Friday, November 22, 2013

Neanderthals in Central Asia (30,000 BC)


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"The Neanderthals or Neandertals are an extinct species of the genus Homo, possibly a subspecies of Homo sapiens. They are closely related to modern humans, differing in DNA by only 0.3%, just twice the variability across contemporary humans. Remains left by Neanderthals include bones and stone tools, which are found from western Europe to central Asia. The species is named after Neandertal ("Neander's Valley"), the location in Germany where it was first discovered…..The first humans with proto-Neanderthal traits are believed to have existed in Europe as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago…..The exact date of their extinction is disputed. Fossils found in the Vindija Cave in Croatia have been dated to between 33,000 and 32,000 years old, and Neanderthal artifacts from Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar are believed to be less than 30,000 years old, but a recent study has redated fossils at two Spanish sites as 45,000 years old, 10,000 years older than previously thought, and may cast doubt on recent datings of other sites. Cro-Magnon (early-modern-human) skeletal remains showing some "Neanderthal traits" have been found in Lagar Velho (Portugal) and dated to 24,500 years ago, suggesting that there may have been an extensive admixture of the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal populations in that region."….

" There is no evidence to date that Neanderthals knew how to construct boats or rafts, and the paucity of human fossils in North Africa west of the Nile Valley should be noted…..It appears incorrect, based on present research and known fossil finds, to refer to any fossils outside Europe or Western and Central Asia as true Neanderthals. They had a known range that possibly extended as far east as the Altai Mountains, but not farther to the east or south, and apparently not into Africa. At any rate, in North-East Africa the land immediately south of the Neanderthal range was possessed by modern humans Homo sapiens idaltu or Homo sapiens, since at least 160,000 years before the present."…..

"Anghilak cave, Uzbekistan: ….Neandertal occupation at the periphery…In 1938, Okladnikov excavated the cave site of Teshik-Tash in the Baisun region of Uzbekistan and found a complete cranium of a Neandertal child (Okladnikov 1939). This discovery anchored the eastern boundary of the Neandertal range in Uzbekistan and linked the manufacture of Mousterian assemblages from the region to this hominid group….Researchers have noted the general similarities between Central Asian Mousterian assemblages and those from the Zagros-Taurus, Trans-Caspian, and Altai regions, supporting the association between these assemblages and the Neandertals (Vishnyatsky and Liubin 1995)……

Political map of Central Asia with an insert of a digital elevation map capturing the Uzbek regions of Samarkand, Kashkadariya and Surkhandariya. Previously known Middle and Upper Paleolithic sites are indicated in white and black and Anghilak cave, a new Middle Paleolithic site, is shown in red….Balkh is in the center of the map. (Map P. Hughes)….

"Denisova Cave (Денисова пещера, also Ayu-Tash) is a cave in the Bashelaksky Range of the Altai mountains, Siberia, Russia. The cave is of great paleoarchaeological and paleontological interest. Bone fragments of the Denisova hominin, sometimes called the "X woman" (referring to the maternal descent of mitochondrial DNA) originate from the cave, including artifacts dated to ~40,000 BP. The cave is located in a region thought to be inhabited concurrently in the past by Neanderthals and modern humans…..the indigenous Altay people call it Ayu-Tash (Bear Rock). In the 1970s, Soviet scientists discovered paleoarcheological remains in the cave that led to further explorations. So far, 22 strata have been identified, with archeological artifacts that cover the time from Dionisij back to about 125,000-180,000 years ago……Among the archeological artifacts are Mousterian- and Levallois-style tools attributed to Neanderthals. Beside tools, researchers found decorative objects of bone, mammoth tusk, animal teeth, ostrich egg shell, fragments of a stone bracelet made of drilled, worked and polished dark green chloritolite, and pendants. The average annual temperature of the cave remains at 0°C (32°F), which has contributed to the preservation of archaic DNA among the remains discovered."….

“The fact that Neanderthals in Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered, and that all this took place long before they came into contact with modern humans came as a complete surprise to us. This indicates that the Neanderthals may have been more sensitive to the dramatic climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age than was previously thought”, says Love Dalén, associate professor at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm."…..

"There are several points that come to mind, from the specific to the general. First, from what I gather Neandertals were actually less expansive in pushing the northern limits of the hominin range than the modern humans who succeeded them. From this many suppose that despite the biological cold-adapted nature of the Neandertal physique they lacked the cultural plasticity to push the range envelope (e.g., modern humans pushed into Siberia, allowing them to traverse Beringia). One might infer from this that Neandertals were more, not less, sensitive to climate changes than later human populations. Second, there is the fact that as the northern hominin lineage one would expect that Neandertals would be subject to more population size variations than their cousins to the south during the Pleistocene due to cyclical climate change. This is not just an issue just for Neandertals, but for slow breeding or moving organisms generally. The modern human bottleneck is in some ways more surprising, because modern humans derive from a warmer climate. Finally, there is the “big picture” issue that though we throw these northern adapted hominins into the pot as “Neandertals,” one shouldn’t be surprised if they exhibit structure and variation. Non-African humans have diversified over less than 100,000 years, at a minimum the lineages which we label Neandertals were resident from Western Europe to Central Asia for ~200,000 years. Wouldn’t one expect a lot of natural history over this time?"…..

"Future excavations at Anghilak cave will address a number of unresolved questions concerning the Middle Paleolithic and the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in this important intersection of the Old World. New discoveries in the Kashkadariya region of Uzbekistan offer a unique stage on which to test existing assumptions about the geographic limits of Neandertal occupation, the nature of the interaction between modern humans and Neandertals and finally, the presumed association between specific lithic traditions and hominid groups."……

"Obi-Rakhmat Grotto sits just west of the Kyrgyzstan border. It is a very rich in archaeology… Obi-Rakhmat has been studied for over 45 years, where Anghilak Cave is a more recent discovery. There aren’t as many Levallois debitage in Anghilak as Obi-Rakhmat. According to the authors, the archaeology of Anghilak appears to be analogous to those of Kunji Cave, Iran (a Paleolithic site with small retouched tools). Preliminary radiocarbon dates from Anghilak suggest it is somewhere between 43,900-38,100 years old. Only one human remain was recovered from Anghilak, a metatarsal…..lots of elongated Levallois blade blanks have been recovered. There is also a large zooarchaeological record, which shows taphonomic modification by humans, i.e. cut-marks, burning, etc……Obi-Rakhmat deposits have been dated with AMS radiocarbon dating of charcoal, U-series dating of travertines, and electron spin resonance (ESR) on ungulate teeth. The radiocarbon dates exceeded the limits of the method, the U-series suggests the deposits are anywhere from 70,000–100,000 years old. ESR from the top strata date to 57,000–73,000 years old, while the bottom strata is dated to be 87,000 years old. The human remains from Obi-Rakhmat are represented by 6 isolated permanent maxillary teeth and over 120 crania fragments."…..


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….November 2013


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