Archeology as a paleoanthropological subject

While clues to the behavior of deceased species and populations are limited, functional morphology may give insights into general aspects of living by analyzing dentitions adapted to certain diets, or limbs allowing special ways of locomotion, or other features of the genetically-based layout of the body.

From the physique, behavioral possibilities can be ascertained. A generalized hand, with opposable thumb and the capability of power and precision grip, is able to do what a hoof or fin cannot. Fossil skeletons of Homo and other hominins show bipedal primates developing lower limbs specialized for long walks and free hands perfect for object manipulation. But the question of whether robust australopithecines in fact used their in principle capable hands (see earlier) to produce Oldowan artifacts must remain open, as must the actual use made of the enlarging brains that accompanied the evolution of the genus Homo. Only a few features observed on skeletons can be attributed to concrete activities; in most cases, rather unspecific characteristics, like robustness of the bones, are hard to interpret (Bridges 1995), and these limitations are compounded by the sparseness of the skeletal database and lack of systematic examination of the modern reference. Trauma patterns of Neanderthals apparently paralleling those of modern rodeo riders (Berger and Trinkaus 1995) are a chance result that remains singular.

More productive are correlations between basic physical capabilities, including the cumulative markers of effort, stress, and nutrition that can be deduced from skeletons, and artifacts, which yield detailed information about actual behavioral episodes. This explanatory power of artifacts may be demonstrated with regard to the issue of subsistence, as the prominent behavioral aspect that can be derived from Paleolithic archeological remains. For years, the question has been discussed of whether some of the human ancestral groups were hunting or actually scavenging (Blumenschine et al. 1994). While traces from carcass-processing give evidence of the range of the prey according to species and age distribution, as well as show the use of the different body parts, finds like the spears from Schoningen (Thieme 1997) indicate sophisticated hunting activities among H. heidelbergensis. Similarly, clues to the composition of the diet can be gathered not only from the zoological and rare botanical remains from arche-ological sites but also from markers detected on artifacts. Thus digging for termites, well known for chimpanzees, may also be likely for Australopithecus robustus based on the use-wear analysis on bone tools (Blackwell and d'Errico 2001); and starch grain analyses of stone tools demonstrate that the selection and processing of barley and wheat was underway in Southwest Asia at least 12,000 years before these grains were domesticated (Piperno et al. 2004). A third example is the control of fire which reaches back at least 790,000 years at Gesher Benot Ya'akov/Israel, from which certain artifacts show burn marks that can be explained only as exposure to controlled, not natural, fire (Goren-Inbar et al. 2004).

Another important issue in Paleolithic archeology that is accessible through artifact analysis is settlement behavior. Artifacts from a range of settlement sites, from short-term camps with nonspecific structures to long-term dwellings at favorable locations, like Upper Paleolithic Dolni Vestonice, Gonnersdorf, or Pincevent, yield information on the organization of everyday life and on people's mobility, group size, differentiation, and separation of activities.

It is clear from these artifact remains that places reserved for special activities developed quite early in human evolution, underscoring that resource management is a key factor in human behavior. There were repeated purposeful visits of early Homo to the 1.6-Myr-old MNK Chert Factory Site in Olduvai Gorge Bed II, a tool manufacturing site with more than 30,000 documented artifacts made from raw material brought in from about a kilometer away and distributed over an area at least a kilometer from the site (Stiles 1991). At the Middle Pleistocene "horse butchery site'' Q2 GTP 17 from Boxgrove, H. heidelbergensis brought six to seven flint nodules from the cliff some hundreds of meters away and flaked them into handaxes for the immediate purpose of cutting up the carcass of a horse (Roberts and Parfitt 1999). In analyzing the raw material and artifact transport to and from such sites, the development of larger and more complex settlement systems and territorial organization in human evolution can be brought to light (Feblot-Augustins 1999).

As a paleoanthropological subject, archeology can complete the results of other anthropological disciplines in several ways. In analyzing artifacts, archeology gathers information from short-term behavioral episodes which originate from singular or repeated events and can be fused to a more general picture of the behavioral aspects of chronologically, spatially, or biologically distinctive groups. Furthermore, comparing these results diachronically opens a cultural-historical dimension, thus making the evolutionary perspective on human behavior, and its underlying cognitive development, accessible in its full range. This will be described in more detail in a later section.

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