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    A decorated raven bone from the Zaskalnaya VI (Kolosovskaya) Neanderthal site, Crimea
    (Public Library of Science, 2017-03) Majkic, A.; Evans, S.; Stepanchuk, V.; Tsvelykh, A.; D'Errico, F.
    We analyze a radius bone fragment of a raven (Corvus corax) from Zaskalnaya VI rock shelter, Crimea. The object bears seven notches and comes from an archaeological level attributed to a Micoquian industry dated to between 38 and 43 cal kyr BP. Our study aims to examine the degree of regularity and intentionality of this set of notches through their technological and morphometric analysis, complemented by comparative experimental work. Microscopic analysis of the notches indicate that they were produced by the to-and-fro movement of a lithic cutting edge and that two notches were added to fill in the gap left between previously cut notches, probably to increase the visual consistency of the pattern. Multivariate analysis of morphometric data recorded on the archaeological notches and sets of notches cut by nine modern experimenters on radii of domestic turkeys shows that the variations recorded on the Zaskalnaya set are comparable to experimental sets made with the aim of producing similar, parallel, equidistant notches. Identification of the Weber Fraction, the constant that accounts for error in human perception, for equidistant notches cut on bone rods and its application to the Zaskalnaya set of notches and thirty-six sets of notches incised on seventeen Upper Palaeolithic bone objects from seven sites indicate that the Zaskalnaya set falls within the range of variation of regularly spaced experimental and Upper Palaeolithic sets of notches. This suggests that even if the production of the notches may have had a utilitarian reason the notches were made with the goal of producing a visually consistent pattern. This object represents the first instance of a bird bone from a Neanderthal site bearing modifications that cannot be explained as the result of butchery activities and for which a symbolic argument can be built on direct rather than circumstantial evidence.
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    Patterns of change and continuity in ochre use during the late Middle Stone Age of the Horn of Africa: The Porc-Epic Cave record
    (Public Library of Science, 2017-05) Rosso, D. E.; D'Errico, F.; Queffelec, A.
    Ochre is found at numerous Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites and plays a key role in early modern human archaeology. Here we analyse the largest known East African MSA ochre assemblage, comprising 40 kg of ochre, found at Porc-Epic Cave, Ethiopia, spanning a period of at least 4,500 years. Visual characterisation of ochre types, microscopic identification of traces of modification, morphological and morphometric analysis of ochre pieces and modified areas, experimental reproduction of grinding processes, surface texture analysis of archaeological and experimentally ground ochre facets, laser granulometry of ochre powder produced experimentally on different grindstones and by Hamar and Ovahimba women from Ethiopia and Namibia respectively, were, for the first time, combined to explore diachronic shifts in ochre processing technology. Our results identify patterns of continuity in ochre acquisition, treatment and use reflecting both persistent use of the same geological resources and similar uses of iron-rich rocks by late MSA Porc-Epic inhabitants. Considering the large amount of ochre processed at the site, this continuity can be interpreted as the expression of a cohesive cultural adaptation, largely shared by all community members and consistently transmitted through time. A gradual shift in preferred processing techniques and motions is interpreted as reflecting cultural drift within this practice. Evidence for the grinding of ochre to produce small quantities of powder throughout the sequence is consistent with a use in symbolic activities for at least part of the ochre assemblage from Porc-Epic Cave.
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    Earliest hominin cancer: 1.7-million-year- old osteosarcoma from Swartkrans Cave, South Africa
    (Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), 2016-07) Odes, E.J.; Randolph-Quinney, P.S.; Steyn, M.; Thockmorton, Z.; Smilg, J.S.; Zipfel, B.; Augustine, T.N.; de Beer, F.; Hoffman, J.W.; Franklin, R.D.; Berger, L.R.
    The reported incidence of neoplasia in the extinct human lineage is rare, with only a few confirmed cases of Middle or Later Pleistocene dates reported. It has generally been assumed that premodern incidence of neoplastic disease of any kind is rare and limited to benign conditions, but new fossil evidence suggests otherwise. We here present the earliest identifiable case of malignant neoplastic disease from an early human ancestor dated to 1.8–1.6 million years old. The diagnosis has been made possible only by advances in 3D imaging methods as diagnostic aids. We present a case report based on re-analysis of a hominin metatarsal specimen (SK 7923) from the cave site of Swartkrans in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. The expression of malignant osteosarcoma in the Swartkrans specimen indicates that whilst the upsurge in malignancy incidence is correlated with modern lifestyles, there is no reason to suspect that primary bone tumours would have been any less frequent in ancient specimens. Such tumours are not related to lifestyle and often occur in younger individuals. As such, malignancy has a considerable antiquity in the fossil record, as evidenced by this specimen.
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    Osteogenic tumour in Australopithecus sediba: Earliest hominin evidence for neoplastic disease
    (Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)., 2016-07) Randolph-Quinney, P.S.; Williams, S.A.; Steyn, M.; Meyer, M.R.; Smilg, J.S.; Churchill, S.E.; Odes, E.J.; Augustine, T.; Tafforeau, P.; Berger, L.R.
    We describe the earliest evidence for neoplastic disease in the hominin lineage. This is reported from the type specimen of the extinct hominin Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa, dated to 1.98 million years ago. The affected individual was male and developmentally equivalent to a human child of 12 to 13 years of age. A penetrating lytic lesion affected the sixth thoracic vertebra. The lesion was macroscopically evaluated and internally imaged through phase-contrast X-ray synchrotron microtomography. A comprehensive differential diagnosis was undertaken based on gross- and micro-morphology of the lesion, leading to a probable diagnosis of osteoid osteoma. These neoplasms are solitary, benign, osteoid and bone-forming tumours, formed from well-vascularised connective tissue within which there is active production of osteoid and woven bone. Tumours of any kind are rare in archaeological populations, and are all but unknown in the hominin record, highlighting the importance of this discovery. The presence of this disease at Malapa predates the earliest evidence of malignant neoplasia in the hominin fossil record by perhaps 200 000 years.
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    The stable isotope setting of Australopithecus sediba at Malapa, South Africa.
    (Academic of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), 2016-07) Holt, E.; Dirks, P.; PLaczek, C.; Berger, L.R.
    We report delta C-13 and delta O-18 results from carbonate-cemented cave sediments at Malapa in South Africa. The sediments were deposited during a short-period magnetic reversal at 1.977±0.003 Ma, immediately preceding deposition of Facies D sediments that contain the type fossils of Australopithecus sediba. Values of delta C-13 range between -5.65 and -2.09 with an average of -4.58±0.54% (Vienna Pee Dee Belemnite, VPDB) and values of delta O-18 range between -6.14 and -3.84 with an average of -4.93±0.44% (VPDB). Despite signs of diagenetic alteration from metastable aragonite to calcite, the Malapa isotope values are similar to those obtained in two previous studies in South Africa for the same relative time period. Broadly, the Malapa delta C-13 values provide constraints on the palaeovegetation at Malapa. Because of the complex nature of the carbonate cements and mixed mineralogy in the samples, our estimates of vegetation type (C4-dominant) must be regarded as preliminary only. However, the indication of a mainly C4 landscape is in contrast to the reported diet of A. sediba, and suggests a diverse environment involving both grassland and riparian woodland.