Interesting Anthropology News

There are a number of interesting anthropology stories in the news. My picks below the fold.

Live Science has an interesting article about Ulcers Discovered in Mummies. The article discusses recent research on several “pre-Columbian” mummies from caves in Northern Mexico. The research identified signs of Helicobacter pylori in two of the four mummies studied. The research is being published in BMC Microbiology and is open access. The paper has an interesting discussion of the importance of mummies to paleopathological research and discusses some of the challenges such research has to overcome. (If anybody has access to JAMA this article is also quite interesting)
The Guardian has an interesting article called Ancient bones could help combat TB. The article concerns research on skeletons from Jericho:

The team, which also includes Israeli, Palestinian and German researchers, will be following up pioneering work by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon. In the Fifties she made a series of important digs at Jericho and found bones from thousands of humans, some dating back 8,000 years.
When these bones were examined, it was discovered many had lesions, indicating that the city’s men and women had suffered from tuberculosis. The walls of Jericho may have come down, not with a trumpet blast, but with epidemic of coughing, it seems.
Now Spigelman and his team have begun studying DNA from these remains in order to identify genes that might have helped to make the people of Jericho susceptible or resistant to tuberculosis, and so help in the development of more effective treatments for the disease.
In addition, the team will study how the TB bacterium evolved over the millennia. ‘As humans grew up, the bugs grew up – and we are looking for these changes,’ said Spigelman.

Live Science has a article called Cave Men Loved to Sing:

Analyzing the famous, ochre-splashed cave walls of France, the most densely painted areas were also those with the best acoustics, the scientists found. Humming into some bends in the wall even produced sounds mimicking the animals painted there.
The Upper Paleolithic people responsible for the paintings had likely fine-tuned their hearing to recognize the sound qualities in certain parts of the cave and chose to do their artwork there as a kind of landmark, perhaps as part of a singing ritual, said researcher Iegor Reznikoff, a specialist in ancient music at the University of Paris X in Nanterre.

The whole article is quite fascinating but gets a little off the wall (no pun intended):

With only dull light available from a torch, which couldn’t be carried into very narrow passages, the ancient hunters had to use their voices like sonar to explore the crooks and crannies of a newfound cave, Reznikoff explained.
“When acting in a cave in conditions similar to prehistoric ones … the surroundings a few meters ahead are almost completely dark,” he said, adding that “since sound reaches much farther than reduced light, especially in irregular surroundings, the only possibility and security is to explore the cave with the voice and its echoing effects.”

H’mm, maybe humans are secondarily terrestrial bats after all…
Finally, Science Daily has an article called First Humans To Settle Americas Came From Europe, Not From Asia Over Bering Strait Land-ice Bridge, New Research Suggests:

Dr. Ron Janke began studying the origins of the Kankakee Sand Islands – a series of hundreds of small, moon-shaped dunes that stretch from the southern tips of Lake and Porter counties in Northwest Indiana into northeastern Illinois – about 12 years ago. Over the past few years, approximately a dozen Valparaiso undergraduates have worked with Dr. Janke to create the first detailed maps of the Kankakee Sand Islands, study their composition and survey wildlife and plants inhabiting the islands.

What they ties in with the asteroid impact theory and the Clovis came from Europe theory, but you will have to read the article to find out how…
Update 1: For those inclined to pursue the literature on the Solutrean Hypothesis, Kris has some excellent references here. (Note I don’t have any of them so if some one could send them to me I would appreciate it)


9 Responses

  1. Those last two articles are a bit science and a bunch speculation.
    1. (a) Evidence that ancient Europeans actually LIVED in caves is sparse, and (b) using their voice as a sonar? Humans are not nearly that cool.
    2. ‘North American Clovis points – a particular type of arrowhead that represents the oldest manmade object on the continent -identically match arrowheads found in Europe and made by humans at approximately the same time.’
    Seriously? I suggest anyone interested in the stupidity of the last article read ‘Solutrean settlement of North America? A review of reality’ by Lawrence Guy Strauss (2000, American Antiquity). If you don’t have access just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll get it to you in pdf format.

  2. The sonar article, although I’m skeptical, is still an interesting read. IMHO, he wasn’t referring to habitation. On the Solutrean stuff, yeah, I disagree and I think the tie-in between the geological aspects and the lithics was basically an unsupported assertion. I would love a copy of the Strauss article…

  3. ‘People who lived in Europe during the Upper Paleolithic — from 10,000 to 40,000 years ago — spent a lot of time in caves, often living there or at least camping out for short periods.’
    That obviously wasn’t the point of the research, but many of his assumptions are definitely off. The matching of resonance to the paintings is interesting, nonetheless, although I certainly will like to look at the methods/instruments used.
    Article sent.

  4. I remain quite skeptical regarding the “out of Europe” theory. For decades the argument has been that Clovis is the first culture, anything found to suggest older settlement has been attacked over and over again. The “ice free corridor” and Clovis model dominated the discussion despite all of the evidence, and really, in a direct contradiction of logic. 30 years ago Fladmark proposed the coastal hopping method for peopling the Americas, the oldest sites supported that model, but still Clovis and the “ice free corridor” hung on. Now, the argument is that Europeans sailed across the Atlantic!
    The ancestors of Native Americans couldn’t have sailed along the ice sheet in mostly coastal water dotted with Islands and aided by the natural, but ancestors of Europeans could sail across an even greater expanse of deep ocean sailing against the prevailing currents???
    I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen anything to support this model, not even weak physical, linguistic, or genetic evidence to support it.

  5. RE: “sonar” in caves — the modern San (formerly known as Bushmen) in South Africa, perform a healing ritual, involving singing, clapping, and dancing, during which mostly men but sometimes women enter a state of trance. In this state, they feel themselves transforming into mythico-religious personages, such as Eland or Grandfather Mantis who created the original eland, as depicted on very old paintings in caves and rock shelters in southern Africa. Jean Clottes surmises that the same was done during the Pleistocene in Europe and that this was the reason for the paintings of the various animals in Lascaux, Altamira, Chauvet, etc. People were not locating areas by “sonar” exactly, but using areas in caves, considered entrances to the “netherworld” or world of spirits (a common belief still in many earth-based religions), and the shaman produced animal noises in certain areas while in trance, cured people of disease, located prey, attempted to control the weather, and so on. When he or she came out of the trance, the shaman painted what he or she had seen in the trance on the walls of the cave or rock shelter, usually the animals significant in their religion — which tend not to correlate neatly with what they were hunting. See Jean Clottes, 1996, the “Epilogue” in the book, Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave; The Oldest Known Paintings in the World, by Jean-Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel Deschamps, and Christian Hillaire; New York, Harry N. Abrams; also especially Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., also 1996, English translation 1998 by Sophie Hawkes.

  6. Pardon me for being so long-winded, but I’ve done quite a lot of research on these topics recently prior to publishing my book “The Human Journey” (available cheap on Amazon’s Kindle), so it drives me nuts when I see stories put out that are misleading or incomplete. As for the Clovis-Solutrean connection, there isn’t really anything there, so far as I can tell. It seems to be a pretty clear case of parallel evolution, where people separated by thousands of miles and, actually, thousands of years came up with a generally similar technology to deal with a generally similar problem, namely, hunting very large mammals, in particular mammoths. In Solutrean Europe, people were making long, double-sided spear points (NOT arrowheads as this was both too early and the objects were far too big and heavy for that), with a delineated base for hafting to a shaft, between about 19 and 15 thousand years ago. However, the very earliest dates for Clovis technology in North America cannot be placed much before 11 thousand years ago, because the geology of Alaska shows that the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets on the eastern and western sides of North American, respectively, did not part, leaving a corridor between them that people (and animals) could south move between until about that time. So, even in the most unlikely event that a few boatloads of ancient Europeans survived the stormy North Atlantic crossing in coracles (round, skin boats) along the southern front of the ice caps, while glaciers were calving off next to them the whole way from the western coast of France all the way to the east coast of the U.S. — still, nobody made any big spearheads for a few thousand years in North America. Even when the first Clovis spear points appear, they are not identical to the old Solutrean ones, anyway. In particular, the preparation for the haft at the bottom is distinctive. The nail in the coffin comes from the more recent DNA studies, which all show clearly that Native Americans descend from East Asian groups. Now, there were some surprises in that data, as there were in the linguistic data. But there was absolutely no evidence of any European admixture until recent times, when we know that modern explorers entered the New World. Dennis Stanfor of the Smithsonian Institute and his colleague Bruce Bradley are the primary exponents of the “Solutrean hypothesis” — check out their views on the web at The DNA studies have appeared on PNAS and PLoS but I do not have the specifics at hand at the moment.

  7. OOPS! It’s a bit early in the morning and I see I’ve typed in the website address wrong in the previous comment. It’s supposed to be clovisinthesouthwest, NOT woutheast. The meeting was in New Mexico, I believe. Sorry about that!

  8. By the way, some more recent sites out there having to do with anthropology and the Americas that readers might find interesting include an article entitled “Early Humans Experimented to Get Bow and Arrow Just Right” on ScienceDaily (June 11, 2008). This is based on info out of the University of Missouri at Columbia, which shows that the bow and arrow appeared in North America about 1500 years ago, long after the demise of Clovis culture, which was based on the spear.
    There was another article, this time in Scientific American, entitled “Texas Archaeological Dig Challenges Assumptions about First Americans” which mostly tells about Clovis culture in Texas, but also touches on some (meager) evidence of earlier Paleoindians in the Gault Valley in central Texas.
    Somewhat more interesting, to me anyway, was “Who were B.C.’s first seafarers?” looking at the possibility that the Chinese made it across the Pacific in minute numbers to British Columbia, actually as the second sea people, since there is a fair amount of evidence that the first Americans came down the coast before the ice sheets opened the infamous ice-free corridor through the center of the continent. (That would be why sites like Monte Verde in Chile, and Quebrada Jaguay in Peru antedate Clovis, New Mexico with good carbon dating, now thoroughly backed up by carbon dated coprolites — a polite term for semi-fossilized poo — from caves in Oregon, demonstrating beyond a doubt that people were in the Americas at least a few thousand years before Clovis; while footprints preserved in volcanic ash in Mexico suggest that people may have arrived during a much earlier interglacial). The B.C. story is at It tells about an ancient Chinese legend of a land to the West across the sea which they called Fu Sang. Wikipedia has a long discussion of that legend which is fascinating. It led to a reprint of an old book on the subject which is worth a read.
    Finally, there is the brief story on, “Recreating the sound of Aztec ‘Whistles of Death'” complete with slideshow and sound effects! Don’t miss it!
    But if you’re really interested in migrations, check the Smithsonian magazine for a long, detailed article which tells pretty much the whole story of the migration of Homo sapiens out of Africa. Then go to EurakAlert! for “New research forces U-turn in population migration theory” for the latest on the Far East and the people of the Pacific Islands, based on DNA.

  9. first the sketchy data about the meteors and now this – what is happening to Science Daily? If you can’t even state that clovis is a type of spear point and not an arrow, you’re really missing the boat. While this might be some interesting geography (I don’t know enough about dune formation to say), the leaps they keep making with archaeology are killing me!

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