Latest Issue: Issue 388 - August 2022
Research, Method & Debate
The dating and routes by which humans colonised South America continue to be debated. Recent research in Uruguay has yielded new Palaeoindian lithic finds from the southern shores of the coastal Merín Lagoon. The author's analysis of a group of Fell points—comparable to other regional examples—shows that this widespread artefact was produced using locally available materials and that they were repeatedly resharpened and repaired until no longer functional. The finds from the Merín Lagoon permit consideration of changing sea levels and their influence on colonisation routes, resource exploitation and archaeological preservation. The Atlantic coastline may have been one possible route of entry for early colonisers of South America.
The inhabitants of the vast Chalcolithic Trypillia sites of Eastern Europe required highly organised strategies to meet subsistence needs. Here, the authors use isotopic analyses of faunal remains from Maidanetske, Ukraine, to identify intensive and extensive grazing practices. The former demanded intra-community negotiation to ensure access to high-quality pastures for valuable animals such as dairy cows, suggesting that pasture may have also served socially integrative functions. The simultaneous use of extensive pasturing strategies for cattle placed on different pastureland suggests that landscapes were partitioned, with access determined by cooperation or competition. Maidanetske's dual pasturing system reflects the importance of spatially organised practices in maintaining social structure.
The most westerly Pacific island chain, running from Taiwan southwards through the Philippines, has long been central in debates about the origins and early migrations of Austronesian-speaking peoples from the Asian mainland into the islands of Southeast Asia and Oceania. Focusing on the Cagayan Valley of northern Luzon in the Philippines, the authors combine new and published radiocarbon dates to underpin a revised culture-historical synthesis. The results speak to the initial contacts and long-term relationships between Indigenous hunter-gatherers and immigrant Neolithic farmers, and the question of how the early speakers of Malayo-Polynesian languages spread into and through the Philippines.
Little is known about the early history of the chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus), including the timing and circumstances of its introduction into new cultural environments. To evaluate its spatio-temporal spread across Eurasia and north-west Africa, the authors radiocarbon dated 23 chicken bones from presumed early contexts. Three-quarters returned dates later than those suggested by stratigraphy, indicating the importance of direct dating. The results indicate that chickens did not arrive in Europe until the first millennium BC. Moreover, a consistent time-lag between the introduction of chickens and their consumption by humans suggests that these animals were initially regarded as exotica and only several centuries later recognised as a source of ‘food’.
The site of Chavín de Huántar, Peru, lies at the heart of developing social complexity in the Andean Formative period. The archaeological contexts on the site's immediate periphery are assessed to investigate the nature of occupation, activities practised, and relationships between the area's inhabitants and Chavín's ceremonial centre. The peripheral Wacheqsa sector, which began as a modest, domestic occupation in the second millennium BC, was reconfigured c. 800 cal BC into a more substantial settlement, perhaps inhabited by craftspeople producing artefacts for the Chavín authorities. The implications of this study are relevant to wider questions regarding relationships between monumental ceremonial centres and their immediate peripheries, and the study of early socio-economic complexity.
The horse played a crucial role in China through the first millennium BC, used both for military advantage and, through incorporation into elite burials, to express social status. Details of how horses were integrated into mortuary contexts during the Qin Empire, however, are poorly understood. Here, the authors present new zooarchaeological data for 24 horses from an accessory pit in Qin Shihuang's mausoleum, indicating that the horses chosen were tall, adult males. These findings provide insights into the selection criteria for animals to be included in the emperor's tomb and invite consideration of questions concerning horse breeds, husbandry practices, and the military and symbolic importance of horses in early imperial China.
The mountain fortress of Rabana-Merquly was a major regional centre of the Parthian period (first century BC) in the Zagros Mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. The iconography of two rock-reliefs that show an unnamed ruler suggests an association with the vassal kingdom of Adiabene. The exceptional preservation of the fortress's stone walls, undamaged by later agriculture in this highland location, provides an almost complete example of a large, fortified site with two main intramural settlements. Through its ability to control the surrounding landscape, Rabana-Merquly highlights the role of client states on the peripheries of the Parthian and Roman Empires and illuminates the practicalities of territorial control by state authorities in hinterland regions.
Campeche, one of the Spanish Empire's main Mexican ports, was a place where previously distinct cultures and populations intermingled during the colonial era (AD 1540–1680). Investigation of the town's central plaza revealed a Hispanic cemetery of multi-ethnic burials. The authors combine previous analyses with newly generated genome-wide data from 10 individuals to trace detailed life histories of the mostly young, local Indigenous Americans and first-generation European and African immigrants, none of whom show evidence of genetic admixture. These results provide insights into the individual lives and social divides of the town's founder communities and demonstrate how ancient DNA analyses can contribute to understanding early colonial encounters.
Large-scale development-led archaeology has changed the very nature of archaeological datasets. In addition to the familiar positive evidence of structures and deposits, there is now a wealth of ‘true-negative’ evidence: the confirmed absence of archaeological remains. Making good use of such data presents a challenge and demands new ways of thinking. Using case studies based on recent developer-led work in the UK, the authors suggest that focusing on ‘fingerprints’ of past human activity at a landscape scale provides a useful approach. The results argue in favour of changes to existing recording systems, as well as the need to integrate more fully both positive and negative evidence in archaeological interpretation.
Studies of ancient Mediterranean trade and economy have made increasing use of sophisticated modelling and network analyses of shipwreck evidence. The dating of most of these wrecks, however, is based solely on assessments of associated ceramic material, especially transport amphorae. The resulting dates are approximate at best, and, as the example of the recently investigated Mazotos ship highlights, sometimes incorrect. Here, the authors describe a widely applicable independent approach based on the integration of tree-ring analysis and radiocarbon dating. Interrogating the subjective assumptions and stepwise logic transfers involved in ceramic-based dating, the authors demonstrate how to produce a more robust and better-defined basis for the analysis of the ancient Mediterranean shipwreck record.
Many things that we now call ‘archaeological archives’ are actually personal collections of documentation made and amassed by archaeologists, some of which have found their way into institutions. This is indeed the case for the collections of Harald Ingholt (1896–1985), a Danish archaeologist and philologist who worked at Palmyra in the 1920s and 1930s and had a long career that was spent mostly in the USA at Yale University, studying Syrian and Gandharan sites. Ingholt's field diaries, published in the volumes under review, make up part of a collection which he donated, following his retirement, to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen in the early 1980s; that collection also includes his personal reference material, known as ‘The Ingholt Archive’. Comprising sheets with Palmyrene images glued to them, the Archive is planned for separate publication by Brepols in the near future.
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The Çanakkale-Balıkesir Coastline Palaeolithic Survey Project covers the Çanakkale and Balıkesir coastlines of the Aegean. It aims to reveal Palaeolithic assemblages and their connection to the surrounding islands—primarily Lesbos. In 2021, four important findspots were detected on the Çanakkale coastline, and more than 500 lithics were uncovered, exhibiting the characteristics of large cutting tools, as well as pebble and prepared core technologies. These tools attest to the presence of hominins along the Çanakkale coastline during the Lower Palaeolithic.
Beginning in the Middle Palaeolithic, human populations penetrated areas of Central Asia that are today characterised by extremely arid conditions. Mongolia's Gobi Desert comprises one such region. Tsagaan Agui Cave presents an example of the later Pleistocene occupation of this area, containing stratified evidence of diachronic, intense human and animal occupation.
New research at the Doroshivtsi site in Ukraine has provided data that allow fresh insights into a well-known and important Gravettian site in the Middle Dniester Valley.
This article discusses the objectives of the Stone Age Man in Caves of the Tatra Mountains project, which aims to explain the mysterious absence of evidence for the Palaeolithic in the Tatra Mountains of Eastern Europe. We present preliminary work from Hučivá Cave, which demonstrates clear traces of Magdalenian settlement within this region.
New excavations at the Jebel Moya cemetery in Sudan reveal previously unknown, continuous burial activity from the third millennium BC to c. 2000 years ago. Radiometric dates, archaeobotanical analyses and new approaches to the pottery sequence reveal a long-lasting and vibrant community in what was previously dismissed as a marginal environment in south-central Sudan.
Northern Britain is one of a few areas in Western Europe over which the Roman Empire did not establish full control. In order to reassess the impact of Rome in this northernmost frontier, the new Leverhulme-funded project Beyond Walls is analysing the long-term transformation of settlement patterns in an area extending from south of Hadrian's Wall to north of the Antonine Wall. The results of a pilot study around Burnswark hillfort demonstrate the potential of such a landscape-based approach.