New Paper: Bioarchaeology of Care in the Metal Period, Philippines

Vlok et al on a case of disability care in Metal Age Philippines

10.1002/oa.2588

Abstract

A case of disability in the Metal Period of the Philippines, likely requiring healthcare from others, is presented to explore aspects of group dynamics in this period of antiquity. B243, a middle-aged male excavated from the Napa site in the central Philippines, suffered severe trauma to the right leg resulting in considerable restrictions to mobility and self-maintenance of survival related behaviours such as food provision and hygiene. It is likely that B243 required assistance from others to survive for some period of time prior to eventual death. The bioarchaeology of care method was applied to assess the types of healthcare that B243 likely required, and to consider potential social and biological impacts to both B243 and his community. Provision of healthcare practice in this case suggests that B243’s community had access to health-related resources, knowledge on the treatment of his injuries and underlying values in the group for sustaining human life in the case of injury and disability.

Source: A New Application of the Bioarchaeology of Care Approach: A Case Study from the Metal Period, Philippines – Vlok – 2017 – International Journal of Osteoarchaeology – Wiley Online Library

Reassessing the Deep Skull from Niah

A study of the Deep Skull from Niah has some new interpretations – female, not male;and likely originating from East Asia.

The Deep Skull of Niah. Source: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
The Deep Skull of Niah. Source: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

Deep Skull from Niah Cave and the Pleistocene Peopling of Southeast Asia
Front. Ecol. Evol., 27 June 2016 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2016.00075

37,000-year-old skull from Borneo reveals surprise for scientists
Popular archaeology, 27 June 2016

Could this skull rewrite human history? 37,000-year-old cranium found in Borneo may be evidence that ancient Aborigines were not the first to settle in Pacific island
Daily Mail, 27 June 2016

The Deep Skull from Niah Cave in Sarawak (Malaysia) is the oldest anatomically modern human recovered from island Southeast Asia. For more than 50 years its relevance to tracing the prehistory of the region has been controversial. The most widely held view, originating with Brothwell’s 1960 description and analysis, is that the Niah individual is related to Indigenous Australians. Here we undertake a new assessment of the Deep Skull and consider its bearing on this question. In doing so, we provide a new and comprehensive description of the cranium including a reassessment of its ontogenetic age, sex, morphology, and affinities. We conclude that this individual was most likely to have been of advanced age and female, rather than an adolescent male as originally proposed. The morphological evidence strongly suggests that the Deep Skull samples the earliest modern humans to have settled Borneo, most likely originating on mainland East Asia. We also show that the affinities of the specimen are most likely to be with the contemporary indigenous people of Borneo, although, similarities to the population sometimes referred to as Philippine Negritos cannot be excluded. Finally, our research suggests that the widely supported “two-layer” hypothesis for the Pleistocene peopling of East/Southeast Asia is unlikely to apply to the earliest inhabitants of Borneo, in-line with the picture emerging from genetic studies of the contemporary people from the region.

Paper here.

Another Hobbit paper argues against Down Syndrome theory

While the excitement was brewing over the discovery of 700,000-year-old hobbit bones in Flores, another paper published at the same time evaluates the theory that H. floresiensis presented with signs of Down Syndrome. The paper noted significant differences between the hominid bones and those with Down Sydrome and concluded that the bones were unique.

A Critical Evaluation of the Down Syndrome Diagnosis for LB1, Type Specimen of Homo floresiensis
PLoS One, 08 June 2016, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155731

Homo floresiensis Remains Unique, Valid Species
Sci-News, 13 June 2016

The Liang Bua hominins from Flores, Indonesia, have been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate since their initial description and classification in 2004. These remains have been assigned to a new species, Homo floresiensis, with the partial skeleton LB1 as the type specimen. The Liang Bua hominins are notable for their short stature, small endocranial volume, and many features that appear phylogenetically primitive relative to modern humans, despite their late Pleistocene age. Recently, some workers suggested that the remains represent members of a small-bodied island population of modern Austro-Melanesian humans, with LB1 exhibiting clinical signs of Down syndrome. Many classic Down syndrome signs are soft tissue features that could not be assessed in skeletal remains. Moreover, a definitive diagnosis of Down syndrome can only be made by genetic analysis as the phenotypes associated with Down syndrome are variable. Most features that contribute to the Down syndrome phenotype are not restricted to Down syndrome but are seen in other chromosomal disorders and in the general population. Nevertheless, we re-evaluated the presence of those phenotypic features used to support this classification by comparing LB1 to samples of modern humans diagnosed with Down syndrome and euploid modern humans using comparative morphometric analyses. We present new data regarding neurocranial, brain, and symphyseal shape in Down syndrome, additional estimates of stature for LB1, and analyses of inter- and intralimb proportions. The presence of cranial sinuses is addressed using CT images of LB1. We found minimal congruence between the LB1 phenotype and clinical descriptions of Down syndrome. We present important differences between the phenotypes of LB1 and individuals with Down syndrome, and quantitative data that characterize LB1 as an outlier compared with Down syndrome and non-Down syndrome groups. Homo floresiensis remains a phenotypically unique, valid species with its roots in Plio-Pleistocene Homo taxa.

Full story here.

Possible Hobbit ancestors found in Flores, dating 700,000 years

A new paper out in Nature last month detail the find of tiny hominid bones in Flores, home of H. floresiensis. The fossils from Mata Menge date to 700,000 years old, and suggest that the hobbit had been older and had a longer history on the island than previously thought.

Mata Menge site. Source: Nature via ABC News 20160609
Mata Menge site. Source: Nature via ABC News 20160609

Homo floresiensis-like fossils from the early Middle Pleistocene of Flores
Nature, 09 June 2006
doi:10.1038/nature17999

‘Hobbit’ relatives found after ten-year hunt
Nature, 08 June 2016

Homo floresiensis has been uncovered at the 700,000 year old site of Mata Menge, Flores, Indonesia
Human Evolution @ UCK, 08 June 2016

Flores fossil discovery provides clues to ‘hobbit’ ancestors
The Guardian, 08 June 2016

Flores fossil discovery gives new clue to ‘hobbit’ relatives
AFP, via Economic Times, 09 June 2016

Hobbit discovery: Hopes 700,000-year-old find could shed new light on evolution
ABC News, 09 June 2016

New fossils shed light on the origin of ‘hobbits’
Griffith University, via Popular Archaeology, 09 June 2016

Australian-led team unlocked new questions about human evolution and the history of the`Hobbit’
News.com.au, 10 June 2016

The evolutionary origin of Homo floresiensis, a diminutive hominin species previously known only by skeletal remains from Liang Bua in western Flores, Indonesia, has been intensively debated. It is a matter of controversy whether this primitive form, dated to the Late Pleistocene, evolved from early Asian Homo erectus and represents a unique and striking case of evolutionary reversal in hominin body and brain size within an insular environment1–4. The alternative hypothesis is that H. floresiensis derived from an older, smaller-brained member of our genus, such as Homo habilis, or perhaps even late Australopithecus, signalling a hitherto undocumented dispersal of hominins from Africa into eastern Asia by two million years ago (2 Ma)5,6. Here we describe hominin fossils excavated in 2014 from an early Middle Pleistocene site (Mata Menge) in the So’a Basin of central Flores. These specimens comprise a mandible fragment and six isolated teeth belonging to at least three small-jawed and small-toothed individuals. Dating to ~0.7 Ma, these fossils now constitute the oldest hominin remains from Flores7. The Mata Menge mandible and teeth are similar in dimensions and morphological characteristics to those of H. floresiensis from Liang Bua. The exception is the mandibular first molar, which retains a more primitive condition. Notably, the Mata Menge mandible and molar are even smaller in size than those of the two existing H. floresiensis individuals from Liang Bua. The Mata Menge fossils are derived compared with Australopithecus and H. habilis, and so tend to support the view that H. floresiensis is a dwarfed descendent of early Asian H. erectus. Our findings suggest that hominins on Flores had acquired extremely small body size and other morphological traits specific to H. floresiensis at an unexpectedly early time.

Article link here.

Massive prehistoric grave site discovered in Taiwan

Archaeologists in Taiwan report the discovery of a 5000-year-old grave site, with a particular set of bones described as a mother-and-child burial, which has been what most media have been leading with. The finds are significant, although the characterisation of the mother-and-infant bones may be exaggerated.

A man cleans a fossil of a mother and baby in Taichung City. Source: Reuters 20160426
A man cleans a fossil of a mother and baby in Taichung City, Taiwan, April 26, 2016 in this still image taken from video. REUTERS/via Reuters

4800-Year-Old Remains of Mother and Child Found in Taiwan
New Historian, 28 April 2016

Fossilized Mother Held Baby For 4,800 Years Before Archeologists Found Them
Huffington Post, 26 April 2016

Taiwan finds 4,800-year-old fossil of mother cradling baby
Reuters, 26 April 2016

A team of archaeological researchers in Taiwan have uncovered a massive array of ancient remains dating to at least 4,800 years old – including a mother cradling an infant child, possibly her own, in her arms.

Found in central Taiwan in the Taichung region, these remains, which were discovered in excavated graves, are the oldest ever discovered within the area. The most startling discovery by far was the skeleton of the woman, as she seemed to be gazing down lovingly at the child wrapped in her arms, according to the country’s National Museum of Natural Science’s anthropology curator, Chu Whei-lee. The scientist, in a recent interview with Reuters, said the entire team was “shocked” by the tableau.

Excavations at the Taiwanese dig site began in May of 2014, running for approximately a year. For the last several months the 48 sets of remains, five of which were found to have been young children, were subjected to rigorous study. This included carbon dating, which enabled the team to narrow down the age of the fossilized remains to just a few centuries shy of 5,000 years old.

Full story here.

The first portable art from Southeast Asia

The Cambodia Daily report about recent excavations at Laang Spean focuses on the possible cannibalistic angle, but I am more intrigued by the discovery of what seems to be the first instance of portable rock art in the region: a stone tool with deep etchings on it.

Bone fragments from Laang Spean. Source: Cambodia Daily 20160409
Bone fragments from Laang Spean. Source: Cambodia Daily 20160409

Ancient Skull Points to Possible Cannibalism
Cambodia Daily, 9 April 2016

A French-Cambodian archaeological team has unearthed tantalizing new artifacts from beneath a cave in Battambang province that may prove to be the earliest signs of human occupation and art in the region—and the first indication of cannibalism.

The artifacts were discovered beneath the floor of Battambang’s Laang Spean cave during a February dig by the French-Cambodian Prehistoric Mission, a collaboration between archaeologists from the Ministry of Culture and the National Museum of Na­tural History in Paris. The team has found 71,000 years worth of human remains during past visits to the site.

The latest discoveries include a palmsized stone tool buried deeper than any other artifact found at the site to date, a stone with what appears to be deep etchings, and fragments of what may be a shattered human skull found amid prehistoric food scraps.

Full story here.

Hobbits older than expected

A new paper in Nature has revised the dates of the Hobbit, once thought to be 12,000 years old, to be an older 50,000 years old. This period roughly coincides with the time modern humans started appearing in the region, and while it’s tempting to think the two events are related it’s still too early to tell.

Excavations of Holocene deposits at Liang Bua
Archaeological excavations of Holocene deposits at Liang Bua on the Indonesian island of Flores are seen in progress in this undated handout picture courtesy of the Liang Bua Team.
Photo: Reuters

Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia
Sutikna et al.
Nature, doi:10.1038/nature17179

Suspicious: Hobbits Vanish When Modern Humans Appear
Discovery News, 30 March 2016

Indonesian ‘Hobbits’ may have died out sooner than thought
Griffith University, 30 March 2016

A decade ago, researchers reported that evolutionary cousins of modern humans, nicknamed hobbits, lived until fairly recently in an Indonesian cave
AP, via US News, 30 March 2016

The ‘hobbit’ was a separate species of human, new dating reveals
Science, 30 March 2016

Scientists: New evidence Indonesian ‘Hobbits’ disappeared 50K years ago
KVAL, 31 March 2016

Diminutive ‘Hobbit’ people vanished earlier than previously known, scientists say
Reuters, via Malay Mail, 31 May 2016

Homo Floresiensis: A Profile Of The Extinct ‘Hobbits’ Of Indonesia
Tech Times, 31 May 2016

New Homo Floresiensis Dates May Quash Cryptozoology Theories About ‘Hobbits’
Forbes, 31 May 2016

The ‘hobbits’ were extinct much earlier than first thought
The Conversation AU, 31 March 2016

‘Hobbits’ extinct much earlier than first thought
Australian Geographic, 31 March 2016

Forget Tolkien, the scientific tale of real-life “hobbits” is even more complex
Ars Technica, 01 April 2016

‘Hobbit’ people were no match for the unstoppable juggernaut of modern man
Tech Insider, 04 April 2016

The Hobbit gets a little older, and science a little wiser
The Conversation AU, 05 April 2016

Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin species discovered in Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia), has generated wide interest and scientific debate. A major reason this taxon is controversial is because the H. floresiensis-bearing deposits, which include associated stone artefacts and remains of other extinct endemic fauna, were dated to between about 95 and 12 thousand calendar years (kyr) ago. These ages suggested that H. floresiensis survived until long after modern humans reached Australia by ~50 kyr ago. Here we report new stratigraphic and chronological evidence from Liang Bua that does not support the ages inferred previously for the H. floresiensis holotype (LB1), ~18 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (kyr cal. BP), or the time of last appearance of this species (about 17 or 13–11 kyr cal. BP). Instead, the skeletal remains of H. floresiensis and the deposits containing them are dated to between about 100 and 60 kyr ago, whereas stone artefacts attributable to this species range from about 190 to 50 kyr in age. Whether H. floresiensis survived after 50 kyr ago—potentially encountering modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through southeast Asia, such as Denisovans12, 13—is an open question.

Nature paper here.

New burials found at the Plain of Jars

Exciting new research coming out of our colleagues from Laos and Australia: preliminary research from the Plain of Jars have uncovered burials – both primary and secondary – found in association with the massive stone jars.

Plain of Jar excavations. Source: AFP, via Bangkok Post 20160404
Plain of Jar excavations. Source: AFP, via Bangkok Post 20160404

Another piece in plain of jars puzzle placed by Lao-Australian archaeological team
Shanghai Daily, 04 March 2016

New Findings on Lao Plain of Jars Help Unravel Ancient Mysteries
VOA, 21 March 2016

Ancient burials revealed at Laos’ mysterious Plain of Jars
AFP, via Bangkok Post, 04 April 2016

Stone jars used to dispose of the dead in ancient Laos, Australian researchers say
ABC News, 04 April 2016

One of Asia’s most mysterious archaeological sites, the Plain of Jars in Laos, was used as an ancient burial ground, Australian researchers say.

The Plain of Jars in central Laos is made up of 90 sites, each containing ancient carved stone jars up to three metres tall.

Today the Australian National University (ANU) announced a team from the School of Archaeology and Anthropology had discovered human remains estimated to be 2,500 years old, shedding light on the use of the sites and jars which had been previously unknown.

Full story here.

Cranial analysis of hobbit suggests no relation to modern humans

A new paper published in the Journal of Human Evolution compares the cranial structures of modern humans and homo florsiensis and concludes that the two species are not related.

What do cranial bones of LB1 tell us about Homo floresiensis?
Journal of Human Evolution, doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.12.008

‘Hobbits’, Homo Floresiensis Were Another Species Not Deformed Humans,New Study
National Daily Press, 18 Feb 2016

Homo Floresiensis or ‘Hobbits’ Found on Flores Island were Not Modern Humans, Study Reveals
BiztekMojo, 16 Feb 2016

Cranial vault thickness (CVT) of Liang Bua 1, the specimen that is proposed to be the holotype of Homo floresiensis, has not yet been described in detail and compared with samples of fossil hominins, anatomically modern humans or microcephalic skulls. In addition, a complete description from a forensic and pathological point of view has not yet been carried out. It is important to evaluate scientifically if features related to CVT bring new information concerning the possible pathological status of LB1, and if it helps to recognize affinities with any hominin species and particularly if the specimen could belong to the species Homo sapiens.

Medical examination of the skull based on a micro-CT examination clearly brings to light the presence of a sincipital T (a non-metrical variant of normal anatomy), a scar from an old frontal trauma without any evident functional consequence, and a severe bilateral hyperostosis frontalis interna that may have modified the anterior morphology of the endocranium of LB1. We also show that LB1 displays characteristics, related to the distribution of bone thickness and arrangements of cranial structures, that are plesiomorphic traits for hominins, at least for Homo erectus s.l. relative to Homo neanderthalensis and H. sapiens. All the microcephalic skulls analyzed here share the derived condition of anatomically modern H. sapiens. Cranial vault thickness does not help to clarify the definition of the species H. floresiensis but it also does not support an attribution of LB1 to H. sapiens. We conclude that there is no support for the attribution of LB1 to H. sapiens as there is no evidence of systemic pathology and because it does not have any of the apomorphic traits of our species.

Article here.

Appeal: Preserving Evidence of the Khmer Rouge Genocide

A appeal to help with the archaeology of the recent past: a team of forensic anthropologists needs funds to analyse the skeletal remains held at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, more commonly known as the Killing Fields, and to upgrade the storage facilities. This fundraising appeal covers an important gap that is left out from other grants: the salaries of the Cambodian researchers who will be working on the recovery, stabilisation and documentation of the bones. Please lend your support to this very worthy cause!

The Krang Ta Chan project team
The Krang Ta Chan project team

Preserving Evidence of the Khmer Rouge Genocide

Krang Ta Chan (ក្រាំង​តា​ចាន់) is one of nearly 20,000 mass gravesites throughout Cambodia resulting from the Khmer Rouge violence in the late 1970s.​​ Krang Ta Chan was a Khmer Rouge detention center and execution site, and when the graves were excavated, over 10,000 victims were discovered. The site has been turned into a memorial where the bones of the victims have been collected. However, the rain, humidity, and extreme heat are causing rapid deterioration of the bones.

Additionally, the evidentiary importance of these remains have not been realized. The bones have not been scientifically analyzed, which would provide important information about the traumatic injuries sustained by victims and contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the Khmer Rouge era. The Krang Ta Chan Project Team, led by Mr. Vuthy Voeun, a Director within the Cambodian Ministry’s of Culture and Fine Arts, plans to analyze these remains and preserve them for future generations as evidence of the violence that transpired in Cambodia.

Lend your support here.