Southern Caspian Corridor: a biogeographical hominin expansion route

Recent research on the phylogeny of Neanderthals recognises a division within Neanderthal groups around 150ka suggesting a population turnover is likely to have occurred in the Caucasus. For instance, Neanderthal remains dated ca. 100ka associated with fully fledged Levallois lithic industry were confirmed in the Azokh 1 Cave, at the Lesser Caucasus. This exciting finding, however, raises the questions of whether the Neanderthals impacted on the Southern Caspian Corridor (SCC), which is a geo-ecological continuum of the Caucasus? What role did this SSC play in the world of hominin expansion?

In his expedition to Iran during 1960s, McBurney considered SCC provided the closest and fastest route connecting Europe and Caucasus to the Central Asia and Siberia and any hominin movement from the west might be expected to pass this region en route to the east. In his excavation at Ke’Aram Cave located in SCC he documented Middle Palaeolithic artefacts reminiscent of the Zagros Mousterian which are seen to be closely related to the lithics from Teshik-Tash Cave in Central Asia. McBurney’s conclusion provides grounding for this research project to hypothesize that the SCC, with the dual role of biogeographical corridor of expansion and habitat, witnessed a series of human evolutionary events that occurred at least in MIS 5 and 4 and it aims to go further to suggest the SCC as a potential place of admixture of Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans. The exceptional physiogeographic condition of the SCC provided a milder climatic condition making this region highly attractive as a glacial refugium during the cold episodes of MIS 5 and 4 for different hominins, thereby this research also hypothesizes that contemporaneous MP assemblages from western- and eastern-most areas of the corridor represent a high degree of cultural affinity.

For testing these hypotheses, this project re-analyses the lithic artefacts from Azokh 1, together with the analysis of the lithics from new excavation at this site as western- and Teshik-Tash as eastern-most site of the SCC and continue to excavate at Ke’Aram using updated methods. All lithics will be carefully compared to Bawa Yawan Rockshelter in West-Central Zagros Mountains, where stratified Zagros Mousterian artefacts to trace any possible cultural exchange between these sites. Furthermore, site formation and taphonomic studies using micromorphology and lithic analysis adopting chaîne opératoire as well as attribute analytical methods are crucial for the aims of this research project.

Collecting samples for absolute dating including OSL, TL and 14C dates provides an important foundation for this research project to determine whether the sequences from Ke'Aram reflect cultural continuity or gap between MIS 5 and 4 occupations. This gains even more significance to enhance the understanding of the age and implications of the MP in this key site in the SCC and to discover its role in the expansion route from Europe towards Central Asia.

contact person:

Dr. Elham Ghasidian