Category Archives: Anthropology

Blog Carnival – Four Stone Hearth #39

The 39th edition of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival can now be found over at Hominin Dental Anthropology. It’s full of the usual anthropological and archaeological goodness, so go and check it out.

The Boneyard – Edition #18

Welcome to the 18th edition of the Boneyard, the blog carnival devoted to all things palaeo, from dinosaurs to pollen to hominids and everywhere in between.

We begin this latest edition in the Middle Palaeolithic with Julien Riel-Salvatore of ‘A Very Remote Period Indeed’ who discusses the interpretation of a new isotopic study of Neanderthal diet, based on material from a Neanderthal tooth from the French Middle Paleolitihic site of Jonzac.

A little further back time, we find Tim Jones at ‘Remote Central‘ discussing Pre-Clovis Humans in the Oregon High Desert, whilst at the same blog Terry Toohill puts ‘Human Evolution on Trial – North to Alaska’.. Meanwhile, here at Archaeozoology, we examine the later evolution of Pleistocene Horses in the New World.

We move into the Tertiary period with Emile of ‘The World We Don’t Live In‘ who discusses The oreodonts: the tylopods successful venture. Meanwhile, Brian Switek at ‘Laelaps‘ describes the ‘Truly Terrifying Entelodonts’ of the Early Miocene and Oligocene. In the same blog we also find a tale of another fearsome predator, this time of the middle Eocene: the Bad Cat from Wyoming, the largest meat-eating mammal from what would become the Wind River Formation.

Travelling back into the Mesozoic, we have two blogs about the ever-popular topic of dinosaurs. Darren Naish of ‘Tetrapod Zoology‘ talks about the land ‘Where the scelidosaurs and iguanodontians roam’, whilst GrrlScientist at ‘Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)‘ reviews ‘What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease and Death in the Cretaceous’ by George Poinar, Jr., and Roberta Poinar.

David Hone of ‘Archosaur Musings‘ brings us a series of three posts on the Early Triassic pterosaur Raeticodactylus filisurensis: part one describes the pterosaur, part two introduces Rico Stecher, the man behind Raeticodactylus, and part three is an interview with Rico about his work. Also from the Triassic comes the story of enigmatic hellasaurs, some of the most important insect fossils in the world from the Madygen Formation of Kyrgyzstan, courtesy of ‘microecos‘.

Reaching the Permo-Triassic boundary we find Peter Ward discussing ‘Suspending Life’ in Seed magazine; If almost every species on Earth was killed some 250 million years ago, how did our ancient ancestors survive and evolve into us?

We take a look at ancient plant-life with Christopher Taylor of ‘Catalogue of Organisms‘ as he tells us about Prototaxites, one of the Giants of the Silurian.

Dinochick, meanwhile, brings us more proof that only money speaks in a discussion of the recent news about fossils for sale.

We finish on a lighter note with Zach of ‘When Pigs Fly Returns‘ and Spinodracus dysonii, the porcupine dragon.

Thanks go to everyone who contributed to this edition of the Boneyard. The next edition will be hosted by Familiarity Breeds Content on May 3rd.

The Hobbit Saga Continues…

John Hawks discusses the latest development in the on-going saga of the Hobbit in ‘Was Homo floresiensis the tooth fairy?

Blog Carnival – Four Stone Hearth #38

Volume 38 of the Four Stone Hearth Blog Carnival is now up for your perusal at ‘A Very Remote Period Indeed‘.

Horse Hunting in Magdalenian France

The site of Roche de Solutre is one of a series of ridges or cuestas in the southern part of the Maconnais region of Burgundy, France. The cuestas are oriented from east to west and are separated by broad valleys with minor streams. The archaeological site at Solutre is located at the base of the southern face of the Roche de Solutre.

The discoverer and first investigator of the site, Adrien Arcelin, tried to explain the mass of horse bones revealed during the 19th century excavations by describing Palaeolithic hunters driving herds of up to 600 animals at a time over the edge of the rock. This concept of Solutre as a ‘horse-jump’ site found favour in the late 1800s and was upheld even as late as the 1950s. However, in 1956 Jean Combier re-interpreted Solutre as a place to which hunters periodically returned to kill horses which were passing through the valley during their seasonal migrations.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the interpretations could be summarised as follows:

  • the site was used almost exclusively as a kill-site, at which horses were the most frequently hunted species of large game, but where reindeer and bison were also occasionally taken.
  • small bands of between 6 to 12 horses were intercepted in the valley below Solutre rock and either driven up against the base of the rock and slaughtered there or chased into a corral-like enclosure and killed.

A low proportion of juvenile horses were interpreted as the result of selective killing of adults and releasing of the young. The vast number of individual horses, many articulated remains, the scarcity of butchery evidence and the lack of evidence of transportation of skeletal elements away from the sites suggested that large numbers of horses were killed at any one time and that their intact carcasses were not fully exploited. The minimal butchery may reflect the way in which the horses were hunted. It is suggested that the horses were ambushed as they followed a migratory trail. Hunters would have killed as many horses as possible before the herd panicked and took flight. This method would have produced many carcasses, from which perhaps only a few were selected for further processing. Reindeer, on the other hand, showed more intensive evidence of butchery, indicative of full utilisation of their carcasses.

Examination of the cementum bands of the teeth showed that the horses died at Solutre from spring through to autumn (February to September), with the greatest concentration occurring in summer. Reindeer, on the other hand, were hunted in winter and spring.

Although death of perhaps one or two of the horses at the site due to natural causes cannot be ruled out, the location of the site precludes mass deaths of herds as observed at river crossings, deaths at waterholes or death due to bogging in quagmires. The bulk of the horse remains are therefore interpreted as resulting primarily from the hunting activities of the Magdalenian population. However, carnivores also utilised the carcasses extensively and were probably responsible for the destruction of some elements, e.g. the sacrum. This is interpreted as the opportunistic scavenging of the remains of animals killed by Magdalenian hunters, although the intensive gnawing means that the possibility of some carcasses by carnivore kills cannot be ruled out.

Reference: Turner, E. 2005. Results of a recent analysis of horse remains dating to the Magdalenian period at Solutre, France, pp 70-89. In Mashkour, M (ed.). Equids in Time and Space. Oxford: Oxbow.

A trephinated skull from Germany

A review of new research is presented in Nature Precedings regarding a skull radiocarbon dated to 1940 calBC (late Neolithic – early Bronze Age) from Germany, which exhibits signs of trephination.

The authors say:

The skull fragment includes large parts of the cranial vault including both frontal bones down to the left orbital rim, the right parietal, and both occipital regions. The whole cranial base as well as the facial bones and the left temporal regions are missing. It is the only part left of the original skeleton of an adult male. The skull fragment shows two manipulations: In the left frontal-region one notes a hole with a diameter of 30 x 25 mm which results from a funnel-shaped trephination with the outer size of 53 x 50 mm. The diameter of the rim varies from 10 ­ 12 mm. The diploe of the bone is not visible which means that the trephination must have been survived for a longer period of time. The configuration of the defect and the angulation of its edge indicate that the trephination was performed by the scraping-technique. A second defect involves the left occipital region partially crossing the lambdoid suture. It consists of two small and one larger skull fragments which have grown together forming a typical consolidated depressed skull fracture. The depth of the defect is approximately 10 mm at its maximum. Its diameter measures 35 x 24 mm.

They speculate that the individual received two simulataneous injuries, one of which was trephined whilst the second healed without medical intervention. However, as they note, two chronologically differing traumatic incidents are possible of which only one was severe enough to be in need of surgical measures. Alternatively, the intact skull may have been trephined in the left frontal region because of the temporo-occipital injury to prevent complications, e.g. a suspected haematoma under a local bruise of the skin.

Reference: Piek, Juergen, Lidke, Gundula, and Terberger, Thomas. Ancient Trephinations in Neolithic People – Evidence for Stone Age Neurosurgery?. Available from Nature Precedings <http://hdl.handle.net/10101/npre.2008.1615.1&gt; (2008)

Blog Carnival – Four Stone Hearth #37

Volume 37, the Pulp SciFi edition, of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival is now available to read at A Hot Cup of Joe’.

Human Exploitation of Birds on the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man lies between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland in the Irish Sea. The main island is about 30 miles from north to south and 10 from west to east, with a central mountain range and wooded glens that fall away to the sea. Peel Castle stands on St Patrick’s Island off the west coast. Castle Rushen, in Castletown, is located on the south-east coast on the main island.

The bird bones from Peel Castle were mostly medieval and post-medieval in date, with a few from earlier periods. Those from Castle Rushen were from between the 16th and late 19th/20th centuries. Most were from the two main domestic species: domestic fowl (Gallus gallus) and Greylag Goose (Anser anser). Some goose bones appeared to be unusually short and it is suggested that this is a dwarf variety akin to that kept on Shetland during the Dark Ages.

Wild birds were less frequent at the sites, although their presence provides interesting information about the habits of the Manx people. Gulls, in particular, provide opportunities for serious trade and exploitation by humans. They are known to have been netted and then fattened during the winter months in the poultry yard – something which also helped to dissipate the strong fishy taste. Black-headed gulls, known as puets, were held in high esteem during the 17th century and were eaten as a delicacy after being fed on bullock’s liver or with corn and curds from the dairy. Some gull bones from the excavations showed evidence of knife and skewer marks, and it is suggested that some form of pinioning is possible. Crane (grus grus) and Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) were also found heavily scraped and scored by human implements at Castle Rushen.

It is suggested that the pigeon bones found during the excavations were the remains of wild rock doves (Columba livia) collected from the southwestern cliffs of the island. These were reported during the early 1800s by visitors to the island, and were said to be good eating. It is likely that their extinction on the Isle of Man was partly due to over-harvesting. Other cliff-nesters such as the common guillemot (Uria aalge) and puffin (Fratercula arctica) are still present, but are not as abundant as they once were.

The Isle of Man had a well-established trade in birds and their products, attested to both by the accounts of early writers and the finds from Peel Castle and Castle Rushen. Harvesting contributed to driving some elsewhere to breed, others to extinction. It also reduced the breeding populations of others such as the guillemot and Manx shearwater.

Reference: Thorne, C. T. 1997. Past human exploitation of birds on the Isle of Man. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 7: 292-297

Trepanation: The Legacy of Ancient Brain Surgery

Jim Myres at Scientific Blogging discusses an interesting history of skull surgery in ‘Trepanation: The Legacy Of Ancient Brain Surgery‘.

Did Neanderthals have Language?

Edmund Blair Bolles summarises an interesting paper by Francesco D’Errico on the subject of whether or not Neanderthals had language and John Hawks gives his thoughts on the subject.