Latest Issue: Issue 365 - October 2018
Research, Method & Debate
Gona in the Afar region of Ethiopia has yielded the earliest Oldowan stone tools in the world. Artefacts from the East Gona (EG) 10 site date back 2.6 million years. Analysis of the lithic assemblage from EG 10 reveals the earliest-known evidence for refitting and conjoining stone artefacts. This new information supplements data from other Oldowan sites in East Africa, and provides an important insight into the technological capacities and evolutionary development of hominins during this period.
The archaeobotanical evidence for a putative third centre of early agriculture and plant domestication in southern subtropical China, based primarily on use-wear and residue analyses of artefacts from the sites of Zengpiyan, Niulandong and Xincun, is here reviewed. The available data are not diagnostic of early cultivation or plant domestication based on vegetative propagation in this region. The uncertainties raised by this review are not unique to southern China, and reveal a bias against the identification of early cultivation of vegetatively propagated plants in other regions of the world. The authors suggest that by embracing new integrated analytical approaches, including underused methods such as the study of parenchymatous tissue, the investigation of early domestication and cultivation in this region can make significant advances.
The origins of agriculture in South-west Asia is a topic of continued archaeological debate. Of particular interest is how agricultural populations and practices spread inter-regionally. Was the Arabian Neolithic, for example, spread through the movement of pastoral groups, or did ideas perhaps develop independently? Here, the authors report on recent excavations at Alshabah, one of the first Neolithic sites discovered in Northern Arabia. The site’s material culture, environmental context and chronology provide evidence suggesting that well-adapted, seasonally mobile, pastoralist groups played a key role in the Neolithisation of the Arabian Peninsula.
The presence of exotic materials in funerary contexts in the Sudanese Nile Valley suggests increasing social complexity during the fifth and sixth millennia BC. Amazonite, both in artefact and raw material form, is frequently recovered from Neolithic Sudanese sites, yet its provenance remains unknown. Geochemical analyses of North and East African raw amazonite outcrops and artefacts found at the Neolithic cemetery of R12 in the Sudanese Nile Valley reveals southern Ethiopia as the source of the R12 amazonite. This research, along with data on different exotic materials from contemporaneous Sudanese cemeteries, suggests a previously unknown, long-distance North African exchange network and confirms the emergence of local craft specialisation as part of larger-scale developing social complexity.
With the exception of Circum-Alpine wetland sites, structural remains of fourth-millennium BC settlements in Central Europe are rarely encountered. As a result, there is a dearth of information concerning settlement organisation and social differentiation. Recent excavations at the waterlogged Parkhaus Opéra site on the shores of Lake Zurich have, however, provided important new evidence for the existence of complex Late Neolithic settlement strategies and social stratification. Excellent organic preservation conditions permit extensive dendrochronological analyses of structures and the precise phasing of building activity. The results reveal a complex and highly dynamic settlement system, and provide a rare insight into the organisation of Late Neolithic Central European society.
Excavations at the Late Archaic site of Tulán-52 (3450–2250 BC) in the Atacama Desert of Chile revealed what was initially considered to be a very early semi-sedentary settlement. New investigations into these earlier excavations, however, show evidence for structural and organisational characteristics that overlap with those found at the nearby ceremonial site of Tulán-54, dated to around two millennia later. The reinterpretation of Tulán-52 suggests that early monumentalism in the Puna de Atacama may reflect the emergence of social complexity among late hunter-gatherers—a development that led to, rather than resulted from, the process of Neolithisation.
Recent palaeogenomic data have expanded the debate concerning the direction of cultural transmission during the European Chalcolithic by suggesting the western movement of people from the Eurasian Steppe. Heyd (2017) considers a simultaneous spread of material culture as supportive of these model. The author addresses Heyd’s suggestions in the light of new archaeological data from the southern Iberian Peninsula. These data strongly suggest both Eastern Mediterranean and endogenous influences and innovation in the spread of culture across Europe during the third millennium BC.
The spread of agriculture across the Andes is a topic of intense archaeological debate, particularly the processes driving the adoption of maize (Zea mays) by mobile hunter-gatherer groups of the Central Pampas of Argentina. This paper presents the first direct botanical evidence of maize from the Late Holocene hunter-gatherer sites of El Durazno and La Alborado in the San Luis province—an area considered climatically unsuited to maize production. These data provide important new information on the production, processing and consumption of maize on a macro-regional scale, and the development of Central Pampas exchange systems.
New evidence from archaeological investigations in north-east Thailand shows a transition in rice farming towards wetland cultivation that would have facilitated greater yields and surpluses. This evidence, combined with new dates and palaeoclimatic data, suggests that this transition took place in the Iron Age, at a time of increasingly arid climate, and when a number of broader societal changes become apparent in the archaeological record. For the first time, it is possible to relate changes in subsistence economy to shifts in regional climate and water-management strategies, and to the emergence of state societies in Southeast Asia.
The origins of ancient states is an important archaeological research topic that illuminates the precursors of modern nations. Public buildings, as is the case today, created urban settings in which political, administrative and religious functions were undertaken. This investigation of the ancient Mesoamerican kingdom of Izapa reveals a network of urban centres laid out according to shared design principles. While the capital city of Izapa has long been known, the authors’ research reveals, for the first time, the entire Izapa kingdom. This work provides an important new insight into the origins of political hierarchy and urban life in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica.
The vast mortuary complexes of the Xiongnu, the world’s first nomadic empire (c. 200 BC–AD 100), were important statements of elite power and ritual commemoration in Inner Asia. Very few of the features that accompanied the main tombs, however, have been fully excavated and investigated. This study is one of the first to assess completely the small archaeological features—and associated faunal remains—that surround the more monumental structures, features that intimate substantial investments in, and ritual activities around, these mortuary arenas. This research provides an important contribution to the understanding of the social politics of ritual practices and the development of complex institutions in steppe pastoral societies.
The date of unique symbolic carvings, from various contexts across north and east Scotland, has been debated for over a century. Excavations at key sites and direct dating of engraved bone artefacts have allowed for a more precise chronology, extending from the third/fourth centuries AD, broadly contemporaneous with other non-vernacular scripts developed beyond the frontiers of the Roman Empire, to the ninth century AD. These symbols were probably an elaborate, non-alphabetic writing system, a Pictish response to broader European changes in power and identity during the transition from the Roman Empire to the early medieval period.
The use of tar and resinous substances dates back far into Scandinavian prehistory. How it was produced, however, was unknown until recent excavations in eastern Sweden revealed funnel-shaped features—now identified as structures for producing tar. A new way of organising tar production appeared in the eighth century AD, leading to large-scale manufacture within outland forests. Intensified Viking Age maritime activities probably increased the demand for tar, which also became an important trade commodity. The transition to intensive tar manufacturing implies new ways of organising production, labour, forest management and transportation, which influenced the structure of Scandinavian society and connected forested outlands with the world economy.
The impact of Amazonia on the history and development of late prehistoric (c. AD 500–1500) Andean highland polities has been largely ignored. This article considers how shifting exchange relations between Amazonia and the Andes may have greatly influenced state-formation processes. It is argued that Arawak expansion in the Amazonian lowlands, completed by c. AD 500, was a prerequisite development for stimulating the rise of Andean highland empires, which were heavily dependent upon imported prestige Amazonian feathers. Future research directions are suggested in order to enhance our understanding of late prehistoric state formation in the Americas.
Anthropogenic pathways and geoglyphs comprise two of the most recognisable pre-Colombian features of the Peruvian Andes. Although often found in close proximity, there has been no quantitative investigation of the relationships between these types of landscape features. To investigate, the authors performed spatial analysis and simulation modelling on a combination of unmanned aerial vehicle and surface reconnaissance data from the Sihuas River Valley pampa in southern Peru. The results suggest that these pathways and geoglyphs were closely tied, forming part of travellers’ rituals to propitiate local deities and ensure a successful journey.
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New data from Strashnaya Cave have revealed previously unknown complexity in hominin occupation of the Altai Mountains, including the first regional evidence for the presence of anatomically modern humans.
Predictive modelling has identified rockshelter sites to the north-east of the Laacher See volcano in western Germany. These will be excavated to investigate the impacts of volcanic eruption on Late Pleistocene foragers.
A programme of radiocarbon dating aims to correlate the onset of millet cultivation in northern Germany with cultural and technological changes during the Bronze Age.
Geochemical analysis of the first obsidian artefact discovered in Belarus reveals its source to be the Trans-Caucasus, rather than the expected Carpathian source for prehistoric obsidian in Eastern Europe.
Rescue excavations in Bethlehem undertaken by the Sapienza University of Rome and the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities—Department of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage—have revealed four Bronze Age necropolises. These newly discovered sites illuminate the development of pre-Classical Bethlehem.
New excavations at the Jebel Moya cemetery in Sudan reveal extensive evidence for Meroitic-era occupation, providing valuable data on contemporaneous diet, migration, exchange and population composition in sub-Saharan Africa.
Excavation at Pauli Stincus in Sardinia has revealed an ancient plough soil, with associated evidence of intensive prehistoric agricultural activities.
Since 2012, the ‘Palmyra Portrait Project’ has collected, studied and digitised over 3700 limestone funerary portraits from Palmyra dating to the first three centuries AD. This represents the largest collection of funerary representations from one place in the classical world.
A response to the recent debate piece in Antiquity by González-Ruibal et al., examining the role of epistemic popularism in critical heritage studies and public archaeology.
The authors respond to the recent debate piece in Antiquity by González-Ruibal et al., which they claim misrepresents public archaeology by ignoring the dominant practice of cultural resource management (CRM).