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Concept: Archaeological site


The impact of changing climate on terrestrial and underwater archaeological sites, historic buildings, and cultural landscapes can be examined through quantitatively-based analyses encompassing large data samples and broad geographic and temporal scales. The Digital Index of North American Archaeology (DINAA) is a multi-institutional collaboration that allows researchers online access to linked heritage data from multiple sources and data sets. The effects of sea-level rise and concomitant human population relocation is examined using a sample from nine states encompassing much of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the southeastern United States. A 1 m rise in sea-level will result in the loss of over >13,000 recorded historic and prehistoric archaeological sites, as well as over 1000 locations currently eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), encompassing archaeological sites, standing structures, and other cultural properties. These numbers increase substantially with each additional 1 m rise in sea level, with >32,000 archaeological sites and >2400 NRHP properties lost should a 5 m rise occur. Many more unrecorded archaeological and historic sites will also be lost as large areas of the landscape are flooded. The displacement of millions of people due to rising seas will cause additional impacts where these populations resettle. Sea level rise will thus result in the loss of much of the record of human habitation of the coastal margin in the Southeast within the next one to two centuries, and the numbers indicate the magnitude of the impact on the archaeological record globally. Construction of large linked data sets is essential to developing procedures for sampling, triage, and mitigation of these impacts.

Concepts: Oceanography, Anthropology, Archaeology, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Prehistory, National Register of Historic Places, Archaeological record, Archaeological site


The earliest dispersal of humans into North America is a contentious subject, and proposed early sites are required to meet the following criteria for acceptance: (1) archaeological evidence is found in a clearly defined and undisturbed geologic context; (2) age is determined by reliable radiometric dating; (3) multiple lines of evidence from interdisciplinary studies provide consistent results; and (4) unquestionable artefacts are found in primary context. Here we describe the Cerutti Mastodon (CM) site, an archaeological site from the early late Pleistocene epoch, where in situ hammerstones and stone anvils occur in spatio-temporal association with fragmentary remains of a single mastodon (Mammut americanum). The CM site contains spiral-fractured bone and molar fragments, indicating that breakage occured while fresh. Several of these fragments also preserve evidence of percussion. The occurrence and distribution of bone, molar and stone refits suggest that breakage occurred at the site of burial. Five large cobbles (hammerstones and anvils) in the CM bone bed display use-wear and impact marks, and are hydraulically anomalous relative to the low-energy context of the enclosing sandy silt stratum. (230)Th/U radiometric analysis of multiple bone specimens using diffusion-adsorption-decay dating models indicates a burial date of 130.7 ± 9.4 thousand years ago. These findings confirm the presence of an unidentified species of Homo at the CM site during the last interglacial period (MIS 5e; early late Pleistocene), indicating that humans with manual dexterity and the experiential knowledge to use hammerstones and anvils processed mastodon limb bones for marrow extraction and/or raw material for tool production. Systematic proboscidean bone reduction, evident at the CM site, fits within a broader pattern of Palaeolithic bone percussion technology in Africa, Eurasia and North America. The CM site is, to our knowledge, the oldest in situ, well-documented archaeological site in North America and, as such, substantially revises the timing of arrival of Homo into the Americas.

Concepts: Human, North America, Americas, Pleistocene, Paleolithic, Archaeological site, Mastodon, American mastodon


Human evolutionary scholars have long supposed that the earliest stone tools were made by the genus Homo and that this technological development was directly linked to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands. New fieldwork in West Turkana, Kenya, has identified evidence of much earlier hominin technological behaviour. We report the discovery of Lomekwi 3, a 3.3-million-year-old archaeological site where in situ stone artefacts occur in spatiotemporal association with Pliocene hominin fossils in a wooded palaeoenvironment. The Lomekwi 3 knappers, with a developing understanding of stone’s fracture properties, combined core reduction with battering activities. Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution and technological origins, we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record.

Concepts: Human, Evolution, Human evolution, Archaeology, Homo ergaster, Savanna, Stone tool, Archaeological site


Pleistocene skinning and exploitation of carnivore furs have been previously inferred from archaeological evidence. Nevertheless, the evidence of skinning and fur processing tends to be weak and the interpretations are not strongly sustained by the archaeological record. In the present paper, we analyze unique evidence of patterned anthropic modification and skeletal representation of fossil remains of cave lion (Panthera spelaea) from the Lower Gallery of La Garma (Cantabria, Spain). This site is one of the few that provides Pleistocene examples of lion exploitation by humans. Our archaeozoological study suggests that lion-specialized pelt exploitation and use might have been related to ritual activities during the Middle Magdalenian period (ca. 14800 cal BC). Moreover, the specimens also represent the southernmost European and the latest evidence of cave lion exploitation in Iberia. Therefore, the study seeks to provide alternative explanations for lion extinction in Eurasia and argues for a role of hunting as a factor to take into account.

Concepts: Skin, Europe, Spain, Lion, Pleistocene, Paleolithic, Archaeology, Archaeological site


We report the occurrence at 0.7 million years (Ma) of an ichnological assemblage at Gombore II-2, which is one of several archaeological sites at Melka Kunture in the upper Awash Valley of Ethiopia, 2000 m asl. Adults and children potentially as young as 12 months old left tracks in a silty substrate on the shore of a body of water where ungulates, as well as other mammals and birds, congregated. Furthermore, the same layers contain a rich archaeological and palaeontological record, confirming that knapping was taking place in situ and that stone tools were used for butchering hippo carcasses at the site. The site gives direct information on hominin landscape use at 0.7 Ma and may provide fresh perspective on the childhood of our ancestors.

Concepts: Water, Paleontology, Archaeology, Artifact, Eocene, Stone tool, Archaeological site, Afar Region


Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), a foundation of coastal social-ecological systems, is in decline throughout much of its range. We assembled data on fish bones from 171 archaeological sites from Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington to provide proxy measures of past herring distribution and abundance. The dataset represents 435,777 fish bones, dating throughout the Holocene, but primarily to the last 2,500 y. Herring is the single-most ubiquitous fish taxon (99% ubiquity) and among the two most abundant taxa in 80% of individual assemblages. Herring bones are archaeologically abundant in all regions, but are superabundant in the northern Salish Sea and southwestern Vancouver Island areas. Analyses of temporal variability in 50 well-sampled sites reveals that herring exhibits consistently high abundance (>20% of fish bones) and consistently low variance (<10%) within the majority of sites (88% and 96%, respectively). We pose three alternative hypotheses to account for the disjunction between modern and archaeological herring populations. We reject the first hypothesis that the archaeological data overestimate past abundance and underestimate past variability. We are unable to distinguish between the second two hypotheses, which both assert that the archaeological data reflect a higher mean abundance of herring in the past, but differ in whether variability was similar to or less than that observed recently. In either case, sufficient herring was consistently available to meet the needs of harvesters, even if variability is damped in the archaeological record. These results provide baseline information prior to herring depletion and can inform modern management.

Concepts: Scientific method, Statistics, Null hypothesis, Archaeology, British Columbia, Herring, Pacific herring, Archaeological site


Shamanic belief systems represent the first form of religious practice visible within the global archaeological record. Here we report on the earliest known evidence of shamanic costume: modified red deer crania headdresses from the Early Holocene site of Star Carr (c. 11 kya). More than 90% of the examples from prehistoric Europe come from this one site, establishing it as a place of outstanding shamanistic/cosmological significance. Our work, involving a programme of experimental replication, analysis of macroscopic traces, organic residue analysis and 3D image acquisition, metrology and visualisation, represents the first attempt to understand the manufacturing processes used to create these artefacts. The results produced were unexpected-rather than being carefully crafted objects, elements of their production can only be described as expedient.

Concepts: Faith, Religion, Manufacturing, Holocene, Archaeology, Prehistory, Archaeological site, Mesolithic


The emergence of lithic technology by ∼2.6 million years ago (Ma) is often interpreted as a correlate of increasingly recurrent hominin acquisition and consumption of animal remains. Associated faunal evidence, however, is poorly preserved prior to ∼1.8 Ma, limiting our understanding of early archaeological (Oldowan) hominin carnivory. Here, we detail three large well-preserved zooarchaeological assemblages from Kanjera South, Kenya. The assemblages date to ∼2.0 Ma, pre-dating all previously published archaeofaunas of appreciable size. At Kanjera, there is clear evidence that Oldowan hominins acquired and processed numerous, relatively complete, small ungulate carcasses. Moreover, they had at least occasional access to the fleshed remains of larger, wildebeest-sized animals. The overall record of hominin activities is consistent through the stratified sequence - spanning hundreds to thousands of years - and provides the earliest archaeological evidence of sustained hominin involvement with fleshed animal remains (i.e., persistent carnivory), a foraging adaptation central to many models of hominin evolution.

Concepts: Animal, Human evolution, Archaeology, Hominini, Stone tool, Excavation, Archaeological site, Lithic technology


Cancer, one of the world’s leading causes of death today, remains almost absent relative to other pathological conditions, in the archaeological record, giving rise to the conclusion that the disease is mainly a product of modern living and increased longevity. This paper presents a male, young-adult individual from the archaeological site of Amara West in northern Sudan (c. 1200BC) displaying multiple, mainly osteolytic, lesions on the vertebrae, ribs, sternum, clavicles, scapulae, pelvis, and humeral and femoral heads. Following radiographic, microscopic and scanning electron microscopic (SEM) imaging of the lesions, and a consideration of differential diagnoses, a diagnosis of metastatic carcinoma secondary to an unknown soft tissue cancer is suggested. This represents the earliest complete example in the world of a human who suffered metastatic cancer to date. The study further draws its strength from modern analytical techniques applied to differential diagnoses and the fact that it is firmly rooted within a well-documented archaeological and historical context, thus providing new insights into the history and antiquity of the disease as well as its underlying causes and progression.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Lung cancer, Pathology, Medical diagnosis, Archaeology, Archaeological site


Development of the African Middle Stone Age (MSA) before 300 thousand years ago (ka) raises the question of how environmental change influenced the evolution of behaviors characteristic of earlyHomo sapiensWe use temporally well-constrained sedimentological and paleoenvironmental data to investigate environmental dynamics before and after the appearance of the early MSA in the Olorgesailie Basin, Kenya. In contrast to the Acheulean archeological record in the same basin, MSA sites are associated with a dramatically different faunal community, more pronounced erosion-deposition cycles, tectonic activity, and enhanced wet-dry variability. As early as 615 ka, aspects of Acheulean technology in this region imply that greater stone material selectivity and wider resource procurement coincided with an increased pace of land-lake fluctuation, potentially anticipating the adaptability of MSA hominins.

Concepts: Africa, Kenya, Human evolution, Stone Age, Archaeology, African Union, Prehistory, Archaeological site