8,000-year-old seal unearthed in Turkey

A circular clay seal, measuring seven centimetres (2.75 inches) across, was found in Yeşilova mound, the oldest human settlement area in the Turkish province of İzmir.

8,000-year-old seal unearthed in Turkey
Credit: AA

Archaeologist Zafer Derin, who heads the excavation team, told Anadolu Agency that the seal is important for both its large size and its design.

“We found one of the largest seals in Anatolia,” he said.

Derin said the large seal was dried and baked in the sun and also symbolizes the sun.

“We know that the person who owned this seal was an administrator, a manager,” Derin said.

He said the seal’s purpose will be better understood after it is examined in detail by a microscope.

Source: Anadolu Agency [November 09, 2018]

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Stone tools from the Middle Stone Age in South Africa shows that different communities were connected

The tools – mainly blades and backed knives from the Howiesons Poort – were found in various layers in the Klipdrift Shelter, in the southern Cape in South Africa. They were examined by a group of lithic experts, who found distinct similarities to tools from sites in South Africa’s Western Cape, over 300km away, in particular with the Diepkloof Rock Shelter site.

Stone tools from the Middle Stone Age in South Africa shows that different communities were connected
This is an overview of the Klipdrift Complex from the sea
[Credit: Magnus Haaland]

“While regional specificities in the tools from the various sites exist, the similarities of Klipdrift Shelter with the site of Diepkloof Rock Shelter are astonishing,” says Dr Katja Douze, the corresponding author of the study that was published in PLOS ONE.

The team, under the leadership of Professor Christopher Henshilwood from Wits University and the University of Bergen’s SapienCE Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour, examined thousands of stone tools that were excavated from seven layers that represent a time period of between 66 000 years ago and 59 000 years ago, to establish the differences in stone tool design over time. They then also compared the stone tools to various other sites in Howiesons Poort.

“The site of Klipdfrift Shelter is one of the few containing a long archaeological sequence that provides data on cultural changes over time during the Howiesons Poort,” says Douze. “This makes it perfect to study the change in culture over time.”

However, what was even more exciting for the researchers was the fact that for the first time they could show closely networked interaction between distant communities through the way they designed stone tools.

Stone tools from the Middle Stone Age in South Africa shows that different communities were connected
These are examples of Howiesons Poort stone tools from Klipdrift
[Credit: Anne Delagnes and Gauthier Devilder]

“There was an almost perfect match between the tools from the Klipdrift and Diepkloof shelters,” says Douze. “This shows us that there was regular interaction between these two communities.”

“This is the first time that we can draw such a parallel between different sites based on robust sets of data, and show that there was mobility between the two sites. This is unique for the Middle Stone Age,” says Douze.

The Middle Stone Age in Africa stretches from 350 000 years ago to 25 000 years ago and is a key period for understanding the development of the first Homo sapiens, their behavioural changes through time and their movements in-and-out of Africa.

Named after Howieson’s Poort Shelter archaeological site near Grahamstown in South Africa, the Howiesons Poort is a specific techno-culture within the Middle Stone Age that evolves in southern Africa after 100 000 years ago at the Diepkloof Shelter, but between 66 000 – 59 000 years at most other Howiesons Poort sites. The characteristics of the Howiesons Poort are strongly distinctive from other Middle Stone Age industries as it is characterised by the production of small blades and backed tools, used as hunting armatures as much as for cutting flesh, while other MSA industries show flake, large blade and point productions.

Stone tools from the Middle Stone Age in South Africa shows that different communities were connected
This is the location of the Klipdrift Shelter and other South African Howiesons Poort sites
[Credit: Katja Douze]

The tools found in the deeper layers of the Klipdrift Shelter that represent the earlier phases of the Howiesons Poort were found to be made from heat-treated silcrete, while those from later phases were made from less homogeneous rocks such as quartz and quartzite. This change happens together with changes in tool production strategies. “The changes over time seems to reflect cultural changes, rather than immediate alterations forced on the designers by changes in climate”, says Douze.

“Our preconceived idea of prehistoric groups is that they just struggled to survive, but in fact they were very adaptable to environmental circumstances. There seem to be no synchrony between modification in design choices and environmental changes. However, the aridification of the area over time might have led to a very gradual change that led to the end of the Howiesons Poort.”

The team also attempted to establish why and how the Howiesons Poort ended, and to see whether it came to a sudden, or gradual end.

“The decline of the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter shows a gradual and complex pattern of changes, from which the first “symptoms” can be observed much earlier than the final abandonment of typical Howiesons Poort technology and toolkits,” says Douze.

“This does not support a catastrophic scenario involving alarming demographic drops or massive population replacements. The fact that a similar pattern of gradual change has been described for at least three other southern African Howiesons Poort sites (Rose Cottage Cave, Diepkloof Rock Shelter and Klasies River main site), further ascertains convergent evolutions in cultural trajectories rather than isolated groups promptly reacting to locally determined pressures.”

Source: Wits University [November 09, 2018]

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Prehistoric teeth give up their secrets

The isotope values of food consumed are reflected in the individual’s tissues. As bone is constantly being turned over by remodelling, analysing the stable isotope ratios of bone collagen can shine a light on the main dietary protein sources consumed over many years. New research uses this factor to analyse diet, migration and society between the Neolithic (6,500 – 4,500 BC) and Iron Age (900—100 BC).

Prehistoric teeth give up their secrets
Credit: iStock/Drbouz

The application of up-to-date, interdisciplinary methodologies with low-cost approaches (such as dental morphology and isotope analyses) in archaeology is revolutionising our understanding of the interactions between ancient human populations and their environment. This interaction could reveal information on the evolution of various socio-cultural systems.

The EU’s ANCIENT TEETH research aimed to characterise, for the first time, changes in dental traits of past European populations and the factors influencing these transitions. Principle researcher Dr. Beatriz Gamarra Rubio considered population movements on the Great Hungarian Plain (GHP) from the onset of agriculture in the Neolithic period, to the Iron Age.

Supported by the Marie Curie programme, she employed microCT technology to obtain the 3-D digital models needed to analyse the shape of the enamel-dentine junction (EDJ) by means of the geometric morphometric technique.

“The results obtained are still preliminary, but they show that at Copper Age (4,500 – 2,700 BC) and Bronze Age (2,700 – 900 BC) peoples who lived in the GHP had different EDJ morphology, which suggests that they have a different population origin,” explains Dr. Gamarra. This aligns with research carried out by her principal supervisor, Prof. Ron Pinhasi, showing the migration patterns of populations from the east to the GHP by the advent of the Bronze Age.

To analyse the population’s diet, Dr. Gamarra looked at the content of carbon and nitrogen isotopes contained in the bone collagen. “This allows us to to infer the amount of animal/plant protein these people were eating, characterising the diet of these past individuals.”

They found that the people who lived in the GHP from Neolithic to Early Bronze Age were consuming cultivated plants, such as wheat and barley, and different amounts of meat as a result of their farming practices. But by the Late Bronze Age people were eating other types of cereal, including millet. “This new crop was most probably brought in by people from the east, as a result of a wave of migration during the Bronze Age.”

The past shows the way for the future

Understanding the effects of diet changes in past populations will help to explain the origin of challenging contemporary dental health problems. In doing so, the project hopes we’ll be able to understand the adaptability of human teeth to current and future dietary changes, which may be of benefit for clinicians to better manage dental health requirements.

“The data produced from high-resolution micro-CT scans of human teeth is an invaluable resource for evidence-based research proposals. The information can be used by those calling for change in health policies of European countries, for instance in nutrition and dietary subsistence management,” says Dr. Gamarra.

She is certain that the key to the project’s success was collaboration. “The use of multiple approaches from different fields to interpret a complex issue such as agriculture transition is vital. Collaboration helps to establish and refine essential research questions, enriches the experience and mentoring of researchers, and gives early researchers the opportunity to develop independent academic skills.”

Source: CORDIS [November 09, 2018]

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