Co-directors: Prof. Jean-Jacques Hublin (Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig/MPI-EVA) and Prof. Steve Weiner (Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science, Weizmann Institute)

Track Leader: Timing of Cultural Change – Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto (at Weizmann Institute)

Track Leader: Physical Anthropology Through Bone/Tooth Structure-Function Studies – Dr. Kornelius Kupczik (at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology).

D-REAMS Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory
Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science
Steve Weiner

Introduction

The unification of all knowledge was a theme of the Enlightenment some 250 years ago, and can again be construed as a goal for the not so distant future. This is the view of E.O. Wilson, who wrote a book on this subject called Consilience. Consilience is an old English word that refers to the unification of knowledge by the linking of facts across disciplines. As we gain more and more insight into aspects of the humanities, social sciences and the natural sciences, it becomes clear that the future will involve the blending of these three great branches of learning – consilience! This is one “spirit” behind this new Center.

The second “spirit” behind this Center is the long and important history of collaboration between the Max Planck Society (MPS) and the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS) that started some 50 years ago with the aim of using science to bridge the vast gaps that then existed between Israel and Germany. This new Center represents a reaffirmation of this collaboration on the one hand, and a vision that together we can work towards bridging the huge gap that exists between Israel and her neighbors through science.

The MPS-WIS Research Center, the Weizmann Institute and Israel’s Neighbors

The MPS-Weizmann Institute pioneered the building of bridges between post-war Germany and Israel in the 1950’s based on the international nature of science. The building of such bridges between Israel and her neighbors has not been easy, but changes are taking place. The presence of an MPS-WIS Research Center in Israel could be an excellent catalyst for further developing these connections. The unique archaeology of this region is common to all the countries around Israel and could therefore serve as a good basis for joint studies. Jordan and Egypt are both potential partners in this endeavor. As part of this program fellowships for students/post-docs and visiting academics from Israel’s neighboring countries, will be made available.

Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology

The novelty of the archaeological research is based on the firm belief that the investigation of past humans and their behaviors is most effectively carried out in an integrative manner, namely that the archaeological research begins in the field where context and preservation conditions are defined. The work in the field is carried out both at the macroscopic level with the naked eye and photographic imaging, and at the microscopic level with the aid of analytical instrumentation. The research then proceeds to the laboratory where more demanding analyses at the macroscopic level of artifacts, and at the microscopic level of sediment and artifact compositions. The final synthesis reflects the results obtained both in the field and in the laboratory.

Fossil hominid skeletons are rare, and for the most part, our major source of information on the biology and behavior of our ancestors. The focus of the anthropological research is to study modern skeletal materials in order to obtain a deep understanding of the relations between morphology, structure and function, but to do this in a way that the insights gained can be applied to the study of fossil hominids.

The research at the Center is divided into two tracks:

Track 1: The Timing of Cultural Change

Track Leader: Dr Elisabetta Boaretto

 

view of the location site Boker tachtit
View of the location of the site of Boker Tachtit. The site is being excavated as a joint project between the Max Planck Institute and the Weizmann Institute under the direction of Drs Elisabetta Boaretto and Omri Barzilai from the Israel Department of Antiquities, and in close collaboration with Dr Shannon McPherron from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology.

Some of the most fascinating questions in human history relate to the spread of ideas, the changes in lifestyles, the different rates of development in various parts of the world, and the migrations of groups from one geographic location to another. To date, most of what we know about these changes is based on comparing changes in material cultures, such as stone tool morphologies or ceramic vessel typologies from different geographic locations. This relative dating approach (seriation) was developed in the mid 19th century and is still by far the prevalent approach to understanding chronology in archaeology. There are however serious problems with this approach. Changes are assumed to happen relatively fast and therefore a change in a material culture is thought to represent time synchronous events across a region. For this reason a change in material culture is usually designated as a transition from one time period to another. Material culture changes are not synchronous, and in fact knowing how long it took for the change to occur, as well as the progressive spread of the change through a geographic region, that are of so much interest. Absolute dating can be used to document when a change took place at a particular locality, and then how the change spread throughout a region, provided that the changes are not so rapid as to fall within error of the dating technique. The focus of this track will be to use high resolution radiocarbon dating to address these fundamental questions in archaeology, and in particular during the Upper Paleolithic period.

The only dating technique that in practice is sufficiently precise to address this issue is radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating was developed in the late 1940’s. With the use of accelerator mass spectrometric measurements of radiocarbon the precision is now around 0.5%, which for the historic periods translates into ±20-40 years. Accuracy also increased significantly with the development of the radiocarbon calibration curve going back to almost 50,000 BP. Radiocarbon dating can thus be used to document the spread of cultural changes in the last 50,000 years. Radiocarbon dating can also be used to validate the reliability of the relative dating techniques, namely how long did it take for stone tool or ceramic typologies to change in a given region, and how did this change progress across the region?

An inherent weakness in radiocarbon dating is that the materials commonly dated are often not found in reliable contexts. A high resolution dating project therefore needs to start in the field with the understanding of macro- and microstratigraphy, continue in the laboratory with the characterization of the material purity and finally the analysis of the radiocarbon content by AMS. This track thus integrates field and laboratory; the major theme of the proposed research center. This integrated approach to radiocarbon dating can be used to address many fascinating events in archaeology over the last 50,000 years. For example, dating the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in the Levant and Eurasia, dating the transformation of hunter-gatherer societies to sedentary societies that first took place in the southern Levant (the Natufians), dating the transition to agriculture and so on. This integrated approach to radiocarbon dating has been pioneered by Dr Elisabetta Boaretto.

For more details on the Track 1 research program, see the web site of Dr Elisabetta Boaretto. For all enquiries about this track, please contact Dr Boaretto

Track 2: Physical Anthropology Through Bone/Tooth Structure-Function Studies

Track Leader: Dr Kornelius Kupczik

image of tooth in it's socket
MicroCT image of a tooth in its socket, also showing the detailed morphology of the crown surface.

The Levantine region is at the cross-roads between Africa and Eurasia and is one of the focal points of recent human evolution. Of particular interest is the co-occurrence of Neanderthals and early modern humans. The study of their fossil remains is traditionally based on descriptive morphology of the bones and teeth. More recently 3D computer reconstructions based on CT scans are widely used, with the forefront of this technology being carried out in the Department of Human Evolution at MPI-EVA. The new high resolution (less than one micron) µCT instrument at the Weizmann Institute can provide detailed information on tooth and bone structure. This will make it possible to study external and internal morphology of bones and teeth noninvasively with high precision. These data will provide the basis for detailed quantitative studies of internal dental structures, tooth-mandible 3D relations, virtual reconstructions of human fossil skulls, as well as analyses of trabecular and other micro-structures such as lamellae in various bones. 

The underlying adaptive significance of morphological variation among fossil humans is virtually unknown and is thus of great interest. The link between morphology and function in order to understand evolutionary changes is however difficult to establish only with fossils, as the fossils have undergone much change in materials properties. This is also in part because relatively little is understood about this relation even for modern bones.

A deep understanding of the relation between structure, morphology and function in modern bones and teeth can serve as a basis for interpreting this relation in fossil bones and teeth. These research programs can therefore open up exciting new avenues for future research on fossil bones and teeth with morphologies different from those of their modern counterparts. This new approach could radically change the field of physical anthropology. This project will be conducted in a collaborative framework involving the Department of Human Evolution at MPI-EVA and the Institute for Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Jena (Prof. Martin Fischer).  Research on the structure-function relations of modern whole bones and teeth is already being carried out at the Department of Biomaterials, MPI Colloids and Interfaces, Golm, directed by Prof Peter Fratzl. Complementary research is also carried out at the Weizmann Institute by Prof Steve Weiner and colleagues..

For all enquiries about this track, please contact Dr Kornelius Kupczik

Organization

Most of the research for Track 1 is carried out at the Weizmann Institute, Rehovot taking full advantage of the know-how and facilities of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science and the newly established Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (D-REAMS) laboratory for measuring radiocarbon that is directed by Dr Elisabetta Boaretto.

Most of the research for Track 2 is carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig.

For both tracks, many interactions and collaborations between Leipzig and Rehovot are planned, as well as frequent joint visits and field projects.