Tag Archives: paleoarchaeology

Fossilized Foot Sheds New Light on Evolution of Bipedalism

Paleoanthropologists have long looked to early hominids to answer questions about our own development and evolution. The most famous example is the Australopithecus Lucy, who roamed the African savannah more than 3 million years ago.

Recently, paleoanthropologists have uncovered a fossilized foot close to Lucy’s age but with details resembling an older species of proto-human, Ardi. The find provides scientists with new details and information on the evolution of bipedalism in humans.  To learn more about the discovery, see the article in Scientific American.

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Paleolithic “Art Studio” Found in South Africa

Archaeologists in South Africa have uncovered what they term an “art studio” dating to 100,000 years ago. Scientists in 2008 discovered a series of mixed ochre stored in abalone shells (used as a mixing or storage palate) in Blombos Cave. The findings were published in this month’s Science.

To learn more about this finding, see the article in Science (if you have a subscription), Scientific American, Fox News, BBC News, National Geographic, and Discovery News.

Cooking a Nearly Two Million Year Old Practice

Recent excavations and analysis of the molars of Homo erectus and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis suggest that human ancestors began cooking much earlier than originally thought. The introduction of culturally treating food (specifically cooking) directly correlates to smaller molar size in human beings (as thick enamel and wide chewing surfaces are no longer necessary).

Paleoanthropologists have suggested that the the decreasing size of molars in proto-humans suggests that our ancestors were cooking as early as two million years ago. The finding, however, is not without controversy as the connection with cooking also suggest other sophisticated tool use – specifically the control of fire.

“There isn’t a lot of good evidence for fire. That’s kind of controversial,” Organ said. “That’s one of the holes in this cooking hypothesis. If those species right then were cooking you should find evidence for hearths and fire pits.” (MSNBC)

These new findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. If you do not have a subscription to this esteemed article, you can read more about it in this article of Scientific American or at MSNBC.

New Fossils Provide Further Insight into the Domestication of Dogs

Dogs are the oldest and most universally domesticated animals on Earth. New studies of a 33,000 year old dog skull fossil have revealed new insight into the domestication of man’s best friend.

The newly discovered skull reveals that this species of dog (that went extinct during the last glacial period) was on the brink of full domestication just before they died out.

To learn more about the significance of this Russian find, see this article in National Geographic.

Werner Herzog Discusses Film & Archaeology

Famed German film director Werner Herzog was recently granted access to the Chauvet Caves, which he filmed for an soon-to-be released film on paleolithic art in France. The film entitled “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” focuses on the early peoples of France and the earliest creations of human art.

Herzog granted an interview to Archaeology Magazine in which he discussed the unique challenges of filming the site as well as the privilege of being trusted with its memorial.

ARCHAEOLOGY: There are hundreds of ancient sites in the world that have really fascinating artwork. What was it that attracted you to Chauvet?

WERNER HERZOG: It is one of the greatest and most sensational discoveries in human culture and, of course, what is so fascinating is that it was preserved as a perfect time capsule for 20,000 years. The quality of the art, which is from a time so far, so deep back in history, is stunning. It’s not that we have what people might call the primitive beginnings of painting and art. It is right there as if it had burst on the scene fully accomplished. That is the astonishing thing, to understand that the modern human soul somehow awakened. It is not a long slumber and a slow, slow, slow awakening. I think it was a fairly sudden awakening. But when I say “sudden” it may have gone over 20,000 years or so. Time does not factor in when you go back into such deep prehistory.

The film was recorded and produced in 3D, a new technique for Herzog and premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Read the full interview in this Archaeology Magazine article and listen to the audio from the interview here.

Early Pre-Human Societies: Sex-Based Migration Patterns

A new study published in this month’s edition of Nature shows evidence that early hominins (pre-human groups), specifically Australopithecus africanis and Paranthropus robustus demonstrate evidence that the males were more sedentary – often staying within close proximity to their home cave settlements, wherease the females were peripatetic – often migrating hundreds of miles within their lifetime.

If true, this study demonstrates that hominins (including humans) correlate to standing behaviors we see in other groups, such as Chimpanzees, but conflicts with the behaviors we see in Gorillas or Baboons

Such a pattern is similar to that seen in chimpanzee societies, where males in a particular locale tend to stick together to defend their turf from interlopers. In order to guard against inbreeding, the younger females are likelier than the males to migrate for mating. Copeland said the situation is different for gorillas. In those societies, the dominant male gorilla rules over a harem that tends to stay put, while younger males usually have to go someplace else to find their own mates.

This study can help us to understand the mating and migratory roles of early hominin groups. You can read more about this discover in this month’s Nature or via the Cosmic Log at MNSBC.