Latest Issue: Issue 380 - April 2021
Research, Method & Debate
Scholars have long debated when the Neolithic began in China. Neolithisation, however, is a process rather than an event. It is more realistic to investigate the timing and nature of the socio-economic trajectory from mobile, microblade-using foragers to sedentary communities during the Palaeolithic–Neolithic transition in northern China. Here, the authors use artefacts from Shuidonggou locality 12 to demonstrate the socio-economic organisation of the site's inhabitants. They identify long-term site occupation by a large group exhibiting high levels of individual mobility. Comparative analyses with contemporaneous data indicate that the early stages of complex social organisation—a fundamental element of Neolithisation—emerged among microblade-using groups.
Population genetic studies often overlook the evidence for variability and change in past material culture. Here, the authors use a Mesolithic example to demonstrate the importance of integrating archaeological evidence into the interpretation of the Scandinavian hunter-gatherer genetic group. Genetic studies conclude that this group resulted from two single-event dispersals into Scandinavia before 7500 BC. Archaeological evidence, however, shows at least six immigration events pre-dating the earliest DNA, and that the first incoming groups arrived in Scandinavia before 9000 BC. The findings underline the importance of conducting careful archaeological analysis of prehistoric human dispersal in tandem with the study of ancient population genomics.
The recent discovery of an exceptionally rich grave at La Almoloya in south-eastern Spain illuminates the political context of Early Bronze Age El Argar society. The quantity, variety and opulence of the grave goods emphasise the technological, economic and social dimensions of this unique culture. The assemblage includes politically and ideologically emblematic objects, among which a silver diadem stands out. Of equally exceptional character is the building under which the grave was found—possibly one of the first Bronze Age palaces identified in Western Europe. The architecture and artefacts from La Almoloya provide new insight into emblematic individuals and the exercise of power in societies of marked economic asymmetry.
Evidence from a newly discovered well at Berenike, a Hellenistic port on Egypt's Red Sea coast, suggests that the late third-century BC hiatus in occupation may have resulted from a multi-year drought that caused the city's freshwater source to run dry. This climatic shift was probably triggered by a volcanic eruption in 209 BC, an event that also caused a failure of the Nile to flood, leading to the famine-induced revolt of 207–186 BC in Upper Egypt. The Berenike excavations have not only uncovered the first Hellenistic city on the East African coast, but have also contributed to a better understanding of the effect of natural disasters on ancient societies.
World history is often framed in terms of flows of people: humans coming ‘out of Africa’, the spread of farmers in the Holocene, the disruptions of the ‘Sea Peoples’, or ‘colonisation’ by Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. In this article, the authors argue that world history is also about the flows of objects. To illuminate the impacts of objects on past societies, they introduce the concept of ‘objectscapes’ as a means of writing new kinds of histories of human-thing entanglements, in which objects in motion have roles to play—beyond representation—over both the short and long term. To illustrate, they present examples from two regions at the end of the first millennium BC: southern Germany and northern Syria.
Archaeological studies of belief, ideology and commemorative strategies in Ireland, and elsewhere in Europe, neglect the continuation of cremation far beyond the supposed fifth-century AD threshold for the shift to inhumation under the influence of Christianity. A database of radiocarbon dates from first-millennium AD Ireland permits the identification of new patterns in early medieval (AD 400–1100) mortuary practices, including a new phase of cremation. The authors discuss archaeological and historical implications to demonstrate how data-driven approaches can enhance and challenge established metanarratives. They also highlight serious methodological and interpretative issues that these data pose for current narrative frameworks, and their influence on post-excavation strategies.
A common feature of successful ancient states was the role of elites in maintaining and regulating socioeconomic structures and, in particular, emphasising their own social difference. The Wari (AD 600–1000) are considered the earliest expansive state in South America, and excavations have demonstrated the rich variety of exotic goods imported from across the region into the polity's heartland. Here, the authors argue that the importation of raw materials, plants, animals and people from distant regions was crucial for defining and sustaining Wari social differentiation and ideology. They emphasise the importance of studying material provenance and their archaeological contexts in order to understand the role of exotic goods in legitimising ruling groups in ancient states.
The Koźle Basin in Poland was radically transformed by aerial bombardment during the Second World War. Today, the region has approximately 6000 well-preserved bomb craters with diameters ranging from 5–15m and depths often exceeding 2m. Combining remote-sensing data and fieldwork with historical accounts, this article analyses these craters, demonstrating that their varied morphologies derive from the weight of the bombs that created them, and on the type and moisture content of the soil on which the bombs fell. Based on their results, the authors issue a call for the official protection of the Koźle landscape, which has particular historical, educational and ecological value.
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a viral archive—an archaeological record of history in the making. One aspect of this archive is increased environmental pollution, not least through the discarded facemasks and gloves that characterise the pandemic. This article—directed specifically at archaeologists—argues that an archaeological perspective on ‘COVID waste’ using social media analysis can help to highlight environmental pollution, and that by giving this waste the status of archaeological material and working with other disciplines, archaeologists can contribute to sustainable, policy-led solutions to combat environmental pollution.
Archaeology increasingly attests the complex and cosmopolitan nature of societies in medieval Ethiopia (c. seventh to early eighteenth centuries AD). Without negating the existence of relations of dominance and periods of isolation, key emergent themes of such research are pluralism and interaction. Four religious traditions are relevant to this theme: Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Indigenous religions. This article introduces a special section of contributions on medieval Ethiopia and sets the scheme by highlighting the temporality of cosmopolitanism as episodic rather than continuous. The following articles address varied aspects of this cosmopolitanism, identifying issues of general relevance for studies of the archaeology of religion, as well as the need for further research in Ethiopia.
The monolithic churches of Lalibela are commonly regarded as evidence for the shift of the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia from Aksum to the Ethiopian Highlands during the thirteenth century AD. Recent research, however, has shown that the rock-cut churches were not created ex nihilo. New archaeological evidence has emerged for an earlier, local troglodytic culture, particularly at Washa Mika'el, further illuminating the cosmopolitan society that existed in medieval Ethiopia. This article considers the role played by this troglodytic culture in the Christianisation of the Ethiopian Highlands and how it attests continuity with its predecessors, especially in the way that sculpted decor are perpetuated and transformed in the frame of a new religious background.
The investigation of Islamic archaeology in Ethiopia has until recently been neglected. Excavations at Harlaa, a large urban centre in eastern Ethiopia, are now beginning to redress this lack of research attention. By establishing occupation and material sequences, and by assessing the chronology and material markers of Islamisation, recent work provides important new insight on the presence and role of Muslims and Islamic practice at Harlaa, and in the Horn of Africa more generally. The results challenge previous assumptions of cultural homogeneity, instead indicating the development of cosmopolitanism. They also suggest a possible historical identity for Harlaa: as Hubät/Hobat, the capital of the Hārlā sultanate.
Recent archaeological investigations in eastern Tigray, Ethiopia, have revealed extensive evidence for medieval Muslim communities. Although the settlement of Muslims near modern Kwiha was previously attested by epigraphic evidence, its exact location remained unknown. Fieldwork, with the support of the ERC project ‘HornEast’, has identified and excavated the cemetery at Bilet—the first excavation of a Muslim cemetery in the Ethiopian Highlands. The results reveal the existence of flourishing cosmopolitanism among Muslim communities in the very heart of the Zagwe Christian kingdom. These Muslim communities developed from both foreign and local populations and were well connected with the wider Islamicate world.
The western Ethiopian borderland is remote from all centres of power in the Horn of Africa. As a result, local communities have often been regarded by scholars and state agents alike as isolated and antiquated. The picture that emerges from archaeological research, however, is more complex: borderland societies have, at different times from the mid first millennium AD onwards, embraced, reworked or rejected innovations from neighbouring polities. Indeed, borderland groups developed a type of ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’ integrating foreign customs and artefacts. As an old multicultural borderland spanning many centuries and involving a range of state and non-state actors, the region offers important lessons for our understanding of frontier societies in Africa and beyond.
The publication of the British-Georgian exploration of Dariali Gorge (2013–2016) represents a substantial benchmark for the archaeology of the Caucasus, above all else for its multi-faceted approach. While numerous international and local projects continue a well-established tradition of archaeological research in the region, few have attempted the breadth of interdisciplinary work presented in this book. The result is a remarkably rich resource, illustrating to Anglophone academia in particular the archaeology of a region often portrayed as marginal. At the same time, the inclusion of a full synopsis in Georgian at the end of the volume (Naskidashvili) underscores the continued importance of collaboration across linguistic barriers.
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The initial spread of food production in eastern Africa is associated with livestock herding during the Pastoral Neolithic. Recent excavation at Luxmanda, Tanzania, a site dating to c. 3000 BP, revealed circular installations of lower grinding stones and numerous handstones. This discovery, unprecedented for this era, challenges previous ideas about pastoralist mobility and subsistence.
Investigations at Bushat in northern Albania during 2017–2019 have brought to light a massive fortification wall dating to the fourth century BC and enclosing approximately 20ha of hilly terrain. The wall is connected to the development of Illyrian settlements and the Hellenisation of the area.
The cemetery site for which the Wielbark Culture was named has been known for over a century. The scientific value of the site is, however, only now beginning to be realised. With a continuous sequence of use spanning five centuries, the site may hold clues that can shed new light on population continuity and the migrations of the Goths.
The architectural connections between western Central Asia and China are not well understood. Recent investigations at the Haermodun site in central Xinjiang reveals new evidence of the influence of western Central Asia on the construction of fortifications in China during the early first millennium AD.
Stećci are medieval tombstones. Scattered across the landscapes of the Western Balkans in their thousands, they amalgamate the historical, cultural and religious components of medieval societies in the region, and are expressions of identity, social systems, politics and religious belief. Through these monuments, a diverse spectrum of identities was enunciated, providing us with a rare opportunity to investigate the archaeo-historic development of medieval South-eastern Europe.
The Small Cycladic Islands Project is a diachronic archaeological survey of several small, currently uninhabited islands located in the Cyclades, Greece. In 2019 and 2020, surface investigations focused on the multi-method, comparative documentation of 21 islets surrounding Paros and Antiparos, revealing oscillating patterns of use and non-use from prehistory to the present.