May 13, 2011

Last Neandertals of Russia's North

I am reposting this, as I don't know whether my original post has survived the recent epic #BloggerFail. I'm not going to re-write my whole text, and, besides John Hawks already has plenty on the subject.

In short: the evidence in this paper is not incompatible with the other recent paper that pushed the last Neandertals back in time due to advances in radiocarbon dating. It could very well be that Neandertals had been wiped out in most of Europe by the late 30,000s before present, but had managed to survive near the Arctic before modern humans got there.

That would not be very surprising, given that the periphery is where the last unassimilated survivors of demographic expansions are expected to be found. Today, for example, it is in northern Eurasia that one can find the few unassimilated tribes that have resisted the twin spreads out of the Fertile Crescent and the Yangtze River region that have largely shaped Eurasian demography over the last 10,000 years.

Science 13 May 2011:
Vol. 332 no. 6031 pp. 841-845
DOI: 10.1126/science.1203866

Late Mousterian Persistence near the Arctic Circle

Ludovic Slimak et al.


Palaeolithic sites in Russian high latitudes have been considered as Upper Palaeolithic and thus representing an Arctic expansion of modern humans. Here we show that at Byzovaya, in the western foothills of the Polar Urals, the technological structure of the lithic assemblage makes it directly comparable with Mousterian Middle Palaeolithic industries that so far have been exclusively attributed to the Neandertal populations in Europe. Radiocarbon and optical-stimulated luminescence dates on bones and sand grains indicate that the site was occupied during a short period around 28,500 carbon-14 years before the present (about 31,000 to 34,000 calendar years ago), at the time when only Upper Palaeolithic cultures occupied lower latitudes of Eurasia. Byzovaya may thus represent a late northern refuge for Neandertals, about 1000 km north of earlier known Mousterian sites.



eurologist said...

I am confused. In their Mamontovaya Kurya paper, some of the same authors claim that The stone-working technology reflected in the Byzovaya material is similar to that of Sungir and other early Upper Palaeolithic sites of the eastern Szeletien tradition, indicating that these artefacts were manufactured by modern humans. Which one is it? Also, if Byzovaya is Neanderthal, than the much earlier Mamontovaya Kurya seems more likely to be Neanderthal, as well.

eurologist said...

Looking through the dates and literature for a few minutes, it seems to me that the most plausible explanation is that this region -- from southern Ukraine (Kostenki) to these far northern sites -- is simply a picture of what happened between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago, demonstrating both the variation in AMHs and their intellectual capabilities at this time. There is no way that there was a AMH/Neanderthal interplay for 10,000 years in this area. There is also little reason to assume Neanderthals made it this far north and could survive.

My bet is what we see here is a combination of the revolution ~45,000 years ago (still to be better characterized) and variations expected at frontier "cultures."

German Dziebel said...

"None of the 313 artefacts reflects a tool production technology typical of UP cultures. Furthermore, diagnostic tools that are common in any UP industry of Eurasia such as burins, backed tools, pointed blades, or bladelets are not represented. There are 11 end-scrapers, but none of these were prepared from UP blades. Varieties of end-scrapers, prepared from flakes, are common elements in any European MP industry, known since the first Mousterian typological analysis (16). Typological tools are mainly members of the Mousterian group (16 ), dominated by distinctive side-scrapers made out of flakes (fig. S5, nos. 1 and 2) that are typical for MP industries (17) (fig. S6 and table S4). Six of these tools have been retouched to form a bifacial tool."

It's noteworthy that this description could well be applied to the earliest New World toolkits, which are notably short of Upper Paleolithic elements (bladelets/microblades so common in Siberia are almost entirely absent in America outside of Alaska) but are dominated by flakes and bifaces. The reliance on flakes and bifaces likely reflects small population size and high mobility, which is again characteristic of both Mid-Pleistocene hominids in the Old World and New World humans. Levallois cores have recently been uncovered from 28,000 year depth in Florida (Purdy, FLORIDA'S PEOPLE DURING THE LAST ICE AGE). The presence of X chromosome B006 haplotype and blood group O at elevated frequencies in both Amerindians and Neandertals seems to reflect the same pattern.