Geometric Analysis for Classification and Reassembly of Broken Bones

This project applies modern geometric and data analytical tools to the study and automated reassembly of broken bone fragments, in order to determine the agent of breakage (whether carnivore, hominin, or other taphonomic agent), improve taxonomic identifications, and better understand site formation processes through spatial analysis of refits. Both controlled samples of ungulate bones that have been broken by known agents and field samples found in Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia, will be analyzed. The anthropological implications are expected to impact the current understanding of early human prehistory, culture, and origins. The mathematical techniques to be developed are based on invariant signatures and moving frames, including differential invariants, integral invariants, and invariant histograms, and will incorporate (semi-)supervised learning algorithms on graphs, spectral clustering, symmetry-based numerical approximation schemes, and the reconstruction of three-dimensional objects from camera projections. This project is being led by Katrina Yezzi-Woodley, Jeff Calder, Peter Olver, and Martha Tappen.

Funding for this project comes from the NSF Grant DMS-1816917, the University of Minnesota Graduate Research Partnership Program (GRPP), Anthropology Department block grants, the University of Minnesota Thesis Research Travel Grant, University of Minnesota Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), the University of Minnesota Grant in Aid (2017-2019), and the NSF BIGDATA IIS-1837992.  

Digitization of Manual Methods in Lithic and Zooarchaeological Analysis

Through this project we are developing a digital goniometer that, with limited user supervision, can rapidly extract angle data from 3D models of fragmentary bone and lithic flakes. Powerful computational algorithms applied to 3D models can bring traditional manual methods for data collection to the digital world. Data extraction becomes faster, easily replicable, and more mathematically robust. The end goal is to develop a digital goniometer that easy to use and freely available for use by other researchers. This project is being led by Katrina Yezzi-Woodley, Jeff Calder, Peter Olver, Annie Melton, and Gilbert Tostevin.

Funding for this project comes from the NSF Grant DMS-1816917 and Anthropology Department block grants.

Utilizing Refitted Core Sequences in the Quantitative Assessment of Cultural Transmission

This project seeks to understand cultural transmission processes among prehistoric populations, focusing specifically on refitted lithic core nodules. We are exploring new techniques for quantifying cultural transmission among Paleolithic populations. Specifically looking at refitted core reduction nodules, this project plans on combining known cultural transmission proxy variable data with the specific sequence data provided by the refits to achieve a higher resolution understanding of variability in stone tool production among prehistoric populations. To do so, known time-series mathematical applications are being explored as a possible approach. The overall goals will be to address concerning the presence or absence of cultural continuity in the Levantine Middle to Upper Paleolithic and the degree of production variability within and among lithic assemblages. Refitted core sequences from Boker Tachtit, a transitional Middle to Upper Paleolithic site in Israel, and Taramsa-1, a Middle Paleolithic site in Egypt, will serve as the sample for this project. This project is led by Annie Melton, Gil Tostevin, Jeff Calder, and Brendan Cook.

The origins of human social learning and skill acquisition

We conduct stone tool experiments to address the following questions: When and how did our ancestors evolve the capacity for prosocial cooperation? Was cumulative culture influential in the evolutionary success of the human lineage? How did different kinds of teaching and learning influence hominin skill acquisition and toolmaking abilities? This work relies on highly multi-dimensional datasets and multi-level models to track the influence of individual variations in various psychometric measures, motor-skill and coordination variables, on 2D/3D attributes recorded on the resulting stone tools. We have also begun exploring the use of deep neural networks to decipher body movements and object interactions using our experimental videos. This project is run by Justin Pargeter through the African Paleosciences Laboratory at New York University.

Biomechanics, energetics, and human technological skill acquisition

What influence did toolmaking skill acquisition have on the human body, energetics, and kinematics remain important, but largely unanswered questions in paleoanthropology. My lab collaborates with various researchers in biological anthropology and paleophysiology to better understand the impacts of skeletal functional morphology and toolmaking costs and benefits on stone tool production and use. These studies require the integration of complex kinematic datasets with multidimensional lithic data sourced from 3D scans and 2D/3D photogrammetry approaches. This project is run by Justin Pargeter through the African Paleosciences Laboratory at New York University.

Human-environment interactions in later Pleistocene and Holocene sub-Saharan Africa

Flexible and rapidly transmittable culture underwrites Homo sapiens’ wide ecological tolerance. Archaeological research suggests that this tolerance stems from ecological and cultural selective pressures faced and surmounted by African hunter-gatherer societies across the climatically turbulent Quaternary period (the past ~2.6 million years). My lab addresses the question of how early human societies developed technological niches in these contexts of rapid environmental fluctuations. To do this, we currently conduct research together with various collaborators at three key regions in sub-Saharan Africa: Boomplaas Cave, Pondoland, and Malawi. Through this work, we test the hypothesis that the technological, dietary, and social shifts associated with later Pleistocene and Holocene Homo sapiens evolution in Africa result from climate-driven environmental change, specifically changes in the seasonal distribution of foods and other resources. Part of this work involves collaborations with the HOMER (Human Origins Migration and Evolution Research) group dedicated to sharing research aims, methods, personnel, and resources in Paleolithic field archaeology. This work explores new methods for studying lithic miniaturization (the systematic production and use of small stone implements) that poses several challenges for traditional 2D/3D data collection strategies. We are also interested in using simulation and model based approaches (e.g. paleoscape modeling, agent based modeling) to address questions about the evolution of ancient landscapes and human social organization during the later Pleistocene and Holocene. This project is run by Justin Pargeter through the African Paleosciences Laboratory at New York University.