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PCP SCIENTIFIC NEWS
Edited by Mario Alinei, Xaverio Ballester, Francesco Benozzo
12. Z.H. Rosser et al., Y-Chromosomal Diversity in Europe Is Clinal and Influenced Primarily by Geography, Rather than by Language, "The American Journal of Human Genetics" 67(6), 2000, pp. 1526 - 1543.
Abstract: Clinal patterns of autosomal genetic diversity within Europe have been often interpreted in terms of a Neolithic demic diffusion model for the spread of agriculture; in contrast, studies using mtDNA have traced many founding lineages to the Paleolithic and have not shown strongly clinal variation. The authors have used 11 human Y-chromosomal biallelic polymorphisms, defining 10 haplogroups, to analyze a sample of 3,616 Y chromosomes belonging to 47 European and circum-European populations. Patterns of geographic differentiation are highly nonrandom, and, when they are assessed using spatial autocorrelation analysis, they show significant clines for five of six haplogroups analyzed. Clines for two haplogroups, representing 45% of the chromosomes, are continentwide and consistent with the demic diffusion hypothesis. Clines for three other haplogroups each have different foci and are more regionally restricted and are likely to reflect distinct population movements, including one from north of the Black Sea. Principal-components analysis suggests that populations are related primarily on the basis of geography, rather than on the basis of linguistic affinity. This is confirmed in Mantel tests, which show a strong and highly significant partial correlation between genetics and geography but a low, nonsignificant partial correlation between genetics and language. Genetic-barrier analysis also indicates the primacy of geography in the shaping of patterns of variation. These patterns retain a strong signal of expansion from the Near East but also suggest that the demographic history of Europe has been complex and influenced by other major population movements, as well as by linguistic and geographic heterogeneities and the effects of drift. (Signaled by Jean Le Dû) Text
11. EVIDENCE FOR STONE-TOOL-ASSISTED CONSUMPTION OF ANIMAL TISSUES BEFORE 3.39 MILLION YEARS AGO AT DIKIKA, ETHIOPIA. Shannon P. McPherron, Zeresenay Alemseged, Curtis W. Marean, Jonathan G. Wynn, Denné Reed, Denis Geraads, René Bobe & Hamdallah A. Béarat.
Abstract: The oldest direct evidence of stone tool manufacture comes from Gona (Ethiopia) and dates to between 2.6 and 2.5 million years (Myr) ago. At the nearby Bouri site several cut-marked bones also show stone tool use approximately 2.5Myr ago. Here we report stone-tool-inflicted marks on bones found during recent survey work in Dikika, Ethiopia, a research area close to Gona and Bouri. On the basis of low-power microscopic and environmental scanning electron microscope observations, these bones show unambiguous stone-tool cut marks for flesh removal and percussion marks for marrow access. The bones derive from the Sidi Hakoma Member of the Hadar Formation. Established 40Ar–39Ar dates on the tuffs that bracket this member constrain the finds to between 3.42 and 3.24Myr ago, and stratigraphic scaling between these units and other geological evidence indicate that they are older than 3.39Myr ago. Our discovery extends by approximately 800,000 years the antiquity of stone tools and of stone-tool-assisted consumption of ungulates by hominins; furthermore, this behaviour can now be attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. (Fernanda Frazão)
10. The recently published book Celtic from the West. Alternative Perspectives from Archaeology, Genetics and Literature (edited by Barry Cunliffe and John. T. Koch, Oxford, Oxbow Books, 2010, "Celtic Studies Publications", vol. 15) advances the hypothesis that "the Celtic languages emerged in the Atlantic Zone during the Bronze Age". This idea, in contrast with "the long-established, but increasingly proiblemnatical scenario in which the Ancient Celts […] are closely bound up with the archaeology of the Lallstatt and La Tène cultures of Iron Age west-central Europe". The book approaches the new hypothesis with the contribution of archaeological, genetics, and linguistic data.
A comment by F.B.: This is an important book for Celtic and Indo-European studies. Authors claim that Celtic probably evolved in the Atlantic zone during the Bronze Age. The fact that the (already argued by PCP) idea of a North-West > South-East direction of Celtic peoples in prehistoric Europe has been recognized constitutes a crucial turning point for future research. Nevertheless, the same genetic data emerged in the second section of the book would suggest an earlier (Palaeolithic) development of Celtic peoples and languages. The epistemological idea behind this book (necessary developed after realising that the galloping mass-migration of unbeatable pastoral warriors can no longer be defended), is that IE peoples "arrived" as Bronze Age gentlemen who unobtrusively and peacefully rob the autochthonous populations of their territories, their resources and their language identity. This idea is of course through-and-through indefensible in terms of cultural and linguistic ethnogenesis. Nevertheless, one has gone one little step further, and it must be recognized that the authors cautiously adopt verbs such as "to evolve" and "to emerge", instead of "to come to existence" or "to be born". (F.B.)
9. From Caroline Malone, The Italian Neolithic: a Synthesis of Research, in "Journal of World Prehistory" 17, 2003, pp. 235-312): "...knowledge of the Neolithic Italy is now comparable with that of Greece and France, and common trends, as well as the individual patterns of development, form a fascinating comparative study. Of the communities of Neolithic Italy, what conclusion can be drawn about their development? The continuity of indigenous Mesolithic populations alongside new Neolithic groups appears more pronounced than elsewhere" (p. 299, M.A.'s emphasis ).
A comment by M.A.: Although the author, in dealing with the Neolithization of Italy (and Europe), does not take a stand between the "Neolithic replacement" (now minority) theory by Ammerman and Cavalli Sforza (and Renfrew) and the "Mesolithic continuity" (now majority) theory by Barker, Dennel, Tusa, Whittle and others, she does recognize that in Italy the evidence for a major Mesolithic role in the Neolithization is even stronger than elsewhere. Within the framework of the PCP, the new Neolithic groups that reach Southern Europe from western Asia were not the Proto-Indo-Europeans who replaced the language of the Mesolithic populations (Renfrew’s theory) but, on the contrary, were non-Indo-European people who, before being assimilated by the indigenous Indo-European Mesolithic populations, introduced the typical non-Indo-European phonetic and lexical features (retroflex sounds and place names, for example) that still characterize the dialects of the Tyrrhenian islands and Southern Italy, besides Greece. And this happened only in the Southern areas, where the impact of the intrusive farmers was stronger. Assuming Renfrew’s model, the opposite should have happened. (M.A.)
8. Archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island has recently unearthed, on the Mediterranean island of Crete, acheulean stone hand axes that indicate that an ancient Homo species — perhaps Homo erectus — had used rafts or other types vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between. Traditional theories hold that the first vessels that reached Crete were those of the earliest farming groups in southern Europe and the Middle East, and until now the oldest known human settlements on Crete dated to around 9,000 years ago. At the annual meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology (January 2010) Strasser reported that several hundred double-edged cutting implements were discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete, dating to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier. Many of these stone axes closely resemble those fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus. It was around that time that H. erectus spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe. "We’re just going to have to accept that, as soon as hominids left Africa, they were long-distance seafarers and rapidly spread all over the place," Strasser says. The traditional view has been that hominids (specifically, H. erectus) left Africa via land routes that ran from the Middle East to Europe and Asia (Summarized from "Science News", January 8th, 2010). (Fernanda Frazao and Gabriela Marais)
7. LANGUAGE OF NEANDERTHALS. A new paper devoted to the origin of speech has recently been published by the eminent Spanish scholars Ignacio Martínez Mendizábal and Juan Luis Arsuaga Ferreras, two of the main researchers of the long–term project on the rich paleontological site of Atapuerca (Burgos): El origen del lenguaje: la evidencia paleontológica, "Munibe" 60, 2009, pp. 5–16. Here is the English abstract of the paper: "The origin and evolution of speech can be approached from the analysis of the paleontological record which allows us to establish which fossil species had the morphological features that are associated to the production and perception of speech. The Mathematical Theory of Information by Claude E. Shannon offers an appropriate theoretical scenario in which all different variables in the communication phenomenon can be interrelated through the study of the bone adaptations in past species. For the last two decades, the findings at the Middle Pleistocene site of the Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca) and the researchers on this and other human fossil material from Middle Pleistocene sites in Africa and Europe, as well as from Neanderthal specimens, leads us to conclude that the Neanderthal lineage (Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis) already showed a set of anatomical adaptations related to the presence of a highly–efficient oral communication system". After considering the paleontological evidence of the crucial question of how human language emerged and evolved, Martínez and Arsuaga conclude that homo neanderthalensis might have had the abiliity to speak in a way similar to homo sapiens sapiens. According to Martínez and Arsuaga Neanderthals definitely spoke, but they probably did so in a rather twanging way. (X.B.)
6. UPPER PALEOLITHIC. In a study published in "Science" (324, 2009, pp. 1298-1301), Adam Powell, Stephen Shennan and Mark G. Thomas argue for the existence of a cause/effect relationship between increase in population size and complexity and the appearance of technological and cultural complexity of modern humans (art, improvements in tool technology, music, long-distance trading and the like), emerging in Europe and western Asia ~ 45.000 years ago, and in southern Africa ~ 90.000 years ago (in both areas much later than anatomically modern humans). Building on a previous model, which showed that small populations would tend to lose complex skills, and using statistical models of genetic variation in mitochondrial DNA to estimate prehistoric population density, the Authors show that demographic factors, in particular those of a population in which individuals live in subpopulations and inherit technical skills from other members of the same group, or by migration within and between subpopulations, "can explain geographic variation in the timing of the first appearance of modern behavior without invoking increased cognitive capacity". (M.A.)
5. LINGUISTICS VS GENETICS. In a Letter to the Editors ("Science" 324, 2009, pp. 464-465), Jonathan Friedlaander, Keith Hunley, Michael Dunn, Angela Terrill, Eva Lindström, Ger Reesink, Françoise Friedlaender argue that linguistics is more robust than genetics in its capacity to reflect ancient population history. "Any congruence between linguistics and genetics is disrupted when populations speaking unrelated languages are in close contact. In such cases, genetic distinctions rapidly become blurred, because genetic exchange is generally more prevalent and pervasive than is language borrowing or adoption. Languages are more integrated sets of features than are gene pools. Language change does not occur in a social vacuum, and sociolinguistic pressure to maintain distinctions between groups can evidently have a strong inhibitory effect against linguistic convergence. This underlines the comparative power of historical linguistics for reconstructions of population histories, especially in contact situations".
A comment by M.A.: "Language change does not occur in a social vacuum" is much too weak a statement. Language change, rather, "is" a social event, as it is caused by the impact of social and/or ethnic hybridization on the linguistic competence of speakers. (M.A.)
4. ENEOLITHIC AND HORSE DOMESTICATION. A study by A.K. Outram, N.A.Stear, R. Bendrey, S. Olsen, A. Kasparov, V. Zaibert, N. Thorpe, R.P. Evershed ("Science" 323, 2009, pp. 1332-1335) definitively confirms that horse domestication first took place in northern Kazakhstan, in the framework of the Eneolithic Botai culture, dating to about 3500 B.C.E. Analysis of organic residues also reveals milking of mares. See, on the same subject, "Trail of Mare's Milk Leads to First Tamed Horses", in Science 322, 2008, p. 368.
A comment by M.A.: Surprisingly, the authors still refer to works of Anthony, Mallory and Piggot, according to which "domestication of horse is associated with the spread of Indo-European languages and culture". Modern archaeology (beginning with Renfrew) has demolished this theory. Moreover, overwhelming linguistic evidence, among which most important is the spread of exclusively Turkic loanword related to horse terminology in all languages of Eastern Europe, both Indo-European and Uralic, shows that horse domestication is a fundamental Turkic innovation. It is no accident that the Botai culture is a khazak culture, belonging to the Turkic-speaking area, and not to the IE-, or Uralic-speaking one! Myths and dogmas are hard to die! (M.A.)
3. UPPER PALEOLITHIC. In "Nature" (460, 2009, pp. 737-740), Nicholas J. Conard, Maria Malina and Susanne C. Münzel report the discovery of bone and ivory flutes from the early Aurignacian period of southwestern Germany. "These finds demonstrate the presence of a well-established musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe, more than 35,000 calendar years ago". (M.A.)
2. LOWER PALEOLITHIC. HOMO ERECTUS/ERGASTER. A study by Matthew R. Bennett et alii ("Science" 323, 2009, pp. 1197-1201) illustrates hominin footprints, dated at 1.51 to 1.53 million years ago at Ileret, Kenya, providing "the oldest evidence of an essentially modern human-like foot anatomy". (M.A.)
1. The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form, PNAS ("Preoceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America"), vol. 103, no. 1, January 3, 2006 242-247. (M.A.) Abstract