New hominin remains from Uzbekistan are kinda-sorta Neandertal-like

An new article in press, to be published in the Journal of Human Evolution will announce new hominin remains from Uzbekistan. The remains were actually found five years ago, and are the first hominin findings from the country in over 65 years! The remains were discovered in two Middle Paleolithic sites, the Obi-Rakhmat Grotto and Anghilak Cave. From the abstract,

“The material from Obi-Rakhmat (OR-1), a subadult represented by part of a permanent maxillary dentition and a fragmentary cranium, expresses a relatively Neandertal-like dentition coupled with more ambiguous cranial anatomy. The remains from Anghilak Cave include a non-diagnostic, diminutive right fifth metatarsal (AH-1). These findings are important additions to the Central Asia hominin fossil record.”

The paper, “New hominin remains from Uzbekistan,” is pretty straightforward. Obi-Rakhmat Grotto sits just west of the Kyrgyzstan border. It is a very rich in archaeology… lots of elongated Levallois blade blanks have been recovered. There is also a large zooarchaeological record, which shows taphonomic modification by humans, i.e. cut-marks, burning, etc.

Obi-Rakhmat deposits have been dated with AMS radiocarbon dating of charcoal, U-series dating of travertines, and electron spin resonance (ESR) on ungulate teeth. The radiocarbon dates exceeded the limits of the method, the U-series suggests the deposits are anywhere from 70,000–100,000 years old. ESR from the top strata date to 57,000–73,000 years old, while the bottom strata is dated to be 87,000 years old. The human remains from Obi-Rakhmat are represented by 6 isolated permanent maxillary teeth and over 120 crania fragments. Here are photos of the human remains from Ob-Rakhmat:

Obi-Rakhmat has been studied for over 45 years, where Anghilak Cave is a more recent discovery. There aren’t as many Levallois debitage in Anghilak as Obi-Rakhmat. According to the authors, the archaeology of Anghilak appears to be analogous to those of Kunji Cave, Iran (a Paleolithic site with small retouched tools). Preliminary radiocarbon dates from Anghilak suggest it is somewhere between 43,900-38,100 years old. Only one human remain was recovered from Anghilak, a metatarsal picture below:

The Obi-Rakhmat remains are thought to be single child, aged 9-12 years old, represented by the specimen name OR-1. The morphology of OR-1 dentition suggest this kid was a Neandertal. The first molar exhibits a skewed occlusal surface, the premolars exhibit some Neandertal traits. The cranial fragments, such as the relatively thick parietal of OR-1 further suggest that it was a Neandertal. Some other cranial fragments, such as the presence of a foramen in the parietal are seen in at least 37% of modern human. Neandertals, such as Amud 1, Shanidar 1, Tabun 1, Skhul 4, 5, and 9 lack such a foramen.

Making inferences from the temporal fragments of OR-1, the authors suggest that the external acoustic meatus of OR-1 is much lower, a trait seen in modern humans as well… but looking at the morphology of the inner ear, OR-1 has a small and wide posterior semicircular canal, a trait seen in Neandertals. The metatarsal from Anghilak, AH-1, isn’t representative enough to determine a species nor age — all we can tell is that it is human.

In general this description of the remains sound a lot like Teshik-Tash. The hominin remains from Teshik-Tash, the only other site in Uzbekistan yielding hominin fossils, are just as fragmentary and mixed in traits as OR-1. A recent genetic study of the Teshik-Tash remains suggest it was Neandertal, and I’m thinking that OR-1 and AH-1, if excavated under sterile conditions, may also need genetic analysis to confirm.

    GLANTZ, M., VIOLA, B., WRINN, P., CHIKISHEVA, T., DEREVIANKO, A., KRIVOSHAPKIN, A., ISLAMOV, U., SULEIMANOV, R., RITZMAN, T. (2008). New hominin remains from Uzbekistan. Journal of Human Evolution DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.12.007

2 thoughts on “New hominin remains from Uzbekistan are kinda-sorta Neandertal-like

  1. As a team leader of OR project (since 1998) and principal lithic analyst there, I’d like to introduce some clarity into information posted here that concerns lithics. Obi-Rakhmat industry is NOT Levallois MP on no account. Yes, we have found some Levallois-like elongated points. But they are not classical ones (whether in terms of preparation of striking platforms or dorsal scar patterns). We do not have any classical Levallois cores. Even Levallois-like point cores (not numerous) combine two technological ideas – convergent unipolar production of elongated points from a wide flaking surface and unipolar blade production from an adjoining narrow flaking surface. So, it’s better to say, that we have just a reminiscence of Levallois technological ideas…
    In terms of percentage – the dominant technology is a blade/bladelet production from unipolar narrow-faced cores.
    As a result of 2008 field season we can affirm that at 70-80 kyr OR people already knew how to produce bladelets and even microblades from wedge-shaped cores (we have a good series of such cores and corresponding blanks from the lowest cultural layer – working on a paper right now :-)). So, OR industry is MP in a chronological sense (that’s for sure), but it has much more complicated technological and typological appearance, combining MP and UP signatures.
    From my point of view, OR industry is a result of intrusive event into Paleolithic sequence of Uzbekistan (and that part of Central Asia in general). It has nothing to do with preceding MP industries of the region. As for me, OR type of industry could appear in a “frontier” context (co-existing of different populations). From this point of view, “mosaic” features of OR child look quite intriguing :-).
    Unfortunately, our attempts to make a DNA research failed due to bad preservation of organic material in OR human bones…

    Anyway, OR project is still in a progress, let’s wait :-)

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