August 27, 2005

Affinities of Early Upper Paleolithic Europeans

Some interesting information about the affinities of Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) European crania. EUP Europeans were generalized Caucasoids, and are remarkably similar to modern Europeans despite the tens of thousands of years that have intervened and the substantial replacement of the original EUP population by later migrations evidenced in European mtDNA.
Some of the discordance Van Vark et al. see between genetic and morphometric results may be attributable to their methodological choices. It is clear that the affiliation expressed by a given skull is not independent of the number of measurements taken from it. From their Table 3, it is evident that those skulls expressing Norse affinity are the most complete and have the highest number of measurements ( = 50.8), while those expressing affinity to African populations (Bushman or Zulu) are the most incomplete, averaging just 16.8 measurements per skull. Use of highly incomplete or reconstructed crania may not yield a good estimate of their morphometric affinities. When one considers only those crania with 40 or more measurements, a majority express European affinity.

To examine this idea further, we use the eight Upper Paleolithic crania available from the test series of Howells ([1995]), all of which are complete. Our analysis of these eight, based on 55 measurements, is presented in Table 1. Using raw measurements, 6 of 8 express an affinity to Norse, and with the shape variables of Darroch and Mosimann ([1985]), 5 of 8 express a similarity to Norse. Using shape variables reduces the Mahalanobis distance, substantially in some cases. Typicality probabilities (Wilson, [1981]), particularly for the shape variables, show the crania to be fairly typical of recent populations. The results presented in Table 1 are consistent with the idea that Upper Paleolithic crania are, for the most part, larger and more generalized versions of recent Europeans. Howells ([1995]) reached a similar conclusion with respect to European Mesolithic crania.

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Next, let us examine the issue of whether the EUP situation can be regarded as parallel to the Native American one. There are some obvious differences, principal among them the time frame. The European crania used by Van Vark et al. span 26,000 years, as against our North American sample that spans about 2,400 years. Their EUP series dates from 37,000 BP to about 9,000 BP, as against a maximum time frame for our North American sample of 9,400-7,000 BP (Jantz and Owsley, [2001]). The Upper Paleolithic time span is significantly older and more than 10 times longer than the American one, yet the EUP crania are not correspondingly further removed from the contemporary population. Given that European fossil crania are separated from their supposed descendants by greater temporal distance than is the case in America, one could easily accept that European fossil crania might be more loosely connected to the modern population. Yet, we observe just the opposite. The data in Van Vark et al. demonstrate a higher degree of affiliation with the supposed descendent modern population (16/35 = 46%) than we found in the American situation (1/11 = 9%).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume 121, Issue 2, Pages 185-188

Reply to Van Vark et al.: Is European Upper Paleolithic cranial morphology a useful analogy for early Americans?

Richard L. Jantz, Douglas W. Owsley

No abstract


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