Online Journal of Anthropology



Specimens from the Homo genus and can be associated with early stone tools dated to 2.18 million years ago.


Two new hominin fossils have been found in a previously uninvestigated chamber in the Sterkfontein Caves, just North West of Johannesburg in South Africa.


The two new specimens, a finger bone and a molar, are part of a set of four specimens, which seem to be from early hominins that can be associated with early stone tool-bearing sediments that entered the cave more than two million years ago.


“The specimens are exciting not only because they are associated with early stone tools, but also because they possess a mixture of intriguing features that raise many more questions than they give answers,” says lead researcher Dr Dominic Stratford, a lecturer at the Wits School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental studies, and research coordinator at the Sterkfontein Caves.


The first fossil specimen, which is a very large proximal finger bone, is significantly larger and more robust than any other hand bone of any hominin yet found in South African plio-pleistocene sites.


“It is almost complete and shows a really interesting mix of modern and archaic features. For example, the specimen is markedly curved – more curved than Homo naledi and is similarly curved to the much older species Australopithecus afarensis,” says Stratford.


The level of curvature is often linked to arborealism, but it lacks the strong muscle attachments that are expected to be present.


“The finger is similar in shape to the partial specimen from Olduvai Gorge that has been called Homo habilis, but is much larger. Overall, this specimen is unique in the South African plio-pleistocene fossil hominin record and deserves more studies,” says Stratford.


The other fossil is a relatively small, nearly complete adult 1st molar tooth that also has striking similarities to species Homo habilis.

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Grilled, boiled or salted? Turtles, or tortoises, are rarely consumed today, but a select few cultures, primarily those in East Asia, still consider turtle soup, made from the flesh of the turtle, a delicacy.


According to a new discovery at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv, the site of many major findings from the late Lower Paleolithic period, they are not alone in their penchant for tortoise. Tel Aviv University researchers, in collaboration with scholars from Spain and Germany, have uncovered evidence of turtle specimens at the 400,000-year-old site, indicating that early man enjoyed eating turtles in addition to large game and vegetal material. The research provides direct evidence of the relatively broad diet of early Paleolithic people — and of the “modern” tools and skills employed to prepare it.


The study was led by Dr. Ruth Blasco of the Centro Nacional de Investigacion Sobre la Evolucion Humana (CENIEH), Spain, and TAU’s Institute of Archaeology, together with Prof. Ran Barkai and Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. Other collaborators include: Dr. Jordi Rosell and Dr. Pablo Sanudo of Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), Spain; and Dr. Krister T. Smith and Dr. Lutz Christian Maul of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Germany. The research was published on February 1, 2016, in Quaternary Science Reviews.


“Culinary and cultural depth” to the Paleolithic diet

“Until now, it was believed that Paleolithic humans hunted and ate mostly large game and vegetal material,” said Prof. Barkai. “Our discovery adds a really rich human dimension — a culinary and therefore cultural depth to what we already know about these people.”


The research team discovered tortoise specimens strewn all over the cave at different levels, indicating that they were consumed over the entire course of the early human 200,000-year inhabitation. Once exhumed, the bones revealed striking marks that reflected the methods the early humans used to process and eat the turtles.

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New research from Future Earth core project PAGES suggests links between the century-long “Late Antique Little Ice Age” in Europe and central Asia with famine, large-scale migration, a plague pandemic that ripped through the Eastern Roman Empire, and the expansion of the Arab Empire.



Studying old trees in the Altai mountains allowed reconstructing Eurasia summer temperatures over the last 2,000 years. Photo: Vladimir S. Myglan.


Researchers from the international Past Global Changes (PAGES) project write in the journal Nature Geoscience that they have identified an unprecedented, long-lasting cooling in the northern hemisphere 1500 years ago. The drop in temperature immediately followed three large volcanic eruptions in quick succession in the years 536, 540 and 547 AD (also known as the Common Era or CE). Volcanoes can cause climate cooling by ejecting large volumes of small particles – sulfate aerosols – that enter the atmosphere blocking sunlight.


The findings of the study have been largely covered by international media, such as the New Scientist and the Washington Post. The latter points out that this might be some of the strongest evidence of a direct link between climate change and monumental shifts in civilisations across entire regions.


Within five years of the onset of the “Late Antique Little Ice Age”, as the researchers have dubbed it, the Justinian plague pandemic swept through the Mediterranean between 541 and 543 AD, striking Constantinople and killing millions of people in the following centuries. The authors suggest these events may have contributed to the decline of the eastern Roman Empire.

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Osteologist Adam Boethius (fourth from the left)


Osteologist Adam Boethius (fourth from the left) at his excavation in Blekinge, Sweden. Adam has found the oldest storage of fermentet fish indicating the Nordic prehistory started earlier than previously thought.


The discovery of the world’s oldest storage of fermented fish in southern Sweden could rewrite the Nordic prehistory with findings indicating a far more complex society than previously thought. The unique discovery by osteologist Adam Boethius from Lund University was made when excavating a 9,200 year-old settlement at what was once a lake in Blekinge, Sweden.


“Our findings of large-scale fish fermentation, a traditional way of preserving fish, indicate that not only was this area settled at that time, it was also able to support a large community”, says Adam Boethius, whose findings are now being published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


The discovery is also an indication that Nordic societies were far more developed 9,200 years ago than what was previously believed. The findings are important as it is usually argued that people in the north lived relatively mobile lives, while people in the Levant – a large area in the Middle East – became settled and began to farm and raise cattle much earlier.

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Biting too hard would have dislocated jaw of Australopithecus sediba


Virtual skull of Australopithecus sediba


The fossilized skull of Australopithecus sediba specimen MH1 and a finite element model of its cranium depicting strains experienced during a simulated bite on its premolars. “Warm” colors indicate regions of high strain, “cool” colors indicate regions of low strain. (Photo : MH1 by Brett Eloff, courtesy of Lee Berger and University of the Witwatersrand.)


Research published in 2012 garnered international attention by suggesting that a possible early human ancestor had lived on a diverse woodland diet including hard foods mixed in with tree bark, fruit, leaves and other plant products.


But new research by an international team of researchers now shows that Australopithecus sediba didn’t have the jaw and tooth structure necessary to exist on a steady diet of hard foods.


“Most australopiths had amazing adaptations in their jaws, teeth and faces that allowed them to process foods that were difficult to chew or crack open. Among other things, they were able to efficiently bite down on foods with very high forces,” said team leader David Strait, PhD, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.


A. sediba had an important limitation on its ability to bite powerfully; if it had bitten as hard as possible on its molar teeth using the full force of its chewing muscles, it would have dislocated its jaw.’ – Justin Ledogar


Australopithecus sediba is thought by some researchers to lie near the ancestry of Homo, the group to which our species belongs,” said Justin Ledogar, PhD, Strait’s former graduate student and now a researcher at the University of New England in Australia. “Then we find that A. sediba had an important limitation on its ability to bite powerfully; if it had bitten as hard as possible on its molar teeth using the full force of its chewing muscles, it would have dislocated its jaw.”

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KU Professor Caroline Chaboo (pink shirt) sets up a photo-shoot with Hai|​|​om hunters in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Kalahari, Namibia.


LAWRENCE — While academic awareness of African peoples’ hunting with poison-tipped arrows extends back for centuries, knowledge of the ingenious practice has been scattered among chemistry, entomology and anthropology texts.



Rock paintings in Namibia depict animals that no longer live in the area.


Now, a comprehensive study of the hunting tradition of the San peoples of Namibia sheds new light on their use of beetle and plant poisons to boost the lethality of their arrows. The research appears currently in the peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.


“The more slender threads of information I wove together from reports dating to the 1700s, the more obvious it became there were few sure facts and many hard-to-believe assertions,” said lead author Caroline Chaboo, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas. “The San are traditional hunter-gatherers and thus have a special place in the history of man. As I learned more about the modern San, their history, weak political status and endangered languages and cultures, it became urgent to me to document this aspect of their culture.”


Chaboo and her co-authors — Megan Biesele of the Kalahari Peoples Fund, Robert K. Hitchcock of the University of New Mexico and Andrea Weeks of George Mason University — synthesized historical and anthropological literature and conducted their own fieldwork to better grasp how the San use beetle arrow poisons.



Michael Kazondunge, Caroline Chaboo, Holger Vollbrecht are pictured on the Great Etosha Salt Pan, Etosha National Park, Namibia.


“The fieldwork was an unforgettable experience,” Chaboo said. “Taking all our water and food into the Kalahari, where water was too precious to use for baths. Sleeping in a pop-up tent atop the Range Rover and waking in the middle of the night with hyenas sniffing around the campsite; or sleeping on the ground and feeling the roar of a lion through the ground. Seeing the first amazing rains flooding the Okavango Delta. Being welcomed into the San communities, and having the entire community sit around me and the arrow preparers, and hearing San spoken.”

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Our early ancestors, Homo sapiens, managed to evolve and journey across the earth by exchanging and improving their technology. Research from the University of Bergen shows that cultural interaction has been vital to the rise of humankind.


Excavation in the Blombos Cave, South Africa


Digging into past technology. Researchers from UiB and Witswatersrand have found that contact between cultures has been vital to the survival and development of Homo sapiens. Photo: Magnus M. Haaland


Blombos Cave in South Africa has given us vast knowledge about our early ancestors. In 2015, four open access articles, with research finds from Blombos as a starting point, have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.


”We are looking mainly at the part of South Africa where Blombos Cave is situated. We sought to find out how groups moved across the landscape and how they interacted,” says Christopher Henshilwood, Professor at the University of Bergen (UiB) and University of the Witwatersrand and one of the authors of the articles.

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Beauty and The Beast


Many folktales can be traced back to prehistoric populations that existed thousands of years ago, according to research which has attracted media attention across the globe. Co-author of the study, Dr Jamie Tehrani from the Department of Anthropology explains more.


What did you find in your research?


When looking at the strong similarities among traditional stories told by many different cultures, particularly those speaking Indo-European languages, we found that some shared folktales can be traced back to ancestral populations that lived thousands of years ago. These include several stories that remain popular to this day, like Beauty and the Beast, Rumplestiltskin and Jack and the Beanstalk (aka The Boy Steals the Ogre’s Treasure). We even managed to trace one tale, The Smith and the Devil, back to the Bronze Age.


Our findings suggest that these tales were passed down from generation to generation long before they were first written down, showing the remarkable stability of oral transmission and enduring appeal of these stories.


The link between languages and stories is something we focused on in our research. Indo-European is one of the largest language families on Earth and includes most populations in Europe as well as many in Asia. These languages are all derived from a prehistoric common ancestral population, called “Proto-Indo-European”, that probably existed 5,000 – 9,000 years ago. As its descendants spread across Eurasia, their languages began to diverge, giving rise to distinct lineages like the Romance languages of the Mediterranean, the Germanic languages of northern and western Europe, the Celtic languages of Britain, the Balto-Slavic languages of eastern Europe and the Indo-Iranian languages of western and southern Asia.


We found signatures of these massive ancient migrations in the oral traditions of modern day Indo-European-speaking populations, and discovered that, like shared features of language, some fairytales go back thousands of years.

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Complex genetic data rejects “Out of Taiwan” theory by demonstrating that Mitochondrial DNA found in Pacific islanders was present in Island Southeast Asia at a much earlier period


Regional maps


Map showing area of Austronesian languages


The languages known as Austronesian are spoken by more than 380 million people in territories that include Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Madagascar and the islands of the Pacific.


Professor Martin Richards

How did the population­s of such a large and diverse area come to share a similar tongue?  It is one of the most controversial questions in genetics, archaeology and anthropology.  The University of Huddersfield’s Professor Martin Richards (pictured right) belongs to a team of archaeogenetic researchers working on the topic and its latest article proposes a ‌solution based on what has been the most comprehensive analysis so far of DNA from the region.


‌The long-established theory – based on archaeological, linguistic and genetic evidence – is that the development of rice farming in mainland China spread to Taiwan, where the languages later known as Austronesian developed.  From, here the population and their language spread outwards throughout the region, some 4,000 years ago.


But detailed analysis of genetic data shows a more complex picture, because the mitochondrial DNA found in Pacific islanders was present in Island Southeast Asia at a much earlier period, casting doubt on the dominant “Out of Taiwan” theory.  Professor Richards and colleagues have been researching the issue since the 1990s and have played a central role in developing an explanation based on climate change after the end of the Ice Age – some 11,500 years ago – causing a rise in sea levels and a massive transformation in the landscapes of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
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Research captures ferocity, wide impact of Native American depopulation




Photo by Jerry Swope ©


“In the Southwest, first contact between native people and Europeans occurred in 1539,” said Matthew Liebmann, the John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology. “We found that disease didn’t really start to take effect until after 1620, but we then see a very rapid depopulation from 1620 to 1680. [The death rate] was staggeringly high — about 87 percent of the native population died in that short period.”


There is little dispute that in the wake of European colonists’ arrival in the New World, Native American populations were decimated by disease and conflict. But debate has continued around the timing, magnitude, and wider effects of this depopulation.


Many scholars say that disease struck the native populations shortly after their first contact with Europeans, and spread with a ferocity that left telltale fingerprints on the global climate. Others argue that the process was gradual (though no less devastating), taking place over many years.


A new Harvard study suggests that both theories are wrong.


In the region that is now northern New Mexico, disease didn’t break out until nearly a century after the first European contact with Native Americans, coinciding with the establishment of mission churches, according to research led by Matthew Liebmann, the John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology.


But when it did finally strike, the effects were catastrophic. In just 60 years, native populations dropped from approximately 6,500 to fewer than 900 among the 18 villages the researchers investigated. The study is described in a paper published Jan. 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Liebmann’s co-authors are Joshua Farella and Thomas Swetnam from the University of Arizona and Christopher Roos from Southern Methodist University.


“In the Southwest, first contact between native people and Europeans occurred in 1539,” Liebmann said. “We found that disease didn’t really start to take effect until after 1620, but we then see a very rapid depopulation from 1620 to 1680. [The death rate] was staggeringly high — about 87 percent of the native population died in that short period.

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