Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by Mike W Morley, Senior research fellow, Flinders University

Denisova Cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. It is famous for preserving evidence of three early human groups: Neanderthals, early Homo sapiens, and a third group known as the Denisovans.

Fossil bones, stone tools and ancient DNA gathered from the cave have told a story that is extremely significant for understanding the early chapters of human evolution in Asia, going back 300,000 years.

But our new analysis of the cave’s dirt floor reveals that it was also frequented by hyenas, wolves, and even bears for much of its history.

Read more: Fresh clues to the life and times of the Denisovans, a little-known ancient group of humans

Our research, carried out with Russian colleagues and published today in Scientific Reports, takes the story of the cave’s occupation down to the microscopic level – examining the dirt from the cave to piece together new evidence that is invisible to the naked eye.

We found that the sediments contain abundant fossil droppings, but surprisingly scant evidence of human activity such as fires.

sediments reveal a famous early human cave site was also home to hyenas and wolves The foothills of the Altai Mountains in the area of Denisova Cave.

Digging deeper

The Denisova Cave fossils have already told us some remarkable tales about the cave’s past, and the now-extinct cousins of our own species that sought shelter there. DNA analysis of one bone fragment showed that it belonged to the teenage daughter of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.

Read more: Ancient teenager the first known person with parents of two different species

But by looking more closely at the very fabric of the cave, we can learn even more. Dirt – or sediment, to archaeologists – is the material that links all archaeological sites. And it can preserve evidence that would otherwise have little chance of surviving the ravages of time.

sediments reveal a famous early human cave site was also home to hyenas and wolves Block of sediment (dirt) extracted from the site for laboratory analysis.

By using a technique called micromorphology to study archaeological deposits at microscopic scales, we can spot particular features and arrangements of sediment particles that reveal clues about what was happening at the time those sediments were deposited.

This method can potentially identify miniscule traces of detritus left behind by humans living in the cave. These can include the products of burning, such as ash and charcoal, which indicate that humans lit fires there.

Caves are also attractive shelters for other animals, and fossil droppings can indicate the presence of both human and non-human cave dwellers.

Carnivores’ cave

The sediment in Denisova Cave contains evidence for its long-term use by humans and other animals, including hyenas, bears and wolves, that inhabited the wider landscape. We indeed found microscopic traces of both human and animal occupation, judging by the dropping fragments we identified.

But curiously, despite the cave having been occupied by humans for hundreds of thousands of years, as evidenced by the many fossils and stone tools already found there, its sediments contain scant evidence for the use of fire.

sediments reveal a famous early human cave site was also home to hyenas and wolves Microscope images of fossil hyena dropping (coprolite) with evidence of a meal (bone fragment) contained inside (left), and small charcoal fragments associated with burning by ancient human cave-dwellers (right)

This is intriguing, as archaeological evidence for fire-use in caves is usually commonplace, even if the sediments have been disturbed by processes such as animal burrowing, erosion by wind or water, or chemical changes to the sediment.

One possibility is that these traces were washed away by percolating water or weathered away by increased acidity.

But what the sediments do clearly tell us is that large carnivores were common visitors to the cave. As humans and large carnivores would not have happily cohabited the cave, this tells us that what we see in the sediments is a compression in time, with animal and human evidence overlain on top of one another.

Read more: Southeast Asia was crowded with archaic human groups long before we turned up

We also recorded the presence of ice in some of the sediments, indicating periods when it was both colder and wetter than at present.

Our findings show just how much we can learn by putting dirt under the microscope. It is likely this “microarchaeological” approach will continue to surprise us with finds that are invisible to the naked eye.

Authors: Mike W Morley, Senior research fellow, Flinders University

Read more http://theconversation.com/dishing-the-dirt-sediments-reveal-a-famous-early-human-cave-site-was-also-home-to-hyenas-and-wolves-122458

Writers Wanted

Solitaire Card Game Rules Every Gamer Should Know

arrow_forward

Asian countries do aged care differently. Here's what we can learn from them

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Top 5 US Logistics Companies

Nothing is more annoying than having to deal with unreliable shipping companies for your fragile and important packages. Other than providing the best customer service, a logistics company also ne...

News Co - avatar News Co

Luke Lazarus Helps Turns Startups into Global Stalwarts

There are many positive aspects to globalization. It is no secret that those who have been impacted by globalization tend to enjoy a higher standard of living in general. One factor that has led to ...

Emma Davidson - avatar Emma Davidson

Digital-based strategies that grow and expand your business

Small and medium-sized businesses are increasingly relying on new technology solutions to strengthen their product development, marketing, and customer engagement activities. Technology adoption...

News Co - avatar News Co



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion