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

Concept: Stone Age


The intensification of agriculture is often associated with declining mobility and bone strength through time, although women often exhibit less pronounced trends than men. For example, previous studies of prehistoric Central European agriculturalists (~5300 calibrated years BC to 850 AD) demonstrated a significant reduction in tibial rigidity among men, whereas women were characterized by low tibial rigidity, little temporal change, and high variability. Because of the potential for sex-specific skeletal responses to mechanical loading and a lack of modern comparative data, women’s activity in prehistory remains difficult to interpret. This study compares humeral and tibial cross-sectional rigidity, shape, and interlimb loading among prehistoric Central European women agriculturalists and living European women of known behavior (athletes and controls). Prehistoric female tibial rigidity at all time periods was highly variable, but differed little from living sedentary women on average, and was significantly lower than that of living runners and football players. However, humeral rigidity exceeded that of living athletes for the first ~5500 years of farming, with loading intensity biased heavily toward the upper limb. Interlimb strength proportions among Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age women were most similar to those of living semi-elite rowers. These results suggest that, in contrast to men, rigorous manual labor was a more important component of prehistoric women’s behavior than was terrestrial mobility through thousands of years of European agriculture, at levels far exceeding those of modern women.

Concepts: Europe, Slovakia, Germany, Stone Age, Hungary, Bronze Age, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Three-age system


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


For many, climate change is no longer recognized as the primary cause of cultural changes in the Near East. Instead, human landscape degradation, population growth, socioeconomic adjustments, and conflict have been proposed as the mechanisms that shaped the Neolithic Revolution. However, as Bar-Yosef noted, even if there is chronological correlation between climate changes and cultural developments, what is important is to understand how Neolithic societies dealt with these improving or deteriorating environments. Changes in bifacial stone tools provide a framework for examining some of these interactions by focusing on changing land use practices during the Neolithization process. The results of microwear analysis of 40 bifacial artifacts from early Pre-Pottery Neolithic (EPPNB) levels at Motza in the Judean hills document changes during the PPNA-PPNB transition at the onset of the Levantine Moist Period (ca. 8000 cal B.C.) when conditions for agriculture improved. EPPNB villagers added heavy-duty axes to a toolkit they had used for carpentry and began to clear forests for fields and grazing lands. Sustainable forest management continued for the duration of the PPN until the cumulative effects of tree-felling and overgrazing seem to have led to landscape degradation at end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic C (PPNC), when a cold, dry climatic anomaly (6600-6000 cal B.C.) may have accelerated the reduction of woodlands. Early PPNB components at sites like Motza, with data from nearly five millennia of Neolithic occupations, show how complex hunter-gatherers and early food producers were able to establish sustainable resource management systems even as climate changed, population increased, and social relations were redefined.

Concepts: Climate change, Change, Neolithic, Fertile Crescent, Stone Age, Levant, Göbekli Tepe, Pre-Pottery Neolithic A


Europe has played a major role in dog evolution, harbouring the oldest uncontested Palaeolithic remains and having been the centre of modern dog breed creation. Here we sequence the genomes of an Early and End Neolithic dog from Germany, including a sample associated with an early European farming community. Both dogs demonstrate continuity with each other and predominantly share ancestry with modern European dogs, contradicting a previously suggested Late Neolithic population replacement. We find no genetic evidence to support the recent hypothesis proposing dual origins of dog domestication. By calibrating the mutation rate using our oldest dog, we narrow the timing of dog domestication to 20,000-40,000 years ago. Interestingly, we do not observe the extreme copy number expansion of the AMY2B gene characteristic of modern dogs that has previously been proposed as an adaptation to a starch-rich diet driven by the widespread adoption of agriculture in the Neolithic.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Europe, Dog type, Neolithic, Stone Age, Neolithic Revolution, Mesolithic


Hunter-gatherers living in Europe during the transition from the late Pleistocene to the Holocene intensified food acquisition by broadening the range of resources exploited to include marine taxa. However, little is known on the nature of this dietary change in the Mediterranean Basin. A key area to investigate this issue is the archipelago of the Ègadi Islands, most of which were connected to Sicily until the early Holocene. The site of Grotta d'Oriente, on the present-day island of Favignana, was occupied by hunter-gatherers when Postglacial environmental changes were taking place (14,000-7,500 cal BP). Here we present the results of AMS radiocarbon dating, palaeogenetic and isotopic analyses undertaken on skeletal remains of the humans buried at Grotta d'Oriente. Analyses of the mitochondrial hypervariable first region of individual Oriente B, which belongs to the HV-1 haplogroup, suggest for the first time on genetic grounds that humans living in Sicily during the early Holocene could have originated from groups that migrated from the Italian Peninsula around the Last Glacial Maximum. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses show that the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of Favignana consumed almost exclusively protein from terrestrial game and that there was only a slight increase in marine food consumption from the late Pleistocene to the early Holocene. This dietary change was similar in scale to that at sites on mainland Sicily and in the rest of the Mediterranean, suggesting that the hunter-gatherers of Grotta d'Oriente did not modify their subsistence strategies specifically to adapt to the progressive isolation of Favignana. The limited development of technologies for intensively exploiting marine resources was probably a consequence both of Mediterranean oligotrophy and of the small effective population size of these increasingly isolated human groups, which made innovation less likely and prevented transmission of fitness-enhancing adaptations.

Concepts: Human, Mediterranean Sea, Isotope, Pleistocene, Paleolithic, Holocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Stone Age


Recent research suggests that variation exists among and between Oldowan stone tool assemblages. Oldowan variation might represent differential constraints on raw materials used to produce these stone implements. Alternatively, variation among Oldowan assemblages could represent different methods that Oldowan producing hominins utilized to produce these lithic implements. Identifying differential patterns of stone tool production within the Oldowan has implications for assessing how stone tool technology evolved, how traditions of lithic production might have been culturally transmitted, and for defining the timing and scope of these evolutionary events. At present there is no null model to predict what morphological variation in the Oldowan should look like. Without such a model, quantifying whether Oldowan assemblages vary due to raw material constraints or whether they vary due to differences in production technique is not possible. This research establishes a null model for Oldowan lithic artifact morphological variation. To establish these expectations this research 1) models the expected range of variation through large scale reduction experiments, 2) develops an algorithm to categorize archaeological flakes based on how they are produced, and 3) statistically assesses the methods of production behavior used by Oldowan producing hominins at the site of DK from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania via the experimental model. Results indicate that a subset of quartzite flakes deviate from the null expectations in a manner that demonstrates efficiency in flake manufacture, while some basalt flakes deviate from null expectations in a manner that demonstrates inefficiency in flake manufacture. The simultaneous presence of efficiency in stone tool production for one raw material (quartzite) and inefficiency in stone tool production for another raw material (basalt) suggests that Oldowan producing hominins at DK were able to mediate the economic costs associated with stone tool procurement by utilizing high-cost materials more efficiently than is expected and low-cost materials in an inefficient manner.

Concepts: Material, Materials, Economic efficiency, Stone Age, Raw material, Stone tool, Oldowan, Olduvai Gorge


The importance of the Grimaldi complex of caves and rock shelters is twofold: scientific and historical. Scientifically, it is one of the major Upper Paleolithic sites, considering the variety of mobiliary and parietal art, the number of single and multiple burials and associated grave goods, and the abundant lithic and fauna remains. Historically, the documentation of activity that took place in this site starting from the second half of the 19 th century and the studies carried out on the materials that have been recovered in the decades between 1870s-1910s, provide instructive examples of methods and goals of Paleolithic archeology and anthropology of the epoch. This paper combines the scientific and the historic interest of the site through a chronicle of the events that took place during the period of the most sensational discoveries, i.e. beginning with the identification in 1872 of the first Upper Paleolithic burial and ending with the results of the excavations carried out in 1901 at Grotte des Enfants published in four volumes a few years later. The paper discusses early interpretations and modern views on the different findings and documents changes in perspectives and goals of paleoanthropological research in over a century, raising some of the major issues of contemporary Upper Paleolithic studies.

Concepts: Science, Anthropology, Social sciences, History, Paleolithic, Stone Age, Burial, Upper Paleolithic


The earliest cranial surgery (trepanation) has been attested since the Mesolithic period. The meaning of such a practice remains elusive but it is evident that, even in prehistoric times, humans from this period and from the Neolithic period had already achieved a high degree of mastery of surgical techniques practiced on bones. How such mastery was acquired in prehistoric societies remains an open question. The analysis of an almost complete cow cranium found in the Neolithic site of Champ-Durand (France) (3400-3000 BC) presenting a hole in the right frontal bone reveals that this cranium underwent cranial surgery using the same techniques as those used on human crania. If bone surgery on the cow cranium was performed in order to save the animal, Champ-Durant would provide the earliest evidence of veterinary surgical practice. Alternatively, the evidence of surgery on this cranium can also suggest that Neolithic people practiced on domestic animals in order to perfect the technique before applying it to humans.

Concepts: Human, Skull, Meaning of life, Neolithic, Paleolithic, Holocene, Stone Age, 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