Friday, October 23, 2009

"Behaviorally Modern" and the affiliated "Magic Date"

At basic, one might surmise that "behaviorally modern" implies behavior that contemporary human populations can instantly relate to. However, precisely, what does it mean to be "behaviorally modern", as it relates to human prehistory; do the players in the academia use this term in the same context or apply it on the basis of a set scholarly code? For certain, "behaviorally modern" has been a recurring terminology in a number of articles over the years. Recounting one such appearance, here is a piece from Reuters dating back to early 2006 or so, titled Radiocarbon review rewrites European prehistory:

The ancestors of modern man moved into and across Europe, ousting the Neanderthals, faster than previously thought, a new analysis of radiocarbon data shows. Rather than taking some 7,000 years to colonize Europe from Africa, the reinterpreted data shows the process may only have taken 5,000 years, scientist Paul Mellars from Cambridge University said in the science journal Nature on Wednesday... Populations of anatomically and behaviorally modern humans **first appeared** in the near eastern region some 45,000 years ago and slowly expanded into southeastern Europe.

More recently, the matter cropped up in a Science Daily article of August 4th, 2009; the article noted:

...there has been a longstanding disagreement whether humans began to increase in number as a result of innovative technologies and/or behaviors formulated by hunter-gatherer groups in the Late Pleistocene, or with the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic...

Well, what does molecular genetics, a comparatively younger field have to say about this? The Science Daily article in question proceeds to tell the audience this:

ScienceDaily (Aug. 4, 2009)Genetic evidence is revealing that human populations began to expand in size in Africa during the Late Stone Age approximately 40,000 years ago. A research team led by Michael F. Hammer (Arizona Research Laboratory's Division of Biotechnology at the University of Arizona) found that sub-Saharan populations increased in size well before the development of agriculture.

One can see from Science Daily's report, that molecular genetics answers the pressing matter of the causative behind the initial explosion(s) of human population size, which is torn between the aforementioned opposing factions of academia. However, that "magic date" of ca. 40 k or 45 k years ago shows its head again. What is up with the persistent latching onto that date or time frame? One would think that in concordance to archaeological finds, not to mention that of DNA sequencing just now talked about, that academia would have by now moved on from such 'rigid' thinking! Upon revisiting that Science Daily piece,...

...there has been a longstanding disagreement whether humans began to increase in number as a result of innovative technologies and/or behaviors formulated by hunter-gatherer groups in the Late Pleistocene, or with the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic...

...and then thinking back to such articles, like for example...

—Oldest Jewelry? "Beads" Discovered in African Cave [Blombos finds]

— Tiny Ancient Shells -- 80,000 Years Old -- Point To Earliest Fashion Trend [finds at 4 sites in Morocco]

—African Bone Tools Dispute Key Idea About Human Evolution When Did Modern Behavior Emerge in Humans?

Not to mention one about Homo Erectus "urbanization" in northern and eastern Africa. gets an idea of the recurring theme of these finds, which is that the thesis centered on the 'magical' era of a supposed "unprecedented" sudden burst of human "intellectual" ingenuity around 45 ky or 40 ky ago or so is no longer tenable. Getting back to the question posed at the beginning of this post, pertaining to what "behaviorally modern" means and whether it has been framed according to discretion of individuals or according to a settled academic standard, let's take a look back at one of the articles listed above—the one published by National Geographic in 2004, titled Oldest Jewelry? "Beads" Discovered in African Cave. In a segment of that article titled "Weighing the Evidence", this is said of one observer's (by the name of Bower) reaction to Blombos Cave bead findings:

When is a bead a bead? The two ostrich-eggshell beads found at the Serengeti site are unquestionably beads, but questions pertaining to the accuracy of their dating at 70,000 years old remain. By contrast, the date of the Blombos artifacts is fairly certain, but some question exists as to whether they are actually beads. "The photographs [of the Blombos beads] look pretty convincing, but I'd like to see them in the flesh," Bower said. "A lot of shells like that have perforations, where they've been dropped by seagulls or occur through natural agencies. I'm cautiously convinced; it doesn't surprise me they occurred in a middle Stone Age context, since we found [beads] in Serengeti also."

Another observer...

The presence of beads, whether used as trade items, to convey group status, or to identify group members or relationships within a group suggests some form of language existed, says Henshilwood, who is affiliated with the University of Bergen, Norway, and the State University of New York. "What the beads might symbolize is unknown, but it does imply that there had to be some means of communicating meaning, which plausibly is language," Henshilwood said. 

"Everyone knew what it meant, just as today if you're wearing Gucci sunglasses or a diamond tennis bracelet, there's a message being put out."

Notwithstanding differences in the circumstances under which they were made, the observations of the two observers above converge, where viewing the artifacts as "beads" is concerned; that is, an item of "symbolism" and thereof with cultural value and message, something that populations can relate to "today". Contrast the two above-mentioned observers with the next one...

Richard Klein, an anthropologist at Stanford University who has worked extensively at dig sites in South Africa, is a major proponent of the idea that modern behavior appeared rapidly, around 45,000 years ago, possibly as the result of a genetic change that facilitated our use of language. He is not convinced that the shells found at Blombos are actually beads. "The holes are irregular and look fresh," Klein said. 

"We need to know why [the investigators at the Blombos site] think they were made by human hand and how they think they were made—were the holes punched out, did they file them, were they drilled out? Shell beads are very common in late Stone Age coastal sites, and you can see they're clearly modified as beads.  

"There are ten sites in South Africa that have been excavated, and at only one do we find this kind of evidence for precocious behavior. I don't think the case has been clearly made yet that these are beads." Klein also notes that the history of archaeology is littered with examples where later deposits of archaeological artifacts have slumped into older layers.
The isolated finds from middle Stone Age sites in Africa, even if correctly dated, don't necessarily indicate widespread "modern" behavior.

"don't necessarily indicate widespread "modern" behavior"? Perhaps one might figure that Klein is one of those personalities who suffer from the aforementioned "rigid thinking"despite findings piling up which necessitate modification in one's thinking, bent on defending his vision of the 45k "magical moment" of human ingenuity for the first time in prehistory, spurred by some genetic mutation. This is how archaeologist Donald Johanson described Klein's viewpoint, consistent with the Science Daily article on the same matter revolving around some unprecedented "genetic change",...

"Klein, on the other hand, proffers the notion that it was probably a biological change brought about by mutations that played the key role in the emergence of behaviorally modern humans. His biologically based explanation implies that a major neural reorganization of the brain resulted in a significant enhancement in the manner in which the brain processed information. This is a difficult hypothesis to test since brains do not fossilize. But it is significant that no changes are seen in the shape of the skulls between earlier and later Homo sapiens."


"It can only be surmised from the archaeological record, which contains abundant evidence for ritual and art, that these Upper Paleolithic/Late Stone Age peoples possessed language abilities equivalent to our own. For many anthropologists this represents the final evolutionary leap to full modernity."

Indeed, Klein's thesis of a sudden genetic mutation event as the causative in the "magical time frame" of ca 45k years ago cannot be discerned from fossil record, but it is precisely from such material, along with other aspects of archaeological index, that make it possible to discern the extent of human ingenuity. On another hand, one might say that perhaps Klein is to be forgiven for not being mindful of all the information now available at the time the cited comments here were made. Well, despite the fact that Klein must have been aware of the Serengeti finds in Tanzania that were also mentioned in the article under discussion, which also happened to be made up of beads, not to mention the matter of the "African Bone Tools", he still had himself convinced that these were not indicative enough of widespread "precocious behavior". In keeping with the matter at hand, Klein attempts to equate the Blombos finds with Michelangelo's "creativity", presumably as an "isolated" undertaking of an individual...

"You could have the prehistoric equivalent of a Michelangelo," Klein said. "An individual far ahead of his time, able to come up with innovative ideas that the rest of society doesn't adopt."

In making that analogy, it appears that it hadn't dawned on Klein that Michelangelo was a product of a society that already had 'culture' in place, i.e. culture with its own collections of symbolism or messages encoded through conduct and material. His "creativity" was an outgrowth of 'culture(s)' [beliefs, traditions, social order and conduct, social conditioning from childhood and so forth] that he was immersed in. It is against this backdrop, that this "creativity" was appreciated and deemed to have "meaning" in the first place; without that preexisting cultural background, Michelangelo's "creativity" would have ceased being viewed as a "necessity" [we shall shortly take a look at Henshilwood's factoring in the different environments and their associated various guises of necessity as possible influences in human behavior development]. Getting back to those "excuses" that could be made for Klein's shortsightedness, the aforementioned Henshilwood was cited by the National Geographic article rationalizing as follows...

The Coastal Advantage Henshilwood has a different theory to explain why evidence of symbolic thinking or "modern" behavior shows up in only some of the middle Stone Age sites, rather than all of them. "The answer could be that it's not a behavior that's necessarily required everywhere," he says. Early modern humans living in a region with plenty of land animals, for instance, wouldn't be motivated to develop specialized tools to catch fish. In addition, Henshilwood thinks the people at Blombos may have had a nutritional advantage. "We know today that fish is brain food," he said. "It's possible that people living in coastal regions just had a lot more going on. Remember, modern humans followed the coastline and reached Australia about 60,000 years ago, and they had to figure out how to build a boat to get there." He says the "creative explosion" that took place around 45,000 years ago could be merely the result of facing new environmental and social pressures. Such pressures might have included an increase in population and competition with other species outside of Africa, like the Neandertals, who had occupied Europe for several hundred thousand years.

Note Henshilwood's factoring in of environmental influence and associated necessity born out of that. Again, however, we come across this need for accommodating the so-called magical era [45ky] of 'creative explosion'. A case can be made that there were other hominids in Africa as well, whom the then outgoing Africans had to confront before minding about remnants of earlier OOA migrants outside of the continent. Surviving on the continent was no cakewalk by any means, and perhaps, the reason for human expansions elsewhere to begin with, if not in part! Could the tunnel vision-like-approach of this "magic era of creative explosion" viewpoint be in anyway affiliated with the advent of the arrival of ancestors of Europeans in the European sub-continent; in other words, "the magic era of creative explosion to coincide with the arrival of the immediate ancestors of contemporary Europeans", which is generally placed within the vicinity of the time frame of 40k to 42k or between 40k and 45k years ago? Such link at the moment requires unequivocal substantiation that needs to be further investigated, but Donald Johanson for his part, makes it a point to inform his audience that this "creative explosion" took place first in Africa before spreading elsewhere:

The archaeological picture changed dramatically around 40-50,000 years ago with the appearance of behaviorally modern humans. This was an abrupt and dramatic change in subsistence patterns, tools and symbolic expression. The stunning change in cultural adaptation was not merely a quantitative one, but one that represented a significant departure from all earlier human behavior, reflecting a major qualitative transformation. It was literally a "creative explosion" which exhibited the "technological ingenuity, social formations, and ideological complexity of historic hunter-gatherers."7 This human revolution is precisely what made us who we are today.

The appearance of fully modern behavior apparently occurred in Africa earlier than anywhere else in the Old World, but spread very quickly, due to population movements into other geographical regions. 

The Upper Paleolithic lifestyle, as it was called, was based essentially on hunting and gathering. So successful was this cultural adaptation that until roughly 11,000 years ago, hominids worldwide were subsisting essentially as hunter-gatherers. In the Upper Paleolithic of Eurasia, or the Late Stone Age as it is called in Africa, the archaeological signature stands in strong contrast to that of the Middle Paleolithic/Middle Stone Age. It was characterized by significant innovation:
  • a remarkable diversity in stone tool types
  • tool types showed significant change over time and space
  • artifacts were regularly fashioned out of bone, antler and ivory, in addition to stone
  • stone artifacts were made primarily on blades and were easily classified into discrete categories, presumably reflecting specialized use
  • burials were accompanied by ritual or ceremony and contained a rich diversity of grave goods
  • living structures and well-designed fireplaces were constructed
  • hunting of dangerous animal species and fishing occurred regularly higher population densities
  • abundant and elaborate art as well as items of personal adornment were widespread
  • raw materials such as flint and shells were traded over some distances
Homo sapiens of the Upper Paleolithic/Late Stone Age was quintessentially modern in appearance and behavior. Precisely how this transformation occurred is not well understood, but it apparently was restricted to Homo sapiens and did not occur in Neanderthals. Some archaeologists invoke a behavioral explanation for the change. For example, Soffer11 suggests that changes in social relations, such as development of the nuclear family, played a key role in bringing about the transformation.

Johanson too appears to have fallen victim to the 40ky ago "magic era of modern behavior" mentality, urging him to match his lower-end time frame limit for the initiation of this event with the 40ky ago date as opposed to going for a substantially higher lower-end time frame right off the bat, but less stingy when it comes to entertaining the possibility of a considerably higher time frame, as his allowable "upper-end" 50ky time frame indicates. Bower, on the other hand, had shared his own views on what "modern behavior" means:

"I hate the use of the word 'modern,'" Bower says. "Modern behavior is talking on the telephone. Clearly that's not what humans were doing a hundred thousand years ago."

Be that as it may, his opinion on what constitutes "modern behavior", what Bower says next may well be instructive; quote:

Emerging evidence suggests that aspects of human technology are now strung out way back in time. Blombos has bone points—you have the famous bone harpoons at Katanga [Central Africa, about 90,000 years old]—long before the "creative explosion of 40,000 to 45,000 years ago." "I'm inclined to think we should get rid of the whole concept of 'modern' behavior," Bower said.

Instructive; why? It could serve an instructive purpose, because quite simply, Bower's comment here appears to be the more accommodating one of all those professed by the various personalities thus far examined, to the accumulative property of the field of archaeology. Indeed, as we examine published material on additional and more recent finds in archaeology, while mindful of developments of other fields like molecular genetics, it becomes ever so harder to defend rigid concepts like the "sudden explosive event of creativity at around 40k or 45k years ago". This can be demonstrated from a series of publications, fairly recent ones as of the writing of this post, expanding on the small list of examples posted near the beginning of this post; consider:

"Our illumination of the heat treatment process shows that these early modern humans commanded fire in a nuanced and sophisticated manner," says lead author Kyle Brown, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cape Town, and field and lab director in Mossel Bay, South Africa, for ASU's Institute of Human Origins. "We show that early modern humans at 72,000 years ago, and perhaps as early as 164,000 years ago in coastal South Africa, were using<carefully controlled hearths in a complex process to heat stone and change its properties, the process known as heat treatment," explains Brown.

"Heat treatment technology begins with a genius moment – someone discovers that heating stone makes it easier to flake," says Curtis Marean, project director and a co-author on the paper. Marean is a paleoanthropologist with the Institute of Human Origins and a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "This knowledge is then passed on, and in a way unique to humans, the technology is slowly ratcheted up in complexity as the control of the heating process, cooling and flaking grows in sophistication," Marean says. This creates a long-chain technological process that the researchers explain requires a complex cognition, and probably language, to learn and teach. The heating transformed a stone called silcrete, which was rather poor for tool making, into an outstanding raw material that allowed the modern humans to make highly advanced tools.

... Symbolic behavior and modern human origins
"Our discovery shows that these early modern humans had this complex cognition," Brown says. "This expression of cognitive complexity in technology by these early modern humans on the south coast of South Africa provides further evidence that this locality may have been the origin location for the lineage that leads to all modern humans, which appeared between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago in Africa," explains Marean. "There is no consensus as to when modern human behavior appears, but by 70,000 years ago there is good evidence for symbolic behavior," he says. "Many researchers are looking for technological proxies for complex cognition, and heat treatment is likely one such proxy.

"Prior to our work, heat treatment was widely regarded as first occurring in Europe at about 25,000 years ago," Marean says. "We push this back at least 45,000 years, and, perhaps, 139,000 years, and place it on the southern tip of Africa at Pinnacle Point." The African location was at the center of another discovery by Marean – the documentation of the earliest evidence for exploitation of marine foods and modification of pigments– reported in the Oct. 17, 2007, journal Nature.
"Combined, these results sharply advance our knowledge of modern human origins, and show that something special in human cognition was happening on the coastline of South Africa during this crucial final phase in human origins," Marean says. He adds that some time around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, "these modern humans left the warm confines of Africa and penetrated into the colder glacial environment of Europe and Asia, where they encountered Neanderthals. "By 35,000 years ago these Neanderthal populations were mostly extinct, and modern humans dominated the land from Spain to China to Australia," Marean says.

"The command of fire, documented by our study of heat treatment, provides us with a potential explanation for the rapid migration of these Africans across glacial Eurasia – they were masters of fire and heat and stone, a crucial advantage as these tropical people penetrated the cold lands of the Neanderthal," says Marean.

The abstract:

Fire As an Engineering Tool of Early Modern Humans

Kyle S. Brown,1,2 Curtis W. Marean,2 Andy I. R. Herries,3,4 Zenobia Jacobs,5 Chantal Tribolo,6 David Braun,1 David L. Roberts,7 Michael C. Meyer,5 Jocelyn Bernatchez2

The controlled use of fire was a breakthrough adaptation in human evolution. It first provided heat and light and later allowed the physical properties of materials to be manipulated for the production of ceramics and metals. The analysis of tools at multiple sites shows that the source stone materials were systematically manipulated with fire to improve their flaking properties. Heat treatment predominates among silcrete tools at ~72 thousand years ago (ka) and appears as early as 164 ka at Pinnacle Point, on the south coast of South Africa. Heat treatment demands a sophisticated knowledge of fire and an elevated cognitive ability and appears at roughly the same time as widespread evidence for symbolic behavior.
- Abstract ends

From Marean et al 2007

Evidence of early humans living on the coast in South Africa, harvesting food from the sea, employing complex bladelet tools and using red pigments in symbolic behavior 164,000 years ago, far earlier than previously documented, is being reported in the journal Nature. The international team of researchers reporting the findings include Curtis Marean, a paleoanthropologist with the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University and three graduate students in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

"Our findings show that at 164,000 years ago in coastal South Africa humans expanded their diet to include shellfish and other marine resources, perhaps as a response to harsh environmental conditions," notes Marean, a professor in ASU's School of Human Evolution and Social Change. "This is the earliest dated observation of this behavior." After decades of debate, paleoanthropologists now agree the genetic and fossil evidence suggests that the modern human species -- Homo sapiens -- evolved in Africa between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. Migrating along the coast "Generally speaking, coastal areas were of no use to early humans -- unless they knew how to use the sea as a food source" says Marean. "For millions of years, our earliest hunter-gatherer relatives only ate terrestrial plants and animals. Shellfish was one of the last additions to the human diet before domesticated plants and animals were introduced." Before, the earliest evidence for human use of marine resources and coastal habitats was dated about 125,000 years ago.

"Our research shows that humans started doing this at least 40,000 years earlier. This could have very well been a response to the extreme environmental conditions they were experiencing," he says. "We also found what archaeologists call bladelets -- little blades less than 10 millimeters in width, about the size of your little finger," Marean says. "These could be attached to the end of a stick to form a point for a spear, or lined up like barbs on a dart -- which shows they were already using complex compound tools. And, we found evidence that they were using pigments, especially red ochre, in ways that we believe were symbolic," he describes.

"Coastlines generally make great migration routes," Marean says. "Knowing how to exploit the sea for food meant these early humans could now use coastlines as productive home ranges and move long distances." "This evidence shows that Africa, and particularly southern Africa, was precocious in the development of modern human biology and behavior. We believe that on the far southern shore of Africa there was a small population of modern humans who struggled through this glacial period using shellfish and advanced technologies, and symbolism was important to their social relations. It is possible that this population could be the progenitor population for all modern humans," Marean says.

ScienceDaily (Aug. 27, 2009)Shell beads newly unearthed from four sites in Morocco confirm early humans were consistently wearing and potentially trading symbolic jewelry as early as 80,000 years ago. These beads add significantly to similar finds dating back as far as 110,000 in Algeria, Morocco, Israel and South Africa, confirming these as the oldest form of personal ornaments. This crucial step towards modern culture is reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Subtext reads, courtesy of Science Daily: Perforated Nassarius gibbosulus from archaeological layers dated to between 73,400 and 91,500 years ago at Taforalt. (Credit: Image courtesy of d'Errico/Vanhaeren). Click on the image for higher resolution.

A team of researchers recovered 25 marine shell beads dating back to around 70,000 to 85,000 years ago from sites in Morocco, as part of the European Science Foundation EUROCORES programme 'Origin of Man, Language and Languages'. The shells have man-made holes through the centre and some show signs of pigment and prolonged wear, suggesting they were worn as jewelry. Across all the locations shells were found from a similar time period from the Nassarius genus. That these shells were used similarly across so many sites suggests this was a cultural phenomenon, a shared tradition passed along through cultures over thousands of years. Several of the locations where shells have been found are so far inland that the shells must have been intentionally brought there.

"Either people went to sea and collected them, or more likely marine shell beads helped create and maintain exchange networks between coastal and inland peoples. This shows well-structured human culture that attributed meaning to these things," said Francesco d'Errico, lead author and director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). "Organised networks would also assist trading of other items, as well as genetic and cultural exchange – so these shells help reveal the connections between cognition and culture."  

For scientists, beadworks are not simply decoration, they also represents a specific technology that conveys information through a shared coded language. It indicates more advanced thinking and the development of modern cultural traits, giving clues to how such innovative behaviors might link to the spread of humans out of Africa. "The early invention of the personal ornament is one of the most fascinating cultural experiments in human history," d'Errico continued. "The common element among such ornaments is that they transmit meaning to others. They convey an image of you that is not just your biological self."

Note here too, the authors could not resist openly acknowledging past attempts at making "modern behavior" only coincidental with the colonization of Europe by the ancestors of contemporary Europeans; seethey continue with:

Until recently the invention of personal ornaments was thought to coincide with the colonisation of Europe some 40,000 years ago, linking advanced cognitive capacity to early ["European-associated"; present author's emphasis] human dispersal. Yet this changed with the 2006 discovery of shell beads in Africa and the Near East dating back 35,000 years earlier, showing that symbolic thinking emerged more gradually through human evolution. Curiously, shell beads disappear from the archaeological record in Africa and the Near East 70,000 years ago, along with other cultural innovations such as engravings on ochre slabs, and refined bone tools and projectile points. They reappear in different forms up to 30,000 years later, with personal ornaments simultaneously re-emerging in Africa and the Near East, and for the first time in Europe and Asia. This may reflect an entirely new and independent phase of population growth with previously unseen innovations allowing a more efficient exploitation of a wider variety of environments. The temporary disappearance of cultural innovations could well be linked to population decreases during a long period of harsher climate conditions 60,000 to 73,000 years ago. This would have isolated populations, disrupting social and exchange networks.

This study was part of a broad network of 21 research projects and 44 individual research teams from 12 European countries forming the European Science Foundation EUROCORES programme 'Origin of Man, Language and Languages' (OMLL). This highly interdisciplinary collaborative action brought together scientists from a wide range of disciplines including genetics, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, neurophysiology or cognitive sciences. Dr Eva Hoogland, EUROCORES coordinator for the cognitive sciences at the European Science Foundation said: "This study presents a very good example of the groundbreaking results that can be gained from an interdisciplinary environment. Some questions, such as those concerning the interconnections between human cognition and culture, can only be addressed if scientists of varying backgrounds join forces. As witnessed by this study, this opens up new avenues for research when it happens on a structural basis, by leading scientists from across Europe." This research was also supported with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, the British Academy and Oxford University in the UK and the Max Planck Society in Germany.

For more reading, try this: ScienceDaily (May 7, 2009)A team of archaeologists has uncovered some of the world’s earliest shell ornaments in a limestone cave in Eastern Morocco. The researchers have found 47 examples of Nassarius marine shells, most of them perforated and including examples covered in red ochre, at the Grotte des Pigeons at Taforalt. The fingernail-size shells, already known from 82,000-year-old Aterian deposits in the cave, have now been found in even earlier layers. While the team is still awaiting exact dates for these layers, they believe this discovery makes them arguably the earliest shell ornaments in prehistory. The shells are currently at the centre of a debate concerning the origins of modern behavior in early humans.

Many archaeologists regard the shell bead ornaments as proof that anatomically modern humans had developed a sophisticated symbolic material culture. Up until now, Blombos cave in South Africa has been leading the ‘bead race’ with 41 Nassarius shell beads that can confidently be dated to 72,000 years ago. Aside from this latest discovery unearthing an even greater number of beads, the research team says the most striking aspect of the Taforalt discoveries is that identical shell types should appear in two such geographically distant regions. As well as Blombos, there are now at least four other Aterian sites in Morocco with Nassarius shell beads. The newest evidence, in a paper by the authors to be published in the next few weeks in the Journal of Quaternary Science Reviews, shows that the Aterian in Morocco dates back to at least 110,000 years ago...

Research team leader, Professor Nick Barton, from the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said:These new finds are exciting because they show that bead manufacturing probably arose independently in different cultures and confirms a long suspected pattern that humans with modern symbolic behavior were present from a very early stage at both ends of the continent, probably as early as 110,000 years ago. Also leading the research team Dr Abdeljalil Bouzouggar, from the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine in Morocco, said: ‘The archaeological and chronological contexts of the Taforalt discoveries suggest a much longer tradition of bead-making than previously suspected, making them perhaps the earliest such ornaments in the world.’...

The complete publication is available elsewhere on the net. Recent findings about Homo Erectus settlements in Africa also raise a plausible question: If "urbanization" or "sedentary settlement" is a sign of "precocious behavior", then would that not apply to these hominids and extend such behavioral pattern even further in time, dating before the appearance of "anatomically modern humans"? If so, it would make modern humans less unique, wouldn't it? Well, we learn from archaeologist Prof. Helmut Ziegert of Hamburg University, about the presence of huts and sedentary life dating back to ca. 400ky to 200ky ago, linked not to anatomically modern humans, whom the findings either predate or at least coincides with their first emergence, but to the Homo Erectus; read about it here:


Jerome M. Eisenberg, Ph.D. and Dr Sean Kingsley For decades archaeologists have rightly respected the Neolithic period c. 8500 BC as a revolutionary era of the most profound change, when the wiring of mankind's brain shifted from transient hunter-gathering to permanent settlement in farming communities. Hearths, temples, articulated burials, whistling 'wheat' fields and security replaced the uncertain ravages of seasonal running with the pack. Or so stereotypes maintain. Now, from the remote shores of Budrinna on Lake Fezzan in Libya, and Melka Konture on the banks of the River Awash in Ethiopia, a series of stunning discoveries are set to challenge the originality of the Neolithic Revolution.

After 39 years of surveys and excavations, Professor Helmut Ziegert of Hamburg University presents his results as a world exclusive in Minerva (pp. 8-9).
In both African locations he has discovered huts and sedentary village life dating between an astonishing 400,000 and 200,000 Before Present - if correct, literally a quantum leap in our understanding of man's evolution. Near aquatic resources, and not alongside agricultural fields, Professor Ziegert contests that our ancestors settled down for the first time in small communities of 40-50 people. At the heart of this new Lower Palaeolithic 'out of Africa' village theory are two world-changing ideas. First, that Homo erectus, Upright Man, had far more modernistic tendencies than previously believed; and second, that as unique as the farming villages of Jericho in the West Bank and Catalhoyük in Turkey are, their occupants were not the brains behind the origins of sedentism.

The innovative capacity of Homo erectus has challenged scholars for decades and remains a scholarly cauldron. Anthropologists such as Richard Leakey have long insisted that Upright Man was socially more akin to modern humans than to his primitive predecessors because the increased cranial capacity coincided with more sophisticated tool technology. Other scientists contend that Homo erectus was sufficiently advanced to have even mastered maritime transport. Yet both this assertion and the very idea that he ever got to grips with controlled fire are still considered controversial.

Only three years ago, however, Nira Alperson of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem discovered the oldest evidence of fire management at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov on the banks of the Jordan River in Israel's northern Galilee. The team analysed over 50,000 pieces of wood and nearly 36,000 flints from two hearths associated with a Homo erectus settlement dating back 790,000 years. More contentiously, Robert Bednarik is convinced that Upright Man ushered in the dawn of trans-ocean travel between 900,000 and 800,000 years ago as part of a wider revolution, usually attributed to the anatomically modern Homo sapiens, that included communicating with a spoken language and eventually carving and painting art 400,000 to 300,000 Before Present.

To test his theory, Bednarik built a 17.5m long, 2.8-ton bamboo raft, Nale Tasih 4, and crossed the 29km-wide stretch of sea from the east coast of Bali to the neighbouring island of Lombok. The results have convinced Bednarik that 'Between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, hominins are also known to have crossed to at least two islands in Europe, Corsica, and Sardinia. This is soundly demonstrated, but in addition it is possible that much earlier they managed to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Unfortunately, that cannot be proved conclusively, because the alternative of reaching Europe by land has always existed'. Stone Age 'seafaring appears to have been possible', agrees anthropologist Tim Bromage of Hunter College of the City University of New York, who has identified 30cm-wide South-east Asian bamboo as providing a versatile material for building rafts with simple stone tools.

So, Professor Ziegert's 'Out of Africa' aquatic model for the rise of village life in the Lower Palaeolithic does not emerge out of a cultural and intellectual void. As a veteran of over 81 archaeological surveys and excavations from Germany to Ecuador, ranging in date from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Islamic period, Ziegert is nothing if not scientifically cautious, which makes the current revelation all the more exciting. Between 2007 and 2010 he will be back in the field, returning to Budrinna and Melka Konture to fine-tune his life's work. To delve in greater depth into the mystery of the ecology, function, structure, and economy of these villages, he plans to search out cemeteries (complementary signs of fixed settlement) and use potassium argon isotopic dating, stratigraphy, and tool typology to measure the ebb and flow of village life in this dizzy, distant prehistoric past. - Ends

All the notes touched upon here demonstrate if nothing else, that the term "behaviorally modern" along with its associated "magical era of 40ky or 45 ky ago explosion" that happens to be coincidental with the colonization of Europe by anatomically modern humans are far more loaded concepts than the primary proponents make them out to be. These notes show that "behaviorally modern" doesn't even appear to have a consistent meaning across academia, nor does the emerging and changing archaeological record hold the tunnel vision-oriented approach of the "magical era of creative human explosion around 40ky or 45ky ago" ideological camp tenable any longer. It is not unreasonable to surmise that the said tunnel vision-like-approach may have something to do with the urge or desire to make the colonization of Europe by anatomically modern humans an event more extraordinary than it actually was, by matching up its time frame closely with a supposed "unprecedented" change in human behavior, spurred by some "unprecedented genetic mutation", a "very celebrated" part of which the earliest common recent ancestors of contemporary European would undoubtedly be made, within segments of "Western" academia. *Keep an eye on possible future updates.

— As already cited in the body of the post.

— Retrieval of personal notes dating from 2006 to 2009.