CAHO Seminar Series 2021-2022 Programme

7th October 2021

Dr Paulette Steeves (Associate Professor at Algoma University)

Title: The Indigenous Palaeolithic of the Western Hemisphere

Abstract: Archaeologists are focused on understanding the human past across time and space. However, colonial politics of power and control within American archaeology have blocked research into the deep human’s past within the Western Hemisphere (the Americas). The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Americas has been violently denied by American archaeologists for over a century. Criticisms of archaeologists publishing on archaeological sites in the Americas that predate 11,000 years before present has been severe. Denial of the Indigenous Paleolithic of the Americas has been so severe that this area of research has been discussed as an area of academic suicide. Though they paid a heavy price for their honesty a small group of Archaeologists have published research on hundreds of archaeological sites in the Americas dating from 11,000 to over 200,000 years before present. Reviewing paleontological, paleoenvironmental, and archaeological evidence it is clear there was nothing stopping early humans from migrating from sites in northern Asia (2.1M to 24 K) to enter the area we know today as the Americas prior to the last glacial maximum. Recent research has challenged decades old assumption regarding early human migrations in Africa, Europe and Asia. It is long past time to update our research and understanding of the possibilities and evidence of early humans in the Americas.

21st October 2021

Dr William Davies (Professor at University of Southampton)

Title: All are equal, but some are more equal than others? Identifying inequality in the European Upper Palaeolithic

4th November 2021

Pamela Akuku (The Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution, URV)

Title: Taphonomy and taxonomy of Plio-Pleistocene faunal assemblages from Beds I-IV in Oldupai Gorge, Tanzania

Abstract: Taphonomic studies carried out in the Olduvai Gorge have indicated that only a small number of anthropogenic sites dated to the Pleistocene exhibit a functional association between stone tools and faunal remains (Pickering et al., 2004; Pobiner et., 2008; Domínguez-Rodrigo 2009). This study brings evidence from a new site namely Ewass Oldupa which is found in the western Plio-Pleistocene rift basin of Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. This site is important because it produced currently the oldest stone tools from Olduvai Gorge (Mercader et al.,2021) and has previously never been studied. The Olduvai Gorge Stone tools Diet & Sociality (OGSDS) project comprising of various people with diverse specialities presented a multiproxy dataset from Ewass Oldupa. This study aims to show the importance of faunal analysis as one of the proxies for hominin evolution study with results indicating that Oldupai’s earliest hominins had the ability to exploit disturbance environments and diverse biomes ca. 2 and this flexibility and adaptive behaviour facilitated Homo’s global dispersal.

18th November 2021

Dr Joshua Kumbani (University of Witwatersrand)

Title: Aerophones from the Later Stone Age of South Africa

Abstract: Music archaeology or sound archaeology has not been on the research agenda for a long time in southern Africa. There are four tear drop/oval shaped implements from Matjes River site which were previously interpreted as pendants. After careful examination through experimentation and use-wear analysis it turned out that one of the archaeological pieces was used as a bullroarer and it was spun as a sound producing implement whereas the other three implements were pendants. There are also bone tubes that have been recovered from various Late Stone Age sites which have been previously interpreted as sucking tubes or beads but there is a high probability that they were used as flutes for musical purposes.

13th January 2022

Dr Uzy Smilansky (Weizmann Institute of Science)

Title: The importance of being Normal.

Abstract: One of the first steps in the analysis of prehistorical artifacts is often the positioning of the objects in a “correct” or “standard” way. Then, some features such as metric dimensions, symmetry, and surface properties- including the description of scars and ridges –  are all collected for the purpose of classification, interpretation and further analysis.  In this talk I shall try to describe a few novel methods to address these tasks based on 3-D scans of the artefacts and the subsequent analysis of the digitized images.

And what is this to do with the title? This will become clear once the lecture starts.

10th February 2022

Dr Emma Pomeroy (University of Cambridge)

Title: Reconsidering Neanderthal mortuary/funerary behaviour at Shanidar Cave, Iraqi Kurdistan: Insights from Shanidar Z and the Shanidar Cave Project

Abstract: Debate over the evolutionary origins of mortuary and funerary behaviour (treatment of the dead, either lacking or including symbolism respectively) is ongoing, due in part to both methodological and theoretical challenges. Interpreting funerary behaviour among Neanderthals, our close evolutionary relatives, is challenging because many remains were excavated decades ago, without the benefit of modern archaeological methods and theory. The ten Neanderthal men, women and children discovered between 1951 and 1960 at Shanidar Cave (Iraqi Kurdistan) by Ralph Solecki and his team have played a central role in debates over the origins of funerary practices. Solecki argued for various rituals including an intentional burial with flowers, cairns and funerary feasting, but his interpretations remain controversial. The current Shanidar Cave Project recently uncovered new Neanderthal skeletal remains (‘Shanidar Z’) directly adjacent to the ‘flower burial’, offering a rare opportunity to investigate Neanderthal funerary behaviour using cutting edge archaeological techniques. In this seminar, I will discuss some of the ongoing work from the Shanidar Cave project exploring the new Neanderthal remains and their archaeological context, as well as revisiting some of the original excavation. Preliminary results from work with the Shanidar Z remains suggest intentional action in depositing the body, the presence of plant remains, possible ‘grave’ markers, and clustering of remains within the cave, raising intriguing questions about Neanderthal reactions to death, and the possible existence of ‘special’ places in the Neanderthal world.

24th February 2022

Dr Gadi Herzlinger (Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Title: Population dynamics in the Middle Paleolithic Levant: A computerized approach to mandibular analysis

Abstract: The rich and well-studied paleoanthropological and archaeological records of the Middle Paleolithic Levant have always played a key role in the discussion of the later phases of human evolution. However, despite almost a century of research and methodological developments, major issues concerning the interaction dynamics between the different human groups, as well as their place in the evolutionary lineage of extant humans remain obscure. One well-established approach for addressing these questions is the comparative analysis of mandibular morphology, mainly due to its morphological complexity, which bears several taxonomically indicative substructures. Nonetheless, the common methods currently applied for studying these remains suffer from various shortcomings, limiting the inferences which can be drawn based on their results.

This presentation will discuss the historical developments which led to the current perception and various hypotheses regarding human population dynamics in the Middle Paleolithic Levant. It will provide a description of the mandibular morphology and examples of how it is being studied to infer relevant aspects. Finally, it will introduce a new computerized tool currently being developed for quantitative morphological analysis of hominin mandibles by applying analytical geometric methods to high resolution 3D digital models. Throughout the last part of the presentation the main functions of the software and the way in which they can circumvent the disadvantages of current methods will be described.

28th April 2022

Alexandra Barroso

Title: Neanderthal Cultures of Britain and Doggerland: a computational investigation into societal structures.

Abstract: The Neanderthal story takes place at a remote point in time, often producing lithic artefacts as its sole remnants. Thus, we use these to investigate their world, society, and cultures. Recent studies have begun to shed light on patterns of lithic, and possibly cultural, regionalism; my preliminary study built upon this.

Four different Middle Palaeolithic assemblages were investigated using 2D Geometric Morphometric analyses, two of which are of uncertain offshore provenance but share a river system. The results suggested a shared sub-group within the offshore samples, as well as stylistic hierarchies and groupings occurring at different scales across all assemblages. Cultural theory was then used to explore the observed phenomena: a case is made for handaxes as symbolic materials through which group identity or belonging were communicated to other Neanderthals within a wider network. Through this network, information about other groups was also received, and it may have helped in the maintenance of population dynamics.   

These results will now be further elaborated upon through the investigation of additional variables and an expanded database to pick apart the purely cultural functions and roles of these lithic objects. These next steps are to commence in September 2022.

12th May 2022

Dr Chantal Conneller (University of Newcastle)

Title: Hunting and Gathering Time

Abstract: The Mesolithic has often been treated as a period without history, where the only significant change is from an early Mesolithic characterised by highly mobile big game hunters to more sedentary marine-focused late Mesolithic. This presentation presents the results of a new British Academy funded project which has aimed, by contrast, to understand temporal change over this period on a centennial scale. This has involved collating all existing radiocarbon dates for the period and commissioning new dates for certain key sites, as well as constructing a new typochronological framework. At the heart of this project is a study of lithics and of landscape, both of which were stimulated by my time at the CAU.

The patterns that have emerged are illuminating. In the early Mesolithic, the landscape was rapidly settled and given meaning by Mesolithic groups. A new Middle Mesolithic phase emerges, characterised by new modes of engagement with the landscape including the digging of pits and erection of large buildings and monuments. Similarly, significant temporal and regional differences can be seen in the late Mesolithic, while the last millennium of the period is one of dynamic change and contact with the continent.

9th June 2022

Dr Ceri Shipton (University College London)

Title: The emergence of recursive narrative at the Acheulean to Middle Palaeolithic transition

Abstract: The Kapthurin Formation in east Africa has possibly the earliest example of Levallois technology anywhere in the world around 400 ka, in an Acheulean rather than a Middle Palaeolithic (Stone Age) context.  Comparison of this Acheulean Levallois with other Acheulean large flake blank techniques and the local Middle Palaeolithic Levallois shows us on the one hand the hierarchical complexity and the affordances of Levallois, and on the other, the critical differences between a large Acheulean handheld large cutting tool and a Middle Palaeolithic toolkit.   

The late Acheulean sequence at Tabun is characterized by similarly high levels of hierarchical complexity to those seen in the Kapthurin Formation.  Cognitively, this appears to reflect an enhanced capacity for integrating existing concepts to create novelty: an example of nested recursion or generativity.   

What distinguishes the Middle Palaeolithic of the Kapthurin Formation and Tabun from the Acheulean is a capacity for meta-recursion, in which outputs can be simultaneously inputs to return to an earlier stage of a broader concept, that is of the same category as the output.  Nested recursion is the linguistic basis of syntax, while meta-recursion is the linguistic basis of narrative.  Differences between Acheulean and Middle Palaeolithic hominins in landscape use are hypothesized to reflect the emergence of narrative communication across this transition.   

23rd June 2022

Kimberleigh Tommy (University of Witwatersrand)

Title: The Cradle of More Than Humankind: Perspectives on Palaeosciences in South Africa

Abstract: It is estimated that a third of land in South Africa is fossil bearing, documenting an almost continuous record of life on Earth. Several of these fossiliferous areas have been deemed so valuable to the global community that they have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The most famous of these sites is known as The Cradle of Humankind, a region spanning the fossil sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, the Makapan Valley and Taung where fossils such as Mrs Ples, the Taung Child and Little Foot have been found. These discoveries have vastly expanded our understanding of the lives of extinct hominins and continue to provide insight into what it means to be human. Some other notable World Heritage Sites include the Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains, the Vredefort Dome and the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape. Although South Africa is mostly known for hominin fossils, there is another palaeontological treasure known as the Karoo Supergroup, the most widespread stratigraphic unit spanning from the Late Carboniferous to the Early Jurassic. In recent years discoveries from the Karoo have made international news on numerous occasions, from tiny early vertebrates to some of the largest dinosaurs to ever roam the earth, the amount of discoveries and the diversity of specimens highlight the global importance of this region. It is because of this rich fossil record and geographic advantage that palaeosciences has become a national priority, however a lack of transformation threatens the growth and development of this field among South African students. This talk will focus on the diversity and importance of the South African fossil record as well as the future of palaeosciences in South Africa.