Department of Geoscience

WS 2013/2014

Datum Vortragende/r

Dr. Ximena Villagran (University of Tübingen)

Title:"Geoarchaeology of shell sites from coastal South America: shell mounds/middens from Santa Catarian State (Brazil) and Tierra del Fuego (Argentina)"

 Shell mounds and shell middens are common archaeological sites in the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America. Their chronology spans from the Pleistocene/Holocene transition to shortly before the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese colonizers. Despite their omnipresence, diverse depositional behaviors are related to the formation of shell sites, related with differences in function, use and meaning throughout the coast.

For their composition, shell site formation processes are frequently studied by zooarchaeology. Few studies have used geoarchaeology for site formation analyses. The geoarchaeological study here presented is based on the premise that the properties of sediments from shell moundsand shell middens can also provide valuable information on the use, function and evolution of the sites through time.

To understand site formation processes in different South American shell sites, eight archaeological shell mounds (sambaquis) from the southern coast of Santa Catarina State (Brazil) and one ethnohistorical shell midden (conchero) from Tierra del Fuego (Argentina) were studied. The characterization of archaeological sediments was done through grain-size analyses, zooarchaeology, C and N isotopy (δ13C e δ15N), micromorphology and scanning electron microscopy. Experimental archaeology was done with hearths lit on known contexts and through the controlled burning of mollusk shell.

The shell mounds of Santa Catarina are among the biggest shell sites in the world, with up to 60 m in height, and high concentration of human remains. The shell middens of Tierra del Fuego are small ring-shaped structures, of less than 1 high, ethnographically known for being used as domestic spaces.

Dr. María Martinón-Torres (Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana)

Title: "Out of Asia and into Europe: a new model for the colonization of Europe"

Abstract: Our understanding of the hominin occupation of Western Europe during the Early Pleistocene has significantly changed during the last two decades. New hominin assemblages from the Atapuerca-Sima del Elefante (1.2 Ma) and Atapuerca- Gran Dolina-TD6 sites (900 kya) have obliged to reconsider previous hypotheses about the timing and the origin of the first human dispersals into Europe. The morphological analysis of the Sima del Elefante mandible (Homo sp.) and the Gran Dolina-TD6 assemblage (Homo antecessor) has led to the recognition of a morphological “European identity” which implies unexpectedly large departures from the morphologies observed in Africa and, possibly, one or more speciation events in this extreme part of Eurasia. After the first Out of Africa hominin dispersal, the colonization of Europe may be the result of several hominin migrations originated in a central area of Eurasia from where hominins would have moved westwards when the biogeographical conditions allowed it.
In addition, our studies ratify the necessity of considering the European Early Pleistocene populations to fully understand the origins of the Neandertal lineage, since some of the so-called Neandertal apomorphies may be indeed primitive traits that appeared early in the evolution of the Homo lineages.

07.06.2013 Dr. Sireen El Zaatari (Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)

"Dental microwear and diet of Paleolithic hominins"

Abstract: Conventional methods of dental microwear analyses have proven to be very useful for the dietary reconstructions of various species. Yet, new advances in the field of dental microwear are expanding even further the potential of these techniques. Microwear texture analysis is a new automated and repeatable approach to the study of dental microwear, where the scanning confocal profilometry replaces the scanning electron microscopy and scale-sensitive fractal analysis is introduced as a tool for 3-D analysis of microwear features. Studies employing this technique for the analysis of occlusal molar microwear patterns of various extant and extinct species, including hominins, have attested to its efficiency in providing insights into the dietary habits of these taxa. Specifically, the application of this technique to a large number of Paleolithic hominins from their wide temporal and geographic ranges has shed light on several behavioral aspects that distinguish Upper Paleolithic modern humans from their predecessors, i.e., the Neandertals and Pre-Neandertals, in western Eurasia. The major results of this study reveal two such behaviors: modern humans’ use of technology for the adaptation to changes in food availability resulting from climatic fluctuations and their special treatment of their children..


Dr. Simon Neubauer (Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)

Title:"Virtual Anthropology and endocasts: insights into human brain evolution"

 The brain is responsible for our cognitive and behavioral capabilities and therefore the central organ that makes us human. Since brains do not fossilize, the bony braincase and endocranial casts that approximate brain morphology are the only direct evidence for studying hominin brain evolution. The methodological toolkit of Virtual Anthropology has improved the possibilities to analyze such endocasts. Without harming the original fossil, biomedical imaging analysis allows for noninvasive access, electronic preparation of adhesive sediments and repositioning of misaligned fragments. Geometric morphometric techniques based on landmarks and semilandmarks allow for objective quantification and comparison of endocranial shape, reconstruction of missing or deformed parts, and simulations of developmental and evolutionary processes. I discuss some examples of my work that demonstrate the effectiveness of these techniques for endocast analyses. They include brain growth in chimpanzees, that helps to interpret brain growth, cognitive development and life history in fossils, comparison of ontogenetic endocranial shape variation in humans, chimpanzees, and Neanderthals to interpret adult shape differences among species and possibly associated cognitive differences, and the analysis of uncertainty related to reconstruction and small samples to estimate species average endocranial volume, a number important to interpret brain size evolution.


Dr. Yann Heuzé (Department of Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University)

Title: "Craniofacial morphogenesis and evolution: Insights from developmental biology"

Abstract: Craniofacial morphology is composed of multiple complex traits which are not inherited in a Mendelian way but rather tied to multiple genes. Quantifying morphological and genetic variation is essential for the understanding of human evolution, and one way of addressing this variation is by studying the correspondence between the genotype and phenotype. My research centers on the developmental mechanisms that underlie vertebrate craniofacial and brain morphological variation and evolution. Studying both normal and abnormal development in humans and animal models serves this aim. I use diverse morphometric methods, virtual anthropology, high resolution imaging techniques and data analysis, to better characterized craniofacial and brain phenotypic variation. For example, I am investigating the interactions between the different skeletal elements during skull development and how premature fusion of cranial suture(s) affects the equilibrium of the composite skull and developing brain. My results show how different mutations within fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) 2 have similar effect on neurocranial morphology, but generate variable facial skeletal phenotypes, potentially highlighting differential developmental constraints. The development of the facial skeleton and its interactions with other anatomo-functional units such as the neurocranium and the brain is at the center of my research. The morphogenesis of the facial skeleton is a key aspect of human evolution and the morphological evolution of this particular anatomical unit represents an excellent example of ontogenetic and architectural constraints, selection pressures from environmental factors, and functional responses to dietary and lifestyle requirements. Ultimately, a better understanding of the co-evolution of the skull and brain in vertebrates will provide an innovative interpretation of the human lineage fossil record.


Corinna Rößner (Department of Near Eastern Archaeology, Albert-Ludwigs-University; Institute for Archaeobotany, Eberhard-Karls-University)

Title: "Plant use and vegetation changes at Körtik Tepe from the Epipalaeolithic to PPNA (SE-Turkey)"

Abstract: Körtik Tepe is located in southeastern Turkey, in the northern Fertile Crescent. Archaeobotanical samples from Epipalaeolithic and PPNA Körtik Tepe were analyzed to gain insight into land use during the Neolithic transition. One of the main aims of this research is to evaluate whether there are indications for cultivation and domestication at the site. Additionally, the botanical remains are also investigated to gain understanding of vegetation changes in this region from the Younger Dryas to the Early Holocene. Preliminary results showed only a few wild progenitors of today’s crops and hardly any chaff remains. It seems that the inhabitants of Körtik Tepe used a wide variety of food resources in their subsistence strategy and the diet was not focused on wild cereals. Preliminary investigations of the charcoals indicate that the Younger Dryas had considerable impact on the vegetation of the surroundings: Whereas the PPNA samples contain a lot of oak and other oak park woodland indicators, the Epipalaeolithic samples lack such taxa and are mainly represented by riverine taxa.


Dr. Kathryn Fitzsimmons (Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)

Title: "Of people, ash, and dust: integrating records of environmental change, natural hazards and human occupation in the Lower Danube loess steppe"

 The eastern European loess steppe holds a geographically important position as a potential crossroads for hominin migration, however regional data has thus far been insufficient to reliably evaluate dispersal models throughout the Palaeolithic. The substantial loess deposits of the Danube basin in southeastern Europe represent one of the thickest and most comprehensive terrestrial palaeoenvironmental records on the continent, yet are also poorly understood. Environmental conditions over the last million years have resulted in relatively continuous deposits uninterrupted by glaciation and tundra conditions. However, while this relative environmental stability may have proven important for hominins migrating into and through the region over long timescales, natural hazards such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes may have periodically disrupted the steppic idyll. The Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) volcanic super-eruption near Naples which occurred 40 ka ago, for example, spread ash across eastern Europe as far as the Russian Plain. The CI event is of particular interest because its timing coincides with the arrival into Europe of anatomically modern humans and the demise of Neanderthals, yet its impact is poorly understood. Important new data from Eastern Europe indicate that the magnitude of the CI eruption and impact of its distal ash deposits may have been substantially greater than existing models suggest.

Given the potential of the lower Danube basin as a major Palaeolithic crossroads, our challenge is to better understand the nature of palaeoenvironmental change and natural hazards in this area, to identify additional archaeological sites, and to integrate the resulting records in order to reconstruct the significance of this region for global hominin dispersals. I will discuss the palaeoenvironmental information provided by the thick lower Danube loess deposits, combined with results from a multi-disciplinary, systematic survey of the region to elucidate human migration patterns and adaptation to changing climate conditions and the CI super-eruption.


Dr. Britt Starkovich (Institut für Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie, Universität Tübingen)

Title: Small Game Hunting at Kephalari Cave (Peloponnese, Greece)

Abstract: Kephalari Cave, a large cave in the Argolid, was excavated in the early 1970s and remains one of only a handful of Paleolithic sites in southern Greece. The site preserves a large faunal assemblage and diagnostic lithic industries that include Middle Paleolithic, Early Upper Paleolithic, Aurignacian, Gravettian, and late Upper Paleolithic tool types. It is clear that carnivores visited the site throughout the late Pleistocene but the deposits are mostly anthropogenic. Large game animals include ibex, red deer, fallow deer, aurochs, and wild ass, though the majority of faunal remains are small game species, partridges and European hares in particular. This presentation discusses shifts in game use through the occupation of the site, and focuses on small game procurement strategies and standardized butchery patterns in the later Upper Paleolithic layers. The fauna are compared to the contemporary site of Klissoura Cave 1, a deeply stratified rock shelter only 15 km from Kephalari.


Edgard Camarós (Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) – University of Tarragona)

Title: "The recovery of human behaviour through the interaction of Hominids and carnivores: Possibilities and realities"

Abstract: Interaction between hominids and carnivores during the Pleistocene is something common. Along human evolution carnivores have played an important role and even some scholars talk about a co-evolutionary process between genus Homo and large carnivores. It is well known that during Middle and Upper Palaeolithic, Neanderthals and Sapiens have shared alternately with carnivores the use of caves to inhabit, hunted in same ecosystems common preys and generated other mutual pressures that have influenced human behaviour or difficulties its archaeological study.

The aim of the research presented in the lecture is to explore new methodologies to explain human behaviour through Hominid-Carnivore interaction. New approaches such as experiments with extant large carnivores or the study of current carnivore attacks to humans, all combined with the analysis of Palaeolithic assemblages. This approach is providing important information to answer questions related to the study of complex anthropic spatial organisation, the systematic use of fire, scavenging or hunting strategies, how direct confrontation was developed or even how a modern cognition related to inhumation rituals can be hidden. In sum, the interaction between hominids and carnivores has much to do in the study of the evolution of human behaviour during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic.