Big archaeology news from last week that has made news around the world as the announcement of a new identified human species from the Philippines, dubbed Homo luzonensis. The paper was published in Nature and it describes new bones discovered from the same stratigraphic later as the Callao Man, which was previously described as a diminutive human that lived in the Philippines 67,000 years ago. With the discovery of additional bones from at least three other individual, the team from France, the Philippines and Australia have enough data to describe it as a new species.
The discovery puts Philippine archaeology in the spotlight, with last year’s discovery of a fossil rhino with butcher marks dating more than 700,000 years old (see here and here). More excavations are being planned in Cagayan, and this discovery, along with the previous discovery of Homo floresiensis will put a lot of focus on human evolution and Southeast Asia’s role in it.
Here’s the link to the Nature paper, links to news articles below:
A hominin third metatarsal discovered in 2007 in Callao Cave (Northern Luzon, the Philippines) and dated to 67 thousand years ago provided the earliest direct evidence of a human presence in the Philippines. Analysis of this foot bone suggested that it belonged to the genus Homo, but to which species was unclear. Here we report the discovery of twelve additional hominin elements that represent at least three individuals that were found in the same stratigraphic layer of Callao Cave as the previously discovered metatarsal. These specimens display a combination of primitive and derived morphological features that is different from the combination of features found in other species in the genus Homo (including Homo floresiensis and Homo sapiens) and warrants their attribution to a new species, which we name Homo luzonensis. The presence of another and previously unknown hominin species east of the Wallace Line during the Late Pleistocene epoch underscores the importance of island Southeast Asia in the evolution of the genus Homo.
via Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, 01 March 2019: The oldest tattoo combs found in West Polynesia.
Angle-hafted bone tattoo combs are found on many Pacific islands occupied by people speaking languages of the Oceanic sub-group of the Austronesian linguistic family, with the most elaborate bone tattoo tools restricted to Polynesia. A critical problem in understanding the development of an Oceanic tattooing tradition based on hafted bone combs is their conspicuous absence from nearly all early sites in the region. Did tattooing with bone combs arrive in the Pacific with early Neolithic dispersals around 3,000 years ago, or was it an innovation that developed in West Polynesia that was later diffused to other parts of the Pacific? AMS dating and traceological examination of four bone combs from a site in Tonga indicate they are the oldest multi-toothed tattooing implements in the Pacific and confirm the existence of the angle-hafted bone comb technology in Polynesia ∼2,700 years ago. The basic tattooing toolkit represented by narrow bone combs from the TO.1 site appear to have been remarkably stable over millennia and we suggest that the angle-hafted bone comb probably dispersed from West Polynesia to other parts of Oceania.
From PNAS, 25 Feb 2019 with links to news stories below: Analyzing sediment cores from Angkor reveal that the decline of Angkor took place over a long period of time, rather than a dramatic “fall“.
Geoarchaeological evidence from Angkor, Cambodia, reveals a gradual decline rather than a catastrophic 15th-century collapse
Alternative models exist for the movement of large urban populations following the 15th-century CE abandonment of Angkor, Cambodia. One model emphasizes an urban diaspora following the implosion of state control in the capital related, in part, to hydroclimatic variability. An alternative model suggests a more complex picture and a gradual rather than catastrophic demographic movement. No decisive empirical data exist to distinguish between these two competing models. Here we show that the intensity of land use within the economic and administrative core of the city began to decline more than one century before the Ayutthayan invasion that conventionally marks the end of the Angkor Period. Using paleobotanical and stratigraphic data derived from radiometrically dated sediment cores extracted from the 12th-century walled city of Angkor Thom, we show that indicia for burning, forest disturbance, and soil erosion all decline as early as the first decades of the 14th century CE, and that the moat of Angkor Thom was no longer being maintained by the end of the 14th century. These data indicate a protracted decline in occupation within the economic and administrative core of the city, rather than an abrupt demographic collapse, suggesting the focus of power began to shift to urban centers outside of the capital during the 14th century.
via PBS.org, 09 Feb 2019: Based on a recently-published paper in Journal of Archaeological Science, an analysis of ceramics from the Java Sea wreck reveals that the prized Qingbai ceramics were produced in four kilns across China, some high-quality, while others mass-produced ‘counterfeits’ to meet rising demands.
In a study published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science, a team of scientists pinpoints the origins of several of the Chinese ceramics on board. The chemical composition of the ship’s glazed, bluish-white qingbai wares shows they were forged at four different kiln sites across China—and while some were high-quality, luxury items destined for the social elite, others appear to be more akin to counterfeits, likely mass produced to meet rising demand in markets abroad.
“I think these are brilliant results,” says Elisabeth Holmqvist, an archaeologist and material scientist at the University of Helsinki in Finland who was not involved in the study. “This is when geochemical data really becomes valuable for archaeological questions: It provides the evidence, and then we can go back to the socioeconomic context. That’s the greatest value in this kind of research.”
This paper evaluates the use of portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) on glazes and pastes for sourcing Chinese porcelains from the 12th-13th century Java Sea Shipwreck (JSW) collection at the Field Museum. Three types of qingbai (bluish-white) wares from the JSW collection were chosen for pXRF analysis. Samples from four kiln complexes in China—Jingdezhen, Dehua, Huajiashan, and Minqing, hypothesized to be potential sources of the shipwreck’s qingbai ceramics based on visual inspection—were also analyzed to establish reference groups. Results from kiln samples show that different kiln complexes can be clearly differentiated by pXRF analysis of glazes. Based on pXRF analysis of ceramic samples from the JSW, there appear to be four compositional groups, and each group closely matches one of the four kiln reference groups. These findings support the use of pXRF on glazes, especially when pastes are difficult to access, as a method for identifying the potential sources for overseas cargos found distant from production contexts for Chinese porcelains.
via The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, 10 Feb 2019: Coastal Subsistence Strategies and Mangrove Swamp Evolution at Bubog I Rockshelter (Ilin Island, Mindoro, Philippines)
Clara Boulanger at al., https://doi.org/10.1080/15564894.2018.1531957
Subsistence adaptations to coastal environments and the capacity to take advantage of mangrove swamps has likely played an important role in the success of the maritime colonization of Southeast Asian and Wallacean islands by modern humans. Yet, ichthyoarchaeological studies remain rare in this part of the world. Bubog I rockshelter (Ilin Island, southwestern Mindoro, the Philippines) has yielded a stratigraphic filling extending from 30 ka to 4 ka, including a human-produced shell midden. Several remains from marine and terrestrial animals have been recovered from the site. We report here on an Australo-Melanesian subsistence behavior based on ichthyofaunal, crustacean, and large mammal remains. Their adaptation to successfully exploit different marine environments from open reef to mangrove swamps is demonstrated by the continuous presence of fishes from these marine zones throughout the stratigraphy and by the development of a range of fishing and foraging techniques. The increased hunting of Sus oliveri furthermore shows increased foraging in tropical rainforests after 6 ka. Interestingly, based on crustaceans analysis, mangrove foraging in Bubog I declined when the development of these swamps was at their maximum in other islands in the Philippines. Variability in subsistence strategies therefore appears to be a response to changing landscapes during the Pleistocene–Holocene transition with a strong marine specialization that only increased as mangrove habitats declined.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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