Latest Issue: Issue 389 - October 2022
Research, Method & Debate
Throughout the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene, humans adapted to significant climate and environmental change. One key region for investigating these adaptive strategies is Island Southeast Asia, where fluctuating sea levels led to dramatic changes in coastlines, vegetation and fauna. The authors present new data from the re-excavation of Pilanduk Cave on Palawan Island, Philippines. The results corroborate the results of earlier excavations that identified Pleistocene occupation of the site. Pilanduk shows evidence for specialised deer hunting and freshwater mollusc consumption during the Last Glacial Maximum. The results add to the evidence for the shifting foraging behaviours of modern humans occupying variable tropical environments across Island Southeast Asia.
Thirty years after the discovery of an Early Neolithic timber hall at Balbridie in Scotland was reported in Antiquity, new analysis of the site's archaeobotanical assemblage, featuring 20 000 cereal grains preserved when the building burnt down in the early fourth millennium BC, provides new insights into early farming practices. The results of stable isotope analyses of cereals from Balbridie, alongside archaeobotanical and stable isotope results from three other sites, indicate that while cereals were successfully cultivated in well-established plots without manuring at Balbridie, a variety of manuring strategies was implemented at the other sites. These differences reinforce the picture of variability in cultivation practices across Neolithic North-west Europe.
Monumental enclosures are a widespread phenomenon of the European Neolithic. One category of enclosure is the mid-fifth-millennium BC rondel sites of Central Europe. In parts of this region, rondel sites are grouped, drawing attention to notable differences in individual rondel forms. Here, we use Bayesian modelling of radiocarbon dates from the ditches of two rondels at Praha-Krč, Bohemia, to demonstrate their contemporaneity. In turn, this informs interpretations of the role played by multi-rondel sites in symbolic competition between regional communities, who invested in rondels as part of translocal negotiation. The concept of translocality may prove fruitful for the investigation of the monumental architecture of other periods and regions.
Early craft specialisation provides insights into the emergence of social complexity. Textile production also offers a lens through which specialisation can be recognised. Here, the authors present a detailed contextual and technological analysis of a large assemblage of textile-production tools from Tianluoshan, a waterlogged Middle Neolithic site in the Yangzi Valley, China. Using the chaîne opératoire approach, tools are identified, their roles in the production process explained and their significance explored. The results trace the production of textiles from spinning through loom weaving to fabric construction with needles. The use of a variety of fibre-based plants is suggested and tentative evidence for the early use of ground looms explored.
Stone vessels were widely used across the Middle East and East Mediterranean during the Bronze Age. Production sites in Egypt have been extensively studied but the evidence for other regional manufacturing centres, including the eastern Iranian Plateau, is less well understood. The authors report on an extensive craft activity area found at Hajjiabad-Varamin, Kerman Province, with evidence for the large-scale production of vessels made of translucent travertine/calcite. Drill heads or bits used to manufacture stone vessels are examined in broader temporal and geographical context. These finds raise questions about production techniques and demonstrate how apparently non-descript stones can add to our understanding of the Middle East in the third millennium BC.
Archaeologists have long looked to Homeric epic, which describes the collection of heroes’ ashes in metal vessels for interment, as a comparison to high-status burials found in the Greek world and, beyond, in temperate Europe. Rarely, however, has the phenomenon of aristocratic metal-urn cremation burials across Bronze and Iron Age Europe and the Mediterranean been analysed as a single phenomenon. The author presents a continental-scale study based on a corpus of nearly 600 burials, identifying chronological and geographical patterns. The results emphasise how this elite funerary custom drew on and extended a set of shared aristocratic values and practices across Europe and the Mediterranean in the first millennium BC.
Lake settlements, particularly crannogs, pose several contradictions—visible yet inaccessible, widespread yet geographically restricted, persistent yet vulnerable. To further our understanding, we developed the integrated use of palaeolimnological (scanning XRF, pollen, spores, diatoms, chironomids, Cladocera, microcharcoal, biogenic silica, SEM-EDS, stable-isotopes) and biomolecular (faecal stanols, bile acids, sedaDNA) analyses of crannog cores in south-west Scotland and Ireland. Both can be effective methods sets for revealing occupation chronologies and identifying on-crannog activities and practices. Strong results from sedaDNA and lipid biomarker analyses demonstrate probable on-site animal slaughter, food storage and possible feasting, suggesting multi-period, elite site associations, and the storage and protection of valuable resources.
Knowledge of alloying practices is key to understanding the mass production of ancient Chinese bronzes. The Eastern Zhou text, the Rites of Zhou, contains six formulae, or recipes, for casting different forms of bronze based on the combination of two components: Jin and Xi. For more than 100 years, the precise interpretation of these two components has eluded explanation. Drawing on analyses of pre-Qin coinage, the authors offer a new interpretation, arguing that, rather than pure metals, Jin and Xi were pre-prepared copper-rich alloys, in turn indicating an additional step in the manufacturing process of copper-alloy objects. This result will be of interest to linguists, as well as archaeologists of ancient Chinese technology.
The high-altitude landscape of western Tibet is one of the most extreme environments in which humans have managed to introduce crop cultivation. To date, only sparse palaeoeconomic data have been reported from this region. The authors present archaeobotanical evidence from five sites (dating from the late first millennium BC and the early first millennium AD) located in the cold-arid landscape of western Tibet. The data indicate that barley was widely grown in this region by c. 400 BC but probably fulfilled differing roles within local ecological constraints on cultivation. Additionally, larger sites are characterised by more diverse crop assemblages than smaller sites, suggesting a role for social diversity in the development of high-altitude agriculture.
Salt is an essential commodity; archaeological remains around the world attest to the importance of its production, exchange and consumption. Often located in coastal locations, many production sites were submerged by rising seas, including the Paynes Creek Salt Works on the southern Belize coast. Survey and excavation of these sites has identified ‘kitchens’ for brine boiling, as well as Terminal Classic residential structures at Ek Way Nal. The authors report the discovery of an earlier residential building alongside salt kitchens at the nearby site of Ta'ab Nuk Na. This finding indicates that surplus household production began during the Late Classic, when demand for salt from inland cities was at its peak.
Humans have engineered their environments throughout the Holocene, especially in the construction of hydraulic infrastructure. In many regions, however, this infrastructure is difficult to date, including the vestiges of water-management systems in the Andean highlands. Focusing on silt reservoirs in the upper Ica drainage, Peru, the authors use cores and radiocarbon dates to demonstrate the pre-Hispanic construction of walls to enhance and expand wetlands for camelid pasture. Interventions dated to the Inca period (AD 1400–1532) indicate an intensification of investment in hydraulic infrastructure to expand production capacity in support of the state. The results are discussed in the context of the hydraulic strategies of other states and empires.
Colonised societies often continue traditional practices in private contexts whilst adopting new forms of ritual in public. Excavations at the Mam centre of Chiantla Viejo in highland Guatemala, however, reveal a more complex picture. Combining archaeological evidence with early colonial documents, the author identifies a revival of Indigenous Maya religion following the Spanish conquest (AD 1525–1550). Despite appearing in colonial records as Christian converts, the Maya directed a sequence of destruction, reconstruction and remodelling of the monumental core of Chiantla Viejo to evoke the landscape of their ancestral settlement of Zaculeu. The results emphasise the importance of public spaces for the persistence of Indigenous religion in early colonial settings.
As the fifth and final volume in a series of publications dedicated to the description and study of the pre-Columbian collection at Dumbarton Oaks (beginning with Andean art at Dumbarton Oaks in 1996; Hill Boone 1996), Pre-Columbian art from Central America and Colombia at Dumbarton Oaks and its companion volume, Pre-Columbian Central America, Colombia, and Ecuador: toward an integrated approach, lend new meaning to the phrase ‘going out with a bang’, with a combined 1262 pages and over 30 separate essays. Clearly an enormous undertaking, these books are the outcome of countless collaborations, technical analyses and workshops over many years, gathering the participation of an impressive number of scholars from all over the Americas. The sheer amount of data and detail presented in these volumes, as well as updated topics for discussion and interpretation, make them an absolutely fundamental resource for any scholar of the region.
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This article presents preliminary results from mountain survey in the Chatkal Range in the western Tian Shan piedmonts, eastern Uzbekistan. In 2021, several new Palaeolithic sites were discovered, including a single, multi-layered, open-air site—Kuksaray 2—located near a flint outcrop. The authors’ initial investigations have recovered a stone tool assemblage containing tools displaying both Middle Palaeolithic and Initial Upper Palaeolithic characteristics.
Among the rock art in Arabia, a little-known Neolithic tradition of large, naturalistic camel depictions stands out. Their geographic distribution and stylistic traits suggest close links with the Camel Site reliefs. Four newly documented panels appear to have been carved by the same individual (or group), tracing repeated movements over hundreds of kilometres.
A single pit containing a mixed assemblage of charred plant remains, including broomcorn millet, was discovered during excavation of a Middle–Late Bronze Age settlement at Old Catton, Norfolk. Radiocarbon dating of this assemblage dates it to the Late Bronze Age—including a date of 910–800 cal BC for the millet itself—making this the earliest securely dated use of broomcorn millet in Britain.
The Seleucid town of Nysa-Scythopolis on Tell Iẓṭabba (Israel) was destroyed by the Hasmoneans at the end of the second century BC. In this article, we discuss the exact season and possible year of the destruction using a multimodal approach and argue for its destruction in spring/early summer 107 BC.
The authors provide an initial report on possibly the southernmost expansion of humans in pre-industrial times. The archaeological site, in the Cape Horn archipelago, consists of a campfire site, fragments of a weapon, and butchered bones. Radiocarbon dating places the site c. 260–460 years BP.
The authors present a new, interdisciplinary project focusing on the interaction between people and the landscape within abandoned and populated villages following the founding of Niokola-Koba National Park in south-eastern Senegal. In this article, they assess anthropogenic transformations from geoarchaeological, ethnoarchaeological and ethnobotanical perspectives in order to document and preserve the heritage of both displaced and settled agricultural communities.