New research article by HDRG members published in PLOS ONE

Earliest Human Presence in North America Dated to the Last Glacial Maximum: New Radiocarbon Dates from Bluefish Caves, Canada

Lauriane Bourgeon, Ariane Burke & Thomas Higham

Abstract : The timing of the first entry of humans into North America is still hotly debated within the scientific community. Excavations conducted at Bluefish Caves (Yukon Territory) from 1977 to 1987 yielded a series of radiocarbon dates that led archaeologists to propose that the initial dispersal of human groups into Eastern Beringia (Alaska and the Yukon Territory) occurred during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). This hypothesis proved highly controversial in the absence of other sites of similar age and concerns about the stratigraphy and anthropogenic signature of the bone assemblages that yielded the dates. The weight of the available archaeological evidence suggests that the first peopling of North America occurred ca. 14,000 cal BP (calibrated years Before Present), i.e., well after the LGM. Here, we report new AMS radiocarbon dates obtained on cut-marked bone samples identified during a comprehensive taphonomic analysis of the Bluefish Caves fauna. Our results demonstrate that humans occupied the site as early as 24,000 cal BP (19,650 ± 130 14C BP). In addition to proving that Bluefish Caves is the oldest known archaeological site in North America, the results offer archaeological support for the “Beringian standstill hypothesis”, which proposes that a genetically isolated human population persisted in Beringia during the LGM and dispersed from there to North and South America during the post-LGM period.

BOURGEON, L., BURKE, A. & HIGHAM, T. (2017). Earliest Human Presence in North America Dated to the Last Glacial Maximum: New Radiocarbon Dates from Bluefish Caves, Canada. PLoS ONE 12 (1) : e0169486. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169486.

Link to the article :

Conferences given by HDRG members during march and april 2017

82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, march 29 - april 2, 2017


New on-site method to evaluate the quantity and quality of collagen in archaeological faunal assemblages using a portable FTIR and ZooMS

Geneviève Pothier Bouchard, Michael Buckley, Jamie Hodgkins, Susan M. Mentzer, Christopher E. Miller, Fabio Negrino, Julien Riel-Salvatore

Abstract : Faunal remains play an important role in helping reconstruct Paleolithic hunter-gatherer subsistence and mobility strategies. However, differential bone preservation is an issue in southern European prehistoric sites, which often makes morphological identification impossible. Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) is a new, low-cost method that will improve NISP statistical significance in a replicable way by using diagnostic peptides of the dominant collagen protein as a fingerprint of animal (including hominin) species. It is also a powerful tool to assess collagen preservation for radiocarbon dating. We present a test of a method for evaluating collagen preservation in the field prior to ZooMS analysis. Using a portable Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer (FTIR) equipped with an attenuated total reflectance accessory, we evaluated the relative abundance of collagen and various components of the mineral fraction, in powdered bone fragments, as well as indicators of burning and fossilization. The bones were then analyzed by ZooMS and results compared to ascertain FTIR as a screening technique. This method was tested on assemblages from two Northwestern Italian sites: Riparo Bombrini and Arma Veirana. Both sites document the Middle-Upper Paleolithic transition with overlapping dates from distinct environmental contexts (coastal and mountainous hinterland) differing greatly in collagen preservation.


The social consequences of climate-driven changes in the spatial distribution of human populations during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM)

Ariane Burke and Colin Wren

Symposium : Upper Paleolithic transitional "moments" on the Iberian peninsula

Abstract : Risk-reducing strategies allow humans to manage ecological risk while minimising disruptions. Unpredictable resource fluctuations, i.e. risk, are driven by a combination of climate conditions and climate variability. Under extreme conditions reduction strategies fail, however, forcing a reorganisation of the social and economic structure of affected populations, as well as their technological systems. Risky conditions during the LGM, for example, affected the spatial distribution of populations in Western Europe. Using predictive modelling, climate simulations and agent-based modelling, we explore how a risk-averse strategy created the spatial patterns observed in the archaeological record and consider their social consequences.

Conference given by Dr. Ariane Burke this november



EXTRA TIGERS-TALK 12: 28.11.16, Carl-Vogt at 12.15 room 1 - Ariane Burke - Université de Montréal


L’impact de l’environnement sur la dynamique des populations humaines au cours du Dernier Maximum Glaciaire (19,000-23,000 A.P.)

Ariane Burke, Masa Kageyama, Guillaume Latombe, Marc Fasel, Mathieu Vrac, Gilles Ramstein, Patrick James

Abstract : Le Groupe de Recherche sur la Dispersion des Hominidés (GRDH) est un groupe multidisciplinaire formé dans le but d’explorer le lien entre les conditions environnementales et les dispersions humaines au cours de la préhistoire. Un des buts du GRDH est de mieux comprendre l’impact du changement et de la variabilité climatique sur l’évolution de notre lignée. Les chasseurs-cueilleurs préhistoriques employèrent diverses stratégies pour contrer la variabilité environnementale, incluant l’innovation technologique, la mobilité et l’adoption de structures sociales fluides. Ces adaptations confèrent de la résilience, mais les limites de cette résilience et les vulnérabilités des systèmes humains sont encore mal comprises. Le GRDH utilise les simulations paléo-climatologiques et le registre archéologique afin de mieux cerner les limites de l’adaptation humaine face au stress écologique. L’étude de cas présenté ici concerne le Dernier Maximum Glaciaire en Europe de l’Ouest. 

Short bio : Les thèmes de recherche d'Ariane Burke sont regroupés autour de l'étude du Paléolithique moyen et de la transition vers le Paléolithique supérieur, avec un emphase sur les modes de subsistance et les modèles de dispersion des populations humaines. L'impact du changement climatique et les rapports avec le paléoenvironnement m'intéressent particulièrement. L'archéozoologie l'a aussi amené à faire des recherches sur le paléoethologie et la taxonomie des équidés (implication dans des recherches de terrain en Mongolie) et sur le mode de croissance de l'os et des dents ainsi que des recherches ethnoarchéozoologiques. Elle dirige actuellement le laboratoire d'ecomorphologie et le groupe de recherche sur les dispersions d'hominides (HDRG).

Special Issue in the Journal of Human Evolution

Here is the link to our latest special issue in the Journal of Human Evolution:

"Environmental Variability and Hominin Dispersal"


Edited by Ariane Burke and Matt Grove
Journal of Human Evolution. Special Issue.
Volume 87, Pages 1-106 (October 2015)


Also see the Editorial:

Grove M, Burke A (2015) Environmental variability and hominin dispersal. J Hum Evol 87:1-4. doi:

Conferences given by HDRG members during April 2016

81st Meetings of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), Orlando, Florida, 6-11 April, 2016


Risky Business: The Impact of Climate Variability on Human Populations in Western Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum

Burke, Ariane (Université de Montréal), Masa Kageyama (Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environ), Guillaume Latombe (Monash University), Mathieu Vrac (Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environ) and Patrick James (Université de Montréal)

The extent to which climate change has affected the course of human evolution is an enduring question. The ability to maintain spatially extensive social networks and fluid social structure allow human foragers to “map onto” the landscape, mitigating the impact of resource fluctuation. Together, these adaptations confer resilience in the face of climate change—but what are the limits of this resilience and what is the role played by climate variability? We address this question by testing how climate conditions and climate variability, which we consider a proxy for environmental risk, affected the distribution of human populations living in western Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum. The mechanisms used by foragers to counter resource failure come at a cost and the ability to make accurate predictions about the availability of resources helps foragers avoid costly mistakes. Climate variability, therefore, is a potentially significant risk factor since it affects the distribution of plant and animal resources unpredictably. Here, we quantify the sensitivity of human systems to this potential risk factor at a variety of spatial and temporal scales.


Reading the Landscape: A Model of Environmental Legibility for Assessing Hominid Dispersals during the Late Pleistocene

Guiducci, Dario (Université de Montréal)

The ability of Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) to successfully navigate complex topographies and variable environments is hypothesized to have been a key adaptation for the long term success of our species, in comparison to other hominid groups. Additionally, the structure of the environment through which human dispersals occurred is arguably important to our understanding of the speed and scale at which population movements occurred. This paper demonstrates a new methodology for quantifying and modeling landscape legibility, an untested aspect of environmental structure adapted from landscape studies. With the aid of case studies from north-eastern Spain, this paper illustrates the logic of a legibility metric based on two dimensions; 1) landscape coherence, which affects the ability to single out significant landmarks useful for guiding navigation; and 2) ease of dispersability, measured by means of a circuitscape model. The paper concludes with a discussion of what the patterns and differences between the study areas mean for Late Pleistocene dispersals in the Western Mediterranean, and how an assessment of legibility fits in with other lines of evidence regarding hominid dispersals more generally.


Morphometric Analysis of Aurignacian Bone, Antler and Ivory Projectile Points

 Doyon, Luc (Université de Montréal & Université de Bordeaux)

This study examines the morphometric variation of Aurignacian bone, antler, and ivory projectile points, the first continental-wide occurrence of hunting armatures made from animal material during the Early Upper Paleolithic. Morphometric analysis is a powerful instrument that separates and quantifies variation of both shape and size, thereby allowing exploration of both functional and stylistic variation of an object. Applied to armatures from the Western Mediterranean region (Grotte de l’Observatoire, Reclau Viver, L’Arbreda Cave) and the northern slopes of the Pyrenees (Aurignac, Tarté, Saint-Jean-de-Verges), morphometric analysis suggests the presence of three main volumetric templates replicated by the prehistoric artisans. Each template is associated with specific proximal and/or distal damage types. This suggests that morphometrically similar implements were hafted and used in similar ways. As would be expected, sites where the manufacture of projectile points is attested yield a greater number of complete points as well as specimens showing little sign of use. On the other hand, the specimens from assemblages from sites without evidence of primary manufacture and that are located at the extremities of the region are smaller and more fragmented, suggesting a higher intensity of use and resharpening prior to deposition.


Volcanic Winter and Population Replacements? Forager Adaptations in Liguria during OIS 3 across the Middle-Upper Paleolithic Transition

Riel-Salvatore, Julien (Université de Montréal) and Fabio Negrino (Università di Genova)

There has been a lot of focus on the disruptive effects of dramatic climatic shifts on Paloelithic population dynamics, but the topic of cultural continuity across such events has been less intensely investigated. This paper presents data from some of our recent research projects in Liguria, especially from the site of Riparo Bombrini, to investigate the nature of the apparent resilience of the proto-Aurignacian in the face of events like the Phlegrean Fields eruption and the reasons why the Mousterian disappeared at the site in spite of this phenomenon not being strictly associated with a pronounced climatic shift.


49th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA), Whitehorse, Yukon, 4–7 May, 2016


Bluefish Caves I and II (Yukon Territory) and the first peopling of Eastern Beringia

Bourgeon, Lauriane (Université de Montréal)

Excavated in the ‘70s-80s, the Bluefish Caves (Yukon Territory) yielded a few lithic pieces, including microblades and burins, mixed with a rich and well-preserved faunal collection. When archaeologists J. Cinq-Mars and R. Morlan studied the material, they observed several cultural marks on bones recovered in a Pleistocene loess and radiocarbon dated between 10.000 to 25.000 14C BP. A human presence in the Yukon Territory during the Last Glacial Maximum was thus proposed. However, the regional archaeological record does not offer supporting evidence for a human dispersal into Eastern Beringia (Alaska-Yukon) before 12.000 14C BP. Recently, a complete study of the faunal assemblages of Caves I and II has been undertaken in order to re-evaluate this hypothesis from a taphonomic and zooarchaeological perspective. This new research shows that carnivores significantly contributed to the accumulation and the modification of the bone material. However, cutmarks observed on a few bone specimens attest to human activities at the site. Horse and caribou are the dominant taxa in the bone assemblages and both species bear clear evidence of butchery. Therefore, the Bluefish Caves is the first archaeological site in Eastern Beringia showing cultural marks on horse bone, thus confirming that equids (thought to become extinct in the region ca. 12.000 14C BP) were part of hunters-gatherers’ diet. New radiocarbon dates obtained on cutmarked bone specimens will soon help to clarify the date of the human presence at the site and possibly document the arrival of the first hunters-gatherers in northwestern North America.


Paleoanthropology Society, Atlanta, Georgia, 12-13 April, 2016


Mixing old and new stuff: holistic approaches in Paleolithic zooarchaeology

 Geneviève Pothier-Bouchard (Université de Montréal)

We are all aware of the buzz new technologies can create in prehistoric research. Isotopic analyses, and recently the ZooMS method (Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry), have become very fashionable (and very useful) in zooarchaeology to answer anthropological questions concerning mobility and dietary reconstruction. I present here my doctoral research project to stimulate discussion about methodology in zooarchaeology. My PhD project combines the ZooMS method, traditional zooarchaeology, taphonomy, ethnographic models, palaeoethology, and lithic data, to analyze faunal assemblages from the site of Riparo Bombrini (Balzi Rossi, Liguria, Italy). Riparo Bombrini is a key site to compare the subsistence and mobility strategies of Neanderthal and Anatomically modern human groups during the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic Transition in Mediterranean Europe. I argue that this kind of holistic approach is essential to properly understand hunter-gatherer behaviour in the Paleolithic.


New Excavations in the Proto-Aurignacian Deposits at Riparo Bombrini, Italy: Results of the 2015 Field Season

Riel-Salvatore, Julien (Université de Montréal), Fabio Negrino (Università di Genova), Claudine Gravel-Miguel (Arizona State University), Antoine Laliberté (Université de Montréal), Geneviève Pothier Bouchard (Université de Montréal)

After an interruption of 10 years, in 2015, the Université de Montréal and the Università di Genova started a new joint multi-year excavation project focused on the Paleolithic deposits of Riparo Bombrini. The site is part of the Balzi Rossi site complex (Liguria, NW Italy) and has yielded some of the most recent dates for the Mousterian in Europe. Our project’s aim is to expose more of the occupation area at Bombrini to establish whether patterns of technological organization and site spatial arrangements suggested by earlier excavations are validated over a much larger area. Additionally, it will allow the collection of more artifactual information to document the Middle-Upper Paleolithic at the site and to better understand this process in the region. While extensive terminal Mousterian deposits are still to be found at the site, our fieldwork also established the presence of remaining proto-Aurignacian deposits which were the focus of this first field season. We report here preliminary data on 1) the overall structure of the project; 2) the spatial distribution of artifacts in the excavated area; 3) the recovered proto-Aurignacian lithic assemblage (especially bladelets); and 4) the taphonomy of the highly fragmented faunal assemblage. These data collected from an area immediately adjacent to that excavated in 2002-2005 show a fair amount of continuity in the spatial distribution of artifacts but reveals a somewhat distinct lithic management strategy. Both these lines of evidence thus provide important new information on the nature of the internal variability of the proto-Aurignacian. These data, complemented by taphonomic observations that indicate that the faunal assemblage was mainly accumulated by humans, permit a holistic understanding of the site formation processes at work at Riparo Bombrini at the very beginning of the Upper Paleolithic.