Paleo-Eskimos were independent of Inuit and Native American expansions
In the 1980s, the American linguist Joseph Greenberg proposed that Native American languages could be classified within three families: Eskimo-Aleut, Na Dene and Amerind. He further suggested that each family corresponded to a separate migration into the New World from Siberia and concluded, therefore, that the New World had been peopled by three migrations. Greenberg’s views remained controversial for many years as most mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal genetic studies indicated that there had been no more than two migrations. In 2012, however, he was apparently vindicated when David Reich and his colleagues presented a high resolution study of 52 Native American and 17 Siberian groups genotyped at 364,470 single nucleotide polymorphisms. The results indicated that there had indeed been three migrations broadly corresponding to the three language families: specifically (i) First Americans, (ii) Eskimo-Aleuts and, (iii) Saqqaq and Na Dene speakers.
New radiocarbon dates point to longer coexistence but earlier extinction
A new study published in the journal Nature suggests that Neanderthals persisted alongside modern humans in Europe for as long as 5,000 years after the arrival of the latter. A team lead by Tom Higham at Oxford obtained 196 AMS radiocarbon dates from 40 sites across Europe, relying on improved techniques to remove young carbon contamination. The results also indicate that the Neanderthals were probably extinct no later than 41,000 to 39,000 years ago.
Further evidence of Neanderthal sophistication at Gorham’s Cave
Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar, was occupied by Neanderthals for thousands of years and was one of the last known sites of Neanderthal occupation before their final disappearance. Researchers have been working at the cave site for the past 25 years, and it has yielded a wealth of data about Neanderthal technology and patterns of subsistence.
New papers revive ‘hobbit’ controversy
The announcement in 2003 that dwarf hominins had been discovered at Liang Bua Cave on the Indonesian island of Flores was one of the major news stories of that year. The type specimen, LB1, a female inevitably dubbed ‘Flo’ had lived had lived just 18,000 years ago at a time when all archaic hominins were believed to be long extinct. Estimated to have been around thirty years old at the time of her death, ‘Flo’ stood just 1.06 m (3 ft. 6 in.) tall, weighed 16 and 36 kg (35 and 79 lb), and had an estimated cranial capacity of just 380 cc, comparable to that of an australopithecine.
Did technology boom result from reduced male aggression?
An ambitious study published in the journal Current Anthropology has proposed a link between craniofacial changes and technological advances occurring after around 80,000 years ago. The authors suggest that a reduction in browridge projection and a shortening of the upper facial skeleton (referred to by the authors as ‘feminization’) was the result of either reduced testosterone levels or reduced androgen receptor densities. This reduced male aggression and increased social tolerance, in turn enabling larger groups to live together and the building of long-distance social networks. The consequence was that between around 80,000 and 30,000 years ago, there was acceleration of cumulative technological evolution or ‘cultural ratcheting’ where innovations accumulate over time as a result of cooperation between individuals and groups.