[Paper] The affinities of Homo floresiensis based on phylogenetic analyses of cranial, dental, and postcranial characters

This newly published paper by ANUs Debbie Argue has been making the news recently. A new analysis of the bones puts Homo floresiensis closer in time to Homo habilis than it does Homo erectus or Homo Sapiens, which suggests the the Hobbit’s lineage was more ancient than recent.

Although the diminutive Homo floresiensis has been known for a decade, its phylogenetic status remains highly contentious. A broad range of potential explanations for the evolution of this species has been explored. One view is that H. floresiensis is derived from Asian Homo erectus that arrived on Flores and subsequently evolved a smaller body size, perhaps to survive the constrained resources they faced in a new island environment. Fossil remains of H. erectus, well known from Java, have not yet been discovered on Flores. The second hypothesis is that H. floresiensis is directly descended from an early Homo lineage with roots in Africa, such as Homo habilis; the third is that it is Homo sapiens with pathology. We use parsimony and Bayesian phylogenetic methods to test these hypotheses. Our phylogenetic data build upon those characters previously presented in support of these hypotheses by broadening the range of traits to include the crania, mandibles, dentition, and postcrania of Homo and Australopithecus. The new data and analyses support the hypothesis that H. floresiensis is an early Homo lineage: H. floresiensis is sister either to H. habilis alone or to a clade consisting of at least H. habilis, H. erectus, Homo ergaster, and H. sapiens. A close phylogenetic relationship between H. floresiensis and H. erectus or H. sapiens can be rejected; furthermore, most of the traits separating H. floresiensis from H. sapiens are not readily attributable to pathology (e.g., Down syndrome). The results suggest H. floresiensis is a long-surviving relict of an early (>1.75 Ma) hominin lineage and a hitherto unknown migration out of Africa, and not a recent derivative of either H. erectus or H. sapiens.

Source: The affinities of Homo floresiensis based on phylogenetic analyses of cranial, dental, and postcranial characters

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[Paper] Emerging Applications of LiDAR / Airborne Laser Scanning in the Management of World Heritage Sites

Featuring recent work in Cambodia

Remotely sensed data and imagery have revolutionized the way we understand archaeological sites and landscapes. LiDAR / airborne laser scanning (ALS) has been used to capture the often subtle topographic remnants of previously undiscovered sites even in intensely studied landscapes, and is rapidly becoming a key technology in survey projects with large extents and/or difficult terrain. This paper examines the practical application of this technology to archaeological heritage management, with special attention given to how ALS can support the World Heritage List nomination process and management of WHS archaeological sites and landscapes. It presents a number of examples from published ALS studies alongside case studies from projects undertaken by the authors at Cultural Site Research and Management and the Cultural Site Research and Management Foundation, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. The paper opens with a review of how ALS has been used at established World Heritage Sites, focusing on the Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend in the Boyne, Ireland, and the Angkor Archaeological Site in Cambodia. ALS applications for site prospection and demarcation, and viewshed analysis is explored in this section. Following this, we explore how ALS has been used to support two recent applications: the successfully nominated Monumental Earthworks at Poverty Point, USA and the recently nominated Orheiul Vechi Archaeological Landscape in Moldova. We propose that the detail offered by ALS data greatly strengthens nomination dossiers by emphasizing the outstanding universal value of sites, highlighting significant features and providing greater context to wider landscapes, and is particularly efficacious in delineating site boundaries for legal protection and long-term management. Finally, we conclude with a look at some of the practical considerations involved in the use of ALS, including access and training.

Source: Emerging Applications of LiDAR / Airborne Laser Scanning in the Management of World Heritage Sites: Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites: Vol 18, No 4

[Paper] What plants might potentially have been used in the forests of prehistoric Southeast Asia?

A new paper by Xhauflair et al. examines plant exploitation in Palawan, Philippins today and its potential for understanding plant exploitation in prehistory.

Pleistocene and Holocene lithic assemblages found in Southeast Asia are characterised by simple production techniques and a paucity of formal stone tools. This situation led some scholars to hypothesise that this situation reflected an adaptation of prehistoric human groups to the rainforest and that these simple stone tools had been mainly used to manufacture more complex implements made of bamboo. Microscopic use traces observed on stone tools could support this hypothesis since many result from plant processing. However, it remains unclear whether these traces were produced by working bamboo or other plants, due to the lack of a suitable use-wear reference collection. To be able to clearly discriminate the use-wear resulting from bamboo processing, such a collection needs to encompass use traces resulting not only from bamboo processing but also from working various other plants, which might potentially have been used by prehistoric groups. We present here the results of a three month field work among Pala’wan communities aiming to know what plants from the forests of Palawan, Philippines are used nowadays, are therefore useful to humans in general and might have been used during the past as well. We recorded the use of 95 different plant species belonging to at least 34 different families. Archaeobotanical studies confirm that some of those plants were available and used by humans in the past while others would have been extant at least in forest refugia, even during glacial periods. Those plants are processed by the Pala’wan at all life stages from seed to dead trees and the parts involved are very diverse. While the most frequent type of use that we witnessed was technological in nature (67 plant species), plants are also used for alimentary, medicinal, ornamental, and sanitary purposes, and even for producing poison. The observations presented here can serve as a basis for use-wear analysts to design experiments in relation to plant exploitation by humans during the past, and to enlarge reference collections.

Source: What plants might potentially have been used in the forests of prehistoric Southeast Asia? An insight from the resources used nowadays by local communities in the forested highlands of Palawan Island

Is Unesco status a blessing or a burden? New paper discusses Southeast Asian examples

From the Cambodia Daily and the Journal of Cultural Heritage:

The global recognition given to the Angkor temple complex in Siem Reap—and other sites around the world that receive U.N. world heritage status—does as much to damage as it does to preserve the historical gem, according to a new research paper.

The paper, published in the Journal of Cultural Heritage and made available online last week, outlines how recognition from Unesco is used as a tourism marketing tool, resulting in more visitor traffic to cultural sites, which threatens their short- and long-term sustainability.

Source: World Heritage Status, Tourists Threaten Angkor Preservation – The Cambodia Daily

See the journal article here: Is UNESCO World Heritage recognition a blessing or burden? Evidence from developing Asian countries

To both acknowledge and protect many cultural heritage expressions, sites and practices, UNESCO has instituted three conventions; Tangible Heritage, Intangible Heritage and Diversity of Cultural Expression. If a site/practice receives this UNESCO badge, it is an acknowledgment of its universal cultural and/or natural value as well as recognition of the need to protect it from harm. However, the UNESCO badge is an important marketing tool in world tourism and its presence ensures many more visitors to a site/practice that is UNESCO recognised. With increasing wealth and mobility, many more people are travelling than was possible even a decade ago. Increasing numbers of visitors can negatively impact on a site/practice as well as affect the local culture and integrity of a region, particularly in developing countries. So, is the UNESCO recognition a blessing or burden? This paper addresses the challenges that ensue from the UNESCO conventions by considering three UNESCO World Heritage case study sites in Asian developing countries. In particular, it seeks to understand the extent to which UNESCO’s World Heritage approach protects or further undermines the cultural heritage sustainability of these sites.

Tracing an ancient gold trade trail in the Philippines using satellite imagery

A just-published paper in JAS: Reports traces an ancient gold trading trail in northwestern Philippines using satellite imagery.

A Filipino archaeologist traces an ancient gold trading trail in the northwestern Luzon, thanks to state-of-the-art satellite imagery and image enhancement techniques

Source: Looking into the past through the eyes of the future
Paper: WorldView2 satellite imagery in remote sensing a past gold trading trail in Luzon: Testing ethnohistory-based and GIS-based models

[Paper] Hunter-gatherer residential mobility and the marginal value of rainforest patches

New paper in PNAS; a study of Batek Negrito lifestyle patterns in Peninsular Malaysia and what it can tell us about hunter-gatherer mobility.

Hunter-gatherers are notable for their high levels of mobility, but the ecological and social cues that determine the timing of camp movements (residential mobility) are poorly understood. Using models from foraging theory, we found that, for one population of hunter-gatherers, camp movements coincided with the point at which resource acquisition declined to a critical threshold level, but before local resources were completely depleted. These results suggest that hunter-gatherer residential mobility is constrained in a predictable fashion by rates of local resource depletion.

Source: Hunter-gatherer residential mobility and the marginal value of rainforest patches

[Paper] Collaborative and Indigenous Archaeology in the Northern Philippines

New paper in Advances in Archaeological Practice
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/aap.2016.7

Recent trends in the practice of archaeology have seen the emergence of the active involvement of stakeholders in the research process. This is an important development, given that the relationship between archaeologists and the communities that they work with has been tenuous, particularly when archaeological findings contest ethnic identities. As a case in point, the findings of the Ifugao Archaeological Project (Philippines) question the bases of Ifugao identity. Ifugao identity is centered on wet-rice production and resistance to colonialism. Previously, the dating of the inception of the Ifugao rice terraces was placed at 2,000 years ago. The findings of the Ifugao Archaeological Project (IAP), however, suggest that the construction of the terraces coincided with the arrival of the Spanish in the northern Philippines. Initially, this finding did not sit well the larger Ifugao descendant communities, but, as our article narrates, the pursuit to actively involve stakeholders in the research process resolved this issue. Our experience in Ifugao has shown that the inclusion of the voices of stakeholders in the interpretation of the past is inadequate because it suggests that indigenous stakeholders are simply contributors to, and not co-investigators of, research projects. As our work in Ifugao demonstrates, primary stakeholders are now co-investigators (exemplified by this coauthored article).

Source: Ifugao Archaeology | Advances in Archaeological Practice | Cambridge Core

Paper: Societal response to monsoonal fluctuations in NE Thailand during the demise of Angkor Civilisation

New paper published in The Holocene

This paper investigates the possible social responses to changes in the strength of the southwest monsoon in northeastern Thailand during the currency of the Angkor civilisation. These assessments are based on hydrogen and carbon isotope records of leaf waxes (δDwax and δ13Cwax) from a 2000-year-long wetland sequence of Pa Kho in northeastern Thailand, a region that formed the northern boundary of the Angkor Kingdom. Our data indicate anthropogenic flooding of the Pa Kho wetland through the control of water through dam construction from c. AD 1300 in response to the fluctuating strength of monsoon rains. δDwax, a proxy for regional hydroclimate variability, corroborates pre-existing evidence that increased summer monsoon rains, which supported the expansion of the agrarian economy, aided the rise of the Angkorian Empire whereas extreme drought contributed to its demise. Interestingly, our δDwax record shows already a gradual decreasing monsoon intensity from c. AD 1000 onwards, although Angkor’s prosperity reached its peak at c. AD 1200. We suggest that the complex hydrological system established under royal patronage at Angkor provided a resilient buffer against short-term monsoon fluctuations. The long-term decline in monsoon rains over a ~300-year period, combined with ongoing urbanisation, may have stretched the hydrological systems to their limit. We suggest that this was a major factor that contributed to the demise of Angkor in the mid-15th century.

Source: Societal response to monsoonal fluctuations in NE Thailand during the demise of Angkor CivilisationThe Holocene

New Paper: Palaeoecological Interactions and Owl Roosting at Alor Island, Eastern Indonesia

We report on tetrapod (Reptilia, Amphibia, Mammalia, Aves) vertebrates recovered during excavations at Tron Bon Lei rockshelter on the south coast of Alor Island, eastern Indonesia. These include both archaeological specimens recovered from a 1 m² test pit dating from ∼21 kya cal BP to the late Holocene, and a modern eastern barn owl deposit recovered nearby. To discern between the depositional processes that accumulated the small numbers of micro- and macrovertebrate remains from the archaeological deposits, the taphonomic signature of the natural assemblage was quantified and compared to the archaeological record. The taphonomic data indicates that the tetrapod archaeofaunal remains are a combination of barn owl predation of microfauna and human predation of larger fauna. This approach provides new information on human-tetrapod interactions on Alor in Wallacea during the late Quaternary, including an apparent increase in cave site use and hunting intensity during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition, sea turtle butchery and probable transport, and extinctions of previously unknown giant to large rat species.

Source: Human Palaeoecological Interactions and Owl Roosting at Tron Bon Lei, Alor Island, Eastern Indonesia: The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology: Vol 0, No 0

mm-scale motion detected in Angkor temples, with implications for future structural stability

A new (Open Access) paper in Science Advances describes using radar imagery to detect motion in Angkoran temples over time. In the short term, the effects of groundwater pumping seems to be minimal on the temple structures (+/- 3mm) but there are implications in the long term.

The conservation of World Heritage is critical to the cultural and social sustainability of regions and nations. Risk monitoring and preventive diagnosis of threats to heritage sites in any given ecosystem are a complex and challenging task. Taking advantage of the performance of Earth Observation technologies, we measured the impacts of hitherto imperceptible and poorly understood factors of groundwater and temperature variations on the monuments in the Angkor World Heritage site (400 km2). We developed a two-scale synthetic aperture radar interferometry (InSAR) approach. We describe spatial-temporal displacements (at millimeter-level accuracy), as measured by high-resolution TerraSAR/TanDEM-X satellite images, to provide a new solution to resolve the current controversy surrounding the potential structural collapse of monuments in Angkor. Multidisciplinary analysis in conjunction with a deterioration kinetics model offers new insights into the causes that trigger the potential decline of Angkor monuments. Our results show that pumping groundwater for residential and touristic establishments did not threaten the sustainability of monuments during 2011 to 2013; however, seasonal variations of the groundwater table and the thermodynamics of stone materials are factors that could trigger and/or aggravate the deterioration of monuments. These factors amplify known impacts of chemical weathering and biological alteration of temple materials. The InSAR solution reported in this study could have implications for monitoring and sustainable conservation of monuments in World Heritage sites elsewhere.

Source: Radar interferometry offers new insights into threats to the Angkor site | Science Advances

See also:
Angkor temples are safe from sudden collapse—for now
Iconic Angkor Wat temple at risk of collapse because of environmental threats