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    A decorated raven bone from the Zaskalnaya VI (Kolosovskaya) Neanderthal site, Crimea
    (Public Library of Science, 2017-03) Majkic, A.; Evans, S.; Stepanchuk, V.; Tsvelykh, A.; D'Errico, F.
    We analyze a radius bone fragment of a raven (Corvus corax) from Zaskalnaya VI rock shelter, Crimea. The object bears seven notches and comes from an archaeological level attributed to a Micoquian industry dated to between 38 and 43 cal kyr BP. Our study aims to examine the degree of regularity and intentionality of this set of notches through their technological and morphometric analysis, complemented by comparative experimental work. Microscopic analysis of the notches indicate that they were produced by the to-and-fro movement of a lithic cutting edge and that two notches were added to fill in the gap left between previously cut notches, probably to increase the visual consistency of the pattern. Multivariate analysis of morphometric data recorded on the archaeological notches and sets of notches cut by nine modern experimenters on radii of domestic turkeys shows that the variations recorded on the Zaskalnaya set are comparable to experimental sets made with the aim of producing similar, parallel, equidistant notches. Identification of the Weber Fraction, the constant that accounts for error in human perception, for equidistant notches cut on bone rods and its application to the Zaskalnaya set of notches and thirty-six sets of notches incised on seventeen Upper Palaeolithic bone objects from seven sites indicate that the Zaskalnaya set falls within the range of variation of regularly spaced experimental and Upper Palaeolithic sets of notches. This suggests that even if the production of the notches may have had a utilitarian reason the notches were made with the goal of producing a visually consistent pattern. This object represents the first instance of a bird bone from a Neanderthal site bearing modifications that cannot be explained as the result of butchery activities and for which a symbolic argument can be built on direct rather than circumstantial evidence.
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    Patterns of change and continuity in ochre use during the late Middle Stone Age of the Horn of Africa: The Porc-Epic Cave record
    (Public Library of Science, 2017-05) Rosso, D. E.; D'Errico, F.; Queffelec, A.
    Ochre is found at numerous Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites and plays a key role in early modern human archaeology. Here we analyse the largest known East African MSA ochre assemblage, comprising 40 kg of ochre, found at Porc-Epic Cave, Ethiopia, spanning a period of at least 4,500 years. Visual characterisation of ochre types, microscopic identification of traces of modification, morphological and morphometric analysis of ochre pieces and modified areas, experimental reproduction of grinding processes, surface texture analysis of archaeological and experimentally ground ochre facets, laser granulometry of ochre powder produced experimentally on different grindstones and by Hamar and Ovahimba women from Ethiopia and Namibia respectively, were, for the first time, combined to explore diachronic shifts in ochre processing technology. Our results identify patterns of continuity in ochre acquisition, treatment and use reflecting both persistent use of the same geological resources and similar uses of iron-rich rocks by late MSA Porc-Epic inhabitants. Considering the large amount of ochre processed at the site, this continuity can be interpreted as the expression of a cohesive cultural adaptation, largely shared by all community members and consistently transmitted through time. A gradual shift in preferred processing techniques and motions is interpreted as reflecting cultural drift within this practice. Evidence for the grinding of ochre to produce small quantities of powder throughout the sequence is consistent with a use in symbolic activities for at least part of the ochre assemblage from Porc-Epic Cave.
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    Earliest hominin cancer: 1.7-million-year- old osteosarcoma from Swartkrans Cave, South Africa
    (Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), 2016-07) Odes, E.J.; Randolph-Quinney, P.S.; Steyn, M.; Thockmorton, Z.; Smilg, J.S.; Zipfel, B.; Augustine, T.N.; de Beer, F.; Hoffman, J.W.; Franklin, R.D.; Berger, L.R.
    The reported incidence of neoplasia in the extinct human lineage is rare, with only a few confirmed cases of Middle or Later Pleistocene dates reported. It has generally been assumed that premodern incidence of neoplastic disease of any kind is rare and limited to benign conditions, but new fossil evidence suggests otherwise. We here present the earliest identifiable case of malignant neoplastic disease from an early human ancestor dated to 1.8–1.6 million years old. The diagnosis has been made possible only by advances in 3D imaging methods as diagnostic aids. We present a case report based on re-analysis of a hominin metatarsal specimen (SK 7923) from the cave site of Swartkrans in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. The expression of malignant osteosarcoma in the Swartkrans specimen indicates that whilst the upsurge in malignancy incidence is correlated with modern lifestyles, there is no reason to suspect that primary bone tumours would have been any less frequent in ancient specimens. Such tumours are not related to lifestyle and often occur in younger individuals. As such, malignancy has a considerable antiquity in the fossil record, as evidenced by this specimen.
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    Use of wood anatomy to identify poisonous plants: Charcoal of Spirostachys africana.
    (Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), 2015-03-01) Lennox, S.J.; Bamford, M.
    Spirostachys africana Sond. (tamboti/tambotie) is a woodland tree that is often found near water. It has a poisonous and purgative latex. The archaeological site of Sibudu, a rock shelter in KwaZulu-Natal, has evidence, from well-preserved charcoal and seeds, of past environments and wood use from approximately 77-38 thousand years ago (ka). As their uses and environmental indicators are different, it is critical to confidently distinguish among the three anatomically similar woods of the Euphorbiaceae: Spirostachys africana, Sclerocroton integerrimus and Shirakiopsis elliptica. A detailed anatomical study of reference and archaeological charcoal shows that xylem vessel width increases proportionally as vessel frequency decreases, from Spirostachys africana, Sclerocroton integerrimus to Shirakiopsis elliptica. Crystals of calcium oxalate are present in ray cells of Spirostachys africana, whereas silica bodies are present in ray cells of Sclerocroton integerrimus and Shirakiopsis elliptica. Using these features, the presence of Spirostachys africana was confirmed amongst hearth charcoal of the Spotty Camel layer, with an age of approximately 58 ka and of the Mottled Deposit occupational layer, with an age of approximately 49 ka. The presence of this charcoal, collected from ancient fireplaces or sieved from surrounding sediments, implies that people at Sibudu understood and used this poisonous tree to their advantage. We are encouraged in this view by the presence of many Cryptocarya woodii leaves found on the surface of 77-ka sedge bedding at Sibudu (Wadley L et al., Science. 2011;334:1388-1391). Cryptocarya woodii has insecticidal and larvacidal properties and members of the Laurel family are well known for their medicinal properties.
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    A hominin first rib discovered at the Sterkfontein Caves, South Africa.
    (Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), 2016-05) Tawane, G.; Garcia-Martinez, D.; Eyre, J.; Bastir, M.; Berger, L.R.; Schmid, P.; Nalla, S.; Williams, S.A.
    First ribs - the first or most superior ribs in the thorax - are rare in the hominin fossil record, and when found, have the potential to provide information regarding the upper thorax shape of extinct hominins. Here, we describe a partial first rib from Member 4 of the Sterkfontein Caves, South Africa. The rib shaft is broken away, so only the head and neck are preserved. The rib is small, falling closest to small-bodied Australopithecus first ribs (AL 288-1 and MH1). Given that it was recovered near the StW 318 femur excavation, which also represents a small individual, we suggest that the two may be associated. Three-dimensional geometric morphometric analyses were used to quantify the rib fragment morphology and compare it to extant hominoid and other fossil hominin ribs. While only the proximal end is preserved, our analyses show that South African Australopithecus share derived features of the proximal first rib more closely resembling A. afarensis and later hominins than great apes.