Friday, August 31, 2007

Yeahs and grumbles...

Not much time to post today, having spent most of it trying to figure out the SAA's "new and improved" all-electronic submission system for the 2008 meetings in Vancouver. Not too happy right now... spent most of the afternoon trying to figure this out, what a huge pain.

On the plus side, the contents of Ofer Bar-Yosef and João Zilhão's Towards a Definition of the Aurignacian are available as pdfs free of charge on the Trabalhos de Arqueologia web page or by clicking here. Some good papers in there... read 'em if you're serious about your transition studies and epistemological issues in archaeology/paleoanthropology.

Also of important note: check out the semi-final program (also available as a pdf) of the "Integrated Methodological Approaches to the Study of Lithic Technology" conference to be held in Florence, Dec. 13-15, 2007 are available on this section of the IIPP website. Looks like one that shouldn't be missed by people with rocks on the brain...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Some sort of protohuman"

Here's a link to a report on the Discovery Channel's web page about a paper in press in the Journal of Human Evolution by R. Yeshurun and colleagues (Yeshurun et al. 2007). The paper reports on the 200 ky-old Middle Paleolithic assemblage from Misliya Cave, in Israel, and the authors principal conclusion is that, whoever deposited the assemblage, displays 'fully modern' hunting patterns (i.e., the targeting of prime-aged animals, the extraction of a maximum amount of nutrients through marrow extraction, etc.).

View of Misliya Cave (from The Zinman Institute of Archaeology's web site).

Here's my favorite quote of the report: "Because no human bones have yet been found in the cave, Yeshurun and his colleagues cannot identify which human species was responsible for the hunting. Given the early date, however, they suggest it was some sort of protohuman."

Now, I'm almost certain the authors themselves didn't use the term protohuman, which is weirdly anachronistic, though I confess to finding that it's got a nice ring to it... no? Basically, however, it implies that the assemblage could have been by Neanderthals, since there are no known modern human remains dating to this period in the Levant. If this was indeed the case, it would seem - once more - than Neanderthals were, among other things, fully capable hunters.

All kidding aside, though, this study - by avoiding discussing the taxonomic affiliation of who accumulated the Misliya Cave assemblage - further demonstrates the need to carefully decouple behavior from biology. This is a point that has been abundantly demonstrated for the past decade and a half (at least), but apparently remains a point to be established for some.

Also, there's some interesting discussing about population densities at that time, but having not yet fully read the paper, I'll reserve my thoughts on that for a bit later.


Yeshurun, R., G. Bar-Oz,and M. Weinstein-Evron. 2007 (in press). Modern hunting behavior in the early Middle Paleolithic: Faunal remains from Misliya Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel. Journal of Human Evolution: doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.05.008

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Arrrrrr...chaeology and the quest for booty

It appears archaeologists have found the remains of Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, off the coast of North Carolina and that underwater excavations are going to take place to bring up about 30% of the remains by the end of this year. Here's the whole story.

Pirates rank in A Very Remote Period Indeed's list of things we dig (eh!) second only to archaeology and, possibly, zombies. So I couldn't help but link to this. Plus, it gives me an excuse to use the term booty in a post (let's see if it boosts traffic by drawing assorted booty enthusiasts).

The article includes some details about the schedule and logistics of this project, as well as a list of items included in "Blackbeard's booty," including cannons, gold flakes and, my personal favorite, "Metal syringes most likely used to administer mercury to treat venereal disease"... which I guess is a potential side-effect of getting too much booty! Yikes, though.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Iceman AD 1942

Ok, this isn't quite archaeology strictly speaking, but it still is pretty cool: Climbers recently found the frozen, mummified remains of a US airman in the Sierra Nevadas, and the remains are being recovered by forensic anthropologists, presumably from CILHI, given that it's a person in uniform and all.

You can see a clip of the recovery effort by clicking here (still can't figure out this embed thing, argh!).

Hmmm... doesn't look like the recovery methods are that much better today than they were in the 90's when they recovered the original Iceman, Otzi... Still, it's pretty cool to see the stuff they found along with th body, though I'd be really interested in seeing how far around the artifacts (eh) have been scattered. Neat, though.

PS: ASU folks... is that To in the clip?

Monday, August 20, 2007

The great internet provider swindle...

Posts have been scant lately as I am still waiting for the gods of "the internets" to make their way to Casa Salvatore... turns out the "bundles" offered by Bell and Videotron are not so advantageous after all... figures! So, here's to hoping Cooptel is just as dandy as they promise to be! Cross your fingers, and check back soon...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Solutrean, 40 years later...

There's some information online about an upcoming conference on the Solutrean, to mark 40 years since the publication of P. Smith's 1966 monograph on that industry. You can find out more on this website.


Smith, P. E. L. 1966. Le Solutréen en France. Mémoires l'Institut de Préhistoire de L'Université de Bordeaux 5. Delmas, Bordeaux

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Stone Age Atlantis!

Or so says the headline of this BBC report on ongoing excavations at the underwater Mesolithic site of Bouldnor Cliff. Fascinating stuff about the logistics of running a Stone Age dig (or rather, the dig of a Stone Age site) under water and especially some fantastic pictures of the wealth of material preserved in water-logged hunter-gatherer sites (check out the pictures of hazelnuts and of a wooden pole with a lithic stuck in it!).


Pole n' lithic!

The BBC piece includes a nice quote by Garry Momber, director of the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (which funds the project):

"It's called the Stone Age because, on land, we find stones from this period but under water a whole lot more survives... I believe these people were far more sophisticated than we give them credit for."


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Long-distance raw material procurement in the Mousterian

There is a new paper by L. Slimak and Y. Giraud in the "in press" section of the Comptes Rendus Palevol about raw material exploitation patterns in the Mousterian assemblage from Champ Grand, in the Loire Valley (France). Slimak and Giraud use lithotype characterization (visual id, microscope and SEM) to establish that the assemblage contains pieces made on lithic raw materials available 250km to the north and 180km to the south as the crow flies, meaning that the effective distances were probably even greater as these straight lines cover some relatively difficult terrain to cross on foot. While these exotic raw materials account for only about 1% of the assemblage, the fact that such distant sources were exploited during the Mousterian (and, by extension, by Neanderthals) suggests:

"... a contact between different basins, the Loire and the Rhone ones, and therefore between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It is certain that these diffusions, whether they proceed directly or are the result of exchanges between populations, do not agree with the image of societies isolated in a territory. Indeed, the displacement of objects at such distances can only suggest the existence of networks structured between human groups and the existence of specific complex frames to these Middle Palaeolithic societies. The complexity of these behaviours also applies to the relationship with the raw material, in the suggested management of these mobile materials. This analysis documents circulations of lithic raw materials on geographical spaces as vast as those recognized during the Upper Palaeolithic..." (Slimak and Giraud 2007: 2-3).

Exotic raw materials were found in the assemblage mainly as retouch flakes, retouched tools and exhausted cores. The retouched tools - especially limaces - appear to have served both as tools with usable edges and as portable packages of raw material, as indicated by ventral thinning of those pieces in addition to clear retouch on the edges. This is in keeping with how exotic, prized lithotypes are managed among 'modern' hunter-gatherers.

An interesting discussion in the French part of the paper is that the Mousterian raw material procurement territory at Champ Grand is similar to that of nearby Magdalenian assemblages (i.e., much later and clearly made by modern humans), even if the frequency of exotic stone differs between the two periods is dissimilar. As the authors argue, "the differences between [the Middle and Upper Paleolithic] are to be found in the technological behavior and how lithic production was operationalized, as opposed to differences in the extent of their respective territories" (Slimak and Giraud 2007: 9; my translation).

This is a nice, succinct article that provides a nice counterpoint to typical assessments of Mousterian raw material procurement patterns and derived discussion of the smaller social geographies of Neanderthals relative to Homo sapiens sapiens (e.g., Féblot-Augustins 1997). Further proof that 'one-size fits all' characterizations of Neanderthal behavior are generally unwarranted.

References cited:

Féblot-Augustins, J. 1997. La circulations des matières premières au Paléolithique. Synthèse des données. Perspectives comportementales. Liège, ERAUL 75.

Slimak, L., Y. Giraud. 2007. Circulations sur plusieurs centaines de kilomètres durant le Paléolithique moyen. Contribution à la connaissance des sociétés néandertaliennes, C. R. Palevol , doi:10.1016/j.crpv.2007.06.001

Four Stone Hearth #20

Check it out, tout le monde: The 20th edition of Four Stone Hearth is currently in full swing at Afarensis featuring a past bit by your truly... I should probably mention to concerned readers and friends that haven't seen me in a while that they need not worry: I am still a man, man (to quote Mr. Powers). Hehe. Check out the FSH website for future dates and host-blogs.