May 05, 2009

The face of Oase 2

I had previously posted about an article on the Pestera cu Oase 2 cranium from Romania, a European from 35,000 years ago. Now, John Hawks points me to a new BBC series titled The Incredible Human Journey to begin airing this Sunday. and to a reconstruction of the Oase-2 cranium by forensic scientist Richard Neave. Prof. Hawks seems to approve of the way the reconstruction was done, pointing out that other Upper Paleolithic Europeans (e.g., Mladec) have a more modern European appearance.

(Image Copyright (c) BBC)


Anonymous said...

How can that be an accurate reconstruction? If the skull is the same as shown in the link, that nose is all wrong. The nasal cavity has a triangular shape, not one like a butterfly which would give a broad Negroid nose. I don't understand the shape of the eyes either. The skin colour is of course totally subjective.

I consider it a poor representation of a primitive human with archaic and modern features.

ren said...

Don't worry, my Ponto. John Hawks actually says the skull looks Asian.
The fleshy nose and skin color do seem to be subjective, to be fair to Ponto.

Maju said...

Yah they say that "asian" thing because it shares traits with Cro-Magnon types, like prominent cheeks. Very arguable if that means "asian" (like in East Asian) or whatever other thing and wether if that's enough reason to paint them with epicanthic fold.

Agreed also (partly) with Ponto re. the nose. The original skull has a broad cavity but IMO intermediate between modern "round" African ones and also modern "triangular" West Eurasian ones. I'd paint him with a "Papuan nose" - tentatively.

Pygmentation is of course artistic license but being realistiche has been painted surely too dark for the Balcans. Depigmentation was a process that began with the migrations to the north, separatedly but paralelly in West and East Eurasia. The Balcans are almost as north as it gets in Ice Age Europe.

dave in boca said...

After the Hawks dispatched the Heat with Pachulia [watched the weekend Flores special on Nature with the Georgian super-paleo finds] and then watching the game last nite between the Lakers and Rockets, I reflected on how Yao Ming is the anti-thesis of the Ho bbit Flores dwellers. If T-Mac were in the line-up, the Rockets would have more than a prayer, but I'm still rooting for them to clean the Lakers' collective clocks.

My point: Everything is more subjective, the more one is committed to emotional or other committments. My in-laws are Greek and they would perhaps argue that our Romanian friend above is of Hellenic heritage.

Kosmo said...

The reproduction looks almost Aborigine to me, which isn't out of line with expectations considering the timing of this fossil. Perhaps this individual was part of the later, more northern thrust of the same out-of-Africa event that put people into Australia.

I suspect Maju could be right about the nose being more Papuan than as reproduced.

UncleTomRuckusInGoodWhiteWorld said...


"light skin" could have began in Africa.

Khoi-San (Bushmen) are not that dark either.

Remember they are hunter gathers who live their lives in the desert fully exposed to the sun all day long, if they did not live like that they would be lighter, they are obviously tanned.

They are definitely lighter than the overwhelming majority of Bantu, Niger-Congo, and Nilotic groups in Africa.

Maju said...

I did not say otherwise. Black (brown) skin is a tropical adaptation, Khoisan lived historically south of the tropics area so they were naturally lighter.

But you see a variety of tropical/quasi-tropical Eurasians all pretty dark, so guess the ancestors of all Eurasians were quite dark pygmented.

But I also guess that the process of depygmentation began already in Asia, as people moved northwards. Kashmir or Anatolia are not that much to the south in fact and modernly their inhabitants are rather pale, certainly much more than this reconstruction. Rumania is at the latitude of France, so it's not like you can expect high insolation over there, specially in winter.

But maybe the process began only then and what we see as rather pale types in West Asia are product of back-migration (Gravettian offshots?). I dont think it is the case because most of the people in West Asia whose faces you see as quite dark (never as much as this reconstruction) have pretty white bodies under their clothes - they are just tanned.

In any case, no or very few West Eurasians approach nowadays that color, not even the dark kind among North Africans or peninsular Arabians (which is mostly influences from other regions IMO). So for me it's a very biased exaggeration.

Anonymous said...

Thank the Lord whatever that thing is, it was bred out of the gene pool.

Maju said...

"Thanks the lord" he's your great-great-great-...-granfather (or maybe grandmother). Or so they say. Mine too, yo "cousin".

UncleTomRuckusInGoodWhiteWorld said...


I actually ran my ideas past an anthropologist, here was his response in e-mail:

"Vitamin D is not a problem for hunter/gatherers. There is plenty of vitamin D in animal flesh, especialy in fish, and in the flesh of animals that eat fish. It was only when people switched from meat to cereals that vitamin D deficiency became a problem. Consider today's Nganasans, Inuits, Sel'kups, Yukagirs, Chukchi, Aleuts, Evenks, Koryaks, Nivkhs, and Udegeys for instance. They are all much darker than Scandinavians and yet they all live above the Arctic Circle. They live on meat, not grain. Incidentally, the light skin of people in northern China also seems to be relatively recent, and also seems due to the same cause (the need to synthesize vitamin D after switching to cereal).

Before vitamin D synthesis became important (before the agricultural revolution), the most important selection pressure affecting skin tone was folic acid (folate) synthesis. Too little epidermal melanin for low latitudes allows intense UV to penetrate the skin, preventing or degrading folic acid synthesis, thus reducing folate levels. In pregnant females this produces neural tube defects in the fetus, causing such congenital abnormalities as craniorachischisis, anencephalus, and spina bifida. High levels of distributed epidermal melanin blocks UV and enables normal gestation at low latitudes.

Essentially, people who live along the equator are under adapative pressure (miscarriages) favoring dark skin. This pressure is relaxed away from the equator. But no corresponding adaptive pressure favoring pale skin arose until agriculture."

His "hunch" was the skin coloring was a khoi-san range, but to him it could have been anything.

Maju said...

East Asians like the Nganasans may have other pygmentation keys that we don't know much about yet. I recall that East Asians have extremely low skin cancer rates at all latitudes and at all pygmentation shades, this seems to be related with their "yellowish" pygment factor - but is AFAIK ill-researched so far.

Anyhow, most of them eat plenty of fish (the Nganasans do for sure - but Nganasan children have rosy cheeks anyhow, at least the ones I've seen on TV). They are not much darker than the average European anyhow and certainly not darker than the average West Asian.

I'd take the Khoisan range idea anyhow. I imagine that much of the depygmentation happened at later date in Central and Eastern Europe primarily, since the Aurignacian and Gravettian expansions, and the extrem Nordic ones as late as in th Paleolithic. Evolution happens based on what is before - it's unconcievable for me to think an sudden evolution from chocolate to milk in one single step.

I doubt that such heavy meat eaters as Scandinavians and the like would really need to adapt to a "grain based" diet. In fact I'd even say that in Europe the lightest shades are precisely in those peoples that have a less intense history of agriculture altogether and more a pastoralism/hunting/fishing one.

The case is that you don't find such dark brown shades anymore anywhere in West Eurasia - not even in Egypt.

Onur Dincer said...

I doubt that such heavy meat eaters as Scandinavians and the like would really need to adapt to a "grain based" diet. In fact I'd even say that in Europe the lightest shades are precisely in those peoples that have a less intense history of agriculture altogether and more a pastoralism/hunting/fishing one.By your logic, Scandinavians shouldn't be among the most lactose tolerant people.

Maju said...

Don't see the relationship, Onur. Lactose tolerance would seem to correlate reasonably well with dominance of pastoralism over farming, if anything. It has nothing to do with vitamin D AFAIK.

Onur Dincer said...

Pastoralism is thought to be a by-product of farming. So it is illogical to assume that it arrived Scandinavia much before farming. As farming has a much shorter history in Scandinavia than in West Asia and Southern Europe, so also is pastoralism.

Maju said...

Pastoralism and farming arose in parallel, possibly in interaction, in the same are, it seems. And they surely arrived to Scandinavia (and nearly to anywhere else) together, yes.

But the climatic conditions of Atlantic Europe (or the Sahara in the past, or...) were not ideal for farming, much less with Mediterranean-adapted crops. I am not sure about Scandinavia right now but here in the Basque Country pastoralism was first almost for sure and has shaped the lifestyle much more than agriculture, specially cerealistic agriculture. I understand that this was also the case in other parts of Atlantic Europe and that's why the Atlantic diet is rich in meat and dairy products and somewhat limited in the vegetarian department.

Also huntergatherers normally dapt more easily to pastoralism than to farming, which is seen as a tedious and tiresome job, way too different from the seminomadic traditonal way of life. Of course, pragmatic factors such as actual productivity also influence such decisions.

MacD said...

There is no way they could know the skin color from BONES. Politically correct fascism.

mathilda said...

He's too dark. I'd agree with Khoisan being more likley, and on the lighter side of that range.

"But no corresponding adaptive pressure favoring pale skin arose until agriculture".

Possibly not. But people were covered with clothing, and if you are way from the coast vitamin D is a LOT harder to find. If you don't believe me look up a list of the foods you find it in. Mainly dairy and seafood. Pre dairy and away from the sea and you'll have to have decent UV manufactured
calciferol to make up the deficit.

mathilda said...

That's a thought. Shouldn't pastoralism/dairying DECREASE the need for lighter skin? Like oily fish did with the Eskimos.

Nice to see I guessed the crania correctly.

Maju said...

Mathilda: I believe you can read some Spanish. I have been discussing the input of vit. D from meat at Mundo Neanderthal (relevant links are all in English anyhow) and only fish can provide enough vit. D to relieve us from the need of "photosynthesis".

As mentioned there, Irish may get 30% of their ingested vit. D from meat but they are still getting way too low vit. D from all their diet together - and therefore need to be able to synthesize it at the skin. Now and in the Paleolithic.

Of course, Northern Europe was covered on ice back then, so the pressure was not as extreme (there were no Irish nor Scandinavians yet) but a good deal of that pressure for lighter skin must ahve already existed in Central Europe, the Balcans or even parts of West Asia.

So, IMO, while some change between meat-based and cereal-based diets may have been an additional pressure, the actual adaptative pressure was there since the depths of Paleolithic, both in West and East Eurasia, as people colonized lands more and more to the north, where winters specially are pretty dark.