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Egeland et al. / GIS and Paleoanthropological Site Selection
e timing and nature of the initial hominid dispersals
from Africa during the Plio-Pleistocene (here 2.0-1.5
million years ago [MYR]) is an issue of great interest
for paleoanthropology. However, the biological, tech-
nological, and ecological context of these dispersals
remains cloudy due largely to a paucity of Eurasian
paleoanthropological sites dating to this time period.
Indeed, there are only a handful of well-accepted
Plio-Pleistocene sites from Eurasia: Dmanisi in the
Republic of Georgia at 1.77-1.81 MYR (de Lumley
et al. 2002), the Nihewan and Yuanmou basins of
China at 1.66-1.70 MYR (Zhu et al. 2008), and the
Indonesian island of Java at least 1.66 MYR (Sangiran)
but perhaps as early as 1.81 MYR (Mojokerto) (Larick
et al. 2001; Swisher et al. 1994). Although the Levant,
given its geographic location, is the most logical extra-
African source of dispersing hominid populations, the
earliest well-accepted occupations there ('Ubeidiya
in Israel) date to somewhat later in time at 1.4 MYR
(Belmaker et al. 2002).
Plio-Pleistocene sites are extremely rare, and sites
preserved in high-integrity depositional contexts
are even more so. In fact, the rich early Pleistocene
component at Dmanisi was itself unearthed more-or-
less accidentally during the excavation of a medieval
fortress (Djaparidze et al. 1989). As fortunate as this
discovery was, survey efforts informed by ecologi-
cally relevant variables such as vegetation, geography,
topography, and geology may not only increase the
chances of finding paleoanthropological sites, but
will also help place hominid occupations into a
broader environmental context. Here we describe
an approach to identify target areas for paleoanthro-
pological survey. is method uses GIS to integrate
data from archaeology and ecology to identify high
potential areas for intensive ground survey. As an
example, we present pre- and post-survey data from
a new paleoanthropological research project in
northern Armenia.
FiElD notE
Using GIS and Ecological Variables to Identify
High Potential Areas for Paleoanthropological Survey:
An Example from Northern Armenia
C P. E
C M. N
B G
Journal of Ecological Anthropology
Vol. 14 No. 1 2010
Predictive models assume that the locations of sites
are at least partially influenced by modern or pre-
historic environmental factors such as vegetation,
distance to water, or topographic setting (e.g., Mehrer
and Wescott 2006). For example, remote sensing data
have been successfully used to identify high potential
geological strata for paleoanthropological survey in
East Africa (Asfaw et al. 1990; Harmand et al. 2009).
e greater affordability of digital data and the abil-
ity of GIS to integrate and manipulate numerous
datasets now permit relatively sophisticated remote
predictive modeling. As described below, the isolation
of possible hominid dispersal routes and—within
these dispersal corridors—areas that are likely to
contain evidence of early hominid activity, allows
for more focused pedestrian survey.
Current evidence indicates that by the early Pleis-
tocene, hominids had traveled between 1,000 and
5,400 miles from their African homeland (Carbonell
et al. 2008). However, this seemingly widespread
occurrence does not necessarily mean that hominid
populations were distributed evenly across Eurasian
landscapes, especially during the initial stages of
dispersal. It is therefore possible that hominids used
particular corridors that contained favorable ecologi-
cal conditions for their expansion. erefore, the first
step is the identification, in a very broad sense, of
potential survey regions.
A theoretical dispersal path was constructed between
the Levant and the earliest well-accepted evidence for
hominid occupation outside of Africa—Dmanisi.
Any origin point in the area provides the same results;
FIGURE 1: Regional map showing origin (‘Ubeidiya, Israel) and destination
(Dmanisi, Georgia) points for the Cost Path Analysis.
Egeland et al. / GIS and Paleoanthropological Site Selection
in the analysis presented here, the site of 'Ubei-
diya in Israel was used. A simple cost path analysis
(CPA) model was employed, which determines the
path from a source to a destination using a series of
algorithms that take into account impediments to
travel (e.g., Hare 2004). Assuming that populations
will select a path that minimizes the cost (energy) of
travel, the goal of the application was to identify a
least cost path (LCP). is function was performed
in ArcMap 9.3 using the Spatial Analyst with two
input raster layers: the cost raster and the back link
raster. e cost raster was represented by modern ter-
rain (derived using digital elevation models [DEM]),
while the back link raster retraced the least-costly
route from the destination to the source over the
cost distance surface. Using these two raster layers,
an algorithm calculated a single path of raster cells
that is the “cheapest” cumulative route relative to cost
(i.e., slope). Once the slope and back link rasters were
created, ArcMap performed the cost path analysis to
create a raster layer of the least cost path, which was
then converted to a vector file for display.
Based on modern terrain, the cheapest route between
'Ubeidiya and Dmanisi runs northeast across Syria,
into eastern Turkey and skirts along the northwestern
border of Armenia (Figure 1). Once in the Lesser
Caucasus of northern Armenia, the least cost path
passes north across the Tashir Plateau before termi-
nating at Dmanisi. Because regional topography has
changed somewhat over the past two million years
(see below), this cost path analysis was not meant to
predict the precise location of paleoanthropological
sites; rather, as mentioned above, it served to isolate
potential survey regions. at the cost path analysis
matched well with the distribution of known Lower
Paleolithic occurrences in northern Armenia supports
the presumption that the region was an important
corridor for the movement of early hominid popula-
tions (Figure 2).
FIGURE 2: Map of northern Armenia (inset) and northeastern Armenia with the location
of geographic features, previously identied Paleolithic sites, and the Least Cost Path. | DOI:
Journal of Ecological Anthropology
Vol. 14 No. 1 2010
Although systematic data for the Plio-Pleistocene of
the Lesser Caucasus is only beginning to emerge (e.g.,
Roiron et al. 2007), paleoenvironmental consider-
ations further buttress this assertion. Perhaps most
importantly, the site of Dmanisi clearly indicates that
the Lesser Caucasus could accommodate hominid
habitats during the Plio-Pleistocene. It has even
been suggested that the region served as a refugium
during colder time periods (Gabunia et al. 2000). In
addition, many of the intermontane depressions of
the Lesser Caucasus were filled by large freshwater
lakes during the late Pliocene. Pleistocene volcanism
eventually fragmented these lakes into smaller lacus-
trine basins (Lededev et al. 2008a, 2008b; Sayadyan
2006a, 2006b). e potential presence of lake-mar-
gin and alluvial environments of Plio-Pleistocene age
in the region is especially significant given that Dma-
nisi itself is thought to have been in close proximity
to a lake (Gabunia et al. 2000), and early hominid
occupation of well-watered habitats such as riparian
woodlands and lake-margins is well-documented in
East Africa at both Olduvai Gorge and sites in the
Turkana Basin (Hay 1976; Rogers et al. 1994).
e next step was to identify specific areas in the
Lesser Caucasus for focused pedestrian survey. As
Figure 2 shows, there are several paleoanthropologi-
cal sites documented on the Tashir Plateau that lie
along the dispersal path calculated by the cost path
analysis. However, many of these and other known
sites in the region document hominid occupation
only back to the early middle Pleistocene—which
post-dates the earliest dispersals from Africa—and
tend to lack materials that provide reliable dates
(e.g., volcanic material and/or well-preserved fauna)
(Doronichev 2008). e closest area within the high
potential dispersal region (as determined by the cost
path analysis) that preserves alluvial, lacustrine, and,
most importantly, datable volcanic deposits spanning
much of the Plio-Pleistocene, is the Debed River Val-
ley of northeastern Armenia. e Debed was there-
fore considered to be an attractive area for identifying
new paleoanthropological sites. Particularly striking
was the lack of paleoanthropological sites in and
along the valley (Figure 2), which is related directly
to a lack of prior paleoanthropological research in
the area. GIS was therefore used to conduct a site
suitability analysis for the Debed River Valley.
Land Cover Type No. of Occurrences LST Score1
14 - Rain-fed croplands 11 48
20 - Mosaic croplands/vegetation 23 100
30 - Mosaic vegetation/croplands 22 96
50 - Closed broadleaved deciduous forest 15 65
110 - Mosaic forest/shrubland/grassland 1 4
1LST = Linear Scale Transformation
TABLE 1: Land cover categories used in the site suitability analysis. All LST scores were scaled
to the maximum value (23) to derive suitability scores. See text for full explanation.
Egeland et al. / GIS and Paleoanthropological Site Selection
Aspect (Degrees) No. of Occurrences LST Score1
23-67 5 38
68-112 8 62
113-157 11 85
158-202 11 85
203-247 4 31
248-292 13 100
293-337 12 92
338-360 6 46
TABLE 2: Aspect categories used in the site suitability analysis. All LST scores were scaled
to the maximum value (13) to derive suitability scores. See text for full explanation.
TABLE 3: Slope categories used in the site suitability analysis. All LST scores were scaled
to the maximum value (29) to derive suitability scores. See text for full explanation.
Slope (Degrees) No. of Occurrences LST Score1
0.0-0.5 29 100
0.6-1.0 17 59
1.1-1.5 11 38
1.6-2.0 12 41
2.1-2.5 1 3
2.6-3.0 2 7
TABLE 4: Elevation categories used in the site suitability analysis. All LST scores were scaled
to the maximum value (31) to derive suitability scores. See text for full explanation.
Elevation (Meters) No. of Occurrences LST Score1
0-1000 19 61
1000-2000 31 100
2000-3000 16 52
3000+ 6 19
1LST = Linear Scale Transformation | DOI:
Journal of Ecological Anthropology
Vol. 14 No. 1 2010
Site suitability analysis enters variables into a com-
puter model that geographically displays areas that
are most (and least) likely to preserve sites based on
numerical suitability scores (the higher the score,
the more conducive an area is for site identification).
e location of previously identified Paleolithic sites
in northern Armenia (n = 72; see Figure 2) was used
to identify predictive variables for site location. e
variables most closely associated with site location
were slope, aspect, elevation, land cover, and
proximity to rivers. For the GIS analysis, polygon
data for each variable were converted from shapefiles
to raster files. As an example, consider land cover:
five categories coincided with previously identi-
fied Paleolithic sites (Table 1). Using a linear scale
transformation (LST; Malczewski 1999), numerical
values for each land cover category were assigned
based on the number of sites that occurred in a
particular category. For land cover, known Paleo-
lithic sites were most often associated with mosaic
croplands/vegetation (a total of 23 times). Because
this represented the highest frequency of asso-
ciations, croplands/vegetation received a suitability
score of 1 and all subsequent scores were scaled to
this value. e linear scale transformation values
for each variable were summed using the raster
calculator, averaged to remove potential outliers,
and multiplied by 100. is resulted in a composite
suitability score that ranged from 0 (lowest suit-
ability) to 100 (highest suitability). In general, the
highest suitability scores were associated with areas
located near rivers with low slope and relatively open
vegetation (i.e., cropland). Tables 2-4 summarize
the LST scores for aspect, slope, and elevation. A
2 km buffer was constructed along major rivers to
assign distance-to-water scores.
FIGURE 3: Raster map of site suitability scores for the Debed River Valley
and the location of identied paleoanthropological sites.
Egeland et al. / GIS and Paleoanthropological Site Selection
e calculated raster values were reclassified into three suit-
ability categories: Unsuitable, Suitable, and Very Suitable.
Suitable was defined as the mean suitability score of the
previously identified sites (= 65) with a range equal to the
standard deviation of the previously identified sites (SD
= 15.4). is provided a range of 50-81 for the Suitable
category. Scores below 50 were then defined as Unsuitable
and scores above 81 as Very Suitable. ese values were
then used to produce a raster map to visualize the potential
location of paleoanthropological sites in the Debed River
Valley (Figure 3), which in turn served to focus survey
efforts. It quickly became clear that, based on the site suit-
ability analysis, the northernmost stretch of the Debed near
the Georgian border had the highest potential to preserve
paleoanthropological sites.
During the summer of 2009, preliminary survey was
conducted along the Debed River Valley between its
confluence with the Dzoraget River in the south to the
Georgian border in the north, a distance of approximately
60 km. Limited field time precluded a complete and sys-
tematic survey of the entire 60 km stretch, so, guided by
the suitability analysis, the survey team was transported to
high potential localities by vehicle after which pedestrian
survey was carried out. A total of 25 new sites spanning
the Lower Paleolithic through the Upper Paleolithic were
identified (Table 5). As can be seen in Table 5, a majority
of the sites were discovered—as predicted by the suitability
analysis—along the lower Debed near the border with
Georgia (Figure 3). Two of these sites (Haghtanak 3 and
Ayrum 2) preserved Oldowan-type chopper forms that may
be associated with a Plio-Pleistocene hominid occupation
(Egeland et al. 2010).
e concentration on Suitable and Very Suitable areas in
the Debed River Valley was an effective survey strategy,
and the remote GIS analysis certainly maximized field
time. However, there are some limitations to the study as
currently conceived. First, the goal of this initial round
of research was simply to identify the presence of paleo-
anthropological material. Survey of the valley in general
and at each site in particular was by no means systematic
TABLE 5: List of Paleolithic sites
identied in the Debed River Valley
during the summer of 2009 and
associated site suitability scores.
Suitability scores below 50 are
considered Unsuitable scores
between 50-81 are considered
Suitable, and scores above 81
are considered Very Suitable.
Site Site Suitability
Lchkadzor 49
Akori 1 59
Haghtanak 3 59
Arevatsag 2 60
Vahagni 1 60
Bagratashen 5 61
Akori 2 64
Arevatsag 1 66
Debedavan 3 67
Haghtanak 2 68
Ptghavan 3 69
Haghtanak 1 71
Bagratashen 4 71
Ptghavan 4 77
Ayrum 1 78
Debedavan 1 78
Debedavan 2 78
Haghtanak 4 81
Ayrum 3 82
Ayrum 2 84
Bagratashen 1 88
Bagratashen 3 88
Bagratashen 2 89
Ptghavan 1 91
Ptghavan 2 92 | DOI:
Journal of Ecological Anthropology
Vol. 14 No. 1 2010
and it therefore cannot be determined at this point
what percentage of each suitability category was
surveyed. It can be said, however, that several areas
with high suitability scores have yet to be surveyed.
Second, the data on modern landscape variables
were relatively coarse-grained and, importantly,
lacked a temporal dimension. Environmental recon-
structions are available for the middle Pliocene in
formats easily incorporated into a GIS (Salzmann et
al. 2008). Unfortunately, these data are simply too
coarse to be of much use for an analysis at the scale
presented here. More detailed data on a number
of paleogeographic and paleoecological variables
and how they would affect the predictive model-
ing are needed. e spatial extent of Pleistocene
lakes throughout the Lesser Caucasus would be
particularly useful in this context. Finally, it must
be realized that remote GIS predictive modeling,
while providing a useful guide for site identifica-
tion, is no substitute for (and can be modified by)
on-the-ground experience. Consider the site of
Lchkadzor, which is the one locality that scored in
the Unsuitable category (though only by a single
point). e site is a diffuse lithic scatter located on
the relatively steep slopes of a small foothill over-
looking the Debed. e sedimentary outcrops that
prompted further investigation at Lchkadzor were
only identified when the survey team was on the
ground investigating a high potential area nearby.
Future work will aim to address these issues more
fully. Nevertheless, the results of this study indicate
that paleoanthropological survey can benefit from
predictive modeling using the integration of envi-
ronmental variables and GIS.
Charles P. Egeland, Department of Anthropology,
University of North Carolina at Greensboro,
Christopher M. Nicholson, Water Resources Data
System, Department of Civil and Architectural Engi-
neering, University of Wyoming,
Boris Gasparian, Institute of Archaeology and
Ethnography, National Academy of Sciences of the
Republic of Armenia,
is is Paper No. 1 in the Lori Depression Paleoan-
thropological Project publication series. Members of
the project not appearing as authors include Dmitri
Arakelyan, Ryan M. Byerly, and Robert Ghukasyan.
Sincere thanks to Dr. Pavel Avetisyan and the In-
stitute of Archaeology and Ethnography (National
Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia) for
supporting this research. anks to Dina Zardaryan
(Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography) for
help in dating materials and to Samvel Nahapetyan
(Department of Cartography and Geomorphology,
Yerevan State University) for providing important
information on the geomorphology of the Debed
River Valley. Funding for the Lori Depression Paleo-
anthropological Project has been provided through a
grant from the National Science Foundation (BCS-
0936385) to Charles P. Egeland.
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... The Armenian Highlands together with the southern Caucasus lie along an important route for early humans as they migrated out of Africa, with the earliest evidence dated to approximately 1.8 Ma at the Early Pleistocene site of Dmanisi in Georgia (Gabunia and Vekua, 1995;Egeland et al., 2010;Ferring et al., 2011;Gasparyan and Glauberman, 2022). It is an extremely diverse region, both topographically and climatically, and supports a variety of plant habitats from deserts, semi-deserts, and steppes to open woodlands, forests, and alpine meadows (Nakhutsrishvili, 2012;Fayvush and Aleksanyan, 2016). ...
Current knowledge about Paleolithic human plant use is limited by the rare survival of identifiable plant remains as well as the availability of methods for plant detection and identification. By analyzing DNA preserved in cave sediments, we can identify organisms in the absence of any visible remains, opening up new ways to study details of past human behavior, including plant use. Aghitu-3 Cave contains a 15,000-yearlong record (from ∼39,000 to 24,000 cal BP) of Upper Paleolithic human settlement and environmental variability in the Armenian Highlands. Finds from this cave include stone artifacts, faunal remains, bone tools, shell beads, charcoal, and pollen, among others. We applied sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA) metabarcoding to the Aghitu-3 sedimentary sequence and combined this with pollen data to obtain a temporal reconstruction of plant assemblages. Our results reveal a stratification of plant abundance and diversity where sedaDNA reflects periods of human occupation, showing higher diversity in layers with increased human activity. Low pollen concentrations combined with high sedaDNA abundance indicate plant remains may have been brought into the cave by animals or humans during the deposition of the lower two archaeological horizons. Most of the recovered plants are reported to be useful for food, flavor, medicine, and/or technical purposes, demonstrating the potential of the environment around Aghitu-3 Cave to support humans during the Upper Paleolithic. Moreover, we identified several specific plant taxa that strengthen previous findings about Upper Paleolithic plant use in this region (i.e., for medicine and the manufacturing and dyeing of textiles). This study represents the first application of plant sedaDNA analysis of cave sediments for the investigation of potential plant use by prehistoric humans.
... This fact is borne out by the region's rich record of Palaeolithic occupation. It is thought that the area was one of a handful of important glacial refugia for hominins during the Pleistocene and thus may have served as a core area from which (re)colonisations of Eurasia originated (Bar-Yosef, 1994;Bar-Yosef et al., 2006;Beliaeva and Lioubine, 1998;Dennell, 2009;Dennell and Roebroeks, 2005;Egeland et al., 2010;Fernández-Jalvo et al., 2004, 2016Finlayson, 2004;Gasparyan et al., 2014a,b;Ovchinnikov et al., 2000). ...
The Armenian Highlands and Caucasus comprise a pivotal region within the known Neanderthal biogeographic range. This topographically and eco-geologically diverse area is very rich in Middle Palaeolithic (MP) archaeology; however, it is still understudied. This chapter summarises results of recent fieldwork and current data on patterns and variability in MP site contexts, chronology, stone tool manufacture, technological organisation, land use, subsistence practices, and potential symbolic behaviour. MP hunter–gatherers were well adapted to Late Pleistocene mosaic landscapes and environmental-elevation gradients in the area. The spatial and temporal dynamics of the regional Middle to Upper Palaeolithic (UP) ‘transition’ are not fully resolved. Further research is likely to reveal complexity in the timing and nature of the disappearance of the MP and appearance of the UP, with implications for the replacement of Neanderthals by Homo sapiens in the region.
... To determine where additional Kdb quarries may be located on the landscape, site location information from 47 known quarries was used with two environmental variables in a site suitability analysis (Egeland et al., 2010;Malczewski, 1999). A site suitability analysis investigates the environmental variables that best characterize a quarry locality and includes those variables into a model that geographically displays the areas that are most, and least, suitable area that contain a particular raw material type. ...
The study of stone-tool raw material acquisition to evaluate temporal changes in regional sociopolitical organization and economic-related behaviors in the American Southwest is relatively rare when compared to pottery studies for the same purpose. To promote and conduct more meaningful study of these activities using lithic remains, we contend that the location of additional local raw material quarries must be identified and documented. Because of known data gaps in regional quarry datasets, we develop a method to identify additional quarries in the central Mesa Verde region of the American Southwest using a multi-step GIS approach. Our exploratory analysis of new quarry sites uses community-center site locations coupled with a site suitability analysis (a Linear Scale Transformation of geological attributes) to identify future survey target areas. This method of identifying areas that are highly suitable for local raw materials seeks to both optimize our time in the field, while also providing us with additional data points to conduct more sophisticated GIS analyses. Our analysis has identified areas of western Papoose and Ruin Canyons that will serve as the target of future surveys, with the goal of ground truthing our model and discovering, and documenting, new local quarries.
... They are mostly retouched laminar products. Small scrapers like thumbnail scrapers and few pieces, which Rosenberg put in the category of projectiles, are also among the relative to the cost units defined by the original cost raster that was input into the weighted-distance function (Egeland et al., 2010). 144 E.g. ...
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Preface This book draws on my fascination with aspects of the natural world. I remember when I was a child; I was interested in animals, rocks, rivers, and mountains. I spent many hours with my father, brothers and friends in the hills and mountains close to our houses in Tüshami and Kermanshah. I learned how to look at rocks, slopes, valleys and plains. Particularly, my father taught me how to look at the nature surrounding us and, like a child; he still loves the animals and their wild life. Later, I learnt to use maps at the university where I became student of geography. Meanwhile, I met Fereidoun Biglari, who introduced me Paleolithic archaeology which it changed my direction in life. We spent many hours as hunters of caves and rockshelters in the Bisetun-Shahoo Mountains in the Kermanshah region. These forays into the landscape were the first steps that led me to participate and associate with different archaeological investigative teams who studied Iran from the lower Paleolithic to the Historic period, thereby providing marvelous opportunities for me to become acquainted with different natural landscapes and environments in Iran. This knowledge of the different environments made me understand how important the natural setting is for human life style, behavior and the distribution patterns of activities. My background in physical geography helps in doing this as well. The University of Tübingen offered me the great opportunity to study the world of Paleolithic archaeology. The need for research based on this approach became apparent to me during my studies in Tübingen. When I read manuscripts such as ‘Hunter and gatherer landscape of south Germany’ by Jochim or ‘Neanderthals and Modern Humans: an ecological and evolutionary perspective’ by Clive Finlayson, I thought why don’t we have something like this for Iran. It is true Iran has not been investigated as thoroughly as Germany or Europe so far but there are enough sites in the landscape of Iran to write a dissertation on the “Paleolithic Landscapes of Iran”. That is how this book came to be.
... By determining the possible mountain pass routes the archaeological observation areas can be minimized. Egeland et al. (2010) also used a cost surface to calculate the least cost path to determine probable other settlement locations. Countryman et al. (2010) derived a suitability surface using weighted overlays of seven variables which the authors hypothesized to be influential. ...
It is difficult to draw reliable conclusions about prehistoric cultures due to inherently vague archaeological data. The lack of suitable methods for the quantitative analysis of settlement patterns in terms of uncertain as well as incomplete data is the motivation for this research. The aim is to gain the maximum of information about former settlements with a minimum of previous knowledge. To achieve that goal, the environmental surroundings in combination with the location are considered in the analysis. This is based on mainly two assumptions, namely that locations of settlements are influenced by environmental conditions and that settlements have different functions within the settlement-network. Literature research was necessary in order to collect as many excavation site locations as possible. The result is the largest published collection of former settlement in the Amazon region. A conceptual data model is developed which fits the requirements of the available data and is implemented in a central database on a server in order to provide the data. This reduces redundancies and provides external access over the internet for all interested researchers. Consequently it facilitates the analysis of intra cultural settlement patterns. Additionally environmental variables need to be defined which are assumed to be potentially influencing. A knowledge discovery process is developed which allows to further analyse the data. A Maximum Entropy Model is performed to see whether an environmental variable is influencing the outcome of the model. The variables with an ascertainable contribution are used for further analysis. The settlement type is determined using a clustering approach on the basis of the remaining environmental variables. To avoid that distant variables distort the cluster result, only environmental variables near the excavation site are considered. The definition of nearness is made using a rough boundary which is individually set for each parameter. The maximum nearness value is randomly selected and used as input for the cluster analysis. Various cluster runs with changing maximum nearness values are performed and compared using the consensus clustering approach. An optimal cluster solution as well as a consensus value are returned as a result which is used in order to calculate settlement function related suitability surfaces. These cost surfaces serve as basis for the concluding territory analysis. The developed methodology allows to derive scenarios of potential functional settlement patterns. The focus is on archaeological records of yet poorly explored cultures.
... Several international research groups have been working to gain new insights into the prehistory of the region. For example, a series of open-air sites document Lower and Middle Paleolithic occupations, especially in northern Armenia (e.g., Dolukhanov et al., 2004;Aslanian et al., 2006;Kolpakov, 2009;Egeland et al., 2010;Gasparyan et al., 2014a). ...
With its well-preserved archaeological and environmental records, Aghitu-3 Cave permits us to examine the settlement patterns of the Upper Paleolithic (UP) people who inhabited the Armenian Highlands. We also test whether settlement of the region between ∼39–24,000 cal BP relates to environmental variability. The earliest evidence occurs in archaeological horizon (AH) VII from ∼39–36,000 cal BP during a mild, moist climatic phase. AH VI shows periodic occupation as warm, humid conditions prevailed from ∼36–32,000 cal BP. As the climate becomes cooler and drier at ∼32–29,000 cal BP (AH V-IV), evidence for occupation is minimal. However, as cooling continues, the deposits of AH III demonstrate that people used the site more intensively from ∼29–24,000 cal BP, leaving behind numerous stone artifacts, faunal remains, and complex combustion features. Despite the climatic fluctuations seen across this 15,000-year sequence, lithic technology remains attuned to one pattern: unidirectional reduction of small cores geared towards the production of bladelets for tool manufacture. Subsistence patterns also remain stable, focused on medium-sized prey such as ovids and caprids, as well as equids. AH III demonstrates an expansion of social networks to the northwest and southwest, as the transport distance of obsidian used to make stone artifacts increases. We also observe the addition of bone tools, including an eyed needle, and shell beads brought from the east, suggesting that these people manufactured complex clothing and wore ornaments. Remains of micromammals, birds, charcoal, pollen, and tephra relate the story of environmental variability. We hypothesize that UP behavior was linked to shifts in demographic pressures and climatic changes. Thus, by combining archaeological and environmental data, we gain a clearer picture about the first UP inhabitants of the Armenian Highlands.
This paper presents the results of the multidisciplinary study carried out at the Damirgaya rock art site located in Georgia, southern Caucasus. The research has aimed to conduct archaeological excavation and obtain contextual data based on multidisciplinary investigations including geology, photogrammetry, digital image enhancement, archaeological survey of the surrounding landscape, etc. Archaeological excavation has demonstrated that the shelter does not include any in situ layers, although some interactions are still observed. Detailed examination of the paintings has revealed almost 70 paintings in contrast with the previously reported 20 due to limited access to the site in the past. Zoomorphic, geometric, and anthropomorphic motifs, excluding modern graffiti, represent Schematic rock art and based on regional comparisons and a small number of lithic tools, are suggested to belong to the prehistoric period, but more reliable dating is required.
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During four field seasons spanning 2014 through 2017, Project ArAGATS (Archaeology and Geography of Ancient Transcaucasian Societies) expanded our long-term research on the origins and development of complex political systems in the South Caucasus with a comprehensive study of the upper Kasakh River valley in north-central Armenia. The Kasakh Valley Archaeological Survey employed both systematic transect survey of 43 km2 and extensive satellite-and drone-based reconnaissance to accommodate the complex topography of the Lesser Caucasus and the impacts of Soviet-era land amelioration. Though our survey was animated by questions related to the chronology and distribution of Bronze and Iron Age fortifications and cemeteries, we also recorded Paleolithic sites stretching back to the earliest human settlement of the Caucasus, Early Bronze Age surface finds, and historic landscape modifications. Concurrent to the survey, members of the ArAGATS team carried out test excavations at select settlement sites and associated burials, and a series of wetland core extractions, with the goals of affirming site occupation sequences and setting them within their environmental context. This report provides an overview of the results of these multidisciplinary activities.
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Hatis-1 is a Lower Paleolithic open-air site on the Hrazdan-Kotayk Plateau of central Armenia. Although the site was tested in the 1980s, little has been published regarding the material. Consequently, we reinvestigated the site by expanding the original test pit to better understand the stratigraphy and recover a new sample of artifacts. As a result, more than 300 obsidian artifacts were recovered from colluvial deposits found close to primary obsidian outcrops, which sourcing data show to be the exclusive areas of toolstone procurement used by the inhabitants. The recovered assemblages are Late Acheulian in character and are largely homogenous across strata in terms of techno-typology. Hatis-1 records the use of large flakes for production of cores and tools indicative of the Large Flake Acheulian, but also contains limited evidence for simple prepared cores and the recycling of bifaces as cores, suggesting expansion of the technological repertoire of hominins in this region during the Late Acheulian. The in-depth study of large cutting tools presented here reveals that differences in the shape and typology of these tools are largely determined by different production strategies. While samples suitable for direct chronometric dates were not recovered, constraining geological factors suggest this material was deposited after c.700/480 ka. This study expands our understanding of the Late Acheulian and further contextualizes the later Lower–Middle Paleolithic technological transition in the region. In a broader sense, our interpretation of the techno-typological patterns at Hatis-1 expands the current understanding of geographical and chronological variation in the Acheulian record.
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Background Paleoanthropological research focus still devotes most resources to areas generally known to be fossil rich instead of a strategy that first maps and identifies possible fossil sites in a given region. This leads to the paradoxical task of planning paleontological campaigns without knowing the true extent and likely potential of each fossil site and, hence, how to optimize the investment of time and resources. Yet to answer key questions in hominin evolution, paleoanthropologists must engage in fieldwork that targets substantial temporal and geographical gaps in the fossil record. How can the risk of potentially unsuccessful surveys be minimized, while maximizing the potential for successful surveys? Methods Here we present a simple and effective solution for finding fossil sites based on clustering by unsupervised learning of satellite images with the k -means algorithm and pioneer its testing in the Urema Rift, the southern termination of the East African Rift System (EARS). We focus on a relatively unknown time period critical for understanding African apes and early hominin evolution, the early part of the late Miocene, in an overlooked area of southeastern Africa, in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. This clustering approach highlighted priority targets for prospecting that represented only 4.49% of the total area analysed. Results Applying this method, four new fossil sites were discovered in the area, and results show an 85% accuracy in a binary classification. This indicates the high potential of a remote sensing tool for exploratory paleontological surveys by enhancing the discovery of productive fossiliferous deposits. The relative importance of spectral bands for clustering was also determined using the random forest algorithm, and near-infrared was the most important variable for fossil site detection, followed by other infrared variables. Bands in the visible spectrum performed the worst and are not likely indicators of fossil sites. Discussion We show that unsupervised learning is a useful tool for locating new fossil sites in relatively unexplored regions. Additionally, it can be used to target specific gaps in the fossil record and to increase the sample of fossil sites. In Gorongosa, the discovery of the first estuarine coastal forests of the EARS fills an important paleobiogeographic gap of Africa. These new sites will be key for testing hypotheses of primate evolution in such environmental settings.
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A reappraisal of the artifacts and chronological evidence for the earliest occupation failed to recognize any location in Eastern Europe with solid evidence for a Lower Paleolithic occupation. Human occupations reported by various researchers at Gerasimovka, Bogatiry, and Kinjal are concluded to be “possibilith” locations rather than unquestionable artifact assemblages. Currently, only Treugol’naya Cave has reliably dated evidence for human settlement in Eastern Europe, from the beginning through the middle of the Middle Pleistocene. In Eastern Europe, three assemblages from Khryashchy and Mikhailovskoe, and possibly Pogreby and Dubossary, appear to be the only locations that tentatively can be compared (despite problems with these materials) with Treugol’naya. All these Lower Paleolithic occupations yielded the Pre-Mousterian or Tayacian small tool industries with some pebble tools, but without Acheulian bifaces and Levallois technique. These data suggest that Eastern Europe lies outside the distribution range of the Acheulian techno-complex demarcated by the “Movius Line.” Additionally, data now available show that large-scale human colonization of Eastern Europe began with the spread of leaf point assemblages at the end of the Middle Pleistocene. It can be suggested that these lithic assemblages were produced by the first Neanderthal populations to appear in Eastern Europe; and, these assemblages may have developed from the Upper Acheulian or the earlier Middle Paleolithic leaf point industries in Central Europe.In the Southern Caucasus, the available chronological data indicate that the Acheulian complex has a later temporal appearance here compared to the Upper Acheulian or Acheulo-Yabrudian in Western Asia. Two main Upper Acheulian industrial variants currently can be recognized in the Southern Caucasus. The first, called the Kudarian by the author (from the caves of Kudaro I, Kudaro III, and Azykh), is characterized by lithics made from mostly siliceous rocks, rare Acheulian bifaces, and non-Levallois flaking technique. The second variant is characterized by lithics made from volcanic rocks, numerous Acheulian bifaces, and often more laminar or Levallois debitage. It can be suggested that there are independent origins for these Southern Caucasus Upper Acheulian industrial variants. Possible roots of the Acheulian assemblages of Kudarian variant might be in the local earlier Lower Paleolithic small tool assemblages (with some pebble tools but without Acheulian bifaces). The other Caucasus variant of the Upper Acheulian appears to be related to the Levantine Upper Acheulian. Conclusions that are more precise require additional analysis and new finds.
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The results of isotopic-geochronological study of the Pliocene volcanic rocks in reference sections and volcanic edifices of eastern part of the Javakheti Highland (the northwestern Lesser Caucasus) are considered. The isotopic-geochronological data obtained here are correlated with data on western part of the Javakheti Highland, which have been considered in previous part of this work. Based on correlation, time spans of principal volcanic events of the Pliocene in the study region as a whole are determined, and general trends of the young magmatism evolution within the region are established. In sum, the isotopic-geochronological dates evidence that the Pliocene magmatism of the Javakheti Highland developed practically without essential breaks during the period of about 2 Ma long, from 3.75 to 1.75–1.55 Ma ago. The areal basic volcanism that was most widespread at that time is divisible into five discrete phases according to the isotopic dates obtained. Comparatively short pauses, which separated these phases of magmatic activity, were a few hundreds thousand years long, not more. Chemical composition of moderately acidic to silicic volcanics, which are of a limited distribution in the Javakheti Highland, and their age relations with basic lavas of the region suggest that they are most likely the differentiation products of parental basic mantle-derived magmas. The analyzed distribution of volcanic centers, which erupted basic lavas of the Javakheti Highland, evidence that first two phases of basic magmatism were connected here with volcanic activity in southwestern part of the region (northern termination of the Egnakhag Ridge), whereas activity of volcanoes situated on the east, predominantly in water-shed part and on slopes of the submeridional Javakheti Ridge, controlled development of the third and fourth phases. Consequently, magmatic activity of the Pliocene stage in history of the Neogene-Quaternary magmatism of the Javakheti Highland laterally migrated from the west to the east, being controlled by development of regional submeridional extension zones. Volcanic ridges marking the latter are formed by volcanic edifices, which are amalgamated at their bases and have erupted lavas of close age and composition. The migration of volcanic activity can be described in terms of the “domino effect,” when cessation of volcanism in one zone led to formation of the other submeridional zone of extension and magmatic activity displaced from the west eastward in sublatitudinal direction. In general, evolution of the Pliocene magmatism of the Javakheti Highland, was similar, despite the essential regional peculiarities, to the generalized trend of magmatism evolution in the continental rifts and intraplate zones of the “hot-spot” type.
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Isotopic-geochronological study of the Pliocene magmatic activity in western part of the Javakheti Highland (northwestern region of the Lesser Caucasus) is carried out. The results obtained imply that the Pliocene magmatic activity lasted in this part of the highland approximately 2 million years from 3.75 to 1.75–1.55 Ma. As is established, the studied volcanic rocks correspond in composition mostly to K-Na subalkaline and more abundant normal basalts. Time constraints of main phases in development of basic volcanism within the study region are figured out. We assume that individual pulses of silicic to moderately silicic volcanism presumably took place in the Javakheti Highland about 3.2 and 2.5 Ma ago.
New sites from the Lower Paleolithic of the Republic of Djibouti: Initial results from a recent survey of the Gobaad Basin, Central Afar. Previous research in the Republic of Djibouti resulted in two notable Paleolithic findings: the Oldowan elephant butchery site of Barogali, excavated by J. Chavaillon and A. Berthelet, and a Homo erectus/sapiens maxilla described by L. de Bonis et al. These discoveries were made in the 1980s, and no paleoanthropological surveys have been conducted in Djibouti in the following decades. In 2007, the Mission archéologique et paléontologique Afar Djibouti (MAPAD) carried out a new survey of the Gobaad Basin and discovered several new archaeological and paleontological sites attributed to the Lower Paleolithic. Three sites in particular contain rich concentrations of lithic artifacts on the surface that, based on field examination, can be attributed to the Oldowan. Of these, the site of Chekheyti Issie 3 (CKI-3) is the largest, comprising a surface of well over 100m2 of abundant Oldowan lithics in spatial association with fossil hippopotamus remains. The presence of lithic refits, identified in an ad hoc fashion in the field, suggests that the site was minimally disturbed. Further excavation and analysis of CKI-3 should provide insight into carcass acquisition and processing by early hominids. More generally, the newly discovered sites in the Gobaad Basin will allow for the testing of a range of hypotheses regarding both local and regional variation in hominid technology, behavior, and subsistence strategies in the Lower Pleistocene.
Aim To produce a robust, comprehensive global biome reconstruction for the Middle Pliocene (c. 3.6–2.6 Ma), which is based on an internally consistent palaeobotanical data set and a state-of-the-art coupled climate–vegetation model. The reconstruction gives a more rigorous picture of climate and environmental change during the Middle Pliocene and provides a new boundary condition for future general circulation model (GCM) studies. Location Global. Methods Compilation of Middle Pliocene vegetation data from 202 marine and terrestrial sites into the comprehensive GIS data base TEVIS (Tertiary Environmental Information System). Translation into an internally consistent classification scheme using 28 biomes. Comparison and synthesis of vegetation reconstruction from palaeodata with the outputs of the mechanistically based BIOME4 model forced by climatology derived from the HadAM3 GCM. Results The model results compare favourably with available palaeodata and highlight the importance of employing vegetation–climate feedbacks and the anomaly method in biome models. Both the vegetation reconstruction from palaeobotanical data and the BIOME4 prediction indicate a general warmer and moister climate for the Middle Pliocene. Evergreen taiga as well as temperate forest and grassland shifted northward, resulting in much reduced tundra vegetation. Warm-temperate forests (with subtropical taxa) spread in mid and eastern Europe and tropical savannas and woodland expanded in Africa and Australia at the expense of deserts. Discrepancies which occurred between data reconstruction and model simulation can be related to: (1) poor spatial model resolution and data coverage; (2) uncertainties in delimiting biomes using climate parameters; or (3) uncertainties in model physics and/or geological boundary conditions. Main conclusions The new global biome reconstruction combines vegetation reconstruction from palaeobotanical proxies with model simulations. It is an important contribution to the further understanding of climate and vegetation changes during the Middle Pliocene warm interval and will enhance our knowledge about how vegetation may change in the future.
The hominid mandible and a third metatarsal found in Dmanisi (Republic of Georgia) are accompanied by a rich faunal assemblage and a core-chopper stone tool industry. The mandible represents a somewhat isolated morphological type ofHomo erectus that appears, given the combination of its primitive and advanced traits and specific dental morphology, to be a forerunner of both late H. erectus and early archaic H. sapiens. The faunal assemblage mostly consists of Villafranchian mammals, with the majority of the species assigned to an early phase of the Upper Villafranchian (Late Villanian and Early Biharian). Faunal and paleobotanical evidence as well as the depositional nature of the site indicate that hominid occupation took place in a mosaic environment of open steppe and gallery forests. Both the concentration of resources and the warm climatic conditions in the Dmanisi region at the beginning of the early Pleistocene were favorable for hominid occupation. It is possible that hominids reached the Caucasus through the Levantine corridor, and that the environment of this region allowed them to establish a stronghold and later colonize adjacent areas.
The first step in a behavioural ecological study of stone-tool-using hominids involves the description of the character of lithic discard and the context within which the discard occurred. We examine and put into paleogeographic context the known archaeological traces in the Turkana Basin at three successive time intervals: 2·3 million years ago (Ma), 1·9-1·8 Ma, and 1·-7-1·5 Ma. At 2·3 Ma, hominid use of stone appears restricted to small areas on the landscape where many resources such as water, shade, and stone are juxtaposed. In contrast, archaeological traces at 1·6 Ma are found in a variety of settings, which may in part be explained by the paleogeographic changes taking place at that time. This change coincides with the emergence of Homo erectus. The hominid fossil and archaeological records are shown to complement each other in the generation of ecological hypotheses of H. erectus behaviour.