Remains of the Day

Kevin Lewis

March 04, 2023

Palaeogenomics of Upper Palaeolithic to Neolithic European hunter-gatherers
Cosimo Posth et al.
Nature, 2 March 2023, Pages 117–126 


Modern humans have populated Europe for more than 45,000 years. Our knowledge of the genetic relatedness and structure of ancient hunter-gatherers is however limited, owing to the scarceness and poor molecular preservation of human remains from that period. Here we analyse 356 ancient hunter-gatherer genomes, including new genomic data for 116 individuals from 14 countries in western and central Eurasia, spanning between 35,000 and 5,000 years ago. We identify a genetic ancestry profile in individuals associated with Upper Palaeolithic Gravettian assemblages from western Europe that is distinct from contemporaneous groups related to this archaeological culture in central and southern Europe, but resembles that of preceding individuals associated with the Aurignacian culture. This ancestry profile survived during the Last Glacial Maximum (25,000 to 19,000 years ago) in human populations from southwestern Europe associated with the Solutrean culture, and with the following Magdalenian culture that re-expanded northeastward after the Last Glacial Maximum. Conversely, we reveal a genetic turnover in southern Europe suggesting a local replacement of human groups around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, accompanied by a north-to-south dispersal of populations associated with the Epigravettian culture. From at least 14,000 years ago, an ancestry related to this culture spread from the south across the rest of Europe, largely replacing the Magdalenian-associated gene pool. After a period of limited admixture that spanned the beginning of the Mesolithic, we find genetic interactions between western and eastern European hunter-gatherers, who were also characterized by marked differences in phenotypically relevant variants.

A 23,000-year-old southern Iberian individual links human groups that lived in Western Europe before and after the Last Glacial Maximum
Vanessa Villalba-Mouco et al.
Nature Ecology & Evolution, forthcoming 


Human populations underwent range contractions during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) which had lasting and dramatic effects on their genetic variation. The genetic ancestry of individuals associated with the post-LGM Magdalenian technocomplex has been interpreted as being derived from groups associated with the pre-LGM Aurignacian. However, both these ancestries differ from that of central European individuals associated with the chronologically intermediate Gravettian. Thus, the genomic transition from pre- to post-LGM remains unclear also in western Europe, where we lack genomic data associated with the intermediate Solutrean, which spans the height of the LGM. Here we present genome-wide data from sites in Andalusia in southern Spain, including from a Solutrean-associated individual from Cueva del Malalmuerzo, directly dated to ~23,000 cal yr BP. The Malalmuerzo individual carried genetic ancestry that directly connects earlier Aurignacian-associated individuals with post-LGM Magdalenian-associated ancestry in western Europe. This scenario differs from Italy, where individuals associated with the transition from pre- and post-LGM carry different genetic ancestries. This suggests different dynamics in the proposed southern refugia of Ice Age Europe and posits Iberia as a potential refugium for western European pre-LGM ancestry. More, individuals from Cueva Ardales, which were thought to be of Palaeolithic origin, date younger than expected and, together with individuals from the Andalusian sites Caserones and Aguilillas, fall within the genetic variation of the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age individuals from southern Iberia.

Evidence for Earlier Stone Age ‘coastal use’: The site of Dungo IV, Benguela Province, Angola
Isis Mesfin et al.
PLoS ONE, February 2023


The relationship between Earlier Stone Age (ESA) hominins and the southern African coastal environment has been poorly investigated, despite the high concentration of open-air sites in marine and fluvial terraces of the coastal plain from c. 1Ma onward during the Mid-Pleistocene Transition. Southern Africa provides some of the earliest evidence of coastal subsistence strategies since the end of the Middle Pleistocene, during the Middle Stone Age (MSA). These coastal MSA sites showcase the role of coastal environments in the emergence and development of modern human behaviors. Given the high prevalence of coastal ESA sites throughout the region, we seek to question the relationship between hominins and coastal landscapes much earlier in time. In this regard, the +100 m raised beaches of the Benguela Province, Angola, are key areas as they are well-preserved and contain a dense record of prehistoric occupation from the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene, including sites like Dungo, Mormolo, Sombreiro, Macaca and Punta das Vacas. Accordingly, this paper provides a critical review of the coastal ESA record of southern Africa and a detailed presentation of the Dungo IV site, through a qualitative technological analysis coupled with a quantitative inter-site comparison with contemporary southern African coastal plain sites. Through our detailed technological analyses, we highlight the influence of coastal lithological resources on the technical behaviors of hominin groups, and we propose the existence of a “regional adaptive strategy” in a coastal landscape more than 600 000 years ago. Finally, we argue for the integration of coastal landscapes into hominins’ territories, suggesting that adaptation to coastal environments is actually a slower process which begins with “territorialization” well before the emergence and development of Homo sapiens.

Defining paleoclimatic routes and opportunities for hominin dispersals across Iran
Mohammad Javad Shoaee et al.
PLoS ONE, March 2023 


Fossil and archaeological evidence indicates that hominin dispersals into Southwest Asia occurred throughout the Pleistocene, including the expansion of Homo sapiens populations out of Africa. While there is evidence for hominin occupations in the Pleistocene in Iran, as evidenced by the presence of Lower to Upper Paleolithic archaeological sites, the extent to which humid periods facilitated population expansions into western Asia has remained unclear. To test the role of humid periods on hominin dispersals here we assess Paleolithic site distributions and paleoenvironmental records across Iran. We developed the first spatially comprehensive, high-resolution paleohydrological model for Iran in order to assess water availability and its influence on hominin dispersals. We highlight environmentally mediated routes which likely played a key role in Late Pleistocene hominin dispersals, including the expansion of H. sapiens and Neanderthals eastwards into Asia. Our combined analyses indicate that, during MIS 5, there were opportunities for hominins to traverse a northern route through the Alborz and Kopet Dagh Mountains and the Dasht-I Kavir desert owing to the presence of activated fresh water sources. We recognize a new southern route along the Zagros Mountains and extending eastwards towards Pakistan and Afghanistan. We find evidence for a potential northern route during MIS 3, which would have permitted hominin movements and species interactions in Southwest Asia. Between humid periods, these interconnections would have waned, isolating populations in the Zagros and Alborz Mountains, where hominins may have continued to have had access to water.

Modelling Neanderthals’ dispersal routes from Caucasus towards east
Elham Ghasidian et al.
PLoS ONE, February 2023 


The study of the cultural materials associated with the Neanderthal physical remains from the sites in the Caucasus, Central Asia and Siberian Altai and adjacent areas documents two distinct techno-complexes of Micoquian and Mousterian. These findings potentially outline two dispersal routes for the Neanderthals out of Europe. Using data on topography and Palaeoclimate, we generated computer-based least-cost-path modelling for the Neanderthal dispersal routes from Caucasus towards the east. In this regard, two dispersal routes have been identified: A northern route from Greater Caucasus associated with Micoquian techno-complex towards Siberian Altai and a southern route from Lesser Caucasus associated with Mousterian towards Siberian Altai via the Southern Caspian Corridor. Based on archaeological, bio- and physio-geographical data, our model hypothesises that during climatic deterioration phases (e.g. MIS 4) the connection between Greater and Lesser Caucasus was limited. This issue perhaps resulted in the separate development and spread of two cultural groups of Micoquian and Mousterian with an input from two different population sources of Neanderthal influxes: eastern and southern Europe refugia for these two northern and southern dispersal routes respectively. Of these two, we focus on the southern dispersal route, for it comprises a ‘rapid dispersal route’ towards east. The significant location of the Southern Caspian corridor between high mountains of Alborz and the Caspian Sea, provided a special biogeographical zone and a refugium. This exceptional physio-geographic condition brings forward the Southern Caspian corridor as a potential place of admixture of different hominin species including Neanderthals and homo sapiens.


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