Michael Walker

1. Human Evolution in Pleistocene Europe

June 30th-August 11th, 2017: Field School for Quaternary Palaeoanthropology and Prehistory of Murcia, S.E. Spain, 28th Field Season 2017: www.mupantquat.com

Direction of field research at two Pleistocene sites with human and Palaeolithic remains in the southeastern Spanish region of Murcia, namely:

1.1. Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo at Dolores de Pacheco near Torre Pacheco, Murcia

Sima de las Palomas is a natural karstic shaft opening at 70 metres above sea-level on Cabezo Gordo, an isolated hill of Mesozoic marble rising majestically out of the Murcian coastal plain. In 1991 a spelaeologist abseiling down the shaft extracted, from the upper part of an 18-metre deep fossiliferous conglomerate (“breccia”), a fossil that after cleaning turned out to be the upper and lower jaws of a Neanderthal adult in anatomical connexion. Such articulated hominid remains are very rarely found. Our subsequent excavations in the upper part of the breccia column have uncovered important remains that correspond to Neanderthal skeletons in anatomical connexion of two adults and a child in deposits characterized by Mousterian Palaeolithic artifacts. One is the almost complete skeleton of a woman wth skull and mandible in articulation, as well as the only intact adult female Neanderthal pelvis to have been found anywhere in the world. The child’s skeleton has its skull and mandible in articulation, and one of its hands is still cemented to the forehead and the other was excavated beside the face; the woman’s hands were excavated beside her face: both seem to have been laid out in a “sleeping” position, which has been reported also for skeletons elsewhere at Mousterian sites. The third articulated skeleton could correspond to the facial fragments found in 1991. Mandibular and other skeletal finds from the site correspond to another six Neanderthal individuals. The articulated skeletons were clearly not scavenged by leopards, hyaenas or porcupines, remains of which have been found, including two articulated leopard paws that may have been kept as hunting trophies; perhaps the bodies had been covered with big stones, intentionally, to discourage scavenging. Charred animal bones imply that meat was roasted at the site (a leopard skull temporal bone was burnt). However, phytoliths in Neanderthal dental plaque show that plant foodstuffs were eaten also, and findings of caries are consistent with that. The site dates from about 50,000 years ago, according to a minimal view of radiocarbon, optical luminescence, uranium-series and electron spin resonance dating methods. The Murcia Regional Museo de Paleontología y Evolución Humana has just been built below Sima de las Palomas though it is an empty concrete structure, awaiting funding in order to fit out exhibition halls for the Sima de las palomas Neanderthals, laboratories, workshops, store-rooms and other amenities. Meanwhile Torre Pacheco city council has made available a new laboratory in order to enable the continuation of research on the finds from the Sima de las Palomas.

Publications: Erik Trinkaus and Michael J. Walker, Eds., 2017, The People of Palomas, Neandertals from the Sima de las Palomas, Cabezo Gordo, Southeastern Spain (Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 9781623494797); M.J.Walker et al 2012 “The excavation of the buried articulated Neanderthal skeletons at Sima de las Palomas (Murcia, SE Spain)” Quaternary International 259, 7-21; M.J.Walker et al 2011 “Morphology, body proportions, and postcranial hypertrophy of a female Neandertal from the Sima de las Palomas, southeastern Spain” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 108, 10087-91; M.J.Walker et al 2011 “Neandertal postcranial remains from the Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Murcia, southeastern Spain,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 144, 505-15; M.J.Walker et al 2010 “New evidence of dental pathology in 40,000 year old Neandertals” Journal of Dental Research 90: 428-32; D.C.Salazar-García, R.C.Power, A.Sanchis Serra, V.Villaverde, M.J.Walker, A.G.Henry 2013 “Neanderthal diets in central and southeastern Mediterranean Iberia” Quaternary International  318, 3-18; M.J.Walker et al 2010 “Neandertal mandibles from the Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Murcia, southeastern Spain”  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 142, 261-72; M.J.Walker et al 2008 “Late Neandertals in Southeastern Spain: Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Murcia, Spain” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 105, 20631-6.

Public presentation for 2017: M.J.Walker, M.Sontag-González, M.Haber-Uriarte, M.López-Martínez, S.Black, J-L. Schwenninger, “Preliminary dating of deep layers at Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo (Torre Pacheco, Murcia, Spain),” 7th Annual Meeting of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution ESHE Leiden, The Netherlands, 21-23 September 2017, and Proceedings of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution 6 (PESHE 6).

Public presentation in 2016: R.Power, D.C.Salazar García, M.Rubini, A.Darlas, K.Harvati, M.Walker, A.Henry, A., “Dental calculus indicates widespread plant use within the Neanderthal dietary niche”, 6th Annual Meeting of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution ESHE Madrid, Spain 14-17 September 2016, and Proceedings of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution 5 (PESHE 5) p. 190 (abstract).

Public presentation in 2016: P. Bayle (presenter), M. Le Luyer, K.A. Robson-Brown, M.J.Walker, Enamel thickness and dental tissue proportions in the Neandertals from the Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo, Southeastern Spain,” 6th Annual Meeting of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution ESHE Madrid, Spain 14-17 September 2016, and Proceedings of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution 5 (PESHE 5) p.45 (abstract).

1.2. Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar at La Encarnación near Caravaca de la Cruz, Murcia.

Cueva Negra overlooking the R.Quípar, a R.Segura tributary, is an upland rock-shelter 75 km N of the Mediterranean coast and 110 W of the Segura river-mouth. It contains undisturbed sediment 5m deep assigned by magnetostratigraphy to >0.78 Ma (0.78 million years ago). Therefore the deposit is slightly earlier than the 0.78 Ma boundary between the Matuyama and Brunhes magnetochrons and regarded as separating the Early Pleistocene from the Middle Pleistocene. Optically stimulated sediment luminescence implies an age >0.5 Ma and mammalian biochronology (notably, of Arvicolid rodents) correlates with extinct species known between 1 and 0.6 Ma. Remains include teeth of Homo (cf heidelbergensis), an Acheulian limestone handaxe, and small chert, limestone or quartzite artifacts, knapped on site, often by bipolar reduction or repetitive centripetal flaking of small discoidal cores. Retouched artifacts include small irregular chert fragments, resembling chert at an adjacent conglomerate outcrop according to laser-ablation inductively-coupled plasma mass-spectrometry of 19 lanthanide elements, though some chert was likely procured ~25 km away (one radiolarite artifact from ~40 km). Mammals, birds (including waterfowl), reptiles, amphibians and fish corroborate pollen typical of mild (MIS-21?), damp, fluvio-lacustrine environments. The fauna includes mammoth, rhinoceros, giant deer and bison. Evidence of fire in a deep, sealed layer includes thermally-altered, lustreless chert, with pot-lid fractures and conjoined splintering caused by thermal shock; charred burnt bone, and white calcined fragments showing conjoined lengthwise long-bone spalling typical of circumferential shrinkage after thermal volatilization of organic components. Taphonomical analysis and electron microscopy of bone fragments attribute discolouration to burning, not to post-depositional mineral staining. Sediment geochemistry and thin-section micromorphology suggest thermal alteration; Fourier Transform infrared spectroscopy and electron spin resonance analysis of chert and bone imply firing temperatures >400ºC  <700/800ºC. Fire ~0.8 Ma supported hominin cognitive versatility, techno-manual dexterity, and palaeoeconomic extractive behaviour in long-vanished Western European palaeoecological and palaeobiogeographical contexts showing noteworthy biodiversity. Cueva Negra has both the earliest evidence of fire known in Europe and the oldest Acheulian handaxe in Europe, as well as a remarkable small-tool assemblage that foreshadows Levalloisian and Mousterioid Middle Palaeolithic complexes.

Publications: M.J. Walker (in press; publication during 2017) Palaeolithic Pioneers, Behaviour, Abilities, and Activity of Early Homo in European Landscapes around the Western Mediterranean Basin ~1.3-0.05 Ma (Archaeopress, Oxford, UK); M.J. Walker et al 2016 “Combustion at the late Early Pleistocene site of Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Murcia, Spain)” Antiquity 90, 571-589; Walker et al., 2016 “A view from a cave: Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Caravaca de la Cruz, Murcia, southeastern Spain). Reflections on fire, technological diversity, environmental exploitation, and palaeoanthropological approaches”, Human Evolution 31, 1-67; S.E. Rhodes, M.J. Walker et al 2016 “Fire in the Early Palaeolithic: evidence of small mammal burning at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar, Murcia, Spain” Journal of Archaeological Science Reports 9, 427-436; M.J.Walker et al 2013 “Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Murcia, Spain): A late Early Pleistocene hominin site with an “Acheulo-Levalloiso-Mousteroid” Palaeolithic assemblage” Quaternary International 294, 135-59; M.J.Walker 2009 “Long–term memory and Middle Pleistocene `Mysterians´” pp 75-84 in S.A.de Beaune, F.L.Coolidge, T.Wynn, eds, Cognitive Archaeology And Human Evolution, Cambridge University Press; Zack … Walker 2013, “Stone procurement and transport at the late Early Pleistocene site of Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Murcia, SE Spain)” Quartär 60, 7-28; Angelucci… Walker 2013 “Rethinking stratigraphy and site formation of the Pleistocene deposit at Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Caravaca de la Cruz, Spain)” Quaternary Science Reviews 89, 195-199.

Public presentation in 2016, with financial support from The Ronin Instititute: M.J.Walker, D.Anesin, D.E.Angelucci, A. Avilés-Fernández, F.Berna, A.T.Buitrago-López, J.S.Carrión, A.Eastham, Y.Fernández-Jalvo, S.Fernández-Jiménez, J.García-Torres, M.Haber-Uriarte, A.López-Jiménez, M.V.López-Martínez, I.Martín-Lerma, J.Ortega-Rodrigáñez, J.L.Polo-Camacho, S.E.Rhodes, D.Richter, T.Rodríguez-Estrella, G.Romero-Sánchez, M.San-Nicolás-del-Toro, J-L.Schwenninger, A.R.Skinner, J.van-der-Made, W.Zack. A view from a cave: Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Caravaca de la Cruz, Murcia, southeastern Spain). Reflections on fire, technological diversity, environmental exploitation, and palaeoanthropological approaches, in (volume of abstracts) IUAES (International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences) Inter-Congress World Anthropologies and Privatization of Knowledge: Engaging Anthropology in Public, 4-9 May 2016 Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 2016, p. 117; published in full in Human Evolution 31, 1-67, 2016.

Public presentation for 2017: G.Linares-Matás, J.Yravedra, I.Martín-Lerma, J.Aramendi, L.Courtenay, M.A.Maté-González, M.Haber-Uriarte, M.López-Martínez, M.J.Walker, “Preliminary taphonomical assessment of the macromammalian zooarchaeological assemblage at the late Early Pleistocene site of Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (Caravaca, Murcia, Spain),” 7th Annual Meeting of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution ESHE Leiden, The Netherlands, 21-23 September 2017, and (volume of abstracts) Proceedings of the European Society for the Study of Human Evolution 6 (PESHE 6).

2. Evolution of procedural memory in Pleistocene humans

Publication: 2016 M.J.Walker: “Palaeoneurophysiology and cognitive evolution in Pleistocene Homo: Biological and palaeoanthropological perspectives on the role of “haptic” working memory in the evolution of long-term procedural memory; drawing neuroscience and palaeoanthropology together, pp. 177-193 in: Ribot F. (Ed.), Homenaje al Dr. José Gibert Clols. Una vida dedicada a la ciencia y a los primeros europeos. Publicaciones de la Diputación de Granada, Granada, Spain.

Manuscripts undergoing final revision during 2017 for publication: M.J.Walker and H.M.Manrique, Tool-Making and Use in Great Apes and Humans: Evolution of Memory Made All the Difference (Palgrave-Macmillan, New York); M.J. Walker, In The Long Term: The Development of Long-Term Memory in the Human Brain and its Relation to Early Pleistocene Stone Tool Production; “Keeping in mind the work in hand. Theorizing about Palaeolithic origins from neuroscientific perspectives on the evolution of human memory” (J.Archaeological Method & Theory); M.J.Walker et al., How the Earliest Cave-Folk of South-East Spain were Dug Up: A journey full of archaeological and anthropological surprises. A book put together by the team excavating under the direction of Michael J. Walker at the sites of Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar (the Black Cave of the River Quípar gorge) near Caravaca de la Cruz, Murcia, Spain, and Sima de las Palomas del Cabezo Gordo (Dove Hole on Cabezo Gordo hill) near Torre Pacheco, Murcia, Spain), (Oxbow Books, Oxford, U.K.); Cómo se excavan los más antiguos yacimientos humanos del sudeste español, un viaje lleno de sorpresas arqueológicas y antropológicas. Libro compilado por el equipo técnico dirigido por Michael J. Walker de excavación en los yacimientos de la Cueva Negra del Estrecho del Río Quípar en Caravaca de la Cruz, Murcia, España, y la Sima de las Palomas  del Cabezo Gordo en Torre Pacheco, Murcia, España, (MUPANTQUAT, Murcia, Spain).

Public presentations in 2016:  In The Journey of the Evolving Mind: Brain and Behavioural Evolution in Modern Apes and Extinct Human Ancestors. 15-17 Sept., 2016, Universidad de Zaragoza Teruel Campus, M.J. Walker (a) “Stone Tools and the origins of human technology: affordances and constraints”; M.J.Walker (b) “Observation learning and evolution of the human brain; aspects of neurophysiology and neuroanatomy; mirror-neuron circuitry and shared attention; the relation between working memory and longterm procedural memory; prospective memory and multi-tasking”; M.J. Walker (c) “On wishful thinking: Did Palaeolithic humans customarily engage in symbolic behaviour before 40,000 years ago?”

Public presentation for 2017: Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2017: M.J.Walker, coordinator and Chair: Jornadas de la Evolución del Cerebro Humana y la Arqueología Cognitiva, Real Casino de Murcia, Murcia, organized by the Murcian Association for the Study of Palaeoanthropology and the Quaternary (MUPANTQUAT); sponsorship from Fundación CajaMurcia.

Opening ceremony: Excmº. Dr. Emiliano Aguirre Enríquez (Emeritus Professor Universidad Complutense Madrid, one-time Director of the National Museum of Natural Sciences, Madrid; initiator of Atapuerca research in the 1970’s; born in 1925)

Lectures:

  1. Caparrós (Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris) “Evolución del endocráneo en el género Homo – enfoquefilogenético”

H.M. Manrique (Universidad de Zaragoza) “¿Es la capacidad de imaginar lo que nos hace sapiens?”

  1. Gomila Benejam (Universidad de las Islas Baleares, Palma de Mallorca) “Evolución del lenguaje”
  2. Samaniego Bordiú (Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid) “Semiosis del lenguaje visual en el Paleolítico Medio”

M.J. Walker (Universidad de Murcia) “La evolución del cerebro en Homo desde hace dos millones de años

  1. Martín Lerma (Universidad de Murcia) “Desmontando mitos: ¿Qué sabemos del Paleolítico Superior a través del estudio de la Cognición?”

M.H. Uriarte (Universidad de Murcia) “Los retos de la Arqueología Cognitiva en el s. XXI para el estudio de la evolucion humana”

M.T.Herrero Ezquerro (Universidad de Murcia) “Singularidades del cerebro humano… la evolución continua”

To learn more, visit: http://www.mupantquat.com

Contact Michael at
mjwalke@gmail.com
michael.walker@ronininstitute.org