Universiteit Leiden

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The Palaeoproteomic Identification of Pleistocene Hominin Skeletal Remains:

Towards a Biological Understanding of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic Transition

Frido Welker
18 May 2017

The Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in Europe witnesses the local replacement of  Neanderthals by Anatomically Modern Humans. During this period several “transitional”  technocomplexes are present that seem to combine behavioural characteristics from both the preceding Middle and following Upper Palaeolithic. These technocomplexes therefore play a critical role in our understanding of Neanderthal behavior, cognition and extinction, the dispersal of AMHs into Europe, and the interactions between Neanderthals and AMHs. Unfortunately, biological remains of the hominins responsible for the transitional technocomplexes are notoriously scarce. This dissertation proposes to utilize recent advances in mass spectrometry to identify additional hominin specimens through ZooMS screening and shotgun proteomics. Novel approaches towards de novo/error-tolerant proteomic analysis in Pleistocene contexts were developed and tested, allowing phylogenetic analysis of ancient protein sequences from now-extinct Mammalian species and hominin populations. ZooMS screening is shown to be highly successful for all included Châtelperronian sites. The discovery of additional hominin specimens at one archaeological site allowed demonstrating that ancient protein sequences can be used to differentiate between hominin populations, in this case indicating a Neanderthal affiliation. As a result, palaeoproteomics now allows studying the evolutionary relationships between hominin individuals based on ancient protein sequences.