Latest Issue: Issue 364 - August 2018
Research, Method & Debate
This special section of Antiquity reports on new research on Chaco Canyon and its surrounding region in the northern U.S. Southwest. Two of the contributions are based on new excavations within Chaco Canyon—one at the largest great house of Pueblo Bonito by Patricia Crown and W.H. Wills (2018), and the other on Chaco’s water management by Vernon Scarborough et al. (2018). The second pair of articles are based on the regional data compilation and analyses of great houses and great kivas, which form part of the larger Chaco World. The article by Mills et al. (2018) applies social network analysis to a large database of ceramics to look at changing connectivity in the Chaco World over three centuries. Katherine Dungan et al. (2018) use an innovative total viewshed approach to examine when and to what degree great houses and great kivas were placed in visually prominent locations. This introduction reviews new findings of the past decade and contextualises the following four articles within the current literature. It does not provide a comprehensive review of the Chaco literature, and the reader is referred to other reviews, most recently by Plog (2010, 2018), Schachner (2015) and Plog et al. (2017). These can be compared with earlier syntheses (Mills 2002; Lekson 2006, 2009) to underscore the pace of new research.
The Pueblo population of Chaco Canyon during the Bonito Phase (AD 800–1130) employed agricultural strategies and water-management systems to enhance food cultivation in this unpredictable environment. Scepticism concerning the timing and effectiveness of this system, however, remains common. Using optically stimulated luminescence dating of sediments and LiDAR imaging, the authors located Bonito Phase canal features at the far west end of the canyon. Additional ED-XRF and strontium isotope (87Sr/86Sr) analyses confirm the diversion of waters from multiple sources during Chaco’s occupation. The extent of this water-management system raises new questions about social organisation and the role of ritual in facilitating responses to environmental unpredictability.
Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon is one of the most iconic pre-Hispanic archaeological sites in the U.S. Southwest. Archaeologists refer to it as a great house in recognition of its massive scale, and often describe it as the centre of the Chaco world. Yet questions remain about Pueblo Bonito’s origins, sequence of construction, duration of occupation and abandonment. Here, the authors present new research that helps to clarify the early phases of occupation, and illuminates some of the problems inherent in reconstructing a building that was a perennial work in progress.
The Chacoan great houses and great kivas of the U.S. Southwest are monumental, both in their scale and in conveying meaning. Visibility is key to understanding how and by whom that meaning was experienced. Although often discussed in Chaco studies, visibility has been infrequently tested. Here, the authors consider 430 great house and great kiva locations, and evaluate their visibility within their local landscapes. Using a total viewshed approach, they provide new evidence to suggest that great houses, but not great kivas, were often placed to be highly visible to individuals in the surrounding landscape. These patterns may speak to the social and physical properties of the structures.
Migration was a key social process contributing to the creation of the ‘Chaco World’ between AD 800 and 1200. Dynamic social network analysis allows for evaluation of several migration scenarios, and demonstrates that Chaco’s earliest ninth-century networks show interaction with areas to the west and south, rather than migration to the Canyon from the Northern San Juan. By the late eleventh century, Chaco Canyon was tied strongly to the Middle and Northern San Juan, while a twelfth-century retraction of networks separated the Northern and Southern San Juan areas prior to regional depopulation. Understanding Chaco migration is important for comprehending both its uniqueness in U.S. Southwest archaeology and for comparison with other case studies worldwide.
Large, ‘complex’ pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer communities thrived in southern China and northern Vietnam, contemporaneous with the expansion of farming. Research at Con Co Ngua in Vietnam suggests that such hunter-gatherer populations shared characteristics with early farming communities: high disease loads, pottery, complex mortuary practices and access to stable sources of carbohydrates and protein. The substantive difference was in the use of domesticated plants and animals—effectively representing alternative responses to optimal climatic conditions. The work here suggests that the supposed correlation between farming and a decline in health may need to be reassessed.
The diversity of archaeological evidence for the adoption of farming in Northern Europe has led to competing hypotheses about this critical shift in subsistence strategy. Through a review of the archaeological material alongside ethnographic evidence, we reconsider the Neolithic Transition in Southern Scandinavia, and argue for both continuity and change during the early Funnel Beaker Culture (c. 4000–3500 cal BC). A new model is proposed for understanding the processes of regional transition—one which allows for compromise between the dominant explanatory frameworks. We conclude that the first centuries of the Scandinavian Neolithic saw cultural and economic negotiation between the last foragers and the first farmers. This has major implications for the understanding of agricultural origins in Northern Europe.
Recent research at Liangzhu in China documents the settlement as a fortified town dating from 3300–2300 BC, accompanied by an impressive system of earthen dams for flood control and irrigation. An earthen platform in the centre of the town probably supported a palace complex, and grave goods from the adjacent Fanshan cemetery include finely worked jades accompanying high-status burials. These artefacts were produced by a complex society more than a millennium before the bronzes of the Shang period. The large-scale public works and remarkable grave goods at Liangzhu are products of what may be the earliest state society in East Asia.
Settlements incorporating large-scale human aggregations are a well-documented but poorly understood phenomenon across late prehistoric Europe. The authors’ research examines the origins and trajectory of such aggregations through isotope analysis of human skeletal remains from the mega-site of Marroquíes in Jaén, Spain. The results indicate that eight per cent of 115 sampled individuals are of non-local origin. These individuals received mortuary treatments indistinguishable from those of locals, suggesting their incorporation into pre-existing social networks in both life and death. This research contributes to our understanding of the extent and patterning of human mobility, which underlies the emergence of late prehistoric mega-sites in Europe.
Chinese civilisation has long been assumed to have developed in the Central Plains in the mid to late second millennium BC. Recent archaeological discoveries at the Bronze Age site of Shimao, however, fundamentally challenge traditional understanding of ‘peripheries’ and ‘centres’, and the emergence of Chinese civilisation. This research reveals that by 2000 BC, the loess highland was home to a complex society representing the political and economic heartland of China. Significantly, it was found that Later Bronze Age core symbols associated with Central Plains civilisations were, in fact, created much earlier at Shimao. This study provides important new perspectives on narratives of state formation and the emergence of civilisation worldwide.
New evidence from the rockshelter site of Aru Manara, on the island of Morotai, in the northern Moluccas, East Indonesia, suggests an earlier than previously assumed date for extensive interactions between this area of Southeast Asia and the wider Pacific. Shared mortuary customs and associated ceramic grave goods, along with other practices such as megalithic traditions, appear to start in the Late Neolithic, but become more widespread and consolidated in the Early Metal Age. Excavations at Aru Manara show that the northern Moluccas may have figured prominently in the newly established network of interaction evidenced at this time, making it an important location in the spread and dispersal of people and culture throughout Island Southeast Asia and into Oceania.
This article provides results from a full morphological, use-wear and microfossil residue analysis of a notched bone tool made from a camelid scapula, which was recovered from the late pre-Hispanic site of Boyo Paso 2 (1500–750 years BP, Sierras of Córdoba, Argentina). The use-wear pattern showed striations similar to those recorded in experimental bone tools used for scraping activities. The starch grains found on the active or working edge are similar to the Andean tuber crop Oxalis tuberosa, and suggest that the tool was used for peeling wild or domesticated Oxalis sp. tubers, thereby questioning the disproportionate attention directed towards maize in late pre-Hispanic economies.
Archaeological indicators of inequality at major historic centres of power have long been poorly understood. This paper is the first to address the archaeology of class and inequality at Great Zimbabwe (AD 1000–1700) from an African-centred viewpoint. Data from new excavations, combined with insights from Shona philosophy, practice and ethnography, suggest that the categories of ‘elite’ and ‘commoner’ were situational and transient, and that they require a more robust theorisation than that currently adopted for the site. The results provide a valuable study for the comparative archaeology of ancient cities, differing in many ways from established interpretive frameworks in global archaeology.
Artefact biographies are a valuable means of conceptualising the relationships between people, places and objects in the past. It is rare, however, that the detailed contextual information required by such approaches can be extracted from the archaeological assemblages typically found in the often dense and confusing palimpsests of complex urban sites. Eighteenth- to twentieth-century ceramic wares associated with Oxbridge colleges provide one way of exploring this issue. Detailed historical records of property owners and tenants can be combined with ceramics linked to individual colleges by corporate markings such as coats of arms or badges. This enables fine-grained reconstructions which show, in many cases, that ordinary vessels had far from ordinary histories of use and discard.
While periods of war have always seen cultural heritage placed at risk, the recent rise of ISIS has involved the deliberate targeting of heritage sites as part of a broader strategy towards local communities in Syria and Iraq. Using data collated from social media (Twitter), the authors conducted sentiment analysis of reactions to instances of heritage destruction and repurposing in the Middle East between 2015 and 2016. It is hoped that the insights gained can help the international community better tackle terrorism, protecting heritage and supporting affected communities.
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A new project aims to define the origins and dispersal patterns of the opium poppy in Neolithic Western Europe through a comprehensive programme of radiocarbon dating.
Newly discovered archaeological sites in the Uribe Kosta region of northern Spain are illuminating the establishment of late prehistoric coastal farming settlements and specialised tool-production activities.
Satellite imagery analysis has revealed the presence of at least 330 stone structures—akin to ‘desert kites’ recorded elsewhere—on and around the Hamada al Hamra Plateau in Libya. These structures, which probably vary in shape based on local geomorphology, may have been used for hunting or herding animals.
Recent changes to the availability and accessibility of LiDAR data in Italy have greatly expanded the potential for their exploration by members of the general public. Further promotion of this fact and how to engage with such data could prove to be of significant value to both archaeologists and other interested parties.
The Tappino Area Archaeological Project combines remote sensing, intensive survey methods and excavation to illuminate the development and working of ancient society in the Apennine Mountains, southern Italy.
Analysis of seven newly discovered engraved La Tène beads from the Mathay-Mandeure sanctuary in Doubs, France, has refined the chronology for the manufacture of such rare artefacts, and increases our understanding of Late Iron Age ritual deposition practices.
This paper presents the results of a non-photorealistic rendering approach to analysing Roman inscriptions, which uses line drawings to highlight the text of two epigraphs from Galicia in north-west Spain.
A previously unknown painting of Christ’s face, recently discovered at the Byzantine site of Shivta in the Negev Desert of southern Israel, represents the first pre-iconoclastic baptism-of-Christ scene to be found in the Holy Land.
The Basquesmith project aims to illuminate the cycle of iron production and consumption by early medieval rural farming communities in the Álava province, Basque Country, northern Spain.
Recent research investigating the origins of Bahama archipelago habitation conducted archaeological surveys on the remote Bahamian Guinchos Cay and Cay Lobos. A complete lack of prehistoric evidence, however, suggests that they played no significant role in the colonisation of The Bahamas.