Out of Africa-into Asia and out of Asia into Africa again?

pebble tools

These are some “pebble cores” of unknown age of the the “Serre Pluma” site in St Marcel d’Ardèche.  If these selectively collected objects are artifacts or geofacts remains open for discussion. After the discoveries at Olduvai Bed I, many series comparable  to the one shown here, all over Europe, were used to substantiate the presence of an Oldowan / Pre-Acheulian on the continent at a very early time-point (Early Pleistocene; > 800 k.a. BP). The ensemble shown in this post is very similar to findings  at the Pont-de-Lavaud in the Creuse Valley (see below).  Anyhow  it would be prudent to remain skeptic about such “surface” findings but we should stay open minded for new findings within an undisturbed and convincing context. In general we should accept such findings only, if major parts of the refitting sequences can be reconstructed from the lithic material and point to human agency .

Out of Africa: The first core and flake ensemble (“Oldowan”) so far were recently found at Lomekwi in Kenya incorporated in sediments about 3,3 million years old. Therefore the beginning of tool making seems to have occurred long before the advent of the genus Homo.  After  2,7 Ma such “Mode I” ensembles are common along the Rift valley and South Africa. Thes ensembles comprise flakes and the cores from which they were struck. The cores are simple in that they were not shaped prior to flaking, and no attempts were made to detach flakes of particular sizes or shapes. The main types recognized are choppers ,chopping tools, unretouched flakes and simple scrapers.

The very early prehistory of hominins in Asia before 300 k.a. is often summarized as the outcome of one ore multiple dispersal event from Africa around 1,8 Ma. (“Out of Africa 1”). However, very little is known about the faunal record of much of Asia before 1.8 Ma, and it remains unclear when hominins first left Africa.

Into Asia and back to Africa again? : Early human peopling outside Africa  is well established in the Near East, including the Caucasus, at 1,8 Ma at Dmanisi, Georgia and 1,0-1,4 Ma at Ubeidiya, Israel. A mixed landscape of open parkland with surrounding forested hills had developed when the earliest hominins entered the region. Some sites in the basin of El Kowm with “Oldowan” artifacts may also belong to late Early / early Middle Pleistocene human sites of the Near East.

The Dmanisi hominins had small brains (ca. 630–775 cc), and were probably 1,5 m or less in height, and their post-cranial skeleton exhibited a mixture of modern and archaic features. There is ongoing debate over whether the Dmanisi sample represents a new species, H. Georgicus, a new sub-species, H. Erectus Georgicus, more than one species, or is part of a polytypic species of H. Erectus that might also include the East African H. Habilis and H. Rudofensis.

Despite these differences of opinion, most researchers would agree that they are a primitive form of the genus Homo. Some even suggest they may also be ancestral to both early East African populations of H. Erectus (or H. Ergaster) as well as the Javan and Chinese H. Erectus sensu strictu. That is to say, H. Erectus may have originated in Asia, and then migrated back into Africa, as well as eastwards across southern Asia to Java and possibly north China. Without more specimens from Southwest Asia, this possibility cannot be excluded.

The most significant aspect of the Dmanisi evidence is that hominins did not need large brains or bodies in order to leave Africa; this clearly implies that earlier, small-bodied and small-brained hominins might also have done the same. Some researchers have, for example, suggested that the late Pleistocene, diminutive H. Floresiensis from Flores, Indonesia, has Australopithecus affinities, which may in turn imply a very early dispersal event by the hobbit’s ancestors from Africa.

At present, the earliest securely dated skeletal evidence for hominins further east of Georgia   dates from 1.63 Ma from China (Gongwangling, Lantian County), and approximately 1.6 Ma from Java (Sangiran ;approximately 1.5–1.6 Ma.).

However, artifactual evidence points even to an earlier presence: examples are a small assemblage from Riwat, Pakistan, that is at least 1,9 Ma old and new dates from Longgupo, China, with artifacts dated to approximately 2,2 Ma.The next oldest sites with stone tools are from the Nihewan Basin in North China, where the sites of Majuangou and Xaiochangliang are dated by paleomagnetism to approximately 1,66 and 1,36 Ma, respectively. All these assemblages are broadly similar to Oldowan ones from East Africa dating from 2,75 Ma. In summary “Out of Africa 1” was probably a series of dispersal events that according to the data were not always necessarily one-way from Africa to Asia.

chopper aggsbach

Out of Africa and out of Asia into Europe? The earliest fossil hominid remains in Europe, from around 780 k.a BP or older were found in the Gran Dolina, layer TD6, a site in the Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain. At Level TD-6 the micromammal species represent the late Biharian (Mimomys savini zone), and the lithic artifacts exhibit a Mode-1 technology. The origin of the TD-6 hominins is unknown, but they may represent a speciation event from Homo ergaster/Homo erectus. The results for TD6 provided a mean age of 731± 63 k.a., which is in agreement with the paleomagnetic and biostratigraphic data. Taking all this information into account, TD6 level should be located at the end of the Early Pleistocene (i.e. >800 k.a.) In addition along with the Atapuerca TD6 site, the BL and FN3 sites in the Orce basin, dated here as older than 780 k.a BP and probably older than 1.07 Ma and the newly discovered Vallparadís site (Barcelona, Spain), dated from the upper boundary of the Jaramillo subchron.  

Monte Poggiolo is a Mode 1 site is found in northeast Italy, on the southeastern margin of the Po river valley. The archaeological locality lies on the Monte Poggiolo hill, 180 m. above sea level, in 5 m thick sandy coastal gravels.  Paleomagnetism and ESR analysis on quartz grains carried out on the detrital sediments of the archaeological provided an upper Matuyama age, around 800 Ka. The lithic assemblage is in fresh condition and shows no traces of significant fluvial or marine post depositional transport. This is supported by the 76 refit tings recorded at the site. Some of them amazingly reconstruct the complete original core and each refitted group is found in the same stratigraphic level and in a narrowly defined area.

The Pirro Nord site, situated at the north-western margin of the Gargano promontory in Apulia, close to the village of Apricena was dated between 1.3 and 1.6 Ma on a bichronological basis. Pirro Nord became important by the discovery of an unequivocal Mode-1 industry. The reduction sequences at this site were always short and opportunistic, finalized to obtain flakes that were only rarely retouched.

Evidence for Early Palaeolithic industries with an in situ context indicates that Hominins were allready present on the European continent  in the center of France around 1.1 Ma (Pont-de-Lavaud in the Creuse Valley, Lunery in the Cher Valley and Saint-Hilaire-la-Gravelle in the Loire Valley). At Lunery, for example, ca. 500 pieces have been collected and can be related to a human action. At these early sites, Hominids are present in deposits that relate to the beginning and end of cold Periods. This Evidence indicates that Hominids reached the latitude of 45 N and indeed further north towards eastern England during warm and temperate episodes.

Suggested Reading: 

http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/bspf_0249-7638_1955_num_52_5_3202Publication

http://whc.unesco.org/documents/publi_paper_series_41_en.pdf

http://whc.unesco.org/documents/ publi_paper_series_33_en.pdf

http://whc.unesco.org/en/series/39/

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