Latest Issue: Issue 366 - December 2018
Research, Method & Debate
The risk to surface archaeological sites posed by heavy machinery has grown significantly, and stone-tool assemblages are particularly susceptible to alteration that may be difficult to recognise. Indeed, the impact of industrial machines on surface scatters of lithic material has not yet been explored. Here, an analytical experiment is used to explore the ways in which machine action can affect a test assemblage resembling a typical Stone Age scatter. The results demonstrate that while formal tool types are not easily replicated through machine action, the creation of assemblages that resemble archaeological debitage poses a much greater challenge for archaeologists.
Recent survey and excavation conducted in the Mil Plain region of the southern part of the Republic of Azerbaijan challenges traditional notions of Neolithic sedentism. Here, the authors present their findings, and propose that prior to its abandonment towards the end of the sixth millennium BC, the occupation of the region was comprised of numerous highly variable short-term sites and multi-mounded sites (Qarabel Tepe), as well as anchoring sites (Kamiltepe). This indicates multi-scalar patterns of mobility of a much more complex nature than had previously been supposed, making this region quite unique for the Late Neolithic of South-western Asia.
The study of the exploitation of animals for traction in prehistoric Europe has been linked to the ‘secondary products revolution’. Such an approach, however, leaves little scope for identification of the less specialised exploitation of animals for traction during the European Neolithic. This study presents zooarchaeological evidence—in the form of sub-pathological alterations to cattle foot bones—for the exploitation of cattle for the occasional pulling of heavy loads, or ‘light’ traction. The analysis and systematic comparison of material from 11 Neolithic sites in the Western Balkans (c. 6100–4500 cal BC) provides the earliest direct evidence for the use of cattle for such a purpose.
The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua has witnessed relatively little archaeological research. In the last decade, however, there has been a substantial effort to record regional archaeological sites. First excavated in the early 1970s, the Angi shell-matrix site has been subject to new investigations, which have identified the first burial to be recorded on the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast. Although collagen preservation was insufficient for direct radiocarbon dating, samples obtained from surrounding deposits date the burial to c. 3900 BC. This represents both the earliest archaeological feature recorded to date on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and the oldest-known human remains from the region.
The Paracas culture of Late Formative Period south coastal Peru (c. 900–100 BC) is renowned for its elaborate and colourful ceramics—particularly those decorated using the post-fire painting technique. The materials and the methods used to achieve post-fire painting, however, remain elusive. To investigate the evolution of, and regional variation in, this technology, the authors deploy a range of techniques to analyse a sample of Paracas ceramics curated in museum collections. The results indicate diachronic and regional variations in the paint binders and colourants used by the Paracas potters, which correlate with changes in vessel form and iconography over time.
Extensively excavated village sites from the Chinese Bronze Age are rare. Information emerging from the analysis of the small Anyang-period village site of Guandimiao, however, challenges widely held assumptions concerning the Shang polity at Anyang and its hierarchical lineages based on war and sacrifice. Evidence for specialised pottery production and the presence of artefacts imported from Anyang suggest an unexpected degree of regional economic integration. Guandimiao is emerging as a site of revolutionary importance for understanding Anyang-period Shang political and economic networks, and in its significance to both Chinese archaeology and the study of early complex societies more generally.
The South Caucasus occupies the divide between ancient Mesopotamia and prehistoric Europe, and was thus crucial in the development of Old World societies. Chronologies for the region, however, have lacked the definition achieved in surrounding areas. Concentrating on the Tsaghkahovit Plain of north-western Armenia, Project ArAGATS's multi-site radiocarbon dataset has now produced Bayesian modelling, which provides tight chronometric support for tracing the transmission of technology, population movement and social developments that shaped the Eurasian Bronze and Iron Ages.
Lying on the north-west coast of Sri Lanka, the ancient port of Mantai was ideally situated as a ‘hub’ for trade between East and West from the first millennium BC onwards. Excavations at the site were interrupted by civil war in 1984, delaying publication of these results and leading to the underestimation of Mantai's importance in the development of Early Historic Indian Ocean trade. Renewed excavations in 2009–2010 yielded extensive archaeobotanical remains, which, alongside an improved understanding of the site's chronology, provide important new insights into the development of local and regional trade routes and direct evidence for early trade in the valuable spices upon which later empires were founded.
The seventh-century AD switch from gold to silver currencies transformed the socio-economic landscape of North-west Europe. The source of silver, however, has proven elusive. Recent research, integrating ice-core data from the Colle Gnifetti drill site in the Swiss Alps, geoarchaeological records and numismatic and historical data, has provided new evidence for this transformation. Annual ice-core resolution data are combined with lead pollution analysis to demonstrate that significant new silver mining facilitated the change to silver coinage, and dates the introduction of such coinage to c. AD 660. Archaeological evidence and atmospheric modelling of lead pollution locates the probable source of the silver to mines at Melle, in France.
Archaeological evidence for stilt-house settlements, or pile dwellings, has been recorded in diverse wet environments around the world. The first-millennium AD stilt-house villages in the Brazilian state of Maranhão, however, are poorly known. Difficulties in conducting archaeological investigations in seasonally flooded areas have restricted our ability to understand the societies that lived in these unique settlements. The results of recent fieldwork using non-invasive techniques to map, date and characterise these sites point towards a number of similarities and differences in their spatial organisation, material culture and social structure.
The Amazon is one of the few independent centres of plant domestication in the world, yet archaeological and ethnographic evidence suggest a relatively recent transition to agriculture there. In order to make sense of this time lag, the authors propose the use of the concept of ‘familiarisation’ instead of ‘domestication’, to explain Amazonian plant management, and the long-term relationship between plants and people in the region. This concept allows them to cast a fresh eye over ancient and contemporary patterns of plant cultivation and management that may be distinct to the ones described for the Old World.
During the First World War (1914–1918), the construction and maintenance of the Western Front in North-west Europe required huge quantities of timber. Although archaeological investigations regularly uncover well-preserved wooden structures and objects, studies of the timber's provenance are rare. The authors combine archival research with wood-species identification and tree-ring analysis of a large assemblage of wooden objects excavated from former trenches on the Western Front. The results show that most objects and structures were made using fast-growing European species, with evidence for the small-scale but continuous importation of North American timber.
In a recent Antiquity article, Ammerman et al. (2017) suggest that three radiocarbon dates on seventh- or eighth-century AD samples obtained by coring beneath St Mark's Basilica—including two peach stones—illuminate the earliest settlement of the historic centre of Venice. Excavations at several other locations, however, have yielded in situ settlement remains at least as old as the peach stones, some of which are securely dated by a floating tree-ring chronology and radiocarbon dates from stratified structural samples. Here, the authors summarise this evidence, and propose that a large area of the historic centre may have been settled by, or during, the mid seventh century AD.
Archaeologists have more opportunities than ever to disseminate their research widely—and the public more opportunities to engage and respond. This has led to the increasing mobilisation of archaeological data and interpretations within the discourses of nationalism and identity politics. This debate piece introduces the Brexit hypothesis, the proposition that any archaeological discovery in Europe can—and probably will—be exploited to argue in support of, or against, Brexit. Examples demonstrate how archaeological and ancient DNA studies are appropriated for political ends, and a series of recommendations and strategies for combatting such exploitation are proposed by the author.
These three ambitious, successful and highly rewarding books help us to rethink the archaeology of ancient China and its context. The work co-authored by Linduff, Sun, Cao and Liu is the most wide-ranging. It offers an overview of ancient Chinese interactions with Central Asian neighbours over more than two millennia, from the first beginnings of metal use up to the Iron Age. It also aims to change the narrative of this region by re-interpreting the ‘Inner Asian frontier’ as a multi-centred, dynamic, diverse and changing ‘contact zone’ unlike the uniform barbarian steppe set apart from incipient Chinese civilization that an earlier literature tended to imagine. The authors focus on distinct yet overlapping aspects of life and interaction on this frontier—‘technoscapes’, ‘individualscapes’, ‘lineagescapes’, ‘regionscapes’—departing from the Sinocentric view where the only interesting questions about ancient frontier peoples were how the barbarians contributed (or not), to the making of the (glory of the) Sino-centres. The recent exciting debates over the Shimao “city too far north” (Jaang et al. 2018) come to mind!
There can be few topics in Roman archaeology and history that are contested with such vigour and widespread interest as the Roman economy. In part, this present situation arises as a legacy of older debates on the significance of ancient economic growth and long-distance trade, in which key twentieth-century figures such as M.I. Finley, M. Rostovtzeff and K. Hopkins continue to loom large and provide compelling insights. More recently, the debate has been re-cast around questions of state involvement vs free markets, and the extent of market integration, as this pair of edited collections demonstrates. On the one hand, Trade, commerce and the state in the Roman World (edited by Andrew Wilson and Alan Bowman, hereafter TCS) takes a big picture view on the role of the Roman state in long-distance trade, arising from a conference that took place in 2009 as part of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project, ‘The Economy of the Roman Empire: Integration, Growth and Decline’. In contrast, The economic integration of Roman Italy (edited by Tymon de Haas and Gijs Tol, hereafter EIRI) brings together a series of typically smaller-scale studies focused on understanding the impact of economic changes on rural communities in Roman Italy. It emerges from another conference, held in 2013, this time as part of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research project ‘Fora, Stations, and Sanctuaries: the Role of Minor Centres in the Economy of Roman Central Italy’.
Although historical ecology has become a highly popular framework for contemporary archaeological research, archaeologists have always, in some form or another, been engaged with its study. Historical ecology and archaeology are inseparable; the techniques and methods of the latter are essential for accessing the deep time of human-environmental relationships, while interest in the former is implicated, whether explicitly or not, in all empirical, field-based archaeology. Two recent edited compilations, bringing together authors from a range of disciplines with a common interest in historical ecology, contribute significant theoretical and practical insights related to its study for archaeologists.
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This article focuses on the Middle Palaeolithic of a region of south India, highlighting diverse stratigraphic contexts and lithic reduction sequences suggestive of high mobility and planning in raw material usage.
Two ophidian sculptured stones have been recovered from Mesolithic stratigraphic units at the site of Kamyana Mohyla 1 in southern Ukraine. Microscopic examination revealed traces of shaping and intentional ornamentation on the stones when compared to experimentally worked sandstones of similar quality. The finds broaden the distribution of movable rock art objects in the European Mesolithic.
The ‘Molise Survey Project’ aims, through systematic survey, to document evidence for the prehistoric occupation and exploitation of the Apennine Mountains. Here, we present some of the first results of the archaeological surveys, with a focus on the evidence from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age.
The ArqueoBarbaria archaeological project aims to characterise the economic strategies and environmental context of Formentera's first human settlers at two Bronze Age sites (Cap de Barbaria II and cave 127) using an interdisciplinary approach.
The ruins of Berenike Trogodytika have long attracted travellers searching for the remains of the famous Graeco-Roman port on the Red Sea. It was not until 2012, however, that the Berenike Project team were able to identify the location and size of the legendary Berenike of the Ptolemies.
This article presents the results of the first excavations at Maliwan and Maliwan, the earliest port-settlements from southern Myanmar in the Isthmus of Kra, showing their involvement in extensive networks as far as the West and China during the last centuries BC.
This project studies the early Roman non-wheel-thrown Aquitania-Tarraconensis-type (AQTA) pottery from the Bay of Biscay region. The ‘ollae’-type AQTA ceramics display clear evidence of specialised production, consumption and interregional exchange by both terrestrial and maritime routes throughout the region.