Culture, Society & Family Fossils & Ruins SMU In The News Student researchers

The Washington Post: Evidence increases that Neanderthals more closely linked to humans

The Washington Post has noted the Neanderthal research of SMU archaeology graduate student Metin I. Eren in a new article “Neanderthals reimagined” that looks out the changing scientific interpretation of humans ancestors.

Reporter Marc Kaufman in the Oct. 5 article Neanderthals reimagined cites Eren’s 2007 research as some of the scientific evidence showing Neanderthals were smarter than once thought, and more like sisters and brothers to modern humans, rather than cousins, as previously perceived.

Read the full story.

By Marc Kaufman
The Washington Post
Scientists are broadly rethinking the nature, skills and demise of the Neanderthals of Europe and Asia, steadily finding more ways that they were substantially like us and quite different from the limited, unchanging and ultimately doomed inferiors most commonly described in the past.

The latest revision involves Neanderthals who lived in southern Italy from about 42,000 to 35,000 years ago, a group that had to face fast-changing climate conditions that required them to adapt.

And that, says anthropologist Julien Riel-Salvatore, is precisely what they did: fashioning new hunting tools, targeting more-elusive prey and even wearing identifying ornaments and body painting.

Traditional Neanderthal theory has it that they changed their survival strategies only when they came into contact with more-modern early humans. But Riel-Salvatore, a professor at the University of Colorado at Denver writing in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, says that was not the case in southern Italy.

“What we know is that the more-modern humans lived in northern Italy, more-traditional Neanderthals lived in middle Italy, and this group that adapted to a changing world was in the south — out of touch with the northern group,” he said. …

Research debunking the position that Neanderthals were “cognitively inferior” comes from Daniel Adler of the University of Connecticut and Metin Eren of Southern Methodist University.

In 2006, Adler described evidence that Neanderthals hunted just as well as Homo sapiens, even if their weapons were less sophisticated. In 2007, Eren replicated the making of Neanderthal disc-shaped tools, or “flakes,” and found they were in some ways more efficient than Homo sapiens’ blade-based tools. Both researchers said that while the Neanderthals did not make the transition to more advanced tools — which generations of researchers saw as proof of Homo sapiens’ superiority — they were nonetheless well adapted to their environment.

Read the full story.

Culture, Society & Family Fossils & Ruins Researcher news SMU In The News

Natl Geographic: Trampling Skews Artifact Dates by Thousands of Years?

National Geographic online is featuring the archaeology research of SMU Ph.D. candidate Metin I. Eren.

In the September 29 story, “Trampling Skews Artifact Dates by Thousands of Years? Animals push human tools into ground — and back in time, study says,” journalist Ker Than writes about Eren’s research in India, which found that animals trampling wet ground can alter how a scientist interprets an archaeological site.

Stone tools at a site can be pushed as much as 8 inches deep into the ground, potentially altering the interpreted age of a site as much as thousands of years, says Eren, who was part of a team of researchers that carried out the study.


Ker Than
for National Geographic News

Around the world, the hooves of water buffaloes, goats, and other large animals may have propelled countless Stone Age artifacts back in time, at least as far as archaeologists are concerned.

In wet areas, wild or domestic animals’ heavy footfalls can push stone artifacts deep into the ground, making them seem older than they really are — in some cases, thousands of years older — according to a new study.

Scientists often date artifacts of the Stone Age, which began about two and a half million years ago, based on the depths at which the items are found: The deeper the object, the older it is, generally speaking.

There are other methods to date artifacts, but many rely on elements not found in stone — such as carbon.

“We can only do carbon dating on organic material that is associated with the stones,” said study author Metin Eren, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

So if a stone artifact is next to a twig, for example, Eren said, “we’ll date the twig and just assume that the artifact is also that age.”

But in the new study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Eren and his team show at least one way this method can lead to false ages for artifacts.

Mud Makes Data Go Soft
Archaeologists have long known that animal trampling can reorient artifacts — sometimes long after humas have left a site — and several trampling experiments have been performed on dry ground.

Read the full story.

Other coverage:
National Science Foundation

Culture, Society & Family Fossils & Ruins Slideshows

Taking a new look at old digs: Trampling animals can alter muddy Paleolithic sites

Archaeologists who interpret Stone Age culture from discoveries of ancient tools and artifacts may need to reanalyze some of their conclusions.

Archaeologists who interpret Stone Age culture from discoveries of ancient tools and artifacts may need to reanalyze some of their conclusions.

That’s the finding suggested by a new study that for the first time looked at the impact of water buffalo and goats trampling artifacts into mud.

In seeking to understand how much artifacts can be disturbed, the new study documented how animal trampling in a water-saturated area can result in an alarming amount of disturbance, says archaeologist Metin I. Eren, a graduate student at Southern Methodist University and one of eight researchers on the study.

In a startling finding, the animals’ hooves pushed artifacts as much as 21 centimeters into the ground — a variation that could equate to a difference of thousands of years for a scientist interpreting a site, said Erin.

The findings suggest archaeologists should reanalyze some previous discoveries, he said.

“Given that during the Lower and most of the Middle Pleistocene, hominids stayed close to water sources, we cannot help but wonder how prevalent saturated substrate trampling might be, and how it has affected the context, and resulting interpretation, of Paleolithic sites throughout the Old World,” conclude the authors in a scientific paper detailing their experiment and its findings.

“Experimental Examination of Animal Trampling Effects on Artifact Movement in Dry and Water Saturated Substrates: A Test Case from South India” has been published online by the Journal of Archaeological Science. For images, additional information and a link to the article, see The research was recognized as best student poster at the 2010 annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Animal trampling not new; current study adds new variable
The idea that animal trampling may reorient artifacts is not new.

“Believe it or not, there have been dozens of trampling experiments in archaeology to see how artifacts may be affected by animals walking over them. These have involved human trampling and the trampling of all sorts of animals, including elephants, in dry sediments,” Eren said. “Our trampling experiments in dry sediments, for the most part, mimicked the results of previous experiments.”

But this latest study added a new variable to the mix — the trampling of artifacts embedded in ground saturated with water, Eren said.

Researchers from the United States, Britain, Australia and India were inspired to perform the unique experiment while doing archaeological survey work in the Jurreru River Valley in Southern India.

They noticed that peppering the valley floor were hardened hoof prints left from the previous monsoon season, as well as fresh prints along the stream banks. Seeing that the tracks sunk quite deeply into the ground, the researchers began to suspect that stone artifacts scattered on the edges of water bodies could be displaced significantly from their original location by animal trampling.

Early humans drawn to water’s edge
“Prehistoric humans often camped near water sources or in areas that receive lots of seasonal rain. When we saw those deep footprints left over from the previous monsoon season, it occurred to us that animal trampling in muddy, saturated sediments might distort artifacts in a different way than dry sediments,” Eren said. “Given the importance of artifact context in the interpretation of archaeological sites and age, it seems like an obvious thing to test for, but to our surprise it never had been.”

Eren and seven other researchers tested their theory by scattering replicated stone tools over both dry and saturated areas of the valley. They then had water buffalo and goats trample the “sites.” Once sufficient trampling occurred, the archaeologists proceeded to excavate the tools, taking careful measurements of where the tools were located and their inclination in the ground.

The researchers found that tools salted on ground saturated with water and trampled by buffalo moved up to 21 centimeters vertically, or a little more than 8 inches. Tools trampled by goats moved up to 16 centimeters vertically, or just over 6 inches.

“A vertical displacement of 21 centimeters in some cases might equal thousands of years when we try to figure out the age of an artifact,” Eren said. “This amount of disturbance is more than any previously documented experiment — and certainly more than we anticipated.”

A new “diagnostic marker” for interpreting sites
Unfortunately for archaeologists who study the Stone Age, artifacts left behind by prehistoric humans do not stay put, said Eren. Over thousands or even millions of years, all sorts of geological or other processes can move artifacts out of place, he said.

The movement distorts the cultural and behavioral information that is contained in the original artifact patterning, what archaeologists call “context.” Archaeologists must discern whether artifacts are in their original context, and thus provide reliable information, or if they’ve been disturbed in some way that biases the interpretation, Eren said.

Given that artifacts embedded in the ground at vertical angles appear to be a diagnostic marker of trampling disturbance, the researchers concluded that sites with water-saturated sediments should be identified and reanalyzed.

Other researchers on the study include Adam Durant, University of Cambridge; Christina Neudorf, University of Wollongong; Michael Haslam, University of Oxford; Ceri Shipton, Monash University; Janardhana Bora, Karnatak University; Ravi Korisettar, Karnatak University; and Michael Petraglia, University of Oxford. Korisettar and Petraglia are the principal investigators of the archaeological field research in Kurnool, India.

The research was funded by Leverhulme Trust, British Academy, National Science Foundation, Australian Research Council, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and Lockheed Martin Corporation.

A private university located in the heart of Dallas, SMU is building on the vision of its founders, who in 1911 imagined a distinguished center for learning emerging from the spirit of the city. Today, nearly 11,000 students benefit from the national opportunities and international reach afforded by the quality of SMU’s seven degree-granting schools.

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with Metin I. Eren or to book a live or taped interview in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650 or email

Culture, Society & Family Fossils & Ruins

Neanderthals: “Don’t call me stupid!”

Lanceolate-medium.jpegNew research by a U.S.-U.K. team that included SMU archaeology student Metin Eren assaults the long-held notion that Neanderthals went extinct because their stone tools were inferior to those made by Homo sapiens.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University and the University of Exeter report in the “Journal of Human Evolution” that the early stone tool technologies of Neanderthals were as good as, and sometimes even more efficient, than those of Homo sapiens.

The story, “Complexity of Neanderthal tools,” was posted online Aug. 26 by BBC News.

Metin Eren

Eren is a graduate experimental archaeology student in the Department of Anthropology of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

The article quotes Eren, lead author on the study, as saying that technologically the research found no clear advantage between the tools of Homo sapiens versus the tools used by Neanderthals.

“When we think of Neanderthals, we need to stop thinking in terms of ‘stupid’ or ‘less advanced’ and more in terms of ‘different,'” Eren is quoted.


“Early stone tools developed by our species Homo sapiens were no more sophisticated than those used by our extinct relatives the Neanderthals.

That is the conclusion of researchers who recreated and compared tools used by these ancient human groups.

The findings cast doubt on suggestions that more advanced stone technologies gave modern humans a competitive edge over the Neanderthals.

The work by a US-British team appears in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The researchers recreated wide stone tools called “flakes,” which were used by both Neanderthals and early modern humans.

They also reconstructed “blades” — a narrower stone tool later adopted by Homo sapiens. Some archaeologists often use the development of stone blades and their assumed efficiency as evidence for the superior intellect of our species.

The team analysed the data to compare the number of tools produced, how much cutting edge was created, the efficiency in consuming raw material and how long tools lasted.

They found no statistical difference in the efficiency of the two stone technologies.”

Read the full story at BBC News

Related links:
Metin Eren
SMU News: Neanderthals were not ‘stupid’
Journal of Human Evolution: Article
University of Exeter: Press release
Department of Anthropology
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences