Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Further dating evidence sets context for Aboriginal occupation of Australia

Misliya Cave is part of a series of prehistoric cave sites located along the western slopes of Mount Carmel, Israel. An upper left jawbone with most of the teeth attached attributed to homo sapiens  has been dated to 177,000-194,000 years ago, pushing back the date at which modern humans left Africa. 

New research results continue to deepen our understanding of the hominin past.

In a piece in National Geographic (These Tools Upend Our View of Stone-Age Humans in Asia, 31 January 2018) Michael Gresko provides an overview of new research reported in Nature. The authors of that research summarise their results in this way: 
Luminescence dating at the stratified prehistoric site of Attirampakkam, India, has shown that processes signifying the end of the Acheulian culture and the emergence of a Middle Palaeolithic culture occurred at 385 ± 64 thousand years ago (ka), much earlier than conventionally presumed for South Asia.  The Middle Palaeolithic continued at Attirampakkam until 172 ± 41 ka. Chronologies of Middle Palaeolithic technologies in regions distant from Africa and Europe are crucial for testing theories about the origins and early evolution of these cultures, and for understanding their association with modern humans or archaic hominins, their links with preceding Acheulian cultures and the spread of Levallois lithic technologies. The geographic location of India and its rich Middle Palaeolithic record are ideally suited to addressing these issues, but progress has been limited by the paucity of excavated sites and hominin fossils as well as by geochronological constraints. At Attirampakkam, the gradual disuse of bifaces, the predominance of small tools, the appearance of distinctive and diverse Levallois flake and point strategies, and the blade component all highlight a notable shift away from the preceding Acheulian large-flake technologies. These findings document a process of substantial behavioural change that occurred in India at 385 ± 64 ka and establish its contemporaneity with similar processes recorded in Africa and Europe. This suggests complex interactions between local developments and ongoing global transformations. Together, these observations call for a re-evaluation of models that restrict the origins of Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture to the incidence of modern human dispersals after approximately 125 ka.
These results are interesting because they add  evidence for the spread of early hominin and the emergence of quite sophisticated stone technology, this time in India. This is probably the area the predecessors of the Australian Aborigines moved through so many millennia later.

In a second piece, this time in The ConversationFossil jawbone from Israel is the oldest modern human found outside Africa, 26 January 2018, Rolf Quam reports on the dating of human fossilised teeth found in the Misliya cave in Israel. The fossil, an upper left jawbone with most of the teeth attached, has been dated to 177,000-194,000 years ago. This is considerably older than any other remains from our own species, Homo sapiens, ever discovered outside of Africa  .

In a paper to be delivered in Israel this week,  John Hawks proposes to reflect on  the deep time of human origins and evolution:
To me, right now, the most critical area where we know the story was complex, and badly need new data and models to understand that complexity, is around 250,000 to 350,000 years ago. 
It was then that our modern human ancestors in Africa began to differentiate from an initially small population into branches that still exist in different regions of Africa today. It is now clear that many other hominin populations existed at the same time, including Homo naledi and some archaic forms of humans in Africa, Neandertals, Denisovans, and possibly other archaic humans in Eurasia, Homo floresiensis in Flores (and maybe others). In Africa, in Europe, and in Asia, some ancient populations experimented with, and ultimately adopted, new stone tool forms.
The big questions of human evolution all now cause us to focus upon this time interval for answers. How did culture influence our evolutionary pathway? How did ancestral hominins become modern humans? How did these hominin populations fit into their environment in ways that enabled them to survive and coexist? 
I don’t have answers to these questions, but I now think that this critical time period is where we must look
I would love to hear those reflections.

So what do we make of all this?

  • Around 385 ± 64 thousand years ago we have the emergence of a reasonably sophisticated stone using hominin technology in India
  • Around 250,000 to 350,000 years ago we have the emergence of Homo Sapiens in Africa
  • Around 177,000-194,000 years ago we appear to have Homo Sapiens in what is now Israel
  • Around 65,000 years ago, the Aborigines were in Australia having traveled through Pleistocene Asia, most probably but not certainly via what is now India. 
No doubt the pattern will shift further as we learn more, but it does provide a working approximation for further thought.  


Johnb said...

My continuing instinct is that Homo Erectus is the key sp. relevant to Homo Sapiens Jim. They definitely evolved in an African environment, spread throughout Eurasia and sustained a presence for approx 1.5 million years, in effect the whole of the Pleistocene age, an age of great speciation. There are a succession of hominids known to have developed independently outside an African origin, the best known being H.Neandertal, H.Denisovan & H. floresiensis of which two are known to have interbred with H.Sapiens, the evidence being in our genes. The more finds there are and knowledge gained the greater the probability there may yet be more to include even H.Sapiens. We shall have to wait and see how many more ‘unexpecteds’ emerge as knowledge progresses. The assumption of one way traffic out of Africa may not be a universally correct assumption, the Moroccan finds still require an explanation as their dating still appears to be an anomaly requiring further discoveries.
Tongue very firmly in cheek I have just recalled Bos Africanus and Bos Indicus as being the parent spp. of all our current cattle breeds.

Jim Belshaw said...

Morning, John. That was well summarised! No doubt more will emerge this year. As you said before, it will be interesting!

Johnb said...

Whilst unrelated to H. Sapiens Jim I find the emerging story from the Americas fascinating as there have been some long term anomalies found there, particularly in Brazil that simply don’t fit current explanations. Perhaps some of the answers are beginning to emerge there as well with initial evidence for a H.erectus presence, even in North America. There are later reports but the Smithsonian carries its own gravitas.
“Remarkable New Evidence for Human Activity in North America 130,000 Years Ago | Science | Smithsonian - Smithsonian Magazine
https://www.smithsonianmag.com › new-...
26 Apr 2017 · The new study, however, suggests that some type of hominin species—early human relatives from the genus Homo—was bashing up mastodon bones in North America about 115,000 years earlier than ...”
Where we have good skeletal evidence from H.erectus they are definitely descendants of Cain, not Able, being longer limbed and lightly boned. Combine agility with tools and fire and your have a survivor.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi John. I saw the Smithsonian piece. I think I linked to it in a post. It's interesting. I don't have a view on the US stuff at the moment, but who knows?!