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

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