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2021-01-01 11:23:04   •   ID: 2232

Questioning the single species/single technology Dogma

Figure 1
These are several Paleolithic tools and some personal considerations about their manufacturers. This is a common theme in Palaeolithic Science, but without almost any explicit literature about this issue.

Since its early days during the late 19th century, there is a continuous trend in Prehistory to link technocomplexes with specific hominins. Although Interdisciplinarity seems to be inevitable for consistent reconstructions of the past, there is a certain risk to unite irreconcilable suggestions into a seemingly master narrative.

In my view more hermeneutic based interpretations are all too often given up to early in favor of questionable "integrative" approaches.

Early in the 20th century, in S/W-France it became clear, that Neanderthals were the makers of the Mousterian, while all Upper Paleolithic findings in this region were assumed to be the product of "Cromagnon“ man (Homo sapiens).

Eurocentric and Circular thinking led to the Classification of N-African (Archaic) Homo sapiens skeletal remains as Neanderthals, because they are found together with MSA Artifacts, resembling the European Mousterian- a view that only was questioned during the late 1990ies, when the "Out of Africa" paradigm gained in probability.

During the last decennia a Plethora of new hominins were discovered all over the old world and we have learned about times of rapid evolutionary radiation events during the Early and Middle Pleistocene, but also about interbreeding and extinction events during our long Prehistory.

If only one species was present in a specific region and during a specific time frame, an artifact may unequivocally the product of one single species. Anyhow, as soon as another species was present, the narrative becomes fragile.

Figure 2
The Siberian Denisova Cave was periodically inhabited by Denisovians and Neanderthals, but it is unclear whether they ever cohabited in the cave and we are still unable to develop interpretations, that are able to assign techno-typological systems in lithic production to one or the other species.

The artifacts in Figure 1 and 2 were chosen to illustrate a "single species/single technology" situation.

They show a multicolored elongated Mousterian Point from Cales in the Dordogne near Les Eyzies (Figure 1) and two very flat Handaxes from the Oise Valley (Figure 2; both from Villeneuve-sur-Verberie).

The three artifacts can certainly assigned to early or classic Neanderthals during MIS 7- 3. No other hominin is known from this part of Europe during this time. After 150 years of research it is nearly impossible that a second hominin will ever be found in this region.

Anyhow, if the Handaxes were found in Africa the single species/single technology paradigm would fail, except the notation that Neanderthals were certainly not the makers...

The Gravettian in Europe also seems to be a simple confirmation of the paradigm. It was always associated with H. Sapiens- Anyhow, this case is rather an exception from a rule.

The European Aurignacian and the Moravian Bohunician remain still a black Box and there are both pro and cons for a single or multiple species/single technology model.

The things get even worse with the question, who made the Châtelperronien, although we know three European sites, where this complex is stratigraphically connected with skeletal remains of Homo Sapiens but see here 1492 , here 1603 , here: 1495 and here 1125 . Detecting skeletal remains and artifacts in a single stratum, especially in a multilayered site, is not automatically the proof for the single species/single technology hypothesis.

Figure 3
In Israel, the Levallois technique was used by three Species: Homo Sapiens (MIS 5, MIS 4/3 Boundary; MIS3), and Neanderthals (MIS3) and by the newly detected archaic ."Nesher Ramla Homo type" (late MIS6/eraly MIS5). Who was the maker of the Scraper on a Levallois flake from Mt Carmel, shown in Figure 3 ?

Israel is a Region, where Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were at leatpresent during MIS5-3. The common hypothesis suggests a "push" effect on Neanderthals from the Balkans and Anatolia during MIS4 towards the Levant, driven by harsh conditions of the Lower Pleniglacial.

In this model Homo sapiens would retreat further South during MIS4 and only resettle the Levantine Corridor again during MIS3, moving later to Eurasia.

But according new findings, the presence of Homo sapiens may have been more continuous during the late Pleistocene, and not only transient as still suggested.

Homo sapiens at Skhul and Qafzeh in Israel were dated to be 90-100 k.a. old. Anyhow, Homo sapiens at Manot Cave may be ca 55 k.a. old and therefore present also at the MIS4/3 boundary.

Homo sapiens has even a longer history in this region: Fragments with indisputable and specific clues of Homo Sapiens were detected at Misliya within a "Tabun-D" ensemble at 177-194 k.a.

During the Late Pleistocene, Neanderthals from Israel have a similar age, but mainly focused on MIS4/3: Ein Qashish 60-70 k.a.; Amud: 61-53; and Kebara Unit XII: about 60 k.a. Anyhow we note multiple Neanderthal findings at Tabun during a time bracket between 170-80 k.a.

Figure 4
Currently no one can exclude that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens lived sympatric, in the same territory and during overlapping time periods. Regarding the excavations since 2000, new findings and interpretations will certainly emerge during the next years.

Figure 4 shows a well executed 13 cm long "Mousterian Point" from the Tan-Tan region in Morocco, not older than ca 200 k.a. and typologically similar to some European Mousterian counterparts-see here: 2003 . Interestingly there are convergences to the roughly contemporaneous Syrian Hummalian ensembles and Tabun- D points.

Early specimens of Homo Sapiens in Africa and the Levant are notorious rare, although well dated. Omo Kibish (Ethiopia), dates by 40Ar/39Ar to 172-196 k.a, Herto (Ethiopia) by the same method to 150-154. k.a. Recently Jebel Irhoud in Morocco was dated by several lines of evidence to 315 k.a.

If we accept the assignment of the Kabwe or Broken Hill 1 hominin, dated to about 300 k.a., as an example of the Homo sapiens clade (Homo sapiens rhodesiensis) instead of a classification as Homo Heidelbergensis, there would be a forth (Archaic) Homo sapiens from Africa.

Other candidates are the Florisbad partial skull, associated with an MSA industry and placed by direct ESR data to about 260 k.a. and Eliye Sping (West Turkana; Kenya).

As Homo sapiens is the only Hominin, currently known during MIS6-2 in Morocco, the Mousterian Point of Figure 4 was almost certainly created by an (Archaic) Homo sapiens, while a similar S/W-European artifact, for example the "Point" shown in Figure 1, was most likely made by a Neanderthal.

It is not an easy task to reconcile Prehistoric, Paleoanthropological, and Paleogenetic data in a useful way. Regarding the issue of this post the single species/single dogma becomes untenable for a very early period of hominin evolution in South Africa.

Figure 5
This is the consequence of poor integrity and frequency of very old sites and their Archaeological taxonomy, which introduces another controversial problem of the Prehistoric debate: 2145 .

Due to decomposition of ancient DNA, direct paleogenetic reconstructions are impossible, and due to several rapid evolutionary radiation events, there is a great number of hominin species which are contemporaneous in geological terms.

An important problem is the definition of the Genus Homo. How should we recognize it?- Every definition remains arbitrary and a combination of traits will never describe all realistic weighted anatomic, social and genetic characteristics of the Genus. Homo did not suddenly evolve as a complete "package". The definition of Homo Sapiens will remain a dilemma.

Is Homo characterized by:

  • Habitual walking on two legs and complete loss of climbing adaption around 2 Ma ago?

  • Elaborated Language? No one knows for sure when language evolved, but fossil and genetic data suggest that humanity can probably trace its ancestry back to populations of anatomically modern Homo sapiens around 200-300 k.a.

    It remains open for discussion if fossil (the Neanderthal hyoid bone from Kebara) and genetic data (the FOXP2 Gene in AMH and Neanderthals) really indicate that Neanderthals were able to execute an elaborate Language.

    It remains open for discussion if the Archeological record, especially the evidence of elaborate stone knapping and cooperative hunting around 500 k.a. required at least a "Proto - Language" in earlier Hominins

  • Brain size, crossing a "cerebral Rubicon"-a large brain in relation to body size? - or development of certain sub- structures of the brain like Broca’s area or the Cerebellum?

  • A reduction of teeth size, jaws and associated musculature or by other anatomical traits?

  • the powerful thumb that characterizes the human hand and evolved only in some fossil hominin species around 2 million years ago?

  • A longer childhood and opportunity of learning?

  • Specific group organization, devision of labour ?

  • Forwarding cultural and technical traditions to other group members or neighbour groups ?

Figure 6
All these definitions can be undermined by counterarguments, for example by a combination of human traits despite the small brain cases of Homo Florensis.

Although there is no consensus about what it means to be human, the history of research has created specific conventions about naming fossils- which is in itself a deeply human quality for sure-but always at risk for non-scientific subjectivism and circular thinking.

Figure 5 shows a small cordiform "Fauresmith" Handaxe (8 cm long), found in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa. According to similar material from the nearby site of Kathu Pan 1, where OSL and U-series–ESR dated this industry to the Middle Pleistocene at ca 500 k.a.-a similar age may assumed.

There are several Middle Pleistocene Hominins in South Africa, that could be the maker (archaic Homo sapiens, Homo Naledi, Homo Heidelbergensis...)

Figure 6 displays a large (22 cm long) Handaxe from Olorgesailie in Kenya one of the most eminent Acheulian sites of the Rift-Valley, about 1 Ma old. By the way its perfect symmetry and fine execution remind us, that even the oldest Handaxes may resemble Artifacts from the Upper Middle Pleistocene, a strong argument against any typological approach on an individual level.

The Acheulian at the important Rift Valley sites in Kenya: Olorgesailie, Kariandusi, and Isinya in Kenya was dated, mainly by 40Ar/39Ar ages on feldspar from tuffs.

The Acheulean in the Olorgesailie Formation is 974 ± 7 k.a. (Member 1) to 601 ± 3 k.a. (Member 11) old. An 40Ar/39 age on a tuff in the Kariandusi sequence has an age of 977 ± 10 k.a.

Samples from a volcanic ash at Isinya above the archeological site correlate with an ash layer in Olorgesailie Member 4, showing that these artifacts are older than >974 k.a. (Brown et al. 1987).

There is ample evidence evidence that the Acheulean appeared at least 1,7-1,75 Ma in the East African Rift Valley. The earliest Acheulian localities in Konso Gardula, Olduvai FLK-West and West Turkana have this age.

It is suggested, that components of the operational sequences, that are necessary to produce such a teardrop-like three dimensional object like a Handaxe, with no really parallels in Nature, are the proof of reaching a new cognitive competence in human evolution. The same holds true in the making of a cleaver by just a few precise hits on a large flake. Precise simplicity is sometime the expression of a highly sophisticated level- SEE: {
Figure 7
Figure 7 shows a large Handaxe from the Isimila Acheulian Occupation Site in the Iringa Highlands of Tanzania. The age may be comperable with the Rift Valley sites in Kenya.

Contrary to earlier observations, the archaeological record in East Africa suggests a fairly abrupt appearance of the Acheulian after a temporally rapid transition from the Oldowan (Semaw et al. 2009).

Many researchers now have abandoned the Culture historical splitting of the Oldowan into an older Oldowan A (a Core and Flake industry) and more recent Oldowan B and C (a core and flake industry including mainly spheroids and some crude Handaxes). They define the Acheulian, amongst other topics (human behaviors and activities) by the Appearance of Handaxes and LCTs (Semaw et al. 2009).

Prehistorians have noted, that on an evolutionary scale these new abilities coincide with the emergence of Homo Erectus sensu lato. But if we take a closer look on Paleoanthropological data, the situation is a little more complicated.

In this context the publication of Lepre et al., although already 10 years old, about the Kokiselei site is of interest- see here: Kokiselei 4 archaeological site The authors stated that:

Here we report on the lithic assemblage and geological context for the Kokiselei 4 archaeological site from the Nachukui formation (West Turkana,Kenya) that bear characteristic early Acheulian tools and pushes the first appearance datum for this stone-age technology back to 1.76 Myr ago.

Moreover, co-occurrence of Oldowan and Acheulian artefacts at the Kokiselei site complex indicates that the two technologies are not mutually exclusive time-successive components of an evolving cultural lineage, and suggests that the Acheulian was either imported from another location yet to be identified or originated from Oldowan hominins at this vicinity

If both traditions were contemporaneous, and skeletal remains are absent it would be wise to suggest, that contemporaneous Hominins, for example Homo Habilis or Homo Erectus sensu lato and others, including even Australopithecus may have been responsible for the early Acheulian.

No skeletal hominin remains were found at Kokiselei 4. Unfortunately this is typical for East African sites: either a bunch of Hominin remains without tools or abundant tools without hominin remains.

If we are happy to find contemporaneous Hominins and lithic industries, such as in Bed I at Olduvai- the interpretation remains still ambivalent: Homo Habilis occupied Olduvai Gorge approximately 1,9 Ma; then came a contemporary Australopithecine, Paranthropus boisei, 1,8 Ma, followed by Homo erectus, 1,2 Ma. Who were the makers of the ESA industries of Bed I?

Both Acheulian and Oldowan artifacts and Homo erectus crania were found in close association at 1.26 million years (Ma) ago at Busidima North (BSN12), and ca. 1.6 to 1.5 Ma ago at Dana Aoule North (DAN5) archaeological sites at Gona, Afar, Ethiopia (Semaw et al. 2020).

Of course, even that observation is not definitive proof of a single species/multiple technology paradigm.

The same holds true for the S-African site of Sterkfontein, discussed in 2227 . Here, Member 5 contains an Oldowan and an early Acheulian, both associated early Homo (Habilis or Ergaster) and in addition Paranthropus skeletal remains.

Anyhow, the makers of the Oldowan and the Early Acheulian remain unknown, although it is generally believed that early Homo was the Author of the Acheulian, while the question if Australopithecus / Paranthropus was able to produce the Oldowan, still remains open for further discussion.

Finally some remarks on dating early Hominins in E/S-Africa. If we follow a "Splitter" rather than a "Lumper" tradition in Paleoanthropology:

Homo Habilis, if a valid human species and not an Australopithecus, was present in East and South Africa between 2,4 million to 1,4 ago- at Olduvai Gorge approximately at 1,9 Ma ago.

Figure 8
Homo Erectus sensu lato (or Homo Ergaster in Africa) was present in the Paleontological record 1,9 Ma -110 k.a. (the last date confers to Asian examples).

Homo Rudolfensis in East Africa, if a valid human species and not an Australopithecus, was dated to 1,8-1,9 Ma ago.

Australopithecus in East Africa (anamensis; garhi,afarensis) lived 4 and 3,3 to 2,1 and 3,85 and 2,95 Ma ago, while fossils of Australopithecus in South Africa are 3,3 to 2,1 Ma old.

For the issue look at the Teaching Files from the Smithsonian

Even older Mode-I tools including refits of cores and flakes were found at Lomekwi in Kenya which were incorporated in sediments about 3.3 million years old. The beginning of tool making would have occurred long before the advent of the genus Homo. In my view, current paradigms have to be reconsidered, among them the "single species/single technology" Dogma

And what would the Hominines, if they were able to articulate themself, say to the discussion?-- "Who Cares "...

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