Neanderthals: Death, Mortuary, and Funeral Rites

Modern humans take great care of our dead, we revere them in many cultures, and in almost every culture we take care of our dead in one way or another. 

It seems like it is something that is uniquely human, and while there is indeed a question of “What is Human?”. For now, we will leave that for another episode. For now, we will be focusing on the idea that non human hominins could have also disposed of their dead in a direct way, and even possibly, in a ritualistic way. 

Of course, with out some sort of window into the past, we cannot know for sure what the Neanderthals did, how they lived, and as importantly, how they died and what happened to them afterwards. 

Dr. Pomeroy is currently working on Shandihar Cave in Iraq, a very important location for Neanderthal studies, a cave where up to ten or more Neanderthal bodies have been found. 

Some of these individuals have very interesting features that could really change the way that people view Neanderthals, and their complexity. 

Tune in to find out all about this cave, Neanderthals, and a great amount of info surrounding their deaths! 

In Loving Memory; Kamoya Kimeu

To donate to the GoFundMe, click on this link.

Today, sad news is reaching the Paleoanthropological world as it seems to be doing often this year. We have lost many great minds of the anthropological world, from Richard Leakey, and now to the famous fossil hunter Kamoya Kimeu, most famous for discovering the Turkana Boy skeleton in the Turkana Basin in 1983.

It is sad that I have yet again to need to write another obituary, but I feel none of it is said better than the way Louise Leakey put it, a close family friend, who is now trying to raise money to cover medical bills and debt that was caused by Kamoya’s sudden illness, which eventually proved fatal.

I would like to simply share the words from the GoFundMe page, and hope that you spread the news, and help us raise as much money as possible to cover costs of medical bills, and funeral needs.

Thank you.

Some very sad news just received from Kamoya Kimeu’s daughter, Jennifer Kamoya, who has informed me that Kamoya Kimeu has just passed away.

He was admitted to hospital in Nairobi two weeks ago, with complications in kidney function. Kamoya’s family have sadly incurred a debilitating medical bill, and it is my hope that those who knew Kamoya and who appreciate his many contributions to understanding our past, can help me to raise some support for the family to clear the debt. I will pass this on to them as it comes in. 

We are appealing to friends and well-wishers, to those who knew Kamoya personally or who appreciate his many contributions to understanding our past, to make any contribution, large or small, that can help support the family to clear the debt.

Kamoya was a fossil hunting legend. He worked extensively in the Turkana Basin from 1968 through to his retirement in 1993. His most remarkable find was that of the Turkana Boy skeleton, from Nariokotome, in 1983. This iconic, 1.6 million-year-old Homo erectus skeleton was highly significant due to its completeness. Nothing like it has ever been found since in east Africa. His many other discoveries have contributed enormously to the understanding of human prehistory.

Kamoya was recently awarded an honorary degree from Case Western University, in recognition of his major contribution to the field of paleoanthropology. He worked with both Louis and Mary Leakey at Olduvai and went on to explore the Turkana Basin and managed the field teams between 1969 and the year 2000.

Always with a jovial smile, positive attitude and extraordinary resolve to get through difficult situations, his perseverance and leadership led to the many important fossil discoveries both of animals and hominins at Lake Turkana. He was a mentor to many who have followed in his path. He will be greatly missed.

Kamoya leaves his wife, Mary Mbiki Kamoya and children- Steve Kamoya, Boniface Kamoya, Jacinta Syokau, John Kilonzo, Jenniffer Mwelu and Nicholas Makau.

Please share this as widely as possible. Your support is most appreciated.

Louise Leakey

(With the blessing of Kamoyas family)”

The face of the oldest hominin in Europe has been found in Atapuerca!

*To discuss and chat, and to help me out, please also view on Academia.edu!

Paleoanthropology is the study of our shared Human Origins. We know from near 100 years of study, that our lineage began in Africa, somewhere between 6 and 7 mya. (Million Years Ago). 

There have been numerous finds that support this theory, known as the Recent African Origins Hypothesis, or better known as the Out of Africa 2 Model. We have empirical evidence, the fossil record to support what we know and think about our evolution in Africa during this time. From the Australopiths that lived 3-4 million years ago, to the rise of our genus, Homo. 

DVD 1114 (08-07-22) Presentación del descubrimiento de la cara del primer europeo, en el yacimiento de Atapuerca. De izquierda a derecha, Rosa Huguet, Jose María Bermúdez de Castro, Gonzalo Santonja, Eudald Carbonell y Juan Luis Arsuaga. Foto Samuel Sanchez

Another great question that many anthropologists have, is how did modern humans get where they are today? Or, especially, how did the many various hominin fossils that we have found around the world, arrive there? We have Neanderthals all across Europe and the Levant, Denisovans in Asia, and more. All of these hominins date to well within the last 1 million years. 

At a site in Spain, the farthest western area of Europe, we have the well known area of Atapuerca. It is a great case, where many hominin fossils have been found. Thus far, the fossils found in this chasm have been dated to being the oldest hominin fossils in Europe, dating to around 1.2 mya. While the fossils in Dmanisi date to around 1.8 mya, it is not considered to be apart of Europe, and not only that, but those specimen seem to be Homo erectus. The fossils found here, are much different. 

In 2007 a jaw of an unknown hominin species was discovered in level 9 of Sima del Elafante, and at the time it was declared the oldest hominin in Europe. Now, lower in the chasm, by about two meters lower, another jaw, and tooth have been discovered, dating to about 1.4 mya. This is big news, as this makes it the oldest hominin in Europe by 200ky if not more. 

Now the important thing to remember, is how far away Spain is from Africa, to have hominins this old so far away from Africa, changes how we think about the diaspora of hominins out of Africa. When did they leave? Where did they arrive, and how long were they there? 

What species of hominin could they be? One possibility is that they belong to the known species H. antecessor which is believed to be the last common ancestor of Modern Humans, Neanderthals, and possibly even Denisovans. 

An important thing to keep in mind however, is the dates have been calculated by where they are in the chasm, they have not been dated yet using a typical method, which will take about a year to get the final results in. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the partial mandible and face that was found, is that there is a distinct, very human like chin. Something that we do not see in any other species besides our own. So what could this species be? As always, there will be more to learn and to figure out, but this find is truly astonishing and adds to another year of amazing finds. 

The fossil was discovered by Édgar Téllez, on June 30th 2022, so this is truly very breaking news. There is just so much we can investigate and learn about this, and it is only the beginning. 

Téllez quickly warned Rosa Huguet, coordinator of the Sima del Elefante site. “His face when he saw what he had found was different than other times,” the scientist recalls.” (1) 

The fossils have been presented this Friday in the town of Burgos by the three co-directors of Atapuerca (Juan Luis Arsuaga, José María Bermúdez de Castro and Eudald Carbonell), by Rosa Huguet and by Gonzalo Santonja, Minister of Culture of Castilla y León.”(1) 

“This discovery will probably help us to know the species that socialized Europe,” Carbonell said. It is possible that there are previous hominids, he has argued, but these were the ones that began to establish the most numerous and permanent populations.” (1) 

Along with the partial face, the tooth that was discovered may present a good opportunity for protein analysis, which can inform us a great deal about these hominins, from their health, to what they ate, and so much more. 

Keep an eye out on this space for more information on this incredible find as it becomes available! 

Until next time; there is always more to learn! 

Sources: 

Hallada en Atapuerca la cara del humano más antiguo de Europa

Race, Monogamy and other Lies they Told You, a chat with Dr. Agustin Fuentes!

On this episode of “The Story of Us” we are chatting with longtime friend of the show, Prof. Fuentes out of Princeton.

While the original book was published ten years ago, we are now lucky enough to be getting a second edition! Listen to our chat; learn about what the motives behind the book are, and why you should pick up a copy as soon as you see one!

This book can, and if you read it correctly, will change the way in which you view Humanity.

“There are many ways to be Human”-Dr. Fuentes

We had a great time chatting, and hope you learn from what we had to say!

There is always more to learn!

*Video is Processing, check back soon for your viewing pleasure!*

Join Dr Fuentes and I as we discuss his new book!

Sterkfontein Caves, a Million Years Older?

A new dating technology developed by Purdue researcher Darryl Granger is being used to re-date breccia blocks containing many of the world’s most famous South African hominin fossils.

Four different Australopithecus crania that were found in the Sterkfontein caves, South Africa. The Sterkfontein cave fill containing this and other Australopithecus fossils was dated to 3.4 to 3.6 million years ago, far older than previously thought. The new date overturns the long-held concept that South African Australopithecus is a younger offshoot of East African Australopithecus afarensis. Credit: Jason Heaton and Ronald Clarke, in cooperation with the Ditsong Museum of Natural History.

Using this new technique, (which measures the Cosmogenic Nuclides in the rock), at the world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sterkfontein Caves have been famously known for the number of hominin fossils found within the caves.

It is by far one of the richest Australopith sites in South Africa and has been a backbone for South African Anthropology for nearly one hundred years.

Dating to what we thought was about 2.5-2.7 million years old, famous fossils such as Mrs. Ples were once thought to be a younger branch of the East African Australopithecus lines.

This may throw that in doubt.

The new dating method, which has thus far only been applied to the Sterkfontein fossils, is showing them to be a whole million years older than we once believed, placing them around 3.6 million years old. Which is older than the “Lucy” skeleton discovered in the ’70s.

However, with any new technology, it is essential to understand that there will be a margin of error, and in the way that this method works, the faunal dates that are often used to help identify the date of fossils, need not apply. This could be positive or negative for those doing the research.

It is important to realize why this is so important, understanding the paleo landscape of where our ancient relatives lived, is key to understanding how they acted, what they did, and why. Knowing how old a fossil is, and where it belongs on the fossil record, is critical to understanding its place on our braided family bush.

While it is going to take further testing and time to tell whether this new method is as successful and predictable as previous methods. As this first paper comes out detailing this new and exciting science (linked below) we can see the promise of such a new method.

We will see where it lands us, but the prospect of these new dates and their implications is very exciting! The more we learn, the less it seems that we know!

There is always more to learn!

Seth Chagi

Find the Linked Paper here:

Dr. Briana Pobiner-The Story of Us

*Premiering in 45 minutes!*

Today on this episode of The Story of Us, we are featuring someone I specifically look up to as a science communicator and paleoanthropologist in training, Dr. Briana Pobiner of the Smithsonian! 

The list of activities and successes of Dr. Pobiner’s career are note worthy, and worth just listening to this episode to hear why she is so deserving of such acknowledgements. 


From inspiring young children to fully grown adults, to seniors, the excitement of Paleoanthropology and science in general drives her on to do some pretty amazing things. 

Learn about why science communication, or SciComm is so important, and critical to creating a healthy and sustained society for the future of the human race. 

Join us today! 

Yves Coppens, Yet Another Lost This Year, Rest In Peace.

 Today, yet again, I have sad news to report. Once again, in 2022 we have another great paleoanthropologist that has been lost to the annals of age and time. Last night, word spread that we lost Dr. Yves Coppens. A French paleoanthropologist, who in his home country is known as the discoverer of the Lucy skeleton, known as the “father” of Lucy. 

Truth be told, to make clear the issue where you may be wondering, did Dr. Don Johanson not discover Lucy? The story is, that Dr. Coppens was the director of the field site for years, before the discovery of Lucy. Once he retired from the position and was no longer the leader of the expedition, Don came in, and in 1974 made the Lucy discovery. 

Despite this, Coppens played a major role in the management and direction of the site. It is very clear and important to understand that Lucy may not have ever been discovered had the work that Dr. Coppens had done, had not been done. 

A former professor at the College De France, which is considered to be the most prestigious scientific establishment in France, and in 2014 was named an Ordinary Member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope Francis. Having 4 doctorates, and belonging to dozens of scientific organizations across Europe, let us not forget the many awards that he achieved during his career. 

Leading an incredibly interesting, and well-lived life, Dr. Coppens will be missed dearly by his loved ones, colleagues, and those that he leaves behind. 

His work, however, will live on and continue to inform us about the history of our early Human Origins. 

May the Coppens family have the peace and quiet that they need to heal and recover from this great loss, and we from the World of Paleoanthropology send them our best, and sincerest wishes. 

Best Anthropology Audiobooks to listen to (or read) in 2022!

Reading is one of the most magical things that we can do. The creation of written language goes back thousands of years, and constitutes “History”. Anything before systems of writing were invented, is determined to be “Pre-History”. Considering that writing has only existed for around 5 ky, and our species has been around for nearly 300 ky, most of our time on this earth is indeed, pre-historic. But once we discovered the magic of writing, our worlds expanded to bounds we had no concept of achieving before. Writing and reading allowed us to manage people and systems in ways that allowed populations to grow, for cities to form, for laws and regulations to be made and followed.

            Reading has been an essential skill to the human experience for thousands of years. But, as with all things, reading evolves and changes. Sometimes we want to read a great book that we have heard about, or one that has been on our waiting list for a long period. A great new way to “read” books, is via listening to them. This comes in the form of audiobooks.

            There are many providers of audiobooks out there, and you are free to use the service that you would prefer, the links provided here are to just get you to the book so you can have an idea of where and how to purchase it. Audiobooks are truly the next evolutionary step in reading and writing. It allows us to consume knowledge and wisdom while we do other tasks, such as driving, or doing chores. Multitasking may in fact be a less effective way to achieve tasks, but in some cases it is beneficial; and this is one of the cases.

            Audiobooks are a great way to introduce the world of reading to people who may have trouble reading, for whatever reason, or for those who just do not have the time to sit down and read a good book. Thankfully, I have created this list of some of the top audiobooks that I have listened to that will enlighten you on the world of anthropology. All of these audiobooks, in my opinion, are 5 stars and are well worth the read. They are not listed in any particular order, and are all worth listening to, or getting a copy of and reading.

            And with no further ado, here we go!

The Book of Hope by Dr. Jane Goodall

The Book of Hope by Dr. Jane Goodall is a wonderful tale of why we need to always look for the light at the end of the tunnel. While things may seem dark, both socially, economically, environmentally and more, there is always a way in which we can help. Even if we do the small things in life to contribute to the health of the planet, we can help those who need it most. There are massive ways we can change and develop new ways to live on this world, in a way that will not destroy it, or us. Listen to Jane herself, as she recounts many of her tales from her long, and exciting life. There are many ways in which we can find hope, and this book is a great way to plant and grow that seed.

The World Before Us by Dr. Tom Higham

The World Before Us is a great adventure into the past of Neanderthals, Modern Humans, and our relationships with them, which is found in the DNA. Dr. Higham is an expert in the fields of radio carbon dating, and exerts his expertise in this book to explain the last 50k years or so of human evolution. If you are interested in the history of radio carbon dating, as well as updates on the new dates for many well known sites, which reveals new information, and causes us to ask even more questions. As science develops, we are able to apply new techniques to old discoveries, which is what the focus of this book is, and the author does a great job of doing so.

First Steps How Upright Walking Made Us Human by Dr. Jeremy DeSilva

Dr. Jeremy DeSilva is a paleoanthropologist who is fascinated by the aspects of what caused us to start to walk upright, or bipedally. In this book, we explore the many theories, both plausible, and less plausible, that allowed for us to make this biological change. There are many reasons why we may walk bipedally, and in this book we explore many of those reasons in a well written, easy to understand way. Discover the history of some of the most famous fossil finds, such as those at Laetoli. Dr. DeSilva is on the cutting edge of bipedalism and the effects it has on the human body.

KINDRED Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes:

Kindred is one of those books, which absolutely takes you on a journey. A journey through time with another set of people who were different, and thought differently than we do. Yet their world, is expressed in ways that we can understand. While many scholars will point to the fact that this is very much a book for anyone, with interpretations made through out, some with less backing than others, this is still an amazingly well researched book, which presents itself well in a way that is easy to process. This book is science communication at some of its best. If you are interested in Neanderthals, there is no better book to stay up to date and learn the very most about our enigmatic relatives.

Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind by Yuvai Noah Harari:

Considered to be a cornerstone of “what a moderne anthropologist should read” by many, the author of this book does not mince words. Analyzing the last 7 my or so, up until the rise of modern civilizations and the age of today, this book touches on a great deal of what it means to be a. Human in today’s society, and what it may have meant in the past. This book is a long, very scientifically written book, that, while not above the average reader, does require their full attention at times to understand what is going on. Despite that, another great addition to the list.

The Sediments of Time by Meave Leakey with Samira Leakey:

In this book, which is in a sense an autobiography of the author, with the help of her daughter, to recount the tales and stories of her time in the fields fossil hunting in Kenya (and other localities). Being an accomplished fossil hunter herself, being married to the son of the most famous, or at least boisterous fossil hunter to ever live, Richard Leakey. As a member of the “Hominid Gang”, Meave has a very unique and interesting view on the events that took place in Africa and the fossil world around these times, and if you are interested in the history of the field, this is a must read, especially in the light of the passing of Dr. Richard Leakey earlier this year.

The Creative Spark, How Imagination made Humans Exceptional:

The Creative Spark by Agustin Fuentes is wonderful book in understanding human behavior, from our earliest relatives, to the way that we behave today. Gong deep inside the reasons for why we do what we do and act how we act, this narrative is a great way to explore the human psyche, and to learn all about the evolution of our thoughts and minds. The Author does a great job of catching the readers attention, and keeping them entertained, and educated the entire time. If you are looking for a book on the early thoughts on human cognition, this is a great option for you!

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Groeber & David Wengrow:

Written by two very well trained archaeoanthropologists, (one of whom which passed before the completion of the book), this book takes a very different approach on history and anthropology than any mainstream book before. Taking ideas that we have all long held dear, and shaking their foundations, and to their core. While the topics may not be new, the way in which the authors examine them in this book is beyond new thinking. While controversial for some, this book is on the leading edge of understanding what it means to be human in todays day and age.

Almost Human: The Astonishing Tale of Homo naledi and the Discovery That Changed Our Human Story by Lee Berger & John Hawks

This is truly an astonishing tale, not based so much on the anthropology itself, but rather of the life of a discoverer, and some of the massive discoveries he has made and contributed to this field. H. naledi is a new enigmatic species of human ancestor that continues to create new, and dramatically interesting questions about who they were, where they came from, and how they got in the incredibly hard cave that they were discovered in. Read along as you join the Rising Star cave expedition, and learn all there is to know about Homo naledi in the early days of its discovery.

Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes by Svante Pääbo:

If you are interested in Neanderthals, and their history, then this is another great book for you. While it does not focus on their culture, or who they were as a people, its main focus is the more genetic, the down right scientific. Within the last twenty years we have obtained, and deciphered the entire Neanderthal genome, but this did not start no where, and there has been a tremendous amount of work that has been put into this project. But there has been a great amount of reward from these endeavors as well. But what will come next? Read on to find out!

Well there you have it! While of course there are many other great books out there that did not make it on to this list, either because I felt these options were better, or perhaps even because I have not heard of, or read the books on your list! But I would love to hear what some of your top reads are!            

Whether you are an amateur anthropologist and just starting out, or someone more adept in the field, all of these books listed here have something to offer, and I highly recommend checking each one out, and giving them a chance! Thank you, and happy reading!

Seth Chagi

Project Director

World of Paleoanthropology

The Earliest Stone Tools…Not Oldowan?

*Updated with more Accurate Information*

If you would like, and can, please also view on Academia.edu

Lithic technology, or stone tool complexes, are extraordinarily important to the human story. It is part of what makes us so utterly unique, despite the fact that other creatures in the animal kingdom, such as Chimps and Bonobos use tools, our unique ability to craft advanced tools, has allowed us to progress as far as we have on this Earth. There are multiple stone tool complexes, which can be viewed almost as cultures. We know that certain species were able to produce certain tools, and as cultures and humans evolved, so did our stone tools. The Stone Age, across the areas of the earth is critical time in our development. 

We learn new things about how we evolved, both biologically and behaviorally, each day, and with new discoveries surrounding stone tools, we can begin to get a more clear picture of the way in which our ancestors used these tools, and created new and innovative ways to craft them. For a long period of time, and still depending on who you ask, the oldest stone tool complex is the Oldowan Stone Tool Complex. 

The earliest evidence of Oldowan Stone Tools, comes from Gona Ethiopia, dating to about 2.6 million years ago, first discovered by the Leakey’s during their many excavations in the area. “Explore some examples of Early Stone Age tools. The earliest stone toolmaking developed by at least 2.6 million years ago. The Early Stone Age began with the most basic stone implements made by early humans. These Oldowan toolkits include hammerstones, stone cores, and sharp stone flakes. By about 1.76 million years ago, early humans began to make Acheulean hand-axes and other large cutting tools (1).”

For a long period of time, the Oldowan tools were believed to be the oldest stone tool kit that early human ancestors created. But, this seems to be about to change. “In 2010, researchers found fossilized animal bones in Kenya dating to 3.4 million years ago with cut marks on them—possibly made from a stone tool, though still controversial. Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy’s species) was the only human ancestor or relative around at the same time and place. (*This has been proven to be inaccurate, as most paleoanthropologists agree there were multiple hominin taxons across Africa at the same time). Another hominin, Australopithecus africanus, appears to have had a grip strong enough for tool use. Studies show chimpanzees use rocks as hammers or anvils on their own in the wild, and, with a little guidance, bonobos are capable of creating stone tools (3).”

This discovery, pushes back what we know about the creation of stone tools about roughly 700,000 years, which is incredible, and changes a great deal about what we know about early Australopithecine cognition, and ability to form complex tools. While the marks on these bones are controversial, the fact that they are found near these stones that seem to be manipulated by a creatures hand, it is hard to argue that this is a new complex that was previously unknown. 

Knapped stone artifacts were found in place called Lomekwi 3 in Kenya in 2011 by Sonia Harmand and Co-Author Jason Lewis, from Stony Brook University. With these tools dating to 3.3 million years ago, it completely changes how we view when and where stone tools were created, and why. With the oldest stone tools dating nearly a million years earlier than we thought, it is incredible to imagine the possibilities that we have yet to discover. As always, there is always more to learn, so never stop!

While there is still so much more to learn, we must never stop trying to find the answers, who knows what next discovery is on the horizon. These new Lomekwian tools, which may be the oldest ever created, need a great deal of research to further understand just exactly what we have found. There is just always so much going on in the world of paleoanthropology, it is important to keep up with what is going on, and to understand all of the changes, new ideas, and discoveries that seemingly are made everyday. 

Until next time, there is always more to learn! 

Sources:

Stone Tools

Early Stone Age Tools

The Oldest Stone Tools Yet Discovered Are Unearthed in Kenya

3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya

World’s oldest stone tools discovered in Kenya

What is Race, and if it’s not real, why do we look so different?

There are many misconceptions about race in our modern day world, and in fact for the last few centuries of scientific work.

The belief that people belong to different races, and that some are better than others has caused some of the worst problems in human history, from hate crimes to genocide, race is a major player in many cultures around the world.

But what does it mean? Science points to the idea that there is little to no differences between the populations of modern day humans on Earth.

Of course there is a range of fair modern variation, but as long as we fit into that, we all belong to the same species, H. sapiens. While we do look different, and we do things differently, these differences are caused by culture, and ecological niches, the needs of the environment, and the ways in which people interact with it.

This is but a brief introduction to race, why it doesn’t exist, and how we can overcome some of the systemic problems of race and racism.

Map: https://www.grida.no/resources/7125

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There is always more to learn!