A New Chronology for Rhafas, Northeast Morocco, Spanning the North African Middle Stone Age through to the Neolithic.
ABSTRACT: Archaeological sites in northern Africa provide a rich record of increasing importance for the origins of modern human behaviour and for understanding human dispersal out of Africa. However, the timing and nature of Palaeolithic human behaviour and dispersal across north-western Africa (the Maghreb), and their relationship to local environmental conditions, remain poorly understood. The cave of Rhafas (northeast Morocco) provides valuable chronological information about cultural changes in the Maghreb during the Palaeolithic due to its long stratified archaeological sequence comprising Middle Stone Age (MSA), Later Stone Age (LSA) and Neolithic occupation layers. In this study, we apply optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating on sand-sized quartz grains to the cave deposits of Rhafas, as well as to a recently excavated section on the terrace in front of the cave entrance. We hereby provide a revised chronostratigraphy for the archaeological sequence at the site. We combine these results with geological and sedimentological multi-proxy investigations to gain insights into site formation processes and the palaeoenvironmental record of the region. The older sedimentological units at Rhafas were deposited between 135 ka and 57 ka (MIS 6 -MIS 3) and are associated with the MSA technocomplex. Tanged pieces start to occur in the archaeological layers around 109 ka, which is consistent with previously published chronological data from the Maghreb. A well indurated duricrust indicates favourable climatic conditions for the pedogenic cementation by carbonates of sediment layers at the site after 57 ka. Overlying deposits attributed to the LSA technocomplex yield ages of ~21 ka and ~15 ka, corresponding to the last glacial period, and fall well within the previously established occupation phase in the Maghreb. The last occupation phase at Rhafas took place during the Neolithic and is dated to ~7.8 ka.
Project description:After the last interglacial [Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e] Europe was affected by several harsh climatic oscillations. In this context southern Italy acted, like the rest of peninsular Mediterranean Europe, as a 'glacial refugium', allowing the survival of various species, and was involved in the spread of 'cold taxa' (e.g. woolly mammoth and woolly rhino) only during the coldest phases (MIS 4 and MIS 2). Both late Mousterian and early Upper Palaeolithic sites testify to a human occupation continuity in southern Italy and especially in Apulia in this time span. Here we present a focus on three key Apulian Palaeolithic sequences (Grotta di Santa Croce, Riparo L'Oscurusciuto and Grotta del Cavallo - layers F-E) jointly spanning from the late MIS 4 to the demise of Neanderthals around 43 ka. Novel chronological, sedimentological and zooarchaeological data are discussed for the first time in the light of the palaeoenvironmental information provided by recent analyses carried out on a speleothem from Pozzo Cucù cave (Bari) and the results of the magnetic susceptibility analysis from Riparo L'Oscurusciuto. This integrated reading allows a better understanding of the role played by the Apulian region as both a refugium for late Neaderthals and a suitable habitat for the early settling of modern humans.
Project description:BACKGROUND: The archaeology of North Africa remains enigmatic, with questions of population continuity versus discontinuity taking centre-stage. Debates have focused on population transitions between the bearers of the Middle Palaeolithic Aterian industry and the later Upper Palaeolithic populations of the Maghreb, as well as between the late Pleistocene and Holocene. RESULTS: Improved resolution of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplogroup U6 phylogeny, by the screening of 39 new complete sequences, has enabled us to infer a signal of moderate population expansion using Bayesian coalescent methods. To ascertain the time for this expansion, we applied both a mutation rate accounting for purifying selection and one with an internal calibration based on four approximate archaeological dates: the settlement of the Canary Islands, the settlement of Sardinia and its internal population re-expansion, and the split between haplogroups U5 and U6 around the time of the first modern human settlement of the Near East. CONCLUSIONS: A Bayesian skyline plot placed the main expansion in the time frame of the Late Pleistocene, around 20 ka, and spatial smoothing techniques suggested that the most probable geographic region for this demographic event was to the west of North Africa. A comparison with U6's European sister clade, U5, revealed a stronger population expansion at around this time in Europe. Also in contrast with U5, a weak signal of a recent population expansion in the last 5,000 years was observed in North Africa, pointing to a moderate impact of the late Neolithic on the local population size of the southern Mediterranean coast.
Project description:Goda Buticha is a cave site near Dire Dawa in southeastern Ethiopia that contains an archaeological sequence sampling the late Pleistocene and Holocene of the region. The sedimentary sequence displays complex cultural, chronological and sedimentological histories that seem incongruent with one another. A first set of radiocarbon ages suggested a long sedimentological gap from the end of Marine Isotopic Stage (MIS) 3 to the mid-Holocene. Macroscopic observations suggest that the main sedimentological change does not coincide with the chronostratigraphic hiatus. The cultural sequence shows technological continuity with a late persistence of artifacts that are usually attributed to the Middle Stone Age into the younger parts of the stratigraphic sequence, yet become increasingly associated with lithic artifacts typically related to the Later Stone Age. While not a unique case, this combination of features is unusual in the Horn of Africa. In order to evaluate the possible implications of these observations, sedimentological analyses combined with optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) were conducted. The OSL data now extend the radiocarbon chronology up to 63 ± 7 ka; they also confirm the existence of the chronological gap between 24.8 ± 2.6 ka and 7.5 ± 0.3 ka. The sedimentological analyses suggest that the origin and mode of deposition were largely similar throughout the whole sequence, although the anthropic and faunal activities increased in the younger levels. Regional climatic records are used to support the sedimentological observations and interpretations. We discuss the implications of the sedimentological and dating analyses for understanding cultural processes in the region.
Project description:Humans appear to have regularly worn footwear since at least the Early Upper Palaeolithic. However, due to the perishable nature of footwear, the archaeological record of its presence during the Pleistocene is poor. While footwear would have played an essential role in protecting the foot, it could also have been used as ornamentation and/or as a social marker. Footprints may provide the most relevant insight regarding the origin and function of footwear. Here we report the discovery of footprints in Cussac Cave (southwest France) at 28–31 ka cal BP and the results of a multi-focal approach, including experimentation, that demonstrate that Gravettian people most likely wore footwear while moving through the cave. These singular footprints would constitute one of the oldest cases of indirect evidence for this unusual practice in decorated Palaeolithic caves and reinforce the exceptional nature of Cussac already attested by the presence of monumental engravings and funerary deposits.
Project description:Evidence for fire use becomes increasingly sparse the further back in time one looks. This is especially true for Palaeolithic assemblages. Primary evidence of fire use in the form of hearth features tends to give way to clusters or sparse scatters of more durable heated stone fragments. In the absence of intact fireplaces, these thermally altered lithic remains have been used as a proxy for discerning relative degrees of fire use between archaeological layers and deposits. While previous experimental studies have demonstrated the physical effects of heat on stony artefacts, the mechanisms influencing the proportion of fire proxy evidence within archaeological layers remain understudied. This fundamental study is the first to apply a computer-based model (fiReproxies) in an attempt to simulate and quantify the complex interplay of factors that ultimately determine when and in what proportions lithic artefacts are heated by (anthropogenic) fires. As an illustrative example, we apply our model to two hypothetical archaeological layers that reflect glacial and interglacial conditions during the late Middle Palaeolithic within a generic simulated cave site to demonstrate how different environmental, behavioural and depositional factors like site surface area, sedimentation rate, occupation frequency, and fire size and intensity can, independently or together, significantly influence the visibility of archaeological fire signals.
Project description:Modern human behavioral innovations from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) include the earliest indicators of full coastal adaptation evidenced by shell middens, yet many MSA middens remain poorly dated. We apply <sup>230</sup>Th/U burial dating to ostrich eggshells (OES) from Ysterfontein 1 (YFT1, Western Cape, South Africa), a stratified MSA shell midden. <sup>230</sup>Th/U burial ages of YFT1 OES are relatively precise (median ± 2.7%), consistent with other age constraints, and preserve stratigraphic principles. Bayesian age-depth modeling indicates YFT1 was deposited between 119.9 to 113.1 thousand years ago (ka) (95% CI of model ages), and the entire 3.8 m thick midden may have accumulated within ∼2,300 y. Stable carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen isotopes of OES indicate that during occupation the local environment was dominated by C<sub>3</sub> vegetation and was initially significantly wetter than at present but became drier and cooler with time. Integrating archaeological evidence with OES <sup>230</sup>Th/U ages and stable isotopes shows the following: 1) YFT1 is the oldest shell midden known, providing minimum constraints on full coastal adaptation by ∼120 ka; 2) despite rapid sea-level drop and other climatic changes during occupation, relative shellfish proportions and sizes remain similar, suggesting adaptive foraging along a changing coastline; 3) the YFT1 lithic technocomplex is similar to other west coast assemblages but distinct from potentially synchronous industries along the southern African coast, suggesting human populations were fragmented between seasonal rainfall zones; and 4) accumulation rates (up to 1.8 m/ka) are much higher than previously observed for dated, stratified MSA middens, implying more intense site occupation akin to Later Stone Age middens.
Project description:South Asia hosts the world's youngest Acheulean sites, with dated records typically restricted to sub-humid landscapes. The Thar Desert marks a major adaptive boundary between monsoonal Asia to the east and the Saharo-Arabian desert belt to the west, making it a key threshold to examine patterns of hominin ecological adaptation and its impacts on patterns of behaviour, demography and dispersal. Here, we investigate Palaeolithic occupations at the western margin of the South Asian monsoon at Singi Talav, undertaking new chronometric, sedimentological and palaeoecological studies of Acheulean and Middle Palaeolithic occupation horizons. We constrain occupations of the site between 248 and 65 thousand years ago. This presents the first direct palaeoecological evidence for landscapes occupied by South Asian Acheulean-producing populations, most notably in the main occupation horizon dating to 177 thousand years ago. Our results illustrate the potential role of the Thar Desert as an ecological, and demographic, frontier to Palaeolithic populations.
Project description:The archaeology of East Africa during the last ~65,000 years plays a central role in debates about the origins and dispersal of modern humans, Homo sapiens. Despite the historical importance of the region to these discussions, reliable chronologies for the nature, tempo, and timing of human behavioral changes seen among Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) archaeological assemblages are sparse. The Kisese II rockshelter in the Kondoa region of Tanzania, originally excavated in 1956, preserves a ? 6-m-thick archaeological succession that spans the MSA/LSA transition, with lithic artifacts such as Levallois and bladelet cores and backed microliths, the recurrent use of red ochre, and >5,000 ostrich eggshell beads and bead fragments. Twenty-nine radiocarbon dates on ostrich eggshell carbonate make Kisese II one of the most robust chronological sequences for understanding archaeological change over the last ~47,000 years in East Africa. In particular, ostrich eggshell beads and backed microliths appear by 46-42 ka cal BP and occur throughout overlying Late Pleistocene and Holocene strata. Changes in lithic technology suggest an MSA/LSA transition that began 39-34.3 ka, with typical LSA technologies in place by the Last Glacial Maximum. The timing of these changes demonstrates the time-transgressive nature of behavioral innovations often linked to the origins of modern humans, even within a single region of Africa.
Project description:The late Middle Palaeolithic (MP) settlement patterns in the Levant included the repeated use of caves and open landscape sites. The fossil record shows that two types of hominins occupied the region during this period-Neandertals and Homo sapiens. Until recently, diagnostic fossil remains were found only at cave sites. Because the two populations in this region left similar material cultural remains, it was impossible to attribute any open-air site to either species. In this study, we present newly discovered fossil remains from intact archaeological layers of the open-air site 'Ein Qashish, in northern Israel. The hominin remains represent three individuals: EQH1, a nondiagnostic skull fragment; EQH2, an upper right third molar (RM<sup>3</sup>); and EQH3, lower limb bones of a young Neandertal male. EQH2 and EQH3 constitute the first diagnostic anatomical remains of Neandertals at an open-air site in the Levant. The optically stimulated luminescence ages suggest that Neandertals repeatedly visited 'Ein Qashish between 70 and 60?ka. The discovery of Neandertals at open-air sites during the late MP reinforces the view that Neandertals were a resilient population in the Levant shortly before Upper Palaeolithic Homo sapiens populated the region.
Project description:Shulgan-Tash (also known as Kapova) cave located on the western slope of the Ural Mountains (Russia) is the easternmost European cave art monument of late Palaeolithic age. Radiocarbon dates from cultural layers in the cave suggest an age of about 16.3 to 19.6 ka (cal BP), but dates directly on the paintings were not obtained. In order to constrain the age of this art using an independent method, we performed detailed <sup>230</sup>Th-U dating of calcite flowstone underlying and overgrowing the paintings at 22 sites in three halls of the cave. The youngest age for the underlying calcite (i.e., the maximum age of the cave art) is 36.4 ± 0.1 ka, and the oldest overlying calcite (constraining the minimum age of the cave art) is 14.5 ± 0.04 ka. The ca. 21.9 ka-long hiatus in calcite deposition during which the paintings were made is attributed to regional permafrost conditions and sub-zero temperatures inside the cave during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 2. This is supported by samples of cryogenic cave calcite, which document seven episodes of freezing and thawing of permafrost associated with stadials and interstadials of MIS 3, respectively.