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Rainfall, temperature, and Classic Maya conflict: A comparison of hypotheses using Bayesian time-series analysis

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-07-30
Abstract: 

Studies published over the last decade have reached contrasting conclusions regarding the impact of climate change on conflict among the Classic Maya (ca. 250-900 CE). Some researchers have argued that rainfall declines exacerbated conflict in this civilisation. However, other researchers have found that the relevant climate variable was increasing summer temperatures and not decreasing rainfall. The goal of the study reported here was to test between these two hypotheses. To do so, we collated annually-resolved conflict and climate data, and then subjected them to a recently developed Bayesian method for analysing count-based times-series. The results indicated that increasing summer temperature exacerbated conflict while annual rainfall variation had no effect. This finding not only has important implications for our understanding of conflict in the Maya region during the Classic Period. It also contributes to the ongoing discussion about the likely impact of contemporary climate change on conflict levels. Specifically, when our finding is placed alongside the results of other studies that have examined temperature and conflict over the long term, it is clear that the impact of climate change on conflict is context dependent.

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Strontium Isotope Evidence for Neanderthal and Modern Human Mobility at the Upper and Middle Palaeolithic Site of Fumane Cave (Italy)

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-08-24
Abstract: 

To investigate the mobility patterns of Neanderthals and modern humans in Europe during the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition period, we applied strontium isotope analysis to Neanderthal (n = 3) and modern human (n = 2) teeth recovered from the site of Fumane Cave in the Monti Lessini region of Northern Italy. We also measured a large number of environmental samples from the region, to establish a strontium ‘baseline’, and also micromammals (vole teeth) from the levels associated with the hominin teeth. We found that the modern humans and Neanderthals had similar strontium isotope values, and these values match the local baseline values we obtained for the site and the surrounding region. We conclude that both groups were utilizing the local mountainous region where Fumane Cave is situated, and likely the nearby Lessini highlands and Adige plains, and therefore the strontium evidence does not show differening mobility patterns between Neanderthals and modern humans at the Fumane site.

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A 3D Basicranial Shape-Based Assessment of Local and Continental Northwest European Ancestry Among 5th to 9th Century CE Anglo-Saxons

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-06-23
Abstract: 

The settlement of Great Britain by Germanic-speaking people from continental northwest Europe in the Early Medieval period (early 5th to mid 11th centuries CE) has long been recognised as an important event, but uncertainty remains about the number of settlers and the nature of their relationship with the preexisting inhabitants of the island. In the study reported here, we sought to shed light on these issues by using 3D shape analysis techniques to compare the cranial bases of Anglo-Saxon skeletons to those of skeletons from Great Britain that pre-date the Early Medieval period and skeletons from Denmark that date to the Iron Age. Analyses that focused on Early Anglo-Saxon skeletons indicated that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Anglo-Saxon individuals were of continental northwest Europe ancestry, while between a quarter and one-third were of local ancestry. In contrast, analyses that focused on Middle Anglo-Saxon skeletons suggested that 50–70% were of local ancestry, while 30–50% were of continental northwest Europe ancestry. Our study suggests, therefore, that ancestry in Early Medieval Britain was similar to what it is today—mixed and mutable.

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Stable Isotope Analysis of Human Bone from Ganj Dareh, Iran, Ca. 10,100 calBP

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-03-02
Abstract: 

We report here on stable carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotope values from bone collagen of human (n = 20) and faunal (n = 11) remains from the Early Neolithic site of Ganj Dareh, Iran, dating to ca. 10,100 cal. BP. Our focus explores how isotope values of human bone vary by age and sex, and evaluates dietary practices at this site. It also provides a baseline for future studies of subsistence in the early Holocene Central Zagros Mountains, from the site with the first evidence for human ovicaprid management in the Near East. Human remains include individuals of all age groups for dietary reconstruction, as well two Ottoman intrusive burials for temporal and cultural comparison. All analyzed individuals exhibited δ13C and δ15N values consistent with a diet based heavily on C3 terrestrial sources. There is no statistically significant difference between the isotopic compositions of the two sexes, though males appear to show larger variations compared to females. Interesting patterns in the isotopic compositions of the subadults suggested weaning children may be fed with supplements with distinctive δ13C values. Significant difference in sulfur isotope values between humans and fauna could be the earliest evidence of transhumance and could identify one older adult male as a possible transhumant shepherd. Both Ottoman individuals had distinctively different δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S values compared to the Neolithic individuals. This is the first large scale analysis of human stable isotopes from the eastern end of the early Holocene Fertile Crescent. It provides a baseline for future intersite exploration of stable isotopes and insight into the lifeways, health, and processes of neolithisation associated with the origins of goat domestication at Ganj Dareh and the surrounding Central Zagros.

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The Composition of the Founding Population of Iceland: A New Perspective From 3D Analyses of Basicranial Shape

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2021-02-08
Abstract: 

The settlement of Iceland in the Viking Age has been the focus of much research, but the composition of the founding population remains the subject of debate. Some lines of evidence suggest that almost all the founding population were Scandinavian, while others indicate a mix of Scandinavians and people of Scottish and Irish ancestry. To explore this issue further, we used three-dimensional techniques to compare the basicrania of skeletons from archaeological sites in Iceland, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. Our analyses yielded two main results. One was that the founding population likely consisted of roughly equal numbers of Scandinavians and people from the British Isles. The other was that the immigrants who originated from the British Isles included individuals of southern British ancestry as well as individuals of Scottish and Irish ancestry. The first of these findings is consistent with the results of recent analyses of modern and ancient DNA, while the second is novel. Our study, therefore, strengthens the idea that the founding population was a mix of Scandinavians and people from the British Isles, but also raises a new possibility regarding the regions from which the settlers originated.

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Differentiating Salmonid Migratory Ecotypes Through Stable Isotope Analysis of Collagen: Archaeological and Ecological Applications

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2020-04-28
Abstract: 

The ability to distinguish between different migratory behaviours (e.g., anadromy and potamodromy) in fish can provide important insights into the ecology, evolution, and conservation of many aquatic species. We present a simple stable carbon isotope (δ13C) approach for distinguishing between sockeye (anadromous ocean migrants) and kokanee (potamodromous freshwater residents), two migratory ecotypes of Oncorhynchus nerka (Salmonidae) that is applicable throughout most of their range across coastal regions of the North Pacific Ocean. Analyses of kokanee (n = 239) and sockeye (n = 417) from 87 sites spanning the North Pacific (Russia to California) show that anadromous and potamodromous ecotypes are broadly distinguishable on the basis of the δ13C values of their scale and bone collagen. We present three case studies demonstrating how this approach can address questions in archaeology, archival, and conservation research. Relative to conventional methods for determining migratory status, which typically apply chemical analyses to otoliths or involve genetic analyses of tissues, the δ13C approach outlined here has the benefit of being non-lethal (when applied to scales), cost-effective, widely available commercially, and should be much more broadly accessible for addressing archaeological questions since the recovery of otoliths at archaeological sites is rare.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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