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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Backing up Horse Domestication (Finally)

Recent archaeological discoveries on the Arabian Peninsula have
uncovered evidence of a previously unknown civilisation based in
the now arid areas in the middle of the desert.

The artefacts unearthed are providing proof of a civilisation that
flourished thousands of years ago and have renewed scientific interest
in man and the evolution of his relationship with animals.

The 300-odd stone objects so far found in the remote Al Magar area of
Saudi Arabia include traces of stone tools, arrow heads, small scrapers
and various animal statues including sheep, goats and ostriches.

But the object that has engendered the most intense interest from
within the country and around the world is a large, stone carving of
an "equid" - an animal belonging to the horse family.

According to Ali bin Ibrahim Al Ghabban, vice-president of the Saudi
Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, DNA and carbon-14 (radiocarbon)
tests are continuing. But initial evidence suggests that the artefacts
date back 9,000 years.

"These discoveries reflect the importance of the site as a centre of
civilisation," he told BBC News.

"It could possibly be the birthplace of an advanced prehistoric
civilisation that witnessed the domestication of animals, particularly
the horse, for the first time during the Neolithic period."

The crucial find is that of a large sculptural fragment that appears to
show the head, muzzle, shoulder and withers of an animal that bears a
distinct resemblance to a horse.

The piece is unique in terms of its size, weighing more than 135kg.

Moreover, further discoveries on the same site of smaller, horse-like
sculptures, also with bands across their shoulders, have opened the
possibility that an advanced civilisation here may already have been
using the accessories of domestication - tack - in order to control

Human occupation in South America by 20,000 BC: the Toca da Tira Peia site, Piauí, Brazil


When and how did the first human beings settle the American continent?
Numerous data, from archaeological researches as well as from
palaeogenetics, anthropological and environmental studies, have led to
partially contradictory interpretations in recent years, often because
of the lack of a reliable chronological framework. The present study
contributes to the establishment of such a framework using luminescence
techniques to date a Brazilian archaeological site, the Toca da Tira
Peia. It constitutes an exemplary case study: all our observations and
measurements tend to prove the good integrity of the site and the
anthropological nature of the artifacts and we are confident in the
accuracy of the luminescence dating results. All these points underline
the importance of the Toca da Tira Peia. The results bring new pieces of
evidence of a human presence in the north-east of Brazil as early as
20,000 BC. The Toca da Tira Peia thus contributes to the rewriting of
the history of the peopling of the American continent.


Late Italian Neanderthal Hybrids

Mar 30

Possible Interbreeding in Late Italian Neanderthals? New Data from the
Mezzena Jaw (Monti Lessini, Verona, Italy)


In this article we examine the mandible of Riparo Mezzena a Middle
Paleolithic rockshelter in the Monti Lessini (NE Italy, Verona) found in
1957 in association with Charentian Mousterian lithic assemblages.
Mitochondrial DNA analysis performed on this jaw and on other cranial
fragments found at the same stratigraphic level has led to the
identification of the only genetically typed Neanderthal of the Italian
peninsula and has confirmed through direct dating that it belongs to a
late Neanderthal. Our aim here is to re-evaluate the taxonomic affinities
of the Mezzena mandible in a wide comparative framework using both
comparative morphology and geometric morphometrics. The comparative sample
includes mid-Pleistocene fossils, Neanderthals and anatomically modern
humans. This study of the Mezzena jaw shows that the chin region is
similar to that of other late Neanderthals which display a much more
modern morphology with an incipient mental trigone (e.g. Spy 1, La
Ferrassie, Saint-C�saire). In our view, this change in morphology among
late Neanderthals supports the hypothesis of anatomical change of late
Neanderthals and the hypothesis of a certain degree of interbreeding with
AMHs that, as the dating shows, was already present in the European
territory. Our observations on the chin of the Mezzena mandible lead us
to support a non abrupt phylogenetic transition for this period in Europe.