Herodotus Returns

Bhimbetka rock shelters, India
May 1, 2010, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Hunter-Gatherer, India, Rock Art, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

I recently had a chance to visit the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh, India, which hold one of the greatest galleries of prehistoric art anywhere in the world. This cluster of sandstone rock formations were home to nomadic hunter-gatherers from as far back as 100,000 years ago right up to the 1700s (Medieval period). That’s 1117 centuries of continuous habitation. On the walls of the shelters, there are layers upon layers of beautiful paintings, dating back about 10,000 years. Some depict daily life – people herding animals, for example – others are more enigmatic depictions of mythical beasts and anthropomorphic figures. An article about my visit is forthcoming in Culturama magazine in Chennai. I’ll post the pdf when it comes out.

photos courtesy of Archaeological Survey of India.


Arbil Iraq Discovery Could be Earliest Evidence of Humans in the Region
March 18, 2010, 9:09 pm
Filed under: Hunter-Gatherer, Iraq, Neanderthals | Tags: , , , ,

Czech archaeologists have excavated remains of a prehistoric settlement in Arbil, north Iraq, which could date back as far back 200,000 years, placing it among the earliest evidence of hominid activity in the region.

The expedition, led by Dr. Karel Novacek from the University of West Bohemia in Plzen, unearthed clusters of stone artifacts at the bottom of a 9-meter-deep pit dug just outside the tell, or citadel, in Arbil.

Novacek recently explained to Heritage Key that the excavated stone tools, comprised of flakes, scrapers and cores, can be traced back to the Late Middle Paleolithic Age (200,000-40,000 years before present). These discoveries align with excavations carried out by Americans in the 1950s in the nearby plains between Kirkuk and Suleymaniya.

To describe the find as a ‘settlement’ may be bold: Middle Paleolithic man, after all, was a hunter-gatherer, meaning he made camps, but never permanently settled anywhere. With that said, Novacek pointed out that the team “found two concentrations of the stone artifacts in roughly the same stratigraphic position at approximately 220 m distance,” suggesting a site of some significance. Additionally, Novacek noted that these recently excavated artifacts are unique because they were found ‘in situ,’ meaning untouched, whereas other Middle Paleolithic finds in the area had been shifted.

Read more about the Arbil find at Heritage Key.

DNA Analysis of 30,000-year-old Hunter-Gatherer
January 1, 2010, 10:31 pm
Filed under: DNA, Hunter-Gatherer | Tags: ,

Scientists analyze DNA of 30,000-year-old Hunter-Gatherer in shed light on whether the first humans living in Europe are directly related to modern populations.

The DNA analysed in this study comes from a male aged 20-25 who was deliberately buried in an oval pit some 30,000 years ago.

Known as the Markina Gora skeleton, it was found lying in a crouched position with fists reaching upwards and a face orientated down towards the dirt. The bones were covered in a pigment called red ochre, thought to have been used in prehistoric funeral rites.

The type of DNA extracted and analysed is that stored in mitochondria – the “powerhouses” of cells. This mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down from a mother to her offspring, providing a unique record of maternal inheritance.

Using technology pioneered in the study of DNA from Neanderthal bones, they were able to distinguish between ancient genetic material from the Kostenki male and contamination from modern people who handled the bones, or whose DNA reached the remains by some other means.

Future studies like the one in Current Biology could help shed light on whether the humans living in Europe 30,000 years ago are the direct ancestors of modern populations or whether they were replaced by immigrants who introduced farming to the continent several thousand years ago.

More on the study here.

Humans Eating Grains Since 105,000 Years
January 1, 2010, 4:08 am
Filed under: Hunter-Gatherer | Tags: , ,

Recent study shows that hunter-gatherers ate grain much earlier than originally believed.

Early humans were hunter-gatherers, but what did they gather? The easy stuff, archeologists say — roots, fruits and nuts. Until relatively late in the Pleistocene, which ended about 12,000 years ago, grains were thought to have been largely ignored by foraging humans, at least in part because they were difficult to process.

But Julio Mercader, an archeologist at the University of Calgary, has now found evidence from a cave in Mozambique that humans were eating sorghum grasses at least 105,000 years ago. The evidence was in the form of microscopic starch granules found on stone tools from the cave…

The addition of different food resources, Dr. Mercader said, shows that there was “economic complexity” in the behavior of these Middle Stone Age humans.

More on hunter-gatherers here.