Article

Garba III (Melka Kunture, Ethiopia): a MSA site with archaic Homo sapiens remains revisited

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Abstract

Garba III, in the upper Awash Valley of Ethiopia, is one of the many sub-sites of Melka Kunture, where the overall archaeological record starts at c. 1.8 Ma. Garba III was excavated over several years in the 1970s, under the direction of Francis Hours, who was able to publish only preliminary reports before his untimely death. At the base of the sequence, Acheulean layers were discovered and, above then, MSA layers characterized by ferruginous concretions, where three cranial fragments of Homo sapiens were also found. An age close to 150 ka was suggested for the human remains and associated industry of the upper layers, which are the focus of the current re-assessment. At the time, however, no clear-cut distinction was made between Acheulean and MSA. In 2011, the original site was re-located, geological trenches were dug, the stratigraphic sequence was documented in detail, and a geomorphological reconstruction was prepared. Lithic collections and anthropological remains, kept in Addis Ababa, were also re-studied. New field research highlights complex site formation processes, including cyclic phases of erosion and re-deposition of pre-existing soils and deposits. However, pedogenetic processes, which developed twice, also point to prolonged phases of stability, in good accordance with the state of preservation of the lithic industry, which is neither rolled nor fragmented. Small-sized obsidian pebbles were knapped, which were available locally in the alluvium deposits. The technological and typological analysis confirms that the lithic industry is Early MSA. A variety of knapping methods were in use, including the Levallois method, well established and mostly recurrent. Points were produced, as well as scrapers, denticulates, and scaled pieces. Circumstantial evidence points to an age not later than an early phase of MIS 5e. The anthropological remains, one of which was so far undescribed, are fragments of a right parietal bone, of a parietal or, more likely, of a frontal bone, and of an occipital bone. They contribute to the still scanty fossil record available at the key-time of the “archaic” H. sapiens emergence and early spread.

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... Similarly, at the site of Garba III near Melka Kunture, Ethiopia, Chavaillion and Berthelet (2004: 70-75) report Acheulean and MSA tools in the same layers, but provide no chronometric date. More recent studies of Garba III emphasize the MSA character of the assemblage (Mussi et al., 2014). The Sangoan and the Fauresmith have also both been attributed to the later Middle Pleistocene. ...
... The obsidian source was probably not much farther away than the source of other, coarser grained, raw materials such as lavas (Ambrose, 2012;Merrick and Brown, 1984;. Obsidian is documented in Acheulean and MSA contexts at Melka Kunture and Garba III in the Ethiopian rift (Chavaillon, 1976;Mussi et al., 2014;. Transport distances for Acheulean obsidian artifacts from the later Middle Pleistocene site of Melka Kunture are < 20 km from site to source . ...
... Mean flake metrics for all the above raw materials and sites. Data from: Koimilot (Tryon, 2003); Kibish Formation (Shea, 2008); Gademotta Formation ; Garba III (Mussi et al., 2014). ...
Article
The later Middle through early Late Pleistocene (~100–400 ka) of East Africa is an important time and place for the evolution of our species. This period records the first appearance of Homo sapiens and spans significant technological changes including the decline of large handheld stone tools characteristic of the Acheulean, the development of stone tool technologies collectively known as the Middle Stone Age (MSA). These include diverse Levallois prepared core techniques and the manufacture and use of pointed weapons. It is in association with MSA technologies in sub-Saharan Africa that most of the behaviors characteristic of modern humans first appear. This doctoral dissertation provides new chronological and archaeological data relevant to hominin behavior associated with MSA technology in the Middle and Late Pleistocene of East Africa. Improved chronological resolution is achieved through tephrostratigraphy, the correlation of volcanic ashes, combined with chronometric dating in two regions: the Kapthurin Formation in the Rift Valley, Baringo, Kenya and the eastern Lake Victoria Basin of western Kenya. New data on hominin behavior is provided by archaeological excavations of two sites: 1) The 196-226 ka Sibilo School Road Site in the Kapthurin Formation. 2) The 33–49 ka site of Nyamita Main in the eastern Lake Victoria Basin. The archaeology of the Kapthurin Formation and the eastern Lake Victoria Basin are connected thematically by the presence of MSA technology. These basins are also connected stratigraphically and chronologically, as this study shows, by tephra correlations between them. Results of this work demonstrate: 1) Levallois prepared core techniques, important aspects of MSA technology, are shown to be >380 ka in the Kapthurin Formation, ~100 kyr older than previously estimated in East Africa. 2) Long distance transport (>166 km) of high quality obsidian for stone tool manufacture was a feature of hominin behavior associated with Middle Pleistocene MSA technology ~200 ka ago. 3) MSA technology persisted in East Africa later than 49 ka and perhaps later than 33 ka, after Later Stone Age technologies, often considered categorically superior, are documented in the region. By demonstrating both the early and late presence of various aspects of MSA technology and associated hominin behavior this work shows that tephrostratigraphy and the excavation of new archaeological material in East Africa are productive means of producing new and important data on the MSA and the evolution of human behavior.
... The occurrence of the Acheulean then lasts nearly one million years (Chavaillon & Berthelet, 2004;Gallotti et al., 2010Gallotti et al., , 2014. So far, the early Middle Stone Age is represented at the site of Garba IIIB (Mussi, Altamura, Macchiarelli, Melis, & Spinapolice, 2014), while Late Stone Age occurrences lack geochronological resolution because volcanic ashes did not cover the Middle-Late Pleistocene sites (Chavaillon and Berthelet, 2004;Chavaillon et al., 1979;Hivernel-Guerre, 1976;Mussi et al., 2014). ...
... The occurrence of the Acheulean then lasts nearly one million years (Chavaillon & Berthelet, 2004;Gallotti et al., 2010Gallotti et al., , 2014. So far, the early Middle Stone Age is represented at the site of Garba IIIB (Mussi, Altamura, Macchiarelli, Melis, & Spinapolice, 2014), while Late Stone Age occurrences lack geochronological resolution because volcanic ashes did not cover the Middle-Late Pleistocene sites (Chavaillon and Berthelet, 2004;Chavaillon et al., 1979;Hivernel-Guerre, 1976;Mussi et al., 2014). ...
... The human fossil record from Melka Kunture (Coppens, 2004; updating in Mussi et al., 2014) consists so far of the following seven remains: an immature partial mandible (MK 81 GAR IVE 0043) from Garba IV (Condemi, 2004;Zanolli et al., 2014a;Zilberman, Smith, & Condemi, 2004a;Zilberman, Smith, Piperno, & Condemi, 2004b) and an adult distal humerus (MK 76 GOM IB 7594) from Gombore I (Carretero, Haile-Selassie, Rodriguez, & Arsuaga, 2009;Chavaillon, Chavaillon, Coppens, & Senut, 1977;Di Vincenzo et al., 2015;Puymerail, Bondioli, Engda, Mazurier, & Macchiarelli, 2014;Senut, 1979), both associated with Oldowan industries; two adult cranial portions (MK 73 GOM II 6169 and MK 76 GOM II 576) from Gombore II (Chavaillon, Brahimi, & Coppens, 1974;Chavaillon & Coppens, 1986;Profico, Di Vincenzo, Gagliardi, Piperno, & Manzi, 2016), associated with a middle Acheulean industry; and three juvenile to adult cranial fragments from Garba III (MK 78 GAR III A4-W9 n. 1918, MK 78 GAR III B3-A13 n. 1656-1919, and MK 78 GAR III A4-W9 n. 1917) associated with an early Middle Stone Age industry (Chavaillon, Hours, & Coppens, 1987;Mussi et al., 2014). ...
Article
Objectives: The immature partial mandible GAR IVE from the c. 1.7 Ma old Garba IV site at Melka Kunture (Upper Awash Basin, Ethiopia), the earliest human representative from a mountain-like environment, represents one of the oldest early Homo specimens bearing a mixed dentition. Following its first description (Condemi, ), we extended the analytical and comparative record of this specimen by providing unreported details about its inner morphology, tooth maturational pattern and age at death, crown size, and tooth tissue proportions. Materials and methods: The new body of quantitative structural information and virtual imaging derives from a medical CT record performed in 2013. Results: Compared to the extant human condition and to some fossil representatives of comparable individual age, the GAR IVE mandible reveals absolutely and relatively thick cortical bone. Crown size of the permanent lateral incisor and the canine fit the estimates of H. erectus s.l., while the dm2 and the M1 more closely approach those of H. habilis-rudolfensis. Molar crown pulp volumes are lower than reported in other fossil specimens and in extant humans. The mineralization sequence of the permanent tooth elements is represented four times in our reference sample of extant immature individuals (N = 795). Conclusions: The tooth developmental pattern displayed by the immature individual from Garba IV falls within the range of variation of extant human populations and is also comparable with that of other very young early fossil hominins. Taken together, the evidence presented here for mandibular morphology and dental development suggest GAR IVE is a robust 2.5- to 3.5-year old early Homo specimen.
... The location of Gotu II is unknown, hence it is not shown in Fig. 4.1b. The Garba IIIB industry, heretofore attributed to the final Acheulean, was recently reanalyzed and assigned to the early Middle Stone Age ( Mussi et al. 2014). ...
... Melka Kunture preserves one of the longest and most complete sequences that document the transition from the late Oldowan to the early Acheulean in East Africa, as well as the development of the Acheulean Industrial Complex up to the transition to the Middle Stone Age ( Chavaillon et al. 1979;Chavaillon and Piperno 2004;Mussi et al. 2014;Mussi 2015, 2017). Furthermore, East African sites where both the late Oldowan and the early Acheulean have been recovered are very few (Gallotti 2018). ...
Chapter
The emergence of the Acheulean is a major topic, currently debated by archaeologists researching all over East Africa. Despite the ongoing discussion and the increasing amount of available data, the mode(s) of the technological changes leading to this emergence remain(s) largely unexplained. Overall, there is a dearth of continuous stratigraphic sequences recording both the late Oldowan and the early Acheulean at the same site. Accordingly, the technological changes cannot be evaluated taking into account the variability of each microregional context. Besides, the early Acheulean must be defined not only with respect to the Oldowan, but also in comparison with the following middle Acheulean.
... Garba IIIB is the most important Middle Stone Age site. The Late Stone Age is found eroding from surface deposits at Wofi II, Wofi III, Kella I Piperno et al., 2009;Gallotti et al., 2010Gallotti et al., , 2014Gallotti, 2013;Mussi et al., 2014Mussi et al., , 2016Gallotti & Mussi, 2015;Gallotti, unpublished data). ...
... Human fossils were discovered in archeological contexts at Garba IVE, Gombore IB, Gombore II-1 and Garba III, i.e. with Oldowan, Acheulean and Middle Stone Age industries (Chavaillon et al., 1974;Chavaillon et al., 1977Chavaillon et al., , 1987Chavaillon & Coppens, 1986;Condemi, 2004;Zilberman et al., 2004a,b;Mussi et al., 2014;Di Vincenzo et al., 2015;Profico et al., 2016). ...
Article
Full-text available
The Acheulean is the longest-lasting human cultural record, spanning approximately 1.5 Ma and three continents. The most comprehensive sequences are found in East Africa, where, in large-scale syntheses, the Lower Pleistocene Acheulean (LPA) has often been considered a uniform cultural entity. Furthermore, the emergence and development of Acheulean technology are seen as linked to the emergence and evolution of Homo ergaster/erectus. The criterion for grouping together different lithic assemblages scattered over space and time is the presence of large cutting tools (LCTs), more than of any other component. Their degree of refinement has been used, in turn, as a parameter for evaluating Acheulean development and variability. But was the East African LPA really uniform as regards all components involved in lithic productions? The aim of this paper is to evaluate the techno-economic similarities and differences among LPA productions in a specific micro-regional and environmental context, i.e. at Melka Kunture, in the Ethiopian highlands, and in a specific period of time: between ~1.5 Ma, when some of the earliest Acheulean complexes appeared, and 1.0-0.85 Ma, when LCTs productions became intensive and widespread. Our detailed comparative analyses investigate all aspects and phases of the chaînes opératoires. Since hominin fossil remains were discovered at some of the analyzed sites, we also discuss differences among lithic productions in relation to the changing paleoanthropological record. Our studies show that at Melka Kunture the LPA techno-complexes cannot be grouped into a single uniform entity. The assembled evidence points instead to “two Acheuleans” well-defined by a strong discontinuity in various aspects of techno-economic behaviors. This discontinuity is related to a major step in human evolution: the transition from Homo ergaster/erectus to Homo heidelbergensis.
... After recent dating of volcanic deposits and magnetic studies, the exposed sections extend from the end of Olduvai Polarity Subzone to the beginning of the Brunhes chron (Schmitt et al., 1977; Cressier, 1980; Morgan et al., 2012; Tamrat et al., 2014). Volcanic ashes did not cover later sites of the later Middle Pleistocene age such as Garba III; accordingly, the chronology of later sites is more difficult to establish in detail (Mussi et al., 2014). Garba XIII is located at 2020 m asl on the right bank of the Awash River, along a small tributary of the Garba creek (Fig. 1b). ...
Article
Garba XIII is a new Acheulean site, recently excavated at Melka Kunture (2000 m asl), in the Upper Awash Valley of Ethiopia. The investigated archaeostratigraphic unit is located along the Garba gully and belongs to the Lower to basal Middle Pleistocene Melka Kunture Formation. In this paper, we discuss the evidence from a level discovered directly above a tuff unit recently dated to w1.0 Ma and stratigraphically below another tuff dated to w0.8 Ma. A detailed lithostratigraphic study of the exposed section is provided, as well as a paleontological analysis and chronological, ecological, and contextual information. Moreover, the analysis of the lithic assemblage allows a first evaluation of the technical and economic structure of this Acheulean production, documenting a set of innovations occurring on the Ethiopian highlands at the end of the Lower Pleistocene: the procurement of large boulders for the extraction of the LCT flake blanks right at the primary source; adoption of the Kombewa method; standardized façonnage for biface and cleaver manufacture and preference for discoid technology among small débitage methods.
... The bivalve traces discovered are consistent with the morphology and behavioural features of unionoids (e.g., Ekdale and Bromley, 2001;Lawfield and Pickerill, 2006;Monaco et al., 2016;Knoll et al., 2017;Carmona et al., 2018) and are assigned as unionoid clams. Unionoid shell fossils, or endocasts, have been recovered elsewhere at Melka Kunture, as in the Middle Pleistocene deposit of Garba III (Chavaillon and Piperno, 2004;Mussi et al., 2014). They are also known from other locations in the Gombore Gully before 0.875 Ma in the sequence between Gombore Id and Gombore II (Mendez-Quintas et al., 2019) and at Gombore III, 0.6e0.4 ...
Article
New ichnological data are available at the prehistoric site of Melka Kunture, Upper Awash Valley in Ethiopia. Excavation of new test pits enabled us to explore the volcanic and fluvio-lacustrine sequence at the Gombore II Open Air Museum archaeological site (ca. 0.85 Ma). This has allowed a detailed reconstruction of the palaeoenvironment and of the fauna present in the time interval between 1.2 and 0.85 Ma. Various-sized mammals, birds, molluscs as well as hominins left tracks throughout the sequence, and document a varied fauna and associated behaviours. Most of the hominin tracks were made by young individuals on the basis of size and are some of the earlier child tracks to be reported. The mollusc traces document the presence and orientation of water streams which, according to the associated vertebrate traces, were visited by hominins, mammals and birds. Most of these traces were found within levels traditionally considered barren for archaeology, yet they all document life activity and are always in situ. This confirms the potential of the ichnological research as an important complementary tool for archaeological investigations. To help you access and share this work, a personalized Share Link provided by Elsevier provides 50 days' free access to the paper. Anyone clicking on this link before October 10, 2020 will be taken directly to the final version of the article on ScienceDirect, which they are welcome to read or download. No sign up, registration or fees are required. Personalized Share Link: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1bcDb-4PRxn8k
... Despite the limitations of available data, a number of assemblages in East Africa clearly demonstrate the presence of a similar set of typological and technological features, described above, beginning by MIS 8 and continuing through to MIS 5 and beyond (e.g. Wendorf and Schild, 1974;Clark, 1988;Tryon and McBrearty, 2003;Tryon et al., 2005;Yellen et al., 2005;McBrearty and Tryon, 2006;Onjala, 2006;Waweru, 2007;Basell, 2008;Tryon et al., 2008;Shea, 2008a;Sahle et al., 2013;Mussi et al., 2014). Previous authors have highlighted the continuity of the Middle Palaeolithic in East Africa (e.g. ...
Article
The dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa has been extensively researched across several disciplines. Here we review the evidence for spatial and temporal variability in lithic (stone tool) technologies relative to the predictions of two major hypotheses: 1) that a single successful dispersal occurred 60–50 thousand years ago (ka), marked by a trail of geometric/microlithic technologies, and 2) that multiple dispersals occurred, beginning much earlier (probably in Marine Isotope Stage [MIS] 5), associated with Middle Palaeolithic technology in its early phase. Our results show that Late Pleistocene geometric/microlithic technologies exhibit significant temporal and regional differences between each other. These differences suggest independent, convergent origins for these technologies, which are likely to have been repeatedly re-invented. In contrast, we identify similarities between East African lithic technologies from MIS 8 onwards and Middle Palaeolithic assemblages as far east as India by MIS 5. That this constellation of technological features – particularly an emphasis on centripetal Levallois reduction reflecting interchangeable preferential and recurrent methods, along with particular retouched forms such as points – transcends ecologies and raw material types suggests that it is unlikely to entirely reflect technological convergence (analogy). Our results indicate an early onset of multiple dispersals out of Africa. The hypothesis of an early onset to successful dispersal is entirely consistent with the possibility of further subsequent (post-MIS 5) dispersals out of Africa. Testing such hypotheses through quantified comparative lithic studies and interdisciplinary research is therefore likely to significantly advance understanding of the earliest H. sapiens dispersals.
... After recent dating of volcanic deposits and magnetic studies, the exposed sections extend from the end of Olduvai Polarity Subzone to the beginning of the Brunhes chron (Schmitt et al., 1977;Cressier, 1980;Morgan et al., 2012;Tamrat et al., 2014). Volcanic ashes did not cover later sites of the later Middle Pleistocene age such as Garba III; accordingly, the chronology of later sites is more difficult to establish in detail (Mussi et al., 2014). Garba XIII is located at 2020 m asl on the right bank of the Awash River, along a small tributary of the Garba creek (Fig. 1b). ...
Article
Full-text available
Garba XIII is a new Acheulean site, recently excavated at Melka Kunture (2000 m asl), in the Upper Awash Valley of Ethiopia. The investigated archaeostratigraphic unit is located along the Garba gully and belongs to the Lower to basal Middle Pleistocene Melka Kunture Formation. In this paper, we discuss the evidence from a level discovered directly above a tuff unit recently dated to w1.0 Ma and strati-graphically below another tuff dated to w0.8 Ma. A detailed lithostratigraphic study of the exposed section is provided, as well as a paleontological analysis and chronological, ecological, and contextual information. Moreover, the analysis of the lithic assemblage allows a first evaluation of the technical and economic structure of this Acheulean production, documenting a set of innovations occurring on the Ethiopian highlands at the end of the Lower Pleistocene: the procurement of large boulders for the extraction of the LCT flake blanks right at the primary source; adoption of the Kombewa method; standardized façonnage for biface and cleaver manufacture and preference for discoid technology among small débitage methods.
... Obsidian was intensely exploited later, starting in the Middle Stone Age, and became dominant in the Late Stone Age [1,11,[52][53][54]. Melka Kunture is the only known exception, documenting a continuous and extensive use of obsidian since the very beginning of stone-tool production [26][27][28][29]34]. ...
Article
Full-text available
The Oldowan Industrial Complex has long been thought to have been static, with limited internal variability, embracing techno-complexes essentially focused on small-to-medium flake production. The flakes were rarely modified by retouch to produce small tools, which do not show any standardized pattern. Usually, the manufacture of small standardized tools has been interpreted as a more complex behavior emerging with the Acheulean technology. Here we report on the ~1.7 Ma Oldowan assemblages from Garba IVE-F at Melka Kunture in the Ethiopian highland. This industry is structured by technical criteria shared by the other East African Oldowan assemblages. However, there is also evidence of a specific technical process never recorded before, i.e. the systematic production of standardized small pointed tools strictly linked to the obsidian exploitation. Standardization and raw material selection in the manufacture of small tools disappear at Melka Kunture during the Lower Pleistocene Acheulean. This proves that 1) the emergence of a certain degree of standardization in tool-kits does not reflect in itself a major step in cultural evolution; and that 2) the Oldowan knappers, when driven by functional needs and supported by a highly suitable raw material, were occasionally able to develop specific technical solutions. The small tool production at ~1.7 Ma, at a time when the Acheulean was already emerging elsewhere in East Africa, adds to the growing amount of evidence of Oldowan techno-economic variability and flexibility, further challenging the view that early stone knapping was static over hundreds of thousands of years.
... Nubian methods 1 and 2 are also part of the diverse predetermined point production methods developed during the MSA in eastern Africa. Nubian point productions are so far documented in the Ethiopian sites of K'one, where these methods prevail (Kurashina, 1978), at Gademotta ETH-72-6, at Garba III in Melka Kunture (Mussi et al., 2014), and at Aduma in the Middle Awash (Yellen et al., 2005). The Nubian type 1 method is recognized as far south as the Rusinga Island site in Kenya . ...
... Three cranial fragments were recovered from contexts most probably dating to MIS 5e or earlier. Although they are well provenanced, they are not sufficiently complete to allow discrimination between a modern or more archaic form of H. sapiens (Chavaillon et al. 1987;Mussi et al. 2014). ...
Chapter
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Eastern Africa (broadly Ethiopia , Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya , Uganda, and Tanzania) has yielded the earliest fossils of modern humans, the earliest evidence for Mode 3 technologies (Middle Stone Age), and is one of the areas in which modern humans may well have been endemic. This paper reviews the genetic, archaeological, and fossil evidence for the evolution of modern humans across MIS 6-2 in eastern Africa, and places this into the context of Middle Pleistocene human evolution, the development of the Middle Stone Age across the continent, and climatic change over the last two glacial cycles. We argue that while there is a paucity of well-dated sites that reduces the resolution of any interpretation, the available evidence indicates a major role for eastern Africa as an area of endemism , most probably related to the interaction of mosaic environments and refugia. We show that the evolution of modern humans has roots that extend well before MIS 6, and propose four overlapping stages, making this a much more prolonged process than has traditionally been described. There is a broad relationship between evolutionary history and major climatic oscillations; nevertheless, a closer examination reveals a more complex pattern. There are periods of synchrony and asynchrony in both contextual and evolutionary/behavioral changes, and these show variable links to both northern and southern Africa. Although eastern, northern and southern Africa (with central and western being largely unknown) show similarities and ultimately the same evolutionary and behavioral outcome, they also exhibit independent trajectories that require further research to throw light on the processes involved.
... At Melka Kunture in Ethiopia, Mussi's team is also conducting work on the Acheulian (Gallotti et al. 2014;Mussi et al. 2014). Thus far none of the Acheulian sites at this locality is older than 1.5 Ma, which is also true of the Acheulian sites under the investigation of the Olduvai Geochronology and Acheulean Paleoanthropology Project (OGAPP; de la Torre & Mora 2013). ...
... The archaeological sequence is documented by dozens of sites dating from around 1.8 Ma. These sites have yielded finds from Oldowan, Acheulean, Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Late Stone Age (LSA) techno-complexes associated with faunal and hominin remains ( Berthelet and Chavaillon 2004;Morgan et al. 2012;Mussi et al. 2014Mussi et al. , 2016). Many Pleistocene horizons containing fossil footprints have been identified recently ( Mussi et al. 2016;Altamura et al. 2017;Mussi forthcoming). ...
Article
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A traditional dwelling structure (tukul) was built in the Seventies of last century at the archaeological camp of Melka Kunture, Upper Awash Valley, Ethiopia. It was in use over a decade before being abandoned during the Derg period, when research was not allowed. When the camp was re-opened in the Nineties, the tukul had nearly collapsed, due to lack of maintenance. It was eventually torn down, the wooden materials were retrieved and grass grew back over the site. We present here an archaeological exploration of the remains, and information on traditional building techniques still in use in the area of Melka Kunture.
... Biface continuity was noted in the MSA at Garba III, Melka Kunture (Ethiopia) 100 , where 10 bifaces were found (average length: 70.6 mm; mean width: 55.3 mm, mean thickness: 29.4 mm). These coexisted with evidence of Levallois technology, but with low densities of points and blades. ...
Article
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Luminescence dating at the stratified prehistoric site of Attirampakkam, India, has shown that processes signifying the end of the Acheulian culture and the emergence of a Middle Palaeolithic culture occurred at 385 ± 64 thousand years ago (ka), much earlier than conventionally presumed for South Asia. The Middle Palaeolithic continued at Attirampakkam until 172 ± 41 ka. Chronologies of Middle Palaeolithic technologies in regions distant from Africa and Europe are crucial for testing theories about the origins and early evolution of these cultures, and for understanding their association with modern humans or archaic hominins, their links with preceding Acheulian cultures and the spread of Levallois lithic technologies. The geographic location of India and its rich Middle Palaeolithic record are ideally suited to addressing these issues, but progress has been limited by the paucity of excavated sites and hominin fossils as well as by geochronological constraints. At Attirampakkam, the gradual disuse of bifaces, the predominance of small tools, the appearance of distinctive and diverse Levallois flake and point strategies, and the blade component all highlight a notable shift away from the preceding Acheulian large-flake technologies. These findings document a process of substantial behavioural change that occurred in India at 385 ± 64 ka and establish its contemporaneity with similar processes recorded in Africa and Europe. This suggests complex interactions between local developments and ongoing global transformations. Together, these observations call for a re-evaluation of models that restrict the origins of Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture to the incidence of modern human dispersals after approximately 125 ka.
... An estimated time range from at least 1.5 Ma to the last ten thousand years was supported by early paleomagnetic measurements (Westphal et al. 1979;Cressier 1980) until 40 Ar/ 39 Ar dating provided a more precise chronological framework (Morgan et al. 2012). With the help of new fieldwork and recent archaeological investigation (Gallotti et al. 2014;Mussi et al. 2014Mussi et al. , 2016, formerly collected pollen samples are now securely placed in this new chronology. ...
Chapter
In this paper, we present and discuss pollen data from the Early Pleistocene (1.8 to 1.6 Ma) – we use the revised timescale approved by IUGS, in which the base of the Pleistocene is defined by the GSSP of the Gelasian Stage at 2.588 (2.6) Ma (Gibbard et al. 2010) – and from the Mid-Pleistocene Transition (0.9 to 0.6 Ma) at Melka Kunture (Upper Awash, Ethiopia). At 2000 m asl in the Ethiopian highlands, these deposits yield many rich and successive archaeological sites, notably documenting the late Oldowan, the emergence of the Acheulean and the middle Acheulean. The stratigraphic position of the fifteen pollen samples is checked by 40Ar/39Ar dating and by geological investigation. Furthermore, they are now correlated to archaeological layers whose excavated lithic industries have been reinterpreted. Our study shows that mountain forest trees belonging to the present-day Afromontane complex were already established in Ethiopia at ~1.8 Ma and that the knappers of the Oldowan and early Acheulean could cope with mountain climatic conditions that had a large diurnal temperature range. Moreover, the new interpretation of pollen results emphasizes changes that occurred in the vegetation cover at 200- or 300-thousand-year snapshot intervals, one during the Early Pleistocene and another one later on, during the Mid-Pleistocene Transition. These changes concerned plant species and their respective abundance and appear to have been related to rainfall and temperature variability. The proportion of forest trees increased during wet episodes, whereas the influence of Afroalpine grassland indicators increased during cool and dry episodes. Variations in Early Pleistocene pollen data from Melka Kunture at ~1.8–1.6 Ma are consistent with isotopic evidence of precession variability as recorded at Olduvai and Turkana archaeological sites at ~2–1.8 Ma. For the Mid-Pleistocene Transition, variations in pollen data seem to match the climatic variability of isotopic and long pollen records from the Mediterranean region, notably upon the onset of dominant 100 ka-long glacial/interglacial cycles.
... and information provided by the archaeological excavations(Gallotti et al., 2014;Mussi, Altamura, Bonnefille, De Rita, & Melis, 2016;Mussi, Altamura, Macchiarelli, Melis, & Spinapolice, 2014;Tamrat, Thouveny, Taieb, & Brugal, 2014). ...
Article
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The landscape of the surroundings of the Melka Kunture prehistoric site, Upper Awash Basin, Ethiopia, were studied intensively in the last decades. Nonetheless, the area was mainly characterized under a stratigraphic/geological and archaeological point of view. However, a detailed geomorphological map is still lacking. Hence, in this study, we identify, map and visualize geomorphological forms and processes. The morphology of the forms, as well as the related processes, were remotely sensed with available high-resolution airborne and satellite sources and calibrated and validated through extensive field work conducted in 2013 and 2014. Furthermore, we integrated multispectral satellite imagery to classify areas affected by intensive erosion processes and/or anthropic activities. The Main Map at 1:15,000 scale reveals structural landforms as well as intensive water-related degradation processes in the Upper Awash Basin. Moreover, the map is available as an interactive WebGIS application providing further information and detail (www.roceeh.net/ethiopia_ geomorphological_map/).
... These include Mochena Borago (Brandt et al. 2012(Brandt et al. , 2017, where the technology occurs in a generally non-Levallois assemblage, indicating once again the variable contextual settings of Nubian Levallois technology which are simply not captured by including such material in the 'Nubian Complex'. A Type 1 Nubian Levallois core was recovered from Garba III (Mussi et al. 2014), as were two of these cores at Hargeisa in Somalia (Clark 1954). Further south, several assemblages in Kenya have produced Nubian Levallois cores. ...
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Nubian Levallois' lithic technology has been found from South Africa to India, it occurs sporadically over a period of more than two hundred thousand years, and it appears to be associated with at least two hominin species. Despite this, proponents of the 'Nubian Complex' argue that this technocomplex-often, but not exclusively, defined by the presence of Nubian Levallois technology-offers a strong culture historical signal. This argument claims that the Nubian Complex is an originally Northeast African entity, dating to Marine Isotope Stage 5, and that by tracing the distribution of Nubian Levallois technology it is possible to trace the spread of Homo sapiens from Northeast Africa. In light of these bold claims, it is important to test the reality and usefulness of the Nubian Complex idea. In this paper I review the history of the Nubian Complex, evaluate sites assigned to it, and consider the characteristics and significance of Nubian Levallois technology. This review suggests that the original reasons for defining the Nubian Complex were flawed, definitions of it are overly-variable and inconsistent, and that the concept is driving misleading models that are actively harming interpretations of the record. It should therefore be abandoned. Perhaps the most telling criticism of the Nubian Complex is that even its proponents do not agree on which sites should be included (e.g. Bir Tarfawi). I explore the possibility that Nubian Levallois technology-which should be disentangled from the culture-historical concept of the 'Nubian Complex'-represents a case of convergent evolution and identify avenues for future research. This reorientation facilitates insights into the behavioral significance of Nubian Levallois technology, in terms of factors such as standardization and mobility strategies.
... Nubian Levallois cores have also been reported in Mauritania (Pasty, 1997), East Africa, as far south as Kenya (Clark, 1954;Kurashina, 1978;Clark, 1988;Tryon et al., 2012;Mussi et al., 2014;Douze & Delagnes, 2016), South Africa , the Arabian Peninsula (Rose et al., 2011), the Levant (Goder-Goldberger, 2016), and India . ...
Article
North Africa features some of the earliest manifestations of the Middle Stone Age (MSA) and fossils of our species, Homo sapiens, as well as early examples of complex culture and the long distance transfer of exotic raw materials. As they are elsewhere, lithics (i.e., stone tools) present by far the most abundant source of information on this cultural period. Given the importance of North Africa in human origins, understanding the character and distribution of MSA lithics is therefore crucial, as they shed light on early human behaviour and culture. However, the lithics of the North African MSA are poorly understood, and their technological variability is frequently obfuscated by regionally specific nomenclatures, often repeated without criticism, and diverse methods of analysis that are often incompatible. Characterising dynamic technological innovations as well as apparent technological stasis remains challenging, and many narratives have not been tested quantitatively. This significantly problematizes hypotheses of human evolution and dispersals invoking these data that extend beyond North Africa. This paper therefore presents a description of the lithics of the North African MSA, including their technological characteristics, chronology, spatial distribution and associated research traditions. A range of interpretations concerning early H. sapiens demography in North Africa are then re-evaluated in the light of this review, and the role and power of lithic data to contribute to such debates is critically assessed.
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-- Table of Contents -- Chair’s Word Communications Scientific Essays 1. Geomorphological surveying in Sambor Prei Kuk Pre-Angkor Site, Central Cambodia 2. The natural environment in the territory of Kazakhstan in anthropogene 3. Geoarchaeological Research within the Framework of ROCEEH Conference Reports Forthcoming Conferences New Books New Research Articles.
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Current evidence shows that the origin of the Acheulian dates back to at least 1.7 Ma in Africa. Although only three sites exist before 1.5 Ma, this complex technology seems to coexist for substantial time with small core and flake tools, typical of the Oldowan. While animal butchery has been widely documented at Oldowan sites, this activity remains marginal at Acheulian sites. There is a wide diversity of predominant tool types at Acheulian sites. This, together with spatial and palaeoecological patterning, is suggestive of a diversity of activities carried out at these sites according to ecological location. Acheulian sites are bigger than Oldowan sites, but their functions remain unknown. The complexity of the Acheulian has been exhaustively studied from a technological perspective, but not so much from a behavioural point of view. Understanding what activities were carried out at Acheulian sites is crucial to understand this crucial phase of the evolution of Homo erectus/ergaster. Key Concepts • The Acheulian is the oldest human complex technology. • It consists of large intentionally shaped tools. • The Acheulian emerges 1.7 Ma. • The oldest symmetrical bifacial handaxes show that complex neurophysiology existed at the beginning of the Acheulian. • The diversity of tools and reduction sequences at Acheulian sites show that hominins had complex behaviours and adaptations in the early Pleistocene.
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This paper analyses the lithic complex from GOT 1-S site, Gotera area, Southern Ethiopia. The aim is to test the hypothesis of two distinct reduction sequences according to different raw material choices and availability using both technological and statistical approach. The principal raw material are quartz and basalt. Technological analysis shows a more opportunistic reduction strategy on basalt artefact, exploiting the natural convexities on cobbles to produce flakes and tools. The quartz lithic assemblage shows an apparently different reduction sequence, with a more accurate preparation of core striking platforms. Results from the technological approach have been compared through a multivariate statistical method, the Principal component analysis, to quantify the results previously obtained.
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It is during the late Acheulean, approximately 600–300 kya, that post-erectus Homo becomes more Neanderthal-like in western Eurasia (culminating with the Middle Paleolithic Neanderthals) and progressively more human-like in Africa. In this paper we present the initial report of a new well-dated Late Acheulean assemblage from the Hugub open-air locality (Ethiopia). The Hugub Bed, an excavated 10–20cm archaeological unit, is rich with in situ artifacts and paleoenvironmental data. In this vast exposed area, the fauna and depositional context suggest a seasonally inhabited lakeshore environment adjacent to xeric grasslands. The studied lithic assemblage yields numerous, often diminutive broad-tipped ovate and pointed bifaces made on large flakes. These show the earliest evidence of intensive on-site resharpening as well as the earliest use of the plano-convex method. This emergent pattern of tool production, maintenance, and discard is typical for the post-Acheulean industries and has no ana-logs among earlier Acheulean-making populations of Homo erectus. Single crystal 40 Ar/ 39 Ar dates on tuffs bracket the Hugub Bed between 600 and 500 thousand years ago, making this locality the earliest securely dated Late Acheulean archaeology in Africa.
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This paper analyses the lithic artefacts collected during the 2017 field activities in the Gotera area, Southern Ethiopia, Oromia-Borena region (Brandt, 1986; Chavaillon and Chavaillon, 1985; Foerster et al., 2012; Gallinaro et al. 2018; Spinapolice et al., 2017), conducted in the frame of the (H)origin Project (PI Enza E. Spinapolice). The aim of this research is to investigate the exploitation strategies of the available raw material at the MSA site of Gotera. The lithic assemblage under study is composed by 321 pieces: 25 cores, 277 flakes and 19 tools on basalt and quartz. The artefacts are generally fresh and, when occurs, patina is usually whitish or reddish. The assemblage integrity, despite coming from a surface context, is confirmed by the presence of refits. Levallois method is frequently recorded by the presence of cores and centripetal, bipolar and unipolar convergent flakes. A volumetric exploitation of cores is also reported by the recurrence of elongated flakes with a wide platform angle. The number of tools is scanty and concerns mostly basalt elements. Tools are principally denticulates and irregular or alternate retouched flakes. The combination of Levallois methods and other flake removal patterns (including irregular cores), contributes to produce substantial variability within the exploitation strategies for flake production and it places them within the Middle Stone Age complexes (Blinkhorn and Grove, 2018; Douze, 2011; Lahr and Foley, 1997; Tryon and Faith, 2013). The technological analysis has been associated to a quantitative approach aiming to investigate the different exploitation dynamics of basalt and quartz, resulting in two separate chaines opératoires.
Article
The archeological and paleontological area of Melka Kunture, in the Ethiopian highlands, has yielded particularly rich mammal fossil assemblages, including a few human and nonhuman primate remains. The cercopithecoid specimens reported so far consist of a fragmentary lower third molar crown and of a maxillary fragment, coming from the Early Pleistocene sites of Garba IV and Garba XII, respectively. In this study we describe an additional dentognathic specimen, labelled SIM III-13-1, collected in 2013 in the c. 1 Ma sedimentary deposits of Simbiro. In addition to classical descriptions and measurements, this specimen was detailed by X-ray tomography (CT) and two-three dimensional (2-3D) quantitative analyses were performed on the virtual reconstruction to assess its taxonomic assignment. Comparison with a number of fossil and extant cercopithecoid specimens/samples suggests that SIM III-13-1 belongs to the genus Theropithecus, more likely to Theropithecus sp. cf. oswaldi.
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Lithics are the most abundant archaeological evidence from the remote past, however the way they are used to reconstruct past human groups is often biased. The Middle Stone Age (MSA) is the lithic techno-complex linked to the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa. However, there is no consensus in the scientific community about the significance of this lithic culture in terms of connections with particular human social groups nor its evolution. This paper focuses on the relation between lithic variability in the East African MSA and its meaning in terms of the structure of human groups, critical for interpreting the behavioral and evolutionary processes that led to Homo sapiens expansion within and out of Africa. Here I examine current knowledge and hypotheses and suggest some methodological advances to overcome the present difficulties.
Article
We present new magnetostratigraphic results from the Melka Kunture sedimentary sequence outcropping along the Gombore and Garba gullies in the Upper Awash Valley of Ethiopia that provide a new temporal framework for human presence in this area of the Ethiopian plateau in the Pleistocene. We obtained a time-diagnostic sequence of normal and reverse polarity magnetozones representing a relatively continuous magnetochronologic record extending from the Brunhes Chron at the top to the Olduvai Subchron or possibly the Reunion Subchron at the base, assembled from 9 stratigraphic sections correlated in a regional lithostratigraphic context. By integrating our chronology provided by paleomagnetism with ⁴⁰Ar/³⁹Ar dating from the literature, we generated simple yet reliable and testable age models of deposition for the Melka Kunture sedimentary sequence that we used to estimate the mean ages of the main archeological levels therein contained that resulted ranging from ∼0.6 Ma to ∼2.1 Ma thus representing altogether one of the most persistent and prolonged records of human presence of the entire African continent.
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The transition from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) to the Later Stone Age (LSA) in South Africa was not associated with the appearance of anatomically modern humans and the extinction of Neandertals, as in the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in Western Europe. It has therefore attracted less attention, yet it provides insights into patterns of technological evolution not associated with a new hominin. Data from Border Cave (KwaZulu-Natal) show a strong pattern of technological change at approximately 44-42 ka cal BP, marked by adoption of techniques and materials that were present but scarcely used in the previous MSA, and some novelties. The agent of change was neither a revolution nor the advent of a new species of human. Although most evident in personal ornaments and symbolic markings, the change from one way of living to another was not restricted to aesthetics. Our analysis shows that: (i) at Border Cave two assemblages, dated to 45-49 and >49 ka, show a gradual abandonment of the technology and tool types of the post-Howiesons Poort period and can be considered transitional industries; (ii) the 44-42 ka cal BP assemblages are based on an expedient technology dominated by bipolar knapping, with microliths hafted with pitch from Podocarpus bark, worked suid tusks, ostrich eggshell beads, bone arrowheads, engraved bones, bored stones, and digging sticks; (iii) these assemblages mark the beginning of the LSA in South Africa; (iv) the LSA emerged by internal evolution; and (v) the process of change began sometime after 56 ka.
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There is a general consensus that our species emerged first in Africa. Currently, the best-known skeletal evidence for the earliest anatomically modern Homo sapiens (AMHs) derives from sites in the rift valley in Ethiopia. However, archaeological evidence from cave sites in southern and northern Africa largely dominates discussions on behaviors that characterize the dawn of modern humans. Later Middle Pleistocene open-air sites in East Africa present unparalleled geochronological control and thus a better chance to study hominin behavior. Here, we present results of a multidisciplinary investigation of the archaeology and geochronology of one of the oldest-known Middle Stone Age (MSA) occupations from the Gademotta Formation (Fm.) in the Main Ethiopian Rift. Renewed excavation, lithic analysis, fracture mechanics, and tephrochronological investigations at Gademotta provide a better understanding of the chronological and behavioral contexts during the critical period immediately preceding the origin of our species.
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Based on stratigraphic relationships and K/Ar dating of volcanic rocks from both of the escarpments, flanking plateaus, and from the rift floor of the central sector of the Main Ethiopian Rift, six major volcanic episodes are recognized in the rift's development over a time span from the late Oligocene to the Quaternary. Using the K/Ar data, correlation of volcanic units from the six periods of activity throughout the study area forms the basis for establishing six time-stratigraphic chronozones for the central sector that are related to volcanism in the Ethiopian Cenozoic volcanic province. The oldest basalt and rhyolite flows exposed along the rift margins of the central sector are time correlative to, or older than, those in river canyons (for example, Blue Nile) on the adjacent northwest plateau. A thinned Mesozoic stratigraphic sequence along the Guraghe western rift margin suggests that doming may have preceded volcanism and rifting of the Cenozoic. By late Miocene time, at least by 8.3 Ma and 9.7 Ma, the eastern and western faulted margins, respectively, of the rift had formed at Guraghe and at Agere Selam as indicated by containment of flows of that age within the rift wall during eruption. A paroxysm of calc-alkaline ignimbrite activity produced voluminous flows nearly fully contained within the rift during the Pliocene epoch. The Munesa Crystal Tuff (3.5 Ma), a prominent marker tuff exposed on both rift margins, is present at depth in a geothermal well beneath the rift floor and indicates a minimum of 2 km of downthrow in the central sector since its eruption. Structural and stratigraphic relationships in the central sector indicate a two- stage rift development. This is characterized by an early phase (late Oligocene or early Miocene) of a series of alternating opposed half-grabens along the rift with alternating polarity, such as that in the present Gregory and Western Rifts of East Africa and symmetrical rifts that evolved from these grabens in late Miocene or early Pliocene time. Thus, evolution from alternating half-graben to a full symmetrical graben with a medially located neovolcanic zone that is bifurcated to marginal grabens in the northern part of the study area may be a fundamental part of the rifting process. The study indicates that there are major petrologic and tectonic differences between the Main Ethiopian Rift and the Gregory (Kenyan) Rift.
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The Ethiopian Rift System consists of basins that are in different stages of evolu- tion. Some of the rift-related basins in southwestern Ethiopia are half-grabens that have not evolved to symmetrical rifts since the initiation of rifting here in the middle Miocene. These basins contain fossiliferous Pliocene-Pleistocene volcaniclastic sedi- ments and volcanic rocks and have been occupied by early hominid populations. The Afar and the Main Ethiopian Rifts are symmetrical, with both margins fully devel- oped. Several paleoanthropological localities, ranging in age from the Quaternary to the Pliocene, were discovered within these rift basins. The discovery of Australopithe- cus afarensis (the "Lucy" species) at Hadar and Ardipithecus ramidus and Australo- pithecus garhi in the Middle Awash makes the region the most prolific early hominid area in the world. Many of the known Pliocene-Pleistocene paleoanthropological localities that have given us information about our ancestors are concentrated in the East African Rift System. This is not a coincidence, because the volcanic and tectonic activities that were responsible for the formation of the rift basins and coeval sedimentation created ideal environments for the proliferation of life and the preservation of faunal and flo- ral remains. Volcanic and tectonic activities created plateaus and mountains; most of the sediments in the basins were derived from these topographic highs located within and outside the rift valleys. Volcaniclastic sediments and volcanic ash were responsi- ble for the quick burial and preservation of fossils during diagenesis. Diagenetic processes involving silicification, calcification, zeolitization, feldspathization, clay formation, and pedogenesis all played roles in fossil preservation in the volcaniclastic sediments. Volcanic rocks interbedded with the fossiliferous sediments also provide temporal information about geologic processes, faunal evolution, paleoenvironment, and early hominid behavior and lithic technology.
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Normal skull thickness has been measured in a general hospital population of 300 blacks and 200 whites in America. In both groups, there is a rapid increase in skull thickness during the first two decades of life, followed by a small uniform increase reaching a peak in the fifth and sixth decades. The sex differences are variable, but in certain age groups the females in both races have significantly thicker parietal and occipital bones than their male counterpart. The frontal bone is thicker in the white male than in the black, and the parieto-occipital thicker in the blacks than in the whites. Some suggestions are offered to explain the sex and racial differences noted.
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The Acheulean to Middle Stone Age (MSA) transition is examined from an evolutionary perspective. The replacement of Acheulean handaxes by MSA points represents a shift from hand-held to hafted technology, but the timing and nature of this process are poorly understood due to the rarity of sites from the early MSA (EMSA), here defined as the portion of the MSA predating 130,000 years ago. The well-calibrated sequence in the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya, spans the transition, and shows that MSA technology was present before 285,000 years ago. This date coincides with the age of known African fossils that most likely represent the earliest members of the Homo sapiens lineage. Occurrences with characteristic Acheulean and EMSA artifacts are interstratified in the Kapthurin Formation, demonstrating that the transition was not a simple, unidirectional process. A variety of flake production techniques is present at both Acheulean and MSA sites in the formation. The Levallois tradition begins before 285,000 BP in an Acheulean context; Levallois production methods diversify in the MSA. The precocious appearance of blades, grindstones, and pigment in the Kapthurin Formation before 285,000 BP shows that the array of sophisticated behaviors known in the later MSA (LMSA) began at the Acheulean to MSA transition, and it is suggested that such technological changes are among the causes or consequences of the origin of our species.
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New (40)Ar/(39)Ar geochronological data for several volcanic ash horizons from Melka Kunture, Ethiopia, allow for significantly more precise age constraints to be placed upon the lithostratigraphy, archaeology and paleontology from this long record. Ashes from the Melka Kunture Formation at Gombore yielded the most reliable age constraints, from 1.393 ± 0.162 Ma(2) (millions of years ago) near the base of the section to 0.709 ± 0.013 Ma near the top. Dating the Garba section proved more problematic, but the base of the section, which contains numerous Oldowan obsidian artifacts, may be >1.719 ± 0.199 Ma, while the top is securely dated to 0.869 ± 0.020 Ma. The large ignimbrite from the Kella Formation at Kella and Melka Garba is dated to 1.262 ± 0.034 Ma and pre-dates Acheulean artifacts in the area. The Gombore II site, which has yielded two Homo skull fragments, 'twisted bifaces,' and a preserved butchery site, is now constrained between 0.875 ± 0.010 Ma and 0.709 ± 0.013 Ma. Additional ashes from these and other sites further constrain the timing of deposition throughout the section. Integration with previously published magnetostratigraphy has allowed for the first time a relatively complete, reliable timeline for the deposition of sediments, environmental changes, archaeology, and paleontology at Melka Kunture.
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Clarifying the geographic, environmental and behavioural contexts in which the emergence of anatomically modern Homo sapiens occurred has proved difficult, particularly because Africa lacked adequate geochronological, palaeontological and archaeological evidence. The discovery of anatomically modern Homo sapiens fossils at Herto, Ethiopia, changes this. Here we report on stratigraphically associated Late Middle Pleistocene artefacts and fossils from fluvial and lake margin sandstones of the Upper Herto Member of the Bouri Formation, Middle Awash, Afar Rift, Ethiopia. The fossils and artefacts are dated between 160,000 and 154,000 years ago by precise age determinations using the 40Ar/39Ar method. The archaeological assemblages contain elements of both Acheulean and Middle Stone Age technocomplexes. Associated faunal remains indicate repeated, systematic butchery of hippopotamus carcasses. Contemporary adult and juvenile Homo sapiens fossil crania manifest bone modifications indicative of deliberate mortuary practices.
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The discovery of three late Middle Pleistocene hominid crania, Homo sapiens idaltu, at Herto in the Middle Awash research area in Ethiopia in 1997 shed considerable light on this little-known period in Africa. These fossils consist of two adults' and a child's crania. All are morphologically intermediate between geologically earlier African fossils and anatomically modern later Pleistocene humans. The three Herto Homo sapiens idaltu crania show cutmarks indicating defleshing using sharp-edged stone tools. The postmortem modifications and manipulation of the crania, demonstrated best on the child and broken adult crania, suggest that Homo sapiens idaltu performed ritual mortuary practices of which the dimension, context and meaning might only be revealed by further discoveries.
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Different views exist on the pattern of Middle Pleistocene evolution in Africa. Some favor a splitting into two or more species, for example, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo helmei, and Homo sapiens, whereas others see evidence for a continuously evolving lineage of only one chronospecies, Homo sapiens sensu lato. This latter view then considers the one chronospecies to be separated further into several subspecies, grades, steps, paleo-demes or other entities. The question is, which of these diverse perspectives is best supported by the current evidence? There is also some disagreement about the geographic pattern of the anatomical modernization process. Although there is clear evidence that northern, eastern, and southern Africa were involved, it appears difficult to assess the distinct roles of the different regions within this long-term process. Interregional migration, for example, during periods of a “green Sahara” might have led to complex patterns.
Conference Paper
Ethiopia has been a hotspot for palaeonthropological and archaeological research since the discovery, in 1974, of the famous hominid “Lucy” (A. Afarenesis). More than 90% of the A. Afarenesis sp. discovered since then are from Ethiopia (Asfaw et al., 1999; Alemseged et al., 2007). Furthermore, the earliest fossil remains of H. sapiens have been found in Ethiopia dating back to 195 ka (McDougall et al., 2005), and to between 160 and 154 ka (White et al., 2003), suggesting that East Africa was the likely region of the origin of our species. Around 125 Ka ago, early modern humans began to expand their geographical range throughout the rest of the world (e.g., Finlayson, 2005, Carto, 2009). However, the environmental context of these discoveries and the cause and phasing of migration of the early modern humans out of Africa has been an area of continuous debate (e.g. Derricourt, 2005; Carto et al., 2009). Moreover, the relations between social, economic and environmental changes pertinent to these early modern humans are not clearly established due to the absence of reliable, high-resolution palaeoenvironmental records, rendering interpretation of archaeological finds difficult (e.g., Brandt et al., 2007). We present the first long, high resolution paleoclimate record from Ethiopia for the period 130-60 ka to test the competing hypotheses that the movement of EMH out of Africa was climatically “pushed‟ or “pulled‟. We show that stalagmite δ18O in isotope stage 5e (130-115Ka) was -7 to -9‰, which is indicative of a significantly wetter climate than the Holocene (samples range from -1 to -6‰; Asrat et al., 2007 and Baker et al 2010). However, around 80 ka, stalagmite δ18O was -1 to -2‰, similar to values observed today (Baker et al., 2007), when spring rains frequently fail and climate conditions less favourable. We are able to test the hypotheses that: 1) Significantly wetter conditions (isotopically light δ18O) in isotope Stage 5e were unique with respect to the period 125-30 ka and provided a pull factor for EMH migration. 2) That both drier and more variable conditions (isotopically heavy and variable δ18O similar to the modern period) occurred during isotope stage 4, providing suitable push factors for EMH migration.
Article
The following is a short description of the main archaeological sites of Melka Kunture (Fig. 1), discov-ered and partially or extensively explored during the activities of the French archaeological mission. The sites of Karre I, Gombore I and Garba IV are extensively presented in this volume and they will not be summarized in this chapter. Fig. 1. Location of different archaeological sites of Melka Kunture.
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This published thesis presents new technological insights concerning Middle Stone Age (MSA) lithic industries from the end of the Middle Pleistocene in Ethiopia. Based mainly on a reanalysis of three major occupation sites from Gademotta and Kulkuletti (Lake Ziway Area, Main Ethiopian Rift Valley) initially excavated by F. Wendorf, R. Schild and collaborators in 1972, a local-scale comparison of the technology from these three nearby sites enables the evolutionary dynamics accompanying the emergence of Homo sapiens in the Horn of Africa to be discussed. While most of the technical traditions are stable through time, particularly the use of a broad diversity of Levallois methods for producing flakes and blades, several technical idiosyncrasies are also evident and can be considered strong regional and chronological markers. A major conceptual change is characterised by an increase in the predetermination of tool shape during the core reduction process, especially for the major MSA tool group – tools with convergent edges (points). This shift is accompanied by a decrease in the use of shaping techniques (façonnage) and the development of Levallois methods for the production of triangular flakes. The use of the lateral tranchet blow technique, frequently applied to triangular tools during the oldest phases, also decreases and then disappears with tools bearing little transformation becoming dominant. Furthermore, this analysis documents well-developed technical skills evident in earliest occurrences (before 280 ka) of Levallois blade production coexisting with the ubiquitous and independent Levallois and non Levallois production of small flakes. This study highlights behavioural changes evident during the still poorly documented post-Acheulean period, a turning point in human evolution. These initial stages of the Middle Stone Age are crucial for African prehistory as they set the stage for subsequent periods which see not only an increase in symbolic behaviours, but the expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa.
Article
Tous les ensembles (organisation des sols, outillage, faunes, fossiles humains, etc.) dont l'intersection constitue une civilisation doivent etre apprehendes en meme temps et les changements de civilisation manifestent le changement dans les elements de tous ces ensembles et par consequent les modifications de leurs intersections.
Article
The production of Levallois flakes is considered a hallmark of many Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites, but this aspect of African Pleistocene hominin technology remains poorly documented relative to that from adjacent regions. The site of Koimilot, from the Kapthurin Formation of Kenya, preserves stratified artifact assemblages that show use of multiple Levallois methods to produce flakes of varied shapes and sizes, comparable to that described from Levantine and European Middle Paleolithic sites. Koimilot has an age of ∼200,000 years on the basis of geochemical correlation with dated volcanic tephra and therefore joins a small but growing number of "early" MSA sites which antedate the last interglacial (∼130,000) years ago and provide the most relevant comparisons for understanding the end of the Acheulian. The Kapthurin Formation archaeological sequence suggests that it is the diversification of Levallois technology rather than its origin that characterizes early MSA assemblages. MSA Levallois technology may have developed from local Acheulian antecedents. © 2006 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved.
Article
The origin of anatomically modern Homo sapiens and the fate of Neanderthals have been fundamental questions in human evolutionary studies for over a century. A key barrier to the resolution of these questions has been the lack of substantial and accurately dated African hominid fossils from between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago. Here we describe fossilized hominid crania from Herto, Middle Awash, Ethiopia, that fill this gap and provide crucial evidence on the location, timing and contextual circumstances of the emergence of Homo sapiens. Radioisotopically dated to between 160,000 and 154,000 years ago, these new fossils predate classic Neanderthals and lack their derived features. The Herto hominids are morphologically and chronologically intermediate between archaic African fossils and later anatomically modern Late Pleistocene humans. They therefore represent the probable immediate ancestors of anatomically modern humans. Their anatomy and antiquity constitute strong evidence of modern-human emergence in Africa.
Article
While it is generally accepted that modern humans evolved in Africa, the specific physical evidence for that origin remains disputed. The modern-looking Omo 1 skeleton, discovered in the Kibish region of Ethiopia in 1967, was controversially dated at ∼130 ka (thousands of years ago) by U-series dating on associated Mollusca, and it was not until 2005 that Ar-Ar dating on associated feldspar crystals in pumice clasts provided evidence for an even older age of ∼195 ka. However, questions continue to be raised about the age and stratigraphic position of this crucial fossil specimen. Here we present direct U-series determinations on the Omo 1 cranium. In spite of significant methodological complications, which are discussed in detail, the results indicate that the human remains do not belong to a later intrusive burial and are the earliest representative of anatomically modern humans. Given the more archaic morphology shown by the apparently contemporaneous Omo 2 calvaria, we suggest that direct U-series dating is applied to this fossil as well, to confirm its age in relation to Omo 1.
Article
The African origin of modern humans is the center of a large debate. Discoveries of anatomically modern human fossils in Sub-Saharan Africa correlated to lithic and faunal artifacts show that a “modern Behavior” is associated with the emergence of Homo sapiens. Even though the traits to define this modernity are sometimes difficult to apprehend, the study of the Middle Stone Age cultural phase is important for understanding the origin and evolution of the cognitive capacity of modern humans. Porc-Epic Cave in Ethiopia has a long sequence of Upper Pleistocene occupation. Several thousand bone and lithic artifacts were excavated during three major field excavations (1933, 1974, 1975–76). The lithic assemblage reveals that the relationship between humans and their environment is well organized and that the African terminology is sometimes difficult to apply. This paper proposes a synthesis of all the data, studies and conclusions I have made from the analysis of lithic materials from the 1933 and 1975–76 excavations in order to integrate Porc-Epic into the current debate of MSA and modern human Behavior.L'origine de l'Homme moderne en Afrique fait l'objet actuellement d'un large débat. Les décourvertes de fossiles d'Homo sapiens en Afrique sub-saharienne associés à des industries lithiques montrent que, en parallèle à l'émergence de cette nouvelle espèce humaine, un comportement dit moderne s'est développé. Le Middle Stone Age est donc une période culturelle charnière dans l'évolution comportementale de l'homme. La grotte du Porc-Épic, en Éthiopie, est un témoignage de cette ère avec un remplissage pléistocène supérieur contenant des dizaines de milliers de restes fauniques et lithiques. L'étude de son important assemblage lithique révèle que le rapport de l'homme à la matière et à son environnement est très organisé et que le terminologie culturelle africaine est parfois difficile à utiliser.
Article
The history of research into the Middle Stone Age of East Africa and the present state of knowledge of this time period is examined for the region as a whole, with special reference to paleoenvironments. The known MSA sites and occurrences are discussed region by region and attempts are made to fit them into a more precise chronological framework and to assess their cultural affinities. The conclusion is reached that the Middle Stone Age lasted for some 150,000 years but considerably more systematic and in-depth research is needed into this time period, which is now perceived as of great significance since it appears to span the time of the evolution of anatomically Modern humans in the continent, perhaps in East Africa.
Article
The earliest fossils of Homo sapiens are reported from in Africa in association with both late Acheulian and Middle Stone Age (MSA) artifacts. The relation between the origin of our species during the later Middle Pleistocene in Africa and the major archaeological shift marked by the Acheulian-MSA transition is therefore a key issue in human evolution, but it has thus far suffered from a lack of detailed comparison. Here we initiate an exploration of differences and similarities among Middle Pleistocene lithic traditions through examination of Levallois flake production from a sequence of Acheulian and MSA sites from the Kapthurin Formation of Kenya dated to ∼200–500 ka. Results suggest that MSA Levallois technology developed from local Acheulian antecedents, and support a mosaic pattern of lithic technological change across the Acheulian-MSA transition. Les premiers restes fossiles d’Homo sapiens sont rapportés d’Afrique aussi bien à des avec des outillages de l’Acheuléen final que du Middle Stone Age (MSA). La relation entre l’origine de notre espèce au Pléistocène moyen final d’Afrique et le changement majeur marquée par la transition Acheuléen-MSA est par conséquent un moment clé de l’évolution humaine qui a manqué jusqu’ici d’analyses comparatives détaillées. Nous nous proposons ici de commencer à explorer les différences et les similarités qui peuvent se faire jour au Pléistocène moyen dans les traditions techniques à l’examen des productions à éclats Levallois, dans une séquence de sites acheuléens et MSA de la formation de Kapthurin (Kenya), datée de 200–500 ka. Les resultants obtenus suggèrent que la technologie Levallois MSA s’est développée sur ce substrat acheuléen et renforce cette perception que l’on peut avoir d’une mosaïque de changements technologiques jalonnant la transition Acheuléen-MSA.
Article
The Gombore II site dates to circa the Brunhes Matuyama Reversal and is one of the Acheulean localities of the Melka Kunture (Upper Awash, Ethiopia) archaeological complex, known since the 1970s. In 2001, this locality was selected as the site for an Open Air Museum and thus excavated. The excavation area has yielded an abundant Acheulean lithic assemblage manufactured on volcanic raw materials in close association with numerous paleontological remains. A technological analysis was carried out on a fraction of the bifacial tools (bifaces and cleavers) which could be temporarily removed from the displayed surface in the museum. This set of artefacts reveals new data about the bifacial shaping strategies adopted at the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene in Ethiopia. The use of obsidian and the systematic manufacturing of twisted bifaces are original features of the assemblage. These data are discussed in the framework of penecontemporaneous East African sites.
Article
Our species Homo sapiens has never received a satisfactory morphological definition. Deriving partly from Linnaeus's exhortation simply to "know thyself," and partly from the insistence by advocates of the Evolutionary Synthesis in the mid-20th Century that species are constantly transforming ephemera that by definition cannot be pinned down by morphology, this unfortunate situation has led to huge uncertainty over which hominid fossils ought to be included in H. sapiens, and even over which of them should be qualified as "archaic" or as "anatomically modern," a debate that is an oddity in the broader context of paleontology. Here, we propose a suite of features that seems to characterize all H. sapiens alive today, and we review the fossil evidence in light of those features, paying particular attention to the bipartite brow and the "chin" as examples of how, given the continuum from developmentally regulated genes to adult morphology, we might consider features preserved in fossil specimens in a comparative analysis that includes extant taxa. We also suggest that this perspective on the origination of novelty, which has gained a substantial foothold in the general field of evolutionary developmental biology, has an intellectual place in paleoanthropology and hominid systematics, including in defining our species, H. sapiens. Beginning solely with the distinctive living species reveals a startling variety in morphologies among late middle and late Pleistocene hominids, none of which can be plausibly attributed to H. sapiens/H. neanderthalensis admixture. Allowing for a slightly greater envelope of variation than exists today, basic "modern" morphology seems to have appeared significantly earlier in time than the first stirrings of the modern symbolic cognitive system.
Article
This paper describes the excavation, stratigraphy, and lithic assemblages of Middle Stone Age sites from the Omo Kibish Formation (Lower Omo Valley, southwestern Ethiopia). Three sites were excavated, two in Kibish Member I (KHS and AHS) and one at the base of Member III (BNS). The assemblages are dominated by relatively high-quality raw materials procured as pebbles from local gravels. The principal modes of core preparation are radial/centripetal Levallois and discoidal. Retouched tools are rare. Foliate bifaces are present, as are larger tools, such as handaxes, picks, and lanceolates, but these are more common among surface finds than among excavated assemblages. Middle Stone Age assemblages shed light on the adaptations of the earliest-known Homo sapiens populations in Africa.
Article
To what extent is cranial vault thickness (CVT) a character that is strongly linked to the genome, or to what extent does it reflect the activity of an individual prior to skeletal maturity? Experimental data from pigs and armadillos indicate that CVT increases more rapidly in exercised juveniles than in genetically similar controls, despite the low levels of strain generated by chewing or locomotion in the neurocranium. CVT increases in these individuals appear to be a consequence of systemic cortical bone growth induced by exercise. In addition, an analysis of the variability in vault thickness in the genus Homo demonstrates that, until the Holocene, there has been only a slight, general decrease in vault thickness over time with no consistent significant differences between archaic and early anatomically modern humans from the Late Pleistocene. Although there may be some genetic component to variation in CVT, exercise-related, non-genetically heritable stimuli appear to account for most of the variance between individuals. The thick cranial vaults of most hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists suggests that they may have experienced higher levels of sustained exercise relative to body mass than the majority of recent, post-industrial humans.
Article
Proponents of the model known as the "human revolution" claim that modern human behaviors arose suddenly, and nearly simultaneously, throughout the Old World ca. 40-50 ka. This fundamental behavioral shift is purported to signal a cognitive advance, a possible reorganization of the brain, and the origin of language. Because the earliest modern human fossils, Homo sapiens sensu stricto, are found in Africa and the adjacent region of the Levant at >100 ka, the "human revolution" model creates a time lag between the appearance of anatomical modernity and perceived behavioral modernity, and creates the impression that the earliest modern Africans were behaviorally primitive. This view of events stems from a profound Eurocentric bias and a failure to appreciate the depth and breadth of the African archaeological record. In fact, many of the components of the "human revolution" claimed to appear at 40-50 ka are found in the African Middle Stone Age tens of thousands of years earlier. These features include blade and microlithic technology, bone tools, increased geographic range, specialized hunting, the use of aquatic resources, long distance trade, systematic processing and use of pigment, and art and decoration. These items do not occur suddenly together as predicted by the "human revolution" model, but at sites that are widely separated in space and time. This suggests a gradual assembling of the package of modern human behaviors in Africa, and its later export to other regions of the Old World. The African Middle and early Late Pleistocene hominid fossil record is fairly continuous and in it can be recognized a number of probably distinct species that provide plausible ancestors for H. sapiens. The appearance of Middle Stone Age technology and the first signs of modern behavior coincide with the appearance of fossils that have been attributed to H. helmei, suggesting the behavior of H. helmei is distinct from that of earlier hominid species and quite similar to that of modern people. If on anatomical and behavioral grounds H. helmei is sunk into H. sapiens, the origin of our species is linked with the appearance of Middle Stone Age technology at 250-300 ka.
Article
Sites containing Acheulian, Sangoan, Fauresmith, and Middle Stone Age artefacts occur within and below the Bedded Tuff, a widespread volcaniclastic member of the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya. The Bedded Tuff eruptive complex consists of up to twelve tephra beds, intercalated sediments, and paleosols. Two pumiceous units, high in the Bedded Tuff sequence, have been dated by(40)Ar/(39)Ar, one to 235+/-2 ka (Deino & McBrearty, 2002, Journal of Human Evolution, 42, 185-210, cf. Tallon, 1978, Geological Background to Fossil Man, pp. 361-373, Scottish Academic Press), the other to 284+/-12 ka (Deino & McBrearty, 2001), the latter now providing a minimum age estimate for all underlying archaeological sites. Bedded Tuff outcrops are correlated through field stratigraphic and electron microprobe geochemical analyses of individual beds. Bedded Tuff units show increasingly evolved composition through the stratigraphic succession, indicating that the beds are the product of intermittent eruption of a single differentiating magma system, and the chemical signatures of these beds permit the chronological ordering of archaeological sites. Our results indicate that the transition to Middle Stone Age technology occurred prior to 285 ka in this region of East Africa. The interstratification of sites containing Acheulian, Sangoan, Fauresmith, and Middle Stone Age artefacts suggests that these technologies were contemporary in a single depositional basin over the duration of the transition.
Article
The purpose of this study was to define the variability in skull thickness from location to location and from individual to individual in a large number of human skulls. Skull thickness was measured in multiple areas of the calvaria in 281 dry skulls from the Hamman-Todd osteological collection (Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio). A total of 40 points were determined over the frontal, occipital, and parietal bones, with a higher number of points concentrated on the latter. Repeated measures analysis of variance models were used to assess the effects of covariates (individual variables) on skull thickness and location. A statistically significant pattern of increased thickness toward the posterior parietal bones was seen in all subgroups. The mean thickness of the skull across all locations was 6.32 mm (SEM, 0.07 mm) and ranged from 5.3 mm (SEM, 0.09 mm) to 7.5 mm (SEM, 0.09 mm). Age was not found to be a significant predictor of mean skull thickness. Differences between male and female skulls were greater toward the rear of the parietal bones. The thickest area of the skull is the parasagittal posterior parietal area in male skulls and the posterior parietal area midway between the sagittal and superior temporal line in female skulls. An accurate map of the skull thickness representing the normative data of the studied population was developed. It is hoped that this topographic map will assist the surgeons in choosing the safest area of cranial bone graft harvest, thus increasing the safety of the procedure.
Sites archéologiques de Melka-Konture: Gombore et Garba Echelle: 1/2000
  • Y Egels
Egels, Y., 1971. Sites archéologiques de Melka-Konture: Gombore et Garba. Echelle: 1/2000. Institut Géographique National, Paris
Découverte de restes humains fossiles associés à un outillage acheuléen final à Melka-Kunturé (Ethiopie)
  • J Chavaillon
  • F Hours
  • Y Coppens
Chavaillon, J., Hours, F., Coppens, Y., 1987. Découverte de restes humains fossiles associés à un outillage acheuléen final à Melka-Kunturé (Ethiopie). Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences 304, 539e542.
Evolution quaternaire du bassin de l'Awash (Rift Ethiopien et Afar) (Ph.D. dissertation)
  • M Taieb
Taieb, M., 1974. Evolution quaternaire du bassin de l'Awash (Rift Ethiopien et Afar) (Ph.D. dissertation). Université Paris IV, France.