Latest Issue: Issue 397 - February 2024
Research, Method & Debate
Grain-cooking traditions in Neolithic China have been characterised as a ‘wet’ cuisine based on the boiling and steaming of sticky varieties of cereal. One of these, broomcorn millet, was one of the earliest Chinese crops to move westward into Central Asia and beyond, into regions where grains were typically prepared by grinding and baking. Here, the authors present the genotypes and reconstructed phenotypes of 13 desiccated broomcorn millet samples from Xinjiang (1700 BC–AD 700). The absence in this area of sticky-starch millet and vessels for boiling and steaming suggests that, as they moved west, East Asian cereal crops were decoupled from traditional cooking practices and were incorporated into local cuisines.
Myanmar is located within an important geographic corridor of prehistoric demographic and technological exchange, yet relatively few archaeological sites have been securely dated. Here, the authors present a new radiocarbon chronology for Halin, a UNESCO-listed complex in the north-central Sagaing Division of Myanmar, which contributes to the generation of nuanced regional chronologies and to improving the temporal resolution of Southeast Asia more generally. Discussion of 94 radiocarbon determinates, together with site stratigraphy and pottery traditions, provides a chronological sequence from the early third millennium BC to the early second millennium AD. Corroboration of the beginning of this sequence would place Halin as the oldest currently dated Neolithic site in Mainland Southeast Asia and would provide support for the two-layer model of Neolithic migration.
The late third-millennium BC Longshan period was a crucial time for state formation in central China. During these centuries, long-distance networks expanded and shared material culture and then cultural practices spread across wider areas precipitating social and ideological developments that presaged the rise of states and cities on the Central Plain. In this research, the authors use multiple (strontium, oxygen and carbon) isotope analyses from the dental enamel of 67 individuals buried at the Xiajin cemetery, Shanxi Province. The results indicate significant long-distance migration among females during the Longshan period, which the authors interpret as evidence of exogamous marriage for political alliance-building—a phenomenon found more widely across Eurasia at the start of the Bronze Age.
Relatively few examples of Palaeohispanic writing have been recovered from the Vasconic territories of present-day Navarre, leading to the assumption that the Vascones were a pre-literate society. Here, the authors report on an inscription on a bronze hand recovered at the Iron Age site of Irulegi (Aranguren Valley, Navarre) in northern Spain. Its detailed linguistic analysis suggests that the script represents a graphic subsystem of Palaeohispanic that shares its roots with the modern Basque language and constitutes the first example of Vasconic epigraphy. The text inscribed on this artefact, which was found at the entrance of a domestic building, is interpreted as apotropaic, a token entreating good fortune.
Wine was deeply embedded in all aspects of Roman life and its role in society, culture and the economy has been much studied. Ancient Roman texts and archaeological research provide valuable insights into viticulture and the manufacture, trade and consumption of wine but little is known of the sensory nature of this prized commodity. Here, the authors offer a novel oenological approach to the study of Roman dolia through their comparison with modern Georgian qvevri and associated wine-production techniques. Far from being mundane storage vessels, dolia were precisely engineered containers whose composition, size and shape all contributed to the successful production of diverse wines with specific organoleptic characteristics.
Innovations in horse equipment during the early Middle Ages provided advantages to societies from the steppes, reshaping the social landscape of Eurasia. Comparatively little is known about the precise origin of these crucial advances, although the available evidence points to early adoption in East Asia. The authors present new archaeological discoveries from western and northern Mongolia, dating to the fourth and fifth centuries AD, including a wooden frame saddle with horse hide components from Urd Ulaan Uneet and an iron stirrup from Khukh Nuur. Together, these finds suggest that Mongolian groups were early adopters of stirrups and saddles, facilitating the expansion of nomadic hegemony across Eurasia and shaping the conduct of medieval mounted warfare.
Durable architecture is a hallmark of Polynesian chiefdoms, associated with centralised control of residential and agricultural land. Previous work in West Polynesia has indicated a relatively late date for the onset of such construction activity—after AD 1000—suggesting that political development was influenced by events such as post-colonisation migration. The authors report new dating evidence from the excavation of a large earth mound on the island of Tongatapu. Its construction 1500 years ago indicates that, in contrast to previous findings, well-developed chiefdoms and field monuments probably dominated the landscapes of West Polynesia substantially prior to the colonisation of more easterly island nations.
Comparative studies of inequality based on archaeological data rely on universal notions of status or prestige that are not always meaningful across diverse cultural contexts. Here, the authors evaluate three broadly contemporaneous urban communities (Marothodi, Molokwane and Kaditshwene) in the southern African interior in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries AD. The study combines a statistical measure of inequality, the Gini coefficient, with insights from the rich ethnohistorical archives of African knowledge systems. The results suggest markedly different levels of inequality, but contextualisation points to divergent social strategies for settlement organisation and for managing sociopolitical insecurity. The findings raise important questions about cross-cultural indices of social inequality.
Special section: GeoPACHA
Imagery-based survey is capable of producing archaeological datasets that complement those collected through field-based survey methods, widening the scope of analysis beyond regions. The Geospatial Platform for Andean Culture, History and Archaeology (GeoPACHA) enables systematic registry of imagery survey data through a ‘federated’ approach. Using GeoPACHA, teams pursue problem-specific research questions through a common data schema and interface that allows for inter-project comparisons, analyses and syntheses. The authors present an overview of the platform's rationale and functionality, as well as a summary of results from the first survey campaign, which was carried out by six projects distributed across the central Andes, five of which are represented here.
In the Andean highlands, hilltop fortifications known as pukaras are common. Dating predominantly to the Late Intermediate Period (AD 1000–1450), pukaras are important to archaeological characterisations of a political landscape shaped by conflict but the distribution of these key sites is not well understood. Here, the authors employ systematic satellite imagery survey to provide a contiguous picture of pukara distribution on an inter-regional scale covering 151 103km2 in the south-central highlands of Peru. They highlight the effectiveness of such survey at identifying pukaras and capturing regional variability in size and residential occupation, and the results demonstrate that satellite surveys of high-visibility sites can tackle research questions at larger scales of analysis than have previously been possible.
The north coast of Peru is among the most extensively surveyed regions in the world, yet variation in research questions, sampling strategies and chronological and geospatial controls among survey projects makes comparison of disparate datasets difficult. To contextualise these issues, the authors present a systematic survey of satellite imagery focusing on hilltop fortifications in the Jequetepeque and Santa Valleys. This digital recontextualisation of pedestrian survey data demonstrates the potential of hybrid methodologies to substantially expand both the identification of archaeological sites within difficult terrain and, consequently, our understanding of the function of defensive sites.
Fog oases (lomas) present pockets of verdant vegetation within the arid coastal desert of Andean South America and archaeological excavation within some of the oases has revealed a long history of human exploitation of these landscapes. Yet lomas settlements are under-represented in archaeological datasets due to their tendency to be located in remote inter-valley areas. Here, the authors employ satellite imagery survey to map the locations of anthropogenic surface features along the central Peruvian coast. They observe two categories of archaeological features, large corrals and clustered structures, and document a concentration of settlement features within lomas landscapes that suggests a pre-Hispanic preference for both short- and long-term occupation of these verdant oases.
Recent archaeological research in the Andes suggests that Indigenous herders carefully managed their environments through the modification of local hydrology and vegetation. However, the limited geographical scale of previous research makes it challenging to assess the range and prevalence of pastoralist land management in the Andes. In this article, the authors utilise large-scale, systematic imagery survey to examine the distribution and environmental contexts of corrals and pastoralist settlements in Huancavelica, Peru. Results indicate that corrals and pastoralist settlements cluster around colonial and present-day settlements and that a statistically significant relationship exists between pastoral infrastructure and perennial vegetation. This highlights the utility of remote survey for the identification of trans-regional patterns in herder-environment relationships that are otherwise difficult to detect.
Archaeological surveys conducted through the inspection of high-resolution satellite imagery promise to transform how archaeologists conduct large-scale regional and supra-regional research. However, conducting manual surveys of satellite imagery is labour- and time-intensive, and low target prevalence substantially increases the likelihood of miss-errors (false negatives). In this article, the authors compare the results of an imagery survey conducted using artificial intelligence computer vision techniques (Convolutional Neural Networks) to a survey conducted manually by a team of experts through the Geo-PACHA platform (for further details of the project, see Wernke et al. 2023). Results suggest that future surveys may benefit from a hybrid approach—combining manual and automated methods—to conduct an AI-assisted survey and improve data completeness and robustness.
‘The collapse c. 1200 BC’ in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean—which saw the end of the Mycenaean kingdoms, the Hittite state and its empire and the kingdom of Ugarit—has intrigued archaeologists for decades. As Jesse Millek points out in Destruction and its impact, the idea of a swathe of near-synchronous destructions across the eastern Mediterranean is central to the narrative of the Late Bronze Age collapse: “destruction stands as the physical manifestation of the end of the Bronze Age” (p.6). Yet whether there was a single collapse marked by a widespread destruction horizon is up for debate. The two books reviewed here successfully reassess the simplistic and catastrophist characterisation of the end of the Late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean and help provide a more nuanced picture.
I am very grateful to Antiquity for asking me to read and write a review article of these two volumes. Together they provide an integrated picture of trends in recent years on the themes of mobility and ethnicity in late prehistoric and early historic Europe. Topics, chronology and regional focus are different, if not often opposed, in each book but the reader can easily catch the common ground for further reflection.
New Book Chronicle
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Xiaonanshan is an archaeological site dated to 16.5–13.5 cal kyr BP, situated beside the Ussuri River in China. The lithic assemblages feature microblade debitage, bifacial points and stone adzes, which provide important new materials for this project to explore Neolithisation in the Amur River basin of northeast Asia.
Previous archaeobotanical research in Southwest Asia focused on the Neolithic ‘founder crops’. The Founders project revisits this concept and the economic role these species played in the development of agriculture. To achieve this aim, archaeological food remains are studied and culinary practices of the last hunter-gatherers and first farmers are evaluated.
Rare organic artefacts, including wooden figurines and fishnet fragments from the Stone Age (c. 6000–2000 BC) were found in 2020 and 2021 during excavations of a wetland site in Finland. The first results from analysing the artefacts, crafting methods and raw materials provide novel insights into artisanship, material know-how and visual culture of northern hunter-fisher-gatherers.
Geoarchaeological analysis of settlement stratigraphy is key to understanding continuity and change in economic, social and cultural spaces within complex (proto-)urban sites. Here, preliminary micromorphological and micro-refuse data from the Pungrt hillfort demonstrate the potential of a fine-scaled geoarchaeology-based approach for understanding the structuring and reuse of space, not just within settlements but within individual households, through time.
This terrestrial and underwater archaeological research project around a Mediterranean islet identifies that it was a commercial centre during the fifth century AD. The results shed light on Late Roman island occupation dynamics.
The GINI project investigates the dynamics of inequality among populations over the long term by synthesising global archaeological housing data. This project brings archaeologists together from around the world to assess hypotheses concerning the causes and consequences of inequality that are of relevance to contemporary societies globally.
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