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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Anthropology news updates
    Posted: 10-Apr-2017 at 21:13

Prehistoric Native Americans farmed macaws in 'feather factories'

To ancient peoples of the American Southwest, a macaw’s brilliant feathers weren’t just adornments. They were status symbols and spiritual emblems — so precious, in fact, that macaws were kept in captivity and deliberately plucked of their plumage, new evidence suggests.

Macaw skeletons from three prehistoric pueblos in New Mexico bear signs of feather harvesting, according to analysis presented on 31 March at a meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Vancouver, Canada. But the skeletons also hint that the macaws’ handlers went to great lengths to care for their demanding charges. “People were doing their utmost to keep them alive,” says Randee Fladeboe, an archaeologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville who analysed the macaw bones.

Archaeologists studying the ancient Native Americans called the Puebloans and nearby groups have found macaw bones and feathers dating from ad 300 to ad 1450 at sites ranging from Utah in the American Southwest to Chihuahua in Mexico. It is likely that many of these birds were imported; there is scanty evidence of macaw breeding, except at one Mexican site, and many macaws are tropical. The highly prized scarlet macaw (Ara macao), for example, lives at least 500 kilometres to the southeast.

Fladeboe examined the wing bones of 17 scarlet and military macaws (Ara militaris) from three pueblos. Fifteen of the birds had small bumps marring the upper surfaces of their wing bones.

A macaw’s flight feathers are rooted in the bone, so pulling them out can cause bleeding and infection, Fladeboe says. Multiple infections, or a combination of infection and malnutrition, lead to bumps like those on the skeletons. Macaws do sometimes yank out their own feathers, but the ancient bones show traces of multiple feather loss along their entire lengths and on both right and left wings. To Fladeboe, it seems unlikely that 15 of the 17 macaws she studied would strip themselves so methodically.

Tough old birds

One macaw had suffered two broken wings, and its beak bore signs of attacks from other macaws. Its bones also show irregularities from either malnutrition or illness. This macaw probably would not have survived without hand-feeding and protection, Fladeboe says.

Fladeboe makes a “good preliminary case” that the birds were plucked by humans, says zooarchaeologist Erin Keenan Early at Texas State University in San Marcos, who thinks the evidence that the birds were well cared for is also credible. Fladeboe plans to do computerized tomography scanning of the bones to confirm her early results.

Macaws that were stressed by captivity and feather removal may have engaged in “self-destructive and otherwise aggressive behavior, making them quite difficult to care for”, says zooarchaeologist Meredith Wismer of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Fladeboe thinks that the birds’ caretakers probably learned to soothe the macaws; happy macaws have more attractive feathers. 


Few sites had more macaws than Chaco Canyon, a cluster of settlements in New Mexico. Chaco’s Pueblo Bonito even had what seems to be an aviary, complete with a layer of guano 25 centimetres thick. A radiocarbon analysis demonstrated that macaws were living there in the late 1000s and early 1100s, even as the pueblo was heading towards collapse.

Earlier research had shown that birds were imported to the pueblo when it was flourishing1. But seemingly the pueblo’s access to macaws “continued throughout the rise and decline of Chaco”, illustrating the birds’ importance, says archaeologist Adam Watson of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who presented the new dates at the meeting on 30 March.

Macaw keepers at places such as Chaco Canyon clearly had to go to great lengths to procure the water and food the birds needed, Fladeboe says. To ancient Southwestern peoples, the macaws served a role befitting their powers as ambassadors to the underworld and bringers of rain. The macaws’ caretakers “did obviously care for the birds”, she says. “To say that they only cared about them [for] their feather output would be to do them a disservice.”

http://www.nature.com/news/prehistoric-native-americans-farmed-macaws-in-feather-factories-1.21803

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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-May-2017 at 15:50

How migrations and other population dynamics could have shaped early human culture


Something odd happened in the transition from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic, around 50,000 years ago. Modern humans and their immediate ancestors had been using tools for a few million years prior, but the repertoire was limited. Then, all of sudden, there was an explosion of new tools, art and other cultural artifacts.

What caused that change has been the subject of much debate. Maybe brainpower reached a critical threshold. Maybe climate change forced our prehistoric kin to innovate or die. Maybe it was aliens.

Or maybe it was the result of populations growing and spreading throughout the land, Stanford researchers write in Royal Society Interface. That certainly could explain some other curious features of Paleolithic culture—and it could mean that a number of paleontologists' inferences about our genetic and environmental past are, if not wrong, not as well supported as they had thought.

Cultural bursts

"One captivating observation is if you look at the archaeological record, it seems to be highly punctuated" leading up to the Upper Paleolithic, said Oren Kolodny, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Marcus Feldman, a professor of biology. In other words, Kolodny said, the Paleolithic was a time marked by periods of slow change separated by bursts of cultural innovation.

"Those cultural bursts have been taken as evidence of an external change," such as genetic or environmental shifts, said Nicole Creanza, who led the study with Kolodny while a postdoctoral fellow in Feldman's lab. "But to some extent, Oren, Marc and I felt that the simplest explanation could be that culture itself is capable of behaving in a punctuated fashion," said Creanza, who is now an assistant professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University.

A search for something simpler

The researchers wondered, how could culture create these bursts of innovation?

In a 2015 paper, Kolodny, Creanza and Feldman, who is also co-director of Stanford's Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics, argued that human culture could have evolved through several distinct kinds of advance. First, some ideas emerge as "lucky leaps," Kolodny said—perhaps an early human witnessed a mouse get trapped in a tangle of grass, and the hunting net was born. Other ideas could emerge either as extensions of those leaps or as combinations of other ideas or technologies. Finally, groups can also lose ideas, as prehistoric Tasmanians did when they lost, incredibly, the knowledge of how to fish, Kolodny said.

Aided by computer simulations, the team showed that combining the three kinds of advance could have led directly to bursts of innovation, as seen in the archaeological record. They also found that at the point where new ideas balance out with lost ones, the number of ideas a population can support increases dramatically with population size. A population twice the size, Kolodny, Creanza and Feldman's model predicted, could support much more than twice the number of ideas.

Migration and other game changers

In their latest paper, Creanza, Kolodny and Feldman, who is also the Burnet C. and Mildred Finley Wohlford Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, combined those conclusions with two new components. First, they considered migrations between otherwise distinct populations and assumed that such travel is more likely in larger populations. Second, they studied what would happen if certain major innovations, such as domesticating plants or developing hunting knives, helped grow the population.

The updated model made a number of predictions that at least qualitatively resemble what archaeologists know about cultural evolution in the Paleolithic.

First, when population sizes are small and migration is relatively rare, a pattern of cultural booms and busts is likely. Essentially, the occasional travel may bring a new idea, setting off a boom. Then, without a steady stream of new ideas or population growth - that is, a steady stream of new brains to contain all those new ideas - some ideas will be lost to time.

Innovations that encouraged population growth, however, can have lasting effects, since even slight increases in population size can support a disproportionate increase in innovation.

Migration can do something similar. As travel increases, it bridges societies, allowing for an exchange of ideas that creates a complex of interrelated cultures. And as travel becomes common, smaller groups effectively merge into one large population, with vastly more capacity for innovation. In fact, that can create a feedback loop: populations grow, contact with others increases, innovation results and populations grow even more....

http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2017/article/how-migrations-and-other-population-dynamics-could-have-shaped-early-human-culture



Edited by TheAlaniDragonRising - 06-May-2017 at 16:01
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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Jan-2018 at 19:23

Study may shed new light on dispersal of early modern humans

A recent study* of lithic artifacts recovered decades ago from the Mount Carmel (in Israel)Skhul Cave suggests, according to the study authors, that the occupation of the Levant by early modern humans during the Pleistocene was not as simple and straight-forward as the traditionally accepted paradigm has depicted. 

Archaeological and fossil finds from caves in the Levant, particularly the Skhul and Qafzeh caves in northern Israel, have often been cited as evidence to support the popular theory that early modern humans left Africa in a single wave perhaps 100,000+ years ago and occupied locations in the Levant, only to be snuffed out due to environmental change and the lack of more advanced stone tool and weapon technology before their descendants could colonize further eastward into greater Southwest Asia and the Far East. It has been portrayed as a short-lived movement, with a more successful dispersal out of Africa occurring later, around 60 - 70,000 years ago, based on the interpretation of other finds and genetic evidence. Recent findings in other parts of the world, including China and other regions, however, have turned up evidence for early modern human occupation that challenge the dating of the latter dispersal model by thousands of years.

Enter here a recent study of a collection of lithic artifacts from Skhul Cave, a total of 270 samples, currently housed at the Pitt River Museum (PRM), University of Oxford. In that study, Huw S. Groucutt of the University of Oxford and colleagues analyzed 56 stone cores, 85 Levallois flakes, 47 non-Levallois flakes, 81 retouched stone tools and 1 hammerstone, providing the first in-depth, complete examination and description of the assemblage using modern techniques of analysis. In the process, they also compared them to lithics excavated at other paleolithic sites and integrated their findings with the paleontological and chronometric (dating) data from previous research of the Skhul and Qafzeh caves. The latest chronological data from Skhul and Qafzeh suggests the artifacts were made and used about 130 - 120,000 and 95,000 years ago, respectively. This places the artifacts, and the early modern human fossils excavated in the caves, among the first early modern humans outside of Africa known to date. 

By analyzing the artifacts within the context of finds from other sites, the stratigraphic context of the cave, and paleo-climate data, the authors hypothesize that the dispersal of and occupation by early modern humans in the Levant may have been longer and more complex than previously modeled. Write Groucutt and colleagues, “accumulating the multidisciplinary data, including the analysis of the PRM Skhul lithic assemblage we have presented, increasingly suggest that there were multiple dispersals of Homo sapiens out of Africa in MIS 5 [between 130,000 and 80,000 years ago], corresponding with humid phases, and alternating with phases of aridity.”* With this conclusion, the authors also recognize that other hypotheses could explain their results, such as the evolution of the Skhul and Qafzeh hominids from an indigenous Middle Pleistocene hominid population in southwest Asia.

Skhul Cave was initially excavated by Theodore McCown in 1931 and 1932. Excavations eventually yielded lithic tools and other finds, including human fossil remains representing seven adults and three children, some of whom were suggested by the excavators as having been intentionally buried. In addition to the lithic tools, perforated Nassarius shells thought to have been imported to the caves from a different location were also discovered. The discoverers have suggested that these people may have collected and used them as decorative beads, a behavior distinctly more ‘advanced’ than what is attributed to much earlier hominid species. The morphological features of the fossils show characteristics identified with both neanderthals and modern humans, and though they were initially classified as neanderthals, today the generally accepted classification is that of archaic (early) modern human. The specimens are thought to represent some of the earliest modern humans to occupy regions outside of Africa. The finds in both the Skull and Qafzeh caves provide evidence to support the theory that early modern humans and neanderthals lived concurrently in Eurasia for a time, and may even have interbred in the Levant. 

Although the initial investigations at Skhul in the 1930’s employed techniques and methodology that are considered inadequate by modern standards, and the collection analyzed does not represent the complete assemblage of all lithics recovered from the site, Groucutt and colleagues determined nevertheless that the artifact sampling met the requirements for making some valid observations and drawing conclusions for a hypothesis worth testing at other digs and through future studies. “We have described the Skhul lithic assemblage acknowledging its limitations in terms of excavation methods and so on, and formulated hypotheses that can be tested by multidisciplinary analyses of new sites,” the study authors concluded.*   

http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/winter-2018/article/study-may-shed-new-light-on-dispersal-of-early-modern-humans

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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-Jul-2018 at 16:50

The New Story of Humanity's Origins in Africa



There is a decades-old origin story for our species, in which we descended from a group of hominids who lived somewhere in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Some scientists have placed that origin in East Africa; others championed a southern birthplace. In either case, the narrative always begins in one spot. Those ancestral hominids, probably Homo heidelbergensis, slowly accumulated the characteristic features of our species—the rounded skull, small face, prominent chin, advanced tools, and sophisticated culture. From that early cradle, we then spread throughout Africa, and eventually the world.

But some scientists are now arguing that this textbook narrative is wrong in its simplicity, linearity, and geography. Yes, we evolved from ancestral hominids in Africa, but we did it in a complicated fashion—one that involves the entire continent.

Consider the ancient human fossils from a Moroccan cave called Jebel Irhoud, which were described just last year. These 315,000-year-old bones are the oldest known fossils of Homo sapiens. They not only pushed back the proposed dawn of our species, but they added northwest Africa to the list of possible origin sites. They also had an odd combination of features, combining the flat faces of modern humans with the elongated skulls of ancient species like Homo erectus. From the front, they could have passed for us; from the side, they would have stood out.

Fossils from all over Africa have modern and ancient traits in varied combinations, including the 260,000-year-old Florisbad skull from South Africa; the 195,000-year-old remains from Omo Kibish in Ethiopia; and the 160,000-year-old Herto skull, also from Ethiopia. Some scientists have argued that these remains represent different subspecies of Homo sapiens, or different species altogether.

But perhaps they really were all Homo sapiens, and our species simply used to be far more diverse than we currently are. “If you look at skulls, you’ll see different features of modern humans arising in different locations at different times,” says Eleanor Scerri, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford. And the reason for that, she says, is that “we’re a species with multiple African origins.”

She and others argue that humans originated from several diverse populations that lived across Africa. Separated from each other by geographical barriers, they mostly evolved in isolation, and each group developed some of our hallmark traits, but not others. But their separation wasn’t constant: As a changing climate remodeled the African landscape, greening deserts and drying out forests, those early humans were repeatedly drawn together and pulled apart. Whenever they met, they mated and mingled, exchanging genes and ideas in a continent-wide melting pot that eventually coalesced into the full bingo of features that you or I might recognize.

This theory, known as “African multiregionalism,” is a fundamentally different view of how we came to be. It’s saying that no single place or population gave rise to us. It’s saying that the cradle of humankind was the entirety of Africa.

Scerri recently convened with 22 other anthropologists, archaeologists, geneticists, and climatologists in London to review the evidence for African multiregionalism. Their discussions are described in a paper that is published today, and that Mark Thomas, a co-author, describes as a call to arms. “We’re saying that it’s extremely unlikely that humans evolved in one location and then spread throughout the world,” he says. “Our ancestry will have reached to many, many corners of Africa.”

“It’s a good paper and I definitely agree,” says Louise Leakey, who has long studied hominid fossils in East Africa. “The numerous finds that have emerged from different sites in Africa [suggest] a patchwork of highly structured populations living across the continent.”

This can be a tricky concept to grasp, because we’re so used to thinking about ancestry in terms of trees, whether it’s a family tree that unites members of a clan or an evolutionary tree that charts the relationships between species. Trees have single trunks that splay out into neatly dividing branches. They shift our thoughts toward single origins. Even if humans were widespread throughout Africa 300,000 years ago, surely we must have started somewhere.

Not so, according to the African-multiregionalism advocates. They’re arguing that Homo sapiens emerged from an ancestral hominid that was itself widespread through Africa, and had already separated into lots of isolated populations. We evolved within these groups, which occasionally mated with each other, and perhaps with other contemporaneous hominids like Homo naledi.

The best metaphor for this isn’t a tree. It’s a braided river—a group of streams that are all part of the same system, but that weave into and out of each other.

These streams eventually merge into the same big channel, but it takes time—hundreds of thousands of years. For most of our history, any one group of Homo sapiens had just some of the full constellation of features that we use to define ourselves. “People back then looked more different to each other than any populations do today," says Scerri, “and it’s very hard to answer what an early Homo sapiens looked like. But there was then a continent-wide trend to the modern human form.” Indeed, the first people who had the complete set probably appeared between 40,000 and 100,000 years ago.

Our behavior likely evolved in the same patchwork way. For a few million years, hominids made the same style of large stone handaxes from one millennium to the next. But that technological stagnation ended around 300,000 years ago—the same age as the earliest Homo sapiens fossils. From that time period, archeologists have recovered new kinds of specialized and sophisticated stone tools, like awls and spear tips.

These tools of the so-called Middle Stone Age show that the modern human mind developed at roughly the same time as the modern human body. And they hint that this transition happened at a continental scale, for such tools have been found at Jebel Irhoud in Morocco, at Olorgesaillie in Kenya, and at Florisbad in South Africa, with regional differences at each site.  

There’s one large potential problem with the African multiregionalism story. Genetic studies of today’s African populations suggest that they diverged from one another between 100,000 and 150,000 years ago—far later than the early, continent-wide origin suggested by the bones and tools. That deep and broad origin might be right, “but, it’s not something that we geneticists have formally tested,” says Brenna Henn from UC Davis, who is an author on the new paper. “We have discussed ways of doing that, but there’s no published paper yet saying that there is deep population structure in Africa.”

But the DNA of today’s Africans has been shaped by more recent population upheavals that have obscured the goings-on of 300,000 years ago. What’s more, the studies that analyzed this modern DNA have largely relied on tree-like population models in which a single lineage grows from a single place—exactly the scenario that proponents of African multiregionalism say is wrong. “In science, we use simple models for good reasons, because often we don’t have sufficient data to inform more complex models,” says Thomas, who is a geneticist himself. “But there’s a difference between using simple models and believing in them.”

“We’re just at the beginning of trying to figure out how to refine this new theory,” says Scerri. “To know more about what happened, we need to get more data from many of the gaps in Africa. The earliest Homo sapiens fossils we have come from 10 percent of Africa, and we’re extrapolating to 90 percent of the continent. Most of it remains unexplored. We’re effectively saying those places aren’t worth looking at because we have the answer from 10 percent. How can we possibly know that?”

http://https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/07/the-new-story-of-humanitys-origins/564779/



Edited by TheAlaniDragonRising - 20-Jul-2018 at 17:01
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  Quote TheAlaniDragonRising Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Oct-2019 at 14:20

Descendants of early Europeans and Africans in US carry Native American genetic legacy


Many people in the U.S. do not belong to Native American communities but still carry bits of Native American DNA, inherited from European and African ancestors who had children with indigenous individuals during colonization and settlement. In a new study published 19th September in PLOS Genetics, Andrew Conley of the Georgia Institute of Technology and colleagues investigate this genetic legacy and what it can tell us about how non-natives migrated across the U.S.

When Europeans colonized North America, infectious diseases and violent conflict greatly reduced the numbers of Native Americans living on the continent. Their DNA lives on, however, not only in recognized Native American tribes, but also in the descendants of Europeans and enslaved Africans that settled within the country. To better understand this genetic reservoir, researchers analyzed patterns of Native American ancestry from genomic data collected from descendants of African slaves, and Spanish and Western European settlers.

The analysis showed that African descendants had low levels of Native American ancestry, consistent with the two groups mixing in the Antebellum South, followed by African American dispersal in the Great Migration. European descendants had the lowest amount of Native American ancestry, and showed a historical pattern of continual but infrequent mixing between local Native American groups and European settlers as they moved westward. Spanish descendants had the highest and most variable amounts of Native American ancestry, and their profiles showed regional patterns reflecting the different waves of Spanish-descended immigrants that moved into the country. Native American DNA was sufficient to distinguish between descendants of very early Spanish settlers in the U.S., known as Hispanos or Nuevomexicanos, and descendants of subsequent immigrants arriving from Mexico.

"The presence of Native American genetic ancestry among individuals who do not self-identify as Native American can also be leveraged to broaden genomic medicine and include population groups currently underserved and underrepresented in genomic databases," said author Andrew Conley. "For future studies, we are very interested to use this rich genomic resource to study the distribution of health-related genetic variants in the Native American genomic background."

Overall, the study shows that much of the genetic legacy of the original inhabitants of the area that is now the continental U.S. can be found in the genomes of the descendants of European and African immigrants to the region. By making use of large genomic databases, the new study adds insight into the current discussion of the meaning of Native American identity and its distinction from genetic ancestry.

http://https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190919142344.htm



Edited by TheAlaniDragonRising - 27-Oct-2019 at 14:22
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