Descent of Palaeoanthropology on Florence 18th – 20th of September 2014

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Human Evolutionary research has come a long way since Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man and selection in relation to Sex’ in 1871. It has matured and developed into a respectable discipline. Less and less do we see personal egos influence research and conclusions, more and more do we see a worldwide interest in researching our hominin past, not just in the USA. A number of years ago, the European Society of the study of Human Evolution was established as an answer to the American conferences. This conference type is long overdue in Europe for those who don’t have the time or finances to travel to the US. I have been to the 2013 conference which was held in Vienna. My time there was nothing short of enjoyable. Loving every moment from cruising down the Danube to lectures on the carcass processing by Homo erectus in eastern Africa.

Now I have this conference to look forward to, taking place in the town of Florence, northern Italy. What follows are a few of what I consider highlights of the visit.

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 Cover Page of the Abstracts booklet with details of the excursion: Check it out Here

The Keynote will be given by Professor Guido Barbujani (pictured below) of the Department of Life Sciences and Biotechnologies of the University of Vienna. Here he will give us an overview of an aspect of linguistics research – comparing distantly related languages. Traditionally, comparisons were focused upon the lexial. When it came to languages with quite different vocabulary, the lexial comparison experienced numerous difficulties. The Parametric Comparative Method (PCM) of syntax and grammar appears to go beyond the difficulties found in lexial comparisons. What’s more, it is a much better predictor of differences found in the human genome, than that shown by geographical comparisons. I know little about linguistics, but on the face of it, this does sound promising. Based on what I know, linguistics has been nothing but conjecture, rather like most of theorical physics. It is the experimental physicists that have to help them test their hypotheses. Cross-disciplinary work is much better than going it alone, history reveals this to us. Today there is much communication going on between disciplines, working together bringing the skills and techniques of each discipline to the table to help unravel the mystery of the world.

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My masters research involved the investigation of Paranthropean biogeography between eastern Africa and southern Africa. So, it will be no surprise to my friends and colleagues, that I will be particularly interest in the poster presentation by Andrew Gallagher, entitled Size and Sex variance in Paranthropus robustus: Taxonomic and Palaeobiological implications. Another poster presentation, I will be very interested in viewing is also shown during Poster Session 1 and that’s the one by Sandrine Prat entitled A specimen of Paranthropus robustus from Bolt’s Farm Cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa.

What excites me most about this conference is the nomadic activity it indulges in from year to year. Most conferences in any discipline are like this anyway, but I want to emphasise here, because I get to see a part of Italy few tourists get to see or for that matter want to see. The words you see here on this post can never fully explain the childish excitement I’m experiencing here, in the Member’s Room in the British Museum.

Another highlight will be our visit to a spa resort to relax and bathe in the wonder and awe of palaeolithic cave archaeology. See what I did there! The Cave of the Fair Spa or Grotte di Equ080406_burren8i Terme in summary is a Mousterian Heaven. Being tectonically porous, sulphurous hot springs seep up from the earth below and since the Romans couldn’t get enough of hot springs, this area became a very popular resort to kick back and chill. Though I doubt the Romans knew what treasures lay at the back of nearby caves. Like the famed limestone landscape of the Burren in the West of Ireland (Above), this area is karstic.

Karst = Caves = Archaeological & Zooarchaeological Remains

Now that I think of it, would it not be interesting to discuss prehistoric use of hot springs. Let’s try to attempt to reconstruct an extended family of Homo neanderthalensis availing of the springs. Would these springs have been in demand? If yes, then was competition fierce among Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis for this location, especially during the winter months. Who knows? But its a fun idea to play around with, don’t you think?

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 Equi Terme Hamlet

So I’m excited because I love discovery. It inspires me, makes me feel positive and I feel a sense of humility, knowing how far humanity has come since Homo ergaster left Africa a million and a half years ago. That’s fine, but there is alot of work needed to help us understand the past. My expertise lies in Archaeology and so I’m particularly interested in the stone tools that were deposited in these caves. Dating to Marine Isotope Stage 3 (MIS 3) from about 57,000 to 29,000 years ago, numerous excavations were undertaken at the caves in the decade of World War I. In July of 2014 a paper was published by Ghezzo et al, entitled Recovering data from historical collections: stratigraphic and spatial reconstruction of the outstanding carnivoran record from the Late Pleistocene Equi Cave (Apuane Alps, Italy), seeking to merge modern data with that of the early 20th century antiquarians. The zooarchaeological record of the Cave of the Fair Spa is one of the richest in northern Italy, but it also contains a lithic assemblage sometimes referred to as the Alpine Mousterian. So, its Mousterian with a twist (not literally, of course).

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Rio Secco Cave, north-eastern Italy – Mousterian Assemblage

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