Neanderthals used seashells as tools, new research


This October 2014 video is called A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins.

From PLOS:

Neanderthals went underwater for their tools

Neanderthals collected clamshells and pumice from coastal waters to use as tools

January 15, 2020

Neanderthals collected clamshells and volcanic rock from the beach and coastal waters of Italy during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study published January 15, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Paola Villa of the University of Colorado and colleagues.

Neanderthals are known to have used tools, but the extent to which they were able to exploit coastal resources has been questioned. In this study, Villa and colleagues explored artifacts from the Neanderthal archaeological cave site of Grotta dei Moscerini in Italy, one of two Neanderthal sites in the country with an abundance of hand-modified clamshells, dating back to around 100,000 years ago.

The authors examined 171 modified shells, most of which had been retouched to be used as scrapers. All of these shells belonged to the Mediterranean smooth clam species Callista chione. Based on the state of preservation of the shells, including shell damage and encrustation on the shells by marine organisms, the authors inferred that nearly a quarter of the shells had been collected underwater from the seafloor, as live animals, as opposed to being washed up on the beach. In the same cave sediments, the authors also found abundant pumice stones likely used as abrading tools, which apparently drifted via sea currents from erupting volcanoes in the Gulf of Naples (70km south) onto the Moscerini beach, where they were collected by Neanderthals.

These findings join a growing list of evidence that Neanderthals in Western Europe were in the practice of wading or diving into coastal waters to collect resources long before Homo sapiens brought these habits to the region. The authors also note that shell tools were abundant in sediment layers that had few stone tools, suggesting Neanderthals might have turned to making shell tools during times where more typical stone materials were scarce (though it’s also possible that clam shells were used because they have a thin and sharp cutting edge, which can be maintained through re-sharpening, unlike flint tools).

The authors add: “The cave opens on a beach. It has a large assemblage of 171 tools made on shells collected on the beach or gathered directly from the seafloor as live animals by skin diving Neanderthals. Skin diving for shells or freshwater fishing in low waters was a common activity of Neanderthals, according to data from other sites and from an anatomical study published by E. Trinkaus. Neanderthals also collected pumices erupted from volcanoes in the Gulf of Naples and transported by sea to the beach.”

Extinct animals from Turkey, new species discoveries


This video from the USA says about itself:

Cancellaria conradiana gastropod fossil part two October 24 2019

Research shows it to be a Pliocene snail shell 5.333 Million years old to 2.58 million years old. The earth was cooling down the ice sheets were moving South and fauna migrated away from the ice sheets.

During my 16 December 2019 visit to Naturalis museum, I found about new fossil discoveries/

At the Live Science Lab, I met researcher Eelco Kruidenier. With the help of a microscope and a computer, he studied gravel from a valley in a mountain area east of Izmir in Turkey.

That gravel was about 2-3 million years old: from the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene eras. Back then, these valleys were freshwater lakes. The gravel contains lots of fossils of animals which lived then in or around these lakes. Eg, many shells of freshwater snails. Many of these shells are smaller than one millimetre, even adult snails. So, one really needs the microscope to discover them among the gravel. Every now and then, Mr Kruidenier discovered another shell and put it aside.

There are also fossils from many other animal species: bones of small mammals like mice, reptiles and amphibians. It looks like the overwhelming majority of the animals are both extinct species and new to science.

Naturalis does its research on this Turkish gravel jointly with other museums and universities, eg, in Turkey, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. If, eg, in Naturalis, reptile fossils are found in the gravel, then the University of Florence in Italy is contacted, as they specialize in reptiles from that era.

Mr Kuidenier had previously done research on small mammals of the Gargano peninsula in Italy. During the Miocene and Pliocene, Gargano was an island; which led to evolution of endemic species, like a giant hedgehog and giant birds of prey.

Oldest storytelling art discovery in Indonesia


This part of a newly described ancient hunting scene includes a miniature buffalo, or anoa (right), facing five faint human-animal figures wielding spears or ropes, a study finds. M. Aubert et al/Nature 2019, R. Sardi

By Bruce Bower, 11 December 2019:

A nearly 44,000-year-old hunting scene is the oldest known storytelling art

The panel was found in an island cave in Indonesia

An Indonesian cave painting that shows wild animals encountering otherworldly hunters represents the oldest known example of art depicting lifelike figures as well as of visual storytelling, researchers say.

Discovered in December 2017 on the island of Sulawesi, this roughly 4.5-meter-wide hunting scene was painted at least 43,900 years ago, says a team led by archaeologists Maxim Aubert and Adam Brumm, both of Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia. Part-human, part-animal hunters depicted in the mural indicate that people at the time believed in supernatural beings, the scientists report December 11 in Nature.

“We assume these ancient artists were Homo sapiens and that spirituality and religious thinking were part of early human culture in Indonesia,” Brumm says.

Two pigs and four miniature buffalo called anoas, which still inhabit Sulawesi forests, range across the cave art scene. Eight small, humanlike figures with animal characteristics appear to be hunting the painted pigs and anoas with spears or ropes. One hybrid creature sports a tail. Another has a beaklike snout.

Mythical human-animal hybrids, also known as therianthropes, often appear in folklore and in fiction of modern societies. Many religions regard therianthropes as gods, spirits or ancestral beings. Figurines of a lion-headed person (SN: 5/19/09) and a woman with exaggerated features previously found in a German cave date to as early as 40,000 years ago, as do flutes made of bone and mammoth tusks found in the same cave (SN: 6/24/09). A drawing of a man with a bird’s head inside France’s Lascaux cave dates to between around 14,000 and 21,000 years ago.

Abstract cave art generally attributed to H. sapiens dates to at least 40,800 years ago in Europe (SN: 6/14/12). In other Sulawesi caves studied by Aubert and Brumm, wall stencils that Stone Age people made by blowing or spraying pigment around outstretched hands date to around 40,000 years ago (SN: 10/8/14). Researchers had reported evidence of European Neandertals creating abstract cave art at least 65,000 years ago, but those reports have come under fire (SN: 10/28/19).

Measures of radioactive uranium’s decay in mineral layers that formed over parts of the Sulawesi hunting depiction provided minimum age estimates ranging from 35,100 to 43,900 years. The oldest mineral layer comes closest to the painting’s actual age, the researchers say.

If confirmed in further research, that age estimate makes sense, says archaeologist Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen in Germany. Art, music, religion and language characterize modern human groups worldwide, and the same would have held for Stone Age groups, asserts Conard, who directed excavations of the ancient figurines and flutes in Germany. …

Figurative paintings in several other Sulawesi caves have been found but not yet dated, Brumm says. Nearly all these artworks, including the hunting scene, have deteriorated substantially. “We urgently need to determine why this art is disappearing and what to do about it.”

This 3 December 2019 video is about the new discovery.

Prehistoric giant Gigantopithecus apes were orangutan relatives


This 2017 video says about itself:

What Happened to the World’s Greatest Ape?

Probably twice the size of a modern gorilla, Gigantopithecus is the greatest great-ape that ever was. And for us fellow primates, there are some lessons to be learned in how it lived, and why it disappeared.

By Bruce Bower, 13 November 2019:

A tooth fossil shows Gigantopithecus’ close ties to modern orangutans

Proteins help clarify how the giant ancient ape evolved

An ancient ape that was larger than a full-grown male gorilla has now revealed molecular clues to its evolutionary roots.

Proteins extracted from a roughly 1.9-million-year-old tooth of the aptly named Gigantopithecus blacki peg it as a close relative of modern orangutans and their direct ancestors, say bioarchaeologist Frido Welker of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues.

Protein comparisons among living and fossil apes suggest that Gigantopithecus and orangutan forerunners diverged from a common ancestor between around 10 million and 12 million years ago, Welker’s group reports November 13 in Nature.

Since it was first described in 1935, based on a molar purchased from a traditional Chinese drugstore in Hong Kong, G. blacki has stimulated debate over its evolutionary links to other ancient apes. Almost 2,000 isolated teeth and four partial jaws of G. blacki have since been found in southern China and nearby parts of Southeast Asia. G. blacki fossils date from around 2 million to almost 300,000 years ago. The sizes of individual teeth and jaws indicate that G. blacki weighed between 200 and 300 kilograms.

Proteins preserve better in teeth and bones than DNA does, but both molecular forms break down quickly in hot, humid settings. “We were surprised to find any proteins this old at all, especially in a fossil from a subtropical environment,” Welker says. Proteins consisting of chains of amino acids can be used to sort out living and fossil species of various animals, including hominids (SN: 5/1/19).

Researchers generally regard G. blacki as an orangutan relative that evolved to live in forests and eat fruits, leaves, stems and possibly tubers. But that assumption has rested on thin evidence, says biological anthropologist Terry Harrison of New York University.

“This new [protein] analysis provides the first compelling evidence that Gigantopithecus was more closely related to the orangutan than to any other ape,” Harrison says.

Welker’s team retrieved amino acid sequences from six proteins in a G. blacki molar previously found in southern China’s Chuifeng Cave. Five of those proteins are commonly found in living chimps, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and humans, enabling comparisons of accumulated differences in the amino acid arrangements between G. blacki and those five present-day primates. Orangutans displayed the fewest protein disparities with G. blacki, signaling a particularly close evolutionary link between living red apes and the ancient Asian ape. Using those protein comparisons, the age of the G. blacki tooth and previous estimates of when various living apes diverged from common ancestors, Welker’s group calculated the timing of a common ancestor for orangutans and G. blacki.

The sixth protein has been linked to a process by which minerals are produced to harden bones and teeth. That protein may have contributed to the formation of especially thick tooth enamel in G. blacki, the researchers speculate.

No attempt was made to remove DNA from the ancient ape tooth. Even in colder regions than southern China, only much younger fossils have yielded DNA (SN: 3/14/16).

Ancient proteins from other Asian fossil apes dating to between around 12 million and 6 million years ago are needed to further clarify the evolutionary position of G. blacki, says paleoanthropologist Russell Ciochon of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Ciochon suspects that Indopithecus giganteus, a fossil ape that inhabited what’s now northern India and Pakistan during that period, was a potential ancestor of G. blacki.

Protein analyses of fossil orangutans that lived in Southeast Asia at the same time as G. blacki may also help untangle how and why red apes died out in China after approximately 126,000 years ago, but still live on two Indonesian islands, Ciochon says. Such research could provide insights into how best to save endangered orangutans today (SN: 2/15/18).

Prehistoric humans and climate change


This May 2018 video is called A short video describing the main debated theories around Homo sapiens dispersal across the globe.

From the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia:

The homeland of modern humans

October 28, 2019

Summary: A landmark study pinpoints the birthplace of modern humans in southern Africa and suggests how past climate shifts drove their first migration.

A study has concluded that the earliest ancestors of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) emerged in a southern African ‘homeland’ and thrived there for 70 thousand years.

The breakthrough findings are published in the prestigious journal Nature today.

The authors propose that changes in Africa’s climate triggered the first human explorations, which initiated the development of humans’ genetic, ethnic and cultural diversity.

This study provides a window into the first 100 thousand years of modern humans’ history.

DNA as a time capsule

“It has been clear for some time that anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa roughly 200 thousand years ago. What has been long debated is the exact location of this emergence and subsequent dispersal of our earliest ancestors,” says study lead Professor Vanessa Hayes from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and University of Sydney, and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria.

“Mitochondrial DNA acts like a time capsule of our ancestral mothers, accumulating changes slowly over generations. Comparing the complete DNA code, or mitogenome, from different individuals provides information on how closely they are related.”

In their study, Professor Hayes and her colleagues collected blood samples to establish a comprehensive catalogue of modern human’s earliest mitogenomes from the so-called ‘L0’ lineage. “Our work would not have been possible without the generous contributions of local communities and study participants in Namibia and South Africa, which allowed us to uncover rare and new L0 sub-branches,” says study author and public health Professor Riana Bornman from the University of Pretoria.

“We merged 198 new, rare mitogenomes to the current database of modern human’s earliest known population, the L0 lineage. This allowed us to refine the evolutionary tree of our earliest ancestral branches better than ever before,” says first author Dr Eva Chan from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, who led the phylogenetic analyses.

By combining the L0 lineage timeline with the linguistic, cultural and geographic distributions of different sub-lineages, the study authors revealed that 200 thousand years ago, the first Homo sapiens sapiens maternal lineage emerged in a ‘homeland’ south of the Greater Zambezi River Basin region, which includes the entire expanse of northern Botswana into Namibia to the west and Zimbabwe to the east.

A homeland perfect for life to thrive

Investigating existing geological, archeological and fossil evidence, geologist Dr Andy Moore, from Rhodes University, revealed that the homeland region once held Africa’s largest ever lake system, Lake Makgadikgadi.

“Prior to modern human emergence, the lake had begun to drain due to shifts in underlying tectonic plates. This would have created, a vast wetland, which is known to be one of the most productive ecosystems for sustaining life,” says Dr Moore.

Modern humans’ first migrations

The authors’ new evolutionary timelines suggest that the ancient wetland ecosystem provided a stable ecological environment for modern humans’ first ancestors to thrive for 70 thousand years.

“We observed significant genetic divergence in the modern humans’ earliest maternal sub-lineages, that indicates our ancestors migrated out of the homeland between 130 and 110 thousand years ago,” explains Professor Hayes. “The first migrants ventured northeast, followed by a second wave of migrants who travelled southwest. A third population remained in the homeland until today.”

“In contrast to the northeasterly migrants, the southwesterly explorers appear to flourish, experiencing steady population growth,” says Professor Hayes. The authors speculate that the success of this migration was most likely a result of adaptation to marine foraging, which is further supported by extensive archaeological evidence along the southern tip of Africa.

Climate effects

To investigate what may have driven these early human migrations, co-corresponding author Professor Axel Timmermann, Director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University, analysed climate computer model simulations and geological data, which capture Southern Africa’s climate history of the past 250 thousand years.

“Our simulations suggest that the slow wobble of Earth’s axis changes summer solar radiation in the Southern Hemisphere, leading to periodic shifts in rainfall across southern Africa,” says Professor Timmermann. “These shifts in climate would have opened green, vegetated corridors, first 130 thousand years ago to the northeast, and then around 110 thousand years ago to the southwest, allowing our earliest ancestors to migrate away from the homeland for the first time.”

“These first migrants left behind a homeland population,” remarks Professor Hayes. “Eventually adapting to the drying lands, maternal descendants of the homeland population can be found in the greater Kalahari region today.”

This study uniquely combined the disciplines of genetics, geology and climatic physics to rewrite our earliest human history.

The research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant (DP170103071) and the Institute for Basic Science (IBS-R028-D1). Professor Vanessa Hayes holds the Sydney University Petre Chair of Prostate Cancer Research.

Neanderthals’ complex tools discovery


This 2013 video says about itself:

Neanderthal Superglue

Neanderthals devised what is thought to be the world’s first known industrial process. In this video, watch as NOVA attempts to recreate the Neanderthal technique of pitch extraction through a complex process known as dry distillation.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Neanderthal glue from the North Sea

22 October 2019

A flint tool covered with a tar-like substance has turned out to be a top scientific find. Research by a Dutch team of scientists showed the find to be a piece of birch tar that was extracted 50,000 years ago by Neanderthals using complex techniques. The tar was used as an adhesive to make it easier to hold the piece of flint. Details of the find have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Knowledge of chemistry

Dating back 50,000 years means that the artefact is older than the period when modern man inhabited Europe and that it must have been used by a Neanderthal. Chemical analysis has shown that the substance is birch tar. There are different ways – some simple, some more complicated – of extracting tar from birch bark, all requiring a basic knowledge of ‘chemistry’ to be able to carry out the necessary steps in the right order. CT scans of the tar and chemical analysis show that a complex technique was used, including heating the material in a kind of oven.

Knowledge economy

Leiden archaeologists were involved in the research. Gerrit Dusseldorp explains the discovery: ‘This find shows that Neanderthals placed a lot of emphasis on “high-tech” methods, even on the periphery of their inhabited territory. When the North Sea dried up during the last Ice Age, they turned to the knowledge economy to survive the barren environment.’

Paul Kozowyk, whose PhD research is on prehistoric adhesives, is also enthusiastic. ‘What is so interesting about this find is the combination of a large amount of birch tar on a small and simple sliver of stone. It shows that Neanderthals were not only skilled in making tar, but that they also invested in materials that are all too easily to overlook in archaeological research.’

Importance to science

This artefact is of exceptional scientific importance. In the whole of Europe there are only two known sites where tools with birch tar have been found. Gerrit Dusseldorp is delighted with the find.

The other two sites are Königsaue in Germany and Campitello in Italy. The tar remnants from Campitello are 200,000 years old, making them the oldest known examples. The tar at all three sites seems to have been produced in a similar way, indicating that Neanderthals systematically invested a lot of time and energy in making composite tools.

The evolution of complex technologies is often associated with living in large groups at a fixed location. This is by no means typical of Neanderthal communities; Neanderthals generally lived in small, mobile groups. According to the researchers, during the Ice Age Neanderthals in Europe invested in technology to reduce the ecological risks, such as food shortages.

Annemieke Verbaas conducted microscopy research on the object: ‘Even using a microscope, the artefact was too far eroded to be able to identify traces of use, so the purpose of the tool remains a mystery.’

Sand Motor

The tool was found in 2016 on the Sand Motor, a stretch of artificial sandbank off the coast of The Hague, and originated from the North Sea. During the Ice Age this was an inhabited lowland area, where Neanderthals lived in what were often harsh conditions. By applying high-quality knowledge and complex techniques for making tools, they were able to cope better with hardships such as cold and food shortages.

National Museum of Antiquities

The flint tool with traces of birch tar can be seen in the central hall of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden until Sunday 12 January 2020.

Neanderthal discovery on Naxos island, Greece


This 14 April 2018 video, in English with Greek subtitles, says about itself:

Carter’s Corner #6 – Neanderthals on Naxos!

From McMaster University in Canada:

Scientists find early humans moved through Mediterranean earlier than believed

October 16, 2019

An international research team led by scientists from McMaster University has unearthed new evidence in Greece proving that the island of Naxos was inhabited by Neanderthals and earlier humans at least 200,000 years ago, tens of thousands of years earlier than previously believed.

The findings, published today in the journal Science Advances, are based on years of excavations and challenge current thinking about human movement in the region — long thought to have been inaccessible and uninhabitable to anyone but modern humans. The new evidence is leading researchers to reconsider the routes our early ancestors took as they moved out of Africa into Europe and demonstrates their ability to adapt to new environmental challenges.

“Until recently, this part of the world was seen as irrelevant to early human studies but the results force us to completely rethink the history of the Mediterranean islands,” says Tristan Carter, an associate professor of anthropology at McMaster University and lead author on the study. He conducted the work with Dimitris Athanasoulis, head of archaeology at the Cycladic Ephorate of Antiquities within the Greek Ministry of Culture.

While Stone Age hunters are known to have been living on mainland Europe for over 1 million years, the Mediterranean islands were previously believed to be settled only 9,000 years ago, by farmers, the idea being that only modern humans — Homo sapiens — were sophisticated enough to build seafaring vessels.

Scholars had believed the Aegean Sea, separating western Anatolia (modern Turkey) from continental Greece, was therefore impassable to the Neanderthals and earlier hominins, with the only obvious route in and out of Europe was across the land bridge of Thrace (southeast Balkans).

The authors of this paper suggest that the Aegean basin was in fact accessible much earlier than believed. At certain times of the Ice Age the sea was much lower exposing a land route between the continents that would have allowed early prehistoric populations to walk to Stelida, and an alternative migration route connecting Europe and Africa. Researchers believe the area would have been attractive to early humans because of its abundance of raw materials ideal for toolmaking and for its fresh water.

At the same time however, “in entering this region the pre-Neanderthal populations would have been faced with a new and challenging environment, with different animals, plants and diseases, all requiring new adaptive strategies,” says Carter.

In this paper, the team details evidence of human activity spanning almost 200,000 years at Stelida, a prehistoric quarry on the northwest coast of Naxos. Here early Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and earlier humans used the local stone (chert) to make their tools and hunting weapons, of which the team has unearthed hundreds of thousands.

Reams of scientific data collected at the site add to the ongoing debate about the importance of coastal and marine routes to human movement. While present data suggests that the Aegean could be crossed by foot over 200,000 years ago, the authors also raise the possibility that Neanderthals may also have fashioned crude seafaring boats capable of crossing short distances.

This research is part of the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project, a larger collaboration involving scholars from all over the world. They have been working at the site since 2013.

For more on the project, visit the Stelida Naxos Archeological Project’s website.