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original article: discover magazine.com

A Doggerland of the Great Lakes? Underwater rock formations on the lakebed of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron may have been created by hunters thousands of years ago.

Brianna Randall

Lake Huron - shutterstock

An aerial view of Lake Huron. (Credit: EdgarBullon/Shutterstock)

In 2007, underwater archeologist Mark Holley was scanning for shipwrecks on the bottom of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. Instead, he stumbled on a line of stones thought to be constructed by ancient humans — including one stone with what appeared to be a carving of a mastodon. The subsequent press conference generated excited headlines about a “Stonehenge-like structure” found under Lake Michigan. 

But these sensationalized headlines are misleading: there’s no “henge” to the structure. The stones are small and arranged in a V-shape instead of a circle. Plus, the supposed-mastodon image hasn’t been analyzed to prove whether it’s a carving or a natural feature of the rock.

The real underwater stone sensation lies 120 feet below neighboring Lake Huron: an area the size of a football field with dozens of 9,000-year-old artifacts and human-built stone structures that comprise the most complex prehistoric hunting structure ever found beneath the Great Lakes.

“It’s a Pompeii-type situation. Everything is totally preserved in cold, clear freshwater. You don’t get that often in archaeology,” says John O’Shea, an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who has led the research on underwater sites in Lake Huron.

These underwater antiquities give us a glimpse of how prehistoric human communities worked together to find meat.

Crossing the Alpena-Amberley Ridge

When these stone structures were built, great sheets of glacial ice extended south from the North Pole, and water levels were much lower than they are today. The depth of the Great Lakes was up to 300 feet below modern levels, exposing miles more land than we currently see. 

Those exposed shorelines were productive, full of wildlife and plants that attracted hungry humans. Early hunting communities likely targeted migrating caribou in particular, a species that’s adapted to cold climates and is (and was) “very predictable,” according to O’Shea.

Each spring and summer, caribou migrated across a narrow strip of land called the Alpena-Amberley Ridge, which stretched diagonally across Lake Huron, connecting modern-day northeast Michigan to southern Ontario.

“This land bridge was only two to 10 miles wide, giving a huge advantage to early hunters looking to ambush animals,” says O’Shea. 

Like deer and elk, caribou follow linear features and don’t like to step over a line of brush or stone. Early humans capitalized on this by constructing two long, converging stone lines that narrowed to a choke point. At the convergence to the two lines, hunters hid behind big boulders, ready to kill the migrating caribou.

O’Shea and his colleagues have found these stone lines and hunting blinds on the Alpena-Amberley Ridge beneath Lake Huron, most notably in a 300-foot-long ambush area called the Drop 45 Drive Lane. Because the artifacts are so deep, they haven’t been affected by waves and ice or covered by sand and algae. 

“I’ve seen campfire rings with charcoal still inside them, stone tools, and even rings that were used to stake down the edges of a tent or tipi,” says O’Shea, who is also an expert scuba diver. 

Divers collecting samples at the Drop 45 Drive Lane. (Credit: John O’Shea)

Similar hunting structures have been found throughout North America, particularly closer to the Arctic where they were used more recently by traditional native hunters. 

“Comparing the Lake Huron structures to similar hunting techniques around the world gives us a clearer picture of how these rocks might have been used,” says Hans VanSumeren, a marine technology professor and the director of the Great Lakes Water Study Institute at Northwestern Michigan College.

The underwater artifacts and stone structures were carefully vetted to determine whether they were natural or human-made. First, teams use remote sonar mapping to find potential archaeological sites, then they deploy remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) for more detailed investigations, or send down divers to recover samples for further testing. 

“It’s really exciting because it’s the earliest signs of occupation,” says VanSumeren. 

What’s the Story Behind Lake Michigan’s “Stonehenge”?

Back to the media-hyped “Stonehenge” Holley found in Lake Michigan: It might be a small version of a prehistoric hunting structure, similar to the one found in Lake Huron. As for why it was falsely labeled in headlines, VanSumeren says that a hunting blind underwater “doesn’t have the same ring to it” as an internationally recognized prehistoric structure like Stonehenge. 

“There’s clearly a lot of rocks there. But the jury’s out on whether it was intentional construction,” says O’Shea, who dove to the site several years ago with Holley.

Unlike the Caribbean-clear deep water where the Drop 45 Drive Lane was discovered in Lake Huron, the shallow rocks Holley found in Grand Traverse Bay were 35 feet underwater. They are coated in algae, sediment, and invasive mussels, making it difficult to determine if the rocks are natural or human-built. O’Shea hopes Holley will submit his findings for peer-review, which he calls “the gold standard” for scientists.

“You need to produce the receipts to convince people that what you have is real,” says O’Shea, “especially if you’re working underwater where most people can’t go.”

Credit John O’Shea

Divers collecting samples at the Drop 45 Drive Lane. (Credit: John O’Shea)

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Article from smithsonianmag.com

Scientists suggest 10,000-year-old barbed points washed up on Dutch beaches were made for cultural reasons

Human Bone Carved Into a Barbed Point
One of the human bone points analyzed in the study, found by Willy van Wingerden in January of 2017. (Willy van Wingerden)

By Bridget Alexsmithsonianmag.com 
December 21, 2020

As the Ice Age waned, melting glaciers drowned the territory of Doggerland, the ground that once connected Britain and mainland Europe. For more than 8,000 years, distinctive weapons—slender, saw-toothed bone points—made by the land’s last inhabitants rested at the bottom of the North Sea. That was until 2oth-century engineers, with mechanical dredgers, began scooping up the seafloor and using the sediments to fortify the shores of the Netherlands. The ongoing work has also, accidentally, brought artifacts and fossils from the depths to the Dutch beaches.

Fossil-hunter hobbyists collected these finds, amassing nearly 1,000 of the jagged bone weapons, known to archaeologists as Mesolithic barbed points. Not only known from the North Sea, barbed points have been found at sites from Ireland to Russia, dating between 8,000 to 11,000 years ago, when the last foragers inhabited Europe before farmers arrived. Mesolithic people likely fastened the points to longer shafts to make arrows, spears and harpoons, key for their hunting and fishing livelihoods. But scholars mostly ignored the barbed points dotting Dutch beaches because they weren’t recovered from systematic digs of proper archaeological sites, like the barbed points found in the U.K. and continental Europe.

Now a team, led by Leiden University archaeologists, has analyzed some of the washed-up weapons, performing molecular measurements to determine which species the barbed points were made from. The scientists mainly wanted to test if this kind of analysis, which depends on proteins surviving in bone, was even possible for artifacts buried underwater for millennia. Not only did the method work, it delivered shocking results: While most of the roughly 10,000-year-old points were made of red deer bone two were fashioned from human skeletons.

“As an expert in this field, I really wasn’t expecting that. It’s really cool,” says Newcastle University archaeologist Benjamin Elliott, who was not involved in the research. Never before have archaeologists found unambiguous evidence that ancient Europeans carefully crafted human bones into deadly weapons.

The study scientists puzzled over why Mesolithic people used red deer and human skeletons for their weapons. “What’s going on with these points?” says Virginie Sinet-Mathiot, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who worked on the project. “What does it mean?”

Practical or economic concerns seemed unlikely explanations: Other raw materials like antler would have been more readily available and durable. Rather, the researchers concluded that ancient hunters chose these particular bones for symbolic reasons, related to their social or spiritual beliefs.

“This was not an economic decision,” says archaeologist Joannes Dekker, lead author of the study, forthcoming in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. The economic move would have been for ancient hunter-gatherers to produce strong points, quickly from animal parts leftover from meals. In that case, researchers would expect to find points made from antler as well as bones of aurochs, other deer species and Eurasian elk. These creatures roamed Mesolithic Doggerland, and experiments by modern archaeologists have shown their bones make excellent projectile weapons.

The fact that the scientists found predominately red deer and human bones suggests, “There must have been some other reason, a cultural reason, why it was important to use these species,” says Dekker, a Masters student at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The specific motivations driving this Doggerland fad, though, remain a mystery. “You can measure modern bone to see its properties as a projectile point,” says Dekker. “You can’t measure the thoughts in the head of a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer.”

Still, knowing Mesolithic people used human bones this way is a major discovery. “The human stuff is a complete shock,” says Elliott.

Barbed Points
This graphic shows the barbed points analyzed in the study, the beaches they were found on, and the probable dredging location of the original sediments in the North Sea. (Dekker et al. in press JAS: Reports, original file provided by Dekker)

According to him, earlier researchers had floated the idea that human bone comprised some especially long barbed points found in Ireland. Those speculations were based on the fact that there weren’t many large mammals, besides humans, on the island back when the artifacts were made. But until recently, no technology existed to test those claims.

Generally, archaeologists can eyeball a bone, and based on its size and contours, know the body part and animal type from which it came. But that’s nearly impossible for barbed points because the identifying features have been whittled and worn away through manufacture, use and burial.

Over the past decade, a new technology has been developed that solves this problem. The method, Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry or ZooMS, detects the molecular building blocks of collagen, the main protein in bone. Because these collagen components differ slightly between animal types, measuring them can indicate the species of a bone—even for skeletal bits or sculpted artifacts that can’t be identified by visual features.

During ZooMS, scientists chemically dissolve a dash of powdered bone to extract collagen molecules, which are run through a measurement instrument. The method has proven handy for distinguishing between bones of similar-looking creatures like sheep and goat, or rat and mouse. And for Stone Age sites, the process has been used to scan thousands of matchstick-sized skeletal pieces to find rare Neanderthal, Denisovan and Homo sapiensspecimens among heaps of animal bones. Since its introduction in 2009, ZooMS has been successfully used on remains from dozens of sites worldwide, dating from the Stone Age to modern times.

But scientists questioned whether the method would work on Mesolithic Doggerland points; millennia under the sea may have destroyed the collagen proteins. “The challenge here was would we be able to extract collagen and to perform species identifications from material that had been submerged in water for such a long time,” says Sinet-Mathiot, who works to innovate ZooMS protocols through her research.

In 2018, Dekker decided to try, in a small project for his bachelor’s thesis in archaeology at Leiden University. Dekker got permission from a dozen collectors to scrap or chip a bit of bone from their barbed points. He brought the samples to the Max Plank Institute in Leipzig, Germany and worked with Sinet-Mathiot to run the ZooMS analysis. Collaborators at the University of Groningen measured radiocarbon dates, confirming the artifacts were Mesolithic age.

For scholars of European prehistory, the new results are tantalizing, but present more questions than answers. Because the study only tested ten points, washed ashore, scientists don’t know how often, and under what circumstances, people armed themselves with human bones. “It’s super interesting that they found two humans in there, out of ten analyzed in total,” says Theis Zetner Trolle Jensen, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen, who was not involved in the study. “But it might very well be that they found the needle in the haystack.”

Earlier this year Jensen and colleagues published a much larger ZooMS study, which determined the animal types comprising 120 Mesolithic barbed points recovered from peat bogs of Denmark and Sweden. They found bones from red deer, moose, bovine and a few brown bear—but not one from Homo sapiens. And, they concluded the Mesolithic crafters chose bone types with preferable mechanical properties. The hunters picked their mediums for practical reasons, not cultural considerations.

The differing results raise the possibility that only inhabitants of Doggerland turned human bones into deadly points during the Mesolithic. “It might be that there are strange people there… people that did different things,” Jensen says.

He and other scholars hope these questions will be clarified through more ZooMS work of barbed points. Although the new study analyzed a small number of artifacts, it showed the scientific value of artifacts washed onto Dutch shores.

“Ideally we’d love [the artifacts] to come from securely excavated contexts,” says Elliott. But Doggerland sites lie beneath the North Sea, so out-of-context beach finds offer invaluable, accessible evidence. “We can’t be snobby about it,” he says. “We have to really embrace it and try to get as much information and understanding from those artifacts as we possibly can.”

Everyday more fossils and artifacts appear on Dutch beaches, enticing a growing number of collector hobbyists. The Facebook group for this community now includes some 600 members, according to its moderator Erwin van der Lee of Rotterdam. “The competition is also very large,” he says.

Rick van Bragt, a university student in The Hague, has found about 10,000 ancient items since he began searching nearly ten years ago. Van Bragt and van der Lee entered their barbed points in the ZooMS study. While van der Lee’s artifact failed to produce results, van Bragt’s point was identified as red deer from 8,000 years ago. Both collectors were fascinated by the news that human bone formed two of the points.

Beyond bone points, the tides washing over Dutch beaches drop shark teeth, flint tools made by Neanderthals, fossils from long-extinct mammoths and other treasures. Spotting the finds takes practice though, and most beachgoers are unaware of what’s there. In the summer, “there’s a lot of people on the beach and they just step on everything,” says Van Bragt. “They don’t see it.”

Editor’s Note, December 21, 2020: This article mistakenly stated 21st-century engineers dredged the seafloor; it was 20th century engineers that started the work.

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Original article in science news.org

Paleoartist Gabriela Amorós Seller draws on recent findings to depict ancient Iberian life

Bruce BowerMarch 9, 2021 at 8:00 am

painting of a Neandertal man and child on the Iberian plains
A Neandertal man and child lounge among ancient Iberian plants and animals near Bolomor Cave (about halfway up the hill on the left) in this painting depicting life in eastern Spain around a couple hundred thousand years ago.G. Amorós, Quat. Sci. Reviews, 2021

Here’s a scene guaranteed to melt the popular stereotype of Ice Age Neandertals as spear-wielding mammoth hunters confined to Eurasia’s frigid inner core.

New illustrations show what’s currently known about the environment inhabited periodically by Neandertals in Iberia, or what’s now Spain and Portugal, from at least 350,000 years ago to nearly 100,000 years ago. Paleoartist Gabriela Amorós Seller of the University of Murcia in Spain, used colored pencils to illustrate an idyllic view of a Neandertal man and child lounging on flat ground downslope from Bolomor Cave, near the Mediterranean coast of what’s now eastern Spain.

Excavations in the cave have produced evidence of the trees, plants and animals shown in the drawing, presented in the March 15 Quaternary Science Reviews. Amorós Seller also illustrated Bolomor Cave’s Neandertal-era entrance and surrounding greenery. She and her colleagues regard these scientifically informed drawings as more than simply appealing to the eye. Art that shows the basic makeup of an ancient environment can inspire scientists to ask new questions. For instance, her group now wants to explore how ancient Iberian plants grew in the wild and what they looked like before being modified over the past few thousand years by farming practices.  

illustration of the entrance to Bolomor Cave in Spain
Eastern Spain’s Bolomor Cave (illustrated) has hosted recent excavations that paint a detailed picture of what life was like for Neandertals who once inhabited that temperate region.G. Amorós, Quat. Sci. Reviews, 2021

Bolomor Cave Neandertals probably ate fruit, nuts and seeds of plants that once grew in the area, says coauthor José Carrión, an evolutionary biologist and botanist at the University of Murcia. Those plants included hazel shrubs, one of which appears just behind the Neandertal male, who is munching on a hazelnut. Strawberry trees, Mediterranean hackberry, myrtle shrubs, carob trees and chestnut trees — all shown in the drawings — were also available, he says.

Insights about local plant life during Neandertal times come largely from pollen grains and spores found in sediment layers in Bolomor Cave, previously reported by coauthor Juan Ochando, an evolutionary botanist also at the University of Murcia, and colleagues. These layers have also yielded remains of fire pits, burned animal bones, scorched tortoise shells and four Neandertal fossils — a piece of a leg bone, two teeth and part of a braincase.

The animal remains inform other parts of the drawings, such as the Neandertal child watching a tortoise inch its way forward. Tortoises were cooked and eaten at Bolomor Cave, along with frequent prey such as hares, rabbits, birds and deer. People also occasionally consumed large animals such as horses and hippos.

Neandertals most likely responded to relatively mild Iberian temperatures by wearing few or no clothes, the researchers suspect.

Whether they were a separate Homo species or an ancient variant of Homo sapiens, Neandertals had a largely unappreciated talent for finding and exploiting resource-rich parts of Iberia (SN: 3/26/20). Amorós Seller’s paintings vividly show some of that mammoth-free bounty.

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On this day( one day late) ten years ago…

the link no longer works but it’s still a n interesting read.
via Mysterious Desert Lines Were Animal Traps

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HUNTING NOTCHES An ancient piece of carved bone (both sides shown) was probably the base of a spear point that inhabitants of Timor attached to a wooden or bamboo shaft. The artifact is slightly less than one inch long and about one-half inch wide.

Topic: Spear points
A 35,000-year-old piece of carved bone found on Timor, an island between Java and Papua New Guinea, indicates that complex hunting weapons were manufactured much earlier than previously thought in Australasia.

A team led by archaeologist Sue O’Connor of Australian National University in Canberra has unearthed, in a project that began in 2000, what it regards as the broken butt of a bone spear point. Three closely spaced notches and part of a fourth were carved on each side of the artifact, above a shaft that tapers to a rounded bottom.

Wear on the notches and residue of a sticky substance close to the bottom suggest the point was tied and glued to a slot on the side of a wooden handle or inserted into a split hollow shaft, the researchers report January 15 in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Until now, comparably complex hunting weapons made on islands near Timor dated to no more than several hundred years ago. Curiously, 80,000- to 90,000-year-old African bone spear points display notches similar to those on the Timor find, O’Connor says.

Stone Ag Islanders threw spears from boats at large fish and other sea prey, O’Connor proposes.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on January 29, 2014, to correct the description of the bone artifacts. They are thought to be parts of spear points, not harpoon points.

original article

science news.org
My links are not working with the wordpress update so you will have to look up the article.

by Bruce Bower
Jan 21, 2014

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High Rise Village, a prehistoric Native American hamlet more than 10,000 feet up into the Wind River Range in northwestern Wyoming. The Winds, as the mountains are known, are not an easy place to collect data. Researchers have trekked across glaciers and scaled cliffs in their search for new villages, contending with “everything from flash flooding to forest fires to bear encounters,” says Matthew Stirn, a University of Sheffield-Britain graduate student who has helped locate many villages.
(Photo: None None)

Topic Early Native American villages

Archaeologists uncover secrets of high-altitude Wyoming villages where Native Americans would go in summer to hunt and collect pine nuts for winter.

To an outsider, the Wind River Range of Wyoming does not seem a hospitable place. Glaciers dot the peaks, and snow can fall even in August. But in the thin air above 10,000 feet, archaeologists have discovered a host of sky-high prehistoric villages, including one that may be the oldest mountain settlement in North America.

Researchers will report 13 new Wind River villages in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Archaeological Science, bringing the total number to 19. Such high-altitude settlements are extremely rare in North America, and scientists plan to study plant remains from the villages that may help them understand the prehistoric peoples who moved to the roof of the world.

“To find honest-to-God villages up there … was astounding,” says Colorado State University archaeologist Richard Adams, whose team identified the first one. “They’re on the crest of the continent. Who’d have thunk it? Nobody expected this.”

The sheer number of sites is “shocking,” says archaeologist David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who is not involved in the Wind River work. “And this (research) is … expensive, it’s hard, and it’s a killer on the knees.”

The Winds, as the mountains are known, are not an easy place to collect data. Researchers have trekked across glaciers and scaled cliffs in their search for new villages, contending with “everything from flash flooding to forest fires to bear encounters,” says Matthew Stirn, a University of Sheffield-Britain graduate student who has helped locate many villages. “It’s as close to extreme archaeology as you can get.”

The job has gotten easier, thanks to a formula Stirn developed to predict where villages are likely to be, based on factors such as altitude and the presence of whitebark pine, a tree that produces large quantities of fatty nuts. Stirn’s formula guided the team to the newly reported villages, which contained the vestiges of ancient lodges and everyday objects such as grinding stones.

The artifacts in the new villages are much like those at the largest Winds village, discovered several years before the most recent batch. Christened “High Rise,” it sprawls down a mountainside so steep that Adams compares it to an intermediate ski run. At 26 acres, it’s the biggest alpine village in North America and was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Amid the ruins of the 60-odd lodges at the site lie sewing tools,stone arrowheads and body paint. A piece of pottery made from local clay and a fragment of bowl made from local stone mean that women were probably crafting objects up at High Rise, Adams says.

All those remnants — many also found at other villages — suggest these weren’t just short-term hunting camps. Instead they were high-altitude resorts where entire families lived for months at a time, hunting and collecting pine nuts for the winter. The villages are awash in stone food-grinding tools, which could have been used to extract nuts from the pine cones. People probably wouldn’t have left those valuable tools at the high villages unless they planned to return.

“There seems to be a predictable draw that brings people back to the same place year after year,” says archaeologist Laura Scheiber of Indiana University, who excavates other high-altitude sites. “Children are learning from their parents and grandparents, ‘This is the place we go at this time of year.'”

The age of the oldest villages is unknown, but it’s clear that some were built at least 2,700 years ago, and High Rise may be 4,000 years old, Adams says. That would make it the oldest alpine village in North America. There’s evidence that people lived at High Rise on and off for at least 2,000 years running. The Sheepeater Shoshone, the Native American people who built the Winds villages, used them until they were confined to reservations.

Researchers puzzle over why prehistoric people headed for the hills in the first place. Perhaps changes in climate made food scarcer in the lowlands, or perhaps immigrants drove people off their traditional territory. Nor do scientists know whether the Wind River people came up with the idea of high-mountain settlements on their own or heard about it from others. But Wind River has helped put to rest the old stereotype that prehistoric peoples stuck to the lowlands.

The range “was the place to be in the summer. … It is just exhilarating to be there, and the living was easier than in the basin,” Adams says. “I think they were up there having fun.”

20131025-115106.jpg

A modern-day replica of a “wickiup,” the branch-and-bark structures that High Rise residents built as homes.(Photo: Handout)

Original article:
USA today

By Traci Watson, Special for USA TODAY 9:27 a.m. EDT October 20, 2013

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Topic: Clovis points- multipurpose tool

Clovis spearpoints, named for Clovis, N.M., where they were found among the bones of mammoths, represent the epitome of North American Stone Age weaponry.

They tend to be large, finely crafted and made from high-quality flint. Although they were long thought to be specialized mammoth-killing weapons, new research suggests they were more like general purpose Boy Scout knives.

If Clovis points were specialized tools designed specifically to kill big-game animals such as mammoths and mastodons, then the special kinds of flint used in their manufacture along with the exquisite craftsmanship simply might have been practical necessities for producing a reliable instrument used to kill big game.

It also is possible that the special qualities of Clovis points were due to ritual practices the makers believed would help to ensure the success of high-risk hunting ventures.

Clovis points certainly were used at times to kill both mammoths and mastodons. In addition to the original site, Clovis points have been found at 11 other sites with mammoth remains and two sites with mastodon bones. Nevertheless, some doubt was cast on the idea that Clovis points were made expressly to kill mammoths and mastodons a few years ago when Mark Seeman, who was a Kent State University researcher, and colleagues identified blood residue from rabbits on Clovis points from the Nobles Pond site in Stark County. Now Logan Miller, an Ohio State University graduate student studying archaeology, has observed microwear traces on a Clovis point from the Paleo Crossing site in Medina County. His results, which indicate the tool was used to cut soft plants, were recently published in the journal Lithic Technology.

Using high-power magnification, Miller examined a sample of 10 stone tools, including two Clovis points, and identified a variety of polishes that are indicative of different uses. This microwear reveals both the ways in which the tools were used, such as cutting versus scraping, and also the type of material on which they were used, such as meat, hide, bone or soft plant.

Miller reported that one of the Clovis points exhibited “linear striations near the tip” — the type of microwear pattern you would expect to find on a spearpoint used to kill an animal. Unfortunately, the microwear can’t tell us whether that animal was a mastodon, a rabbit or a deer.

The other Clovis point had two kinds of microwear on its sides and edges — a “dull greasy polish,” which indicates that it was used to cut meat or fresh hide, and an overlay of a “very bright, smooth polish,” which indicates that it was last used to cut soft plant material.Finding evidence that a Clovis point was used to cut soft plants does not necessarily mean that Paleoindian hunters were stalking wild asparagus. The point might have been used to process plant fibers to make cordage or basketry.

Nevertheless, it does suggest that far from being specialized mammoth-hunting weapons, Clovis points were the equivalent of Paleolithic all-purpose utility knives.

Such a versatile tool would have been handy for hunter-gatherers, who had to carry all their possessions around with them as they roamed across their Ice Age world.

Original article:
dispatch.com
September 8, 2013

By Bradley T. Lepper

Bradley T. Lepper is curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society.

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Clovis points

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Topic: Hunting blades

Though present before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, around 24,500–18,300 years ago), microblade technology is uncommon in the lithic assemblages of north-central China until the onset of the Younger Dryas (YD, around 12,900–11,600 years ago). Dr. GAO Xing, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his team discussed the origins, antiquity, and function of microblade technology by reviewing the archaeology of three sites with YD microlithic components, Pigeon Mountain (QG3) and Shuidonggou Locality 12 (SDG12) in Ningxia Autonomous Region, and Dadiwan in Gansu Providence, suggesting the rise of microblade technology during Younger Dryas in the north-central China was connected with mobile adaptations organized around hunting, unlike the previous assumption that they served primarily in hunting weaponry. Researchers reported online in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32 (2).

The late Pleistocene featured two severe, cold–dry climatic downturns, the Last Glacial Maximum and Younger Dryas that profoundly affected human adaptation in North China. During the LGM archaeological evidence for human occupation of northern China is scant and North China’s earliest blade-based lithic industry, the Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) flat-faced core-and-blade technology best known from Shuidonggou Locality 1 (SDG1) on the upper Yellow River, was replaced by a bipolar percussion technology better suited to lower quality but more readily available raw material.

Researchers presented evidence that the initial rise in microblade use in North China occurs after 13,000 years ago, during the YD, from three key sites in west-central northern China: Dadiwan, Pigeon Mountain and Shuidonggou Locality 12 (SDG12). In this region composite microblade tools are more commonly knives than points. These data suggest the rise of microblade technology in Younger Dryas north-central China was mainly the result of microblades used as insets in composite knives needed for production of sophisticated cold weather clothing needed for a winter mobile hunting adaptation like the residentially mobile pattern termed ”serial specialist.” Limited time and opportunities compressed this production into a very narrow seasonal window, putting a premium on highly streamlined routines to which microblade technology was especially well-suited.

It has been clear for some time that while microblades may have been around in north-central China since at least the LGM, they become prominent (i.e., chipped stone technology becomes ”microlithic”) only much later, with the YD. This sequence suggests a stronger connection between microblades and mobility than between microblades and hunting. If microblades were only (or mainly) for edging weapons, their rise to YD dominance would suggest an equally dramatic rise in hunting, making it difficult to understand why a much more demanding microblade technology would develop to facilitate the much less important pre-YD hunting. In any event, the SDG12 assemblage is at odds with the idea of a hunting shift. No more or less abundant than in pre-YD assemblages (e.g., QG3), formal plant processing tools suggest a continued dietary importance of YD plants, and there is no evidence for hunting of a sort that would require microblade production (i.e., of weaponry insets) on anything like the scale in which they occur. A shift to serial specialist provides a better explanation .

Serial specialists are frequently forced to accomplish significant amounts of craftwork in relatively short periods of time. Microblade technology is admirably suited to such streamlined mass-production, and this is exactly what the SDG12 record indicates. The intensity with which SDG12 was used and the emphasis on communal procurement suggests a fairly short-term occupation by groups that probably operated independently during the rest of the year, almost certainly during the winter. SDG12 was most likely occupied immediately before that in connection with a seasonal ”gearing up” for winter, perhaps equivalent to the ethnographically recorded “sewing camps” of the Copper Inuit and Netsilik Inuit.

“Our study indicates that YD hunter-gatherers of north-central China were serial specialists, more winter mobile than their LGM predecessors, because LGM hunter-gatherers lacked the gear needed for frequent winter residential mobility, winter clothing in particular, and microblade or microlithic technology was central to the production of this gear. Along with general climatic amelioration associated with the Holocene, increasing sedentism after 8000 years ago diminished the importance of winter travel and the microlithic technology needed for the manufacture of fitted clothing”, said first author YI Mingjie of the IVPP.

“We do not argue that microblades were not used as weapon insets (clearly they were), or that microblade technology did not originally develop for this purpose (clearly it might have). We merely argue that the YD ascendance of microblade technology in north-central China is the result of its importance in craftwork essential to a highly mobile, serial specialist lifeway, the production of clothing in particular. While microblades were multifunctional, this much is certain: of the very few microblade-edged tools known from north-central China all are knives, none are points. If microblades were mainly for weapons it should be the other way around”, said corresponding author Dr. Robert L. Bettinger, University of California – Davis.

Original article:

Phys.org
June 13, 2013

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Topic:Ancient stone tools

(Phys.org) —Stone Age man’s gradual improvement in tool development, particularly in crafting stone handaxes, is providing insight into the likely mental advances these early humans made a million years ago. Better tools make for better hunting, and better tools come from more sophisticated thought processes. Close analysis of bits of chipped and flaked stone from across Ethiopia is helping scientists crack the code of how these early humans thought over time.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow Giday WoldeGabriel and a team of Ethiopian, Japanese, American and German researchers recently examined the world’s oldest handaxes and other stone tools from southern Ethiopia. Their observation of improved workmanship over time indicates a distinct advance in mental capabilities of the residents in the entire region, with potential impacts in tool-development skills, and in overall spatial and navigational capabilities, all of which improved their hunting adaptation.

“Even though fossil remains of the tool makers are not commonly preserved, the handaxes clearly archive the evolution of innovation in craftsmanship, acquired intelligence and social behavior in a pre-human community over a million-year interval,” said WoldeGabriel.

The scientists determined the age of the tools based on the interlayered volcanic ashes with the handaxe-bearing sedimentary deposits in Konso, Ethiopia. Handaxes and other double-sided or bifacial tools are known as the first purposely-shaped tools made by humanity and are closely associated with Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans. A paper in a special series of inaugural articles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “The characteristics and chronology of the earliest Acheulean at Konso, Ethiopia,” described their work.

Some experts suggest that manufacturing three-dimensional symmetric tools is possible only with advanced mental-imaging capacities. Such tools might have emerged in association with advanced spatial and navigational cognition, perhaps related to an enhanced mode of hunting adaptation. Purposeful thinning of large bifacial tools is technologically difficult, the researchers note. In modern humans, acquisition and transmission of such skills occur within a complex social context that enables sustained motivation during long-term practice and learning over a possible five-year period.

Making the right tools for the job

Researchers observed that the handaxes’ structure evolved from thick, roughly-manufactured stone tools in the earliest period of Acheulean tool making, approximately 1.75 million years ago to thinner and more symmetric tools around 0.85 Ma or megaannum, a unit of time equal to one million years. The Acheulean is a stone-age technology named after a site in France where handaxes from this tradition were first discovered.

The chronological framework for this handaxe assemblage, based on the ages of volcanic ashes and sediments, suggests that this type of tool making was being established on a regional scale at that time, paralleling the emergence of Homo erectus-like hominid morphology. The appearance of the Ethiopian Acheulean handaxes at approximately 1.75 Ma is chronologically indistinguishable from similar tools recently found west of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, more than 125 miles to the south.

“To me, the most intriguing story of the discovery is that a pre-human community lived in a locality known as Konso at the southern end of the Ethiopian Rift System for at least a million years and how the land sustained the livelihood of the occupants for that long period of time. In contrast, look at what our species has done to Earth in less than 100,000 years – the time it took for modern humans to disperse out of Africa and impose our voracious appetite for resources, threatening our planet and our existence,” WoldeGabriel said.

More information: http://www.pnas.org/content/110/5/1584.full

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory

Original article:
Phys.org
March 14, 013

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Wild rabbits gather in Portugal. Photograph by Duncan Usher, Alamy

Topic: Ancient Prey

The inability to shift prey may have been deadly, study says.

Neanderthals did not learn how to hunt small animals such as rabbits (pictured, a group of animals Portugal).

Rabbits are small, fast, and devilishly hard to catch. And that could have had dire consequences for Neanderthals.

A new study suggests that an inability to shift from hunting large mammals to wild rabbits and other small game may have contributed to the downfall of European Neanderthals during the Middle Paleolithic period, about 30,000 years ago.

“There have been some studies that examined the importance of rabbit meat to hominins”—or early human ancestors—”but we give it a new twist,” said study lead author John Fa, a biologist at the United Kingdom’s Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Imperial College London.

“We show in our study that [modern humans] used rabbits extensively, but Neanderthals didn’t.”

Fa and his team analyzed animal bone remains spanning a period of 50,000 years from Neanderthal and modern-human-occupied sites across Iberia, the part of Europe that includes Spain and Portugal, and southern France.

They found that rabbit remains only started to became common at sites around 30,000 years ago, which is around the time that Neanderthals started to disappear and—perhaps not coincidentally—when modern humans first arrived in Europe.

The authors speculate that over the course of thousands of years, as climate change or human hunting pressure whittled down populations of Iberian large animals such as woolly mammoths, rabbits would have become an increasingly important food resource.

But Neanderthals may have been unable or unwilling to “prey shift” to smaller game, the authors argue in a new study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

“Neanderthals were large mammals hunters, par excellence,” Fa said, but they “could have found it difficult to hunt the smaller, but superabundant, rabbit.”

John Shea, a paleoanthropologist at Stonybrook University in New York City who did was not involved in the research, agreed.

Most people underestimate how hard it is to hunt rabbits, Shea said. “If I say, ‘Let’s go hunt a mammoth,’ you’ll probably think I’m nuts and that we’re going to die. But if I say, ‘Let’s go hunt rabbits,’ then it’s a piece of cake.”

Weapons Not Up to the Task?

In reality, the cost and benefits for Neanderthals would have been almost reversed, Shea said.

“If you have the technology to kill a mammoth when you run into it”—as Neanderthals did—”then the risk is low and the return is high. Whereas with a rabbit, the cost in killing it is negligible, but the return is tiny.”

The piercing spears and clubs known to have been used by European Neanderthals weren’t very well suited for catching rabbits. In contrast, early modern humans used complex projectile weapons such as spear throwers and possibly bows and arrows—both of which are better for hunting small, fast-moving prey.

There are other ways to catch rabbits, however. There is evidence that Neanderthals were capable of making string, so it’s very possible that they were able to weave nets and snares to use as traps, Shea said.

But even if Neanderthals could make such traps, they still might not have done so because of the high startup costs involved.

“There’s more time and energy involved in trapping than most people think,” Shea said. “You have to set a lot of them and monitor them, because once an animal is trapped, it becomes vulnerable to predation by rival carnivores.”

The process could have been too demanding for Neanderthals, who likely had higher energy requirements than modern humans.

Stockier and more muscular than humans, and lacking humans’ tailored clothes, scientists estimate that Neanderthals could have needed twice as many calories to survive and stay warm.

Bunny Hunting a Family Affair

Fa and his team speculate that most of the rabbit hunting among early modern humans may have been done by women and children, who could have stayed behind in settlements while the men went on hunting trips for larger prey.

The women and children “may have specialized in hunting rabbits, by surrounding warrens with nets or smoking the rabbits out of the warren,” Fa said.

Ancient rabbit hunters may also have had help from a four-legged ally picked up during their travels from Africa: dogs. (Also see “Opinion: We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.”)

The oldest fossil evidence for dogs is only about 12,000 years old, but there is genetic evidence suggesting dogs may have split from wolves as far back as 30,000 years ago-around the time that humans were arriving in Europe.

“What we are saying is that this may have occurred,” Fa said. “The domestication of the dog for hunting purposes may have been a tremendous advantage for human hunters.”

Why Not Adjust?

Bruce Hardy, an anthropologist at Ohio’s Kenyon College, said he’s unconvinced.

“I think the data is at a very gross level and they’re drawing implications from it that are quite frankly speculative,” said Hardy, who also did not participate in the research.

Hardy also finds it difficult to imagine that Neanderthals couldn’t change their hunting strategies to target rabbits when they had thousands of years to do so, or turn to other food sources, such as plants.

“If they were this inflexible, why did they make it for 250,000 years?” Hardy said.

It’s like saying “‘Oh, the big animal are gone. I guess I’m going to starve now.’ That doesn’t make sense for any animal, not to mention a large-brained hominin that’s very closely related to us.”

But the Neanderthals’ longevity might have been irreversibly tied to the big game they hunted, Fa said, and once those prey items disappeared, our highly specialized cousins found it difficult to adapt.

“We are not saying that small prey was not part of the diet,” he said. “What we are saying is that the Neanderthals could have specialized to such an extent that [it] did not allow them to use a superabundant but more difficult to catch food source.”

Original article:

national geographic
By Ker Than, March 11, 2013

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