[Paper] Craniometrics Reveal “Two Layers” of Prehistoric Human Dispersal in Eastern Eurasia

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Distribution of craniometric samples from Matsumura et al. 2019, Craniometrics Reveal “Two Layers” of Prehistoric Human Dispersal in Eastern Eurasia
Distribution of craniometric samples from Matsumura et al. 2019, Craniometrics Reveal “Two Layers” of Prehistoric Human Dispersal in Eastern Eurasia

via Nature Scientific Reports, 05 Feb 2019: Analysis of skulls from archaeological sites in Southeast and East Asia support a two-layer model of anatomically modern populations entering into Asia.

Craniometrics Reveal “Two Layers” of Prehistoric Human Dispersal in Eastern Eurasia
Nature Scientific Reports, Matsumura et al., https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-35426-z

This cranio-morphometric study emphasizes a “two-layer model” for eastern Eurasian anatomically modern human (AMH) populations, based on large datasets of 89 population samples including findings directly from ancient archaeological contexts. Results suggest that an initial “first layer” of AMH had related closely to ancestral Andaman, Australian, Papuan, and Jomon groups who likely entered this region via the Southeast Asian landmass, prior to 65–50 kya. A later “second layer” shared strong cranial affinities with Siberians, implying a Northeast Asian source, evidenced by 9 kya in central China and then followed by expansions of descendant groups into Southeast Asia after 4 kya. These two populations shared limited initial exchange, and the second layer grew at a faster rate and in greater numbers, linked with contexts of farming that may have supported increased population densities. Clear dichotomization between the two layers implies a temporally deep divergence of distinct migration routes for AMH through both southern and northern Eurasia.

Source: Craniometrics Reveal “Two Layers” of Prehistoric Human Dispersal in Eastern Eurasia | Scientific Reports

[Paper] Shifting subsistence patterns from the Terminal Pleistocene to Late Holocene: A regional Southeast Asian analysis

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Stock photo of a pig skeleton from Shutterstock/miha de
Stock photo of a pig skeleton from Shutterstock/miha de

via Quartenary International, 07 Jan 2019: Taking a statistical approach to analysing faunal remains at archaeological sites across Southeast Asia to distinguish between hunter-gather and early agricultural subsistence economies.

Shifting subsistence patterns from the Terminal Pleistocene to Late Holocene: A regional Southeast Asian analysis
Jones et al., Quartenary International, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2019.01.006

The emergence of agriculture in Mainland Southeast Asia appears to have resulted in a subsistence shift from hunting terrestrial and arboreal game to a combined hunting/animal management subsistence regime focused on the maintenance of pigs and dogs. These conclusions are currently based on nominal differences in vertebrate taxonomic composition observed at different archaeological sites. In this paper, we take a statistical approach to test whether hunter-gather and early agricultural subsistence economies really can be confidently distinguished based on the relative taxonomic composition of the recovered animal bone assemblages. A regional database of terrestrial and arboreal vertebrate faunas was created for 32 archaeological sites across Southeast Asia from the Terminal Pleistocene to the Late Holocene, and principal component analysis was performed. The resultant data indicates that terrestrial vertebrate taxonomic composition is a relatively strong indicator of the general subsistence base for the various archaeological sites studied and can be used to determine whether the inhabitants subsisted purely from hunting, or from a mixture hunting and animal management.

Source: Shifting subsistence patterns from the Terminal Pleistocene to Late Holocene: A regional Southeast Asian analysis – ScienceDirect

[Paper] Newly discovered cave art sites from Bukit Bulan, Sumatra

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Black rock art from West Sumatra by Fauzi et al. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2019.01.001

via Journal of Archaeological Science, 22 January 2019: New rock art discovered in Sumatra, black drawings which are highly reminiscent of the rock art of the Lenggong Valley.

Until recently, the number and distribution of cave art sites in the western Indonesian Archipelago has been somewhat limited, hindering our knowledge of the character and development of cave art in the area. However, the recent discovery of seven new cave art sites in the karstic area of Bukit Bulan (Sumatra) provides an opportunity to augment current knowledge. Descriptive analyses performed on 84 cave art images from Bukit Bulan demonstrates their similarities with those found in the eastern part of Indonesia, including the similar depictions of humanlike (anthropomorphic) figures drawn in black. Our discoveries in Bukit Bulan not only corroborate the extensive distribution of cave art in the wider Indonesian Archipelago, but it also aligns Sumatra as the westernmost region of Indonesia into the discourse of prehistoric cave art in Indonesian prehistory.

Source: Newly discovered cave art sites from Bukit Bulan, Sumatra: Aligning prehistoric symbolic behavior in Indonesian prehistory – ScienceDirect

Plastic pioneers: Hominin biogeography east of the Movius Line during the Pleistocene

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Lowland Palawan by Noel Amano. Source: EurekaAlert, 20190128

via Archaeological Research in Asia, 25 January 2019: A new paper by Roberts and Amano looking at human occupation of different types of environments in Southeast Asia suggests that modern humans are ecologically distinct from other hominin species.

Lowland Palawan by Noel Amano. Source: EurekaAlert, 20190128

Lowland Palawan by Noel Amano. Source: EurekaAlert, 20190128

Plastic pioneers: Hominin biogeography east of the Movius Line during the Pleistocene

While the “Movius Line” may no longer represent a valid cultural division between Early and Middle Pleistocene hominins in South and Southeast Asia, it still offers a useful geographical and ecological window into changing processes of colonization by different members of the genus Homo. In this paper, we initially review the palaeoenvironmental and cultural record associated with Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis to argue for a relatively homogeneous adaptive strategy utilized by hominins moving east of this notional line during the Early and Middle Pleistocene. We then contrast this to the rapid dispersal of Homo sapiens into South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Melanesia, from at least 45,000 years ago, associated with specialized subsistence and technological adaptations to a variety of environmental settings. While earlier members of our genus appear to have followed riverine and lacustrine corridors, whose situation varied with periods of climate change, Homo sapiens specialized in adaptations to tropical rainforests, faunally depauperate island settings, montane environments, and deep-water marine habitats. After evaluating whether this distinction may be one of taphonomic and survey bias, and reviewing potential methodological developments that may facilitate further investigation, we suggest that the adaptive and cultural plasticity of our species enabled pioneering colonization and occupation not previously seen in this part of the world. This plasticity allowed our species to remain in this region through ever-increasing climatic instability and become the last surviving hominin in Late Pleistocene South Asia and Sahul.

Source: Plastic pioneers: Hominin biogeography east of the Movius Line during the Pleistocene – ScienceDirect

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Preliminary Report on the Archaeological Investigations at the Victoria Concert Hall

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via the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre, a newly-published report on the excavations at the Victoria Concert Hall in Singapore.

In September 2010, the Victoria Concert Hall and Victoria Theatre were closed for major redevelopment amounting to the sum of $158,000,000. The construction project saw extensive demolition works and the compound within was impacted. An archaeological evaluation conducted in July 2010 revealed pockets of cultural deposits from both the colonial and pre-modern eras. This discovery of an in-situ archaeological reservoir led to a three-week large-scale rescue excavation in September 2011. While the excavations were restricted to only a small area of the construction impact zone, the archaeology team successfully recovered approximately 654 kg of artifacts and ecofacts. This preliminary site report details the excavation sequences conducted at the site.

Source: NSC Archaeological Reports – ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute

Late Middle Pleistocene Levallois stone-tool technology in southwest China

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Hu et al, 2018. Nature

via Nature, 19 November 2018:

Hu et al, 2018. Nature

Hu et al, 2018. Nature

Levallois approaches are one of the best known variants of prepared-core technologies, and are an important hallmark of stone technologies developed around 300,000 years ago in Africa and west Eurasia1,2. Existing archaeological evidence suggests that the stone technology of east Asian hominins lacked a Levallois component during the late Middle Pleistocene epoch and it is not until the Late Pleistocene (around 40,000–30,000 years ago) that this technology spread into east Asia in association with a dispersal of modern humans. Here we present evidence of Levallois technology from the lithic assemblage of the Guanyindong Cave site in southwest China, dated to approximately 170,000–80,000 years ago. To our knowledge, this is the earliest evidence of Levallois technology in east Asia. Our findings thus challenge the existing model of the origin and spread of Levallois technologies in east Asia and its links to a Late Pleistocene dispersal of modern humans.

Source: Late Middle Pleistocene Levallois stone-tool technology in southwest China | Nature

Semi-supervised machine learning approaches for predicting the chronology of archaeological sites: A case study of temples from medieval Angkor, Cambodia

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via PLOS One, 5 Nov 2018: A cool new Open Access paper by Klassen et al. using machine learning to create a predictive chronology of Angkorian temples based on the architectural features and artifacts found at a site.

Source: buffaloboy / Shutterstock

Source: buffaloboy / Shutterstock

Archaeologists often need to date and group artifact types to discern typologies, chronologies, and classifications. For over a century, statisticians have been using classification and clustering techniques to infer patterns in data that can be defined by algorithms. In the case of archaeology, linear regression algorithms are often used to chronologically date features and sites, and pattern recognition is used to develop typologies and classifications. However, archaeological data is often expensive to collect, and analyses are often limited by poor sample sizes and datasets. Here we show that recent advances in computation allow archaeologists to use machine learning based on much of the same statistical theory to address more complex problems using increased computing power and larger and incomplete datasets. This paper approaches the problem of predicting the chronology of archaeological sites through a case study of medieval temples in Angkor, Cambodia. For this study, we have a large dataset of temples with known architectural elements and artifacts; however, less than ten percent of the sample of temples have known dates, and much of the attribute data is incomplete. Our results suggest that the algorithms can predict dates for temples from 821–1150 CE with a 49-66-year average absolute error. We find that this method surpasses traditional supervised and unsupervised statistical approaches for under-specified portions of the dataset and is a promising new method for anthropological inquiry.

Source: Semi-supervised machine learning approaches for predicting the chronology of archaeological sites: A case study of temples from medieval Angkor, Cambodia

How did the first humans migrate into Australia?

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via various sources including ANU Media, the Guardian and the Journal of Human Evolution: A new paper in the Journal of Human Evolution models the “least-cost pathways” humans would have taken through Island Southeast Asia in order to reach Australia, offering a predictive insight into areas of high archaeological potential.

Least-cost pathway models indicate northern human dispersal from Sunda to Sahul
Kealy et al., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2018.10.003

Archaeological records from Australia provide the earliest, indirect evidence for maritime crossings by early modern humans, as the islands to the north-west of the continent (Wallacea) have never been connected to the mainland. Suggested in 1977 by Joseph B. Birdsell, the two main routes from Sunda (mainland Southeast Asia) to Sahul (Australia-New Guinea), still in debate today, are a northern route through Sulawesi with a landing in New Guinea, or a southern route through Bali, Timor and thence landing in northern Australia. Here we construct least-cost pathway models of human dispersal from Sunda to Sahul at 65 ka and 70 ka by extending previous out-of-Africa least-cost models through the digitization of these routes. We recover overwhelming support for a northern route into Sahul, with a landing location on present-day Misool Island. Minimal support is also recovered for the southern route at 70 ka, with a possible crossing to Sahul from eastern Timor. Review of archaeological records on the Wallacean islands crossed by our northern route indicate a dearth of archaeological research in this region. Meanwhile, the comparatively better studied southern islands still lack any archaeological dates comparable to those known for initial occupation in Sunda and Sahul. Based on our model results we suggest Misool Island as the initial landing site for early modern humans on Sahul and recommend a future focus on archaeological fieldwork in the northern Wallacean islands.

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When Thailand and Australia were closer neighbours, tectonically speaking

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via The Conversation, 20181019

via the Conversation, 19 October 2018: The geological periods when parts of Thailand and Australia were part of the same land mass go very far back in time, even before the dinosaurs, but an interesting read about the ancient history of our rocks.

This was a time before the dinosaurs, when the first forests turned the land green and giant dragonflies tracked airways through the vegetation.

Our work suggests that some fictional time-travelling Phuket beach-lover could have walked to the Pilbara in Western Australia. A pre-Jurassic culture vulture in Ayutthaya could have trekked over an ancient Indonesian-like volcanic island chain, and some Khao Yai elephant-ancestor could have rampaged through the site of the Perth CBD.

Source: When Thailand and Australia were closer neighbours, tectonically speaking

[Paper] The demise of Angkor: Systemic vulnerability of urban infrastructure to climatic variations

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A new paper in Science Advances by Penny et al. suggests that climatic fluctuations which stressed Angkor’s urban hydraulic system may have ultimately contributed to the city’s ‘demise’. The conclusions were reached from computer simulations modelling the effect of monsoon rains and droughts onto Angkor’s urban infrastructure.

Complex infrastructural networks provide critical services to cities but can be vulnerable to external stresses, including climatic variability. This vulnerability has also challenged past urban settlements, but its role in cases of historic urban demise has not been precisely documented. We transform archeological data from the medieval Cambodian city of Angkor into a numerical model that allows us to quantify topological damage to critical urban infrastructure resulting from climatic variability. Our model reveals unstable behavior in which extensive and cascading damage to infrastructure occurs in response to flooding within Angkor’s urban water management system. The likelihood and extent of the cascading failure abruptly grow with the magnitude of flooding relative to normal flows in the system. Our results support the hypothesis that systemic infrastructural vulnerability, coupled with abrupt climatic variation, contributed to the demise of the city. The factors behind Angkor’s demise are analogous to challenges faced by modern urban communities struggling with complex critical infrastructure.

Source: The demise of Angkor: Systemic vulnerability of urban infrastructure to climatic variations | Science Advances

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