Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Prehistory


Episodes of Palaeolithic cannibalism have frequently been defined as ‘nutritional’ in nature, but with little empirical evidence to assess their dietary significance. This paper presents a nutritional template that offers a proxy calorie value for the human body. When applied to the Palaeolithic record, the template provides a framework for assessing the dietary value of prehistoric cannibalistic episodes compared to the faunal record. Results show that humans have a comparable nutritional value to those faunal species that match our typical body weight, but significantly lower than a range of fauna often found in association with anthropogenically modified hominin remains. This could suggest that the motivations behind hominin anthropophagy may not have been purely nutritionally motivated. It is proposed here that the comparatively low nutritional value of hominin cannibalism episodes support more socially or culturally driven narratives in the interpretation of Palaeolithic cannibalism.

Concepts: Human, Sociology, Science, Anthropology, Human anatomy, Neanderthal, Prehistory, Cannibalism


Comparisons of DNA sequences between Neandertals and present-day humans have shown that Neandertals share more genetic variants with non-Africans than with Africans. This could be due to interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans when the two groups met subsequent to the emergence of modern humans outside Africa. However, it could also be due to population structure that antedates the origin of Neandertal ancestors in Africa. We measure the extent of linkage disequilibrium (LD) in the genomes of present-day Europeans and find that the last gene flow from Neandertals (or their relatives) into Europeans likely occurred 37,000-86,000 years before the present (BP), and most likely 47,000-65,000 years ago. This supports the recent interbreeding hypothesis and suggests that interbreeding may have occurred when modern humans carrying Upper Paleolithic technologies encountered Neandertals as they expanded out of Africa.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Human, Africa, Population genetics, Neanderthal, Pleistocene, Prehistory


Questions surrounding the chronology, place, and character of the initial human colonization of the Americas are a long-standing focus of debate. Interdisciplinary debate continues over the timing of entry, the rapidity and direction of dispersion, the variety of human responses to diverse habitats, the criteria for evaluating the validity of early sites, and the differences and similarities between colonization in North and South America. Despite recent advances in our understanding of these issues, archaeology still faces challenges in defining interdisciplinary research problems, assessing the reliability of the data, and applying new interpretative models. As the debates and challenges continue, new studies take place and previous research reexamined. Here we discuss recent exploratory excavation at and interdisciplinary data from the Monte Verde area in Chile to further our understanding of the first peopling of the Americas. New evidence of stone artifacts, faunal remains, and burned areas suggests discrete horizons of ephemeral human activity in a sandur plain setting radiocarbon and luminescence dated between at least ~18,500 and 14,500 cal BP. Based on multiple lines of evidence, including sedimentary proxies and artifact analysis, we present the probable anthropogenic origins and wider implications of this evidence. In a non-glacial cold climate environment of the south-central Andes, which is challenging for human occupation and for the preservation of hunter-gatherer sites, these horizons provide insight into an earlier context of late Pleistocene human behavior in northern Patagonia.

Concepts: Debate, Human behavior, South America, Americas, Latin America, Pleistocene, Archaeology, Prehistory


The experts of animal locomotion well know the characteristics of quadruped walking since the pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge in the 1880s. Most of the quadrupeds advance their legs in the same lateral sequence when walking, and only the timing of their supporting feet differ more or less. How did this scientific knowledge influence the correctness of quadruped walking depictions in the fine arts? Did the proportion of erroneous quadruped walking illustrations relative to their total number (i.e. error rate) decrease after Muybridge? How correctly have cavemen (upper palaeolithic Homo sapiens) illustrated the walking of their quadruped prey in prehistoric times? The aim of this work is to answer these questions. We have analyzed 1000 prehistoric and modern artistic quadruped walking depictions and determined whether they are correct or not in respect of the limb attitudes presented, assuming that the other aspects of depictions used to determine the animals gait are illustrated correctly. The error rate of modern pre-Muybridgean quadruped walking illustrations was 83.5%, much more than the error rate of 73.3% of mere chance. It decreased to 57.9% after 1887, that is in the post-Muybridgean period. Most surprisingly, the prehistoric quadruped walking depictions had the lowest error rate of 46.2%. All these differences were statistically significant. Thus, cavemen were more keenly aware of the slower motion of their prey animals and illustrated quadruped walking more precisely than later artists.

Concepts: Human, Walking, Locomotion, Art, Paleolithic, Stone Age, Prehistory, Correctness


Spheroids are ball-shaped stone objects found in African archaeological sites dating from 1.8 million years ago (Early Stone Age) to at least 70,000 years ago (Middle Stone Age). Spheroids are either fabricated or naturally shaped stones selected and transported to places of use making them one of the longest-used technologies on record. Most hypotheses about their use suggest they were percussive tools for shaping or grinding other materials. However, their size and spherical shape make them potentially useful as projectile weapons, a property that, uniquely, humans have been specialised to exploit for millions of years. Here we show (using simulations of projectile motions resulting from human throwing) that 81% of a sample of spheroids from the late Acheulean (Bed 3) at the Cave of Hearths, South Africa afford being thrown so as to inflict worthwhile damage to a medium-sized animal over distances up to 25 m. Most of the objects have weights that produce optimal levels of damage from throwing, rather than simply being as heavy as possible (as would suit other functions). Our results show that these objects were eminently suitable for throwing, and demonstrate how empirical research on behavioural tasks can inform and constrain our theories about prehistoric artefacts.

Concepts: Human, Africa, Projectile, Paleolithic, Stone Age, Archaeology, Ammunition, Prehistory


Ancient DNA research is revealing a human history far more complex than that inferred from parsimonious models based on modern DNA. Here, we review some of the key events in the peopling of the world in the light of the findings of work on ancient DNA.

Concepts: DNA, Species, Science, World, History, Prehistory, Ancient history, Occam's razor


It is generally assumed that the production of plant fibre textiles in ancient Europe, especially woven textiles for clothing, was closely linked to the development of agriculture through the use of cultivated textile plants (flax, hemp). Here we present a new investigation of the 2800 year old Lusehøj Bronze Age Textile from Voldtofte, Denmark, which challenges this assumption. We show that the textile is made of imported nettle, most probably from the Kärnten-Steiermark region, an area which at the time had an otherwise established flax production. Our results thus suggest that the production of woven plant fibre textiles in Bronze Age Europe was based not only on cultivated textile plants but also on the targeted exploitation of wild plants. The Lusehøj find points to a hitherto unrecognized role of nettle as an important textile plant and suggests the need for a re-evaluation of textile production resource management in prehistoric Europe.

Concepts: Cotton, Textile, Hemp, Flax, Prehistory, Textiles, Fiber crop, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures


More than 1500 fossils from the Rising Star cave system in South Africa have been assigned to a new human species, Homo naledi, which displays a unique combination of primitive and derived traits throughout the skeleton.

Concepts: Human, Evolution, Africa, Species, Chromosome, Mammal, Charles Darwin, Prehistory


Prehistoric dental treatments were extremely rare, and the few documented cases are known from the Neolithic, when the adoption of early farming culture caused an increase of carious lesions. Here we report the earliest evidence of dental caries intervention on a Late Upper Palaeolithic modern human specimen (Villabruna) from a burial in Northern Italy. Using Scanning Electron Microscopy we show the presence of striations deriving from the manipulation of a large occlusal carious cavity of the lower right third molar. The striations have a “V”-shaped transverse section and several parallel micro-scratches at their base, as typically displayed by cutmarks on teeth. Based on in vitro experimental replication and a complete functional reconstruction of the Villabruna dental arches, we confirm that the identified striations and the associated extensive enamel chipping on the mesial wall of the cavity were produced ante-mortem by pointed flint tools during scratching and levering activities. The Villabruna specimen is therefore the oldest known evidence of dental caries intervention, suggesting at least some knowledge of disease treatment well before the Neolithic. This study suggests that primitive forms of carious treatment in human evolution entail an adaptation of the well-known toothpicking for levering and scratching rather than drilling practices.

Concepts: Human, Teeth, Dental caries, Scanning electron microscope, Tooth enamel, Paleolithic, Stone Age, Prehistory


Landscapes and features of the everyday world were scarcely represented in Paleolithic art, especially those features associated with the human landscape (huts and campsites). On the contrary, other figurative motifs (especially animals) and signs, traditionally linked to the magic or religious conceptions of these hunter-gatherer societies, are the predominant themes of Upper Paleolithic art. This paper seeks to present an engraved schist slab recently found in the Molí del Salt site (North-eastern Iberia) and dated at the end of the Upper Paleolithic, ca. 13,800 years ago. This slab displays seven semicircular motifs that may be interpreted as the representation of dome-shaped huts. The analysis of individual motifs and the composition, as well as the ethnographic and archeological contextualization, suggests that this engraving is a naturalistic depiction of a hunter-gatherer campsite. Campsites can be considered the first human landscape, the first area of land whose visible features were entirely constructed by humans. Given the social meaning of campsites in hunter-gatherer life-styles, this engraving may be considered one of the first representations of the domestic and social space of a human group.

Concepts: Human, Meaning of life, Anthropology, Human evolution, Prehistory, Landscape, Upper Paleolithic, Behavioral modernity