The Darwinian-Like Evolution of Language From Near Incipient Vernaculars to Modern Idioms

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.4 – 2016

DOI: 10.14673/HE201641025
KEY WORDS: language evolution, universal grammar, Nativism, language change, selective advantage, Darwinian linguistics, cognitive linguistics.

For an important school of thought, language evolution simply denotes the biological process whereby humans acquired the potential for language, a potential seen in the form of a skeletal grammar coded in our genes. The corollary of such a nativ-ist view is that language has remained essentially static and that the changes that history has recorded are peripheral and gratuitous. This paper will point out that the empirical support for the nativist view remains wanting and that languages have proceeded along a definite course, continuously trading off ex-isting linguistic features for alternatives with greater selective advantages. Describing and discussing the changes that have taken place from near incipient vernaculars to today’s modern languages is obviously a daunting task. The focus will be on the evolution of linguistic systems. It will be argued that incipi-ent speakers brought to the task of cobbling a linguistic system their experience from a holistic perception of the outside world. The resulting implements were, in the course of evolution, gradually replaced with alternatives especially conceived by an analytical mind to serve linguistic purposes. The specific cases that will be discussed are the shift from agent and patient to subject and object, from head-last to head-first word order, from aspectual to temporal verbal systems and the development of the sentence embedding technique.


Bichakjian, B.H.
Professor Emeritus,
Radboud University,
The Netherlands. 

Why did Homo sapiens develop a large Brain?

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.4 – 2016

DOI: 10.14673/HE201641024
KEY WORDS: brain size, bipedalism, gravity, blood supply, nutrition.

Bipedalism and a high encephalization quotient are unique characteristics of the human species. It is plausible that these characteristics are connected through the evolutionary process of the homo genus and may have influenced each other’s de-velopment. The connection between bipedalism and a high encephalization quotient may have been conferred through to gravity’s effect on the blood supply to the brain, both in utero and in the first year of life.
The enlarged human brain initiates at birth whereby the neona-tal brain weighs 350-400g compared to P. troclodytes (chimpanzee) neonatal brain weight of 155g. After a progressive reduction in breech presentation throughout pregnancy, more than 97% of human fetuses present cephalically at the end of pregnancy. Adverse outcomes for the fetus are known to occur for breech presentation, prematurity and post-dates delivery. The appropriately adjusted gestational age in the homo genus, possibly under evolutionary pressures, encouraged cephalic presentation. Gravity would have assisted blood supply, nutri-tion and cerebral metabolism of the growing brain. Another ob-stetric surrogate is that both body weight and brain volume in multiple pregnancies are significantly larger in the lower, first born twin, compared to the higher second born twin.
The gravitational effect of brain blood supply persists beyond birth. Human babies only become fully bipedal at the age of 1-1.3 years. During the first year the greatest growth in brain weight is registered when it increases to 900g-1kg. The combi-nation of Obstetric and Paediatric surrogates suggest that grav-ity’s influence, through the evolution of human bipedalism, on blood supply may be responsible for the high encephalization quotient in the Homo sapiens species.


Muscat Baron, Y.
MD FRCOG, FRCPI, PhD Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Mater Dei Hospital, University of Malta, Malta.

Height and Weight Norms and Somatotypical Height-Weight Classification for 20-70-Year- Old Estonian Women

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.4 – 2016

DOI: 10.14673/HE201641023
KEY WORDS: Estonian women’s (aged 20-70) height and weight norms, somatotypical height and weight classification.


The aim of the current study was to present height and weight norms of adult Estonian women (aged 20-70 years, n=4587) and to show the possibilities of somatotyping these data by means of a height-weight classification.
With the assistance of 50 family physicians, data on the age, height and weight of 4587 unidentified women aged 20-70 years were collected by random choice from four regions represent-ing the whole of Estonia. This article presents the minimum and maximum values of height and weight, their arithmetic means and standard deviations for all years of age from 20 to 70. On the basis of means and standard deviations, the limits of women’s height were calculated separately for each year of age in a five-class classification of height and weight. This clas-sification, devised by the Centre for Physical Anthropology at the University of Tartu, contained three classes of concordant height and weight (1 – small height, small weight; 2 – medium height, medium weight; 3 – large weight, large height). The remaining two classes represented types of discordant height and weight (4 – pycnomorphs – large weight, small height; 5 – leptomorphs – small weight, large height). Exceptionally, for the purposes of the current study, the classes of pycnomorphs and leptomorphs were additionally divided into subclasses I, II and III.
Large-scale anthropometric measurements conducted by the Centre showed systemic differences between the classes in all length, breadth and depth measurements, circumferences and body proportions. Based on that, we are of the opinion that such a classification can also be used to systematize data on different years of age.
The introduction of such a classification would facilitate the analysis of problems of medicine and health care.

Kaarma, H.
Saluste, L.
Lintsi, M.
Kasmel, J.
Veldre, G.
Tiit, E.-M.
Stamm, R.
Toomsalu, M.
Arend, A.
Centre for Physical Anthropology, Institute of Anatomy,
University of Tartu,
Tartu, Estonia.

Cultural and Physical Characteristics of Near- Arid Savanna Chimpanzees in Mali

DOI: 10.14673/HE201641022
Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.4 – 2016

KEY WORDS: West-African chimpanzee; near-arid savanna;  survival strategies; bipedalism; hominin evolution

The absence of encounters between researchers and chimpan-zees (Pan troglodytes verus) in Mali is primarily because of their scarcity and evasiveness, the result of being hunted, as well as the extreme climatic conditions. Here we present the first videotaped evidence of wild chimpanzees (possibly a fam-ily of three) in the near-arid cliff ranges of southwest Mali and describe some of their putative cultural attributes and survival strategies based on indirect observations. Regarding their sleep-ing sites, we identified rock shelters and cliff ledges, as well as a diversity of tree/brush bed-platforms of different heights, shapes, compositions and sizes. Most chimpanzee nests in these cliff ranges were found adjacent to walls and appeared to be re-used. Sticks and stones for extractive foraging were discovered at excavation sites, shattered logs atop large stone anvils, and turned-over rocks in brush fire zones. All of these finds were discovered in the vicinity of either chimpanzee hair/feces (in/under nests), foot/knuckle prints or food remnants. Moreover, we hypothesize that a shortage of resources has driven the evo-lution of a unique “bamboo culture” in these highly adaptive chimpanzees, manifested in the construction of complex bam-boo dome-shaped nest supports, as well as a navigation system containing stationary and mobile components. Furthermore, an unexpected mode of locomotion was observed in three endemic chimpanzees at the National Zoo of Mali, exhibiting a previ-ously thought to be uniquely hominin-type bipedal gait – an observation awaiting corroboration from the wild.

Roffman, I.
Nevo, E.
Institute of Evolution,
University of Haifa,
199 Aba Khoushy Ave.,
Mount Carmel,
Haifa 3498838, Israel.

M. Zoo National du Mali,
Route de Koulouba,
Bamako, Mali.

Ronen, A.
Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa,
199 Aba Khoushy Ave.,
Mount Carmel,
Haifa 3498838, Israel.


Leonardo Da Vinci and his Family from the 14th Century until the Present-Day

DOI: 10.14673/HE201631021

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.1-2 – 2016

Key words: Leonardo Da Vinci, Grandfather Antonio, Fruosino di Ser Giovanni, Caterina, Domenico Matteo, genealogy, burials, Orbignano, Bacchereto, San Pantaleo, living descendants, fingerprints, DNA.

This research, still in progress, began in theory in 1969 and in practice in 1973, with a global investigation and the cross-checking of discoveries and heterogeneous interdisciplinary data. The theme is one that is vast and has already been extensively explored, though not sufficiently so, namely, the history of the family of Leonardo Da Vinci, and the places he frequented during his lifetime, including also his origins, his paternal grandmother from Bacchereto, his mother Caterina, and other family members hitherto unknown. During the course of this work, new information has come to light concerning areas beyond Italy and France, as far away as Valencia and Majorca.
Sometimes, discoveries have been kept secret pending advances in research and the right moment for their publication.
Since the 1980s, this investigation also aimed to identify still living direct descendants of Ser Piero, Leonardo’s father. In fact, from 2006 onwards, we have progressively and successfully verified the continuity of descent, in the direct male line, of one of Leonardo’s brothers, Domenico Matteo, right down to our own time, and also identified many 20th-century graves.
As with the attribution of works of art, so too with historical research does Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci proceed with extreme caution and absolute discretion, making known discoveries, trying to resolve as yet unanswered questions and problems, and identifying lines of investigation still to be followed – carefully distinguishing the assumptions and misunderstandings of the media from hypotheses and reasonable certainties. Publications of this nature serve, among other things, to stimulate communication between scholars, or even from the descendants themselves, and to evaluate and safeguard historic sites such as houses and burial places.
While there remain a great many leads to be investigated by historians, for biologists and anthropologists this research yields certain data from which to work, providing the possibility to identify, through DNA analysis, the remains of Leonardo and compare them to DNA samples obtained from living descendants.

Vezzosi, A.
Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci,
Head Office: Via IV Novembre 2,
50059 Vinci (FI), Italy.

A Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) Survey of the Florentine Abbey – the Badia Fiorentina (Italy) – as Part of the Search for the Family Tomb of Leonardo da Vinci

DOI: 10.14673/HE201631020

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.1-2 – 2016

Key words: Ground-penetrating radar (GPR), Badia Fiorentina, geophysical prospection, Da Vinci family tomb.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is one of the most frequently used methods for investigating the first section below ground, and is therefore considered a vital tool for archaeological investigations and studies. The purpose of the GPR survey carried out at the Badia Fiorentina, where historical documents indicate the presence of the family tomb of Leonardo da Vinci, was to identify electromagnetic anomalies indicative of tombs.
GPR data acquisition was carried out in two areas of the abbey: one in correspondence with the central and lateral aisles; and the other inside the chapel of St. Mauro.  A mono-static GPR system, RIS_MF_HiMod (I.D.S. S.p.A), was used with a dual frequency antenna (200-600 MHz). After completing the survey, the data was processed and noise components were effectively removed.
Through our interpretation of the data it transpired that there were several areas with electromagnetic anomalies considered to be of interest for further archaeological investigations – five in the main portion of the abbey and three in the chapel of St Mauro.

Minucci, S.
Centro di GeoTecnologie (CGT),
University of Siena, Via Vetri Vecchi 34,
52027 San Giovanni Valdarno,
Arezzo, Italy.

Tracing the Da Vinci Tomb in the Badia Fiorentina

DOI: 10.14673/HE201631019

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.3 – 2016

In the late fifteenth century, the father of Leonardo da Vinci, whose origins have fascinated scholars for well over a century, installed a tomb for himself and his descendants in the Florentine monastery known today as the Badia Fiorentina. Leonardo’s complex family included four stepmothers and twenty-three half brothers and half sisters and their offspring, many of whom were buried at the Badia. This article traces the history of the Da Vinci tomb from its first burial in 1474 to its last in 1614 to recount which family members were buried therein and when. Since the church was radically renovated in the mid-seventeenth century, this paper also provides evidence for where the tomb chamber was originally located and where its remnants might be found through archeological excavation.

Leader, A., PhD.
Art historian and writer,
230 Brookwood Drive,
Auburn, AL 36830, USA.

Leonardo’s Bones: Myth, History, and Evidence

DOI: 10.14673/HE201631018

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.3 – 2016

Key words: Leonardo da Vinci, Arsène Houssaye, Château d’Amboise, physical remains, archaeology, appearance,
self-portraits, sexuality, health.

A plaque declares the bones entombed in the chapel of Saint-Hubert, in the Château d’Amboise in the Loire Valley, to be the “presumed remains” of Leonardo da Vinci, who died in Amboise at the age of sixty-seven in 1519. The remains in the chapel were excavated nearby in 1863 by the novelist, art critic and impresario Arsène Houssaye. Even by the standards of the mid-nineteenth century, Houssaye’s protocols were short on science and strong on myth and wish fulfilment. Doubts about his methodology were raised soon after his discovery and supposed identification of the bones. The uncertainty endures, but scientific study of the remains could be expected either tentatively to confirm or to preclude altogether the possibility of their being those of Leonardo da Vinci. They could be expected to accord with certain known information about his diet, fitness, state of health, personal habits, places of residence, and physical appearance – ambiguous and inconclusive as the evidence sometimes appears. The remains might also be expected to exhibit several anomalies, including evidence of the chemicals and minerals to which his career as a painter and inventor exposed him, such as lead, arsenic, mercury, oxides of aluminium, zinc and manganese. Moreover, although his family on his father’s side came from Tuscany, information about his mother is much scarcer. One theory is that she was a slave, which means that her ethnic origin may have been in the North Caucasus region of present-day Russia, the area from which women were taken to Italy as slaves. If authentic and amenable to scientific investigation, the remains in Amboise might therefore be expected to reveal valuable information about an elusive and enigmatic figure.

King, R.
Art historian and writer,
Woodstock, Oxon, England.

Using New Anthropological and Biological Tools to Learn about Leonardo da Vinci


J. Ausubel

Vice Chairman,
Richard Lounsbery Foundation
601 Thirteenth Street, NW, Suite 1030N
Washington, DC 20005

His life marked the rebirth of Western civilization, but no gravestone marks with certainty the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci. Now using modern techniques, anthropologists and geneticists are seeking Leonardo’s remains not simply to mark the spot but also to study and better understand his remarkable abilities and talents. The work underway resembles in complexity recent projects such as the exhumation and reburial of Leonardo’s English contemporary, King Richard III, in March 2015 some 500 years after his death.
Like Richard, Leonardo was born in 1452, and like Richard he was given a Christian burial in a setting that underwent changes in subsequent years such that the exact location of the grave became lost. And this is where science and technology come to the aid of history.
In November 2014 an international team of specialists embarked on the first phase of a project to identify conclusively the alleged remains of Leonardo da Vinci at Amboise Castle in the Loire Valley southwest of Paris. They aim to compare DNA yet to be found there with the DNA of Leonardo’s father and several close relatives whose remains are buried in Florence, and possibly his mother, in Milan. They hope to acquire an extensive enough genetic profile to understand better his abilities and visual acuity.
The project brings together experts from France, Italy, Spain, the United States, and Canada. Participating organizations include the Institut de Paléontologie Humaine in Paris, the International Institute for Humankind Studies in Florence, the Laboratory of Molecular Anthropology and Paleogenetics at the Biology Department of the University of Florence, Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci in Vinci, J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, California, Laboratory of Genetic Identification at the University of Granada, and the Rockefeller University in New York.  Initial support comes from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation in Washington D.C.
Work proceeds along several fronts from Leonardo’s family tomb in Florence, to Leonardo’s presumed remains at Amboise Castle, and to Milan where there might be the remains of Leonardo’s mother, Caterina. Team members are also pursuing traces of her children by a later marriage. The study team plans to verify whether DNA extracted from the remains at Amboise Castle matches that of remains from Florence and possibly Milan, and traces taken from Leonardo’s works of art, drawings, and notebooks and from possible descendants in the area of the town of Vinci, where he was born. Researchers in all these studies are adhering to the latest ethical guidelines for studies in human genomics. The project will verify Leonardo’s physical characteristics from historical accounts, portraits and other images, and the cast of a skull attributed to Leonardo. To help further with identification, scholars will verify from historical accounts any illnesses, traumas, injuries, eating habits, and any other physical activities that are likely to have left biomechanical traces on Leonardo’s bones (see King, this issue, pp. 133-147).

Leonardo’s path from Vinci to Amboise
Leonardo was born in Archiano, a village of Vinci in the province of Florence, Italy, perhaps on 15 April 1452. He was the illegitimate son of the notary Ser Piero di Antonio and the young Caterina, who later married Accattabriga di Piero del Vacca Buti. Leonardo was born in the same year that his father entered into an advantageous marriage with Albiera Amadori, who accepted and reared this healthy and lively boy. In 1457, his name appears in the family records of Antonio Vinci, Leonardo’s grandfather, as “illegitimate son.”
Near the end of his life, Leonardo accepted an invitation from the French king, Francis I, to leave Italy and to move to the castle of Cloux, near Amboise, with some of his students, where he held the position of “first painter, engineer, and architect of the King.” There he was able to devote time to his studies and his projects without having to comply with contractual terms or to fulfill specific obligations.
On April 23, 1519, Leonardo dictated his last will and testament. He died in Cloux on 5 May 1519 (though according to some on 2 May of the same year), at the age of 67. In accordance with his wishes, his mortal remains were buried in the Chapel of Saint Florentin in Amboise Castle. But the burial deeds of the artist bear the date 12 August, which indicates an initial temporary burial of the remains of Leonardo, followed, over three months later, by a final burial in the chapel of Saint Florentin. Here he rested until 1802, when the chapel was demolished and some of the tombs were destroyed and their remains were lost.
Although many of Leonardo’s biographies have assigned to his remains this unfortunate fate, in reality there are still many doubts. It is not known for certain whether Leonardo’s grave was among those destroyed and scattered. Doubts emerged in 1863  with the excavation of the site where the chapel of Saint Florentin once stood. There between the foundations of the destroyed building, a stone coffin was discovered containing a skeleton with a large skull, judged to be “large enough to hold an exceptional brain” and not far from this coffin a slab with a badly deteriorated inscription, LEO DUS VINC, thought to indicate Leonardus Vincius (see King, this issue, pp. 133-147).
From the skull a cast was made for examination by phrenologists in Paris, but its present whereabouts are unknown. Moreover, the bones attributed to Leonardo, first placed in a basket, were lost, then recovered, and in September 1874 buried in the chapel of Saint-Hubert, in the castle of Amboise, where they should still be today. But though a memorial on the site bears Leonardo’s name, an adjacent plaque casts doubt by claiming only “presumed remains.”

Tracking Leonardo’s relatives
Historical documents attest that during the years 1472-74, Leonard’s father, Ser Piero di Antonio, purchased a tomb below the floor of the Badia Fiorentina, the Florentine abbey (Santa Maria Assunta), situated in the very heart of Florence across the street from the Bargello, now an art museum. The Badia Fiorentina is the oldest monastery in the city and was founded in 978 for monks who followed the Rule of St. Benedict. Today the Badia is home to the Fraternity of Jerusalem. Thus far, reliable documentary evidence shows that at least fourteen of Leonardo’s blood relatives were laid to rest in the Badia, including Leonardo’s father and adult half-brothers by his father’s third and fourth wives, as well as another illegitimate brother by an unknown mother (see Leader, this issue, pp. 149-158).
Records in the Florence State Archives and national library have been particularly useful when trying to identify the exact location of tombs or burial sites, including Badia tomb registers compiled in the seventeenth century, and contemporaneous accounts written by the abbey’s historian and abbot. These volumes generally contain not only information derived from both official and public documents but also details provided by the churches, therefore affording additional clues because the positions of the tombs are often referred to in relation to the internal features of the church at that time. This information assumes greater importance in light of the many transformations that the Badia has undergone over the course of centuries. We know that the monastery was expanded toward the end of the 1400s. In 1627 the orientation of the church was rotated by 90 degrees and the entrance became what had previously been the apse. The present entrance was opened in 1494. Moreover, in 1663 the floor of the Badia was completely repaved, and all of the tombstones were removed, leaving no physical indication of the former locations of the various tombs. In the absence of many of the church’s original features mentioned in official records, Anne Leader (this issue, pp. 149-158) has reconstructed from documented sources the original plans and features of the church, and all ensuing transformations, to discover the likely location of Leonardo’s family’s remains.
Concurrent with this search, another investigation was underway using ground penetrating radar, the noninvasive tool used to find the remains of Richard III beneath a parking lot and those of Miguel de Cervantes in a long-lost crypt ( Geological technologists from the University of Siena scanned the floor of the Badia early in 2015 and found electromagnetic anomalies consistent with that of tomb chambers (see Minucci & Colonna, this issue, pp. 159-168). Their survey, in concert with analysis of historical records by Anne Leader on behalf of the International Institute for Humankind Studies, supports a request for permission to excavate and expose the remains of Leonardo’s relatives for exhumation and DNA analysis in the second phase of the project.
The remains of Leonardo’s mother present an alternative route to identifying his remains by DNA analysis, but that route is obscure. Annotations found in Leonardo’s notebooks refer to expenses incurred for the treatment and funeral of “Caterina,” an otherwise unidentified woman who died on 26 June 1494 in the parish of Santi Nabore e Felice in Milan. However, there is no indication of the exact place of burial, neither are there bibliographical sources to suggest that its whereabouts have ever been investigated.
Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci and the J. Craig Venter Institute, on another track, are advancing Leonardo’s genealogy from historical sources to construct a family tree with Progeny software. Given that the Ychromosome DNA haplogroups (inherited through the paternal line) and the mitochondrial DNA haplogroups (inherited through the maternal line) are the same from generation to generation except for any mutational events that may have occurred, it may be possible to trace surviving relatives from the paternal line and the maternal line to obtain DNA samples for eventual comparison to the genetic material obtained from exhumed remains or pieces of art. The Museo Ideale Leonardo Da Vinci will also seek to locate possible descendants of Leonardo near the town of Vinci (see Vezzosi, this issue, pp. 169-189) so that the team can compare their genetic profiles to DNA obtained from Leonardo’s remains.

Artwork and fingerprints
It is well known that Leonardo used his fingers along with his brushes while painting, some prints of which have remained, and so it could be possible to find cells of his epidermis mixed with the colors. The Leonardo Project seeks to verify whether fingerprints obtained from Leonardo’s paintings, drawings, and notebooks can be compiled and eventually attributed to him. A more general objective is to verify whether DNA extracted from traces taken from Leonardo’s works of art and manuscripts are consistent with DNA extracted from identified remains.
In January 2015, the International Institute for Humankind Studies opened discussions with the laboratory in Florence where Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi has been undergoing restoration for nearly two years to explore the possibility of analyzing dust from the painting for possible DNA traces. In preparation for such analysis, a team from the J. Craig Venter Institute will examine contemporaneous paintings from a private collection to develop and calibrate techniques for DNA extraction and analysis. If human DNA is obtained from Leonardo’s work and sequenced, the genetic material can then be compared with genetic information from skeletal or other remains that may be exhumed in the future.
Experts in forensic genomics plan to design inhibition and sensitivity experiments to study different pigments and resins used in Leonardo’s day to determine if the chemicals and materials of which these paints and resins are composed are likely to allow for successful amplification and detection of trace human DNA.

A conservative approach

The analyses necessary to identify the remains of Leonardo must be as conservative as possible. The enterprise must not arrive at the identification of his remains, only to have destroyed what was left. Therefore, any analysis that could possibly result in the destruction or impairment of even minimal skeletal portions must be evaluated beforehand both qualitatively and quantitatively to assess the importance of the contribution that such an analysis is likely to provide for the investigation.
With this precaution in mind, work will proceed in phases, beginning with obtaining permission for excavation to access remains at the Badia Fiorentina. Similar excavations have been done several times before, recently at the Medici Chapels in Florence to unearth members of the Medici family. Historical study is needed to reconstruct events that may have affected the remains of Leonardo, from the place of his alleged death to their present location. Already information has been gathered from literature about Leonardo’s physical characteristics, from age at death to stature, size, degree of robustness, and other physical and physiognomic traits. For example, Leonardo would have been exposed either in his studio or his workshops to lead, mercury, and other chemicals that would leave lasting traces (see King, this issue, pp. 133-147).
When permissions are obtained, physical anthropological analysis can begin with the exhumation of bone samples from remains thought to be those of Leonardo and his direct blood relatives. Investigators will extract DNA to assess whether its quality is sufficient for further forensic analysis and genetic interpretation. Radiometric dating of the finds by carbon-14 and other methods would show whether the indicated time of death corresponds with the established date of the bones. Research must verify whether the physical characteristics reported of Leonardo, such as his left-handedness, physical strength, and handsome appearance, are compatible with those ascertained from the study of skeletal remains, such as sex, stature, and facial features. Further, is evidence found from the bones compatible with Leonardo’s reported illnesses, injuries, and eating habits? (e.g. Leonardo is thought to have followed a vegetarian diet for much of his life).  Finally, superposition of radiographic and photographic images will help to assess any similarities between the facial skeleton and Leonardo’s portraits and any other iconographic representations, such as the skull cast.
In conjunction with approaches from physical anthropology, the project can proceed to DNA analysis for comparison of the genetic profiles obtained from samples extracted from the alleged bones of Leonardo and those of his relatives. If DNA analysis yields a definitive identification, then conventional and computerized techniques might reconstruct the face of Leonardo from the real and virtual models of the skull and from the possible death mask, reportedly in Paris, made at the time of Leonardo’s passing.  If found, the death mask could also yield precious DNA.
With regard to Leonardo’s artwork, investigators must identify and obtain permission to examine paintings that have retained fingerprints and notebooks that may have retained his skin cells. Then a crucial question is whether traces of DNA remain or whether restoration measures and the passage of time have obliterated all evidence of Leonardo’s touch.

“Vissi d’arte”

Indeed it is Leonardo’s art and creative genius that inspire the search for his bones, and it is to the history of art and the creative process that the search could leave an important legacy. Leonardo’s reputation as a painter rests on a handful of paintings, while other works were not completed or were planned and not begun. Experts debate the authenticity of works attributed to Leonardo, such as a portrait of Isabella D’Este, lost for 500 years before it was purportedly identified in a private collection in 2013 ( or the so-called Bella Principessa, identified as by Leonardo in 2008, but claimed to be a forgery in 2015 ( DNA samples matched to others found in Florence (or Milan or Amboise) could serve as a reference standard for authenticating disputed or unidentified works of Leonardo. Scrutiny of Leonardo’s art may also improve approaches to other forensic DNA studies.

Studying DNA traces in Leonardo’s artwork could improve techniques for extracting and sequencing DNA from other centuries-old works of art, and associated methods of attribution. Art forgery is a multi-billion-dollar industry that depends on falsifying or confusing the attribution of artworks to their creators. Authentication of contemporary artworks, just as for Leonardo’s, sometimes depends on consensus among interested parties rather than more definitive means. What if artists and dealers had at their disposal an inexpensive, indelible, and tamper-proof label with which to identify their work? Such a label developed by the University of New York at Albany makes use of synthetic DNA to create a genetic signature that permeates a work of art, invisible and undetectable until needed ( It is an idea that Leonardo, who famously invented a sort of shorthand writing in reverse perhaps to protect his written ideas from theft, would embrace.

The search for Leonardo’s death mask and remains at Amboise Castle, for the remains or traces of his family members in Florence, Vinci, and Milan, and for traces of his DNA in his works is fraught with difficulty. Matching Leonardo’s DNA to that of his family presents puzzles that are minutely specific to their history and circumstances, but the tools the investigators use are generic and broadly applicable. We stand to gain not only greater historical knowledge of Leonardo but possibly a reconstruction of his genetic profile, which could provide insights into other individuals with remarkable qualities. The last Plantagenet king of England and the author who gave us Don Quixote are two whose places in history are somewhat better documented now through recent anthropological study. Is Leonardo the next?

AcknowledgementsI thank Cesare Marchetti (Florence) for inspiring my interest in Leonardo and Brunetto Chiarelli (Florence) for nurturing the project now underway. I thank H. Dale Langford (Missouri, USA) for assistance in writing this essay.

Anthropological Study of Mesolithic Findings from Mayak: An Example of Dental Morphology Diversity

DOI: 10.14673/HE2016121017

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.1-2 – 2016

Key words: Paleoanthropology, odontology, dental morphology, Mesolithic, Mid-Volga.


The Upper Palaeolithic period in the Levant is divided into three chronological stages: Initial (IUP), Early (EUP) and Late (LUP). While the Initial stage is the interphase between the Middle and the Upper Paleolithic periods, it was during the EUP that modern human populations fully established them-selves in the region. The EUP consists of two techno-complex-es, the local Ahmarian tradition, and the Levantine Aurigna-cian, conceived as an intrusive culture from Europe.

Recent excavations at Manot Cave in western Galilee, Israel, have exposed rich Ahmarian and Aurignacian remains. The Ahmarian remains were found at the center of the cave su-perimposed by Aurignacian layers. They are characterized by long and narrow uni-and-bidirectional blades produced by soft hammer percussion. The tools consist of retouched blades, end scrapers and burins on blades and el-Wad points. These have been radiocarbon dated to 46-42 ka cal BP (68%). The Le-vantine Aurignacian remains, currently the dominant techno-complex at Manot, were recorded at the entrance and center of the cave. Distinctive finds include carinated and nosed end scrapers, Aurignacian blades, curved-twisted bladelets and ant-ler spear points. The radiocarbon ages of the Aurignacian layers at the entrance and center of the cave range from between 39-33 ka cal BP (68%). The EUP at Manot is represented by faunal, botanical and shell remains. The faunal assemblages consist of large-medium (ungulates) and small (birds and reptiles) game. The charred/wood remains comprise species indicating a Medi-terranean forest environment. Notably, a relatively fair amount of sea shells were recovered from the EUP contexts, some were used as personal ornaments and others consumed as food. The EUP sequence at Manot starts with the Ahmarian, followed by a repetitive Aurignacian exploitation of the cave until ca. 30 ka, which is the estimated time of the collapse of the cave entrance.

Khaldeeva, N.I.
Vasilyev, S.V.
Kharlamova, N.V.

Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology,
Russian Academy of Sciences,
Leninskiy pr. 32a,
119991 Moscow,