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14,000-year-old Footprints in Italian Cave Reveal Ancient Human Behavior

14,000-year-old Footprints in Italian Cave Reveal Ancient Human Behavior

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Evidence of crawling in an Italian cave system sheds new light on late Stone Age human behavior in groups, especially when exploring new grounds, says a study published today in eLife.

The Discovery of Ancient Human Crawling

The cave of Bàsura at Toirano and its human and animal fossil traces have been known since the 1950s, with the first studies conducted by Italian archaeologist Virginia Chiappella. In the current study, promoted by the Archaeological Heritage Office of Liguria, researchers from Italy, Argentina, and South Africa used multiple approaches to analyze the human traces and identified for the first time crawling behaviors from around 14,000 years ago.

The corridor — known as Corridoio delle Impronte — within the cave where the researchers analyzed some of the prints of ancient humans. (Isabella Salvador/ Fair Use )

"In our study, we wanted to see how ancient humans explored this fascinating cave system ," says first author Marco Romano, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. "Specifically, we set out to discover how many people entered the cave, whether they explored as individuals or as a group, their age, gender and what kind of route they took once inside the cave."

Insights Into Ancient Human Behavior

To answer these questions, the multidisciplinary team studied 180 tracks from within the cave, including foot and handprints on the clay-rich floor. They applied various modern dating methods, software that analyses the structure of the tracks, and different types of 3D modeling.
"Together, these approaches allowed us to construct a narrative of how the humans entered and exited the cave, and their activities once they were inside," Romano explains.

Researchers found a total of 180 ancient human footprints and traces that were made about 14,000 years ago in a cave in northern Italy. Shown here are three of the footprints, made on different surfaces within the cave. (Marco Avanzini / Fair Use )

The team determined that five individuals, including two adults, an adolescent of about 11 years old, and two children of three and six years old, entered the cave barefoot and illuminated the way using wooden sticks. This suggests that young children were active group members during the late Stone Age , even when carrying out apparently dangerous activities.

The researchers reported the first evidence of crawling in footprints from a low tunnel - a route that was taken to access the inner part of the cave. Anatomical details in the footprints suggest that the explorers went bare-legged as they navigated this pathway.

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The ancient humans crawled through a low tunnel of the cave. (Isabella Salvador/ Fair Use )

The Analysis of Ancient Human Behavior

When analyzing the various handprints, the team found that some of them appear 'unintentional' and relate to exploring the cave only, while others are more 'intentional' and suggest that social or symbolic activities took place within the inner chambers. " Hunter-gatherers may therefore have been driven by fun activities during exploration, as well as simply the need to find food," Romano adds.

The ancient human tracks can provide detailed insights on their behavior. (Isabella Salvador/ Fair Use )

"Together, our results show how a varied approach to studying our ancestors' tracks can provide detailed insights on their behavior," concludes senior author Marco Avanzini, head of the geology department at MUSE -- Trento Museum of Science, Italy.
"We hope our approach will be useful for painting similar pictures of how humans behaved in other parts of the world and during different periods of time."

Human Footprints Found in Saudi Arabia May Be 120,000 Years Old

Seven footprints pressed into the parched sediment of an ancient lake bed in northern Saudi Arabia may testify to humans’ presence in the region some 115,000 years ago, reports Maya Wei-Haas for National Geographic.

Archaeologists scouring the Nefud Desert spotted the impressions while examining 376 footprints left in the mud of the bygone body of water by such animals as giant extinct elephants, camels, buffalo and ancestors of modern horses.

Now, a new analysis published in the journal Science Advances argues that anatomically modern humans created the seven footprints between 112,000 and 121,000 years ago. If confirmed, the footfalls would be the oldest traces of Homo sapiens ever found on the Arabian Peninsula, notes Bruce Bower for Science News.

Elephant and camel tracks found at the Alathar site (Stewart et al., 2020)

The find could help reveal the routes ancient humans followed as they pushed out of Africa into new territory, according to National Geographic.

Most non-African people alive today have ancestors who departed the continent en masse some 60,000 years ago. But some researchers think that smaller groups of Homo sapiens ventured outside of Africa thousands of years prior to this mass migration, journeying across the Sinai Peninsula and into the Levant. Other scholars propose a route centered on the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

In addition to the footprints, the lake bed—nicknamed Alathar (Arabic for “the trace”)—yielded a trove of 233 fossils, reports Issam Ahmed for Agence France-Presse (AFP). Though the peninsula is now home to arid deserts, it was likely greener and wetter at the time the footprints were cast, boasting a climate similar to that of the African savanna.

“The presence of large animals such as elephants and hippos, together with open grasslands and large water resources, may have made northern Arabia a particularly attractive place to humans moving between Africa and Eurasia,” says study co-author Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Science and Human History, in a statement.

The first human footprint discovered at Alathar (left) and a digital elevation model that helped researchers discern its details (right) (Stewart et al., 2020)

Though the site may have once been a fruitful hunting ground, researchers found no stone tools or animal bones bearing the telltale marks of butchery. Per the statement, this dearth of evidence suggests the humans’ visit to the lake was likely just a brief stopover.

As Ann Gibbons reports for Science magazine, the team identified the fossilized footfalls as human by comparing them with tracks known to be made by humans and Neanderthals, a related but separate species of hominin. The seven footprints featured in the study were longer than the Neanderthal tracks and appeared to have been made by taller, lighter hominins.

The team can’t completely exclude Neanderthals as the potential authors of the footprints. But if the dating proves correct, such an attribution is unlikely, as the sediments just above and below the impressions date to a period called the last interglacial, when the climate in the region was relatively warm and wet.

“It is only after the last interglacial with the return of cooler conditions that we have definitive evidence for Neanderthals moving into the region,” says lead author Mathew Stewart, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, in the statement. “The footprints, therefore, most likely represent humans, or Homo sapiens.”

Traces of crawling in Italian cave give clues to ancient humans' social behavior

Evidence of crawling in an Italian cave system sheds new light on how late Stone Age humans behaved as a group, especially when exploring new grounds, says a study published today in eLife.

The cave of Bàsura at Toirano and its human and animal fossil traces have been known since the 1950s, with the first studies conducted by Italian archaeologist Virginia Chiappella. In the current study, promoted by the Archaeological Heritage Office of Liguria, researchers from Italy, Argentina and South Africa used multiple approaches to analyse the human traces and identified for the first time crawling behaviours from around 14,000 years ago.

"In our study, we wanted to see how ancient humans explored this fascinating cave system," says first author Marco Romano, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. "Specifically, we set out to discover how many people entered the cave, whether they explored as individuals or as a group, their age, gender and what kind of route they took once inside the cave."

To answer these questions, the multidisciplinary team studied 180 tracks from within the cave, including foot and handprints on the clay-rich floor. They applied various modern dating methods, software that analyses the structure of the tracks, and different types of 3D modelling. "Together, these approaches allowed us to construct a narrative of how the humans entered and exited the cave, and their activities once they were inside," Romano explains.

The team determined that five individuals, including two adults, an adolescent of about 11 years old, and two children of three and six years old, entered the cave barefoot and illuminated the way using wooden sticks. This suggests that young children were active group members during the late Stone Age, even when carrying out apparently dangerous activities.

The researchers reported the first evidence of crawling in footprints from a low tunnel - a route that was taken to access the inner part of the cave. Anatomical details in the footprints suggest that the explorers went bare-legged as they navigated this pathway.

When analysing the various handprints, the team found that some of them appear 'unintentional' and relate to exploring the cave only, while others are more 'intentional' and suggest that social or symbolic activities took place within the inner chambers. "Hunter-gatherers may therefore have been driven by fun activities during exploration, as well as simply the need to find food," Romano adds.

"Together, our results show how a varied approach to studying our ancestors' tracks can provide detailed insights on their behaviour," concludes senior author Marco Avanzini, head of the geology department at MUSE - Trento Museum of Science, Italy. "We hope our approach will be useful for painting similar pictures of how humans behaved in other parts of the world and during different periods of time."

The paper 'A multidisciplinary approach to a unique Palaeolithic human ichnological record from Italy (Bàsura Cave)' can be freely accessed online at https:/ / doi. org/ 10. 7554/ eLife.45204. Contents, including text, figures and data, are free to reuse under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Author contacts for more information:

Marco Avanzini, senior author [email protected]

Elisabetta Starnini, multidisciplinary project coordinator [email protected]

Emily Packer, Senior Press Officer
[email protected]
01223 855373

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Tiny prints

By studying the shape, size, and distribution of the footprints, the researchers attempted to piece together what happened during the ancient walk across the muddy ground. The primary track maker could have been either a woman 12 years or older, or possibly a young man, based on a comparison of the footprint lengths to modern humans. In at least three points along the way, tiny footprints join the main trackway, evidence of a child less than three years old.

The spacing of the tracks suggests the person was traveling around 3.8 miles an hour. While not a jog, this would have been a hasty pace considering the muddy conditions and heavy load, Hatala notes.

In a few spots, the traveler's strides were unusually long, as if they were stepping or leaping over an obstacle. “It could be puddles." Reynolds says. "It could be wet mammoth poo."

The child, however, was carried only one way. During the northbound trip, the tracks of the left foot are slightly larger, which may be the result of carrying the toddler on one hip. Among the northbound tracks, there are also instances of the trekker’s toes sliding on the muddy surface, the foot dragging to create a banana-shape print. Yet in the southbound return, this size difference in tracks is not apparent, and the slippage much less frequent, suggesting the walker was unencumbered.

Researchers had previously suggested that differences in right- and left-footed prints could be evidence of carrying a load, but it was often speculation. The new study offers a bit more evidence: “In this particular case, you see the footprints of a child suddenly appear partway through,” Hatala says.

The animal tracks helped the team estimate when the adventurer trekked across the land. After the northbound trip, the mammoth and giant sloth stepped across the fresh trackway, while the human’s southbound prints cut into those of the animals. This overlay shows that all the prints were set down within a few hours before the mud completely dried. The presence of these now extinct creatures alongside humans suggests that the ancient adventure took place at least 10,000 years ago.

The continental crux

The research in Saudi Arabia is part of a more than decade-long effort led by Petraglia to unearth hominin history in the Arabian Peninsula and better understand our species’ first steps out of Africa.

Most non-African people today can trace their genetic roots to a wave of H. sapiens that ventured from the continent roughly 60,000 years ago. But they weren’t the first to leave. Early H. sapiens were likely trickling out of Africa tens of thousands of years before. An upper jaw found in Israel suggests humans arrived in the region by 180,000 years ago. And a controversial but stunning find of a human skull in Greece dating to some 210,000 years old hints of even earlier waves.

As the usual story goes, these ancient explorers likely crossed out of northeastern Africa over the present-day Sinai Peninsula, spreading into the Levant—the region just north of Arabia that includes Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories—before migrating into Europe and Asia. But some suggest early humans instead crossed near the Horn of Africa to the southern Arabian Peninsula, spreading around the Indian Ocean rim.

At this crucial continental juncture sits Arabia—a vast stretch of land that long went unstudied. “If we were thinking about stepping stones out of Africa, we needed to know more about Arabia,” Petraglia says.

Petraglia and his team have started to fill in that gap, unearthing clues to a time when the now arid peninsula was vastly different. Lush grasslands blanketed a landscape crisscrossed by rivers and dotted by some 10,000 lakes, making it an alluring place for hominin explorers. Stone tools have been found scattered around many ancient lakeshores, yet their makers remain unknown.

“That has been keeping us going for years,” Petraglia says.

Preserving Engare Sero for the future

Several of the human footprint tracks lead to a nearby sand dune to the north. We’ve purposefully left any footprints preserved under the sand dune unexcavated for now, until we can work with the Tanzanian government to develop a conservation plan to track and limit erosion of the footprints.

The hardened ash is remarkably resilient to erosion from water and wind. Still, thanks to the Smithsonian’s 3D Digitization Program, we have meticulously captured three-dimensional data for each of the footprints so we can trace any natural destruction of the prints over time. You can even download 3D files of a few of the Engare Sero footprints, in case you want to 3D print your own copies.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.

William E.H. Harcourt-Smith receives funding from the Leakey Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Briana Pobiner receives funding from the National Science Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Preserving Engare Sero for the future

Several of the human footprint tracks lead to a nearby sand dune to the north. We&rsquove purposefully left any footprints preserved under the sand dune unexcavated for now, until we can work with the Tanzanian government to develop a conservation plan to track and limit erosion of the footprints.

The hardened ash is remarkably resilient to erosion from water and wind. Still, thanks to the Smithsonian&rsquos 3D Digitization Program, we have meticulously captured three-dimensional data for each of the footprints so we can trace any natural destruction of the prints over time. You can even download 3D files of a few of the Engare Sero footprints, in case you want to 3D print your own copies.

William E.H. Harcourt-Smith, Research Associate, Division of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History, and Associate Professor in Anthropology, Lehman College, CUNY and Briana Pobiner, Research Scientist and Museum Educator, Smithsonian Institution

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Insect warfare

Amber tombs preserve the bodies of ancient ants and termites, offering a glimpse into the behavior and social structure of insects that lived millions of years ago.

The ants, some of which are locked together forever in mortal combat, are 99 million years old, and the termites in amber date back 100 million years &mdash the oldest termite specimens found to date. Different body adaptations in the termites are described in a study that was published in February 2016 in the journal Current Biology, and identify them as soldiers or workers, hinting that even millions of years ago &mdash during the early stages of termite evolution &mdash termite social structure included highly specialized roles.

Animals entombed in amber really do seem to be frozen in time, retaining the shape and color of their bodies as they appeared in life. Because the sticky tree sap traps them so quickly, animals can be captured in the middle of interactions that scientists can interpret millions of years later, to understand how they lived.


When early modern human (Homo sapiens) migrated onto the European continent, they interacted with the indigenous Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) which had already inhabited Europe for hundreds of thousands of years. In 2019, Greek palaeoanthropologist Katerina Harvati and colleagues argued that two 210,000 year old skulls from Apidima Cave, Greece, represent modern humans rather than Neanderthals — indicating these populations have an unexpectedly deep history — [1] but this was refuted in 2020 by French paleoanthropologist Marie-Antoinette de Lumley [fr] and colleagues. [2] About 60,000 years ago, marine isotope stage 3 began, characterised by volatile climatic patterns and sudden retreat and recolonisation events of forestland in way of open steppeland. [3]

The earliest indication of Upper Palaeolithic modern human migration into Europe is the Balkan Bohunician industry beginning 48,000 years ago, likely deriving from the Levantine Emiran industry, [4] and the earliest bones in Europe date to roughly 45–43 thousand years ago in Bulgaria, [5] Italy, [6] and Britain. [7] It is unclear, while migrating westward, if they followed the Danube or went along the Mediterranean coast. [8] About 45 to 44 thousand years ago, the Proto-Aurignacian culture spread out across Europe, probably descending from the Near Eastern Ahmarian culture. After 40,000 years ago with the onset of Heinrich event 4 (a period of extreme seasonality), the Aurignacian proper evolved perhaps in South-Central Europe, and rapidly replaced other cultures across the continent. [9] This wave of modern humans replaced Neanderthals and their Mousterian culture. [10] In the Danube Valley, the Aurignacian features sites far and few between, compared to later traditions, until 35,000 years ago. From here, the "Typical Aurignacian" becomes quite prevalent, and extends until 29,000 years ago. [11]

The Aurignacian was gradually replaced by the Gravettian culture, but it is unclear when the Aurignacian went extinct because it is poorly defined. "Aurignacoid" or "Epi-Aurignacian" tools are identified as late as 18 to 15 thousand years ago. [11] It is also unclear where the Gravettian originated from as it diverges strongly from the Aurignician (and therefore may not have descended from it). [12] Nonetheless, genetic evidence indicates not all Aurignacian bloodlines went extinct. [13] Hypotheses for Gravettian genesis include evolution: in Central Europe from the Szeletian (which developed from the Bohunician) which existed 41 to 37 thousand years ago or from the Ahmarian or similar cultures from the Near East or the Caucasus which existed before 40,000 years ago. [12] It is further debated where the earliest occurrence is identified, with the former hypothesis arguing for Germany about 37,500 years ago, [14] and the latter Buran-Kaya [ru] III rockshelter in Crimea about 38 to 36 thousand years ago. [15] In either case, the appearance of the Gravettian coincides with a significant temperature drop. [3] Also around 37,000 years ago, the founder population of all later early European modern humans (EEMH) existed, and Europe would remain in genetic isolation from the rest of the world for the next 23,000 years. [13]

Around 29,000 years ago, marine isotope stage 2 began and cooling intensified. This peaked about 21,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) when Scandinavia, the Baltic region, and the British Isles were covered in glaciers, and winter sea ice reached the French seaboard. The Alps were also covered in glaciers, and most of Europe was polar desert, with mammoth steppe and forest steppe dominating the Mediterranean coast. [3] Consequently, large swathes of Europe were uninhabitable, and two distinct cultures emerged with unique technologies to adapt to the new environment: the Solutrean in Southwestern Europe which invented brand new technologies, and the Epi-Gravettian from Italy to the East European Plain which adapted the previous Gravettian technologies. Solutrean peoples inhabited the permafrost zone, whereas Epi-Gravettian peoples appear to have stuck to less harsh, seasonally frozen areas. Relatively few sites are known through this time. [16] The glaciers began retreating about 20,000 years ago, and the Solutrean evolved into the Magdalenian, which would recolonise Western and Central Europe over the next couple thousand years. [3] Starting during the Older Dryas roughly 14,000 years ago, Final Magdalenian traditions appear, namely the Azilian, Hamburgian, and Creswellian. [17] During the Bølling–Allerød warming, Near Eastern genes began showing up in the indigenous Europeans, indicating the end of Europe's genetic isolation. [13] Possibly due to the continual reduction of European big game, the Magdalenian and Epi-Gravettian were completely replaced by the Mesolithic by the beginning of the Holocene. [17] [18]

Europe was completely re-peopled during the Holocene climatic optimum from 9 to 5 thousand years ago. Mesolithic West European Hunter-Gatherers (WHG) contributed significantly to the present-day European genome, alongside Ancient North Eurasians (ANE) which descended from the Siberian Mal'ta–Buret' culture [19] (and split from EEMH before 37,000 years ago [13] ). Unlike ANE, the WHG genome is not prevalent on both sides of the Caucasus, and is only seen in any significant measure west of the Caucasus. Most present-day Europeans have a 60–80% WHG/(WHG+ANE) ratio, and the 8,000 year old Mesolithic Loschbour man seems to have had a similar pattern. Near Eastern Neolithic farmers which split from the European hunter-gatherers about 40,000 years ago started to spread out across Europe by 8,000 years ago, ushering in the Neolithic with Early European Farmers (EEF). EEF contribute about 30% of ancestry to present-day Baltic populations, and up to 90% in present-day Mediterranean populations. The latter may have inherited WHG ancestry via EEF introgression. [19] [20] The Eastern Hunter-Gatherers (EHG) population identified around the steppes of the Urals also dispersed, and the Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherers appear to be a mix of WHG and EHG. Around 4,500 years ago, the immigration of the Yamnaya and Corded Ware cultures from the eastern steppes brought the Bronze Age, the Proto-Indo-European language, and more or less the present-day genetic makeup of Europeans. [21]

EEMH have historically been referred to as "Cro-Magnons" in scientific literature until around the 1990s when the term "anatomically modern humans" became more popular. [22] The name "Cro-Magnon" comes from the 5 skeletons discovered by French palaeontologist Louis Lartet in 1868 at the Cro-Magnon rock shelter, Les Eyzies, Dordogne, France, after the area was accidentally discovered while clearing land for a railway station. [23] Fossils and artefacts from the Palaeolithic had actually been known for decades, but these were interpreted in a creationist model (as the concept of evolution had not yet been conceived). For example, the Aurignacian Red Lady of Paviland (a young man) from South Wales was described by geologist Reverend William Buckland in 1822 as a citizen of Roman Britain. Subsequent authors contended the skeleton was either evidence of antediluvian (before the Great Flood) people in Britain, or was swept far from the inhabited lands farther south by the powerful floodwaters. Buckland assumed the specimen was a woman because he was adorned with jewellery (shells, ivory rods and rings, and a wolf-bone skewer), and Buckland also stated (possibly in jest) the jewellery was evidence of witchcraft. Around this time, the uniformitarianism movement was gaining traction, headed principally by Charles Lyell, arguing that fossil materials well predated the biblical chronology. [24]

Following Charles Darwin's 1859 On the Origin of Species, racial anthropologists and raciologists began splitting off putative subspecies and sub-races of present-day humans based on unreliable and pseudoscientific metrics gathered from anthropometry, physiognomy, and phrenology continuing into the 20th century. [25] : 93–96 This was a continuation of Carl Linnaeus' 1735 Systema Naturae, where he invented the modern classification system, in doing so classifying humans as Homo sapiens with several putative subspecies classifications for different races based on racist behavioural definitions (in accord with historical race concepts): "H. s. europaeus" (European descent, governed by laws), "H. s. afer" (African descent, impulse), "H. s. asiaticus" (Asian descent, opinions), and "H. s. americanus" (Native American descent, customs). [26] The racial classification system was quickly extended to fossil specimens, including both EEMH and the Neanderthals, after the true extent of their antiquity was recognised. [25] : 110 In 1869, Lartet had proposed the subspecies classification "H. s. fossilis" for the Cro-Magnon remains. [22] Other supposed subraces of the 'Cro-Magnon race' included (among many others): "H. pre-aethiopicus" for a skull from Dordogne which had "Ethiopic affinities" "H. predmosti" or "H. predmostensis" for a series of skulls from Brno, Czech Republic, purportedly transitional between Neanderthals and EEMH [27] : 110–111 H. mentonensis for a skull from Menton, France [27] : 88 "H. grimaldensis" for Grimaldi man and other skeletons near Grimaldi, Monaco [27] : 55 and "H. aurignacensis" or "H. a. hauseri" for the Combe-Capelle skull. [27] : 15

These 'fossil races', alongside Ernst Haeckel's idea of there being backwards races which require further evolution (social darwinism), popularised the view in European thought that the civilised white man had descended from primitive, low browed ape ancestors through a series of savage races. Prominent brow-ridges were classified as an ape-like trait, and consequently Neanderthals (as well as Aboriginal Australians) were considered a lowly race. [25] : 116 These European fossils were considered to have been the ancestors to specifically living European races. [25] : 96 Among the earliest attempts to classify EEMH was done by racial anthropologists Joseph Deniker and William Z. Ripley in 1900, who characterised them as tall and intelligent proto-Aryans, superior to other races, who descended from Scandinavia and Germany. Further race theories revolved around progressively lighter, blonder, and superior races (subspecies) evolving in Central Europe and spreading out in waves to replace their darker ancestors, culminating in the "Nordic race". These aligned well with Nordicism and Pan-Germanism (that is, Aryan supremacy), which gained popularity just before World War I, and was notably used by the Nazis to justify the conquest of Europe and the supremacy of the German people in World War II. [25] : 203–205 Stature was among the characteristics used to distinguish these sub-races, so taller EEMH such as specimens from the French Cro-Magnon, Paviland, and Grimaldi sites were classified as ancestral to the "Nordic race", and smaller ones such as Combe-Capelle and Chancelade man (also from France) were considered the forerunners of either the "Mediterranean race" or "Eskimoids". [28] The Venus figurines — sculptures of pregnant women with exaggerated breasts and thighs — were used as evidence of the presence of the "Negroid race" in Palaeolithic Europe, because they were interpreted as having been based on real women with steatopygia (a condition which causes thicker thighs, common in the women of the San people of Southern Africa) and the hairdos of some are supposedly similar to those seen in Ancient Egypt. [29] By the 1940s, the positivism movement — which fought to remove political and cultural bias from science and had begun about a century earlier — had gained popular support in European anthropology. Due to this movement and raciology's associations with Nazism, raciology fell out of practice. [25] : 137

The beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic is thought to have been characterised by a major population increase in Europe, with the human population of Western Europe possibly increasing by a factor of 10 in the Neanderthal/modern human transition. [30] The archaeological record indicates that the overwhelming majority of Palaeolithic people (both Neanderthals and modern humans) died before reaching the age of 40, with few elderly individuals recorded. It is possible the population boom was caused by a significant increase in fertility rates. [31]

A 2005 study estimated the population of Upper Palaeolithic Europe by calculating the total geographic area which was inhabited based on the archaeological record averaged the population density of Chipewyan, Hän, Hill people, and Naskapi Native Americans which live in cold climates and applied to this to EEMH and assumed that population density continually increased with time calculated by the change in the number of total sites per time period. The study calculated that: from 40 to 30 thousand years ago the population was roughly 1,700–28,400 (average 4,400) from 30 to 22 thousand years ago roughly 1,900–30,600 (average 4,800) from 22 to 16.5 thousand years ago roughly 2,300–37,700 (average 5,900) and 16.5–11.5 thousand years ago roughly 11,300–72,600 (average 28,700). [32]

Following the LGM, EEMH are thought to have been much less mobile and featured a higher population density, indicated by seemingly shorter trade routes as well as symptoms of nutritional stress. [33]

Physical attributes Edit

For 28 modern human specimens from 190 to 25 thousand years ago, average brain volume was estimated to have been about 1,478 cc (90.2 cu in), and for 13 EEMH about 1,514 cc (92.4 cu in). In comparison, present-day humans average 1,350 cc (82 cu in), which is notably smaller. This is because the EEMH brain, though within the variation for present-day humans, exhibits longer average frontal lobe length and taller occipital lobe height. The parietal lobes, however, are shorter in EEMH. It is unclear if this could equate to any functional differences between present-day and early modern humans. [34]

EEMH are physically similar to present-day humans, with a globular braincase, completely flat face, gracile brow ridge, and defined chin. However, the bones of EEMH are somewhat thicker and more robust. [35] Compared to present-day Europeans, EEMH have broader and shorter faces, more prominent brow ridges, bigger teeth, shorter upper jaws, more horizontally oriented cheekbones, and more rectangular eye sockets. The latter three are more frequent in certain present-day East Asian populations. [36] Aurignacians featured a higher proportion of traits somewhat reminiscent of Neanderthals, such as (though not limited to) a slightly flattened skullcap and consequent occipital bun protruding from the back of the skull (the latter could be quite defined). Their frequency significantly diminished in Gravettians, and in 2007, palaeoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus concluded these were remnants of Neanderthal introgression which were eventually bred out of the gene pool in his review of the relevant morphology. [37]

In early Upper Palaeolithic Western Europe, 20 men and 10 women were estimated to have averaged 176.2 cm (5 ft 9 in) and 162.9 cm (5 ft 4 in), respectively. This is similar to post-industrial modern Northern Europeans. In contrast, in a sample of 21 and 15 late Upper Palaeolithic Western European men and women, the averages were 165.6 cm (5 ft 5 in) and 153.5 cm (5 ft), similar to pre-industrial modern humans. It is unclear why earlier EEMH were taller, especially considering that cold-climate creatures are short-limbed and thus short-statured to better retain body heat. This has variously been explained as: retention of a hypothetically tall ancestral condition higher-quality diet and nutrition due to the hunting of megafauna which later became uncommon or extinct functional adaptation to increase stride length and movement efficiency while running during a hunt increasing territorialism among later EEMH reducing gene flow between communities and increasing inbreeding rate or statistical bias due to small sample size or because taller people were more likely to achieve higher status in a group before the LGM and thus were more likely to be buried and preserved. [28]

Prior to genetic analysis, it was generally assumed that EEMH, like present-day Europeans, were light skinned as an adaptation to absorb vitamin D from the less luminous sun farther north. However, of the 3 predominant genes responsible for lighter skin in present-day Europeans — KITLG, SLC24A5, and SLC45A2 — the latter two, as well as the TYRP1 gene associated with lighter hair and eye colour, experienced positive selection as late as 19 to 11 thousand years ago during the Mesolithic transition. These three became more widespread across the continent in the Bronze Age. [39] [40] The variation of the gene which is associated with blue eyes in present-day humans, OCA2, seems to have descended from a common ancestor about 10–6 thousand years ago somewhere in Northern Europe. [41] Such a late timing was potentially caused by overall low population and/or low cross-continental movement required for such an adaptive shift in skin, hair, and eye colouration. However, KITLG experienced positive selection in EEMH (as well as East Asians) beginning approximately 30,000 years ago. [40] [42]

Genetics Edit

While anatomically modern humans have been present outside of Africa during some isolated time intervals potentially as early as 250,000 years ago, [43] present-day non-Africans descend from the out of Africa expansion which occurred around 65–55 thousand years ago. This movement was an offshoot of the rapid expansion within East Africa associated with mtDNA haplogroup L3. [44] [45] Mitochondrial DNA analysis places EEMH as the sister group to Upper Palaeolithic East Asian groups ("Proto-Mongoloid"), divergence occurring roughly 50,000 years ago. [46]

Initial genomic studies on the earliest EEMH in 2014, namely on the 37,000-year-old Kostenki-14 individual, identified 3 major lineages which are also present in present-day Europeans: one related to all later EEMH a "Basal Eurasian" lineage which split from the common ancestor of present-day Europeans and East Asians before they split from each other and another related to a 24,000-year-old individual from the Siberian Mal'ta–Buret' culture (near Lake Baikal). Contrary to this, a 2016 study looking at much earlier European specimens, including Ust'-Ishim and Oase-1 dating to 45,000 years ago, found no evidence of a "Basal Eurasian" component to the genome, nor did they find evidence of Mal'ta–Buret' introgression when looking at a wider range of EEMH from the entire Upper Palaeolithic. The study instead concluded that such a genetic makeup in present-day Europeans stemmed from Near Eastern and Siberian introgression occurring predominantly in the Neolithic and the Bronze Age (though beginning by 14,000 years ago), but all EEMH specimens including and following Kostenki-14 contributed to the present-day European genome and were more closely related to present-day Europeans than East Asians. Earlier EEMH (10 tested in total), on the other hand, did not seem to be ancestral to any present-day population, nor did they form any cohesive group in and of themselves, each representing either completely distinct genetic lineages, admixture between major lineages, or have highly divergent ancestry. Because of these, the study also concluded that, beginning roughly 37,000 years ago, EEMH descended from a single founder population and were reproductively isolated from the rest of the world. The study reported that an Aurignacian individual from Grottes de Goyet, Belgium, has more genetic affinities to the Magdalenian inhabitants of Cueva de El Miròn than to more or less contemporaneous Eastern European Gravettians. [13]

Haplogroups identified in EEMH are the patrilineal (from father to son) Y-DNA haplogroups IJ, C1, and K2a [note 1] [48] and matrilineal (from mother to child) mt-DNA haplogroup N, R, and U. [note 2] Y-haplogroup IJ descended from Southwest Asia. Haplogroup I emerged about 35 to 30 thousand years ago, either in Europe or West Asia. Mt-haplogroup U5 arose in Europe just prior to the LGM, between 35 and 25 thousand years ago. [47] The 14,000 year old Villabruna 1 skeleton from Ripari Villabruna, Italy, is the oldest identified bearer of Y-haplogroup R1b (R1b1a-L754* (xL389,V88)) found in Europe, likely brought in from Near Eastern introgression. [13] The Azilian "Bichon man" skeleton from the Swiss Jura was found to be associated with the WHG lineage. He was a bearer of Y-DNA haplogroup I2a and mtDNA haplogroup U5b1h. [42]

Genetic evidence suggests early modern humans interbred with Neanderthals. Genes in the present-day genome are estimated to have entered about 65 to 47 thousand years ago, most likely in West Asia soon after modern humans left Africa. [50] [51] In 2015, the 40,000 year old modern human Oase 2 was found to have had 6–9% (point estimate 7.3%) Neanderthal DNA, indicating a Neanderthal ancestor up to four to six generations earlier, but this hybrid Romanian population does not appear to have made a substantial contribution to the genomes of later Europeans. Therefore, it is possible that interbreeding was common between Neanderthals and EEMH which did not contribute to the present-day genome. [38] The percentage of Neanderthal genes gradually decreased with time, which could indicate they were maladaptive and were selected out of the gene pool. [13]

There is a notable technological complexification coinciding with the replacement of Neanderthals with EEMH in the archaeological record, and so the terms "Middle Palaeolithic" and "Upper Palaeolithic" were created to distinguish between these two time periods. Largely based on Western European archaeology, the transition was dubbed the "Upper Palaeolithic Revolution," (extended to be a worldwide phenomenon) and the idea of "behavioural modernity" became associated with this event and early modern cultures. It is largely agreed that the Upper Palaeolithic seems to feature a higher rate of technological and cultural evolution than the Middle Palaeolithic, but it is debated if behavioural modernity was truly an abrupt development or was a slow progression initiating far earlier than the Upper Paleolithic, especially when considering the non-European archaeological record. Behaviourly modern practices include: the production of microliths, the common use of bone and antler, the common use of grinding and pounding tools, high quality evidence of body decoration and figurine production, long-distance trade networks, and improved hunting technology. [52] [53] In regard to art, the Magdalenian produced some of the most intricate Palaeolithic pieces, and they even elaborately decorated normal, everyday objects. [54]

Hunting and gathering Edit

Historically, ethnographic studies on hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies have long placed emphasis on sexual division of labour and most especially the hunting of big game by men. This culminated in the 1966 book Man the Hunter, which focuses almost entirely on the importance of male contributions of food to the group. As this was published during the second-wave feminism movement, this was quickly met with backlash from many female anthropologists. Among these was Australian archaeologist Betty Meehan in her 1974 article Woman the Gatherer, who argued that women play a vital role in these communities by gathering more reliable food plants and small game, as big game hunting has a low success rate. The concept of "Woman the Gatherer" has since gained significant support. [55]

It has typically been assumed that EEMH closely studied prey habits in order to maximise return depending on the season. For example, large mammals (including red deer, horses, and ibex) congregate seasonally, and reindeer were possibly seasonally plagued by insects rendering fur sometimes unsuitable for hideworking. [56] There is much evidence that EEMH, especially in Western Europe following the LGM, corralled large prey animals into natural confined spaces (such as against a cliff wall, a cul-de-sac, or a water body) in order to efficiently slaughter whole herds of animals (game drive system). They seem to have scheduled mass kills to coincide with migration patterns, in particular for red deer, horses, reindeer, bison, aurochs, and ibex, and occasionally wooly mammoths. [57] There are also multiple examples of consumption of seasonally abundant fish, becoming more prevalent in the mid-Upper-Palaeolithic. [58] Nonetheless, Magdalenian peoples appear to have had a greater dependence on small animals, aquatic resources, and plants than predecessors, probably due to the relative scarcity of European big game following the LGM (Quaternary extinction event). [3] Post-LGM peoples tend to have a higher rate of nutrient deficiency related ailments, including a reduction in height, which indicates these bands (probably due to decreased habitable territory) had to consume a much broader and less desirable food range to survive. [33] The popularisation of game drive systems may have been an extension of increasing food return. [57] In particularly southwestern France, EEMH depended heavily upon reindeer, and so it is hypothesised that these communities followed the herds, with occupation of the Perigord and the Pyrenees only occurring in the summer. [59] Epi-Gravettian communities, in contrast, generally focused on hunting 1 species of large game, most commonly horse or bison. [18] It is possible that human activity, in addition to the rapid retreat of favourable steppeland, inhibited recolonisation of most of Europe by megafauna following the LGM (such as mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, Irish elk, and cave lions), in part contributing to their final extinction which occurred by the beginning of or well into the Holocene depending on the species. [60]

For weapons, EEMH crafted spearpoints using predominantly bone and antler, possibly because these materials were readily abundant. Compared to stone, these materials are compressive, making them fairly shatterproof. [56] These were then hafted onto a shaft to be used as javelins. It is possible that Aurignacian craftsmen further hafted bone barbs onto the spearheads, but firm evidence of such technology is recorded earliest 23,500 years ago, and does not become more common until the Mesolithic. [61] Aurignacian craftsmen produced lozenge-shaped (diamond-like) spearheads. By 30,000 years ago, spearheads were manufactured with a more rounded-off base, and by 28,000 years ago spindle-shaped heads were introduced. During the Gravettian, spearheads with a bevelled base were being produced. By the beginning of the LGM, the spear-thrower was invented in Europe, which can increase the force and accuracy of the projectile. [56] A possible boomerang made of mammoth tusk was identified in Poland (though it may have been unable to return to the thrower), and dating to 23,000 years ago, it would be the oldest known boomerang. [62] Stone spearheads with leaf- and shouldered-points become more prevalent in the Solutrean. Both large and small spearheads were produced in great quantity, and the smaller ones may have been attached to projectile darts. Archery was possibly invented in the Solutrean, though less ambiguous bow technology is first reported in the Mesolithic. Bone technology was revitalised in the Magdalanian, and long-range technology as well as harpoons become much more prevalent. Some harpoon fragments are speculated to have been leisters or tridents, and true harpoons are commonly found along seasonal salmon migration routes. [57]

Society Edit

Social system Edit

As opposed to the patriarchy prominent in historical societies, the idea of a prehistoric predominance of either matriarchy or matrifocal families (centred on motherhood) was first supposed in 1861 by legal scholar Johann Jakob Bachofen. The earliest models of this believed that monogamy was not widely practiced in ancient times — thus, the paternal line was resultantly more difficult to keep track of than the maternal — resulting in a matrilineal (and matriarchal) society. Matriarchs were then conquered by patriarchs at the dawn of civilisation. The switch from matriarchy to patriarchy and the hypothetical adoption of monogamy was seen as a leap forward. [63] However, when the first Palaeolithic representations of humans were discovered, the so-called Venus figurines — which typically feature pronounced breasts, buttocks, and vulvas (areas generally sexualised in present-day Western Culture) — they were initially interpreted as pornographic in nature. The first Venus discovered was named the "Vénus impudique" ("immodest Venus") by the discoverer Paul Hurault, 8th Marquis de Vibraye, because it lacked clothes and had a prominent vulva. [29] The name "Venus", after the Roman goddess of beauty, in itself implies an erotic function. Such a pattern in the representation of the human form led to suggestions that human forms were generally pornography for men, meaning men were primarily responsible for artwork and craftsmanship in the Palaeolithic whereas women were tasked with child rearing and various domestic works. This would equate to a patriarchal social system. [64]

The Palaeolithic matriarchy model was adapted by prominent communist Friedrich Engels who instead argued that women were robbed of power by men due to economic changes which could only be undone with the adoption of communism (Marxist feminism). The former sentiment was adopted by the first-wave feminism movement, who attacked the patriarchy by making Darwinist arguments of a supposed natural egalitarian or matrifocal state of human society instead of patriarchal, as well as interpreting the Venuses as evidence of mother goddess worship as part of some matriarchal religion. Consequently, by the mid-20th century, the Venuses were primarily interpreted as evidence of some Palaeolithic fertility cult. Such claims died down in the 1970s as archaeologists moved away from the highly theoretical models produced by the previous generation. Through the second-wave feminism movement, the prehistoric matriarchal religion hypothesis was primarily propelled by Lithuanian-American archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Her interpretations of the Palaeolithic were notably involved in the Goddess movement. [63] Equally ardent arguments against the matriarchy hypothesis have also been prominent, such as American religious scholar Cynthia Eller's 2000 The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory. [64]

Looking at the archaeological record, depictions of women are markedly more common than of men. In contrast to the commonplace Venuses in the Gravettian, Gravettian depictions of men are rare and contested, the only reliable one being a fragmented ivory figurine from the grave of a Pavlovian site in Brno, Czech Republic (it is also the only statuette found in a Palaeolithic grave). 2-D Magdalenian engravings from 15 to 11 thousand years ago do depict males, indicated by an erect penis and facial hair, though profiles of women with an exaggerated buttock are much more common. [65] There are less than 100 depictions of males in the EEMH archaeological record (of them, about a third are depicted with erections.) [66] On the other hand, most individuals which received a burial (which may have been related to social status) were men. [67] Anatomically, the robustness of limbs (which is an indicator of strength) between EEMH men and women were consistently not appreciably different from each other. Such low levels of sexual dimorphism through the Upper Pleistocene could potentially mean that sexual division of labour, which characterises historic societies (both agricultural and hunter-gatherer), only became commonplace in the Holocene. [33]

Trading Edit

The Upper Palaeolithic is characterised by evidence of expansive trade routes and the great distances at which communities could maintain interactions. The early Upper Palaeolithic is especially known for highly mobile lifestyles, with Gravettian groups (at least those analysed in Italy and Moravia, Ukraine) often sourcing some raw materials upwards of 200 km (120 mi). However, it is debated if this represents sample bias, and if Western and Northern Europe were less mobile. Some cultural practices such as creating Venus figurines or specific burial rituals during the Gravettian stretched 2,000 km (1,200 mi) across the continent. [33] Genetic evidence suggests that, despite strong evidence of cultural transmission, Gravettian Europeans did not introgress into Siberians, meaning there was a movement of ideas but not people between Europe and Siberia. [13] At the 30,000 year old Romanian Poiana Cireşului site, perforated shells of the Homalopoma sanguineum sea snail were recovered, which is significant as it inhabits the Mediterranean at nearest 900 km (560 mi) away. [68] Such interlinkage may have been an important survival tool in lieu of the steadily deteriorating climate. Given low estimated population density, this may have required a rather complex, cross-continental social organisation system. [33]

By and following the LGM, population densities are thought to have been much higher with the marked decrease of habitable lands, resulting in more regional economies. Decreased land availability could have increased travel distance, as habitable refugia may have been far and few between, and increasing population density within these few refugia would have made long-distance travel less economic. This trend continued into the Mesolithic with the adoption of sedentism. [33] Nonetheless, there is some evidence of long-distance Magdalenian trade routes. For example, at Lascaux, a painting of a bull had remnants of the manganese mineral hausmannite, which can only be manufactured in heat in excess of 900 °C (1,650 °F), which was probably impossible for EEMH this means they likely encountered natural hausmannite which is known to be found 250 km (160 mi) away in the Pyrenees. Unless there was a hausmannite source much closer to Lascaux which has since been depleted, this could mean that there was a local economy based on manganese ores. Also, at Ekain, Basque Country, the inhabitants were using the locally rare manganese mineral groutite in their paintings, which they possibly mined out of the cave itself. [69] Based on the distribution of Mediterranean and Atlantic seashell jewellery even well inland, there may have been a network during the Late Glacial Interstadial (14 to 12 thousand years ago) along the rivers Rhine and Rhône in France, Germany, and Switzerland. [68]

Housing Edit

EEMH cave sites quite often feature distinct spatial organisation, with certain areas specifically designated for specific activities, such as hearth areas, kitchens, butchering grounds, sleeping grounds, and trash pile. It is difficult to tell if all material from a site was deposited at about the same time, or if the site was used multiple times. [52] EEMH are thought to have been quite mobile, indicated by the great lengths of trade routes, and such a lifestyle was likely supported by the constructions of temporary shelters in open environments, such as huts. Evidence of huts is typically associated with a hearth. [71]

Magdalenian peoples, especially, are thought to have been highly migratory, following herds while repopulating Europe, and several cave and open-air sites indicate the area was abandoned and revisited regularly. The 19,000 year old Peyre Blanque site, France, and at least the 260 km 2 (100 sq mi) area around it may have been revisited for thousands of years. [71] In the Magdalenian, stone lined rectangular areas typically 6–15 m 2 (65–161 sq ft) were interpreted as having been the foundations or flooring of huts. At Magdalenian Pincevent, France, small, circular dwellings were speculated to have existed based on the spacing of stone tools and bones these sometimes featured an indoor hearth, work area, or sleeping space (but not all at the same time). A 23,000 year old hut from the Israeli Ohalo II was identified as having used grasses as flooring or possibly bedding, but it is unclear if EEMH also lined their huts with grass or instead used animal pelts. [72] A 13,800 year old slab from Molí del Salt, Spain, has 7 dome-shaped figures engraved onto it, which are postulated to represent temporary dome-shaped huts. [70]

Over 70 dwellings constructed by EEMH out of mammoth bones have been identified, primarily from the Russian Plain, [73] possibly semi-permanent hunting camps. [74] They seem to have built tipis and yarangas. [75] These were typically constructed following the LGM after 22,000 years ago by Epi-Gravettian peoples [76] the earliest hut identified comes from the Molodova I site, Ukraine, which was dated to 44,000 years ago (making it possible it was built by Neanderthals). [77] Typically, these huts measured 5 m (16 ft) in diameter, or 4 m × 6 m (13 ft × 20 ft) if oval shaped. Huts could get as small as 3 m × 2 m (9.8 ft × 6.6 ft). [75] One of the largest huts has a diameter of 12.5 m (41 ft) — a 25,000 year old hut identified in Kostenki, Russia — and was constructed out of 64 mammoth skulls, but given the little evidence of occupation, this is postulated to have been used for food storage rather than as a living space. [76] Some huts have burned bones, which has typically been interpreted as bones used as fuel for fireplaces due to the scarcity of firewood, and/or disposal of waste. A few huts, however, have evidence of wood burning, or mixed wood/bone burning. [76]

Mammoth hut foundations were generally made by pushing a great quantity of mammoth skulls into the ground (most commonly, though not always, with the tusks facing up to possibly be used as further supports), and the walls by putting into the ground vertically shoulder blades, pelvises, long bones, jaws, and the spine. Long bones were often used as poles, commonly placed on the end of another long bone or in the cavity of where tusk used to be. [75] Foundation may have extended as far as 40 cm (16 in) underground. Generally, multiple huts were built in a locality, placed 1–20 m (3 ft 3 in–65 ft 7 in) apart depending on location. Tusks may have been used to make entrances, skins pulled over for roofing, [73] and the interior sealed up by loess dug out of pits. Some architectural decisions seem to have been purely for aesthetics, best seen in the 4 Epi-Gravettian huts from Mezhyrich, Mezine, Ukraine, where jaws were stacked to create a chevron or zigzag pattern in 2 huts, and long bones were stacked to create horizontal or vertical lines in respectively 1 and 2 huts. The chevron was a commonly used symbol on the Russian Plain, painted or engraved on bones, tools, figurines, and mammoth skulls. [75]

Dogs Edit

At some point in time, EEMH domesticated the dog, probably as a result of a symbiotic hunting relationship. DNA evidence suggests that present-day dogs split from wolves around the beginning of the LGM. However, potential Palaeolithic dogs have been found preceding this — namely the 36,000 year old Goyet dog from Belgium and the 33,000 year old Altai dog from Siberia — which could indicate there were multiple attempts at domesticating European wolves. [78] These "dogs" had a wide size range, from over 60 cm (2 ft) in height in Eastern Europe to less than 30–45 cm (1 ft–1 ft 6 in) in Central and Western Europe, [79] and 32–41 kg (71–90 lb) in all of Europe. These "dogs" are identified by having a shorter snout and skull, and wider palate and braincase than contemporary wolves. Nonetheless, an Aurignacian origin for domestication is controversial. [80]

At the 27 to 24 thousand year old Předmostí site, Czech Republic, 3 "dogs" were identified with their skulls perforated (probably to extract the brain), and 1 had a mammoth bone in its mouth. The discoverers interpreted this as a burial ritual. [80] The 14,500 year old Bonn-Oberkassel dog from Germany was found buried alongside a 40-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman, as well as traces of red hematite, and is genetically placed as an ancestor to present-day dogs. It was diagnosed with canine distemper virus and probably died between 19 and 23 weeks of age. It would have required extensive human care to survive without being able to contribute to anything, suggesting that, at this point, humans and dogs were connected by emotional or symbolic ties rather than purely materialistic personal gain. [81]

It is hypothesised these proto-dogs provided a vital role in hunting, as well as domestic services such as transporting items or guarding camp or carcasses, but their exact utility is unclear. [82]

Art Edit

When examples of Upper Palaeolithic art were first discovered in the 19th century — engraved objects — they were assumed to have been "art for art's sake" as Palaeolithic peoples were widely conceived as having been uncultured savages. This model was primarily championed by French archaeologist Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet. Then, detailed paintings found deep within caves were discovered, the first being Cueva de Altamira, Spain, in 1879. The "art for art's sake" model came apart by the turn of the century as more examples of cave art were found in hard-to-reach places in Western Europe such as Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume, for which the idea of it being simply a leisure activity became increasingly untenable. [83]

Cave art Edit

EEMH are well known for having painted or engraved geometric designs, hand stencils, plants, animals, and seemingly human/animal hybrid creatures on cave walls deep inside caves. Typically the same species are represented in caves which have such art, but the total number of species is quite numerous, and namely includes creatures such as mammoths, bison, lions, bears, and ibex. Nonetheless, some caves were dominated by certain forms, such as Grotte de Niaux where over half of the animals are bison. Images could be drawn on top of one another. [83] They are found in dark cave recesses, and the artists either lit a fire on the cave floor or used portable stone lamps to see. Drawing materials include black charcoal and red and yellow ochre crayons, but they, along with a variety of other minerals, could also be ground into powder and mixed with water to create paint. Large, flat rocks may have been used as palettes, and brushes may have included reeds, bristles, and twigs, and possibly a blowgun was used to spray paint over less accessible areas. [84] Hand stencils could either be made by holding the hand to the wall and spitting paint over it (leaving a negative image) or by applying paint to the hand and then sticking it to the wall. Some hand stencils are missing fingers, but it is unclear if the artist was actually missing the finger or simply excluded it from the stencil. It has generally been assumed that the larger prints were left by men and the smaller ones by boys, but the exclusion of women entirely may be improbable. [85] Though many hypotheses have been proposed for the symbolism of cave art, it is still debated why these works were created in the first place. [83]

One of the first hypotheses regarding their symbolism was forwarded by French religious historian Salomon Reinach who supposed that, because only animals were depicted on cave walls, the images represented totem veneration, in which a group or a group member identifies with a certain animal associated with certain powers, and honours or respects this animal in some way such as by not hunting it. If this were the case, then EEMH communities within a region would have subdivided themselves into, for example, a "horse clan", a "bison clan", a "lion clan", and so forth. This was soon contested as some caves contain depictions of animals wounded by projectiles, and generally multiple species are represented. [83]

In 1903, Reinach proposed that the cave art represented sympathetic magic (between the painting and the painting's subject), and by drawing an animal doing some kind of action, the artist believed they were exerting that same action onto the animal. That is, by being the master of the image, they could master the animal itself. The hunting magic model — and the idea that art was magical and utilitarian in EEMH society — gained much popularity in the following decades. In this model, herbivorous prey items were depicted as having been wounded prior to a hunt in order to cast a spell over them some animals were incompletely depicted to enfeeble them geometric designs were traps and human/animal hybrids were sorcerers dressed as animals to gain their power, or were gods ruling over the animals. Many animals were depicted as completely healthy and intact, and sometimes pregnant, which this model interprets as fertility magic to promote reproduction however, if the animal was a carnivore, then this model says that the depiction served to destroy the animal. By the mid-20th century, this model was being contested because of how few depictions of wounded animals exist the collection of consumed animal bones in decorated caves often did not match types of animals depicted in terms of abundance and the magic model does not explain hand stencils. [83]

Following the 1960s, begun by German-American art historian Max Raphael, the study of cave art took on a much more statistical approach, analysing and quantifying items such as the types and distribution of animals depicted, cave topography, and cave wall morphology. Based on such structuralist tests, horses and bovines seem to have been preferentially clustered together typically in a central position, and such binary organisation led to the suggestion that this was sexual symbolism, and some animals and iconography were designated by EEMH as either male or female. This conclusion has been heavily contested as well, due to the subjective definition of association between two different animals, and the great detail the animals were depicted in, permitting sexual identification (and further, the hypothesis that bison were supposed to be feminine contradicts the finding that many are male). [83]

Also in the late 20th century, with the popularisation of the hypothesis that EEMH practised shamanism, the human/animal hybrids and geometrical symbols were interpreted within this framework as the visions a shaman would see while in a trance (entoptic phenomena). Opponents mainly attack the comparisons made between Palaeolithic cultures and present-day shamanistic societies for being in some way inaccurate. [83] In 1988, archaeologists David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson suggested trances were induced by hallucinogenic plants containing either mescaline, LSD, or psilocybine but the only European plant which produces any of these is ergot (which produces a substance used to make LSD), and there is no evidence EEMH purposefully ate it. [86]

Researchers Uncover 1.5-Million-Year-Old Footprints

Freshly discovered trails of ancient footprints, left on what was once the muddy shores of a river near Ileret, Kenya, indicate that some 1.5 million years ago human ancestors walked in a manner similar to that of people today. The international team of researchers who analyzed the prints say that those who left them had feet that looked a lot like ours.

The prints were probably left by Homo ergaster, an earlier, larger version of the widespread Homo erectus, says David Braun, a lecturer in archeology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and co-author of the study set to be published tomorrow in Science. This discovery "lets us know that they were probably just as efficient at walking upright as we are," he says.

Previous research has shown that human ancestors were perfectly capable of getting around on their hind legs 3.5 million years ago&mdashand perhaps even earlier. But Braun says these prints reveal, for the first time, a very modern foot with a parallel big toe&mdashunlike an ape's opposable digit that's easily curled for grasping tree branches. Homo sapiens proper are said to have emerged about 200,000 years ago.

Footprints can tell scientists a lot about creatures that a skeleton cannot. From them, scientists can learn about the gait, weight distribution and even the approximate size of those who made them. Braun says these prints were apparently made by pedestrians who stood just under five feet (1.5 meters) tall. A modern upright stride can indicate a lot about behavior, as well, says David Raichlen, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who cites long-distance walking and running as possible benefits of this adaptation.

"It really is a snapshot of time," Braun says. The preserved area also shows a wealth of animal prints, which gives more precise information about what creatures shared the space and time. Exhumed fossils can yield info on general environments footprints can provide a glimpse into life over days rather than millennia. "With the footprints," Braun says, "we can almost certainly say these things lived in the same time as each other, which is unique."

It is much rarer to find footprints than bones, because conditions must be perfect for tracks to be preserved, according to Braun. In this case, the tracks were made during a rainy season near an ancient river just before that river changed course and swept a protective layer of sand over them.

The last major set of footprints, discovered in 1978 in Laetoli, Tanzania, were dated to about 3.6 million years ago. But those revealed a more ancient foot and gait, and it is still debatable whether those who made them had a stride more akin to humans or to chimpanzees, says Raichlen, who has studied the Laetoli prints.

The Ileret tracks were digitally scanned using a laser technique developed by lead study author, Matthew Bennett, a geoarchaeologist at Bournemouth University in Poole, England. Raichlen says the find gives people a rare view of those that have trod before. "It's important to think about what you're really getting: a glimpse of behavior in the fossil record that you wouldn't really get in any other way," he says. The research reveals "a moment in time when individuals are walking around the landscape. It sort of fleshes out and brings them back to life, in a way."