Ice Age Murder Mystery

Deep in a Romanian cave laid buried a skull for over thirty thousand years….. this skull held testament to a brutal, vicious murder that occurred over 30 thousand years ago. Who this skull belonged to we don’t know, too much time has passed. We don’t even know the context he was buried in….. only that he was murdered, brutally by a left-handed foe. He lived in a pivotal moment in human history, he belonged to a people whom were the first modern humans to settle the European continent, the Aurignacian folk.

His people created works of art that remain unrivaled to this day: flutes, sculptures, paintings….. They were reindeer hunters, first and foremost, dark skinned with brown hair, they were not light skinned like their distant white descendants. It was a time of immense beauty, but also of horrifying weather unlike anything anyone alive in the modern day has seen (at least for now), glaciers covered huge expanses of the globe, and polar bears roamed off the coast of what is now Portugal.

This man’s skull holds testament to the first homicide recorded in the archaeological record. What truly happened on that fateful day over 30 thousand years ago we’ll never know for sure, hell, because his skull was unearthed in the 50’s modern archaeological techniques had yet to be invented, so we lack key context about the site his skull was unearthed from.

We only have his skull, and even the fractures on his skull are enough to tell us even things about his attacker. His attacker was left handed, and was face to face with their victim when they struck him down, with a sort of bat or club as the murder weapon.

I’d venture to say this was a personal dispute amongst people who knew each other intimately… Hunter-gatherer bands are small, comprised primarily of close relatives, everyone in the band is related to each other in some way…. Whatever happened on that fateful day, it was bad enough to cause his attacker to strike down a close friend or relative of his.

His skull is a testament to the inner cruelty of man, an attacker desperate enough to strike down a loved one or close friend, and given how the man was face to face with his attacker when he was struck down, it was evidently some form of confrontation. Unfortunately what truly happened on that day, what caused a person to go far enough and murder a close relation of theirs, will forever remain unknown.

References:

“State of the art forensic techniques reveal evidence of interpersonal violence circa 30,000 years ago” Kranioti et al (2019) Plos One (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0216718)

 

Cemetery 117

On the shores of ancient Lake Turkana we find a hidden trove of all too human horrors, a trove of broken bones and unburied bodies, a testament to the inner cruelty of man. 59 victims were found, murdered and mutilated, their bodies left unburied. Only the tide would tend to their funerary needs, forever preserving this senseless, and ancient, act of wanton cruelty.

Thirteen thousand years ago an entire community was massacred, their hands and feet bound together as their skulls were smashed in, their scalps sliced off, and their tongues ripped out. All ages were among the victims, from the elderly to children. Among the dead was a woman in late pregnancy.

These people were not farmers, as it had been long presumed the horrors of war only started with the advent of agriculture. No, these people lived before the dawn of farming, but the world they lived in was changing. The ice sheets were melting, causing global chaos as what had been the norm for tens of thousands of years came to a grinding halt.

Lake Turkana was a paradise in this time, lush, wet, and green, filled with all sorts of wildlife like elephants, hippos, and crocodiles as far as the eye could see. This primordial Garden of Eden would seem like the last place one would expect to find the grisly atrocities of war, but alas, appearances can be deceiving.

What truly happened on that fateful day thirteen thousand years ago may never truly be known, but these broken bodies lay witness to the fact that war, war never changes.

The invention of fire

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4874402/

The above is a useful overview of what we know about the first invention of fire by early humans and its effects on mankind’s evolution. The earliest definitive use for fire use is around a million and a half years old, but phylogenetic analysis puts the invention of fire further back to around two million years ago, this is corroborated by the anatomical characteristics of species like Homo erectus, with reduced jaws and teeth that in some cases were the size of the teeth of modern people, as well as more reduced musculature compared to the non-human great apes and a far bigger brain in relation to body size than australopithecines, our ancestors, and great apes, with cranial capacity reaching up to 1100 cm.

The earliest evidence for habitual fire use dates to around 500,000 years ago, and we have indirect evidence that we were making glue from around this time too, see the article for more details on that. There’s some evidence both Neanderthals and early modern humans practiced fire stick farming from at least 120,000 years ago, and there’s evidence of leather working from around this time, for those who don’t know leather requires fire to make, and there’s also evidence for hand drills from around 400,000 years ago as well, instead of simply using the friction from rubbing two sticks together in an hearth on top of some kindling to ignite a fire, which is presumably the first method we devised for actually making fire.

We likely had the ability to control fire before we invented methods to ignite it, this would require knowledge of slow-burning materials to maintain fires for long periods of time, animal dung does the trick.

Olmec continuity

In a sense the Olmecs never vanished, their civilization may have fallen but their legacy lives on. Indeed the people of Oaxaca and Veracruz are in part descended from the Olmecs, with the language the Olmecs presumably spoke, Mixe-Zoquean, still spoken by hundreds of thousands of people to this very day. Aside from genealogy and linguistics there are several other Olmec cultural influences that have survived to the present day. One of these being the Mesoamerican ballgame, which is still played in modified form in rural Mesoamerican villages to this very day as well.

Aside from the elements of Olmec culture that have lasted to the present day, another Olmec cultural influence that survived for ages and is still worshiped by a few indigenous practitioners is the Feathered Serpent, most famously known by his Aztec name Quetzalcoatl, however he was also known to the Maya as Kukulkan and to the Yucatek as Ququmatz. The Feathered Serpent is an ancient deity, having originated with the Olmecs and who is still being venerated to this very day. In a sense, the Olmecs never vanished at all.

What Denisovans looked like

Scientists recently utilized genetic evidence to reconstruct what Denisovans looked like, and the results are astonishing. For one they would’ve had wider skulls than both neanderthals and modern humans, as well as having a longer dental arch. It brings these ancient humans to life in a way that mere bones never could, and it’s humbling to think that these people were among our ancestors, because they were.

Reconstruction available here

Evidence for complex projectiles in Middle Paleolithic Ethiopia

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0216716

Abstract: Complex projectiles—propulsion via mechanical aid—are considered an important technological innovation, with possible relevance for the successful Out-of-Africa dispersal of our species. Conclusive evidence for the beginning of this technology, however, is lacking from the early Late Pleistocene (ca. 130 to 70 thousand years ago; ka). Given the extremely limited applicability of relatively robust methods for validating stone-tipped projectile use, such as through fracture propagation velocity, converging lines of circumstantial evidence remain the best way to examine early complex projectiles. We assess here suggestions for an early Late Pleistocene origin of complex projectiles in Africa. Results from both previous and present independent approaches suggest a trajectory in which complex projectiles were likely adopted during the early Late Pleistocene in eastern Africa. At Aduma (Middle Awash, Ethiopia), morphometric, hafting, and impact damage patterns in several lithic point assemblages suggest a shift from simple spear technologies (thrusting and/or hand-cast) to complex projectiles. Broadly dated to 80–100 ka, lithic points from later phases of the Aduma succession represent a particularly strong candidate for projectile armatures most comparable to ethnographically known spearthrower darts, lending support for previous suggestions and warranting further investigations.
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Notes: This is interesting, very interesting, because it pushes back the date of the invention of the atlatl back to the Middle Paleolithic, long before modern humans spread out of Africa, and also long before the earliest evidence for the atlatl in the archaeological record, which AFAIK is from Aurignacian Europe, it’s also telling because Native Americans lacked the atlatl until the advent of the Archaic period, so either the ancestors of the Native Americans lost the atlatl sometime prior to the peopling of the Americas or the atlatl wasn’t as common as previously believed. The Tasmanians also lacked the spearthrower or atlatl, despite ultimately coming from the same population that left Africa as the rest of us did, while the Australians *did* possess the spearthrower, called the *woomera* there, although it was of recent (Holocene) derivation.

Why Racialism is Bullshit

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Racialism

The above website hosts an excellent article on why human races don’t
have a biological basis, namely stating that “human population diversity
is too subtle to be placed in arbitrary geographic groupings, or
‘races'”. For example, in China the farther north you get the more
shoveled the people’s teeth become, whereas the farther south you get
the less shoveled the people’s teeth becomes. Africa also has the
world’s highest genetic diversity, which is something we’d expect if the
Out of Africa hypothesis was true, and that is what we find. Indeed, if
we use genetics as a basis for “race” West and East Africans would be
completely separate races.

Instead of race we should focus more on ethnicity, or clines, which
better fit human population diversity. Examples of clines including the
Irish, the San Bushmen, and Fijians. There’s a reason Africa is home to
the most genetically diverse people on the planet, and it ain’t because
of Adam and Eve.

This is not to say that there aren’t any genuine differences between the various human populations, there are, but the concept of there being distinct “races” within our species doesn’t cut it, it’s bullshit, and in fact is an impediment to better understanding of the evolutionary history and population biology of our own species, Homo sapiens.

An even better model to use when modeling human populations is the concept of the demes, or “breeding population”. A standard breeding population is around 25,000 people, in which people are more likely to breed within their demes than without, a good example of a demes today would be the Amish. An ethnic group such as the Han Chinese aren’t a demes, they consist of one billion people and have multiple demes within their ethnic group.