia (Simanjuntak et al., 2010), the Acheulian appears to have extended across a large area in East Asia since the terminal Early Pleistocene. Apparently, the hominins with this advanced technology, most likely Homo erectus, were adapted to diverse habitats that ranged from tropical rainforests in Indonesia to subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forests in South China, and now to temperate grasslands in North China during the late Early Pleistocene. This supports the proposition that the Movius Line ( Movius, 1948) over which no Acheulian artefacts were argued to occur in East Asia is no longer an appropriate concept for the Early Paleolithic of East and Southeast Asia and should be disregarded ( Hou et al., 2000; Wang, 2005; Li et al., 2014 ;  Dennell, 2016). Although the presence of late Early Pleistocene Acheulian technology has been established firmly in East Asia, there is no consensus concerning its origin (Li et al., 2014). Some researchers interpret it to have been introduced into China with population movements from the west ( Hou et al., 2000; Wang, 2005 ;  Huang et al., 2009), while another possibility is that these Early Pleistocene Acheulian artefacts were manufactured by the descendants of hominins that left Africa earlier (Lycett and Norton, 2010).

Widespread distribution of Acheulian technology in East Asia, as documented here, is roughly coeval with their first emergence in Europe (e.g., Estrecho del Quípar and Barranc de la Boella, Spain) at ∼1.0–0.9 Ma (Scott and Gibert, 2009 ;  Vallverdú et al., 2014). By comparison, Acheulian technology appeared in the eastern Mediterranean (e.g., ‘Ubeidiya) and South India (e.g., Attirampakkam) as early as ∼1.4 Ma (Bar-Yosef and Goren-Inbar, 1993) and 1.5–1.1 Ma (Pappu et al., 2011), respectively. Combined with ∼0.8–0.7 Ma Acheulian stone tools from Gesher Benot Ya'aqov (Israel) (Goren-Inbar et al., 2000), a widespread Early Pleistocene distribution of Acheulian technology outside of Africa is suggested, with expansion by ∼0.9 Ma across the southern, western, and eastern portions of Eurasia, including temperate North China (Fig. 1).

5.3. Implications for early human occupation of North China
During the late Early Pleistocene, global climate variability shifted from lower-amplitude ∼40 kyr oscillations to higher-amplitude ∼100 kyr oscillations (Clark et al., 2006). This climate transition lasted from ∼1.2 Ma to ∼0.7 Ma (Clark et al., 2006), but occurred in North China (including the Loess Plateau) at 0.9–0.7 Ma (Heslop et al., 2002 ;  Ao et al., 2012). Pollen data indicate mainly savanna grassland conditions on the Loess Plateau during the late Early Pleistocene (Wang et al., 2002 ;  Wu et al., 2004). The occurrence of Acheulian tools in Sanmenxia Basin against such a global climatic and regional environmental background points to the role of climate in shaping the behavior of early humans, which is consistent with the climatic variability selection hypothesis of hominin evolution (Potts, 1998).

The southern Loess Plateau in the middle reaches of the Yellow River north of the Qinling Mountains, including Sanmenxia Basin, was an important habitat for early humans in North China. Many hominin and Paleolithic sites have been found in this region, such as the hominin sites of Gongwangling (1.63 Ma) (Zhu et al., 2015), Chenjiawo (0.65 Ma) (An and Ho, 1989), Dali (0.27 Ma) (Xiao et al., 2002) and Dingcun (0.21–0.16 Ma) (Chen et al., 1984), as well as the Paleolithic sites from Xihoudu (1.4–1.27 Ma) (Zhu et al., 2003 ;  Kong et al., 2013), Luonan Basin (0.8–0.7, 0.4–0.3, and 0.2–0.1 Ma) (Lu et al., 2011b), Lushi Basin (0.62–0.6 Ma) (Lu et al., 2011a), Beiyao (0.2–0.01 Ma) (Du and Liu, 2014), and the Lantian area (0.6–0.03 Ma) (Wang et al., 2014). Combined with the abundant Paleolithic sites in Nihewan Basin, North China (Ao et al., 2013a), including the oldest sites of Majuangou (1.66 Ma) (Zhu et al., 2004) and Shangshazui (1.7–1.6 Ma) (Ao et al., 2013b), there appears to have been a flourishing population of early humans in North China since the Early Pleistocene.
6.  Conclusions
An integrated stratigraphic analysis, involving lithostratigraphy, magnetic susceptibility stratigraphy and magnetostratigraphy, indicates that the Huixinggou section records the upper Matuyama and Brunhes chrons. The Acheulian-bearing layer occurs in a reversed polarity magnetozone below the Matuyama–Brunhes boundary and is probably equivalent to MIS 23, which yields an estimated age of ∼0.9 Ma. This discovery indicates that the emergence of Acheulian technology in North China can be dated back to the Early Pleistocene. Along with archeological evidence from South China and Southeast Asia, the Acheulian now appears to have been widespread in East Asia since the terminal Early Pleistocene. The East Asian occurrences of Acheulian technology are contemporaneous with the first emergence of Acheulian tools in Europe and support a wide geographic distribution of Acheulian technology outside of Africa during the Early Pleistocene. Our results have important implications for understanding early human occupation on the Chinese Loess Plateau and provide guidance for future archeological investigations in this region.