Archaeology, Department of

Receive updates for this collection

Spondylolysis and Spinal Adaptations for Bipedalism: The Overshoot Hypothesis

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-03-03
Abstract: 

Background and objectives

The study reported here focused on the aetiology of spondylolysis, a vertebral pathology usually caused by a fatigue fracture. The goal was to test the Overshoot Hypothesis, which proposes that people develop spondylolysis because their vertebral shape is at the highly derived end of the range of variation within Homo sapiens.

Methodology

We recorded 3D data on the final lumbar vertebrae of H. sapiens and three great ape species, and performed three analyses. First, we compared H. sapiens vertebrae with and without spondylolysis. Second, we compared H. sapiens vertebrae with and without spondylolysis to great ape vertebrae. Lastly, we compared H. sapiens vertebrae with and without spondylolysis to great ape vertebrae and to vertebrae of H. sapiens with Schmorl’s nodes, which previous studies have shown tend to be located at the ancestral end of the range of H. sapiens shape variation.

Results

We found that H. sapiens vertebrae with spondylolysis are significantly different in shape from healthy H. sapiens vertebrae. We also found that H. sapiens vertebrae with spondylolysis are more distant from great ape vertebrae than are healthy H. sapiens vertebrae. Lastly, we found that H. sapiens vertebrae with spondylolysis are at the opposite end of the range of shape variation than vertebrae with Schmorl’s nodes.

Conclusions

Our findings indicate that H. sapiens vertebrae with spondylolysis tend to exhibit highly derived traits and therefore support the Overshoot Hypothesis. Spondylolysis, it appears, is linked to our lineage’s evolutionary history, especially its shift from quadrupedalism to bipedalism.

Lay summary: Spondylolysis is a relatively common vertebral pathology usually caused by a fatigue fracture. There is reason to think that it might be connected with our lineage’s evolutionary shift from walking on all fours to walking on two legs. We tested this idea by comparing human vertebrae with and without spondylolysis to the vertebrae of great apes. Our results support the hypothesis. They suggest that people who experience spondylolysis have vertebrae with what are effectively exaggerated adaptations for bipedalism.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

3D Shape Analyses of Extant Primate and Fossil Hominin Vertebrae Support the Ancestral Shape Hypothesis for Intervertebral Disc Herniation

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-12-16
Abstract: 

Background

Recently we proposed an evolutionary explanation for a spinal pathology that afflicts many people, intervertebral disc herniation (Plomp et al. [2015] BMC Evolutionary Biology 15, 68). Using 2D data, we found that the bodies and pedicles of lower vertebrae of pathological humans were more similar in shape to those of chimpanzees than were those of healthy humans. Based on this, we hypothesized that some individuals are more prone to intervertebral disc herniation because their vertebrae exhibit ancestral traits and therefore are less well adapted for the stresses associated with bipedalism. Here, we report a study in which we tested this “Ancestral Shape Hypothesis” with 3D data from the last two thoracic and first lumbar vertebrae of pathological Homo sapiens, healthy H. sapiens, Pan troglodytes, and several extinct hominins.

Results

We found that the pathological and healthy H. sapiens vertebrae differed significantly in shape, and that the pathological H. sapiens vertebrae were closer in shape to the P. troglodytes vertebrae than were the healthy H. sapiens vertebrae. Additionally, we found that the pathological human vertebrae were generally more similar in shape to the vertebrae of the extinct hominins than were the healthy H. sapiens vertebrae. These results are consistent with the predictions of the Ancestral Shape Hypothesis. Several vertebral traits were associated with disc herniation, including a vertebral body that is both more circular and more ventrally wedged, relatively short pedicles and laminae, relatively long, more cranio-laterally projecting transverse processes, and relatively long, cranially-oriented spinous processes. We found that there are biomechanical and comparative anatomical reasons for suspecting that all of these traits are capable of predisposing individuals to intervertebral disc herniation.

Conclusions

The results of the present study add weight to the hypothesis that intervertebral disc herniation in H. sapiens is connected with vertebral shape. Specifically, they suggest that individuals whose vertebrae are towards the ancestral end of the range of shape variation within H. sapiens have a greater propensity to develop the condition than other individuals. More generally, the study shows that evolutionary thinking has the potential to shed new light on human skeletal pathologies.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Osteoarthritis, Labour Division, and Occupational Specialization of the Late Shang China - Insights from Yinxu (ca. 1250 - 1046 B.C.)

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2017-05-02
Abstract: 

This research investigates the prevalence of human osteoarthritis at Yinxu, the last capital of the Late Shang dynasty (ca. 1250–1046 B.C.), to gain insights about lifeways of early urban populations in ancient China. A total of 167 skeletal remains from two sites (Xiaomintun and Xin’anzhuang) were analyzed to examine osteoarthritis at eight appendicular joints and through three spinal osseous indicators. High osteoarthritis frequencies were found in the remains with males showing significantly higher osteoarthritis on the upper body (compared to that of the females). This distinctive pattern becomes more obvious for males from Xiaomintun. Furthermore, Xiaomintun people showed significantly higher osteoarthritis in both sexes than those from Xin’anzhuang. Higher upper body osteoarthritis is speculated to be caused by repetitive lifting and carrying heavy-weight objects, disproportionately adding more stress and thus more osseous changes to the upper than the lower body. Such lifting-carrying could be derived from intensified physical activities in general and specialized occupations in particular. Higher osteoarthritis in males may reveal a gendered division of labour, with higher osteoarthritis in Xiaomintun strongly indicating an occupational difference between the two sites. The latter speculation can be supported by the recovery of substantially more bronze-casting artifacts in Xiaomintun. It is also intriguing that relatively higher osteoarthritis was noticed in Xiaomintun females, which seems to suggest that those women might have also participated in bronze-casting activities as a “family business.” Such a family-involved occupation, if it existed, may have contributed to establishment of occupation-oriented neighborhoods as proposed by many Shang archaeologists.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Anthropological Contributions to Historical Ecology: 50 Questions, Infinite Prospects

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2017-02-24
Abstract: 

This paper presents the results of a consensus-driven process identifying 50 priority research questions for historical ecology obtained through crowdsourcing, literature reviews, and in-person workshopping. A deliberative approach was designed to maximize discussion and debate with defined outcomes. Two in-person workshops (in Sweden and Canada) over the course of two years and online discussions were peer facilitated to define specific key questions for historical ecology from anthropological and archaeological perspectives. The aim of this research is to showcase the variety of questions that reflect the broad scope for historical-ecological research trajectories across scientific disciplines. Historical ecology encompasses research concerned with decadal, centennial, and millennial human-environmental interactions, and the consequences that those relationships have in the formation of contemporary landscapes. Six interrelated themes arose from our consensus-building workshop model: (1) climate and environmental change and variability; (2) multi-scalar, multi-disciplinary; (3) biodiversity and community ecology; (4) resource and environmental management and governance; (5) methods and applications; and (6) communication and policy. The 50 questions represented by these themes highlight meaningful trends in historical ecology that distill the field down to three explicit findings. First, historical ecology is fundamentally an applied research program. Second, this program seeks to understand long-term human-environment interactions with a focus on avoiding, mitigating, and reversing adverse ecological effects. Third, historical ecology is part of convergent trends toward transdisciplinary research science, which erodes scientific boundaries between the cultural and natural.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

An Efficient and Reliable DNA-Based Sex Identification Method for Archaeological Pacific Salmonid (Oncorhynchus Spp.) Remains

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2018-03-14
Abstract: 

Pacific salmonid (Oncorhynchus spp.) remains are routinely recovered from archaeological sites in northwestern North America but typically lack sexually dimorphic features, precluding the sex identification of these remains through morphological approaches. Consequently, little is known about the deep history of the sex-selective salmonid fishing strategies practiced by some of the region’s Indigenous peoples. Here, we present a DNA-based method for the sex identification of archaeological Pacific salmonid remains that integrates two PCR assays that each co-amplify fragments of the sexually dimorphic on the Y chromosome (sdY) gene and an internal positive control (Clock1a or D-loop). The first assay co-amplifies a 95 bp fragment of sdY and a 108 bp fragment of the autosomal Clock1a gene, whereas the second assay co-amplifies the same sdY fragment and a 249 bp fragment of the mitochondrial D-loop region. This method’s reliability, sensitivity, and efficiency, were evaluated by applying it to 72 modern Pacific salmonids from five species and 75 archaeological remains from six Pacific salmonids. The sex identities assigned to each of the modern samples were concordant with their known phenotypic sex, highlighting the method’s reliability. Applications of the method to dilutions of modern DNA samples indicate it can correctly identify the sex of samples with as little as ~39 pg of total genomic DNA. The successful sex identification of 70 of the 75 (93%) archaeological samples further demonstrates the method’s sensitivity. The method’s reliance on two co-amplifications that preferentially amplify sdY helps validate the sex identities assigned to samples and reduce erroneous identifications caused by allelic dropout and contamination. Furthermore, by sequencing the D-loop fragment used as a positive control, species-level and sex identifications can be simultaneously assigned to samples. Overall, our results indicate the DNA-based method reported in this study is a sensitive and reliable sex identification method for ancient salmonid remains.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Early Cessation of Ceramic Production for Ancestral Polynesian Society in Tonga

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2018-02-23
Abstract: 

Ancestral Polynesian society is the formative base for development of the Polynesian cultural template and proto-Polynesian linguistic stage. Emerging in western Polynesia ca 2700 cal BP, it is correlated in the archaeological record of Tonga with the Polynesian Plainware ceramic phase presently thought to be of approximately 800 years duration or longer. Here we re-establish the upper boundary for this phase to no more than 2350 cal BP employing a suite of 44 new and existing radiocarbon dates from 13 Polynesian Plainware site occupations across the extent of Tonga. The implications of this boundary, the abruptness of ceramic loss, and the shortening of duration to 350 years have substantive implications for archaeological interpretations in the ancestral Polynesian homeland.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Ancient DNA Analysis of Indigenous Rockfish Use On the Pacific Coast: Implications for Marine Conservation Areas and Fisheries Management

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2018-02-13
Abstract: 

Rockfish (Sebastes spp.) are a common marine fish in nearshore and continental shelf environments in the North Pacific Ocean. They are frequently identified in coastal archaeological sites in western North America; however, the morphological similarity of rockfish species limits conventional zooarchaeological identifications to the genus level. This study applies ancient DNA analysis to 96 archaeological rockfish specimens from four sites on separate islands in an archipelago on western Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Two of the archaeological sites are located within a marine protected area specifically designed to facilitate the recovery of inshore rockfish populations; two sites are located outside this boundary and remain subject to considerable fishing pressure. Using mitochondrial 16S and control region DNA sequences, we identify at least twelve different rockfish species utilized during the past 2,500 years. Identification of rockfish at closely spaced and contemporaneously occupied sites confirms that a variety of Sebastes species were consistently exploited at each site, with more exposed areas having a higher number of species present. Identification results indicate that four of the twelve species did not occur within the conservation area boundary and, instead, were found in sites where commercial and recreational fishing continues to be permitted. This study demonstrates that ancient DNA identifications of archaeological assemblages can complement and expand perspective on modern day fisheries conservation and management in this National Park Reserve and First Nations ancestral territory.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Radiocarbon Dating Uncertainty and the Reliability of the PEWMA Method of Time-Series Analysis for Research on Long-Term Human-Environment Interaction

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2018-01-19
Abstract: 

Statistical time-series analysis has the potential to improve our understanding of human-environment interaction in deep time. However, radiocarbon dating—the most common chronometric technique in archaeological and palaeoenvironmental research—creates challenges for established statistical methods. The methods assume that observations in a time-series are precisely dated, but this assumption is often violated when calibrated radiocarbon dates are used because they usually have highly irregular uncertainties. As a result, it is unclear whether the methods can be reliably used on radiocarbon-dated time-series. With this in mind, we conducted a large simulation study to investigate the impact of chronological uncertainty on a potentially useful time-series method. The method is a type of regression involving a prediction algorithm called the Poisson Exponentially Weighted Moving Average (PEMWA). It is designed for use with count time-series data, which makes it applicable to a wide range of questions about human-environment interaction in deep time. Our simulations suggest that the PEWMA method can often correctly identify relationships between time-series despite chronological uncertainty. When two time-series are correlated with a coefficient of 0.25, the method is able to identify that relationship correctly 20–30% of the time, providing the time-series contain low noise levels. With correlations of around 0.5, it is capable of correctly identifying correlations despite chronological uncertainty more than 90% of the time. While further testing is desirable, these findings indicate that the method can be used to test hypotheses about long-term human-environment interaction with a reasonable degree of confidence.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Stable Isotope and Dental Caries Data Reveal Abrupt Changes in Subsistence Economy in Ancient China in Response to Global Climate Change

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-07-22
Abstract: 

Prior to the introduction of wheat and barley from Central Asia during the Neolithic period, northern Chinese agricultural groups subsisted heavily on millet. Despite being the focus of many decades of intensive interest and research, the exact route(s), date(s), and mechanisms of the spread and adoption of wheat and barley into the existing well-established millet-based diet in northern China are still debated. As the majority of the important introduced crops are C3plants, while the indigenous millet is C4, archaeologists can effectively identify the consumption of any introduced crops using stable carbon isotope analysis. Here we examine published stable isotope and dental caries data of human skeletal remains from 77 archaeological sites across northern and northwestern China. These sites date between 9000 to 1750 BP, encompassing the period from the beginning of agriculture to wheat’s emergence as a staple crop in northern China. The aim of this study is to evaluate the implications of the spread and adoption of these crops in ancient China. Detailed analysis of human bone collagen δ13C values reveals an almost concurrent shift from a C4-based to a mixed C3/ C4– based subsistence economy across all regions at around 4500–4000 BP. This coincided with a global climatic event, Holocene Event 3 at 4200 BP, suggesting that the sudden change in subsistence economy across northern and northwestern China was likely related to climate change. Moreover, the substantially increased prevalence of dental caries from pre–to post–4000 BP indicates an increase in the consumption of cariogenic cereals during the later period. The results from this study have significant implications for understanding how the adoption of a staple crop can be indicative of large-scale environmental and socio-political changes in a region.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

87Sr/86Sr and 14C evidence for peccary (Tayassuidae) introduction challenges accepted historical interpretation of the 1657 Ligon map of Barbados

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-05-14
Abstract: 

Contemporary West Indian biodiversity has been shaped by two millennia of non-native species introductions. Understanding the dynamics of this process and its legacy across extended temporal and spatial scales requires accurate knowledge of introduction timing and the species involved. Richard Ligon’s 17th century account and celebrated map of early colonial Barbados records the translocation of several Old World species to the island in the post-contact era, including pigs (Sus scrofa) believed to have been released by passing sailors the century prior. Here we challenge this long-accepted historical narrative, presenting evidence that Ligon’s “pigs” were in fact peccaries, a New World continental mammal often confused with wild boars. We document the first recorded instance of non-native peccary (Tayassuidae) on Barbados based on a securely identified mandibular specimen from a historic archaeological context. Results of specimen 87Sr/86Sr and AMS radiocarbon assays, along with newly reported data from Sr isotope environmental analyses, indicate a local origin dating to AD 1645–1670/1780–1800. These data support the presence of living peccary on Barbados some time during the first 175 years of English settlement, which, based on review of historical and archaeological data, most likely arises from 16th century peccary introduction from the Guianas/Trinidad by the Spanish or Portuguese. We argue dimorphic representations of “pigs” on Ligon’s map reflect the co-occurrence of peccary and European domestic swine on historic Barbados. Our findings overturn conventional history and provide greater taxonomic and chronological resolution for Caribbean bioinvasion studies, helping to refine our understanding of potential ecological impacts. In addition, the new bioavailable 87Sr/86Sr data for Barbados reported here advance current efforts toward mapping the Caribbean Sr isoscape.

Document type: 
Article
File(s):