The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)


Findings from renewed excavations at Azokh Cave: a Middle Pleistocene to Holocene site in the southern Caucasus

TANIA KING1,2, TIM COMPTON2, ANTONIO ROSAS3, PETER ANDREWS1, LEVON YEPISKOPOSYAN2, LENA ASRYAN4,5,6, ETHEL ALLUÉ4,5, ISABEL CÁCERES4,5, PATRICIO DOMÍNGUEZ-ALONSO7, YOLANDA FERNÁNDEZ-JALVO3, SYLVIA HIXSON ANDREWS1, NORAH MOLONEY3, PHILIP RYE8, JAN VAN DER MADE3 and JOHN MURRAY9.

1Department of Archaeology, Blandford Museum, Dorset, UK, 2Institute of Molecular Biology, National Academy of Sciences, Republic of Armenia, 3Department of Paleobiology, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC), Madrid, Spain, 4IPHES, Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social, Tarragona, Spain, 5Àrea de Prehistòria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), Tarragona, Spain, 6Department of History, Artsakh State University, Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh, 7Department of Paleontology, Universidad Complutense de Madrid & IGEO (CSIC-UCM), Madrid, Spain, 8Anthropology Section, Institute of Man, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia, 9Earth and Ocean Sciences, School of Natural Sciences, National University of Ireland Galway, Ireland

March 27, 2015 10:30, Grand Ballroom D Add to calendar

The pattern of migration out of Africa and into Eurasia remains one of the most important considerations in the evolution of humans. Questions remain about the timing of this flux, the geographic routes taken and recent paleogenomic findings have greatly complicated this picture. Azokh Cave is located in the southern Caucasus on one of the possible migratory routes from Africa into Eurasia, and is strategically placed geographically to address some of these issues. It contains a long sedimentary succession dating to at least Middle Pleistocene times and excavations to date have shown occupation by at least three different species of hominin.

Excavations by a previous team in the main entrance passage to the cave system produced a rich faunal assemblage, Acheulian and Mousterian lithic artifacts, and hominin remains ascribable to Homo heidelbergensis. A new phase of systematic excavation was initiated at the site in 2002, which has produced further faunal remains, pre-Mousterian and Mousterian artifacts, and identified two additional entrance passages containing undisturbed sediments.

Significantly, the renewed phase of excavation at Azokh Cave has, for the first time, produced Upper Pleistocene hominin remains from the site. This find, a maxillary left first permanent molar tooth, was recovered from deposits dated c. 100 ka in the rear of the main entrance passage. The morphology, metrics and taurodontism present in this specimen are characteristic of Neandertal upper first molars. Crown dimensions and root robusticity are comparable to mean values for Neandertal upper first molars from the similarly dated site of Krapina, Croatia.