Back In Time

Kevin Lewis

February 09, 2020

A Western Reversal Since the Neolithic? The Long-Run Impact of Early Agriculture
Ola Olsson & Christopher Paik
Journal of Economic History, forthcoming


In this article we document a reversal of fortune within the Western agricultural core, showing that regions which made early transition to Neolithic agriculture are now poorer than regions that made the transition later. The finding contrasts recent influential works emphasizing the beneficial role of early transition. Using data from a large number of carbon-dated Neolithic sites throughout the Western agricultural area, we determine approximate transition dates for about 60 countries, 280 medium-sized regions, and 1,400 small regions. Our empirical analysis shows that there is a robust negative, reduced-form relationship between years since transition to agriculture and contemporary levels of income both across and within countries. Our results further indicate that the reversal had started to emerge already before the era of European colonization.

Political Institutions, Resources, and War: Theory and Evidence from Ancient Rome
Jordan Adamson
Explorations in Economic History, forthcoming


How does a governing coalition’s size affect the extent and type of violence in society? The model developed here predicts that larger coalitions are more likely to fight for private goods (e.g., plunder) than for public goods (e.g., defense), yet this substitution need not reduce the overall scale of fighting. That prediction is tested by investigating how Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire affected military patterns. The raw data and three empirical tests suggest that the Republic engaged in more battles overall and that Republican battles had more of a public goods component. This study furthers our empirical knowledge about the ancient world while bringing data to bear on contemporary debates about the causes of peace and war.

New evidence for an early settlement of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico: The Chan Hol 3 woman and her meaning for the Peopling of the Americas
Wolfgang Stinnesbeck et al.
PLoS ONE, February 2020


Human presence on the Yucatán Peninsula reaches back to the Late Pleistocene. Osteological evidence comes from submerged caves and sinkholes (cenotes) near Tulum in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Here we report on a new skeleton discovered by us in the Chan Hol underwater cave, dating to a minimum age of 9.9±0.1 ky BP based on 230Th/U-dating of flowstone overlying and encrusting human phalanges. This is the third Paleoindian human skeleton with mesocephalic cranial characteristics documented by us in the cave, of which a male individual named Chan Hol 2 described recently is one of the oldest human skeletons found on the American continent. The new discovery emphasizes the importance of the Chan Hol cave and other systems in the Tulum area for understanding the early peopling of the Americas. The new individual, here named Chan Hol 3, is a woman of about 30 years of age with three cranial traumas. There is also evidence for a possible trepanomal bacterial disease that caused severe alteration of the posterior parietal and occipital bones of the cranium. This is the first time that the presence of such disease is reported in a Paleoindian skeleton in the Americas. All ten early skeletons found so far in the submerged caves from the Yucatán Peninsula have mesocephalic cranial morphology, different to the dolicocephalic morphology for Paleoindians from Central Mexico with equivalent dates. This supports the presence of two morphologically different Paleoindian populations for Mexico, coexisting in different geographical areas during the Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene.

Archaeological evidence for two separate dispersals of Neanderthals into southern Siberia
Kseniya Kolobova et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


Neanderthals were once widespread across Europe and western Asia. They also penetrated into the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia, but the geographical origin of these populations and the timing of their dispersal have remained elusive. Here we describe an archaeological assemblage from Chagyrskaya Cave, situated in the Altai foothills, where around 90,000 Middle Paleolithic artifacts and 74 Neanderthal remains have been recovered from deposits dating to between 59 and 49 thousand years ago (age range at 95.4% probability). Environmental reconstructions suggest that the Chagyrskaya hominins were adapted to the dry steppe and hunted bison. Their distinctive toolkit closely resembles Micoquian assemblages from central and eastern Europe, including the northern Caucasus, more than 3,000 kilometers to the west of Chagyrskaya Cave. At other Altai sites, evidence of earlier Neanderthal populations lacking associated Micoquian-like artifacts implies two or more Neanderthal incursions into this region. We identify eastern Europe as the most probable ancestral source region for the Chagyrskaya toolmakers, supported by DNA results linking the Neanderthal remains with populations in northern Croatia and the northern Caucasus, and providing a rare example of a long-distance, intercontinental population movement associated with a distinctive Paleolithic toolkit.

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