Conference Abstracts

Saturday 4th February 2017 – Conference Abstracts


Are high resolution dietary proxies accurate for large mammals’ palaeoenvironmental reconstructions for the early hominin occupation of Europe?

Florent Rivals (1)
[1] IPHES, Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social, Zona Educacional 4, Campus Sescelades URV (Edifici W3), 43007 Tarragona, Spain. E-mail:

Multi-proxy studies are becoming increasingly common in paleoenvironmental reconstructions. A trend is also moving toward the development of high-resolution proxies to improve the quality of data in high-resolution stratigraphic contexts. For example, in the recent years, the paleodiet of large mammals (herbivores in particular) is used through various proxies for habitat reconstruction at archaeological sites. These proxies range from low temporal resolution (e.g. morphology) to high resolution (e.g. dental microwear). Today, in archaeological contexts the trend is to discard morphology-based approaches (e.g. molar hypsodonty) which only give clues about evolutionary trends within a lineage and to base interpretations on high-resolution proxies such as tooth microwear which provides a snapshot of the diet of the last days of an individual. This contribution will be dedicated to evaluate the more accurate combination of dietary proxies for reconstructing the paleoenvironments during the early hominin occupation of Europe. Multi-proxy approaches should be considered because they take into account the scale of proxies and the large temporal and geographical variability they evaluate in the diet which may result in discrepancies. Rather than an inconvenience, these discrepancies among proxies permit to reveal to significance of diet at different scales of analysis and their potential for paleohabitat reconstructions.


Reconstructing palaeoclimate and palaeoseasonality using oxygen isotope analyses of faunal remains – possibilities, problems, and method development

Sarah Pederzani (1, 2), Ulrike Wacker (1), Jean-Jacques Hublin (1) & Kate Britton (1, 2).
[1] Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Human Evolution, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. E-mail (Sarah Pederzani):
[2] University of Aberdeen, School of Geosciences, Meston Building, Old Aberdeen, AB24 3UE, UK. E-mail (Sarah Pederzani):

Changing climatic conditions are a central aspect of the discussion of adaptation to and success in different environments particularly in Europe. However, despite this pivotal role in the exploration of hominin evolution, available palaeoseasonality and palaeotemperature data is often scarce and derived from broad regional scale proxies lacking a site specific scale of resolution. Climatic information gleaned from oxygen isotopic analyses of faunal remains provides an opportunity to gain insights into seasonal temperature cycles on a smaller, more local level and in fully continental contexts. At the same time, faunal material recovered from archaeological contexts – as the product of anthropogenic activity – can be more directly linked to specific hominin occupations and can therefore be more easily combined with archaeological information to produce a more rounded picture of behavioural adaptations to specific environmental conditions. However, despite this potential, the oxygen isotopic analyses of herbivore teeth and bones poses several methodological challenges that require further study to allow more refined palaeoseasonality and palaeotemperature reconstruction. Here we explore issues relating to sample pre-treatment, sampling strategy, and the expression of seasonal isotopic effects in biological tissues, as well as approaches to overcoming these concerns.


Stable isotopic tracking of large mammals and the structure of interglacial ecosystems in Middle Pleistocene Europe: Implications for subsistence of Homo heidelbergensis

Hervé Bocherens (1, 2), Martin Cotte (1), Dorothée G. Drucker (1), Emilia Hofman- Kamińska (3), Rafał Kowalczyk (3), Diana Pushkina (4) & Reinhard Ziegler (5)
[1] University of Tübingen, Dept. of Geosciences (Biogeology), Hölderlinstr. 12, D-72074 Tübingen, Germany. E-mail:
[2] University of Tübingen, Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP), Hölderlinstr. 12, D-72074 Tübingen, Germany.
[3] Polish Academy of Sciences, Mammal Research Institute, Gen. Waszkiewicza 1c, 17-230 Białowieża, Poland.
[4] University of Helsinki, Department of Geography and Geology, P.O. Box 64, FIN-00014, University of Helsinki, Finland.
[5] Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart, Rosenstein 1, D-70191 Stuttgart, Germany.

Numerous palynological and palaeobotanical data have been used to reconstruct vegetation composition and structure in Middle Pleistocene Europe during interglacial periods. In parallel, skeletal remains of mammals from archaeological and palaeontological sites can be used to complete the reconstruction of ecosystem structure for the same periods. These reconstructions are strongly based on analogy with extant species and the structure of the ecosystems they belong to. Such approaches have limitations since modern ecosystems used as reference are significantly impacted by anthropogenic activities, and many mammal species common during the Middle Pleistocene are extinct. During the last three decades, stable isotopic tracking in large mammal skeletal remains yielded valuable information about the structure of terrestrial ecosystems during the Late Pleistocene (120 – 12 ka), but only recently were these approaches used for Middle Pleistocene ecosystems in Europe. In this context, collagen is rarely preserved and data on carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of megamammals are still scarce, but carbon and oxygen isotopic composition can be retrieved from fossil tooth enamel. These data are especially useful in interglacial contexts where contrasts of carbon isotopic composition can be related to vegetation density, showing a range of values from dense forest underbush to open grassland. The isotopic data obtained on megamammals from Middle Pleistocene sites in Central Europe (MIS 17 to MIS 5) suggest the occurrence of large open areas together with dense forest, with some niche partitioning among herbivorous species. When available, the nitrogen isotopic data on herbivores are higher than those of Holocene equivalents, suggesting more productive conditions in the pre-Holocene interglacial periods. The widespread distribution of megaherbivores, such as proboscideans and rhinoceros during the Middle Pleistocene interglacial periods may partially explain this ecological difference. The implications of these non-analogue ecological conditions for the subsistence of Homo heidelbergensis will be discussed.


 Potential of Zn isotopes to retrieve information on the trophic level of ancient hominins

Klervia Jaouen (1) & Michael P. Richards (2)
 [1] Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Human Evolution, Leipzig, Germany. E-mail:
[2] Simon Fraser University, Department of Archaeology, Vancouver, Canada. E-mail:

Isotopic analyses of carbon and nitrogen are conventionally employed in bioarcheology for dietary reconstructions. These elements are however contained in the bone collagen which deteriorates over time. We recently investigated the Zn isotopic variability in the bones and teeth of humans and other mammals (modern and archeological). Humans and animals were characterized by various diets, environmental contexts (arctic, arid, temperate) and (proto)historical periods. The isotopic composition of classic food tracers (δ13C and δ15N) has been assessed in parallel. We show that the Zn isotopic composition in the bones and teeth is strongly influenced by the trophic level, but that some dietary and environmental factors can generate additional variability. We discuss the advantages and limitations of this new isotopic tool by comparing its performance to that of classic isotope analyses, and its potential as a dietary tracer for Paleolithic material.


Time and temperature wait for no hominin: the limits and limitations of ancient DNA and ancient proteins

Frido Welker (1)
[1] Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Department of Human Evolution, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. E-mail:

The commonplace acquisition of Neanderthal, Denisovan and ancient modern human DNA continues to revolutionize our understanding of hominin phylogeny and interaction(s). The challenge with older fossils is that the progressive fragmentation of DNA, even under optimal conditions (a function of time and temperature), results in ever shorter fragments of DNA. Ancient proteins have been suggested to potentially be an alternative source of biomolecular sequence data to investigate hominin phylogeny. In addition, ancient proteins have been proposed to potentially provide insights into in vivo biological processes. As with ancient DNA, most ancient protein research has focused on Late Pleistocene or even more recent material. Therefore, some important research questions remain. What do we currently know about Early and Middle Pleistocene protein survival in Europe? How can ancient protein sequences be used to investigate research questions concerning Homo heidelbergensis? What pitfalls exist when studying ancient proteins, and how could those be overcome (for example, human protein contamination)?


Did unique levels of plasticity facilitate hominin colonisation of novel habitats?

Laura Buck (1, 2), Isabelle De Groote (2, 3), Y. Hamada (4) & Jay Stock (1)
[1] University of Cambridge, Department of Archaeology, UK. E-mail (Laura Buck):
[2] Department of Earth Sciences, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK.
[3] School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, UK.
[4] Kyoto University, Section of Evolutionary Morphology, Primate Research Institute, Japan.

There is evidence for early Pleistocene Homo in northern Europe, a novel hominin habitat. Adaptations enabling this colonisation are intriguing given suggestions that Homo exhibits physiological and behavioural malleability associated with a colonising niche. As differences in body size/shape between conspecifics from different climates are well-known adaptations in mammals, could relatively plastic size/shape have been important to Homo adapting to cold habitats? If so, at what point did this aspect of the ‘colonising niche’ arise? To address these questions a base-line for adaptation to climate must be established by comparison with outgroups. Japanese macaques have great latitudinal spread, making them a suitable outgroup. We compare skeletons of Japanese macaques from four different latitudes. We find inter-group differences in postcranial and cranial size and shape. Size varies more than shape, showing a positive relationship with latitude. However, the very small size of the southern-most (island) sample may be affected by resource availability. Allometry-free shape shows geographic patterning, but suggests sex, diet and gene-flow, as well as climate, are important. These insights begin to provide a comparison for hominin adaptation to habitat diversity and the role of colonisation in shaping the evolution and dispersal of Homo species.


Funding: This work was supported by the European Research Council (ADaPt Project: FP7-IDEAS-ERC 617627).


Assessing variation in Lower Palaeolithic core working technologies and the implications for the origins of Levallois in northwest Europe

Lucie Bolton (1)
[1] University of Southampton, Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins (CAHO), Archaeology, Avenue Campus, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK. E-mail:

The seemingly widespread appearance of the Levallois technique approximately 300,000 years ago is associated with the earliest H. sapiens in Africa and early Neanderthals or late H. heidelbergensis in Europe. In the context of hominin evolution, this method of stone tool production presages game-changing shifts in hominin behaviour such as hunting practices, landscape use, group dynamics and cognitive ability. Whilst the origins of the technique are still highly debated, the Levallois method seems to have roots in the lesser-understood technique referred to as either ‘proto’, or ‘reduced’ Levallois, and more recently as Simple Prepared Core (SPC) technology.

An investigation of the assemblages believed to contain this variety of core working techniques was carried out as part of my PhD research. Results demonstrate identical reduction techniques in nine of the ten assemblages analysed in northwest Europe. This has allowed for the construction of a new overarching technological definition of SPC technology which is now accepted to be present on a significantly wider scale both temporally and geographically.

This paper will discuss the clear conceptual links between SPC technology and the Levallois technique. The implications of this relationship in terms of hominin behaviour and cognitive ability will also be explored.


Early occupation at Happisburgh; the view from offshore

Rachel Bynoe (1), Simon Parfitt (1, 2), Nick Ashton (3), Simon Lewis (4), Fraser Sturt (5) & Justin Dix (6)
[1]  Earth Sciences Department, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK. E-mail:
[2] Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY UK.
[3] Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory, The British Museum.
[4] Queen Mary University of London, School of Geography, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS.
[5] University of Southampton, Centre for Maritime Archaeology (CMA), Archaeology, Avenue Campus, Southampton, SO17 1BJ.
[6] University of Southampton, Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, SO17 1BJ.

Getting to grips with the occupation of Britain and Northwest Europe, particularly during the Lower Palaeolithic, is currently reliant on a severely truncated picture. Large-scale palaeogeographic and sea level changes have rendered invisible the lower-lying landscapes that once joined Britain to mainland Europe. Whilst much of these landscapes are currently incredibly difficult to access, the beaches near Happisburgh are yielding significant amounts of archaeological material pointing to the existence of a submerged early Pleistocene site associated with the Cromer Forest-bed Formation.

Given the current challenges involved with the targeting of archaeological sites offshore, this provides not only an opportunity to locate further archaeological sites associated with this Formation, but also allows us to develop methodologies for working with offshore material.  This paper will present the current and ongoing research looking at picking apart the various types of available data; how can these be used to gradually refine and understand the submerged deposits and what can this tell us about methods that could be applied to future materials and sites?