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Spread of prehistoric peoples in California tied to environment
by Staff Writers
Salt Lake City, Calif. (UPI) Aug 19, 2013


Archaeologists find evidence of separate Neanderthal cultures in Europe
Southampton, England (UPI) Aug 19, 2013 - A study of prehistoric hand axes created by Neanderthals shows two distinct cultural traditions in populations in different regions of Europe, researchers say.

Scientists at the University of Southampton in Britain say the finding suggests Neanderthals were more culturally complex than previously acknowledged.

Southampton archaeologist Karen Ruebens examined the design of 1,300 stone tools originating from 80 Neanderthal sites in five European countries; France, Germany, Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands.

Comparison showed evidence two separate hand axe traditions or designs existed; one in a region now spanning southwestern France and Britain, the other in Germany and further to the East, a university release reported Monday.

"In Germany and France there appears to be two separate hand axe traditions, with clear boundaries, indicating completely separate, independent developments," Ruebens said.

Neanderthals in the western region made symmetrical, triangular and heart-shaped hand axes, while during the same time period in the eastern region they produced asymmetrically shaped bifacial knives, the study found.

"Distinct ways of making a hand axe were passed on from generation to generation and for long enough to become visible in the archaeological record," Ruebens said.

"This indicates a strong mechanism of social learning within these two groups and says something about the stability and connectivity of the Neanderthal populations."

"The transition zone in Belgium and Northern France indicates contact between the different groups of Neanderthals, which is generally difficult to identify but has been much talked about, especially in relation to later contacts with groups of modern humans," she said.

Environmental factors have helped shape California's diversity of Indian ethnic-and-language groups in the last 12,000 years, researchers say.

Populations of peoples have followed the greenery, they said, with successive waves of migrating tribes settling first on the lush Pacific coast and moving on to progressively drier, less-vegetated habitats.

"Trying to explain why linguistic diversity is high in some places and low in others has been a big issue in anthropology," lead study author Brian Codding of the University of Utah said.

"For a number of years, people have shown a correlation between ecological diversity and linguistic diversity," he explained. "What we did in this study that was different was to look at it over time -- to actually see the process through which different populations came to live side-by-side as neighbors or replaced one population with another. We're showing how the diversity actually developed over time."

The researches said they set out to determine if the suitability of ancient California habitats correlated with when and where wave after wave of Native American immigrants settled during the past 12,000 years, resulting in prehistoric California's extreme diversity of ethnicities and languages.

The comparative lushness of California regions, mostly unchanged for millennia, correlated to the order in which nine major prehistoric ethnolinguistic groups migrated to California and colonized the state, they found.

From about 12,000 to 8,000 years ago, the researchers found, the earliest settlers colonized the most suitable, lush habitats along the Pacific coast, particularly estuaries and river mouths, while from 8,000 to 4,000 years ago, "migrants settled in more marginal habitats" in California's Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada.

"We can use these general results to try to understand how ethnic diversity builds over time in different areas," Codding said. "It suggests that where we see a lot of ecological diversity, migration patterns probably should result in the buildup of linguistic diversity."

The finding "may aid in the explanation of prehistoric hunter-gatherer migrations across the globe, including the initial spread of people out of Africa into Europe, Asia and across to Australia-New Guinea," the researchers said in reporting their study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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