Wild History

Kevin Lewis

November 18, 2023

Macroevolutionary Origins of Comparative Development
Ideen Riahi
Economic Journal, forthcoming 


Advances in evolutionary theories (the Extended Synthesis) demonstrate that organisms systematically modify environments in ways that influence their own and other species’ evolution. This paper utilizes these theories to examine the economic consequences of human dispersal from Africa. Evidence shows that early humans’ dispersal affected the adaptability of animal species to human environments and, through this, the extinction of large mammals during Homo sapiens’ out-of-Africa migration. Empirical analyses explore the variation in extinction rates as a source of exogenous pressure for cooperation and innovation among hunter–gatherers and examine the impact of extinction on long-run development. The results indicate that extinction affects economic performance by driving continental differences in biogeography, disease environments, and institutions. Eurasia’s location along the out-of-Africa migratory path provided human and animal populations with coevolutionary foundations for domestication and agriculture, which gave Eurasians technological and institutional advantages in comparative development.

Geo-archaeological prospecting of Gunung Padang buried prehistoric pyramid in West Java, Indonesia
Danny Hilman Natawidjaja et al.
Archaeological Prospection, forthcoming 


The multidisciplinary study of Gunung Padang has revealed compelling evidence of a complex and sophisticated megalithic site. Correlations between rock stratifications observed through surface exposures, trenching and core logs, combined with GPR facies, ERT layers, and seismic tomograms, demonstrate the presence of multi-layer constructions spanning approximately 20–30 m. Notably, a high-resistive anomaly in electric resistivity tomography aligns with a low-velocity anomaly detected in seismic tomography, indicating the existence of hidden cavities or chambers within the site. Additionally, drilling operations revealed significant water loss, further supporting the presence of underground spaces. Radiocarbon dating of organic soils from the structures uncovered multiple construction stages dating back thousands of years BCE, with the initial phase dating to the Palaeolithic era. These findings offer valuable insights into the construction history of Gunung Padang, shedding light on the engineering capabilities of ancient civilizations during the Palaeolithic era.

Were they appealing to the sun? On why cones and tetrahedra were so popular at the dawn of civilization
Donna Sutliff
Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, forthcoming 


Tokens refer to ancient bead-sized, usually clay, usually simple-geometric artifacts with no evident function other than counting. People produced tokens for five millennia across west Asia preceding the earliest systematized writing (ca. 3300 BCE), proto-cuneiform of Sumer (southern Iraq). Of the 8,000+ tokens Schmandt-Besserat (1992) documented, the seven most frequent by descending frequency were sphere, cone, disk, cylinder, rectangle, triangle, and tetrahedron. Five-sided pyramids were rare. Scholars have always assumed tokens’ simple-geometric shapes were arbitrary and all attempts to decipher sphere, cone, disk, and cylinder tokens have been unsuccessful. Friberg’s (1999) decipherment of the tetrahedron token as meaning “man-day” (sunrise to sunset) has more empirical support. Here, I examine token-shapes’ relative frequencies for clues to tokens’ meanings. Research on visual processing of two-dimensional stimuli and informal sculpting experiments suggested relative creation ease might not explain the cone, rectangle, tetrahedron, and five-sided pyramid tokens’ relative frequencies. This formal experiment assessed these shapes’ relative sculpting ease in clay using multiple measures from 12 shape-makers. The findings ruled out creation-ease-driving token-shapes’ relative frequencies: cones were not easier to create than rectangular prisms; both were easier to create than five-sided pyramids, which were easier to create than tetrahedra. Archaeological findings ruled out the remaining nonsemantic factors: recovery bias, intertoken discriminability, and universal aesthetic preference for round stimuli. Archaeological findings and this experiment’s findings ruled out a platonic solid preference. The conclusion: tetrahedron and cone tokens were motivated. I hypothesize these tokens portrayed converging sunrays; the tetrahedron denoted “man-day” and the cone denoted the complete diurnal solar cycle.

Resilience, innovation and collapse of settlement networks in later Bronze Age Europe: New survey data from the southern Carpathian Basin
Barry Molloy et al.
PLoS ONE, November 2023 


Societies of the later Early to Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2200–1600 BC) in the Carpathian Basin exhibited complex, hierarchical and regionally influential socio-political organisation that came to an abrupt end in the 16th century BC. Considered a collapse by some, this change was characterised by abandonment of virtually all central places / nodes in settlement networks. Until recently, the complexity that characterised the period was believed to have substantially diminished alongside depopulation. This model was reinforced by a combination of the loss of established external networks and low-resolution knowledge of where and how people lived in the first stages of the Late Bronze Age (between 1600 and 1200 BC). We contest the idea of a diminished Late Bronze Age and argue that a fully opposite trajectory can be identified–increased scale, complexity and density in settlement systems and intensification of long-distance networks. We present results of a settlement survey in the southern Pannonian Plain using remote and pedestrian prospection, augmented by small-scale excavations. New absolute dates are used to define the occupational history of sites dating primarily between 1500–1200 BC. We argue that climate change played a substantial role in in the transformation of settlement networks, creating a particular ecological niche enabling societies to thrive. New and specific forms of landscape exploitation developed that were characterised by proximity to wetlands and minor watercourses. In this context, the largest monuments of Bronze Age Europe were created and inhabited. In considering the origins and demise of these megasites and related settlements, we provide a new model for Late Bronze Age societies in the Carpathian Basin and their regional relevance.

The Venus figurines of the Upper Paleolithic as sexual power objects: The first fetishing of the female body in human imaginative culture
Henrik Høgh-Olesen
Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, forthcoming 


The Venus figurines have a long history of interpretation centering on two main hypotheses related to fertility divinity (the figurines as talismans used in fertility rites to promote childbirth and growth) and to sexual attractivity (the figurines as materialized lust and objects of sexual desire). We cannot test these hypotheses in the lab, but we can outline criteria that can tell a good, coherent, and well-substantiated interpretation from a not so good, incoherent, and less substantiated ditto. With help from ethology, neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology, this article will try to reevaluate, resubstantiate, and rephrase the main hypotheses of fertility and attractiveness in order to better understand what these female figurines may represent. A substantial number of the Venus figurines found so far seem to represent the supernormal essence of the female body’s sexual key stimuli. An object concentrating key stimuli automatically becomes a power object or a fetish, and that may be what the Venus figurines are: Sexual power objects, and hence the first fetishing of the female body in human imaginative culture.

Nuclear genetic diversity of head lice sheds light on human dispersal around the world
Marina Ascunce et al.
PLoS ONE, November 2023 


The human louse, Pediculus humanus, is an obligate blood-sucking ectoparasite that has coevolved with humans for millennia. Given the intimate relationship between this parasite and the human host, the study of human lice has the potential to shed light on aspects of human evolution that are difficult to interpret using other biological evidence. In this study, we analyzed the genetic variation in 274 human lice from 25 geographic sites around the world by using nuclear microsatellite loci and female-inherited mitochondrial DNA sequences. Nuclear genetic diversity analysis revealed the presence of two distinct genetic clusters I and II, which are subdivided into subclusters: Ia-Ib and IIa-IIb, respectively. Among these samples, we observed the presence of the two most common louse mitochondrial haplogroups: A and B that were found in both nuclear Clusters I and II. Evidence of nuclear admixture was uncommon (12%) and was predominate in the New World potentially mirroring the history of colonization in the Americas. These findings were supported by novel DIYABC simulations that were built using both host and parasite data to define parameters and models suggesting that admixture between cI and cII was very recent. This pattern could also be the result of a reproductive barrier between these two nuclear genetic clusters. In addition to providing new evolutionary knowledge about this human parasite, our study could guide the development of new analyses in other host-parasite systems.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.