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Mgeladze A.,Georgian National Museum | Lordkipanidze D.,Georgian National Museum | Moncel M.-H.,National Museum of Natural History | Despriee J.,National Museum of Natural History | And 3 more authors.
Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2011

Dmanisi is the oldest site outside of Africa that records unquestioned hominin occupations as well as the dispersal of hominins in Europe and Asia. The site has yielded large numbers of artefacts from several periods of hominin occupation. This analysis of Dmanisi stone tool technology includes a review of all the pieces recovered during the last 15 years of excavations. This lithic assemblage gives insights into the hominin behaviour at 1.7-1.8 Ma in Eurasia. Dmanisi hominins exploited local rocks derived from either nearby riverbeds or outcrops, and petrographic study provides data on patterns of stone procurement. Recent geological surveys and technological studies of the artefacts illustrate the roles of hominins in composing the assemblage. Dmanisi hominins selected two types of blanks, including cobbles and angular blocks, of basalt, andesite, and tuffs. Many complete cobbles, pebbles, and rolled blocks in basalt were unmodified, and geological analyses and surveys indicate that hominins brought manuports back to the site, suggesting a complex procurement strategy. Cores, flakes and debris show that all stages of flaking activity took place at the site. Numerous unifacial cores suggest that knapping was not very elaborate. Centripetal knapping is observed on some flake-cores. Knapping was influenced by the blank shape and natural angles. Most flaked objects were either cores or chopper-cores. Flakes predominate while flake tools are rare. The Dmanisi lithic assemblage is comparable to Oldowan sites in Africa in terms of reduction sequence, organisation of the removals, platform types, and the lack of retouched flakes. Dmanisi artefacts and may have been produced by the original hominins in Europe and Asia. © 2010.

News Article | November 21, 2016
Site: www.sciencemag.org

On a promontory high above the sweeping grasslands of the Georgian steppe, a medieval church marks the spot where humans have come and gone along Silk Road trade routes for thousands of years. But 1.77 million years ago, this place was a crossroads for a different set of migrants. Among them were saber-toothed cats, Etruscan wolves, hyenas the size of lions—and early members of the human family. Here, primitive hominins poked their tiny heads into animal dens to scavenge abandoned kills, fileting meat from the bones of mammoths and wolves with crude stone tools and eating it raw. They stalked deer as the animals drank from an ancient lake and gathered hackberries and nuts from chestnut and walnut trees lining nearby rivers. Sometimes the hominins themselves became the prey, as gnaw marks from big cats or hyenas on their fossilized limb bones now testify. "Someone rang the dinner bell in gully one," says geologist Reid Ferring of the University of North Texas in Denton, part of an international team analyzing the site. "Humans and carnivores were eating each other." This is the famous site of Dmanisi, Georgia, which offers an unparalleled glimpse into a harsh early chapter in human evolution, when primitive members of our genus Homo struggled to survive in a new land far north of their ancestors' African home, braving winters without clothes or fire and competing with fierce carnivores for meat. The 4-hectare site has yielded closely packed, beautifully preserved fossils that are the oldest hominins known outside of Africa, including five skulls, about 50 skeletal bones, and an as-yet-unpublished pelvis unearthed 2 years ago. "There's no other place like it," says archaeologist Nick Toth of Indiana University in Bloomington. "It's just this mother lode for one moment in time." Until the discovery of the first jawbone at Dmanisi 25 years ago, researchers thought that the first hominins to leave Africa were classic H. erectus (also known as H. ergaster in Africa). These tall, relatively large-brained ancestors of modern humans arose about 1.9 million years ago and soon afterward invented a sophisticated new tool, the hand ax. They were thought to be the first people to migrate out of Africa, making it all the way to Java, at the far end of Asia, as early as 1.6 million years ago. But as the bones and tools from Dmanisi accumulate, a different picture of the earliest migrants is emerging. By now, the fossils have made it clear that these pioneers were startlingly primitive, with small bodies about 1.5 meters tall, simple tools, and brains one-third to one-half the size of modern humans'. Some paleontologists believe they provide a better glimpse of the early, primitive forms of H. erectus than fragmentary African fossils. "I think for the first time, by virtue of the Dmanisi hominins, we have a solid hypothesis for the origin of H. erectus," says Rick Potts, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. This fall, paleontologists converged in Georgia for "Dmanisi and beyond," a conference held in Tbilisi and at the site itself from 20–24 September. There researchers celebrated 25 years of discoveries, inspected a half-dozen pits riddled with unexcavated fossils, and debated a geographic puzzle: How did these primitive hominins—or their ancestors—manage to trek at least 6000 kilometers from sub-Saharan Africa to the Caucasus Mountains? "What was it that allowed them to move out of Africa without fire, without very large brains? How did they survive?" asks paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson of Arizona State University in Tempe. They did not have it easy. To look at the teeth and jaws of the hominins at Dmanisi is to see a mouthful of pain, says Ann Margvelashvili, a postdoc in the lab of paleoanthropologist Marcia Ponce de León at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi. Margvelashvili found that compared with modern hunter-gatherers from Greenland and Australia, a teenager at Dmanisi had dental problems at a much younger age—a sign of generally poor health. The teen had cavities, dental crowding, and hypoplasia, a line indicating that enamel growth was halted at some point in childhood, probably because of malnutrition or disease. Another individual suffered from a serious dental infection that damaged the jawbone and could have been the cause of death. Chipping and wear in several others suggested that they used their teeth as tools and to crack bones for marrow. And all the hominins' teeth were coated with plaque, the product of bacteria thriving in their mouths because of inflammation of the gums or the pH of their food or water. The dental mayhem put every one of them on "a road to toothlessness," Ponce de León says. They did, however, have tools to supplement their frail bodies. Crude ones—but lots of them. Researchers have found more than 15,000 stone flakes and cores, as well as more than 900 artifacts, in layers of sediments dating from 1.76 million to 1.85 million years ago. Even though H. erectus in East Africa had invented hand axes, part of the so-called Acheulean toolkit, by 1.76 million years ago, none have been found here at Dmanisi. Instead, the tools belong to the "Oldowan" or "Mode 1" toolkit—the first tools made by hominins, which include simple flakes for scraping and cutting and spherical choppers for pounding. The Oldowan tools at Dmanisi are crafted out of 50 different raw materials, which suggests the toolmakers weren't particularly selective. "They were not choosing their raw material—they were using everything," says archaeologist David Zhvania of the Georgian National Museum. That simple toolkit somehow enabled them to go global. "They were able to adjust their behavior to a wide variety of ecological situations," Potts says. Perhaps the key was the ability to butcher meat with these simple tools—if hominins could eat meat, they could survive in new habitats where they didn't know which plants were toxic. "Meat eating was a big, significant change," says paleoanthropologist Robert Foley of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Even with their puny stone flakes, "these guys were badass," competing for meat directly with large carnivores, Toth says. At the meeting, he pointed to piles of cobblestones near the entrance of an ancient gully, which suggest the hominins tried to fend off (or hunt) predators by stoning them. They set their own course as they left Africa. Researchers had long thought that H. erectus swept out of their native continent in the wake of African mammals they hunted and scavenged. But all of the roughly 17,000 animal bones analyzed so far at Dmanisi belong to Eurasian species, not African ones, according to biological anthropologist Martha Tappen of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The only mammals not of Eurasian origin are the hominins—"striking" evidence the hominins were "behaving differently from other animals," Foley says. Perhaps venturing into new territory allowed the hominins to hunt prey that would not have known to fear and flee humans, suggests paleoanthropologist Robin Dennell of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Tappen calls that an "intriguing new idea" but thinks it should be tested. Checking the types of animal bones at other early Homo fossil sites out of Africa could show whether the mix of prey species changed when hominins colonized a new site, supporting a "naïve prey" effect. Whatever impelled them, the migrants left behind a trail of tools that have enabled researchers to trace their steps out of Africa. There, the oldest stone tools, likely fashioned by the first members of early Homo, such as small-brained H. habilis, date reliably to 2.6 million years ago in Ethiopia (and, possibly, 3.3 million years in Kenya). New dates for stone tools and bones with cutmarks at Ain Boucherit, in the high plateau of northeastern Algeria, suggest that hominins had crossed the Sahara by 2.2 million years ago when it was wetter and green, according to archaeologist Mohamed Sahnouni of the National Centre for Research on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain. His unpublished results, presented at the Dmanisi meeting, are the earliest evidence of a human presence in northern Africa. The next oldest tools are those from Dmanisi, at 1.85 million years old. The trail of stone tools then hopscotches to Asia, where Mode 1 toolkits show up by nearly 1.7 million years ago in China and 1.6 million in Java, with H. erectus fossils. "We pick up little fractions of a current" of ancient hominin movements, Foley says. The identity of the people who dropped these stone breadcrumbs is a mystery that has only deepened with study of the Dmanisi fossils. The excavation team has classified all the hominins at the Georgia site as H. erectus, but they are so primitive and variable that researchers debate whether they belong in H. erectus, H. habilis, a separate species, H. georgicus—or a mix of all three, who may have inhabited the site at slightly different dates. A new reanalysis of the Dmanisi skulls presented at the meeting added fuel to this debate by underscoring just how primitive most of the skulls were. Using a statistics-based technique to compare their shape and size with the skulls of many other hominins, Harvard University paleoanthropologist Philip Rightmire found that only one of the Dmanisi skulls—at 730 cubic centimeters—fits "comfortably within the confines of H. erectus." The others—particularly the smallest at 546 cc—cluster more closely with H. habilis in size. Nor did the Dmanisi hominins walk just like modern humans. A new analysis of cross sections of three toe bones found that the cortical bone—the dense outer layer—wasn't buttressed in the same way as it is in the toes of modern humans. When these hominins "toed off," the forces on their toes must have been distributed differently. They may have walked a bit more like chimps, perhaps pushing off the outside edge of their foot more, says Tea Jashashvili of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the Georgian National Museum. "If there are so many primitive traits, why are they calling it H. erectus?" asks Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. "People are avoiding the question of what H. erectus is. Every time new stuff comes up, they're enlarging the taxon to fit new stuff in." Foley ventures: "I haven't the slightest idea of what H. erectus means." Indeed, H. erectus now includes the 1-million-year-old type specimen from Trinil on the island of Java as well as fossils from South Africa, East Africa, Georgia, Europe, and China that span roughly 300,000 to 1.9 million years. "They're putting everything into H. erectus over huge geographical distances, essentially spread throughout the whole world, and over a vast number of years," Johanson says. Yet no other species matches the Dmanisi specimens better, Rightmire says. For example, the shapes of their dental palate and skulls match those of H. erectus, not H. habilis. And the variation in skull size and facial shape is no greater than in other species, including both modern humans or chimps, says Ponce de León—especially when the growth of the jaw and face over a lifetime are considered. Though the fossils' small stature and brains might fit best with H. habilis, their relatively long legs and modern body proportions place them in H. erectus, says David Lordkipanidze, general director of the Georgian National Museum and head of the Dmanisi team. "We can't forget that these are not just heads rolling around, dispersing around the globe," Potts adds. Like Rightmire, he thinks the fossils represent an early, primitive form of H. erectus, which had evolved from a H. habilis–like ancestor and still bore some primitive features shared with H. habilis. Regardless of the Dmanisi people's precise identity, researchers studying them agree that the wealth of fossils and artifacts coming from the site offer rare evidence for a critical moment in the human saga. They show that it didn't take a technological revolution or a particularly big brain to cross continents. And they suggest an origin story for first migrants all across Asia: Perhaps some members of the group of primitive H. erectus that gave rise to the Dmanisi people also pushed farther east, where their offspring evolved into later, bigger-brained H. erectus on Java (at the same time as H. erectus in Africa was independently evolving bigger brains and bodies). "For me, Dmanisi could be the ancestor for H. erectus in Java," says paleoanthropologist Yousuke Kaifu of the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. In spite of the remaining mysteries about the ancient people who died on this windy promontory, they have already taught researchers lessons that extend far beyond Georgia. And for that, Lordkipanidze is grateful. At the end of a barbecue in the camp house here, he raised a glass of wine and offered a toast: "I want to thank the people who died here," he said.

Messager E.,French Natural History Museum | Lordkipanidze D.,Georgian National Museum | Delhon C.,French National Center for Scientific Research | Ferring C.R.,University of North Texas
Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology | Year: 2010

Archaeological investigations of the lower Pleistocene deposits at Dmanisi (Lesser Caucasus, Georgia) have yielded an assemblage of hominin and faunal remains within a well-dated context. Although abundant vertebrate fossils have been recovered, paleobotanical studies have been limited. To address this, phytolith analysis has been conducted on two sections in order to reconstruct the distribution and evolution of vegetation throughout the entire sedimentary sequence. Large concentrations of phytoliths were recovered and analysed, permitting the reconstruction of climatic indices. The environmental data obtained from these phytolith assemblages are consistent with other palaeoecological data (i.e. geological, faunal and other archaeobotanical records). When considered together, they indicate an environment in which grasses were well-represented. In addition, the climatically important water stress indices derived from Dmanisi's phytolith assemblages suggest a period of increased aridity in the middle part of the stratigraphic sequence, which is contemporaneous with human occupations of the site. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Messager E.,Allee Of Luniversite | Messager E.,French Natural History Museum | Lordkipanidze D.,Georgian National Museum | Kvavadze E.,Georgian National Museum | And 2 more authors.
Quaternary International | Year: 2010

The first hominid expansions out of Africa date to the Lower Pleistocene. As environmental changes are widely thought to be correlated to important steps in hominids' history [DeMenocal, P.B., Bloemendal, J., 1995. Plio-Pleistocene subtropical African climate variability and the paleoenvironment of hominid evolution: a combined data-model approach. In: Vrba, E., Denton, G., Burckle, L., Partridge, T. (Eds.), Paleoclimate and Evolution with Emphasis on Human Origins. Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 262-288; Potts, R., 1998. Environmental hypotheses of hominin evolution. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 41, 93-136], what kind of environments would they have encountered on their arrival in Eurasian areas? The site of Dmanisi (Lesser Caucasus, Georgia) is well-dated to the very beginning of Matuyama chron (ca. 1.77. Ma), and thus corresponds to one of the oldest dispersal events from Africa into Eurasia. New archaeological investigations of the lower Pleistocene sequences at Dmanisi yielded both human and faunal remains within a secure geochronological context. Although palaeoecological data, based primarily on faunal taxa are well-known, questions remain regarding the palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic contexts of this site.These questions are addressed using multiproxy palaeobotanical analyses (i.e. phytoliths, pollen grains and carpo-remains) on the Dmanisi material. Focuses on several profiles help to reconstruct the distribution and evolution of vegetation at the site over time. The results show a composite temperate ecosystem with grass species being well-represented. In the mid-part of the sequence, evidence of enhanced aridity contemporaneous with hominid occupation is recorded. Although these reconstructed environments are similar to African savannah because of the abundance of grasses, arid conditions and the abundance of large mammal species, they differ with respect to the vegetation taxa, which are mostly composed of temperate plants. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA.

News Article | November 17, 2015
Site: news.yahoo.com

A skeleton dating from almost 10,000 years ago which was found in the Kotias Klde rock shelter in Western Georgia is seen in an undated picture courtesy of the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, United Kingdom. REUTERS/University of Cambridge/Eppie Jones/Handout via Reuters More WASHINGTON (Reuters) - DNA extracted from a skull and a molar tooth of ancient human remains discovered in the southern Caucasus region of Georgia is helping sort out the multifaceted ancestry of modern Europeans. Scientists said on Monday they sequenced the genomes of two individuals, one from 13,300 years ago and the other from 9,700 years ago, and found they represented a previously unknown lineage that contributed significantly to the genetics of almost all modern Europeans. These individuals were members of hunter-gatherer groups that settled in the Caucasus region, where southern Russia meets Georgia, about 45,000 years ago, after our species trekked out of Africa to populate other parts of the world. At the time, Europe was populated by Neanderthals. The Caucasus hunter-gatherers later became isolated there for millennia during the last Ice Age, the scientists said. The thaw at the end of the Ice Age brought them into contact with other peoples, leading to the advent of a culture of horse-riding herders who swept into Western Europe around 5,000 years ago, bringing metallurgy and animal-herding skills, they added. "Modern Europeans are a mix of ancient ancestral strands," Trinity College Dublin geneticist Daniel Bradley said. "The only way to untangle the modern weave is to sequence genomes from thousands of years ago, before the mixing took place." Until now, only three such ancestral strands had been identified flowing from ancient populations. The Caucasus inhabitants comprised a previously unidentified "fourth strand," said University of Cambridge geneticist Andrea Manica, noting that they contributed significantly not only to the ancestry of Europe but also to people in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Bradley called the finding "a major new piece in the human ancestry jigsaw." The Caucasus region is located at a crossroads of the Eurasian landmass, with nearby migration routes heading both west and east. The Caucasus hunter-gatherers lived in caves and in small groups of probably no more than 20 to 30 people, University College Dublin archaeologist Ron Pinhasi said. One of the two sets of remains came from the Kotias Klde cave near the village of Sveri in western Georgia and the other remains came from about 25 miles (40 km) away in the Satsurblia cave near the village of Kumistavi, Tengiz Meshveliani of the Georgian National Museum said. The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Margvelashvili A.,University of Zürich | Zollikofer C.P.E.,University of Zürich | Lordkipanidze D.,Georgian National Museum | Peltomaki T.,University of Tampere | De Leon M.S.P.,University of Zürich
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | Year: 2013

The Plio-Pleistocene hominin sample from Dmanisi (Georgia), dated to 1.77 million years ago, is unique in offering detailed insights into patterns of morphological variation within a paleodeme of early Homo. Cranial and dentoalveolar morphologies exhibit a high degree of diversity, but the causes of variation are still relatively unexplored. Here we show that wear-related dentoalveolar remodeling is one of the principal mechanisms causing mandibular shape variation in fossil Homo and in modern human hunter- gatherer populations. We identify a consistent pattern of mandibular morphological alteration, suggesting that dental wear and compensatory remodeling mechanisms remained fairly constant throughout the evolution of the genus Homo. With increasing occlusal and interproximal tooth wear, the teeth continue to erupt, the posterior dentition tends to drift in a mesial direction, and the front teeth become more upright. The resulting changes in dentognathic size and shape are substantial and need to be taken into account in comparative taxonomic analyses of isolated hominin mandibles. Our data further show that excessive tooth wear eventually leads to a breakdown of the normal remodeling mechanisms, resulting in dentognathic pathologies, tooth loss, and loss of masticatory function. Complete breakdown of dentognathic homeostasis, however, is unlikely to have limited the life span of early Homo because this effect was likely mediated by the preparation of soft foods.

Agusti J.,Rovira i Virgili University | Lordkipanidze D.,Georgian National Museum
Quaternary Science Reviews | Year: 2011

In this paper we review a number of scenarios which have been proposed to explain the first hominin " out of Africa" at the base of the Pleistocene. These are the brain expansion scenario, the cultural exclusion scenario, the migratory wave scenario and the common African home scenario. These scenarios are checked against the current evidence provided by the Georgian site of Dmanisi, which contains the oldest Eurasian hominins. Therefore, it is concluded that none of these scenarios fits with the existing evidence, and that the only real African influence in Dmanisi is restricted to early Homo itself. In order to explain the presence of early Homo at Dmanisi, it is concluded that the expansion out of Africa should have happened before the actual datum of Dmanisi, most probably linked to the spread of Mode 1 tools in Africa. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.

Pontzer H.,Washington University in St. Louis | Rolian C.,University of Calgary | Rightmire G.P.,Harvard University | Jashashvili T.,Georgian National Museum | And 4 more authors.
Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2010

The Dmanisi hominins inhabited a northern temperate habitat in the southern Caucasus, approximately 1.8 million years ago. This is the oldest population of hominins known outside of Africa. Understanding the set of anatomical and behavioral traits that equipped this population to exploit their seasonal habitat successfully may shed light on the selection pressures shaping early members of the genus Homo and the ecological strategies that permitted the expansion of their range outside of the African subtropics. The abundant stone tools at the site, as well as taphonomic evidence for butchery, suggest that the Dmanisi hominins were active hunters or scavengers. In this study, we examine the locomotor mechanics of the Dmanisi hind limb to test the hypothesis that the inclusion of meat in the diet is associated with an increase in walking and running economy and endurance. Using comparative data from modern humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas, as well as other fossil hominins, we show that the Dmanisi hind limb was functionally similar to modern humans, with a longitudinal plantar arch, increased limb length, and human-like ankle morphology. Other aspects of the foot, specifically metatarsal morphology and tibial torsion, are less derived and similar to earlier hominins. These results are consistent with hypotheses linking hunting and scavenging to improved walking and running performance in early Homo. Primitive retentions in the Dmanisi foot suggest that locomotor evolution continued through the early Pleistocene. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.

Hemmer H.,Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz | Kahlke R.-D.,Senckenberg Institute | Vekua A.K.,Georgian National Museum
Neues Jahrbuch fur Geologie und Palaontologie - Abhandlungen | Year: 2010

Comparative evaluation of fossil remains of the lower dentition of the jaguar, Panthera onca (LINNAEUS, 1758) in the light of recent DNA assessment allows a comprehensive phylogeographic interpretation. The speciation process led a jaguar stem population, clearly of African origin, to disperse over Europe during the time of the Olduvai polarity subchron (1.95-1.77 Myr) (Panthera onca toscana). Based on a hemimandible from Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia, dated to about 1.77 Myr, a new taxon Panthera onca georgica ssp. nov. is proposed for the earliest known Asian member of the species. Its generalized, more cutting dentition mediates between the contemporaneous P. onca toscana and the two later sister subspecies, the Eurasian P. onca gombaszoegensis, which is characterized by a specialized cutting and crushing dentition, and the North American P onca augusta. Placing the tooth differences within geographic coordinates indicates a central Asian evolutionary node between the latter two forms. Transcontinental dispersal probably brought the jaguar to North America during a glacial period between the Jaramillo polarity subchron and the end of the Matuyama magnetochron (0.99-0.78 Myr), to finally reach South America not before the Rancholabrean. Divergent taxonomie concepts for Pleistocene jaguars are discussed: single species P. onca with several subspecies, two species P gombaszoegensis and P. onca, or three species P. toscana, P gombaszoegensis and P. onca. © 2010 Schwelzerbart'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart, Germany.

Hemmer H.,Anemonenweg 18 | Kahlke R.-D.,Senckenberg Institute | Vekua A.K.,Georgian National Museum
Quaternary Science Reviews | Year: 2011

The fossil site of Dmanisi (southern Georgia) has yielded a significant amount of hominin remains dated to around 1.8 Ma, in addition to a rich contemporaneous faunal record. Based on topographic information combined with an updated list of the vertebrate faunal assemblage, the corresponding palaeo-landscape has been reconstructed. Over a distance of some kilometres the landscape pattern changed from that of a forested valley floor, to tree savannah and open grasslands, thus providing typical habitats for carnivores hunting in open spaces. Morphological analysis of the elements from a nearly complete cat's foreleg reveals the existence of a large and stoutly built cheetah, Acinonyx pardinensis (Croizet et Jobert, 1828) s.l., in the Dmanisi faunal assemblage. Body mass estimations based on the humerus and metacarpals point to a cat of around 100 kg. The amount of pure meat and associated leftovers produced by the cheetah's hunting activity available for other consumers has been estimated. Within Early Pleistocene ecosystems, the cheetah must be considered as a potential fresh prime meat supplier, above that of any other felid. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

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