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Reading ancient campfires

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Archaeologist uncovers secrets of human origins

Ofer Bar-Yosef, Harvard’s MacCurdy Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology and head of the Peabody Museum’s Stone Age Laboratory, is working in the New Stone Age, known as the Neolithic, when Homo sapiens first domesticated plants. He’s particularly interested in the rise of agriculture, dubbed the Neolithic Revolution, a transforming event in human history that set the stage for early villages and the larger civilizations to come. It’s his interest in an earlier prehistoric revolution that spurs Bar-Yosef’s investigation of the Neolithic. Bar-Yosef believes it was some type of technological revolution that gave Cro-Magnon humans the upper hand over Neanderthals some 35,000 years ago. It was at that time, after thousands of years of coexistence, that Cro-Magnon began to multiply rapidly, expanding into a Neanderthal-dominated Europe and into Asia. It is also at that time that Neanderthals began to decline, eventually disappearing entirely.