The aim of TRACSYMBOLS is to examine how key behavioural innovations emerged among Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis in southern Africa and Europe respectively, and explore whether and how environmental variability influenced this development between 180 25 ka [Marine Isotope Stages (MIS) 6 31. To achieve this goal the PI will develop a new research team that for the first time will combine archaeological results, original multi-proxy palaeoenvironmental data, and state-of-the-art climatic simulations for two continents. A dedicated biocomputational algorithm will be applied to this body of data to test the hypothesis that key cultural developments and discontinuities associated with early H. sapiens and Neanderthals were affected by climate. To achieve this goal we will: " Conduct new archaeological excavations at two MSA sites in De Hoop Nature Reserve, southern Cape located in an area associated with the earliest development of H. sapiens behaviour and in the promising >100 ka MSA levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa; " Apply innovative methods to the analysis of early symbolic and complex material culture of H. sapiens and Neanderthals, including abstract engravings, pigments, personal ornaments and stylised bone tools; " Reconstruct climate, vegetation, and fire regime changes in Europe and southern Africa for each species by combining the analysis of multiple proxies from marine and terrestrial archives with high resolution palaeoclimatic simulations; " Incorporate archaeological and palaeoclimatic data into a novel bio-computational architecture (Genetic Algorithm for Rule Set Prediction: GARP) that allows for the reconstruction, quantification and comparison of the ecological niches exploited by human populations within each climatic phase.
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